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Finally finished up ALL the shopping & wrapping, thanks in part to a healthy dose of amazon.com. I am so all about online shopping. I wish they would offer more free shipping, but it beats having to fight the crowds at The Godforsaken Mall. Now all that’s left is cookery!

Mr Fab & I will spend Christmas Eve at his parent’s house, Christmas brunch at my mom’s house, and Christmas Day lunch at my grandparents’ house. Whew! I think I gained 5 pounds just thinking about all that yummy food. Most of the big cooking will be done by mom, MIL, and grandma, but we are still making goodies to take.

Today, I made white chocolate covered pretzel candy (I’m sure it has a name; we just call it YUMM). Tomorrow, we are making candied pecans, cinnamon rolls, stuffed mushrooms, and (God help me) a pecan pie. I really don’t have the patience to do much pie-baking, what with the crust and the filling and the baking. Uh. It makes me need to eat cookies. (The kind that come already baked!) But Mr Fab is actually quite an accomplished baker, and this is his genius idea, so I’m going to let him take the reigns on it.

In other news…I did a little bit of housecleaning today…some laundry and general containment of the clutter. And I vacuumed. God help me, but I do love to vacuum! It gives me such great joy! I think everyone has their household bugaboo, like the one thing they just cannot tolerate. You can pile magazines & bills up to the rafters and I won’t bat an eye, but I DO NOT want to see any schmutz on the carpet. I love the noise the vacuum makes and the lovely little tracks it makes on the carpet. I even love the word vacuum. I heart vacuuming.

I also love my own special home made version of Carpet Fresh. I can’t deal with store-bought carpet fresh; the fragrances they put in it are seriously noxious. So I make my own out of baking soda & Bath & Body Works body spray! I know, is that ghetto or what!? (All my smell-goods around the house are the Midnight Pomegranate smell from B&BW, but I don’t like actually wearing the scent.) (I’m sure if you’re not quite as tacky as I am, you can use any sort of smell-good you like, be it essential oils or, God forbid, some sort of made-for-your-house room spray!) So, I fill a glass jar about halfway full with baking soda & pour about a tablespoon of body splash into it and mix it around. Then I punch holes in the lid of the jar, either with nails or a small drill, and use it as a shaker. Shake it all around the carpet, then go visit the Wal-Mart or chase after your kids, or just sit and listen to your own thoughts for five dang minutes, God Almighty, the point is to let us sit and soak up the dog-kid-husband odors in the carpet. Then vacuum (ah there it is again!) it all up and you are good to go. It’s basically free, non-toxic, and it matches the smell of your house already. So get after it already!

Happy Monday, y’all!

In an effort to cut the family budget, Mr. Fabulous and I have really tried to make a conscious effort to not eat at restaurants as much and to stay home and cook more often. It totally sucks. :) I love cooking, but you know how it is! After a hard day’s work, the LAST thing you want to do is stand on your feet (they be swoll!) and try to come up with something for dinner. And food is just plain expensive! So here are a few solutions to save on your grocery budget and hopefully help you avoid the “takeout trap.”

Menu Planning
I can’t tell you how much of a difference this will make. Simply plan out – BEFORE YOU GO TO THE STORE – what you will eat each day and what you need to buy to make it so. Put all the ingredients you will need on a list and shop from your list. Don’t wander around the store willy-nilly, gossiping on your cell phone, throwing anything and everything into your basket. Not that I do that, or anything. If you are far more capable than me (or if your family situation dictates that you can only shop once per month), plan out the whole month in advance. If you are able to be more flexible, plan and shop one week at a time. Don’t make it hard! The FABULOUS ladies over at Home Ec 101 always do Menu Monday — they are a great inspiration!

(I like to write my weekly menu on a magnetic board on the fridge, so there are no complaints from Mr. Fabulous about what we’re eating. Because usually this is our dinner conversation. We’ll sit down to a plate of, say, tacos. Mr. Fab will say, “Kathy, guess what I had for lunch today. Tacos.” Never fails! It makes me so mad! So if we know in advance what we’re eating for dinner every night, Mr. Fab can try and remember not to eat the same thing for lunch.)

Along those same lines: KISS
That’s right — keep it simple, sista. Don’t make dinner harder than it already is! Food with 9,000 ingredients is just not practical for a random Tuesday. In our house, our weekday dinners consist of a meat, a green vegetable, a starch, and occasionally some other side. So it might be pork chops, green beans, and mashed potatoes. Or roasted chicken, broccoli with cheese sauce, bread or rolls, and a tossed salad. Don’t make it hard! Throw some meat in the oven to roast and steam some fresh or frozen veggies or open a can of beans. Viola! It’s dinner! You can use sauces or marinades to jazz up your meat (we love this on pork chops and this on, oh, just about everything else) and alternate roasting with grilling with searing. You’re not cooking for the queen here, honey. Just keep it simple

Take your lunch to work day!
If you are not doing this already, come over here so I can DONK you on the head! You will save a small fortune by packing your lunch even 2-3 times a week instead of eating at restaurants. (You will also save a ton of fat, calories, and sodium if you are concerned about that sort of thing.) Leftovers are the ideal solution, methinks, but if you don’t have leftovers, pack a sandwich or even take a frozen prepackaged meal — it is still cheaper than getting a meal from a restaurant. And if you are particular, like my husband, freeze this week’s leftovers and eat them next week, when you will have forgotten all about them.

I personally eat Weight Watcher’s Smart Ones for lunch nearly every day. At around $2 at the Wal-Mart, it’s way cheaper than eating out, which generally costs me about $10 per meal.

Buy Local
If you have the opportunity to get locally grown produce, you will save a ton of money and get much fresher, better-tasting fruits & veggies. (Not to mention you will be supporting your local family farms, you’ll have more opportunity to buy organic, and there are fewer carbon emissions from having to ship produce from all ends of the earth.) Check your local newspaper for seasonal farmer’s markets. Your local health food store may also be able to supply you with some information.

If you are fortunate enough to have a Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA), you can get a bushel of local fruits & veggies for not very much money. (Most CSA’s allow you to buy 1/2 or 1/4 shares, which is good for a small family.) It may take some planning, budgetwise, since you are usually purchasing the entire share in one payment, so you may have to plan ahead and start putting money aside to pay for your produce in the spring. But the money you will save will definitely be worth it!

(Of course, if you work less than 60 hours a week and are all-around more capable than I am(!), a garden is a fabulous way of getting practically free fruits & veggies.)

Another idea (if you have access to a large freezer) is to buy an entire side of beef from a butcher or meat market. (Alternately, if you are from the country, as were are here in the Fabulous House, you can sometimes find a farmer who will let you “buy” a cow from him and have it butchered.) The meat can be butchered to your specifications, is higher quality, and generally costs less overall. You can, of course, split the cost and the meat with another family or 2.

(Sidenote: We are buying a large deep freeze from my cousin’s cousin for $40! I can’t wait to fill it up!!)

Buy Frozen
I am a huge fan of buying frozen fruits & vegetables. They are generally cheaper and easier to store than buying fresh, but they have all the good vitamins and nutrients. We generally keep some combination of broccoli, spinach, asparagus, peas, squash, brussels sprouts, corn, carrots, onions, potatoes, strawberries, peaches, pineapple, and berries in the freezer at all times. If you have a small family, like we do, it may not be possible to eat up fresh produce before it goes bad, so frozen is a “cool” (hardy har har) alternative.

Go meatless
At least once a week, serve a vegetarian main dish. (I know, I know. Your husband won’t eat vegetarian. Mine either. That’s why I tell him it’s just a “casserole” or “enchiladas” without going into too much detail. What he don’t know won’t hurt him! :)) They are practically giving beans away at the store — make bean burritos, beans and cornbread, and vegetarian chili are all dirt cheap and filling. Crystal Miller over at The Family Homestead has a great primer on cooking with beans and some fabulous frugal recipes.

If you won’t eat it, don’t buy it.
This sounds kind of elementary, Watson, but it may not be. Hamburger Helper is pretty cheap, but my husband refuses to eat it. It does us no good to sit in the pantry forever! It doesn’t matter how cheap or how good the sale is, if you don’t like it, don’t buy it.

But if you do like it, get it!
This too seems counterintuitive, but if you are used to eating out a lot, like we are, it really makes it hard to come home to peanut butter sandwiches & water! Splurge on a few indulgences — they are still cheaper than eating out! It’s totally okay to treat yourself once in awhile. And you will be more inclined to come home & make something if you know your favorite foods are there for you. A deal-breaker in our house is diet Dr Pepper and cookies. We MUST have them! (They are, after all, 2 of the 5 major food groups: Dr Pepper, dessert, mexican, cheese, and carbs!) (We eat SO healthy, can you tell!?!) A 12-pack of soda is about $3, and a packaged cookie mix is about $1, and they help entice us to eat at home.

Try a food swap.
I have always wanted to do this, but my schedule is so crazy that it just doesn’t work in my life. But basically, you and another family (or 2 or 3!) divvy up dinner duties for the week. On Monday, your family makes enough dinner to serve all the families in your little dinner co-op. On Tuesday, the neighbors have dinner duty, so you get a clean kitchen, no hassle, and a “free” meal. The idea is that each family can do a little more work one night of the week to help everyone in the co-op out. I think you could also save money by buying the ingredients for your meal in bulk, and not having to waste money buying smaller packages of meat or smaller quantities of vegetables or spices. Dinner Co-ops is kind of the home base for this idea (beware, they will try to sell you their book!), but there are some other good resources and information here, here, and here.

These are very basic, jumping-off-point ideas, but I hope they will encourage you to stay home, for God’s sake, and cook a meal. More on this topic to come as well!

Five Link Friday!

So I’ve been slacky on the posting this week. We were sans internet for a couple of days. The dog? The black lab puppy? Yeah, she ATE my internet. (Well, the cable that brings internets & cable tv to your house.) (Seriously? Why don’t you just cut off my arm while you’re at it.) So I have a couple of things I’ve been meaning to post, but the holidays are definitely upon us and we had no internets for a couple of days! :( I’ll try to get better!

Yesterday, which should have been the Friday in the aforementioned Five Link Friday, just got eaten up with cleaning and fixing and doing around the house. Have you ever just had one of those days where you just could not tolerate for ONE MORE MOMENT the clutter and junk in your house? I totally had that. I am SO bad about just throwing things out. I know I would be better off to sell or donate things that I don’t want (not to mention better for the environment!), but sometimes I just have to get stuff out of my sight right. this. moment. So I put away about 3 loads of laundry, wrapped ALL my Christmas presents & cleaned up the ensuing mess, and just tried to round up the clutter & mess and get it away from me.

And also? Our thermostat has been flashing the word “FILTER” at me for like weeks. Embarrassing confession — we’ve lived here for about 18 months and have never changed the filter in our HVAC unit! That’s turrible, huh?? (Somewhere, my father has died and is rolling over in his grave.) In my defense, I really did try to change the filter, but I swear I didn’t know where the filter was! It was not, as the owner’s manual suggested, near the blower unit. (I even got a screwdriver out and unscrewed the main panel to check!) So I went on a mission to identify where these mystery filters were kept. Using the (newly fixed) internets & my own keen sense of intuition, I discovered the filters were IN THE CEILING. IN the return air vents. How could I have possibly known that?? So anyway, the filters were disgusting, as you can imagine, and warranted a quick trip to the Wal-Mart to buy new ones. (Please note that in the South, it is referred to as “THE Wal-Mart,” not just “Wal-Mart.”) So naturally that took up a big chunk of my day.

Anywho! Moving on to the links!! Have a great weekend everyone!
Food: Smitten Kitchen – They have some really gorgeous and yummy recipes here!
Alkie:  New Year’s Partying in Las Vegas – (if that doesn’t count as an alcohol-related entry, I’m not sure what does!) We may not have the cash to spend New Year’s Eve in Sin City, but is fun to read about it!
House & Home:  The Hooked on Houses Holiday House Tour – some great ideas for holiday decorating, if you haven’t already thrown up your hands in exasperation at the whole mess.
Frugal:  Five Dollar Dinners – What a FABULOUS idea! I just started reading this blog, and I’m already a big fan. Great meals for a reasonable price — that’s what I’m talkin’ about!
Fabulous:  The World’s 10 Weirdest Hotels – Again, we may be too poor financially challenged to go on a fabulous vacation, but I think it’s always FABULOUS to read & learn about where we could go. If, you know, we had a well-paying job and not one that tries to save the world. Just sayin.

Happy weekend, y’all!

Trashy Food

So, ya know sometimes when you’re in a hurry and hungry and just NEED SOMETHING TO EAT RIGHT. NOW. And it doesn’t really matter what it is? I have ye a solution! Pasta! It’s about the trashiest food you can make, but it’s quick, cheap, and you can make up a bowl using things already in your pantry or freezer (thus, no fresh vegetables that can spoil before you use them.)

Yesterday, I made cheater tuna casserole, but the same principle can be applied to make a variety of things: pasta, sauce, meat, veggies. It’s not pretty folks, but it’s good food, quick.

For my cheater tuna casserole, I cooked up some rotini pasta. Right before the pasta was done, I put in about 1/2 cup of frozen peas and let the peas and pasta cook inthe same water. Then I drained it and added a can of tuna and about a cup of jarred alfredo sauce. Finish with some fresh cracked pepper and some grated parmesan, and you have yourself a meal.

Here are just a couple of ideas to make some stick-to-your-ribs food in a flash!

Pasta Sauce Meat Veggies
Cheater Tuna Casserole Rotini Alfredo sauce (jarred) Tuna Frozen peas
Chili Mac Macaroni Leftover chili Kidney beans Canned diced tomatoes
Vegetarian Chili Rice Canned diced tomatoes Black beans Frozen spinach
Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo Fettuccine Alfredo sauce Chicken (canned or leftover) Canned mushrooms

Frozen broccoli

Shrimp Pesto Linguine Linguine Pesto (from a jar!) Shrimp Sliced grape tomatoes
Cheater Lasagne Egg noodles Marinara (jarred) Ground beef

Cottage cheese

Canned mushrooms

Frozen spinach

Happy eating!

Five Link Friday

Since I’m the boss around here and can make up the rules, I’m going to start posting links to other websites on Fridays so you can have some way to spend your free time on the weekend! (Those of you who have free time. Those of you with chirren, I understand!) So on Fridays I will post 5 links — something frugal, some sort of cookery, something around the house (cleaning or decorating), something FABULOUS, and something involving alcohol.

(Yep, a fabulous, miserly alcoholic who likes to cook & clean. That’s pretty much me in a nutshell!)

(These rules are, of course, subject to change if I feel like it!) :-P

Here we go!

Frugal: Chocolate Dipped Candy Canes – this is another great Christmas gift idea (how fun in the stockings or for a teacher gift?)
Cooking: Pasta alla Vodka from The Pioneer Woman Cooks – looks awesome!
House & Home: Modern Record Bowls – What a cute idea! I’m thinking of making some for my sister-in-law’s Christmas
Fabulous!: The White Hat Shop – a cute vintage postcard shop owned by a friend of mine.
Alcoholic: 10 Holiday Cocktails – from Southern Living – I can’t wait to try some of these!

Enjoy & have a FABULOUS weekend!

I will admit it. I am definitely domestically reclined when it comes to cleaning! Sometimes the only time I pick up the house is when the Domino’s man comes to bring dinner. (Okay so apparently I am a little reclined in the cooking department too! I get an A for effort, all right??)

I hate cleaning. I have far funner things to be doing that scrubbing and wiping all day! So my brand of cleaning is kind of accidental cleaning — like it happens when I’m doing other things. One of my favorite tips is for keeping a clean bathtub & shower, and I, being fabulous, will share it with you.

I keep a small travel-sized shampoo bottle filled with Dawn dish detergent and a scrubbie sponge in my shower. (Keep both of these items away from DH and any chirren you got living at home!) About once a week (or more, if you’re industrious), squirt some Dawn on your sponge and scrub down the walls at the end of your shower. It really takes no effort at all — the yuck & muck is all softened up from your shower and since you are already standing under water, it doesn’t matter if you fling soap everywhere. Do a quick wipe-down of your shower walls once a week, squeegee off the water the other 6 days, and you are good to go!

Happy showering!

Frugal & Fabulous

With the economy being as it is in the crapper, it’s time to think of some fabulous and thrifty Christmas presents. For my coworkers this year, I am making cookie kits. They are so cute and about $3 per person! (Shh. Don’t tell my office girls.) A great idea for teachers, babysitters, hairdresser, etc., etc., etc.! Here we go!

First, I bought a prepackaged cookie mix (Hey, we’re trying to be fabulous here! We don’t have time to be making cookies from scratch!) and punched a small hole in the top.

Mmmm...cookies

Then I found some cute Christmas cookie cutters & spatulas. (At K-Mart! For $3 for 2 spatulas or 5 cookie cutters! Plus 30% off!) You could also use wooden spoons (cheap!) or measuring cups/spoons. Cookie cutter & Santa spatula

I then attached one cookie cutter and a spatula to each bag of cookies with curling ribbon.Viola! Super cute! Cheap! Semi-homemade!

Fishished product

Some other good ideas for frugal Christmas presents:
- A travel kit with a sleep mask, earplugs, nail file, Tide pen, band-aids, etc.
- A coffee cup filled with cocoa, tea, and
- Here are some great “gifts in a jar”

Remember, it really is the thought that counts! Even a small candle or scented lotion means a lot when it comes with a handwritten card or note. Economy be damned — let’s have the most fabulous Christmas ever!

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