Monday, July 7, 2014

Yummy Camping 101

My family finally got out for our first camping trip of the year this past weekend, and the stars aligned to make it a great time; we had excellent company, a great campsite where nearly every neighbour surrounding us spent the day away, the weather was determined to remain pleasant for us despite thunderstorm warnings and severe weather watches, and everyone seemed set on having a good time. Now, some of our weekend's niceness was fortuitous, but some was 100% thanks to planning and preparation. The food was one such area.
I used to think the only things that could be cooked over an open fire were hot dogs and marshmallows - after all, that's all that my family ate whenever we went out camping. But over the last few years I have been enlightened; I concluded that if something could ever be cooked over direct heat, i.e. A stove top, that it could be successfully done over a campfire. 
I've been working to hone my skills of fire building and coal stirring ever since this epiphany, observing that consistent and even heat are often crucial to the success of a recipe, and this weekend I finally felt like every meal was well done. 
In the past I've cooked Peach Bourbon cobbler, pasta primavera, and grilled maple peaches all over the campfire, but this weekend we were looking to make things that I could prepare mostly in advance, and that wouldn't necessarily need constant attention.  With that in mind I set out meal planning, and here's what we came up with:
Friday evening: Whole stuffed salmon and fried mushrooms
Friday dessert: premade S'more cones for the kids
Saturday breakfast: bacon, sausage, egg + toast pie irons
Saturday lunch: nachos, beans, ham + cheese melts
Saturday evening: pizza pie irons
Saturday dessert: biscuit dough pie irons and jiffy pop popcorn
Sunday brunch: pie iron egg mcmuffins, and bannock 

There are a few key tools to producing a menu such as this:
Pie irons - cast iron, not aluminum, and we used both round and square ones 
BBQ tongs
Cast iron pan
Foil tray
Lots of aluminum foil

In anticipation of arriving at our campsite about an hour before supper time, I pre-stuffed a whole pink salmon that had been taking up space in my freezer ever since I found it on sale for about $0.20/100 g a while ago. I used my Grandma's recipe which calls for a Lemon Thyme rice stuffing. I stuffed the fish and wrapped it in foil, then set it on ice in our cooler. Any leftover stuffing I also wrapped up in a foil packet. Once we hit our campsite I built a fire right away, and laid the salmon on the grate over the fire to cook while we set up camp. I turned it after about 30 minutes - around half way of its total cooking time. I could smell the lemony stuffing when it was getting close to being done, and at that point I cooked up the mushrooms in both oil and butter to give it maximum heat tolerance and flavour! I hate mushrooms, but I loved this - no additional seasoning required!  The mushrooms cooked until they had a crisp coating, and the salmon was perfectly cooked to flaky goodness. Slice up some lemon wedges and you've got one epic campfire meal!
The next morning we cooked the bacon and sausages in the cast iron pan. The only thing I'd change for next trip is to bring a second pan! But given that I was awake since 5:30 a.m., I suppose I had plenty of time to cook in small batches... If you've never used pie irons, I pity you. I was only introduced to these wonders after I got married; my husband's family fully embrace the pie iron cooking method. As a brief rundown, you butter the heated insides of a double sided square pan, about the size of a piece of bread. Then lay your bread on one side and add fillings to it. That can be an egg, pizza fillings, sandwich toppings, pie filling, pulled pork, Caprese salad fixings... Anything your heart desires. Then you top with another piece of bread and close it up, then cook it in the coals until the bread is nicely toasted and the fillings are heated. As I mentioned in my menu, we tinkered with the traditional methods this weekend. First, I brought a tube of refrigerated biscuit dough that we filled with chocolate and/or cherry pie filling. The secret to these was to coat the biscuit in butter as soon as it was out of the fire and to let the butter bake in a bit as the dough cooled. Sooooo yummy. Experiment #2 called for the round pie iron; I cracked an egg in a well greased iron (bacon grease worked best for this one) and set a piece of back bacon on top. While that cooked I opened up an English muffin and heated it on the grate, with a cheese slice on one half. After a very short time, the egg and bacon were perfect, and popped right out onto my English muffin. So, so, so good.
I also mentioned doing nachos for lunch. I pre-diced tomatoes and peppers at home, and even brought pre-grated cheese, so it was as simple as dumping everything into a foil pan, covering with foil and cooking. For the beans we merely took the label off a can before we opened it up and set it to cook on the grate over the fire!
Bannock is a family tradition in many families, although the traditions can vary widely! My husband's family are bannock rolled in cinnamon sugar, and cooked it as a tube wrapped around a stick.My family cooked it as a cool on a stick, and ate it rolled in butter alongside steak strips with seasoning salt. Many people I know enjoy it with jam, and lots of recipes call for cooking it in a pan. Long story short, it's hard to go wrong with bannock. This trip I could not find Bisquick at the grocery store - my morher's 'secret ingredient' for her bannock dough. So instead I used my actually-top-secret scone mix recipe to make base that would only require the addition of water, and mixed it up on Sunday afternoon for our brunch. The only complaint I got (from my husband who does not believe in tampering with tradition) was that it was 'too flaky'. Is that even a real thing?  Anyway, I thought it was perfection on a stick.  And the kids sure loved it, too.

I suppose I should mention one more critical kitchen tool for camping: a French press! No need for inferior coffee while you're out camping - just use your French press and enjoy every last drop! I loved our camping coffee so much that when we got home I broke out my French press for my morning brew!

I've got some ideas for new pie iron fillings next time we head out camping, and I might see just how gourmet I can make those bad boys! But looking back over our weekend camping trip, mostly I'm just glad we didn't spend the whole weekend eating hot dogs!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Airplane Birthday Party

Our middle little dude, whom we affectionately call 'Goose', had this third birthday party today! This was his first 'real' party. At one, they don't really get what's going on, and the fact that they get to have cake for the first time ever is awesome enough for them.
At two, they're a bit more clear on the idea that this is something special, and it seems to be about them, but add sparklers on top of that cake and throw in a present or two, and honestly they pretty well max out for their excitement anyway.
At three, they can finally get it - this is a party, and it's all about you. Granted, Goose is one of the most generous-hearted, artless and easily-pleased little boys in the world, so all he needed to have happen to ensure it was an exciting time for him would be cake, candles and a rendition of "Happy Birthday". But I knew he'd still like a party :)

I asked him months ago what party he would like, and this little boy always has an answer. Some kids need prompting. Some kids shyly hide and refuse to offer up a word. This kid knows what he likes, even if the answer often surprises me. He chose airplanes. He could have picked Spiderman. He could have picked Cars. He could have picked anything he wanted because that's how we do birthdays around here, but immediately he answered, "Airplanes". Which is nice, because he could also have picked something like Triangles I suppose, and how do you plan games for a triangle party? (k, I just came up with a couple ideas as I typed that, but still, airplanes is a nicer theme)

A few things were quite fortuitous about this choice of party theme. First off - unbeknownst to Goose, I had long wanted to do an airplane theme in his bedroom, but kind of gave up when older brother started hanging hunting posters and archery targets on every inch of empty wall, and ceiling, space. But I had already fashioned some cotton 'clouds' that hang from fishing line. Score.
And I had bought him an airplane comforter for his bed that we could use as a backdrop should we need one. Awesome. Secondly - at Easter time, my uncle unloaded on us gifted us with half of the product of his 'Paper Airplane a Day' calendar from the previous year; he made 365 paper airplanes, and sent half of them home with us. We picked out the very best and reserved them for the party, and the rest we let the boys play with for a few weeks before they were crushed enough to justify recycling them. But right there: built in party entertainment!

The dollar store was a treasure-trove for this party; we picked up those foam airplanes that come in a flat pack and then you assemble yourself as party favors, a giant one of the same variety to show off to the kids, and an airplane shaped cookie cutter.
I made a runway on our coffee table for the kids' toy planes to sit on as a party centerpiece, and then used cardboard boxes to make our games: a target practice game, and Pin-the-propeller-on-the-airplane!
I even found an airplane book from the library that I borrowed in case the kids wanted a story!

Snacks were pretty simple since I was super sick all week and didn't have the energy to prep much: carrot sticks, cucumber slices, and pita chips with hummus, I used the airplane cookie cutter to cut out watermelon pieces, and then I bought a 40 pack of Timbits, stacked them high, and set a candle in the middle for a cake that the kids adored!

Lastly, I ordered an Aviator hat from Avon for little Goose, which he proudly wore and got called 'Captain' by everybody. Any excuse to wear a costume in this house!

I've said it before: we don't rent out Chuck-E-Cheese. We don't hire petting zoos. We don't have professional planners for our parties, or major excursions for them either, but my kids' birthday parties are fun - for them, their guests, and for mommy - and certainly seem to be the highlight of their year.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Grandma's Lemon Butter

Everyone has those recipes that remind you of your childhood. This is one of mine.

My Grandma is renown for her excellent cooking skills, and her ability to feed any small army that unexpectedly pops by for supper. She always has food ready to go in case of last-minute invitations and visitors, and one trick up her sleeve is to always have a jar of her fantastic lemon butter in the fridge. This Lemon Butter is perfectly tart, but with enough sugar that it won't cause anyone to pucker. It's thick, and creamy, and an instant fix for any boring dessert. Stir this in with cream cheese for a fruit dip. Fold in Cool Whip for a lemon mousse. Use it as cake filling for an angel food, or serve a dollop on top of a Blueberry Brunch Cake. Or, do as my Grandma does and throw a scoop in a tart shell for super fast mini-pies.

I usually zest just two of the lemons in for the perfect amount of tartness - Grandma does three, my mom does one... It really just depends what your personal tastes are. And if you are using Meyer lemons, use 6 whole lemons instead of the 3 the recipe calls for. And above all, don't be intimidated by the idea of having to use a double boiler - this recipe really is simple.

Grandma's Lemon Butter recipe:
2 cups granulated sugar
3 lemons - juice and zest *see note above
6 eggs
scant 1/4 c of butter

Combine all ingredients in double boiler.

Don't forget the butter (I nearly did this time!)

Bring water in bottom pot to a boil and cook mixture, beating continually. As the mixture cooks, the color will get lighter, and it will eventually begin to thicken. The mixture may boil a bit - this is okay. Once it looks as thick as pudding, remove from heat and transfer into a separate bowl to cool. This will stop the cooking process faster to make sure your egg doesn't decide to do anything funny and clump up on you.

Store in a jar in the fridge for two weeks - if it makes it that long without being eaten up! The Lemon Butter with thicken further as it cools - FYI.

This recipe makes about 3.5 cups of Lemon Butter. But hey, who says it has to be lemon? Try grapefruit, or blood orange! And if you don't have whole lemons, you can use bottled lemon juice and sub in a couple drops of lemon essential oil to replace the zest!

I laugh when I see Lemon Butter for sale in stores - this recipe is so fantastic, and so simple, I've never had a desire to try any other! I hope you agree!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

*credit to Grandma Free for this wonderful recipe!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Work-out Tips for Real People

Do you ever go through the Health & Fitness boards on Pinterest and feel totally defeated? Seriously, those 'Fitspiration' posts are the worst! Actually, that's not true. The 'motivational quotes' are the worst. You know, the ones that tell you to keep pushing through it after you're vomiting and feel like passing out, because quitting is for losers? Yeah. Those are great...
Anyway, I have persevered through the demotivating feelings and downer days, for the most part, and have been having some success getting in my daily workouts! And now I want to share some of my wise wisdoms with you! Nothing mind blowing, but definitely practical advice for people looking to up their workout schedule!

First, some basics:
1. Just start. We can have lots of reasons we're not partaking in a regular exercise routine: no time, physical limitations, injuries, etc. But the reality is, something is better than nothing. So take the time and abilities you do have, and start using them. You don't have to carve out an hour a day yet. If you're really off the wagon, start with 10 minutes of gentle stretching or yoga every night before bed. If you're up for something more, find a 10 minute video that you can follow and do it during nap time, lunch break, or before your morning shower.
2. Keep going. You've started! YAY! Now keep going. Once you're moving, it's easy to keep moving, and move a little bit further, faster, and harder each day. Find more time you can convert into work-out time. If you watch TV at night when the kids are in bed, run in place while you're watching. One episode of Big Bang Theory later, and you've got a nice little workout in! Everyone starts slow, but that doesn't mean you have to stay slow. Start with a jog, work in running intervals, start to see how long you can run for, and if you're down to the last 5 minutes, and you're still feeling like you've got some steam to burn, working in high-knee and jumping jack intervals! But the point is, take what you're already doing, and expand on it.
3. Warm up, stretch, cardio, strength, cool down, stretch. K, I'm going to blame High School gym classes for this, but I was unaware until recently that stretching was not part of warm up, but actually a separate step that takes place after your muscles have had a chance to warm up! What does that mean? Well, if you're a runner, jog the first half km, then stretch, then run. I was doing this wrong (stretch before I leave, jog, then run) and it can't have done my knees any favors... If you're not a runner, do a burst of low intensity cardio, then stretch, then feel free to do your jumping jacks, burpees, etc. And remember to not stop cold - do a cool down to help you heart rate regulate, and don't forget to stretch at the end; not only will stretching help you to avoid unnecessary pain, but static stretching between exercises has been shown to increase muscle development.
4. Drink water. Everyone says it, because it's important. I've personally found one of the easiest ways to drink more water is to add a drop of lemon, grapefruit, or lime essential oil to it. No added calories, great flavor, and added health benefits? Awesome! Just make sure you use therapeutic grade oils - I recommend Young Living. *Note: some people recommend adding an emulsifier to the water to break up the oil. Even adding a tsp of ground flax seed would help with this.
5. Track your body measurements. I worked out nearly every day through January, along with a very healthy diet. You want to know how many pounds I lost by the end of the month? NONE! Zero! BUT, I can tell you my face was noticeably leaner, as were my thighs. My biceps were more defined and there was much less jiggle in my arms. Oh, and my clothes fit better than they had in a while.

And now for something completely different (or rather, just some more tips):
1. Change into your exercise clothes each morning. I read this somewhere, tried it, and realized I was infinitely more likely to exercise if I were dressed for it, than otherwise. However, I will point out that your workout clothes should be more than just your pajamas. That's really just luring you back for a nap, more than a workout. And if you're like me and want to look more put together by the time hubby gets home (if for no other reason than to convince him you didn't just sit around all day) then you'll have a deadline in your mind for when you need to be done your workout by.
2. Find something small to do every night before bed. Squats, planking, crunches... anything that can be done every day, on top of your normal workout, that will make big improvements over time. Often I find if I workout early in the day, I feel great by night and I'm craving more. This little habit fills my craving, gets in one more bit before bed, and I can do these in my bedroom - some even when I'm lying in bed!
3. Don't waste a perfectly good shower on a body that hasn't sweat that day. It's been a long day. You didn't fit in a workout. Now that the kids are finally asleep, you're about to climb into the shower. Stop. Do 40 jumping jacks, or high knees. Do something, anything, that will make you sweat. It's all coming off in a minute anyway, and you'll feel much better about the day knowing you at least did that, whatever else the crazy kids in your household kept you away from accomplishing!
4. Pick one body part to put priority on. Why? Because if you only have time for a short workout, or you have room for one more workout before you have to call it for the day, then you'll know exactly what you want to target. Want to tone your tush? Make sure you get those squats in. Need to develop more core muscles? At the very least do some planks. Need to shed some flab? Cardio, cardio, cardio. Not to say these are the only things you should do, but having a focused goal is more helpful than, "I want to look better."
5. Make a playlist. This CANNOT include anything by Raffi or The Wiggles, and would preferably have some 80's glam rock songs worked in. Just sayin'.
6. Encourage your spouse. I'm sure there's a study somewhere that I could reference with hard scientific evidence about this, but I've seen it in my house and I can vouch that it's true: it is SOOOO much easier to live a healthy, active lifestyle when your spouse is doing the same. Even just asking them to help you by working out with you will likely be enough to get them going on their own healthy path. It's hard to stay on the healthy-eating track if you feel obliged to serve baked mac and cheese for family dinner, or take the family out for ice cream whenever the hubby gets a craving.
7. Use Pinterest or web videos. I don't know about you, but I have neither the time or the money for a gym membership. All of my workouts are done at home, or in the few blocks around my house. That's why I love my Health board on Pinterest. I see a new exercise I want to try, I pin it. Then when I have time to workout, I usually have that board open so that if I need a couple more exercises, I can just scroll through quickly and pick something. I don't have a personal trainer, but for now, these pins are working fine! There are some great resources out there, and you can find exercises to target different muscle groups that are very useful. And those 10 minute workout videos? Actually a lot of fun to follow! And this is coming from the girl who hates turning on any video on the internet! I find you push yourself harder when you follow people leading, in person or on video, than if you just try to lead yourself.
8. Don't push it too hard. Everything I said in comment #7? Take it with a grain of salt. There is also A LOT of bad stuff out there. For example: ever see those '5 minute power workout' lists? You know, where you go between jumping jacks, burpees, mountain climbers, high knees and squat thrusts as fast as you can? If you do those your first day in - actually, even your first few months in! - you're likely going to hurt yourself. The other day I read some "Tips to lose weight" by Prevention magazine, and I sincerely hope it was a typo that caused them to suggest you go every other day only eating 600 calories. That's not safe, not healthy, and just plain bad advice. If you hurt, take a break - don't plow through it. It's one thing to push through the burn, it's another to tear a ligament because you're being an idiot. If you do throw up while you're working out, please stop, contrary to some of the 'fitspirational quotes' I've seen.
9. Fall in love with it. This one is easy. Exercise is addictive; your body gets used to having a rush everyday, and you start craving it, and wondering if it's too soon to start your next workout (and yes, 4 hours is likely too soon). Get into a routine, and soon you'll hate to miss it. And if you fall out of it, and have troubles getting going again, go back to the very first point I made in this post: Just start. And pretty soon you'll wonder why you ever let yourself stop.
10. Get your kids in on it. I talked a lot in this post about workout after bedtime, or while the kids are napping. That's not going to work for everyone. So, what else can you do? Make it part of your daily play! My kids now love when I roll out my exercise mat, and they do all sorts of 'exercises' saying, "This is a good one, right Mommy! This will make me super strong!" If I'm doing cardio and the kids want to join in, I'll sometimes narrate a 'scenic run' where I ask them what we see as we're passing imaginary farms, cities with street cafes and running alongside the ocean. Sure they can get underfoot a little bit, but involving them is often much easier than hoping they'll keep occupied elsewhere, and not interrupt you. And toddlers often love to watch Mommy from their perch in their high chair while she jumps around, apparently doing a clown act purely for their enjoyment. Bonus: not only are you making your body healthier, you're also setting an example for a healthy lifestyle for your kids. If they see exercise as part of every day life, instead of something that you enter into by coercion, you're making it easier for them to incorporate it in their every day life as they grow up.
11. Take the kids out more. For someone who struggles to find enough time in the day, this may seem counter-productive, but hear me out. What fills up the most time in a day in the life of a mom? Kids. So keep those kids occupied by a trip to the park, or a walk, or even an outing to the zoo. And you know what? That can very likely count as your daily exercise if you do it right. Pushing a stroller? Do walking-jogging intervals. Kids think it's a blast! At the playground with older ones? Get on there with them! Playing at a park? Be another ninja with your kids, running, rolling and diving along with them! I know I struggle with getting out of the house some days weeks - it all just seems to be too much work. But what if I viewed it as my exercise that day? Then would it be worth it to take the kids to the trails and go for a nature walk? What about pulling them around the block in their wagon? Just keep in mind the basics of exercise: make sure you warm up and stretch, work in some high intensity, and even flex certain muscle groups during different activities to get the most out of them. And then drink lots of water :)
12. Equip your home. As I mentioned above, I have no money and no time (away from kids, that is), to use towards regularly attending a gym, so I workout in my home with the aid of the interwebs. And while you can do without, there are a few things that I find supremely helpful in my workouts:
- an exercise mat
- training shoes
- 2 lbs, 5 lbs and 10 lbs hand weights
I have hard floors, so I use the mat for a more comfortable exercise. In the basement we have carpet... on top of concrete. The mat is extra helpful here to ensure I don't get hurt from joint compression during high intensity workouts.
Training shoes are a must for a runner. Find a pair that fit your foot and your step well. Some people work out indoors with their shoes on for added comfort, balance, grip and protection. I'm hoping to get a pair of Nike Studio Wraps, but until that happens, I go barefoot inside.
The hand weights are great for strength exercises - muscle burns fat faster, so even if you're just working to lose inches instead of build muscle, having more muscle will help you attain that faster. So muscle = good. Lower sized weights aren't just for beginners - they're ideal for toning. As you get stronger you may want larger weights, but typically you can increase reps and set length to get the increased burn.
I buy all of these things at Winners (for a fantastic price) or at Canadian Tire.
13. All you Mommy's - start at the basics! You know those post partum exercises where they tell you to lay flat and then lift your head? And that totally kicks your butt? Yeah, you need to ease into things. If you were one of the Mom's who ran your last half-marathon at 5 months, you'll likely bounce back a lot quicker than, say, me - the mom who laid on the couch for 9 months and could barely get up to go to bed each night. But all of us will have had our bodies damaged to some extent by the burden of carrying 6-10 lbs of baby inside us. So once you're ready to upgrade from head lifts, try holding a Tabletop pose, then lowering your bum, and bringing it back up, flexing your abs. Once this is easy, try doing it balanced on one leg, with the other ankle resting on your bent knee. You can also lower down to your back for this, instead of planting your hands.

I'm not a doctor. I'm not an expert. I'm not even that fit - but I'm getting better. And as a mom of three kids, these are the things that I have found to work in my life, and I hope you have some success with it in yours!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Fishing Birthday Party

I FINALLY figured out how to skirt around my issue of picture uploading! YAY! So, check out the Beer Tasting Party post from a couple months ago to see a picture of that shindig, and hopefully I'll be posting more frequently now!

On that note, our most recent event around here was my oldest son's 5th birthday! We held a small party for him with a few of his friends who would most enjoy a fishing themed party! Yep - my 5 year old is a fisherman. He LOVES it. Fishing is often the highlight of our Summer vacation in the mountains, and thanks to some sweet fishing holes, and Grandpa who is an expert, my little dudes have caught far more fish than the average 5 and 2 year old. Rainbow trout are his favorite, since that's what we catch at some of the stocked ponds we frequent, but he can identify brook trout, perch, walleye, pike, bass, crappies, salmon and sturgeon to boot. He originally wanted a fireman birthday party so he could get a fireman costume, but when I wasn't able to find a costume his size at this time of year, and he started to talk more and more about fishing in the summer, I knew I'd have a good shot at persuading him to change the party!

There were some great ideas on Pinterest for a fishing party. Far more ideas than I could actually incorporate into one party. So I decided to keep it kid friendly, given the average age of our party goers was 5. The d├ęcor consisted mostly of my kids' toys! I transformed our living room into an outdoor paradise - stuffed animals roamed the piano and bench seat, our giant stuffed teddy sat in the corner of the room, I fashioned a pond out of fake pussy willows and blue plastic tablecloth and then set some fake fish in it. My boys also have a hunting/fishing action figure set from Cabela's which I set up as a diorama on our coffee table; I created a whole mountain scene, with a campsite by the edge of a pond, and outdoor action man catching a bass from his boat while deer and wolves looked on. This served the dual purpose of decoration and entertainment - as soon as the kids came in they started playing with the set while we waited for everyone else to arrive! In addition to the toys I also had some paper fish printed off. They were realistic looking artist renderings that I had printed to nearly life-size (ranging between 6-11") I cut them out and strung them up as a banner.

For our activities and games I planned a couple crafts - decorating rainbow trout pictures with confetti glitter, and making 'fishing lures' out of popsicle sticks - and a number of fishing games such as scooping sponge fish out of a tub of water with a net, and casting a real rod with a plastic fish on the end into a box fashioned to look like a fish mouth! The kids took turns for the first round of games, then were left to a bit of free play as they each sought out their favorite game to hover around. We had more than enough activity to keep them entertained for the hour-and-a-half party.

The food for the party was a bit different than usual. We had one child with a severe nut allergy, one with a mild nut allergy, two of them also had a gluten allergy, and the another one was lactose intolerant, but could have greek yogurt. So cake was out of the question. As was ice cream cake. I had a few options I looked at, such as 'bobber' meringues, marshmallow pops, and fruit. I resolved on the fruit - but with some changes. I made a watermelon cake! I had seen these done on Pinterest and thought they were brilliant! I cut the rind off a watermelon and shaped it to look like a cake. Then I 'iced' it with a mix of non-dairy whipped topping and coconut greek yogurt. Just a tip: if you plan to make a watermelon cake, pat the outside dry with paper towel before you try icing it! I topped the cake with blackberries and raspberries, but for another audience it would also have been nice to use flaked coconut and sliced almonds! I put on some (new) fishing lures, and sparklers for a bit of a dramatic look. For our treat bags I filled a clean tackle box with Swedish fish, gummi worms and colored mini marshmallows as faux bait and lures, and gave the kids each a paper 'bait bag' that they could fill with candies to take home!

After that party with the kids, we had some family over the next day for birthday lunch. I wanted my boy to have a real cake for his birthday so I whipped up a modified box cake (1 cake mix, 1 box of instant pudding mix, 4 eggs, 1 c. water, 1/2 c. melted coconut oil) and some almond/chocolate chip flavored buttercream. I opted for buttercream to make a 'splash' effect, and poked a hole in the top of the tiered cake to stick my fake pussy willows in. I added a jumping trout fridge magnet for a super easy on-theme cake!

My little man got some awesome fishing themed gifts, like a giant fish pillow from Bass Pro Shop, a gift card to a local sports store, a fishing garden gnome, and enough tackle from his uncle to make sure he never needs to use Mommy and Daddy's stuff again! Lures, leaders, weights, bobbers... that kid has it all now! All in all, it was a great fishing party, and a nice way to celebrate turning 5 :)

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Well, I've opened an Etsy shop!

I know - I'm a little surprised myself!

What actually happened was my sister opened an Etsy store, and her and I had talked about having one store that all the members of the family could list things in, expanding our product offering to increase traffic. So I had planned to help my sister by putting on some things that I'd made up in the past year or two, and I made up some extra things just to bulk up the store inventory. But then after looking at the money aspect, and how all transactions would go through her bank account, and how it didn't actually cost anything to have a store, just to list and sell things on it, we decided it would actually be easiest for everyone to open individual stores. Honestly, I hadn't planned to sell things on Etsy seriously - I was really just trying to help my sister's store - but now I had a load of items that I was going to list, and after a short talk with hubby we figured, "Well, why not?"

So now I have an Etsy store.

Feel free to check out my store, MrsVanderLeekAtHome, and my sister's shop, HonuDesigns82. The name of my shop is derived from Regency-era Calling Cards; all of the ladies would carry cards and leave them when they called at someone's house. Essentially a business card, except that their 'business' was to pay visits, and have those visits returned. So the card would read, "Mrs. __________, at home."
Currently I have a couple different things listed in my shop: bird nest wire necklaces, and crocheted accessories. I've actually put a hold on production of the bird nest necklaces until I get some pendant clasps in. I found some on eBay that I think will look great - better than a loop of wire for sure - so I'll hold off on making any more until those come in. The crochet production is still going strong however, thanks in part to the fact that I started watching the BBC series Sherlock on Netflix. Sure, each season only has 3 episodes, but each episode is an hour and a half, so that's lots of crochet time! Anyway, I plan this summer to do some wood crafts and maybe some sewing, and in the fall perhaps I'll make up some clay owls to list as well. I think the best part about having an Etsy store is the potential it has to clear out my finished project cupboard. I've made too many crafty things to keep them all. Now I can still make more, and hopefully make some money, too!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The $75 Grocery Budget

One day, after a few weeks of limited work, a man's van broke down. He had his vehicle towed to his mechanic who graciously dealt with it in a timely manner so as to impose as little as possible on the unfortunate man. While inspecting the vehicle - whose starter was found to be faulty - the mechanic also noticed that the brake master cylinder was for all intents and purposes dead. It was with much relief that the poor vehicle owner heard this, since in all likelihood an issue wouldn't have been detected before the brakes suddenly stopped working! What a wonderfully fortuitous circumstance that potentially saved him from harm! The grateful man praised God, kissed his wife, and paid his $900 mechanic bill.

That, my friends, is a true story. However I did leave out a few details... like that the 'poor' man was in fact 'poor' for the time being due to limited work for a contractor in February. Perhaps it was a financially inopportune time to have a major vehicle repair come along, but I am so grateful knowing that the brakes in my hubby's work van will function properly that I hardly care about the money!

Having said that, it doesn't change the fact that I now have a $75 budget for groceries for the next two weeks. Not $75/week - $75 in total. Sweet, hey?

But, I'm gifted with such heritage (*cough* Scottish! *cough), and upbringing (*cough* Scottish Grandparents! *cough*), and support (*cough* DUTCH HUSBAND! *cough*) as to find this budget restriction as a mere challenge! And I do enjoy a good challenge :)

So today I am sharing my meal plan. This, you will find, is not a typical I-have-no-money meal plan. It does not assume that everything we eat is accounted for in the $75. It rather assumes that I keep a well-stocked pantry, stocking up on things when they go on sale for awesome prices, and have a few surprise cuts in my freezer that I can tap into for a treat! However, some of the principals are golden rules for eating on a limited budget: plan around what you have, use similar ingredients for multiple meals, and don't limit yourself to one cuisine!
I was actually requested to share my meals and their approximate costs on my personal Facebook page so that some of my girlfriends could attempt similar cost-effective meals, which is what truly inspired this post. Well, that and the fact that it's absolutely necessary for me to spend no more than $75 on food in the next two weeks... But I digress.

So to start the week, I went out and spent $65. WHAT?!? I spent most of my money already?!?!? Yes, but with good reason! Our local Co-op has their Warehouse sale on right now! Pasta, canned beans, and pounds of apples and oranges are all 10/$10 this week! I actually cannot beat that price, and bought enough of those things to easily last me to the end of the two weeks. I also grabbed some key veggies to use in my menu, eggs (cheap protein!) and some yogurt that expires on Monday, but hey, it was cheap and I'll be the one eating it. I had plenty of baking supplies, leftover from Christmas baking that I never got around to, in my pantry, and tonnes of meat. This would be a lot harder if I didn't have a freezer full of deer... But still doable. (I write this fully aware that many people around the globe would be ecstatic with $75 for groceries for a full month. I am blessed, undoubtedly.)

Anyway, here is the breakdown of my meal plan. My weekends I left open since we'll eat leftovers likely, or go to my parents' house (Booyah for free food!!)

Monday - Week 1: Roasted Pork Chops, canned beans, roasted sweet potatoes, applesauce (my mom gave me a pack of pork chops to help clear out her overfilled freezer! Yay!) approx. cost assuming I actually bought everything: $6
Tuesday - Week 1: Salmon Potato Casserole (potato, peas, celery, cream of mushroom soup, can of pink salmon, panko, spices) approx. cost: $4 (bought the salmon on sale for $1 a can!) Served sweet potato fries from the freezer on the side - roughly $1.50 cost
Wednesday - Week 1: Beef Barley Soup (beef, bouillon, celery, carrots, onion, garlic, corn, frozen green beans, can of tomatoes, spices) approx. cost: $4 (I did it for less... my mom gave me a big steak from the freezer too!) Served with homemade drop biscuits for additional $1.50 - And did I mention this makes enough to feed me for lunch for the next few days??
Thursday - Week 1: Fried rice (leftover pork chop, rice, 2 eggs, carrots, peas, green onion, soy sauce, oyster sauce) approx. cost: $2.50 Served with oyster sauce broccoli on the side for about $1.50
Friday - Week 1: Quiche (6 eggs, leftover cream from the fridge, broccoli, leftover prosciutto from the fridge, leftover Havarti from the fridge and homemade pie crust) approx. cost: $5 Served with tossed salad for extra $1. Fillings are totally negotiable, that's just what's in my fridge. Oh, and I'll make a double batch of pie crust and freeze half for next week!

Monday - Week 2: Borscht (Beets, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, veggie stock, dill, sour cream) approx. cost: $3 (I bought a HUGE bag of beets when they were on for $0.80 a pound a few weeks ago!) Also - loads of leftovers for lunch again!
Tuesday - Week 2: Venison Pot Pie (pie crust from freezer, frozen peas, frozen corn, frozen green beans, carrots, potatoes, cream of mushroom soup, venison) approx. cost: $4
Wednesday - Week 2: Pancit Bihon (rice noodles, fish sauce, soy sauce, celery, carrots, onion, cabbage, chicken) approx. cost: $3.50 ...And more lunch leftovers! Which is great, because Pancit is even better the next day!!
Thursday - Week 2: Refried Bean Burritos (homemade refried beans, homemade tortillas, guacamole, tomatoes, sour cream) approx. cost: $3 ('homemade' is a huge part of the cost savings in this. Store-bought tortillas are about $0.50 apiece - homemade are about $0.05 apiece. And homemade refried beans are 1/3 of the cost of a store-bought can.) Served w/ tossed salad for $1
Friday - Week 2: BBQ Stuffed Salmon (whole frozen salmon, rice, celery, onion, lemon essential oil, dried herbs) approx. cost: $6 This one requires quite the footnote... every summer I buy a whole frozen salmon when it goes on sale for $0.19/100 g, then I freeze it til I feel like cooking it. I don't expect anyone to find a whole frozen salmon for under $5 at this time of year, so this is definitely my 'cheat' meal! This bad boy will be enough to feed the company we're having that night, too!

Now, what that looks like to me is about $47 for suppers for about two weeks! The rest of the $30 we have will go towards breakfasts and lunches, but if you remember, I've got quite a few meals in there that will produce a LOT of leftovers for lunchtimes. For breakfasts we mostly have cereal or oatmeal, so the $10 I haven't yet spent for groceries will at least in part be spent on milk. The remainder will restock our fruit, which is our primary snack. I'll be making bread at home instead of shelling out $3 for a crappy store-bought loaf, and instead of buying Mum Mums or Gerber Puff snacks for the baby I bought a giant bag of puffed rice that he actually really likes! And for a fraction of the cost!

And as a reminder, while I wrote out the cost of buying exactly what you would need to make these meals, many of the things I listed I've had in my pantry or fridge for a while, because one of the easiest and best ways to only spend $75 on groceries in two weeks is to prepare for it by stocking up during sales. If I were to go out and buy a can of pink salmon at Safeway today, I'd likely pay around $3 - not the $1 I actually paid when I bought it at Co-op a few weeks ago. This is not a flawless meal plan that you can follow week-after-week and save copious amounts of money on regularly. Remember, the cheapest meal plan will change, depending on what's on sale, and what you have. And this week, this is what I have.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)