Made With Love - Funky Monkey Bread

Made With Love is a column dedicated to first time cooking experiments. I love to cook and put my own spin on old standby recipes. Join me as I document the triumphs and failures of my culinary adventures. 

So there I was. Minding my own business. Reading tweets. When this guy  posts a picture of monkey bread.

I truly had no other option but to attempt making this fantastic looking treat myself.

Google produced its usual bazillion responses to my inquiry.  The ones I read were either time consuming yeast sweet breads or get it done quick with biscuits from a can recipes. I headed to my kitchen armed with a general idea of what went into this cinnamon sweet bread (cake?) and began to create.

10 Best Blogs of 2011

According to yours truly.

Through their words and images the people behind these blogs have inspired me, challenged my opinions, made me laugh, and even surprised me at times.  I read them all, almost daily.   I hope you will take a moment to give their sites a quick visit.

2011 Book Review - Rave's and Eh's

2011 was not a big reading year here on the farm.  We've been wrapped up in projects around the farm - fencing, gardening, and such - as well as my spring-fall being basically consumed with a Zumba infatuation. If you haven't tried Zumba... please do, but be prepared to like it way more than any other exercise program... ever.  At least that was how it worked for me.  But you know our story, with the arrival of fall came our realization that our debt was out of control.  Gym membership was on the chopping block.  Ahhhh Zumba... I miss you!
~A random Zumba vid from YouTube for fun~

I have not been slacking off in my now Zumba-free hours!  Books on personal finance, life, entrepreneurship, spirituality, leadership and more have been voraciously consumed in order to help us along our new debt free path.

Without further delay... The 2011 Reading List!

Made With Love - Country Kitchen Meat Loaf

Made With Love is a column dedicated to first time cooking experiments.  I love to cook and put my own spin on old standby recipes.  Join me as I document the triumphs and failures of my culinary adventures.
Shane has been asking me to make meat loaf for a few months now.  Although that doesn't seem like too strange of a request, for him it was.  He is my meat and potatoes guy and so, one would think, meat loaf should be a staple.  Unfortunately, as a child, he experienced meat loaf made with peaches 'n cream oatmeal. Yeah. He hadn't ate meat loaf since.

Oh Deer

We have a huge flower bed made of boulders right off of our front deck:

It's one of many flower beds around our property put in by the previous owners. I did not get around to winterizing them this year (except for cutting down the holly hocks) so they are full of dead plants. Yeah. Not pretty.

Made With Love - Rustic Apple Orange Fritters

Made With Love is a column dedicated to first time cooking experiments.  I love to cook and put my own spin on old standby recipes.  Join me as I document the triumphs and failures of my culinary adventures.

I was sitting at my desk today and a thought struck me upside the head (that happens more often than not I'm afraid). I wanted to make a yummy treat for some special people in my life and apple fritters were just the ticket.

Here's the thing.  I've never made an apple fritter.  I've never made any kind of fritter.  I can probably count the number of times I've fried foods in deep oil on one hand and leave 2 fingers off.  But, I'm also not one to back down from a self-imposed challenge so I started researching how to make fritters.

Here's another thing... as much as I love to cook and bake I'm terrible at following directions.  I read tons of recipes, get the general idea of how it's done and then go about doing it my own way.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but it's always fun that way.

A quick trip to the store for a few ingredients and I was ready to make these babies.

First I mixed up my dry ingredients:
 2 cups sifted flour
3/4 cup sugar - I used regular sugar but I think the chunky raw sugar would be extra tasty
2 tsp baking powder
2+ish tsp cinnamon - I like cinnamon so I am a bit generous here
1/2 tsp ish salt - Not a big salt fan in baking... but I know it's needed so I toss a little in just so I don't feel like a complete rebel

 Next it's the wet ingredients.... in a separate bowl of course

2 eggs beat
3/4 cup whole milk
2+ ish tsp vanilla - again, I like vanilla so I go a little extra
zest of 1 small orange
2 Tbsp butter melted and cooled uh...
 Not sure what happened to my butter - maybe I let it cool too long. It turned into a chunky mess even after vigorous whisking.  I was a bit concerned at this point.

 No matter!  Dump it into the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated.


 At this point I was thinking two apples was too much... but I forged on.

I do not have an oil thermometer so I dropped bits of batter into the oil until they floated and sizzled almost instantly upon putting them in the oil.  The first several bits of batter sunk to the bottom of the pot and hung out there until I scooped them out.
 After awhile the oil got hot enough and I was able to start dropping scoops in.  Four seemed to be my magic number for this pot and my newbie abilities.  Everything I read said to time each one for 2 1/2 - 3 mins.  Yeah, that didn't work for me.  I found that if I put two in and waited for them to flip over and then put another two in, by the time the second two flipped over the first two were ready to come out.  Worked pretty well.

Drained and cooling a bit

A dunk in the glaze (powdered sugar, milk, juice of 1 small orange, vanilla)

Letting the glaze set

Ready to package up for delivery tomorrow morning.

Lessons learned:

  • Frying foods is fun! 
  • Need a longer handled slotted spoon if I plan to do much frying.
  • Even though it looked like a lot of apple, the fritters puff up so much they could actually handle more.
  • They could also handle more orange... Next time I think I'll add juice to the batter in addition to the zest.
  • The oil got hotter as I went, had to keep adjusting the temp down as the fritters were browning too fast... I was worried they would be raw in the middle (so of course I had to test one... or two)
  • Make sure I have planned people to give the fried food to so I don't eat it all.
PS - The next morning they were DELICIOUS! However, next time I will skip the glaze as it soaked in and made the exterior a tad soft and wet feeling.  Plus, I think they are sweet enough without the glaze.... especially good for dunking in your favorite hot morning drink!

PPS - I found a couple with the centers not as done as I'd like.  Still yummy but I believe my oil was a tad  hot so the exteriors browned too fast.

The First Step

Step 1 To Our Financial Recovery - Join Forces

If the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem then I suppose that is what we did. More accurately stated, perhaps, is that we were slapped in the face with the cold wet fish of reality.

Problem one was quickly apparent. I am a terrible communicator when it comes to what may be perceived as negative news. I like to solve problems on my own and if that is impossible, I sugar coat the problem as much as possible before sharing it.

Being as I have been the sole person responsible for our finances since we were 16 and 17 years old respectively, Shane had no clue as to the specifics of our financial state. Sure, he knew when we had "extra" money (ie when we could go out to eat) and when we didn't. But when it came to things like due dates on bills, being behind on bills, or even our total debt load he was in the dark. We were both to blame there... I didn't want to share and he didn't want to know.

Earlier this year I read this book and realized I was doing neither of us a favor by keeping our financial state to myself. But our pattern of handling money was so deeply ingrained that it took months to teach myself to share information. Thankfully, just before our income took a hit, I had brought Shane fully up to date with our status. We were therefore able to walk into this situation as a team instead of me being on panic mode all by myself.

It is odd we have never joined forces on finances before as we work closely together on every other aspect of our lives. Finances were the only thing in which we were not both fully engaged.

I believe one of the main contributing factors to our success to date has been the fact that we became a team, a united front, when it came to handling our money.

Our Path to the Debt Free Path

As with many things that are good for you, financial stability is easier thought about than done.

It is easy to think about eating healthy, taking a walk, and lifting a weight. But until the scale reaches the number you never thought you'd see, the doctor gives you a stern warning, or G-d forbid, you have a serious medical emergency, many people never act on those healthy thoughts.

Financial stability has been the same for us. For years we've thought about getting financially secure. Thought about getting debt free. Thought about living on a budget. You get the idea.

We've even occasionally acted on these thoughts - in fits and spurts - through the years. Paying off bills here and there. Loving the feeling and vowing to not make any new debt. But the feeling wears off and a shiny new __________ (insert toy, vacation, etc...) shows up that is such a great deal and the monthly payment would be so low that we can just add that little payment right into our month and never notice.

So why the debt free band wagon now? What makes this time so much different? We'll, we've reached that magic tipping point - the stern warning from the doctor so to speak.

And that warning said this: "If we do not make a change we will lose our home." Period. Cut and dry. No punches pulled. If we didn't stop our frivolous ways then we would no longer be able to call this little farm our own.

Now, let me soften that a little.

Looking from the outside you would not see frivolous living. You would see frugal living and, in many ways, that was the reality of our life. For example:
  • We drive older vehicles and have not had a car payment in years.
  • We have 4 credit cards with an average of a $500 balance on each card.
  • We take 1 vacation per year and spend less than $1,000.
  • We eat 90+% of our meals at home and 75+% of those meals are from scratch.
So, where is our frivolous living?  Some examples:
  • We had hobbies that cost significant money to maintain.
  • We spent a lot of money on food and often let food rot in the refrigerator instead of eating left overs.
  • We drove our low gas mileage vehicles instead of our high gas mileage vehicles. (Yes, we have multiple vehicles)
  • We signed up for unnecessary services that added significantly to our monthly cash spending.
Perhaps not frivolous living to some, but from our new desiring to be debt free perspective, we were.

Life was going along just fine - money came in, money went out. Most months there was enough to go around to all of our debts, buy our food and gas, go out to eat with friends each weekend, indulge our hobbies, etc... Every once in awhile our expenses would over run our income and we'd get that panic where we realized that we were in over our heads. But we'd get through it and the next month we were back at our regular routine.

Then our income was reduced. First my job - Down $600 per month. Then Shane's weekend job closed - Down $400 per month. Then Shane had to take a different weekday job - Down $400 per month. BAM! In two months our income dropped $1,400.

We had enough savings to cushion the blow for a couple months. When that ran out, we robbed Peter to pay Paul for a few months. When we realized that we were behind on almost every bill, including our mortgage, it finally dawned on us that if we kept on this path we would lose everything.

Thankfully, our (very late) refund from the IRS showed up (on my birthday!). We spent it all on bills. It was gone in a matter of days. But, it started us down a new path. A debt free path.

Today we are far (far) from being debt free. We even have some bills that are still behind. But, we finally heard the warning and we are now on the path to becoming debt free. We've put on our jogging shoes and have been putting in the miles to get financially healthy.

30 Days Without TV.... Rediscovering Life

She's a beauty.
Sony TV purchased October 2011

If I were a gadget person (ie my husband) I could give you all of the impressive specs on this unit. Instead, I'll just say it's huge and the picture is amazing.  And the timing of it's arrival to our home was interesting.

Our income has been dramatically reduced. To survive, we've decided to focus on becoming debt free. And through that decision we have laid out the order of priority in paying off our debt. One item of importance to us both is that we stay true to our word. We have few "on our word" debts (ie, "Hey we'll buy that from you as soon as we get some money" type deals). In that category we've had a TV on zero interest layaway at a locally owned Sony dealer for 2 years. Yeah. Smart. Not.

Well, the zero interest was smart I suppose. But adding another debt to the pile was not. 

October 2011 we received the balance on our tax refund and this TV debt was one of several debts we decided to pay off.

Within a week (or two?) of bringing the beauty home we decided we needed to get even more drastic with our debt reduction attack. Among many other cost saving measures we, GASP, decided to cancel TV service.

Now, TV has basically been our only entertainment source for years due to lack of cash due to too much debt. Date nights were a take-and-bake pizza and movie on the couch - you get the idea. So deciding to cancel TV was a big deal.

With a week to prepare ourselves we crammed in as much TV watching as possible and stocked up on borrowed movies from family. After all... WHAT would we do these long, dark, cold nights of winter?

Well, it turns out there is plenty to do (and we've only watched 2 movies since we cut the cord) - read, talk, cook, keep ahead of the laundry, clean up around the house and property but most of all.....

We play!

The Bub - November 2011

And life is so sweet. Our home is peaceful... the laughter from our play fills our walls instead of the canned laughter from a sitcom. We've talked... I mean really talked. We've dreamed big dreams and made big plans - only possible now that our minds are released from the fake world of TV-land. It is amazing how much time you have to think... and act... once you are no longer trying to figure out "who did it / is getting voted off / won the title" on this week's episode of _________ (fill in your favorite show).

Stress levels have gone down immensely. With more available hours in our day, we accomplish more and feel caught up on all the little details that used to weigh us down. All those little things that were a constant source of irritation, because there just "wasn't enough hours in the day" to get everything done, are now done.

Cutting the cord was the right move for us. Will we ever have TV service again? Maybe, but at this point I truly hope not.

Who Knew?

Maybe everyone who has experienced it knows, but until you are it it is impossible to truly feel it. 

Sure, people told me about it.  I thought I knew it... knew what to expect, knew how it would feel, knew how I would feel... but really that is just all philosophical talk.  Parenthood.. or motherhood in my case, is beyond the talk.  A state of being that so completely transforms your entire view of yourself and the world that your former life seems no more real that the latest box office hit.

I have this young man to thank for my new perspective

Harvesting the garden on his 1st birthday

To all the mothers out there who tried to share with me how it would be.  Thank you, I get it now.

To all the mothers-in-waiting - It's totally worth the wait.... trust me - I waited 15 years, 1 month and (I believe) 28 days (but who was counting?)

Do You Suffer From Food Separation? We do.

A forewarning to my vegan or vegetarian readers... this post contains a photo of chicken leftovers.

Lately I've been mulling over the idea of food separation.  That is, people are so far removed from the original form of food that the food means less. 

In our fast food world, even those who make "home cooked" meals get their veggies in a can, bread is in a loaf - pre-sliced, eggs come in a neat little carton and meat comes on a styrofoam tray covered in plastic wrap.

Leftovers are thoughtlessly left to mold in the fridge to be later tossed in the trash with the only thoughts being of wasted dollars.

I wonder if this is not the source of our increased clothing size.  As with most things that come without effort, food without effort or thought becomes an entertainment.  Something we do and enjoy for the pleasure on our tongues and in our bellies but not something have pride in or feel grateful for.

As the calendar rolls into 2011, we are striving to bring our family closer to the food origins. To put more effort into the process of feeding ourselves and thereby appreciating the food that much more.

We plan to grow what we can in regards to fruits and veggies. Breads and goodies taste all that much sweeter when made than bought.

And then there is meat.  What does not come through hunting we'll try to buy from local ranchers.  And even that which comes from the store we'll try to get as close to original form as possible.
Take this little chicken.  Bought whole then prepared and roasted in our kitchen. He provided a lovely Friday night dinner and, in the fridge, meat for several sandwiches and few pots of soup wait. I can tell you that we appreciated this meal, ate less and savored more, due to the fact that we had such love and effort put into the process.

We'll keep you posted on this little "getting closer to our food" experiment.