Monday, April 26, 2010

Marinated Flank Steak

I am so glad it's time to cook on the grill! This is one of my favorite ways to eat steak and it is one of the few recipes I have from my dad.

  • 1/2 cup cooking oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp honey or brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 flank steak between (1 and 2 pounds)
Combine all ingredients except the flank steak in a bowl and mix on medium speed for 5-7 minutes.

In the mean time, place the steak in a large flat container (I use a 13 x 9 pan with a lid) and poke all over with a fork. Pour the marinade over the steak, turning the steak to cover.

Store in the fridge and marinate as long as possible (the longer the better), 6-9 hours, turning steak once or twice.

Grill on medium-high heat, 5 minutes per side or more depending on the thickness of the steak and how well you would like it cooked. (We like it medium--pink in the middle but not bloody.) Transfer steak to a platter, cover with foil, and allow to set for 10 minutes. Use a rimmed cutting board to slice the steak into 1/2 inch slices (slice against the grain). There will be lots of delicious juices, which you can spoon over the meat. Serve with brown rice pilaf and roasted vegetables.

If freezing: Place steak and marinade in a sealable freezer bag before freezing. Start defrosting in fridge up to 24 hours before cooking.

I usually double this recipe to make two of these at a time, eating one and freezing the other. The finished product we ate last week was gobbled up before I could find the camera. Maybe next time...

Make Your Own Salad Dressing: Italian Dressing

I've owned this neat salad carafe for a long time and I want to get better about using it. I think I bought it at the grocery store long ago with some Italian Dressing mix. It's difficult to see, but on the side of the carafe are marked lines: V for Vinegar, W for Water, and O for Oil. It occurred to me recently that instead of using a salad dressing packet, I can make up my own herb mixture, add the appropriate fluid amounts and shake!

This is a quick and easy way to make salad dressing at home, for when you want a simple recipe that makes less of a mess. The Green Goddess dressing I made the other week contained lots of ingredients that needed to be measured or chopped, then mixed in the blender. I filled almost half the dishwasher making that dressing (it was worth it!). This dressing is made up in it's own storage container and only requires a few measuring spoons if you use dry herbs. Today I'm experimenting with some herbs from my garden, so I'll also use a cutting board and knife. Oh, and my lemon juicer; I have a few lemons to use up.

I added a little something extra to this dressing to experiment: My grandmother taught me that you can add 1/2 teaspoon of mayonnaise to a dressing and it will act as an emulsifier, meaning it will keep the oil and vinegar from separating.

After reading a variety of recipes for inspiration, here's what I made up for this dressing:
  • Tarragon Vinegar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice (will replace a bit of the water in the carafe measurement)
  • Water
  • 1/2 tsp Mayonnaise
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Minced Fresh Parsley (from the yard)
  • 1 Tablespoon Minced Fresh Oregano (from the yard)
  • 1 Tablespoon Minced Fresh Basil (from the fridge, needing to be used up!)
  • Minced Garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste
Measure vinegar into carafe to 'V' line. Add 1 tsp Lemon Juice (preferably fresh), and Water to 'W' line. Add mayonnaise oil to 'O' line. Add finely minced herbs and minced garlic. Close lid securely and shake to combine. Make in advance to allow flavors to blend before serving.

Here is the dressing, freshly shaken!

Menu Plan Monday: April 26th

First, let me say that the plan for 2 meals to stretch to 4 meals last week didn't go as planned. Despite cooking over 2 pounds of chicken on Monday, there wasn't enough left after the first night to feed the ravenous hordes Tuesday night. After eating the marinated flank steak one night (and husband removing more for lunch) there were 3 thin strips of meat left! This is an ongoing problem for me: If I make more, they eat more.

This is why I'm hoping to make more progress in getting my family to eat more salad; it would be good for them and also help to fill them up! So far, I'm the only one who has taken up the habit. I miss a day here and there, but I try to have greens and dressing reading to go at any given moment, either for lunch or dinner.

Unfortunately, this is not the week to cook a ton of stuff as we are headed out of town again this weekend, this time for 5 days. I need to strike the delicate balance between making Enough Food and not making Too Much Food.

Here is the plan:
  • Monday (busy night): Chicken Casserole and salad
  • Tuesday: Parents out for Dinner, Kidlets eating spaghetti, meatballs, and steamed green beans
  • Wednesday: Mini Hamburgers, Mixed Roasted Potatoes, and steamed asparagus
  • Thursday: Leftovers (backup plan: Bean and Cheese Quesadillas and whatever isn't consumed can be frozen for future snacks/meals)
  • Friday: Tilapia and Pepper Packets (already frozen, ready to go!), brown rice pilaf or whole wheat couscous, and steamed broccoli
  • Saturday: Out of Town
  • Sunday: Out of Town
  • Monday: Out of Town

Salad Dressing of the WeekItalian Dressing I was supposed to make last week, but didn't get to.

I am going to defrost a loaf of banana bread to help fill everyone up. Also my daughter has decided that she loves hardboiled eggs, so that will be another available snack. Hopefully this and everything else will keep everyone fed through the week, yet leave very little remaining food when we head out of town!

Happy Eating! See more menu planning inspiration at I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It's Barely a Recipe: Salt and Pepper Chicken

I've made a number of meals recently that didn't receive the best reception from the younger members of my family. ("Yuck!") I explained to my son that he'll like more and more things as he gets older, he just has to keep trying them! Still, there's no need to serve something flavor-complex every night. Sometimes something simple does the trick.

Here is my recipe for Salt and Pepper Chicken:

You will need:
  • Chicken Parts (with skin and bones included)
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste

Place chicken parts skin-up in 13 x 9 baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes (shorter or longer depending on size of chicken pieces).

So simple, and so delicious! Recently I made this dish while we were busy doing something else. I lowered the temp to 300 degrees and baked the chicken for almost 2 hours. It was wonderful, and Barely a Recipe!

Be sure to save the chicken bones in the freezer until you have enough to make Bone Soup.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's Barely a Recipe: Smoked Salmon Appetizers

I hosted my book club yesterday, but didn't have time to write about the menu ahead of time as I've done previously. Here is one of the snacks I made to eat while we discussed Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. (Book Verdict: It contains lots of fascinating information about salt and world history, but the book itself is a dry read!) I wanted to focus our snacks on foods traditionally preserved with salt, one being smoked salmon, another being capers.

Smoked Salmon Appetizers

Ingredients for 1 dozen:

  • 1 Baguette (or other small bread loaf)
  • 4 oz Cream Cheese
  • 4 oz Smoked Salmon Pieces
  • Capers
Slice Baguette into 12 1/4 inch slices. Spread with cream cheese to taste. Divide smoked salmon and top bread slices. Place a few capers into cream cheese along the edge of the salmon.

Time-Saving Tip: When you are running late and your sister shows up early, enlist her to put this appetizer together for you.

That's it! You'll have an elegant and tasty appetizer or snack for your next gathering. It's so simple it's Barely a Recipe!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Yard Sale Wrap-up

I am so glad to report that we held our yard sale over the weekend, and everything went well!

What I achieved:
  • I didn't finish the final declutter areas in my Purge Process, but we still managed to sell over 200 items in our sale, including a large old TV (not digital!) that I would have had to pay $20 to recycle. We gave it away for $10, and I hope that it holds together for a few more years for the lucky purchaser!
  • Most of the remaining items we carted off to Goodwill. It's a mess, but we have lots more space in the basement now.
What I learned:
  • You don't need to pay for advertising! I posted a free advertisement on CraigsList three days before the sale. We also hung up a total of 9 signs in our neighborhood, leading people from two major roads to our street. I was really nervous that this wasn't going to be enough advertising, but it was fine! We had consistent traffic to our sale all morning, and continued to make a few sales after Noon while my husband was taking down the sale (after we had taken down our signs!)
  • Stuff will get stolen. We had a few small items stolen: cheap jewelry and some colorful plastic cups. They weren't worth  much, but it gave me an uncomfortable feeling, that people had interacted with me and my family and had chosen to take an item rather than pay $1 for it. I tried not to let it get to me. If you're going to have a sale, keep a close watch on your valuable items! (Or sell them another way. Most of the stuff we sold was not very valuable.)
  • The more the merrier. Our niece brought over her items to sell at our sale, and my friend brought some larger bikes and furniture to sell. A few neighbors brought over a few items, too. Still more neighbors stopped by to socialize, and a friend of mine was visiting from out of town, so she came over for a while, too. My son's friend came over with his dad, and the dad ended up taking the boys to the park after hanging out for a while. It was a nice community-building event that was much more fun than I expected! If you're planning a sale, get some people together to make it a more festive event!
What I recommend:
  • Carry your money on your person. I made sure to have lots of small bills, and I wore them in my jacket, which has four zip-pockets total. I put $10s and $20s in one pocket, $5s, in another, and put $1 and quarters/change in the other two pockets. It worked well, although I got a little hot near midday.
  • Be willing to bargain. I had some impressive hagglers come to the sale. I had to really concentrate to keep up with the offers she was making. I gave her great prices and she bought a lot of stuff. She even came back later and bought more. (I wonder what she plans to do with it all? Hold her own sale, perhaps?) I think she really liked that I was willing to haggle with her. I recommend coffee to help you keep up with the math. But if you are set on a price, stick with it. I held firm on certain items that I had decided on in advance.
  • Be willing to hold items. One purchaser had a $100 bill which I was unwilling to break so that she could purchase $7 worth of items. I told her I could hold her items for an hour. She returned and ended up buying $5 of additional stuff once she broke her hundred at a nearby fast food restaurant.
  • Put out an extension cord so that people can test the small appliances. This led to several sales when we could confirm that the items still worked.
  • Enlist help to watch your children. (See community building above!)
How much did I make, you ask? I'm not going to say yet, as I want to wait and report all my results for the month in my April Declutter Challenge Report. I'm waiting for my consignment check to be mailed, too, and you can guess how much that total will be. The person who guesses the closest without going over the total will win a $25 Amazon Gift Card!

I'm so glad that so much of my stuff has made it to a new home, where hopefully someone is getting good use out of it! I don't think I could have a yard sale every year, but maybe in 2-3 years we'll consider holding another one. It was fun!

Menu Plan Monday: April 19th

We made it through the consignment and yard sale prep, with minimal time spent in the kitchen. I'll have to remember that last week's menu worked well while I was so busy. You can go here to guess how much money I will make and possibly win a $25 Amazon gift card!

This week I want to see if I can make two meals stretch into four meals for the four days before we go out of town, and also use up all the produce.
  • Monday: Salf & Pepper Chicken, Potatoes, Broccoli, and Salad (Also made a nice lunch: Super Special Spinach Pie with butternut squash soup and bread.)
  • Tuesday: Leftovers
  • Wednesday: Marinated Flank Steak, brown rice pilaf, roasted vegetables
  • Thursday: Leftovers
  • Friday: Out of town
  • Saturday: Out of town
  • Sunday: Tilapia and Pepper Packets (I made extra last week!) with whole wheat couscous and steamed vegetables (and salad)
  • Monday: Chicken Casserole (sliding from last week) and salad
Salad Dressing of the Week: Italian Dressing (that I didn't get around to making last week.)

 You can see lots more menu plans at!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Purging Continued

I think I might be doing something wrong. Lately I've seen decluttering results at other people's houses, and they look great!

This is what my 'decluttered' space looks like at the moment:

Here are the Before Pictures for comparison. This is the aftermath of consignment sale pricing. Guess how much money I will make from the consignment sale here!

Ack! I'm going to be busy cleaning house this weekend. At least it should go faster because there is less stuff...right?

Anyway, my purge process continues this afternoon as the yard sale is tomorrow.

Previously decluttered:
  • My closet and drawers
  • Daughter's closet and drawers
  • Son's closet and drawers
  • Linen Closet
 Completed Today Already:
  • Basement Playroom
  • Storage Room
 Still to do:
  • Large kitchen cabinet and Pantry
  • Buffet in dining room (aka Craft Storage)
  • Toy Cabinets, DVD Cabinet
Here we go...

Decluttering: The Linen Closet

Alternate Title: How Many Towels does a Family of 4 Need?

Quite a few, apparently.

I got rid of 18 of them, and we still have plenty, as you see above.

Most of these towels will be donated. Unless someone would like to buy them at the yard sale, you never know! Maybe now when we put away towels in the linen closet, there will be space enough for them to remain properly folded, instead of being crammed in and getting all wrinkled.

Unfortunately, when our house was built 30 years ago, the builders failed to consider that future homeowners would want to photograph the interior of the linen closet and post it on a blog, so it's hard to see that my linen closet now has oodles of open space compared to previously. Here are the Before Pictures:

Here are the After Pictures:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Consignment Sale Prep: Done! (And a Giveaway Contest!)

I am so excited to report that my consignment items have left the building. Despite only purging half of my clutter/storage areas, I managed to price 275 items for the big sale!
Here's a breakdown of the types of items I sent to the sale:
  • 125 Books (with a few DVDs and VHS tapes thrown in for good measure)- This sale accepts any and all books, DVDs, and videos, so I got rid of our remaining stack of books. These are books that weren't worth selling using my other methods, mostly small paperback children's books in used condition. We also had some really old adult fiction books and some baby board books in decent condition. I priced everything very affordably and I hope many of them make it to good homes!
  • 75 Kid's clothing items. These were summer clothes ranging in size from 3 months to size 5. (I haven't had a baby in over 3 years, but I keep finding little clothes that weren't previously decluttered.)
  • 12 Maternity Items. Again, I keep finding maternity things in the back of the closet, and people have returned items I gave them, too. (No need! If I've given you any baby/maternity gear, please keep it or pass it on!)
  • 9 Pairs of Kids' Shoes. Again, several year's worth, including like-new water shoes my kids decided they didn't want to wear. I cleaned some of them before pricing, too!
  • 43 Baby and Bath toy items. Just a variety of little toys that have plenty of wear left in them.
  • 11 Baby gear items. Pottys, bath tubs, unopened safety gear, and a vibrating baby chair that my kids hardly ever used.

 The alarming new is: I still have plenty of items to sell at my yard sale this weekend. I'm glad that I sent so many items to the sale; clothing and books in particular, because those things haven't sold well at our previous sale. I am a little daunted that I still have a lot of work to do to get ready for the yard sale. Whose idea was it to do all of this at once? Oh yeah. Mine. :)

I'm so excited about getting rid of so much stuff that I've decided to hold Giveaway Contest! Leave a comment on this post and guess how much I money I will receive for my items. The person who guesses the closest to the final total without going over will win a $25 Amazon Gift Card. **If you are posting anonymously, be sure to leave a name and contact information so that I can contact you if win!**

I want to disclose that I have no clear idea how much money to expect. I didn't add up the total amount I was charging or anything like that, but here are some tips that will maybe influence your guess:
  • I priced my items to sell! That means most of them are really affordable, low prices. It's more important to me that items get to people who need and want them than making a huge profit.
  • Sunday is half-price day, so some of my items will sell for half of what I priced them. (Historically most of my items sell the first day of the sale.)
  • The Sale keeps 50% of the sale price of each item.
  • Some items may not sell, in that case I have the option to pick them up or leave them behind to be donated. (I haven't decided yet.)
 This Giveaway Contest will be open until Noon on April 22nd. I should receive my consignor check by the first week of May, so I will announce the winner at that point, hopefully in time to report my Declutter Challenge results for April!

In Addition: I have two free tickets to the sale good for this Saturday, April 17th!  (Value: $10 each)If you live in the Northern Virginia area and would like to go to the sale for free, email me at dflanag2 @ (remove spaces) and we'll see if we can arrange for you to pick one up. First come, first serve!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Liven up Your Leftovers: Lentil Rice Casserole

I've been meaning to post this recipe for a while, as I make it frequently; it's my husband's favorite. Today seemed like a good time because a) I had some leftover to photograph, b) my serving suggestions tie in with my current goal to eat more salad, and c) I need a break from pricing items for consignment. :)

This recipe is based on the recipe here, but I have adjusted it enough that I thought it worth sharing my version!

3 1/2 cups water (or stock for added flavor)
1 cup rice (I use brown)
1 cup lentils (check for rocks. Don't ask how I know.)
1 tsp salt
1 medium onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced (I use more, and use different colors if on hand)
1/2 tsp ground cumin (I use a teaspoon or more)
1/2 tsp chili powder (I used a teaspoon or more)
1/4 tsp garlic powder (or 1 minced garlic clove)
1/2 cup salsa of your choice
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Rinse brown rice in strainer under tap water. Place in pan over medium heat and heat/dry, stirring frequently until rice kernels give off a toasted odor and begin to pop. (This brings out the flavor of the brown basmati rice that I use, feel free to skip it if you prefer!)
  • Add water or stock, lentils, and salt. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to low heat. Simmer until liquid is absorbed, 20-30 minutes.
  • In the meantime, dice onion and bell pepper. Heat oil in large skillet, add vegetables and saute until softened. Add cumin, chili powder, and garlic powder, stir to combine. Add salsa and diced tomatoes. When cooked, add lentil rice mixture. Stir to combine evenly.
  • Spray 13 x 9 casserole dish with cooking oil. Spread half of lentil rice mixture in bottom of pan. Top with half of shredded cheddar. Add remaining lentil rice mixture, top with remaining cheese. (At this point I store it in the fridge until dinnertime. It's make-ahead! I haven't tried freezing it, though.)
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes before serving.
To Liven up your Leftovers: I like to serve this for lunch as filling for a lettuce wrap. In the picture above I used romaine lettuce; other rounder lettuce types might work better. Simply heat the casserole up and spoon in into the middle of the lettuce leaf.

Other tips:
  • I like to make this casserole in conjunction with other meals that require bell peppers. When I made this meal, I used a green bell pepper plus part of a red pepper and a yellow pepper. I reserved part of the red/yellow peppers and sliced them to be used with Tilapia and Pepper Packets to be served tomorrow. You could also reserve bell peppers for fajitas or kabobs.
  • This meal is vegetarian, and could be vegan if you replaced the cheese. You could also add ground beef or shredded chicken for the carnivorous folks in your life. (You may need a larger pan if you add a full pound of ground beef...)
And now, back to pricing.

For more ideas on how to use lentils and other dried legumes, head over to!

Consignment Sale Preparation Tips

Sorting through piles of your family's old clothing, toys, gear, and books can be a lot of work, especially if you have allowed it to pile up in your basement for multiple years like I have. Fortunately, a lot of this stuff is on its way out of here in just a few days. I can't wait!

Right now I'm focusing on preparing items to drop off at the consignment sale. Here is how I do it:
  • First of all, I recognize that most of our used clothing will NOT be consigned as they are too worn, stained, or damaged. The people at the sale inspect the incoming items and only items in good condition will be accepted. It saves me a ton of time up front if I am carefully selective as to what I prepare for the sale. This is very important, as it is painful to have your items rejected after you have spent time getting them ready.
  • I price to sell. When I am setting prices for these clothes, I have to remember that I will only receive a percentage of the paid price (this percentage varies depending on the sale). I also have to remember that some money is better than no money, so I try to price my items affordably. This means that you have to forget what you paid when the item was new(er). Imagine what you would pay for the item in the condition it's in right now. I want someone to pick up the nice shirt that my son refused to ever wear and think, "Wow! This is a great shirt for a great price!" then buy it, take it home, and do a happy dance while showing off all her great deals to her husband, who thinks she has gone mildly insane (or maybe I'm the only person who does this?). My goal is to have as little as possible left over after the sale.
  • Make a tracking system for yourself. I have tried various things in the past to help me keep track of my consignment items, and this year I have a new plan. I have to attach an index card to each item, describing the item, the price, and my consignor number. I have numbered the back of the index cards from 1 to 310, so that when they mail my index cards back to me with my payment, I can get a better idea of what sold and what didn't. As I attach cards to items, I'll create a list like this:
1-100 Children's clothes
101-120 Maternity clothes
121-150 Books/DVDs/Videos

When the cards are returned to me I can put them in order and see how many items didn't sell, and have an general idea of what the item was. If I'm missing #130, I'll know it was a book or DVD that didn't sell. I have the option to pick up the items that don't sell, but this time I'm going to allow them to be donated. I still want to know how much sold vs. how much was donated, though! I'm hoping this system will work.

At this point I've finished sorting, and now I need to focus on pricing and packaging toys and gear up to transport to the sale on Thursday morning. The remainder of the clothing items will be donated to Goodwill, where they will make good use of them.  Unless someone at the yard sale wants to buy something, I won't stop them!

I should explain that we've tried to sell clothes and books at past yard sales, and we don't have much luck, which is why we're sending the kids' clothes, books, gear, and toys off to the consignment sale, where there will be many more shoppers, and focusing the yard sale on household items and larger items. We won't get as much of the profit, but we will connect our items with people who want and need them.

Decluttering: Lost and Found

One of the great things about decluttering is that you recover missing items! These are the paperwhite bowls that I was looking for back in November. Both my husband and I searched far and wide several times this winter and couldn't find them. (They were in the garage on a shelf in plain sight when I found them, but I wonder if they were hidden behind something else when we were looking previously?)

Don't worry, I have a plan to store them in a safe new place--the large kitchen cabinet which still needs to be purged--AND write a note to myself as to where they are stored so that I can find them THIS November.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: April 12th

Last week I made a commitment to personally eat a salad or greens each day, and I met my goal. The part about feeding the salad and greens to my kids wasn't as successful, but we'll keep working on it.
I'm up to my ears in Yard Sale and Consignment preparations; I got halfway through my Purge Plan before I ran out of workspace and started pricing items. Meals for this week need to be quick, easy, and big enough to provide leftovers!
  • Monday: Lentil Rice Casserole, green beans, and salad w/avocado and tomatoes
  • Tuesday: Spaghetti, Turkey Meatballs, broccoli, and salad
  • Wednesday: Tilapia and pepper packets with whole wheat couscous and salad.
  • Thursday: Mini Hamburgers, baked beans, and salad
  • Friday: Chicken Casserole and salad
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Book Club-Need to work up Menu Plan
  • Monday: Baked Chicken and potatoes, and salad

Salad Dressing of the Week: The Green Goddess dressing is almost gone (I've used it in many ways!) so this week I will make a simple Italian dressing. I'll need to hunt down a recipe.

Check out other menu planning ideas at!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Yard Sale Preparation: The Purge Process

It's time to go through the house and remove any and all items that are headed for the garage and consignment sales! I've already procrastinated by doing all the laundry I can find; this way I'll be less likely to 'miss' something I should have pulled.

At the same time I can assess what I need to replace clothing-wise for my children who seem to double in size every time I turn my back. I already know that my daughter needs a whole new summer wardrobe as she has outgrown everything she owns.

Here is my list of household hotspots I need to hit and clear out. I'll check back regularly and cross out what I've completed.
  • My closet and drawers
  • Daughter's closet and drawers
  • Son's closet and drawers
  • Linen Closet
  • Large kitchen cabinet and Pantry
  • Buffet in dining room (aka Craft Storage)
  • Toy Cabinets, DVD Cabinet
  • Basement Play Room (shudder)
  • Storage Room
It's a purging time of year, and MoneySavingMom is hosting a declutter challenge, where you can find links to others' decluttering progress.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Salad Dressing of the Week: Green Goddess

This spring/summer I want to do a better job eating salads, and I'm hopeful that using homemade salad dressings will help make salad eating more appetizing.

I found a recipe here that looked close to a dressing my grandmother has made in the past from scratch. Yes, it's full of great calorie-laden stuff like mayonnaise and sour cream (which I replaced with plain lowfat yogurt), but it also contains great flavorings like tarragon vinegar and anchovies--which are my favorite salad dressing ingredient!

It also contains fresh herbs: parsley, chives, mint, and tarragon. This week I used what I had on hand, which was parsley, green onions, no mint, and dried tarragon. It still turned out beautifully and I have been enjoying it on salad every day this week, in small portions of course.

ETA: Here are some various ways I used Green Goddess dressing this week:
  • I also served it to our relatives on salad as well as on top of fresh steamed asparagus.
  • As a dip for cut fresh vegetables.
  • Combined with chopped hardboiled eggs, it makes a tangy Egg Salad
  • I also spread it on a tortilla as a sandwich spread, then added turkey, lettuce, spinach, carrots, and tomatoes for a tasty sandwich wrap.
  • I didn't do this, but you could also use it for potato salad, either warm or chilled.
 This stuff is good. I will definitely be making it again!

You can find more ways to use herbs and spices as

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Declutter Challenge March Update: Building Ebay Experience

I haven't forgotten that it's past time to report on my decluttering progress in March. After a busy month in February... blah blah blah. I toyed with the idea of listing some items on Craig's List, but ultimately I decided to focus on Ebay listings.

I followed the strategy I had worked out and it went well. Listing auctions with no reserve on Ebay makes me anxious, and many people prefer to avoid the fear of an item selling for a low price by raising the starting bid price or pricing the item as Buy it Now. I've observed that auctions with higher starting bid prices appear to attract fewer bidders. I could sell items using the Buy it Now feature, but I wasn't sure exactly how much my items would be worth in the end. One buyer actually contacted me about an auction, wondering if I would be willing to change it to a Buy it Now transaction. I'm glad I didn't because the item ended up selling for more than the buyer would have offered.

I also struggled with the mail rates. The cost to mail the larger items were easy to justify, but the cost to mail some of the smaller items across the country was exhorbitant. In some cases the flat rate envelopes and boxes worked well, but in other cases the value of the item I was trying to sell wasn't worth how much it would cost to safely ship it anywhere in the country. I ended up added additional shipping options on several transactions.

In the end, I sold 7 of the 11 items, resulting in $155.47 in sales after Ebay and Paypal commissions and fees, which I've finally figured out!* Several of the small items sold for only $.99, so I'm not always right about what items will be in demand. I didn't mind very much because I had great success on other transactions, and I still moved items that were no longer useful to my family out of my house and into a home where the item is needed.

I also sold an additional book through, making $5.59 after commissions and fees. I only have a small handful of books listed, but it's nice to every once in a while pop a book in the mail to someone who would like to own it.

That's all I sold! It was a smaller month, but still well ahead of my earning goal--I earned a total of $161.06.

As for my other decluttering projects, I could have made more progress. The pile for Goodwill that I made when decluttering the basement laundry room is still in the house, unfortunately. I did successfully recycle my worn, flaking, non-stick cookware. April is set to be a high export month due to the yard/consignment sale strategy.

*You might recall from last month that I wasn't sure what my Ebay fees were. After a bit of research, I figured out that my Ebay fees totaled $18.26, and were not paid before I posted my numbers for last month. Paypal must also be paid when you are a seller--I'm learning so much!--and their total fees were $8.60, but these fees were deducted from each transaction as they were processed. This all means that I overstated my Ebay earnings for February by $18.26, so I've deducted that amount from the loan payment that I'm sending for March. This is a bit complex to keep track of, yet another reason I am limiting my Ebay activity to 1 week per month! I don't know how accountants keep up with this stuff!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: April 5th

Due to my unplanned vacation, I didn't even make a meal plan last week. We ate what was available and went out to dinner in a completely unplanned, casual way. It was fun but at the same time chaotic. It's time to return to reality as I have major project deadlines approaching!
  • Monday: Creamy Enchilada Casserole sliding from, uh, TWO weeks ago... good thing the ingredients held up! with steamed broccoli and salad.
  • Tuesday: Family Feast for Fourteen
  • Wednesday: Leftovers (including Roast Lamb from Easter Dinner)
  • Thursday: Potato 'Collard' Quiche (using up collard greens bought for another purpose), butternut squash soup, and salad
  • Friday: Out for dinner
  • Saturday: Baked Ziti from the freezer, bread, and salad
  • Sunday: Leftovers
  • Monday: this meal we hardly ever get around to eating: Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs (from the freezer) and steamed green beans...  and also salad!
Soup of the Week: I will make Bone Soup once more in the next week or two, then retire most soup making until the fall.

Salad Dressing of the Week: Green Goddess Dressing (recipe to come).

This post is linked to's Menu Plan Monday, an inspiring collection of meal plans and recipes.

Make Your Own Salad Dressing

I like to think that I provide nutritious food for my family. We eat mainly whole grains, whether brown rice, whole wheat pasta, or whole grain breads/flours (with the exception for some baked treats that don't convert well to whole grain flours). We strive to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables each day, although the 'variety' factor is negligible for certain family members. We eat generally lean proteins, including beans and legumes, and include vegetarian and fish meals in our meal rotation.

The weaker areas in the menu plan appear to be our sugar intake (too high) and our salad intake (too low).

I have all sorts of salad excuses. I know I should make them, I know I should eat them, BUT:
  • Washing the lettuce is time consuming.
  • Chopping the vegetables is time consuming.
  • EATING the salad is time consuming (although this may be the point: to slow down and fill up while avoiding the temptation to consume more higher-caloric portions of the meal).
  • The salad dressings we have are unappetizing aka gross.
Am I the only person who has a shelf like this in the refrigerator?

These are the Ghosts of Salads Past: store-bought salad dressings purchased over the years in an attempt to find enjoyable yet nutritious options. You don't even want to know how old these dressing bottles are. Between my percieved lack of patience for salad preparation and lack of appetizing dressing options, I hardly ever bother to make a salad to go with a meal. Who would with such a pitiful selection of congealed preservatives waiting to be added on top?

I want to change this trend. If I prep 4-5 days worth of greens at a time, it will save time when I am trying to put dinner on the table. If I put a bit of salad on my children's plates each night, perhaps they will learn that vegetables don't have to be steam-cooked to be enjoyed. Lastly, if I have a delicious, preservative-free, home made dressing on hand to add to the salad, perhaps I will feel more motivated to eat it.

My grandmother eats a salad nearly every day, and she makes her own salad dressings on a regular basis. Since warm weather is approaching, I am planning to replace making my Soup of the Week with preparing a variety of her homemade salad dressings.

As for the sugar intake issue, stay tuned. First I have to deal with the influx of treats that arrived with The Bunny.

Family Feast For Fourteen

Well... maybe not fourteen specifically. A more accurate title for this post would be 'A Family Feast for Approximately Ten to Fifteen depending on who makes it,' but I thought the alliteration was more intriguing.

Anyway, this is last-minute planning for a casual gathering this Tuesday night. The meal needs to have vegetarian options and be reasonably kid-friendly as well as have easy final preparation steps.

I have to admit I was having Meal Planning Block coming up with this one... should I make Lasagna again? I think my in-laws like my lasagna, but maybe we should do something different this time.

Finally I followed the sage advice to look to what you already have on hand, and I recalled that I have a bunch of marinated chicken as well as a package of tofu to use up. We have the grill up and running as of yesterday, so I can grill chicken and serve it with the early spring standbys: roasted baby red potatoes and asparagus (I'll do something a bit different with the tofu if the vegetarians are able to attend). Add a salad with homemade dressing, an appetizer, a dessert, and a drink setup and dinner is done.

Whew, I thought that was going to be harder than it turned out to be! Now I am freed up to clean my filthy house that I didn't touch last week.

Fitness Goals Update for March

Goal for the Year: more than 150

Classes Attended in March: 14

Current 2010 Total as of March 31st: 39!

I'm technically on track to meet my goal, thinks look ominous when I look at the calendar and see our upcoming schedule--I need to get ahead sooner rather than later. I'm going to try to attend class 4 times a week this month to see if I can get a little ahead.

My Spring Break Vacation

I had a lot of fun on my Spring Break Vacation this past week. I wasn't expecting to be on vacation per se; we didn't have specific plans to take a trip or a break from routine life, but that is what happens apparently when you ask your kids what they would like to do (Answers: go to the toy store, go to the movie theatre, eat hamburgers and ice cream at every opportunity, and play!)

We toured exhibits...

Went bike riding...

Had Easter events with family...

and many other fun activities. We went out to eat quite a bit and disregarded stodgy old rules like 'Bedtime'. Unfortunately, none of our fun plans included things such as housework, preparing for the upcoming yard and consignment sales, or blogging. I'm feeling a little out of whack and VERY Behind Schedule. I need to get back on track!