Planning For Vacation

Tomorrow I leave on a vacation to Ocean City, Maryland. This is the first vacation to somewhere new, that I’m doing all the planning for by myself. Our other vacations have been to places we’ve been before, like Cape Cod- I’ve been going there every year for about 15 years, so planning that trip wasn’t particularly stressful. I hope this one goes just as smoothly. 
I found the perfect hotel, reasonably priced, right on the beach and about two blocks past the end of the boardwalk (hopefully that’ll make it a bit less crowded). It’s across the street from an amusement park and a couple of seafood restaurants. Seems like an ideal location but I’ll keep my fingers crossed! 
I did some research and planned an outing to Assateague Island for a day. I went there with my family when I was 15, on the way back from Virginia Beach, but we never saw any of the wild horses. I hope this time we have better luck. 
I also want to check out the Fenwick Island Lighthouse and the nearby Mason-Dixon Line marker. On the way home from vacation, I want to swing by Rehoboth Beach, Delaware to check out a few unique stores. 
Other than that I want to leave the plan open to hanging on the beach, strolling the boardwalk, and visiting any attractions we might happen upon. 

To prepare for this fun and relaxing vacation, I’ve made like a million lists, googled activities and restaurant reviews, and made or purchased some supplies. 
I went to my local Christmas Tree Shop and purchased a large green tote bag with a zippered top for $3.99. I figured that would make an excellent and cheap beach bag but it seemed to be missing something. My monogram! Rather than hand embroidering something so large (it would take forever!), I decided to design it out of a festive fabric. I found some green, yellow and orange citrus printed fabric that was perfect for the job. I traced my monogram on the fabric, cut out the letters, ironed them, sewed them on, and voilà! 

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I tied a strip of the fabric to the zipper to bring it all together and complete the look. 
Since the fabric was something I already had on hand, the total project cost was only $3.99 plus tax! Quite a good deal for a totally customized bag!

Another great find was a beach cabana/sun hut from the Christmas Tree Shop. For $16.99 you get a space big enough for two beach chairs, three adults just sitting on beach towels, or four or five small children. It creates a breeze-free area to enjoy a picnic on the sand, and a place to take a break from the sun. 

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We probably won’t spend all day on the beach, but at that price, it’s worth grabbing just in case. I saw ones at other stores that had a front flap that zipped up to create a changing area for an extra $20 or so, but we’ll be only a short walk from our hotel room so I can’t imagine we’d actually use it. 

I’m also making sure we have all the basics. Sunblock. I got two kinds- 50 spf lotion and 30 spf spray. Plus an aloe cream for the inevitable sunburn. Two bathing suits per person. No one wants to wear a wet bathing suit if they don’t dry before the next swim, and you never know if you might tear it or something. Two beach towels- same reason. Water proof containers and pouches for cell phones, keys, etc. At least two pairs of flip flops per person for the beach. I have the worst luck and it seems I always break a pair, so this time I’m bringing a brand new, super durable pair, and a couple others, plus some brand new sandals. A first aid kit just in case. Sleepwear that is appropriate in case someone needs to get something from the car or go to the hotel office, etc. Everyone’s regular medicines, and extra just in case. I plan to bring a few extra migraine pills because I’d rather take an extra pill than miss out on enjoying my vacation.
In my opinion, you should plan as if everyone is going to need a lot of everything. Not one band aid in case someone gets a cut, but several because you might get the misfortune of several scrapes. Not just a couple tums in case you get a sour stomach, but a bottle of them in case it lasts for days or you’re not the only one. 
I know that most things you could just run out to a store for, but if you plan that way, you could end up spending a lot of your vacation time shopping for supplies, and you’ll most likely end up spending more money than you would have if you’d planned ahead. 

Anyway, I’m super excited! I have most of my packing done and just have to pack the car and make a quick trip to the store. I’m going to try to get myself to bed early so I can hopefully head out by 5:00am tomorrow morning. I’ll try to make time to post some pictures and an update about my trip so you can share in the fun! 

Back And Better Than Ever!

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve written a post but I want to get back to it. It’s been a busy past few months for me, between quitting smoking (almost 4 months tobacco free!), getting a new job, and putting some serious effort into getting into better shape, it seems like this blog got left behind. Now that I’ve had time to get myself together this blog is coming back!

Catered vs DIY Super Bowl Snacks

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Are you hosting a Super Bowl party this Sunday? Before you get overwhelmed by the idea of feeding a group of people for three hours or more, decide what your party really needs.

If you don’t think you’ll have a lot of time to cook, or you’re hosting a very large number of guests, you may want to opt for catered food. Your local grocery store usually has a catering department (look for it by the deli counter). They will have a variety of different snack platters such as wings, deli meat, vegetables, cheeses, etc. You can also call your favorite restaurant and place an order with them (many places have separate catering menus). Catering will be a more expensive option, but it is a great way to keep you out of the kitchen and cheering for your team!

If you’d prefer to do it yourself, you still have two different options. You can make all your snacks from scratch-the most affordable option, or you can buy frozen or canned ingredients and just pop them in the oven-also pretty affordable and a big time saver.

For example, my menu will include:
-Frozen meatballs which can easily be warmed up in the oven and served with a marinara sauce from a jar.
-Chicken drumsticks which will sit in different kinds of marinade until the guests arrive and then be cooked in the oven.
-Chips and a variety of store bought dips.
-Stuffed mushrooms which will be prepped before the game and can be popped in the oven when needed.
-Frozen pizza rolls which can be microwaved in about a minute.
-Canned chili which can also be microwaved or warmed in a saucepan on the stove top.
-Cookies and/or cupcakes which will be baked from scratch the day or morning before.

I think the easiest plan is to buy the items that are time consuming or difficult to make, and then make the items that are easier or can be prepared ahead of time. This gives you the best balance of time and cost.

Don’t forget to consider the amount of food each person will consume during the event. Are your guests big eaters? Is anyone on a diet? Try to figure out how much to make of each menu item before you go to the store or place a catering order. Also, when you make snacks at home, cook them in waves so they don’t get cold and so you don’t have too much go to waste if your guests get full.

With tasty and easy snacks, your party will be a win no matter which team you’re cheering for!

Vote!

Snow Day Dinner

It’s snowing like crazy here! Unless you’re a polar bear, you probably like to stay inside on snowy days. I know my only outdoor adventure today will be clearing off my car- reluctantly.
Days like this are perfect for relaxing inside, guilt free! Perhaps just pull out a blanket, plop yourself on the couch and catch up on your favorite tv show!
If that sounds a bit too unproductive for you, how about dusting off the crock pot and making a comforting, bone-warming dinner?!
I’m always looking for new recipes to try in my crock pot, but too often I find myself unable to cook them up because I’m missing ingredients. Oh the disappointment! It’s much worse if you live far from the grocery store, or it happens on a day like today, when it’s too cold and snowy to drive anywhere.
My goal is to find delicious, easy recipes with super basic ingredients found in every kitchen, and share them with you!
A basic hearty crock pot dish is the classic beef stew. My biggest challenge with this used to be that I didn’t always have a seasoning mix packet in the pantry. Thankfully, I found a solution- make your own! Here’s a recipe I found online to make your own seasoning. You can save a few dollars, and never again have to make a trip to the store for this one thing, or skip the dish altogether.

http://www.thesefour.com/2013/02/beef-stew-seasoning-recipe.html?m=1

I’ve tried the recipe and I think it makes a great stew- exactly what you’d expect! Now I have a big ziplock bag of this stuff in the pantry, ready for many, many more delicious meals!
Another reason why beef stew is a favorite of mine is that you only need 4 or 5 basic ingredients (besides the seasoning mix). You can use pretty much any piece of beef you have on hand. I’ve used London broil, thin sliced steaks, and many others that I can’t remember. Just make sure you cut them to the appropriate size. The rest of the ingredients are potatoes, onions, carrots and celery. If you don’t have one of the veggies, it’s not that big of a deal, but don’t forget to check your freezer in case you have a bag of one of the veggies frozen in there.

If beef stew isn’t for you, I have a boneless pork chop recipe for the crock pot. I think I invented it myself but I’m sure there’s similar recipes out there. You’ll need:

1 boneless chop per person (you can cut the bone off regular chops if that’s all you have)
1 potato per person, peeled and chopped into .5″ x .5″ x .25″ pieces
1-2 onions, peeled, halved and sliced
A teaspoon of minced garlic
Your favorite BBQ sauce
A few drops of liquid smoke- optional
Salt
Pepper
A few drops of your favorite spicy sauce (I use Lawry’s Baja chipotle marinade)
Some water

To save some time I fry the pork chops in a pan with some olive olive for a couple minutes per side (make sure it’s mostly cooked through). Place the chops in the bottom of the crock pot, and lay the sliced onions on top, then the potatoes. Mix the other ingredients together, adding just enough water to make it liquidy, not saucy. Pour the mixture in, making sure to fully cover over the potatoes, but do not fill any higher. If it does not cover, add a bit more BBQ sauce and water.
I turn my crockpot on high and cook for about 1.5-2 hours. *It will cook faster if you are making a small portion and could burn if your sauce is to thick.* To see if it’s ready, poke a chop with a fork- if it falls apart, they’re done. Also poke a potato and make sure they’re soft. Serve with a side of steamed broccoli, carrots or whatever you like.

I hope these ideas have inspired you to get slow cooking! I would love to hear about your favorite “basic ingredients” crock pot meal. I always need new recipes!

A New Year Is A Fresh Start!

Happy 2014!

Over the past year, we’ve probably all planned to try new recipes more often, redecorate, get our closets cleaned out, do some fun crafts with the kids, organize the kitchen, host the best BBQ in the neighborhood, etc., but with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we don’t always manage to make these things happen.
While we’re all in New Year’s Resolution mode, this is the perfect time to make up a realistic game plan for the year. Whatever it is that you want to do this year, if you plan it out now, make lists, adjust your calendar, etc., you might actually achieve your goals!

If you’ve been wanting to bake or cook new or fancier dishes, compile the recipes in a place where they will be easily remembered. Pick a day of the week that you’ll try the new dish, and note it on your calendar, set an alert on your phone, put the word out to your family, or whatever you need to do to remember. Take a few minutes one night a week or every two weeks (depending on how often you go to the grocery store) and make a list up of the items you’ll need to purchase to make that meal happen. This way when the “due date” arrives, you’ll be all set and won’t have to skip it. Plus the sooner you plan the meals, the more time you’ll have to sales shop for ingredients.

If you have an area of the house that you really want to clean out or organize, schedule it!
Pick a day when you know you’ll have enough time to complete the project. Write it on your calendar or set an alert on your phone. Get a couple boxes to help you stay organized. As you remove items, you can put them in the “keep” box or the “get rid of” box. If you are keeping everything, you can sort by use, size, or type, into separate boxes. Once you have everything out and sorted, just neatly put things back where you want them.

Have you been wanting to spend more time doing projects with the kids? Pick out some project ideas (and instructions) and keep them handy. Make sure you keep the supplies handy or make a trip to the craft store as soon as possible. When the opportunity arises, you’ll be ready to get crafty! You can also plan a certain day of the week that you all sit down to some family craft time.

If you’ve been dying to host an awesome BBQ or dinner party but ended up kind of throwing it together, this can be your year!
Parties can be planned really far ahead of time. Did you want to host a Memorial Day BBQ? Put it on your calendar now. You can start planning your menu as early as you need. Set a reminder about two weeks or more before the holiday so you can buy the food items on sale. Two weeks equals two sale cycles. (If you don’t pay much attention to sales, almost every store runs their sales Sunday through Saturday.) Decorations? Pick things up when you find them- don’t wait till the week before, unless it’s an item you expect will go on sale. You can store things in a box or plastic bin until you are ready to set up. Another fun idea is to create a board on Pinterest for the event. You can pin food, decoration and activity ideas so that they will be easy to find.

Remember, whatever your goal, organization is key. Make a plan and stick to it. Always try to take that extra minute to write your ideas down. Even if it doesn’t work out the first time, it’s never too late to give it a second try!