Monday, May 14, 2012

When Is The Last Time You Had A S'more?

S'mores Bites 
Yields 12

6 graham cracker sheets*
6 large marshmallows
12 Hershey's Kisses or Rolos, unwrapped



Break graham cracker sheets in half, then cut each half into a circle using a 2 1/4" circle metal cookie cutter. *Older graham crackers that are left out in the air for a bit will be more softer and more pliable for cutting.

Using clean scissors cut each marshmallow into 2 halves.  

Heat oven to Low Broil and place oven rack two levels below broiler.  

Align graham crackers in the center of a cookie sheet about 1/2" apart from each other (you want them all to be near the center so they are directly under the broiler and cook more evenly at the same time).  Top each graham cracker with a marshmallow with the cut/sticky side down.  Place marshmallow topped graham crackers under broiler, watch them closely as they will toast quickly, allow to toast until golden, rotating pan with oven mitt as needed. 

Once golden immediately remove from oven, place 1 Kiss or Rolo in the center of each toasted marshmallow and gently press down. 

For best results serve warm, just like a real S'more. No campfire needed.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Condo Gardening

When we moved, we left behind 300 roses and huge numbers of daylilies, iris and almost any other perennial you can name. Literally, any perennial. Not to mention 36 tomato plants, along with cukes, squash, lettuce, beans and peppers

Condo living is a little different and has been an adjustment.  Not much room for plants but we are trying to take advantage of what little outdoor space we do have.

We dug up 3 roses that were our favorites and which had been a birthday gift from my Mom (by special request). They are each a David Austen old fashioned rose named Happy Child. I think it is aptly named:

We have managed to do a little farming:

Hot Peppers

Basil (for homemade pesto)
Condo Lizard
 Here is my flower garden, on the front balcony. I am the only one out of 48 units that has plants out front. The geraniums like it here, unfortunately the homeowners association does not like plants or flowers. I received a notice:
"there are a large number of plants surround your entry, some actually out on the walkway area itself. The Board is requesting that you limit the number of plants. It is recommended that you not over water or use fertilizer."

Does this look like an unruly group of plants? Are they considerably over the boundaries and in the way of the walkway? To limit the number of plants are they suggesting two instead of three? Is this really so bad? Anybody want to guess what I think of the "homeowner association" gestapo?

Monday, May 7, 2012

What Are The Best Deals At Costco/Sams/BJ's?

Rachel, on her blog Holy Craft, does some price checking between Costco and grocery stores and reveals her findings. To me it seems that every thing is priced so it's at least $7, whatever the size. 

There are a few things I go to Costco or BJ's for specifically (spring salad lettuce mix, peppers, green beans, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, deli meats, roasted chicken) and the rest I purchase at Aldi's, WalMart or the grocery store.

From Rachel:  What I buy at Costco

Yesterday, I explained my love/hate relationship with Costco.

Costco charges a $50 membership fee per year.  It takes discipline (and a little price comparison) to help you recoup your membership fee and save money while shopping at Costco.

I can live without my Costco membership, but when I do find myself with membership card in hand, these are the things that I think are worth buying.

**as a side note, on the times when I have let my membership lapse, my membership card has still remained active at the pump.

The first place I stop at when I walk through the doors of Costco is to the produce section.

Not all of the produce is a good deal.  During the summer, most of my produce comes from a local fruit and vegetable stand or from our local farmers market (it's cheaper, organic, and local), but during the other times of the year, when produce prices soar at your local grocery store, you can find some deals worth picking up.

Hearts of Romaine
6 count for $2.99
(That's 50 cents per heart)

Sweet Mini Peppers
A 2 pound bag is $3.79
I use these peppers for everything from sandwiches, in our salads, as stir fry, or just as a snack.
During the winter a whole yellow/red/orange pepper can set you back $1.50 at the grocery store.

4 pounds are $6.49
that calculates to about $1.60 per pound

A 3 pound bag costs $1.39
about $.46 a pound
*these are almost always VERY green, so you have to plan ahead

D'Anjou Pears
6 pounds for $3.99
That's about $.67 a pound
*I will often buy this bag and share it with a friend.  The problem with 6 pounds of unripe pears is that they usually become ripe all at the same time.  It's not a good deal if you are wasting half of the bag.

**Produce item prices can change by several dollars in the same week.
I went back the same week that I took these pictures and found that the sweet peppers were now over $5 per bag and the pears were over $4 for 6 pounds.  

Be aware of the prices!

10 mg of loratadine (compare to Claritin)
The price on this allergy medicine continues to go up by several dollars each year. It comes as a year supply (365 tablets-1 per day), and with a coupon this year it cost me $9.99.  It's still a better deal than most other allergy medicines at the drug store, but it won't be for long.  I started buying it when it was only $4 per bottle...a much better deal!

4 pounds for $9.79
Around $2.45 per pound
Quinoa is a super food that our family eats as a substitute for rice.  In bulk at the grocery store I was paying around $4.50 a pound for it.  Thankfully, Costco carries it for almost half the price.  
*Not everyone loves Quinoa though.  It's best to try it before you buy it and get stuck with 4 pounds of something your family won't eat.

Baking Soda
13.5 pounds for $6.16
I know most people will tell you when they had babies, they bought diapers and wipes at Costco.
When I had babies, I bought baking soda at Costco.
I have no experience with the prices of diapers/wipes at Costco so I can't help you there, 
but as a cloth diapering mom, I used baking soda in our dirty diaper bucket to help neutralize the odor and used vinegar in the pre-wash cycle when I washed them.

**This was a purchase I only made as a cloth diapering mom. 
Think about how you use baking soda.  Usually by the teaspoon.  It would take you years to get through a bag this size and by that time, it would expire...and yes, baking soda expires!

Hershey's Chocolate Syrup
7.8 pounds for $6.86
This is one of the "extras" that I buy at Costco, that I could easily cut out of my buying if I had to.
I use a squirt of syrup in my protein shake.  The kids use it on top of bananas for a snack. 

Mocha Frappe Freeze
2.424 pounds for $8.35
I am addicted to this blended coffee.  Have been for years.
You can mix one scoop of mix with one scoop of protein powder when you make a protein shake (on days when I lift weights or am training for a race).
Or for a treat, I mix 2 scoops with 8 ounces of milk and ice and blend it together.
For me it tastes similar to a Starbucks Mocha Frappaccino but costs WAY less and has far fewer calories.

Kirkland Shredded Mozzarella
5 pounds for $9.99
Around $2 per pound
I only buy this cheese in bulk when I haven't found a sale at our local grocery store.  
Over the years it's gone up in price, but it still is a better deal than shredded cheese that isn't on sale.
I will bring this home and put it in separate smaller ziploc bags and freeze each bag.

Frozen peas/corn
5 pounds for $5.59/$5.89
I can find a better deal on frozen vegetables at our local grocery store, but the flavor of these outweighs the better price of the grocery off brand.  It's worth the extra 50 cents for our family, and each bag usually lasts several months.

Kirkland Hamburger Patties
24 count for $17.79
Around $.75 per burger 
I know I could probably make my own hamburger patties for less, but I don't buy many convenience or prepared foods, so for a quick meal that is always on hand, that my whole family will eat, it's worth it for me.

I also always buy the 10 pound bag of chicken breasts at Costco.
It ends up costing around $2 per pound.
I have tried several different brands of frozen chicken breasts and have always been less than impressed.

Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner
4 pack for $6.93-$3 off coupon=$3.93
That's less than $1 per LARGE bottle
*this was a case this month, when knowing how much you pay at other retailers comes in handy for knowing if you are getting a good deal at Costco, especially when shopping with their monthly coupons.

Kirkland Signature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
I hear this Olive Oil is the best kept secret in the store.
It's $9.99 for 1.5 liters
In recent studies at UC Davis, Kirkland Olive Oil was one of only five of the 19 brands that wasn't mixed with cheaper refined olive oil.  The other four were all high end brands that cost nearly five times what the Kirkland brand cost.  Make sure when you pick it up it's the organic brand.

So, that's what you will usually find in my cart.
I try to steer clear of the front and middle aisles for fear of getting sucked into what I think *might* be a good deal.  All of these items can be found on the far left side of my store.  

It's easy to impulse buy at Costco but when I know my numbers and know what is a better deal at Costco than at other grocery/drug stores, then I can feel confident in knowing that I am saving my family money.

Check out Rachel's blog - she also did an interesting series on what NOT to buy at the Dollar Store (here).

What do you buy at Costco/Sam's/BJ's?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cinder Block Planter Redux

I love this idea - found at Kristen's blog the Hunted Interior. When I see the words "cinder block shelves", I don't get a really awe inspiring vision in my head. More like college dorm cinder block shelves. But this finished project is not only functional but looks great. These ain't your college dorm cinder block shelves.


I made a concrete block planter... Filled with gorgeous succulents... Just like everyone else...
But do you really think I would make a concrete planter just like everyone else?  I don't think so! We made an outdoor bar!
I was completely awestruck when I originally saw Annette's DIY Cinder Block Planter on Apartment Therapy.  Pure genius.  Since that post these planters have been popping up everywhere.  I knew I wanted in, I just couldn't figure out the location.  
Doing what I always do (& try to instill in all my loyal hunters) I found myself digging around trying to find things to update our deck.  I knew I had some large old deck boards that I stained with my vinegar & steel wool mixture.  They ended up not being used for the desk, so they went back under the deck... Calling to me.  "If you Build Me.  They will come!"  After doing a bit of measuring I realized I needed an outdoor bar.  I mean who doesn't need an outdoor bar?!?  I had the wood for the top & I needed a sturdy base.  { Enter concrete blocks here }  I literally threw myself, my mom & the little's in the car & headed to Home Depot.  The project had begun.
Easy enough right?  You stack up some blocks, plant some flowers, put on a top... Done.  Well it's never that easy.  This is how we built our Concrete Planter/Bar.
First up... Layout.  Put on your strong arms, or borrow some if you can & figure out your optimum layout.  Mine ended up symmetrical (shocker I know!) but if it had been wider I would have been all about organized chaos.  Also remember that staggering your seams will make for a stronger structure. 
Once you have your layout, take a picture, draw a diagram, make some sort of reference so you don't forget.  Disassemble your blocks & start gluing them together.  Easy right... yeah, we talked about that earlier.  It was like Goldilocks up in here.  Our first tube of industrial strength concrete glue (thanks neighbor) was so old it had formed into a plasticy tube.  No go.  Our second attempt was using StrongStick Adhesive by DAP.  Seemed like it worked until it came apart.  Strike two.  Ugh!  I seriously almost scrapped the idea at this point.  One more try... { Enter heavenly cherubs singing }
We used two tubes of this magic adhesive in our caulk gun.  I am proud to say this thing isn't going anywhere without a sledge hammer!  Let's get to gluing.
Since we were turning this into a table, it needed to be in the realm of level.  We added wood shims to aide in this.  Checking on every level.  Once done... Let it cure.  I know you will be tempted to check.  DON"T just glue it & walk away.
After it is solid, as...well concrete, it is time to plant.  We used large squares of 1/4" Hardware Cloth & shoved it into the openings that would be planted.  I tried Chicken Wire as other sites had suggested, but again, no go.  I couldn't get it to stay.  The Hardware Cloth is more rigid & held much better for us.

Following the Hardware Cloth, cut a square of Landscape Cloth to keep in your potting soil.

And plant some GORGEOUS succulents.
At this point, if you just wanted a planter, you are done!
If you want to go all the way, like we did there are just a few more steps...  We used weatherproof Liquid Nails to glue our two boards to each other.  Followed by some metal plates for extra stability
Once the glue has dried, attach it to your planter... We attached L brackets to the underside of the wood top that lined up with the openings in the concrete blocks.  This way it is a stable top, but it can still be removed to aide in planting.
And every console needs a piece of artwork above it... I love how our door project transformed a plain door into a piece of art.
Our outdoor space has become a fun & bright space that we will enjoy all summer!  No really, the littles refuses to go inside now!  I guess all I can do now is pour a glass of lemonade, sit back & scheme up my next project!

New Items from West Elm

The new West Elm catalog came today and I found lots of new items that I love, plus some continued favorites. And since I am an online shopper extraordinaire, I shall share them with you in an effort to shop vicariously rather than monetarily.

First up the the coral reef shower curtain ($39) and sea life decoupage tray ($12) and coral reef silk pillow cover ($39).  Anything with coral is popular right now and these are an inexpensive way to look in-style without breaking the bank.

This layered side table ($149) would be a fun accent piece to add color to a room, or to let guests know you don't take yourself too seriously. For added functionality, it can be used indoors or out.

For a modern take on a traditional shape, this boule table lamp ($179 is solid wood with a whitewashed finish. At 26" tall it would make a statement next to a sofa or on a night stand.
Screen-printed by hand on pure silk, this watercolor hummingbird is art for your sofa ($34).

Blown mercury candle holders are only $4 each. These could be grouped on a dining room table for an  economical centerpiece with visual impact that doesn't make your guests have to look over flowers or tall candles during dinner. I'd love to have at least one of each!

See anything from the new catalog that floats your boat?