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Monday, September 26, 2011

Mealtime from the Garden

Ya know the part on "Forest Gump" where Bubba is talking about all the ways to make shrimp? Yah, ya do. "There's shrimp creole, baked shrimp, broiled shrimp, jambalaya. You can steam 'em, fry 'em." Ok, that's not a direct quote, but you get the point.

We'll I feel like that about my garden. I would have never thought I'd be able to grow anything, let alone learn what to do with it once it was harvested. Old trick.

I have 200 things I can now do with squash, zucchini, green beans, carrots, tomatoes, raspberries, green peppers, Anaheim peppers, jalapenos, potatoes, onions and herbs. Besides eating it fresh, you can cut and freeze a lot of this kind of stuff, you can stew and bottle it. You can puree and freeze it, you can combine some of them together and bottle it or freeze it. You can give some away to family and neighbors.

So this month the garden is at full harvest. I always know when we are about done picking stuff because all my baskets and bowls are full of stuff to process in one way or another. I am grateful for this education I have gained and am passing along some knowledge to my readers--yeah, all 8 of you.

What can I do with...

Bake bread or muffins. Once cool you can store them in plastic bags and freeze them for later. You can also just shred the zucchini and freeze it in bags to cook with later. You can also dehydrate slices for soups and stews in the winter.

Bottling these is not science. Ok, well it is scientific, but not rocket science. My good friend Delle taught me over the phone how to do it. If you don't want anything to do with kickin' it old school, then you can cut them into slices, mix them with olive oil, sprinkle them with pepper or herbs and roast them in a 200 degree oven for 12 hours. You can take the skins off and juice them for sauce or tomato juice. Don't forget about salsa and stewed tomatoes with onions and peppers for later.

Spaghetti and Banana squash
Share them. Or if you eat them, cure the skins by picking them, wiping the dirt off and drying them for a few days. Then store them in a cool, dark place--root cellar or basement cement room.

Roast them in the oven--350 degrees for 10 minutes. The skins will blacken and fall off. Then cut them, put them in sprayed muffin pans and freeze them for 1-2 hours. Take them out and store them in plastic bags in the freezer. This is how we do Anaheim peppers and use them in stews or chilis.

You can cut up Green peppers and freeze them without the roasting process. You can freeze jalapenos whole. These work well for sandwiches, stir fry and casseroles.

These don't last long at our house, but I did manage to freeze enough for jam. You can freeze your harvest in small batches, as the bushes harvest gradually, and use them in jam when you have enough.

Potatoes and onions
If you don't use these right away they can stay in the ground through the winter. Since I hate digging my food out in the snow, I store them in burlap bags in the cellar.

Cut them up and freeze them or dehydrate them. I love them in soup and stew during the winter.

So, what about now? Tonight we are having Haystacks. If you don't know what this is, it's a pile of rice topped with fresh veggies, chopped ham, cheese, pineapple and mandarin oranges, nuts, raisins and chicken gravy. I know it sounds weird, but it's surprisingly good. I love it because everyone will eat it, since they can skip the toppings they don't like.

Haystacks (an anything else) taste so good with fresh chopped peppers, onions, carrots and tomatoes.

Another way to use your fresh garden stuff is wraps or sandwiches. I discovered a trick for my kids this weekend. If I use my peeler and peel a few carrots onto their sandwiches, they are none the wiser.

Salad is an obvious choice. And don't forget about a good chili or stew.

Happy Harvesting

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Money Saving Tips of the Day

How did it get to be Thursday already? Well it is and I have come across some awesome deals for you.

Today go to or Enter in your email address here, and they will send you an email for a FREE $20 eGift Card.  You can turn around and make an 8×6 Hardcover Photo Book for FREE with your gift card!  Or take $20 off any other product on the My Publisher site.

Also Payless Shoes ( is having a great clearance sale and you get an extra 20% off using code 54190. Choose ship to store for free shipping AND if you shop through your ebates account you get an additional 3% back. If you need an ebates email me or comment here and I will get you hooked up.

I got 2 pair of youth Champion tennis shoes for my kids for $15 shipped. They are normally $27 per pair. I was dumb and forgot my ebates rebate--still trying to train myself to remember.

Kohl's is having a great clearance sale. Visit and use the code SMS4371 for an additional 10% off (exp. 9-24) and you can combine it with Kohl's cash and this code USHIPFREE for free shipping (exp 9/27).

Halloween is coming up. I think it's lame to go to the store and pick out an outfit. I like my kids to use their imaginations to come up with cool stuff. My college graduation gown is becoming Hermiones' Hogwarts robe this year and all my old 80's jewelry is coming to light for a second costume. However, if you need costumes is offering you 15% off with code TREAT15 and shipping over $70 is free; under $70 is $4.99.

Remember NEVER pay retail. If you are shopping online anytime, search for Promo Codes and use ebates for money back. Happy Shopping!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fall Meal Time Monday

I woke up this morning and had to pull the covers over my head my room was so cool. Fall is in the air, the Halloween decorations are out and we're putting our costumes together. I know it's 40 days away...but Fall is here now.

I'll miss the lazy days of summer, but Fall brings a lot of great things. Cooler weather, colors, baking and harvesting, and awesome meals.

Here's what's on the menu this week.

Meatloaf with Zucchini Casserole and steamed carrots

Bbq chicken and twice baked potatoes

Turkey Wraps and fruit salad (Make extra wraps for lunch tomorrow)

Hamburger stew, homemade bread sticks and Dutch oven peach cobbler

Tuna Casserole, Cheesy veggies, applesauce with cinnamon and mini sundaes

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Peanut Butter Fudge

If you have food allergies, especially to nuts, I am so sorry. I think I'd rather have my health issues than nut allergies. I made this for the BIG GAME this weekend, and it's "a little piece of heaven," according to my 4 year old.

No- bake Peanut Butter Fudge
½ cup melted butter
1 cup chopped peanuts
2 cups peanut butter
1 pound powdered sugar
Chocolate, melted (optional)

Place all ingredients together in a food processor, and process until thick and creamy texture. Batter will be thick. Spread evenly into a 9x13 lightly greased pan, or a 9x9 if you like thick fudge. Chill until firm, then cut into squares. Drizzle with melted chocolate for garnish if desired.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

U Know U have lost your mind when....

It happens to everyone. You walk into a room to get something, only by the time you get there you can't remember what it was. Or you're in mid conversation and have something clever to say, and then forget. In high school I had an English teacher who called this "brain farting."

I think it's a sign of how overwhelmed we are, and how we try to cram 1,000 things into 10 minutes worth of time. So I am overwhelmed, daily. I am constantly juggling and sometimes I have to reach way out there to catch the "balls." Ya know what I mean?

Yesterday I received some great news. I have been chosen as a winner in a local photo and writing contest. Yippee. When Andy asked me what I sent in, I had NO IDEA. I know it was a pic of one of the kids from a trip this summer, but what I wrote and what I submitted is a mystery. But hey, someone thought it was great. Over the next year the photo exhibit will be traveling through the local library system. I should have a schedule in the next few weeks to share so you can see my awesome picture too.  It starts at the Columbus Library in October.

Here's an update on the craftiness happening this weekend.....(remember from an earlier post this week....)

Not too bad. I love the Cricut system. It made this Halloween project quick and fun.

The girls and I even made some jewelry with the Cricut shapes yesterday. I love they are getting older and I can handle doing projects with them and not for them.

Time to get out the rest of Halloween fun and get ready for the big game. GO UTES!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fun Craft

I have a bunch of fun crafts I am doing this week. I love Halloween--it's my favorite holiday. I have boxes of decor and now I am making some new things too. This post isn't about that. If I am thinking about Halloween, my excitement usually turns to Christmas too. I know...ironic holidays to love equally, but I do.

I hate shopping for Christmas in December. I make my kids and husband "turn in" their lists in October and my shopping is almost always done by Thanksgiving. So, today I've created some fun Subway Art for Christmas gifts. Don't be surprised if you get one.

Here's the first one Personalized Subway Art. Pretend your last name is "Smith" and you have four children Jane, Anna, Tom and Mike. Now replace your family's names in those blocks. Cute ehh?

Here's another, more generic one Family Subway Art.

So there's the art, now what do you do?? These are printed to a 6 inch square size. You can modge podge them onto wooden block, frame them or cut them up and make magnets out of them. When I get the final project done, I'll post it.

Fun, personal gift for anyone. This would also be a fun teacher or friend gift and change the words to say the things you appreciate or admire about them.

And of course if you want me to make you one...I am sure we can work out a deal.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

School Lunch Blues

I hate making school lunch. It is the bane of my existence. I hate everything about it, so naturally I was asked to teach a class on it to my church group. Blasted Karma!

Here's the run down on how school lunches are going to rock this year! Or at least an attempt at such a goal.

Fun Lunch Ideas
Crazy Eights (or sixes, or fours, etc.)
For this creative lunch recipe idea all you need to do is supply eight of everything. Then pack a lunch note in your child’s lunch bag promising a game of Crazy Eights before bed. Here are some menu ideas to get you started. Be inventive by coming up with your own based on your child’s favorite foods:
8 individual pieces of cheese
8 pieces of pepperoni or sausage
8 crackers
8 celery sticks
8 carrots sticks
8 pickles
8 orange or apple slices

Tic Tac Toe Snacks
Another creative lunch recipe and snack idea is to pack your child a small piece of paper with tic tac toe grid on it and a snack bag of raisins and sandwich sized bag of Cheerios or round shaped cereal. 

Mystery Lunch
Consider wrapping up her lunch items in foil and making her guess what each individual package holds. Add to the fun of this creative lunch recipe by attaching a note or riddle to each mystery package e.g. for broccoli you might want to write, “I am a green vegetable that grows in bunches above ground. I am a good source of iron and fiber.” Make sure any hints are age appropriate. 

Hidden Shapes/ Puzzle Lunches
Sometimes how something looks offers greater appeal than ordinary menu servings. When thinking of  a creative lunch recipe for young children consider some shape variations e.g. melon balls instead of melon slices, slicing grapes in half, cutting cucumbers into squares and offering up carrot circles instead of ordinary carrot sticks. 
Then take this creative lunch recipe idea one step further and include a note that asks your child to count up the number of different shapes that were hidden in her lunch. Puzzle lunches. Use cookie cutter to make a favorite design. You can also cut into strips or squares. Have your kids assemble the puzzle before eating.

Mini Lunch
Mini kabobs on toothpicks; mini pretzels; mini bagel sandwich; mini fruits or diced fruits or raisins. Mini "I Love You" note

Favorite Character Lunch
Sponge Bob- Star Sandwich; SB fruit snacks, pineapple, SB gummies (at the dollar store).
Princess/Fairy-Flower sandwich, princess fruit snacks, frilly toothpicks with cheese and fruit and long pretzel dipped in chocolate and coated with sprinkles (wand).

Red- red apple, red raspberry yogurt; red strawberry jam sandwich.
Purple- grapes, jelly, food coloring in vanilla pudding.
Yellow- Eggie sandwich, banana, cheese stick and vanilla wafers.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mealtime Monday and Then Some

Diabetes, Types 1 and 2, run in my family. Hell, it gallops at Mach-10 speed.

I was diagnosed at 8; I have cousins on both sides with Type 1 (genetic, not lifestyle). I have grandparents, great aunts, uncles and aunts with Type 2 (genetically predisposed if it gallops in your family, but also caused by lifestyle).

We welcomed another member into our "exclusive club" this weekend. I am not naming names, because I haven't asked this person's permission, and if you are part of the family, you already know. If you're not, it doesn't matter, you don't know them. Suffice it to say, most Americans will come in contact with diabetes sometime in their lives. Whether it's a close family member, friend or themselves, it's a non-partisan, non-religious, non-prejudice disease that can strike anyone.

Rule Number 1: Don't panic. This is totally controllable, and you can live a normal, healthy life for a very long time. If you don't believe me, stop and remember who's writing this blog, right now.

Rule Number 2: Life is a balancing act, this is part of the act. Balance what you eat, with medicine and exercise, and for the most part, this new "lifestyle" will be normal in a matter of weeks.

Rule Number 3: Ask for help. Support is key for anyone. No matter if you have a health issue or not, having someone to roll ideas off of, or ask advice from, is an important part of dealing with life in general. You'll become an expert on this new topic and at some point, be able to help others out in the future.

Rule Number 4: In this case, "I have Diabetes, but it doesn't have me." I know, kind of cheesy. I learned this while working as an intern with the American Diabetes Assoc. It's true--fill in your own blank if Diabetes isn't your current trial. "I have Cancer, or Mental Illness, or Heart Disease, but it doesn't have me."

Rule Number 5: Don't let a trial hold you back. One of the greatest parts of being human is the ability to adapt. Look at the state of the world. Aren't we all a little more grateful, and hopefully more giving after 9-11? If not, you got another set of problems you need to get help with.

Change is always constant. My Dad tells me it's really the only thing you can count on. So let the changes come, but don't let them hold you back from learning and trying new things.

If you are desirous of a healthier lifestyle here's a few ideas for this week.

Whip up 4-6 eggs (or use substitute)
Chop up all the veggies you will eat: spinach, tomato, peppers, grated zucchini
Pour eggs into hot skillet, Add veggies to eggs once the eggs start to cook--the watery stuff will start disappearing.

Add 1/4 c. shredded cheese and finish cooking in pan. Cut into wedges and enjoy. Add salsa if desired

You can also whip the eggs, add the veggies and pour into a pie pan. Bake at 350 for 15-20 min and add cheese as you pull it out of the oven.

Grilled Pork chop and Veggies
Marinate your pork in whatever you like--I like low fat Italian Dressing--for 1-4 hours
BBQ meat

Toss favorite sliced veggies w/ 1 Tbsp. olive oil and grill on the bbq, or on a baking sheet in the oven. I usually do onion, carrot, zucchini, crookneck and/or broccoli.(425 deg for 45 min).

Turkey Sandwich
2 oz (slices usually) of turkey breast
1 oz Swiss cheese
1/2 tsp. chipolte mayo
lettuce, red onion, sprouts, spinach, cucumber and tomato
Earth grain Thin Buns or a tortilla

Put ingredients together on bread and pick a side like 1/2 c. fresh fruit, cottage cheese w/ fresh sliced tomato, pretzels or small bowl of soup--veggie soups or chicken noodle are low in carbs. Just read the labels of premade soups to judge portion size.

Happy Eating Healthy This Week!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

September Scrapbook

1. What am I eating for dinner today? Spaghetti Pie
2. Who was the last person I talked to on the phone?Andy
3. What color did I wear today? Teal
4. What was the last good thing I read? Joseph Smith Bio
5. What's one goal I have accomplished this week? Danni's first day of preschool
6. What's one thing I need to work on? Dr appts
7. Today's best thought? Ebates coming soon. Christmas shopping begins
8. One word to sum up today is? Accomplished
9. One worry or concern? I am extremely emotional this week. Totally not me, and don't know why. Maybe it's time to see a shrink????
10. Favorite thing I did this week? Fly up Football with my kids. My girls have got arms of steel.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hectic Mornings Anyone???

Here starts week two of Back To School. Are your mornings hectic? Like "Where's my lunch?" or "Have you seen my permission note?" or maybe "Mom, have you seen my library book????"

Luckily not all of our mornings are like this. I try to avoid this by using a little system I like to call the "15 minute countdown." I try to get my elementary schoolers to bed by 9 p.m. at the latest. The little girls are in bed by 8:30 p.m. So around 7:45 p.m. each night we take a few minutes to gather our stuff for the next day so everyone gets out the door healthy and happy--including Mom and Dad.

1. Have a bath and pick out the clothes you are wearing the next day. There's no way we could bathe in the morning and get out the door on time, so we do it nightly. I let the kids pick out their outfits, but sometimes the weather affects us, so I need to help out. My boy loves to wear his random favorites all together--even though they don't match. Sometimes the outfit is a little too crazy, I give my opinion and let them make the final choice. After all, it's not me in public. When we choose an outfit they include shoes, socks and accessories. This way we aren't wasting time looking for a lost shoe or sock.

You can take this concept to one or two other levels depending on your needs. You could make a Paper Doll and dress him/her the night before in clothing similar to what your child needs to wear. You could also make tags with the days of the week to hang around hangers with the corresponding outfit for the day. You could also put your daily outfit in a stacking, hanging laundry rack labeled with the day of the week.

2. Make Food Preparations the night before. Pack your lunch. You can freeze many types of sandwiches, go-gurts, water bottles and juice pouches. Fresh fruit and pre-packaged items may also come in handy.

Again making lunches can be as complicated or simple as you like. Prepare items on Sunday night if you like to pack your kids lunches. Cut up fruit and veggies, cheese and meat, and pre-package your own crackers, chips or pretzels. This is an easy way to save time and money.

Again, if you want a smooth morning try setting out breakfast choices. Depending on what your kids will eat setting out a few cold cereals, oatmeal or breakfast bars can smoothly start you day. Set out necessary utensils and bowls/plates so you can quickly get them fed before school. Arrange your fridge so there's a section of cold breakfast items like yogurt, fruit and muffins easy to reach and ready to go.

3. Backpack Prep. Load up the stuff they'll need the night before and put it by the door. Make sure to empty it out before you repack it in case something got left over the weekend. Make sure everything is signed, lunch money sent and homework ready. Don't forget a coat, boots, or other weather gear.

4. Five minute pick up. Take five minutes to have your kids pick up their rooms. It will make for a more relaxed night of sleep and better morning because they'll be able to find things.

5. Review the upcoming week. I think kids do better if they know what to expect. So each night we review the upcoming day so they aren't surprised they can't play right after school because I need to take them somewhere, or we have a special event to attend.

6. Expect the Unexpected. Give yourself 10 minutes extra in the morning. If you need to be out the door at 8 a.m. get up 10 minutes earlier than you need to do your morning routine. This leaves some time to change an outfit that gets dirty, sign a forgotten paper, take an unexpected phone call or roll the trash cans out to the curb. If you have a few minutes of free time you can always take a few deep breaths to get the day going.

It takes a minute for each family to find their balance of free time vs. family time vs. everything else. Review your priorities and you'll find your balance. At our house my kids play time is limited Monday through Thursday. There are just too many activities, lessons and homework items. Our rule is "work before play." It's become an incentive to get the work done. Although that too comes with a balance. My kids know if they rush through the work, it really doesn't save time to go play because they get to do it over and sometimes get an extra chore--which pretty much kills playtime. You know what works for your kid. Rules can be rewritten and can be individualized. Don't be afraid to start somewhere.

I promise if you take a few minutes to plan it will save you precious time getting out the door.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Meal Time Monday

It's time to get back to Meal Planning. I am so happy for case lot time. Our shelves were literally empty and now they're filling back up. Amazing what you can create for dinner when you have "nothing." Tuna and pasta with some kind of dressing makes it to the table and we all eat it. We're enjoy the blessings of our garden--spent two days stewing tomatoes, making salsa, canning green beans--a first for me. Thanks Joyce for the lending of the Pressure Cooker. I've dehydrated, frozen and bottled about half the garden, we've eaten some fresh and the rest is yet to come. So grateful to have a house with a large garden area. It's been a blast to send the kids out to the back to get me stuff for lunch and dinner.

Enough ramble, here's what's cooking at the Larsen Cafe this week.

Zucchini Cheese Bake
3 c. quartered and chopped zucchini
1 small onion, chopped
1 c. biscuit mix
1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese (I use powdered)
1/2 tsp. oregano
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 c. olive oil

Mix everything EXCEPT oil and eggs together. Combine eggs and oil. Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix until zucchini is well coated. Pour into pie plate, coated with non-stick spray. Bake for 30-40 min at 350 degrees, until golden.

Spaghetti Pie with Spaghetti Squash

Raviolis and Grilled garden veggies

Pizza braid
Make your favorite dough and shape into long rectangle. Fill it down the middle with shredded chicken, mushrooms, basil and oregano, shredded mozzarella chicken, tomatoes, spinach and 1/2 c. Alfredo sauce. Cut the sides and braid them over each other, pinching the gaps closed. Brush with egg or butter. Bake 350 for 40-50 minutes.

I like to make weekends easy. This week we're having each persons favorite appetizer for dinner. Mini corn dogs, chicken strips, chicken wings, fruit kabob with yogurt, and nachos.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Change is in the Air

I'm no organizational expert, but I am organized. Now that the kids are back to school I can reclaim my house from the mess of towels, swimsuits, sunscreen and Popsicle wrappers that come with summer fun. I love summer, don't get me wrong, but I am a freak for organizational calm. I like a place for everything and everything in its place. Must be my upbringing.....

We always had chores on Saturday and responsibilities throughout the week. It made me responsible and taught me life skills that I use every day--parenting, volunteering, working, being a wife and friend, etc.

Here's some quick tips on how to organize the chaos in your life. Let's face it there's a little bit of chaos in all our lives; that's what keeps it interesting.

1- Find a place for the big things first. Whether you're rearranging furniture or placing new small appliances, these things take up some prime real estate in your home, so try out a few places and put it where it feels best to you. Think "is this item in a 'Park Place' or 'Baltic Ave'." location. If it's something you can't live without find it's right place.

2- With the rest of your interior real estate break it up into zones. My kitchen/dining area is long and narrow. I've created a work zone--kind of a mini office--which allows kids to do homework in a place I can help them while I cook dinner, or do a project with the little kids. We have an eating zone (table) and a cooking/prep zone (kitchen area). If you have an open floor plan, decide how to break up your space by deciding how you want to use it.

3- Deal with the clutter. We've all seen HGTV and their fabulous list of shows on how to do everything to your house. Well put it into action. Make your 3 piles-donate, keep and sell, and then DO IT. There are charity donation bins around every city that you can just drop in your un-needed items to help someone else; Sell the stuff you can--garage sale or online; The stuff you want to keep-find it a home.

4- Where do I put this "stuff." I have inherited a lot of sentimental objects in my time. There are things I have from childhood I can't part with, even though some of them bring up memories I'd rather not remember. When we got married I had 13 boxes of various objects. I am down to one. My advice-give yourself a limit. Take a picture of items and write the story to those things you maybe could get rid of, and then after you've scrapbooked the picture and story, get rid of the item.

5- Make a list. I love lists. You know this if you've read this blog. Prioritize room by room what needs to be done. Start top to bottom. Clean the room, change the furniture and decor if needs, make repairs and declutter. You'll feel better when you do. Remember eat the Elephant one bite at a time. Take one room at a time. Here's a few lists you can recreate to help you organize your life.
Job Description and Chore Check Off List.

6- Give everyone their own responsibilities. There's a difference between clean and perfect. My house is clean, and I've had to give up the idea that it had to be perfect. Five kids makes that impossible. Instead I let everyone help. It may not be perfect, but I don't have to chase anyone around with a cleaning rag either. Find my Chore Chart here.

Make a chore chart for kids to help. WARNING: you have to train your children how to clean and it can be excruciating. Be patient and help them. This is paying it forward to your future son or daughter-in-law and grandchildren. Give a reward--after they've successfully done a new chore well for a few weeks. They've probably earned it.

7- Lastly, if you've got kids you're well into the chaos that comes home after school. Here's my advice. Have an after school snack ready (see the School Time posts on this blog), and use this checklist to help organize your lives. Daily To Do List. This one didn't translate as well as I wanted, but you can fill in your blanks and make a copy for each child. Put them in a binder or folder and the kids now have a routine. Come home, get a snack, empty their bags and give you necessary papers and check their list of what to do that day. Since I have 4 coming and going, I give each kids 5-10 min. of time one-on-one to talk about their day, assignments, help they need and what I can do to help. This is how I can deal with the chaos and avoid four little people talking to me all at once.  Happy Organization.