Friday, May 25, 2012

More Of My Favorite Things!

Well, I'm already back with a post about a few more of my newest favorite things!  I guess when I go months without sharing anything "newsworthy," I tend to make up for lost time ;-)

About 6 months ago, I shared a post about making some of your basic cleaning products at home.  One of the "recipes" I shared was for home-made furniture polish.  All it required was olive oil and vinegar--pretty easy!  For about the past 5 months, we had religiously used the homemade stuff but then I stopped using olive oil in the kitchen (more about that in a minute!) and I decided to pick up some "store-bought stuff" during our next grocery run.

Have any of you used the Swiffer Dust & Shine before?!  I bought it just because it was the cheapest furniture polish at the store but holy cow--it smells awesome!!!  I picked up the can of Lavender Vanilla & Comfort and seriously--I could not stop spraying the stuff.  It smells incredible!  I've never been a fan of dusting but when the polish smells that good, heck, I'll dust all day long :-)

So, about the olive oil...we have made the big switch to grapeseed oil.  I was invited to a party several weeks ago and the company's big item was grapeseed oil...well, I never heard of the stuff and I couldn't make it to the party so I did a little research.  Turns out, it's just as healthy as olive oil BUT it has a higher smoke point than olive oil! Score!!!  I have used it to make homemade bread, in salad dressings and as a cooking oil for sauteing and there is no difference in taste.  Or, price :-) And thankfully, the local grocery stores carry it in their oil section, too.

For the past few months, I have noticed that the skin around my eyes hasn't been looking the best...I was getting a lot of that crepe-i-ness around my eyes and putting on foundation didn't help that or the fine lines I was starting to see, either!  

At the suggestion of a friend, I bought a foundation primer.  I ended up ordering Smashbox's Photo Finish Primer and holy cow--this stuff makes makes your skin incredibly soft and smooth!!!  I now make sure I have a few extra minutes scheduled into my morning routine so I can properly apply it and then just enjoy how great the skin around my eyes feels :-) 

My last favorite thing is called Hope In A Tube (randomly enough, Oprah used to push it's sister product, "Hope In a Jar").  This product was specifically suggested to me by a friend.  I was hesitant because it's not the cheapest stuff and the tube is kinda small!  It's an eye and lip firming cream and when I researched it online, everyone seemed to love it.  So, between that and having someone I know and trust recommend it to me, I decided to give it a try!  I've only been using it for 2 weeks but I have found that it makes a HUGE difference in how my skin appears...when I am in a rush and don't have time to put it on in the mornings, I notice my crepey skin is more obvious and my foundation tends to make my fine lines more apparent.  I'm just hoping that by getting a head start and combatting the changes around my eyes that it will pay off in the long run :-)  Next on my list is finding a good foundation that compliments my firming creme and foundation primer!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Yummy Taco Pizza Recipe!

Okay, ladies and gents--I think I've found a great way to use up your leftover taco meat! 

For all of you who are from a small town, you probably remember the Taco Pizza from Pizza Hut.  What is there NOT to love about that pizza?!  When I was in college, I would order a large thin-crust and have it for breakfast throughout the week.  Looking back, it probably wasn't the healthiest way to start the day, but it was totally worth it :-)  By the way, did you know that you can't find the Taco Pizza on their online ordering site???  You have to order your pizza the old-school way, by picking up the phone and calling them!  Gasp!

To this day, I still love their Taco Pizza...but, with having to cut wheat out of my diet, that means I can no longer order it (insert sad face here).  As a result, I've been playing around with various ingredients and I have finally found a recipe that will give Pizza Hut a run for their money!  It's super easy to make and you can use either a regular pizza crust or a gluten-free pizza crust.

So, if you're in the mood for a Taco pizza fresh from your own oven, this is what you need:

Taddy-Long-Leg's Taco Pizza
1 Pizza Crust (I prefer a thin crust)
Refried Beans (I used fat-free with great success)
1/2 lb. taco meat
Canned enchilada sauce (this is the "secret" ingredient--don't skip it!)
Shredded lettuce
Shredded cheddar cheese
Sliced green onions

Spread a thin layer of refried beans over your pizza crust--add taco meat.  Drizzle enchilada sauce over the bean and meat mixture (make sure you shake the can well before opening it).  Top with shredded lettuce, cheddar cheese and sliced green onions.  Bake according to directions on pizza crust packaging.  Then, enjoy!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Some of My Newest Favorite Things

Every now-and-then, I get a wild hair to share some of my newest favorite things with half the world.  I don't know if anybody cares, but hey, if I like something--you may like it, too!  Nothing beats sharing ideas and finding out about stuff that will make life easier--or less expensive :-)

My first favorite thing isn't very "new"but it always has been--and always will be--one of my most favorite people EVER!  My mom :-)  Friday was her birthday and today is obviously Mother's Day...we celebrated her big days both last weekend AND today.  We like spoiling her :-)
Mom and her new wheels--an Army tank!  Just kidding--it was one of the "toys" we played with this weekend :-)

Now, back to some stuff that some of you might enjoy.  Not that you wouldn't enjoy my mama, but I'm not sharing her with anybody else!  

If you know me very well, you know that I'm a slow-cooker-holic.  The one thing I absolutely HATE about slow cooking???  The clean-up.  Letting the stone liner soak, then scrubbing, and more scrubbing.  It's enough to drive a person nuts!  However, I stumbled across the Reynold's Slow Cooker Liners at the grocery store this past Fall.  They have been a life saver!  Just cover your stone with the bag, put the food in, cover everything with the lid and you're good to go :-)  It's that easy!  The name-brand ones are kinda pricey, but if you go on Amazon, you can find them for a little bit of nothing.
$2.55 for 3 bags at your local grocery store (or $0.85 each)

$10 for 25 bags on (or $0.40 each)

On a similar note, I discovered Reynold's Pan Lining Paper earlier this Spring.  As the image shows, one side is foil (that's the side that faces the pan) and the other side is parchment (you put the food on this side).  I was a bit leery, but I had a pretty generous coupon for one roll so I decided to give it a try.  It was TOTALLY worth the money!  I made a baked chicken that was basically garlic and brown sugar, so as you can imagine, it created a gawd-awful, sticky mess.  I was amazed--I didn't have to spend all night soaking and scrubbing the casserole dish--and it held up extremely well during the baking process.  I'm not the most loyal brand-name shopper, but Reynold's is definitely sucking me into their product line :-)

This next item was definitely a splurge, at first.  For what seems like forever, we have been wanting a pizza stone--but I really didn't want to shell out the money for one and end up breaking it...because if you know myself or J-Money, you know that's bound to happen ;-)  Well, Lodge came to the rescue!  They make a cast-iron pizza stone and based on reviews, it seems to be the best thing since sliced bread (and do I need to mention that it's indestructible?!).  Not only is it perfect for the obvious pizza, but other owners have reported great success in using it for baked bread, polenta sticks, searing meat, pancakes, you name it.  PLUS, you are able to add a little extra iron to your diet this way...The sucker also weighs 11 pounds, so did I mention you would get a nice little arm workout while lifting it, too?!

SHOES!!!!!!!!  I finally found myself a pair of black wedges for work and play.  It took me awhile because I wanted something that was versatile (ie not TOO trendy) and could last me a few years.  The pair I settled on are a little funky with the black extending along the sole--and it looks even better in person!  But, I swear JCPenny was trying to play with my emotions (and wallet).  They accidentally sent me the correct wedge, but in peach.  Okay, so peach may sound hideous, but they were actually super, SUPER cute.  Cute, to the point where I almost didn't return them...especially since I could have worn them with lots of stuff!  Who knows--maybe I'll end up going back for them...but in the meantime, I'm really liking my black pair :-)

Does it make sense when I say I "re-discovered" my favorite lotion???  Or does it sound totally dumb?  Regardless, I did rediscover one of my all-time favorites.  I used to use this Hemp Golden-Glow Skin Firming Lotion all...the...time.  But, I hate Wal-Mart and they were the only store who sold the stuff.  So, eventually, I stopped buying it.  Just the other day, I absolutely had to go to Walmart--I couldn't avoid it.  While I was there, I stocked up on my lotion and I'm in heaven again :-)  It smells delightful, it is incredibly moisturizing without making ya greasy and it gives your skin a little bit of color.  All for $5! 

For all of you Aldi shoppers out there, they're carrying these collapsible totes next week!  And they're only $9...yes, $9 (that's $27 less than other places)!  I'm definitely getting two of them to go in my car trunk--one for auto supplies, the other for work-related gear.  Oh, and at that price, we'll probably get another one for tailgating.  Seriously, I love Aldi's and all the fun stuff they surprise ya with!

My next favorite isn't "new" by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm on a roll with it right now...Yes, eBay!  With the weather warming, I've been buying out-of-season jackets like crazy.  Buying clothes off of eBay can be tricky--especially, if someone's trying to find a quick way to get rid of stuff that has shrunk.  The trick?  Don't pay attention to the size--ask the seller to send you the measurements and then you'll know if it will fit or not!  

I scored this Worthington jacket for $7!  Even though the print is very traditional, I should be able to liven it up some!

This Bisou Bisou jacket was $8!

This new-without-tags GAP denim jacket was $10--and it retails for $79.95!

This denim trench coat is also from GAP and was only $10 as well--a savings of $80!

Finally, I scored this red trench coat (again, from GAP) for $16--it was selling in the store for $99!

This year, we added another flowerbed to our backyard and I was not about to spend another weekend installing brick edging--we did that last year with the front flowerbed and my legs were sore for an entire week!  This time around, Home Depot came through with a quick solution--this brick edging WITH built-in solar lights!  It was actually super easy and all the edging was installed within 20 minutes--yes, 20 minutes!  The "bricks" are actually a heavy-duty plastic and they snap together--the "mortar" pieces allow you to make curved lines and the built-in stakes prevent the edging from moving anywhere.  The convenience factor had me sold, but I also LOVE how the built-in solar lights make our flowerbed look a little more classy ;-)
Image Courtesy of Home Depot

Image Courtesy of Home Depot

Finally, for all of you who find yourselves in Aggieville, you HAVE to try the new Chinese restaurant!    The interior is actually very high-end, they have numerous karaoke rooms (not that we'll ever use them!) AND they deliver!  But more importantly than all of that, we were very happy with the quality of our food.  Also, their prices are great!  We ordered two entrees and two orders of appetizers--and it was only $20!!!  I had enough leftovers from my Sichuan Chicken to get two more meals out of it.  So, if you're ever in the 'Ville, you gotta try the place!

And I think that's a wrap!  Before I sign off, I want to wish all of you mamas out there a very Happy Mother's Day!!!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Our New "Diet"

We're trying a new "diet" in our household...Well, sorta.

And it's not a "diet" to lose weight, but rather, to get my body back on track.

For two weeks now, we've eaten gluten/wheat and lactose free and I've felt amazing!

When I was first out of college, I started experiencing some significant digestive issues.  I was already suffering from terrible migraines, so when the stomach issues started, I headed to my doctor's office because I wasn't about ready to have every inch of my body in pain.  We ran a variety of tests and after about 8 months, we discovered I had a severe intestinal infection.  NOT FUN!  lol...anyhow, I took a long-term round of antibiotics and couldn't wait to have the digestive issues behind me.

Well--that never happened.  The digestive problems continued but the migraines subsided some--they become more or less "regular" headaches but with severe sinus pressure and a runny nose.

Fast forward several years later and the stomach problems were still present--I was frustrated and about ready to throw the towel in.  My doctor was very concerned about the possibility of Celiac Disease because so many of my symptoms were spot-on and there was also a family history of it.  The test was ran and luckily, the results came back negative--but it still didn't explain what was causing all my GI and headache issues.

Hit the fast forward button again, and after visiting my regular doctor and 5 other specialists, we thought we finally had a diagnosis for some other stuff that was going on--GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease).  I started my proton-pump inhibitors and I did feel better, but my stomach problems still weren't gone.  In fact, just several months ago, my symptoms had started to worsen and become more frequent.  There was one day I was driving in morning rush-hour traffic in Kansas City and suddenly, I just couldn't take any air in.  This usually only happened if I was laying down--not while upright--but I did what I knew to do: stay calm and blow cool air on myself until the lump in my throat went away and I could catch my breath again.

Very much unlike me, I set my stubbornness aside and scheduled an appointment with my Ear-Nose-Throat doctor.  It was one thing to suffer from the once-again recent onset of migraines, digestive issues and chronic sinus infections, but my little breathing episodes were getting old.

After some poking, prodding and CT scans, my ENT had determined that it wasn't even really GERD at this point.  My stomach issues had definitely progressed into LPR (larypharyngeal Reflux), which meant my throat was now being affected and as a result, my vocal chords weren't functioning properly.  Without being too graphic, when my stomach "stuff" back-flowed into my throat, my vocal chords would close (making it extremely difficult to take air in) and at night, the stuff was going into my sinus cavities.  Just more proof that I'm never a cut-and-dry medical study!

Anywho, I left the doctor's office with a new medication regimen and a referral for Speech Therapy (to relax my vocal chords)...thankfully, I know some Speech Paths so I hit them up for some exercises and basically, what I was already doing, was about as much as I could do. 

Honestly, I was just a little bit discouraged.  If anything, after two years of taking medicine, my stomach issues should have improved.  But instead, I was doubling my just didn't make sense.

Later that day, I decided to take matters into my own hands.  I made a list of all the known triggers for MY stomach--without taking into consideration the "forbidden" foods for GERD/LPR.  The first trigger was easy to identify--stress.  Secondly, milk products and I do not get along.  Finally, last year I had tried a wheat-elimination diet and guess what--my stomach drastically improved, my migraines disappeared and I didn't develop rashes after eating certain foods.

It was obvious what I had to do--but, I didn't want to do it!  Wheat and lactose is in so much flippin' stuff--and stuff I like.  Such as, chocolate chip cookies! And mashed potatoes with gravy!  The stress, well--that's not going away anytime soon but I knew I needed to control what I COULD control.

That said, two weeks ago I decided to buckle-down and become more disciplined about avoiding foods that my body obviously doesn't like.  Our meals have been wheat and lactose free and any leftovers are eaten for lunch.  I have found some pretty good snacks that are wheat-free and we're finding great substitutes for everyday items like pasta, pancakes, coffee creamer, cheese sauce, etc.  At this rate, I think we can make this work and not have a bunch of super weird stuff in our pantry!

And that's a good thing.  In the past two weeks, my stomach has only been "funny" twice--and that was after eating something with a "normal cheese" sauce!  That's a huge improvement from my stomach being torn up all day, every day.  I haven't had any migraines or serious headaches.  The rash in the bend of my elbow that used to flare up after eating wheat has disappeared.  In fact, my GERD/LPR is much better--I haven't had any "episodes" so I've started to reduce my stomach meds a bit.  I really do hope that eventually, I can eventually stop taking them all together.  Yeah, yeah, yeah--that might be asking a lot but I think it's do-able!

In wrapping things up, I think this will be an interesting "diet" for our kitchen and pantry!  Thankfully, I like to cook and that's good because so many mixes and prepared foods contain wheat or lactose--or, both!  I've also had fun discovering "mainstream" recipes that can easily be adjusted so that they're wheat/lactose-free.  Or finding recipes that are naturally wheat-free and low in lactose...hello, MONSTER COOKIES!   Luckily enough, it's been much easier to avoid the problematic foods than I thought it would be and I think I'll be able to get my body back on track :-)

Friday, May 4, 2012

My Fern Fury

I did something really dumb this year...

I wintered my precious, precious ferns :-(

When I found out about a local wintering program this past Fall, I was ecstatic.  I was on my second set of hanging Boston ferns (the first set didn't make through our unusually cool Spring) and they were thriving.  I was worried about keeping them inside our house for two reasons.  One--I wasn't sure if we had the proper lighting levels and two--I didn't want to deal with the constantly shedding fronds.  I knew that by wintering ferns, they obviously wouldn't die, but they would continue to grow and just get bigger, and  bigger and BIGGER.

I have to admit that when looking at this picture, they don't seem THAT big.  This picture was taken in the summer time and they had grown even more before I took them to the greenhouse.  In fact, I could only fit one of them in the backseat of my Altima, if that says anything about how large they had gotten!

I took my sweet, precious ferns in around late October and picked them up in early April.

I thought I was going to cry by the time it was all said and done.

When I walked into the greenhouse, I saw two itty-bitty, wimpy ferns planted in old buckets sitting by the door.  I didn't pay them much attention because heck, mine were insanely huge compared to those!  In fact, I kinda felt sorry for whoever was getting those ferns!

I filled out the paperwork, paid the bill and asked where my ferns were--I was so excited to have my "babies" back!  The gal said, "They're right there!" and pointed at the wimpy ferns planted in the bucket...I looked at the ferns, then looked at her and said, "Uh, those aren't my ferns."

After a few minutes of trying to convince her that those were not my ferns, she showed me the stake that had been stuck in the dirt.  Lo and behold, my name was on the stake.  I explained to her that my ferns were huge--like, big enough that one of them alone took up an entire backseat--and had been in hanging baskets...not buckets.  I was convinced that someone had gotten a set of ferns confused and some lucky person walked out with some impressive "growth" in their ferns.

She explained that my roots had outgrown their hanging baskets--which, I didn't doubt one bit.  Thus, they transplanted them into the buckets and clipped off all the dead foliage.  I knew my ferns had a few dry fronds, but enough to trim them down to absolutely nothing?!?!  I wasn't buying it.

In fact, I'm still not buying it.  She tried to ease my fears by saying there are "millions" of babies just waiting to pop up--again, I don't doubt that one bit.  But I thought the point of wintering plants was to have them ready to put on display when the weather was nice again!

At this rate, I'm not sure when the ferns will be big enough to hang.  I could go ahead and do it, but they'd look so ridiculously unproportional to our porch.  Just thinking about it starts to bring tears of fury and disappointment to my eyes.

My two ferns in their new "home" on the porch floor.  I have to admit, they HAVE grown since I picked them up a month ago--but they're still nowhere close to their original size.  Oh, well!

Ever since picking up the ferns nearly 1 month ago, J-Money and I have been going round and round about buying a new set.  Of course, I want to get two new ones--and it really didn't help any when all the local stores starting bringing out their big ol' full ferns.  It was like they were just rubbing it in my face!  Justin keeps telling me to be patient and accept that at some point, they'll be big again--and my response is, "Yeah, like next year."  I want my ferns NOW!  And yes, I am being a whiney little kid about it :-)

Finally, last night, J-Money gave in.  I got my mileage reimbursement check in the mail and it was a whopping $25.  Yeah, gas is $4/gallon, but you know our reimbursement rate still bites when I'm getting paid $25 for all the driving that I do.  I digress...but anyhow, Justin told me that I could take the reimbursement money and go buy a set of new ferns.  So, I did.  Yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!

In all situations, I try to find the positive.   I figure this experience may actually end up working out very, very well.  My need for instant gratification was met when I picked up my new set of ferns...if the wintered ferns ever catch up, then I'll have the 4 hanging ferns that I always wanted!  Then, our porch will really feel like the Southern porch that I want to create for my husband.  Granted, I'm not sure what I'll do with the ferns come winter, but we may end up with a house full of shedded fronds and a super happy fern-crazy lady before it's all said and done :-)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Twist on Traditional Meatballs--Mongolian Style

Several weeks ago, I received an email from one of the many listserves that I am subscribed to.  Usually, I don't even open the email (Hey, give me a break--I'm no longer involved in the group!) and it goes directly to my trash folder.  For what ever crazy reason, that day I decided to open the email and I'm glad I did!

The gal mentioned she would be bringing Mongolian Meatballs to the meeting.  My first reaction was, "What the heck are Mongolian Meatballs?!"  Naturally, I went on Pinterest and much to my surprise, I didn't find anything :-(  If it wasn't on Pinterest, did Mongolian Meatballs really exist?!  I was starting to panic.

I did the next best thing that any smart person would do.  I googled "Mongolian Meatballs" and again, I was surprised by the results.  But this time around, I was pleasantly surprised.  Google actually found BUNCHES of recipes!  I read through a few and there were huge variations.  One recipe called for a mixture of ground meats--beef, lamb, pork--and super exotic spices plus all-day-long cooking methods...others called for 1 type of ground meat, an egg and a pressure cooker.  The anxiety really started to set-in.

Eventually, I found one that seemed to be my middle-of-the-road recipe.  It called for simple ingredients and didn't require too much of my time.  Plus, the blogger is a professional chef turned Stay-At-Home-Mom.  If I have learned anything in my life, SAHM's are generally amazing cooks.  And combine that with a SAHM who is a chef?!  I knew this recipe had to be good.

I finally got around to trying the recipe the other night.  As I put everything together, I started to have some serious doubts.  Especially, with the bottled hoison sauce.  There's rarely a time that I use the bottled stuff and I actually end up liking the recipe :-/  I'm not sure what it is, but the flavor always seems very far from authentic.

Anyhow, I was too far into the recipe to call it quits.  I put the meatballs in the oven, prepped the vegetables, started the rice and hoped for the best.  If it turned into an epic fail, it wouldn't be the first time we had placed a delivery order after trying a new recipe!

Finally, everything was ready and we plated up the food.  I took one bite and was quite amazed!  The meatballs were actually good.  And not just good.  But delicous!

I decided to let the husband try a few bites before I would ask "Well, whatdya think?"  But before I even had a chance to ask, he said, "Wow!  What are these meatballs?  They're really good.  Can we have them again?"

Well, that was a huge change from his usual, "Oh--they're fine" response!  This recipe will definitely have a home in our "For Keeps" file.  If you're up for trying an easy and delicious variation on your typical meatballs, give this recipe a try!  The original recipe can be found at; I made only a few minor changes and "my" version is below.  Enjoy!

Image courtesy of The Stay-at-Home-Mom Chef

Image courtesy of The Stay-at-Home-Mom Chef

Mongolian Beef Meatballs
Yield: 4 to 6, depending on who you're feeding--or 2, if it's J-Money and me:)

1/2 C hoisin sauce
1/4 C soy sauce
1/4 C brown sugar
1 t garlic powder
1/2 t ground ginger
1/4 to 1/2 t red pepper flakes (adjust the heat to your taste)
1 egg
1/2 C plain bread crumbs (I used crushed corn flakes)
1 pound ground beef
2 bunches green onions, sliced on the bias into 1 inch pieces
1 C matchstick cut carrots
vegetable oil

In a mixing bowl, combine the hoisin, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic powder ground ginger, and red pepper flakes. You should have 1 liquid cup. Remove all but 1/4 C from the bowl and set aside.

Whisk 1 egg into the sauce in the mixing bowl, then add the ground beef and bread crumbs. Combine with your hands as you would a meatloaf or other meatball, then shape into ping pong ball sized meatballs. You should get 24 (we made our's larger and had about 14)
Bake in a preheated 250 degree oven on a parchment lined baking sheet (or broiler pan) for about 20 minutes until done. Because mine were on the larger side, I baked them for about 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees.
In a large skillet, heat one turn of the pan of vegetable oil to rippling hot. Add the carrots and cook 1 minute. Add the green onions and cook 30 seconds. Add the meatballs and reserve 3/4 C sauce, toss to combine, and cook for 1 minute more, until hot. Serve immediately with cooked rice.