30th Anniversary Outdoor Family Dinner

We are days, possibly hours, away from growing to a family of 4. I’m reminiscing about this past weekend where my sister and I threw my parents a surprise 30th anniversary party. If you’re ever looking for some inspiration for an outdoor large family dinner – take a peek at these photos!

Scroll through the photos for some DIY inspiration!

Comfortably we sat 6-8 people per table. Doesn’t the greenhouse look spectacular!? Talk about a big belly!

Surprisingly you can find a lot of wooden chairs for free on sites like Craig’s List and facebook market place. We come from a large family so there is never a shortage of seats.

In 2014, when I was planning our wedding we found that it was cheaper to buy silverware from a restaurant warehouse store instead of renting. My cousin split the cost with us to make it cheaper. We’ve used the silverware for a total of 4 events so far… Definitely getting our moneys worth! Try the Restaurant Warehouse, but watch for what you spend, some may not be worth it.

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The tablecloth was from a Kraft Paper roll. The width on the roll was perfect and it made clean up great. Kids could use crayons to draw and be distracted from adult “boring” conversations. It was a great way to make a table look garden elegant without the price tag. Best part is, I can use this roll for Christmas gift wrapping! You can find this roll here.

The lanterns were from Ikea 3 years ago and the gold vases were $1.00 vases from the Dollar Tree. A 15 minute project with some gold spray paint left them with a romantic rustic look (flowers from God picked in our fields).

Stemware was thanks to the brilliance of my sister. She loves antiquing and gathered over 36 glasses for us to use during the party. Everyone knows red wine goes well with homemade pasta!

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Monthly Grocery Shopping – Trial Month 1

August was my month of saving money. We have our property tax payment coming up and being a paranoid pregnant woman of 8 months, I kicked into high gear for saving money. My “genius” plan was to grocery shopping only once a month. This means having every meal of the month planned (I know, I’m crazy).

My typical work schedule is from 10 am to 7 pm. When I don’t work from home and I have to travel to the office; I get home around 8 pm sometimes with no dinner ready. Not only was I in a state of ‘hangry’ on these days, but I would usually place an order for food spending $30-$40 on dinner twice a week and once on the weekend for fun. The monthly shopping and planning was a way I hoped to alleviate this hangry experience (and selfishly allow my husband the tools he needed to start dinner before I arrived home). With a plan, he would know exactly what was on the menu (with a link to the recipe) and wouldn’t have the excuse of I didn’t know what your plan was… (my plan is always to just eat food).

Planning Phase

The MOST important part of a monthly grocery stop is the planning phase. Based on my google searches, a family of 3 typically spends between $300 and $700 a month on groceries. My goal was no more than $350 per month and $25 for weekly fresh food. So a menu was made with a budget in mind for every meal. I also know that I get lazy in the week. Have I mentioned I’m 8 months pregnant with a 1.5 year old? Most nights, after a full day of work and mommying, I don’t have the energy to make a 3 course meal.  3 nights a week I would write in something easy like frozen pizza, a crock pot meal, pasta, or Soup and Grilled cheese. This “lazy” side of me helped keep the cost down too.

Thanks to Handmade in Heartland’s blog post, I was able to create an effective calendar.

Here are a few tips I used from her blog:

  1. Choose a Theme for every day of the week.
    • Monday = Chicken
    • Tuesday = Turkey
    • Wednesday = Vegitaraian
    • Thursday = Beef
    • Friday = Pizza
    • Saturday = Something extraordinary
    • Sunday = Soup
  2. Write in all the days you’ll be out of the house
    • I knew we had a few weekends with plans so I wrote in when we would eat out of the house or need to pack a lunch. The peach festival was a must for the Pulled Pork Peach sandwich made by our favorite local food truck. So I wrote that in.
    • August 31st in my birthday – We’re going out!
    • August 26th was my cousin’s Wedding = Free food.
  3. Write your Grocery list as you plan. This way you can ensure you aren’t missing anything.

Tips from Me while planning:

  1. Check your stock of necessities. My monthly grocery shopping meant being prepared for the run out of toilet paper, paper towels, dish detergent, etc.. Unfortunately, this month I didn’t account for trash bags.
  2. Use an excel sheet.
    • This helped me in more ways than one. My September planning went much faster because I copied and pasted my favorite meals. I could share it electronically with my husband so he was fully in the loop.
  3. Write in snacks. You don’t realize how much you really want your evening bowl of ice cream until your freezer is empty! Try not to eat it all in the first 15 days.

The Shopping

Grocery shopping once a month suddenly became a family affair. We needed 2 carts to account for our groceries. While our 2 hour grocery visit was tiring, it was the most satisfying experience. We primarily went to Walmart because their prices tend to be the best. This month, I’ve ordered my groceries for pick up which I’m excited to experience in 2 days! (PROBLEM: They don’t accept coupons for grocery pick up – lame).

Sundays were chosen for my weekly $25 fresh food pick up. My $25 dollar budget stretched into $30 because we really like eating fresh fruits and Veggies, especially when they’re local. I’ve accounted for that this month.

This month, I’ll also be stopping at our new local Lidl store. Their opening day is August 31st which means they have extra sales!! I’ve compared the prices of Walmart to Lidl and written a list for which items were cheaper. Savings will total $10 for 3 items. Every little bit counts.

Did We Save Anything?

YES! At first, it didn’t feel like it. One large bill vs 4 small bills for groceries plus eating out was intimidating. After crunching the numbers we’ve come out saving over $1,000.00 this month!

Item Number of Times per Week Average Cost Total
Daily Lunch out for Tim/myself 7 $10 $70.00
Dinner 3 $35.00 $105
Coffee/Drinks for 2 6 $5.00 $30.00
$205.00
x5 weeks
$1,025.00
The above chart doesn't account for extra snacks bought at weekly grocery shopping trips and wasted food bought.

Adjustments were made to my monthly budget to allow for items like toilet paper and shampoo. This raised my budget to a monthly stop of $400.00 and weekly allowance of $35.00 for fresh food.

PRO’s and CON’s

I’d like to think there were more PRO’s than CON’s this month. My biggest weakness was gaining the willpower to not eat all of our snacks in the first few weeks. My greatest enjoyments of this month was less worrying and more evening family time. Having a schedule made for our meals really helped me identify when I could have quality time with my husband and son. I also found that my energy levels increased because my meals were more balanced and I was doing a lot less evening rushing.

PRO CON
Worrying about a nightly meal once a month The will power to avoid getting chocolate throughout the month.
One large payment a month Falling into the trap of eating all the snacks in the first 2 weeks
SAVING MONEY Doesn’t leave much room for Sick days or cravings
Allowance for Weekly fresh food Not getting weekly sales at grocery stores
Happier every evening because the stress of planning a meal was aliviated Need for exttra storage
Monthly cleaning of the fridge  last minute friend/family dinner’s weren’t accounted for.
Having leftovers for lunch every day.
A working relationship in the home for cooking
More time with your family!

Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO Remember that sometimes your cooking is going to be SO good that there won’t be any leftovers. Have quick items ready for packing lunches. PB&J was our go-to.
  • DO keep the stables in your pantry stocked. To me this included brown sugar, chocolate chips, sugar, flour, butter, eggs, oils, etc.. Having these things on hand helped me not go out when I wanted to buy a snack.
  • DON’T make yourself stressed out. If the process is too stressful for you, try bi-weekly. Having a plan has really helped me alleviate stress I didn’t know I was holding. Give yourself a break!
  • DO allow a few flex days a month -this will give you the ability to create a quick meal in the face of emergency. Sometimes on Thursday’s I would be so tired from the week that we would do pizza night a day early. So I swapped meal days.
  • DO keep a running list of items that need to be restocked. Things like kitchen sponges or laundry detergent.
  • DO invest in a garage freezer
  • DON’T overwhelm yourself with lots of elaborate meals

Homemade Pasta

My user is “Curltastic & Hungry” for a reason; I have wild curly locks and I really like food. I’m probably categorized as a picky eater, but I’ve learned over the years that picky isn’t always bad. As my father would say, “I picked your Mother didn’t I? I think I’m doing well!” For now, I’m fine with ignoring sushi and spicy foods.

Growing up my FAVORITE meal was homemade pasta made by my Italian grandmother. Some of our best days were the days where we would go over to Mommom’s house and make pounds and pounds of pasta. Evening would be marked with a celebration of family as we enjoyed the fruits of our labor. As the years have gone we all get older, busier, and medical issues got in the way.

Making pasta is probably one of the most time consuming and labor intensive meals I make. This is why it’s so special. We don’t make it for anyone. It’s a meal made with love and shared with the ones we love most. This past weekend, Tim had Jack in Central PA where they helped build a greenhouse and spent time with his parents. Baby free, I made plans with Mommom to make pasta!

Thank you Mommom for your time and love!

It’s important to remember three things when making pasta.

  1. It’s VERY messy. So lay a sheet on your kitchen floor, and keep the windows closed/fans off so flour doesn’t spread everywhere.
  2. KEEP YOUR DOUGH COVERED AT ALL TIMES. There is nothing worse than a pasta ball dried out from the air. You’ll waste so much time just picking off the crusty outside.
  3. Start with a large clean area and lay out all of your tools before you begin.

 

Tools you’ll need:

Ingredients:

Yields one lb of dough

  • 3 cups of Flour (Plus a lot of extra for kneading)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 eggs
  • Water as needed

 

Making Pasta!

Step 1:Add together ingredients in food processor. Crack your eggs into a separate bowl to avoid egg shell mishaps. Turn on full speed until dough like constancy begins to form. If the dough is not forming slowly add small amounts of water while pulsing the mixer. Dough should be moist, not sticky. If sticky consistency, separate the large chunk of dough into 3 and add flour, then pulse in the mixer.

Step 2: Once the dough is moist, remove from the food processor and place on a floured wooden cutting board. Kneed dough with flour removing signs of a sticky consistency. Form dough into a round ball and place on tray. IMMEDIATELY cover with a dry kitchen towel to keep moisture in. Repeat process until you’ve completed the amount of dough you desire to make (I usually do this 3 times).

Step 3: Connect your dough roller. Not the roller with the grooves for cutting.

Step 4: Cut off a piece of dough about 1/2 inch thick and feed through the rolling attachment.

REMEMBER to cover the remaining dough!!

The first time through will produce a jagged piece, but fold over into 3’s and feed through sending the edges through first each time (See video below). If the dough is too long to feed through this way, cut in half.Flour dough before each run though the dough roller.

 

Step 5: Once the dough has a smooth constancy, flour it a final time and place on floured counter-top. Cover the dough with a dishtowel to keep from drying out. Repeat until one a pound is completed. If you make more than one pound you risk your rolled out dough drying and breaking as your feed through the pasta cutter. 

Step 6: Cutting your dough.

There are many ways you can cut your rolled out dough pieces. Long wide strips are best for casseroles. If you decide to make raviolis you’ll want to cut squares out from the dough. For thick pasta I like cutting into 1/4 inch strips.

If you decide to use the cutting attachment, remember to flour the dough before you run it through the cutting tool. Always, always run your finder under the roller or cutter to ensure no pieces of dough are remaining. This will cause your rollers to get clogged. After cutting your pasta coat in flour and set aside onto clean tray. No flour is too much! Use your wax paper to separate individual layers of pasta. Do not over stack or your pasta will be crushed and get stuck together.

 

Step 7: Storage

Place cut pasta in the freezer for 1-3 hours and then separate into freezer bags and return to the freezer. Pasta can be cooked immediately – see cooking pasta section below.

Cooking Your Pasta

In a large pot bring water with 1 table spoon of extra virgin olive oil to a boil. Place pasta into the boiling water CONSTANTLY stirring to avoid the pasta clumping together. Cook pasta until Al dente (typically takes me 10 minutes for spaghetti noodles). Strain and immediately rinse with water to remove all leftover flour.

Add sauce and serve! Enjoy!

How do You Save Money?

I’m looking for ways to save money as a young family. There always seems to be a new cost creeping up on me. With a new baby on the way, we will be looking at more diapers and wipes! With this pregnancy my nesting phase isn’t focused so much on getting the nursery ready (because, it already is) but on how we can afford what’s coming.

Luckily, with baby #2 being a boy (!), we are able to save a lot of money on clothes. Despite Gideon due 2 seasons after Jack was born the clothing needs will be different. I think I can get away with what we have. I’m hoping this means only a few minor purchases of long-sleeve onsies. I make it a point to never buy new baby clothes since they grow so quickly. I know I can do more.

My main concerns for saving money are related to food, clothing, and diapering these littles of mine. BRING ON the tips and comments with how you’ve saved money as a family.

Here are a few key questions I have:

  • What do you do to save on food costs?
  • Do you grow certain foods in the summer to save for the winter?
  • How do you budget in the occasional date night dinner or family fun outing?
  • Where do you shop/how do you shop to save money on clothes?
  • What is the right price for diapers?
  • Do you use reusable diapers? How?

A Completed Project: Barn

This week we FINALLY have a completed barn! A 7 month planning project and an additional 5 weeks of labor, we are excited to have a completed masterpiece! It wasn’t hard to know that we needed a barn when we bought the house. Our poor greenhouse spent most of it’s summer covering the tractors, tools, and other items that needed storm protection. So, while the completion of the Barn delayed our planting season, it expedited house projects that probably wouldn’t have been completed.

The structure design of the Barn was all Tim. There are two side barn doors and a garage door in the front. He added two additional people doors for easy access and chose the spot to place the barn. I’m impressed by my husband’s planning abilities. #winner

The colors he kindly left to me. I chose not to go with the same colors as our house, because… I don’t like the color of our house. I like bold colors on the exteriors of homes and calm colors on the inside. I chose the barn colors based on my imaginary and free update I would do on the outside of our house; Navy blue siding and a gray roof. We aren’t rich so while my dream home will have black accented windows and cedar shutters, the barn people doors are white, windows have white trim, and the big garage door is white. Over all, the barn looks stunning and provides us with the much needed work space we didn’t have.

My next project will be to plan the landscaping around the barn. Perennials for the busy family are a must, and we’re thinking about planting more blackberry bushes. I’ll always plant annual flowers in the spring, but for now, we’ll go for function over beauty. Any good suggestions for North East plants?

A clean greenhouse!

 

Blackberry Cobbler – Backyard Surprise!

We bought our house in November of 2016, so this is the first summer we are experiencing in our new home and it’s amazing! I’m amazed at how much land we get to explore and the surprises we’re finding along the way. Despite the multitude of hours we have put into the making of our home, we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

One of my favorite things about our property are the HUGE blackberry bushes right behind our tiny, old shed. I’ve spent the last 2 weeks walking out every morning and evening watching them grow. This week our blackberries are edible!! Jack and I take morning walks to the bushes and he eats the delicious bursts of gold I pick with great enthusiasm.

Since I am a foodie and I really like summer cobblers, I decided that these blackberries would make as many cobblers as possible. Here is the delicious bourbon cobbler we’ve topped our vanilla ice cream with for the last week…

 

Filling:

1/4 cup of Brown Sugar

2 cups fresh blackberries

2 tbsp of Lemon Juice

3 tbsp of bourbon – I used “Big Ass” Bourbon

Crust:

1/2 cup of butter (one stick)

1 1/4 cup Flour

1 cup brown sugar

1 tbsp baking powder

pinch of salt

cinnamon (no more than 2 tsp)

Directions: 

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Add filling ingredients in a mixing bowl and set aside for 15-30 minutes to marinate with bourbon.

In a medium mixing bowl mix brown sugar and soft butter using hands (wash your hands!). Slowly add flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon to the mixture and mix with clean hands.

Grease a 9×9 glass dish (or similar size) and pour in the blackberry filling. Crumble the crust with your hands over the blackberries and pop in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the top is a crisp and golden brown.

Allow cobbler to cool for 10 minutes before serving over or under vanilla ice cream! Store in the fridge if leftovers accidentally happen.

Enjoy!

Small Farm [Slow] Progress

Slow progress is better than no progress!

The last few weeks have been filled with small house projects (to be announced soon) and a timeline on the building of our barn – which was not dependent on us. Triumphantly – we finally have a structure that greatly resembles a beautiful barn and will soon begin the last fixes needed to have a functioning greenhouse! Yay!


We would love to be moving faster than we are, but these things take time. We’re SO ready to begin planting. I will have more updates soon!

What was the longest part of your process when getting ready to have a functioning greenhouse?