Friday Favorites – 03232018

When I made my last ‘Friday Favorites’ post, I hope I didn’t give the impression it would be a weekly feature here on the blog. Because it clearly hasn’t been. Because I am the world’s laziest blogger :/.

I’ve tried to figure out why this is (the blog-related laziness, I mean), but I still don’t know what my problem is. I guess most of the time I just prefer to spend my writing time on whatever piece of fiction I’m working on at the moment. What can I say? It’s more fun to spend time in fantasy-land than to re-cap reality :).

Nevertheless, here’s a short list for this week (as before, in no particular order):

1) Skillet Lasagna

I found this recipe on Pinterest years ago, and have since made it, oh, about a hundred times, give or take.

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I like lasagna, but it can be kind of time-consuming to make, what with all the layering and then waiting for it to bake all the way through and what-have-you. With this recipe, you basically just cook the lasagna in a big skillet on the stove, which is much faster. Including prep, it only takes about half an hour. Very easy — and very delicious!

Because I don’t have an oven-proof skillet, I cook my lasagna on the stove-top and then transfer it to an oven-proof dish before completing the last step, which is to stick it under the broiler to melt and brown the cheese. If you have an oven-proof skillet, this recipe will be even easier for you, because you will be able to just pop the whole thing under the broiler and then serve it straight out of the skillet!

Regardless of the extra step I have to take, though, this is still an incredibly easy dish for me to put together, and it turns out great every time. It tastes so good and looks so pretty, it’s perfect for when you have guests over, or for a special occasion. Just serve it with a salad and some bread and maybe wine, if you’re into that. In fact, this is what Steve and I ate on Valentine’s Day this year!

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Roses someone sweet sent me for Valentine’s Day ;).

Btw, since I’m vegetarian, I obviously don’t use the ground beef called for in the recipe :). I usually use soy crumbles (like Boca or Morningstar Farms), but I have also omitted them altogether before, and just made cheese lasagna. You could probably add some spinach and other finely chopped vegetables to this, to make it a veggie version, but I’ve never tried that.

2) Lightly dried basil

This one sort of ties into the last one, since that recipe calls for fresh basil.

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I don’t use fresh basil all that much, so when I need it, I usually just buy one of those little pre-portioned cellophane packages from the produce section at the grocery store. Yes, they’re expensive, but if I only need fresh basil every once in a while, and we eat all of it when I buy it, I don’t think it’s too big a deal to purchase it this way.

However, I recently saw this at my grocery store, and gave it a try: Gourmet Garden “lightly dried” basil.

The 0.42 oz package contains “a large bunch of roughly chopped organic basil, lightly dried (just enough) to last for 4 weeks once open.” One TBSP of lightly dried basil equals one TBSP of fresh. When added to foods, it “refreshes during cooking,” and tastes more like fresh basil than dried.

This is cool for a couple of reasons, namely that it costs a lot less than those pre-portioned packages, and it lasts a lot longer. Once you open the container, you’ve got a month to figure out how to use up the rest of it. I like to add it to pasta sauces and sprinkle it on pizza, in addition to finding other recipes that call for fresh basil (here’s another one I like — Chicken Parmesan Bake).

Someday maybe I’ll get around to cultivating a fresh herb garden, but until that happens, this is a useful alternative for me :).

3) Meal Planning

Okay, so I don’t actually enjoy planning meals all that much. But I do enjoy the results, which are: a quicker trip to the grocery store, a lower bill when I check out, and of course a week’s worth of meals, which keeps me from having to scratch my head over what we’re going to have for dinner every day.

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I know there are a lot of posts about how to meal plan out there, but FWIW, here’s how I do it:

  • First I look in my kitchen cabinets and fridge, to see what I’ve already got on hand. I’m looking for things we need to use up soon, and/or that might help spur some recipe ideas.
  • I also look through the weekly HEB ad that comes in the mail. I don’t shop at multiple grocery stores. It’s possible I would save some money if I did, but honestly, HEB has pretty low prices all the time, and they always offer in-store coupons for free and discounted items. Plus, the store is VERY close to where I live, so I save a lot of time by just running over there and coming right back once a week, rather than going all over town to try and find deals. Saving money is definitely important to me, but so is saving time! (And BTW, no, I don’t work for HEB. I’m just a big fan :)).
  • Lastly, I look at recipes I’ve saved on Pinterest, or my meal planning database, to see what meals I might be able to make combining what I’ve got on hand and what’s on sale at HEB. What’s a meal planning database, you might ask? Well, it’s a handy-dandy spreadsheet Steve made for me, that lists all the dishes I like to make on a regular basis. They’re organized by protein (fake chicken, fake beef, tofu, beans, etc.) and by style (Italian, Mexican, etc.), and there’s a pivot table that allows me to filter the information accordingly. Yeah, I know, it’s the nerdiest thing ever, but it’s really helpful, particularly when I go to make the grocery list, my mind goes blank, and I can’t seem to think of anything to cook that week.

I try to keep our meals varied throughout the week, so that we don’t end up eating all pasta dishes or whatever. Usually, I make one Italian-inspired dish, one Mexican-inspired, and so on, and I usually try for at least one vegan meal, as well. Fridays are almost always pizza nights. We used to order out but then I learned how to make my own. Steve and I both like mine just fine, so this is what we eat now. It took me a few tries to get the hang of working with the dough, but I’ve now made so many pizzas, I could probably do it in my sleep ;).

4) Star Wars comics

Okay, switching gears a little bit…I recently caught up on a bunch of digital issues of Marvel’s currently ongoing Star Wars comic that Steve and I had amassed, and I have to say, this title is so good!

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I’ve read up through issue #44, I think, and pretty much every story has been great, or at least entertaining. I think the writers have done an awesome job capturing the personalities of the original characters, and so much of the art work is great, too!

We’re no longer subscribed to the title (because we’d fallen so far behind on reading them, we decided to just quit for a while and give ourselves a chance to catch up) so it’ll be a while before I read any more of them. But assuming they remain this fun to read, I’m sure I’ll continue buying and reading the collections as they come out!

5) X-Files Season 11

Is it just me, or has this current season been really great? Like, way better than the last one?

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Like I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really watch much TV anymore, but The X-Files is my all-time favorite show, so of course I’ve been watching the newest episodes! I think they’ve been pretty wonderful so far, and it’s kind of sad to me that the latest one to air might be the last one ever.

I love Mulder and Scully’s dynamic this time around. They are behaving a lot closer to the way I imagine they would at this point, after so many years of working together and being best friends (and sometimes more). Scully’s a lot more relaxed and confident, no longer badgering Mulder over every little thing, but instead just trusting his instincts and accepting his quirks. For his part, Mulder seems a lot more…tired. Lol. But after everything he’s been through, it totally makes sense. He seems more relaxed and comfortable in his own skin, too, not as obsessed and intense as he used to be. In short, they both seem grown up and wise, but still pretty bad-ass when it comes to stopping bad guys.

Also, since I have shipped Mulder and Scully f-o-r-e-v-e-r (are they my OTP? Quite possibly), I’m super pleased with where that aspect of their relationship has sometimes gone this time around.

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Episode 3, I’m referring to you.*

So sad to see this end! But then again, for ages I didn’t think there would ever be any more episodes at all, so I’ve already gotten way more than I bargained for. Thanks, Chris Carter and company, for making more for us die-hard X-philes!

Okay y’all, that’s all I’ve got to ramble about this time. Hope you have a magnificent weekend!

Love,

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*GIF found on youreadarkwizard.tumblr.com

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31 Days to Clean

So here’s the first book I’ve finished reading so far this year:

31 Days to Clean

31 Days to Clean – Having a Martha House the Mary Way, by Sarah Mae

This is a short little e-book that I bought almost a year ago. The edition I have seems to no longer exist :(. According to the author’s website, it’s been picked up by a traditional publisher and will be re-released in April. This is the Amazon description for that upcoming edition:

Get your home and your heart in order in just 31 days!
Sarah Mae wants to let you in on a little secret about being a good homemaker: It’s not about having a clean house. She’d never claim to be a natural, organized cleaner herself—yet, like you, she wants a beautiful space to call home, a place where people feel loved and at peace. Where people can really settle in with good food, comfy pillows, and wide-open hearts.

Is it possible to find a balance? To care for your heart—and your home—at the same time?

Journey with Sarah Mae on this easy, practical 31-day plan to get you moving and have your house looking and feeling fresh. But even more than that, you’ll gain a new vision for the home of your dreams, and how to make it a place of peace, comfort, and community. Originally published as the e-book 31 Days to Clean and now revised and expanded in print for the first time, Having a Martha Home the Mary Way will inspire you to find a happier, healthier . . . cleaner way to live.


I am one of those weird people who actually enjoys cleaning. Even the parts I dislike, I don’t mind very much. That’s part of why I like to read books about cleaning! I think this guide would probably be more helpful for people who are extremely reluctant cleaners, though, because it spends a lot of time on encouragement and motivation. But the fact that Sarah Mae focuses so much on the “why” of housecleaning rather than the “how” does make this a unique sort of book about cleaning.

I liked that she takes you through two different challenges each day, one for your heart/soul (a “Mary challenge” — a reference to the biblical story of Mary and Martha found in Luke 10) and one for actually cleaning part of your home (a “Martha challenge”). And I agree with her that when it comes to keeping house, motivations are important. It’s good to ask ourselves whether we are just trying to impress the people we live with and invite into our homes, or whether we are trying to create a loving, comfortable environment for them. Obviously it’s better to stay focused on the latter :).

 

Make your own hamburger buns.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to share simple cooking/cleaning/general homemaking tips  and ideas that I have put into practice over the years — and to give a shout-out to the blogs I have learned them from. Because when I first got married I knew next to nothing about being a wife or homemaker, and I have learned so much from reading other people’s blogs! I haven’t been doing much of that thus far, but I hope to rectify that in the future…even if the tips wind up being published only sporadically ;).

My tips and recipes and stuff won’t be anything fancy. Nevertheless, I hope they will be helpful to a novice such as I was (and in many ways still am) :). At the very least, I hope they will be encouraging. I’ve noticed that when I read homemaking blogs, even if the posts are about things I already do, know how to do (or, hey, will never do), it still usually inspires me in some way. Sometimes it’s just nice to read about other women’s routines and ideas! Makes me want to try my hand at something new.

So…my tip this week is to make your own hamburger buns. They are inexpensive and taste so much better than store-bought ones.

DSCF2670I used to be afraid of yeast baking, honestly, because it seemed rather complicated to me. I think I was mostly worried about not doing the kneading right. But a couple of years ago I got a KitchenAid stand mixer with a dough hook for Christmas and it sort of changed my life. Now I bake all sorts of bread!

For the hamburger buns, I use this recipe and tutorial from The Frugal Girl. I follow it pretty closely, except I use my dough hook for the kneading and I often mix in at least a third white whole wheat flour. And I usually halve the recipe overall because my freezer is not very big and I don’t want to fill it up with nothing but hamburger buns :).

I have also made this recipe in my bread machine a couple of times. I use the dough cycle and then take the dough out, shape it, put it on the cookie sheets and into the oven (with a bowl of hot water) for the second rise.

It is a somewhat time-consuming process, but not really difficult. You can, after all, work on other stuff while the dough sits and does its thing :). And then, when you are done, you get to eat the results with the delicious toppings of your choice. I often serve mine with homemade bean patties of some sort (a recipe for another day), but the leftovers are great to pack in my husband’s lunches, topped with Tofurky veggie “cold cut” slices or a breaded Morningstar Farms “chikn” patty like this one:

DSCF3480 Happy baking (and eating!),

Elizabeth

PS – The top photo is from my first attempt at making these buns, while the bottom photo is from my most recent one. The tops of the buns turn out a lot smoother and prettier these days! But they have always tasted good :).

Mediterranean Nachos

We eat nachos pretty often in this household.

Recently, I was putting corn chips away in a cabinet and noticed the pita chips sitting there, and got to thinking…what if I made “Mediterranean Nachos” by subbing pitas for corn chips? What if I used hummus instead of refried beans? Kalamata olives instead of black olives, spinach instead of lettuce, etc., etc…you get what I’m saying :).

When I mentioned this idea to S, he suggested using crumbled falafel instead of the veggie “ground beef” crumbles we usually use, and tzatziki instead of sour cream. I almost couldn’t wait for the weekend to come so I could try it.

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For the falafel, I used a mix. I just dropped spoonfuls of it onto parchment paper and baked it for 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through.

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Then I crumbled it onto the nachos and topped them with everything else.

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Obviously this is not a unique idea (google “Greek Nachos” and you’ll see what I mean) but it was new to me! And it was quick, easy and delicious. I’ll definitely make it again.

Confessions of an Organized Homemaker

On Tuesdays, I plan to write a little about the books I’m currently reading. These will not really be reviews per se, as I’m not a good review-er, but more like short recaps…

I recently signed up for an Amazon Prime membership. The free shipping alone makes it worth it to me, but it’s cool that they offer some other perks, too, like once-a-month free book loans from the Kindle Lending Library. Last week I borrowed my first book, Confessions of an Organized Homemaker: The Secrets of Uncluttering Your Home and Taking Control of Your Life, by Deniece Schofield. I hadn’t planned on reading anything else right now, as I’m already in the middle of City of Bones (and loving it), but I saw this title mentioned someplace and…what can I say, it’s hard for me to pass up books (or articles or blog posts) about decluttering and home organization! And then I saw it was available to borrow, so I sort of had to get it :).

This quote stood out to me:

As a young bride, I was keenly interested in my new job of homemaker. I had a real desire to raise my level of efficiency and have our home run like a well-oiled machine. I knew how to manage an office and I wanted our home to run just as effectively.

I’d have to say I approach homemaking in a similar fashion — as seriously as any job. This is sort of amusing to me, since growing up, I had absolutely no interest in cooking, cleaning, or anything else remotely domestic. As a result, I learned next to nothing about those things at home. And I lived in squalor. Just kidding. Sorta. Anyway, then I moved out on my own and found I actually enjoyed taking care of my own little space, preparing meals for myself, etc. It got even better once I had S living with me and I could cook and clean for him, too. If you’d told me when I was a kid that one day I’d be so into organizing and keeping my house tidy, I’d have laughed at you — from somewhere deep in the recesses of my cluttered-to-the-ceiling bedroom, of course. But now here I am, a minimalist who eschews junk and strives to keep things clean and simple, and who is always looking for ways to improve the management of my home…

Confessions of an Organized Homemaker offers a lot of useful information to that end, and I’ll probably give some of Mrs. Schofield’s ideas a try. For instance, I’m (admittedly inordinately) excited to start one of her meal-planning databases that will hopefully help me plan my weekly meals faster and easier. I’ll probably do it in an Excel file, though, rather than on the notebook paper she recommends.

That’s my only criticism of this book: although the copyright page says it’s from 2008, it seems older than that to me. It seems to have been written prior to the advent of many organizational gadgets available nowadays. And I can’t help thinking that a lot of the author’s “home planning notebook” ideas could now be implemented online, or using smartphone apps. Although, the more I consider it, the more I think some things are probably better done on paper. At least for me, anyway. Because I am a bit too familiar with the “lost time” phenomenon associated with doing things strictly online. If I’m not careful, looking for one recipe can turn into an hour (or more) lost to clicking on random cool-looking links. Not likely to happen with a paper recipe file, I guess!