This week is more like a half week, since we're visiting family in Minnesota for the holiday weekend and leaving on Friday. here's what going on for my week:

Monday: Leftover chili and brats, corn on the cob
Tuesday: Mini-date
Wednesday - Ham and swiss on a ciabatta roll (free at Target), apple slices, kettle chips, chili (it's like Panera without spending $25 dollars!)
Thursday - Homemade pizza, topped with Italian sausage and cremini mushrooms
Friday - On the road to Minnesota
Won't be home until Tuesday!
I’ve been having this crazy urge for snacks, junk food, munchies – you name it, for the past week, so the other night I finally got off my butt and did something about it. I wandered into the kitchen and noticed that DH & I have 4 different meats thawed, seasoned, and cooked in the fridge along with 2 kinds of cheese and a nearly full package of tortillas. It was looking like I had all the basic ingredients for something tasty. Very tasty indeed.

Taquitos. It was perfect! I had all the basic ingredients ready, it wasn’t too hot to turn on the oven, and I’d get some variety in my snacking and they could even double as lunches. By the time hubby got home, I had already made the first dozen of them – using some ground turkey that had some chopped red bell pepper, diced celery, garlic, and onion mixed in. Instead of frying them, I always bake mine – so they come out crisp, tasty, and healthy!

Well, I still had over a dozen tortillas left, so DH encouraged me to keep going. I grabbed some chicken drummies (seasoned with oregano, basil, garlic, onion, and red bell pepper), scooped some of the seasoning into a bowl and lightly shredded it, warmed it enough to make it pliable, and got to work. After polishing off that container of leftovers, I still had some tortillas left, so I took the leftover refried beans, mixed in a few scoops of salsa, some shredded cheddar, and a palmful of ground turkey and proceeded to fill the rest of the tortillas. The result – three different kinds of taquitos, and four containers out of my fridge. The first batch of taquitos is already gone – they do make a tasty lunch!

Taquitos freeze well, too – so if I don’t eat them up this weekend, I’ll freeze what’s left for another day, another snack. It’s such a great feeling to toss together something simple like this and know that you’re eating healthy – and besides, it’s a much healthier alternative to the frozen, store bought taquitos. Reinventing leftovers, creating a nice light lunch or funky snack, and having something to use for another day – now that’s a fabulous, flavorful combination!

Want to know what I did? Click here for 3 variations on taquitos!
I don’t think I’m alone in noticing the prices of staples, such as flour, eggs, sugar, rice, and produce climbing at an obscene pace. Okay, maybe obscene is a strong word for it, but the steep, steady increase has me concerned. And, confused, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

While I hear many people extol that convenience foods are more costly to buy, that the staples – pound per pound are cheaper, I honestly don’t think that’s the case – at least for myself and my fellow diehard couponers. I can grab cake mix for less than $.50, premade premium brand cookies for a quarter a box, and crackers for less than $.40 cents per pound. After I’m done grabbing the cheapies and freebies, the staples are what I splurge on. Isn’t that crazy?

Granted, I do get the luxury of versatility when I buy the basics, but as expensive as they are, I couldn’t afford to live that way indefinitely. I have come to rely heavily on all the steals, deals, bargains, and freebies that have filled my stockpile, fed my family, and helped my husband and I build our savings. But every now and then, I long to be someone that buys what they want not what they can afford.

Having fed my little family on so little for so long, I don’t think I ever would go back to the old ways of shopping. I don’t make a list of what I need and shop for that. I make a list of the current deals, and try to grab as many of those as I can. Once every 3 months, I do go out shopping for the basics: and I spend no less than $35 on 12-15 items. And I complain about it for the next 3 days to anyone that will stand still long enough and pretend to listen about the exorbitant prices in today’s economy.

The only category of the basics I’m still doing well with would be meat and dairy. I usually have a pile of high-value coupons that keep me stocked, but it’s frustrating when the bulk of your meal cost is the bread/buns that you have the sausage/burger/sammie on. I feel posh and lavish when I cook with simple long grain white rice. That has become somewhat of a treat, since it’s easier to grab a pasta side dish that you can make in the microwave, if you’re in a rush. The side dishes cost only $.19 each – a much better value than the staples. For me, long-grain white rice is $1.50 for 2 pounds (on sale), the cost per meal is nearly double that of those cheap pasta sides. Guess we’d better like pasta, huh?
I shouldn’t complain that grocers are catering to the 30 minute meal crowd, but it’s a shame that many of the simple things should cost so much. It’s no wonder many families don’t know how to make a proper, made from scratch meal, anymore. No one can afford what goes into it! Though I’m hardly one to talk, I only do that once or twice a week.

So maybe I’ll see you in the grocery store one of these days – I’ll be the woman with 20 bags of trail mix, 14 pasta/rice side dishes, a bunch of bananas, a head of lettuce, and an overflowing coupon binder – looking with envy at the families that are buying fruit off-season, brown rice, and whole wheat flour.
Ovenly Warmth

I thought that my timer was off, when many meals can out a little more cooked than was necessary. Okay, so they were burnt to a crisp on more than a dozen occasions. After buying an oven thermometer, I was enlightened. My timer was fine, my cooking abilities weren’t to be doubted – at least for this reason, anyway, and the oven was crap. No really – it was.

The temperature would routinely (though not always) run 100 degrees over what you set it for. The Idiot King told me that most ovens don’t heat to the exact temperature. It’s not an exact science, I was patronizingly told. I laughed at that and replied something like, “Well, baking is an exact science. I cannot imagine that your main implement to bake with would be unable to accomplish the task at hand." Or, more likely, I just laughed in his face and asked him to fix it. Yeah, that sounds more like me.

I was told by the ever-tardy Idiot that he’d be back “middle of next week, I’m pretty sure” with the part to fix it. On Friday of that week, my husband gets a call. The part is out of stock and they’ll have to order it. Um, wasn’t that what we were waiting on. Nope, the Idiot (sometimes called the Idiot King) just ordered the part. He’ll call when he has the part. Ha! Best line I’ve ever heard from a man was, “I’ll call ya!” It rings as true with dating as with anything else.

Nine days later, we finally stop leaving voicemails and get to talk to the Idiot King. They don’t make the part anymore. Seriously. This is what we were told. You mean the repair place let you order a part, then they wait more than a week to tell you that the part is no longer being produced. Yes, we were expected to believe this load of manure. Obviously, I didn’t. I asked for a specific date that I would have a working oven, or that I’d be coming to the Idiot King’s house to do my baking. He asked if he’d get to do a taste test. I said sure, while imagining lacing the brownies with a liberal amount of laxatives.

This finally got some attention. He gave me a date on the calendar that my oven would be replaced since he was unable to fix it. That date was six days away. Yes, I was still waiting for a working oven. The day after he was supposed to be bringing the replacement, we received a call. Silly me for thinking we could get the oven repair completed. And there was an irate me for taking the day off work to be home to let him in so he could bring in the replacement oven. Silly, furious, vexed, livid, snarling me.

The night before the new-to-us oven (Idiot King was too cheap to buy a new oven) was to be delivered, we saw a snippet on the news about an appliance factory burning to the ground somewhere on the other side of Chicago. Little could we have imagined how that would impact us until the Idiot King finally called. The place that he was going to pick-up the replacement from had burned to the ground 2 days earlier. I still contend that he saw the same news report we did and used that as another excuse. Why not?

Another week passes before the Idiot King brings our replacement. When he finally shows up nearly two hours late, he acts triumphant, like he is an Olympian runner that has lassoed the Godforsaken oven to his own torso, and climbed Mount Olympus with it, sweating dripping from his brow each and every step of the way. Not that he had some guys load it into his borrowed mini-van, drove across half a dozen suburbs in clear weather, and had my husband help him unload it. Which, of course, is exactly what happened.

Stay tuned next week for another juicy installment of 3 Chimps and an Idiot.
Last Friday, I took a good run at some of the Target deals on offer – and I’m so glad I did! Look at these deals:

4 bags of Combo’s at $1.79 - $1 ST Q each = $.79

3 Archer Farms Snack Crackers $2.19 - $1 ST Q each = $1.19

4 Kellogg’s Pop Tarts at $1.46 - $.75 ST Q each = $.71 -$.55 (2) manu Q = $1.74 for 4

1 20 oz. pkg. Johnsonville Turkey and Cheddar brats - $2.99 -$3 winetag Q - $.01 overage

5 Archer Farms mini baguettes at $.99 -$1 ST Q each = FREE (no overage was given)

1 Archer Farms ciabatta at $.99 -$1 ST Q each = FREE (no overage given)

10 General Mills cereal cups at $1.00 each -$1 ST Q each = FREE -$.55 Honey Nut Cheerios manufacturer Q’s = $.55 overage

8 boxes GM cereal at $2.54-$2.79 - $1 ST Q each, - $1/2 (2), $.55 (3), $.75 (1) manufacturer Q’s = $6.74/8 = $.84 a box on average

6.3 lbs. bananas -$/50/lb. ST Q = $1.22

Apples (assorted varieties $1.19-$1.49 lb. - $1 ST Q each lb. = $6.25 for 16.41 lbs. of apples

Gold ‘n’ plump ground chicken $2.99 for 1.25 lbs. -$3 winetag Q = $.01 overage

18 Archer Farms yogurt cups at $.47 each = $8.46

2 Market Pantry juice blends 64 oz. $2.29 each

All of these goodies for only: $36.29
Total Savings = $63.43

Going to take another run at the Target savings - fellow blogger posted about FREE gerber baby bottles, and oodles of other freebies! Now, that's my kind of shopping. I may not have a baby yet, but I know plenty of girls that do and bottles are a thoughtful gift (I hope). Also will make a great donation item to the church's womens shelter.
Yesterday, I managed to get some cooking ahead done for the week - enough to make some simple meals for half the week. I love to do batch cooking - and reinventing leftovers. With some mini-baguettes free from SuperTarget, lots of cheap pork chops (courtesy of Gather Round the Grill coupon), and a batch of browned up ground turkey - I'm in great shape. With a couple of versatile basics like these, I'm ready for anything this week!

Monday - Pork Chop sammies on baguettes, corn
Tuesday - Ground turkey tacos with all the fixin's, refried beans, tortilla chips
Wednesday - Mini french bread pizzas (using the baguettes) with assorted toppings
Thursday - Italian-style chicken salad sammies on ciabatta, carrot sticks, and chips
Friday - Scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, Apple and Mozzarella Breakfast sausage
Saturday - Enchiladas (using leftover meats), beans, and tortilla chips with salsa
Sunday - Grillin'!

Breakfast of the week - we have cereal cups for free from SuperTarget (using the SuperTarget printable Q's for $1 off GM cereal), and breakfast sammies using my homemade breakfast sausage

Dessert of the week: I was a bit lazy, so it'll be ice cream and store bought cookies, but we have free ice cream and too many cookies to count!
Ever been out shopping and get tempted by those delicious looking frozen breakfast sandwiches or get tempted by fast-food breakfast? I do. I’m a total sucker for it, I’m ashamed to admit. I used to justify my every-other-week fix by saying – well, I don’t have the time to make a decent breakfast (though I could get up earlier – perish the thought), I couldn’t make a biscuit that tastes that good (probably because I try to make them healthy – and they taste like crap), or – my all-time favorite – I deserve it (but my thighs keep screaming that I don’t, I really don’t deserve what I’m doing to them).

I have finally found a way to end the internal argument. It does not involve getting up earlier. It doesn’t involve making more crappy biscuits, and yes, if you try to make a basic biscuit healthy, it tastes funny. It’s just not a biscuit at that point. Seriously. My thighs will thank me for discovering this simply, flavorful alternative – and so will my wallet.

What could inspire such a turn around for me? Could you believe a simple bagel did the trick? Not the frozen ones, not the pre-packaged ones – the huge, plump, fresh, 5” wide bagels with the fresh herbs, cheese, and spices used. And the bargain price I paid for those: 6/$1.99. It was cheaper than buying the pre-packaged ones. And the best part is – they’re big enough to last for 2 meals. Nope, I’m not kidding.

At Dominick’s the other day, I grabbed an assortment of 6 large bagels and decided to see how well that idea panned out. After taking one deep breath of the aromatic scents before me, I grabbed 2 sweet onion bagels, 2 egg bagels, and 2 everything bagels. I’ve only had one of the sweet onion bagels topped with scrambled eggs (with mozzarella cheese mixed in) and I was in heaven. The bagel is so big and plump, half of it topped with scrambled eggs was more than enough for a flavor-filled breakfast – and so much more affordable than its fast-food counterpart.

At $.33 per bagel, $.99 per dozen eggs, and $.28 cheese left from that Kraft cheese Catalina sale last winter/spring – I can have breakfast for only $.55 for 1 whole bagel, or only 27.5 cents per serving. A simple sausage biscuits typically will cost a $1 or more across this area, so I have found a much more affordable alternative, and the amount of fat in a serving of my new breakfast sammie: 6 grams. I know fast-food or frozen can’t beat those numbers – not on price and certainly not on fat grams. The best part of this, no more internal arguments – priceless!
DH and I recently moved into a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom townhouse after renting a 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom, 3 level house with patio, backyard, fireplace, vaulted ceilings, and an open floor plan. Sounds divine, doesn’t it? Well, not exactly. That simply what you tell people you went to school with, relatives that never visit, and friends that you would like to envy you – as long as they don’t visit too often.

If they did visit more often, they would see the truth. The vaulted ceiling is a huge waste of energy. No one actually uses the fireplace – even the owner wasn’t sure how it worked, so it’s decorative, but not functional. The hardwood floors were actually that pergo, snap-together garbage that started separating after about the first year. Something else no one bothers to mention – ants. Unfortunately, we’d been in the house less than a month when that problem became apparent. Ewww.

Now that I’ve set the scenic backdrop, I must get to the title: 3 Chimps and an Idiot. The idiot would be the landlord, the chimps – a series of rude, obnoxious, lazy “helpers” that couldn’t tell their knuckles from a door knob. Actually, I think I’m being rather kind. One of them was courteous enough to swear at me in Spanish, thinking that I wouldn’t understand him. I did and I know how to dish it right back at him – in Spanish no less. So in a moment of pure fury I called him something I would rather not put into print, but let’s just imagine that it involved a chicken and his mother sprinkled with a very explicit action. Let’s just say it had him speechless.

Like any good lemon, the problem became apparent once we got used to the place. The white carpets had bright orange KoolAid stains, which we made by the owner’s bratty child. I know, I watched her squirt her juice box all over the carpeting in the upstairs hall and master bedroom during the initial walk-though of the place. The landlord promised to send someone out the next week to clean the carpets. 6 weeks later, fed up and livid – I did the cleaning. It took 6 hours to scrub that crap out.

Like any good lemon, this one had its continual problems, and the stove, garage door, dryer, and railings were just the start. Every major appliance had maintenance called on it at least 2-3 times. I can write a book just on the stove!! It didn’t work more often than it did. Good thing I had a crockpot and the ability of pick up cheap convenience time foods – love boxed pasta side dishes by the way – they totally saved my butt, on more than one occasion.

I remember the pride the Idiot King (landlord) took in how the place looked when we did the walk through. He told how he did the work himself, how it took a year to make the house inhabitable again – and it was only a nine year old house, with one previous owner. The Idiot King even went as far as saying that he’s fired his “assistant” aka the Chimps for being incompetent. Once, in a fit of rage (again, over that evil stove), I asked him when he planned to fire the current chimp because he was astonishingly incompetent. Naturally, it was nearly a month before the repairs were done.

Have you had problems like this? Whether you buy or rent, there’s nothing worse than dealing with – 3 Chimps and an Idiot.
I'm getting all geared up for my next big shopping excursion! I just had a look at the list Kraft put out for their rebate (offered through Supervalu affiliated stores) - and a couple of the items I'm eying have fabulous coupons for them. Well, that and I grabbed a dozen of the Nabisco coupon booklets. Which have a separate set of rebates in them. This is when shopping madness occurs...

Shopping madness is defined (by me) as having more deals, more cheapies/freebies than one person thinks they can grab in any given time frame (an afternoon, a week, a decade). Between BOGOF on Planters trail mix, to 10/$10 a box Mac 'n' Cheese crackers - I'm really not sure which direction to turn in first. Not that that's a problem. At least, not a problem for me! I'm armed with loads of good coupons!

Step #1: Drive to nearest Jewel.

Step #2: Check to make sure all catalina machines are working properly at self checkout.

Step #3: Grab shopping cart.

Step #4: Ladies, start your shopping (as I picture someone waving the green flag, like they do at car races - and I'm in the lead - we can all dream, can't we?)!

Step #5: Leave with $20 rebate, $5 cat, and a whole load of goodies!

So, looks like Wednesday afternoon, I'm back out on the hound. But, out of curiosity, has anyone out there tried the Kraft Mac 'n' Cheese crackers and are they any good? Please let me know what you think! That's the basis for my deal.
After a crazy week last week - I just want to take it easy for a bit and have some simple, easy to make dinners. So far, this is what I've got planned:

Monday - dinner at DaMama's - DH having hotdogs or cereal
Tuesday - Brats, baked potatoes, salad
Wednesday - Spaghetti with a mushroom meat sauce
Thursday - Scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, bacon, raisin toast, and juice
Friday - ground turkey tacos, rice, and beans
Saturday - Date night!
Sunday - Enchiladas con carne and con queso

Snack of the week: apples - I got loads of the at Target for next to nothing - got to love coupons!!

Dessert of the week: Buttery Walnut Ginger cookies. When those are go0ne, we'll work on the free ice creawm collection from Jewel - and pair it with loads of cheap Keebler cookies.

Breakfast of the week: I'm going to make banana bread tonight, along with an experiment = homemade breakfast sausage - check out the recipe I'm using here!
Last night, I was doing some baking for the office - I have spoiled our board of directors with homemade cookies and bars, and now it's become somewhat of a tradition and a challenge. Every meeting (and there are 4 of them a year) I debut a new pair of recipes - bars and cookies - for their tasting pleasure. This year it's Ginger Walnut Cookies. I bet you're wondering this: what do I get out of it?

The organization pays for my ingredients - which is a huge bonus because baking supplies are certainly not cheap nowadays. And those that bake can see how well I benefit from that. But, just as important, I receive feedback, loads of feedback, from a demographic and background far, far different than my own. It's interesting to see how different people react to different things.

My nephews, those rascally rugrats, loved the Banana Split Bars, while my mother loves the Raisin' The Bars!, the board went crazy for the Orange Dark Chocolate bars, and my hubby adores the White Chocolate Cinnamon Roll Bars. Having a large assmebly of industry leaders, financial management types, and nearly a dozen doctors - I get a heavy dose of the adult perspective. Not that I'm complaining, I get to eat the fruits of my labors, so I can't complain too much there.

I planned to do a simpler cookie, but I've been loving the flavor of ginger so much lately, I couldn't resist adding it to my latest recipe. I wasn't sure how a heartier nut like the walnut would pair against the tang of ginger, but boy am I glad I tried it. Each flavor hits a different place on your palate, leaving nothing but a hunger for more. Maybe I exaggerate my baking skills, but I do believe the flavors will speak for themselves. That is, unless you've eaten them first!

Tell me - what are you favorite flavor combinations? There is so much to taste in life!
As the temperatures hit the 90's and the humidity has done things to my naturally frizzy, oops - I mean curly hair, I can't help but think these are the days meant for napping. Or lying in a shady spot with a good book, the scent of summer fruit and the tang of an open BBQ drifting on the breeze. These are the days for enjoying.

I am not a summer person - nowhere near, in fact. For the months of July and August, all I can do is dream of having a bungalow in NewFoundland, some great books, my bead collection, and a pile of great movies. For entertaining, all I need is some good basic meat to grill with, a pile of spices, some summer fruits (peach and mango, here I come!), and mountains of corn on the cob. With a cool breeze from the ocean (or so I imagine it) and a slower pace of life, it sounds like heaven on earth to me. Or to the me that's spent 30 minutes sitting at a standstill in traffic this morning, feeling my hair beginning to frizz (again!), and only is out in fresh air from the walk to and from the car, into work, home, store, etc. I'm not cut out for these humid, stuffy, days.

Back to reality, my pantry is fully stocked and my freezer is full to bursting, now I can finally take a bit of a break from shopping, which is easy to say until the next big deal hits. With the exception of produce, milk, and eggs - I'm pretty well set-up on all the basics I need, the little luxuries I want, and everything in between. Typically, when the deals dry up in Septmeber and October, I just live off what I've already amassed - which at this point, is somewhat substantial.

As I sit here, seeing the leaves on the trees drooping in the sun and dry, brown grass that crunches underfoot, I can't help but be grateful that I don't have to spend a lot of time in the heat, instead, I'll keep reading my latest book, East of the Sun. Nothing is more entrancing than losing yourself in the lives on someone else, especially when you are so drained by the heat.

How have you been keeping yourself busy during the dog days of summer?
Ever gone into a store, sans coupons, and been amazed at the prices, freshness, and overall friendliness of the place? That happens to me each and every time I go to Caputo's. I love the simple layout of the store, the great prices on fresh produce, and how amazingly fresh everything is. Never a bad experience there, except with internet coupons - but I digress.

Last night, I couldn't hold myself back - everything looked fabulous! So I greedily grabbed 3 bulbs of bulk garlic. I still can't get over how affordable it is to shop there - which is a first coming from me! Next I meandered passed the baby carrots, then stopped dead in my tracks. A 2 lb. bag for $.79. Yep, and smaller 12 oz. bags for 3/$1. I would have been totally remiss if I didn't grab some - for the office and for home. So, naturally - I did. I just about tripped over my jaw when I saw the organic celery for $.79 and the most beautiful cucumbers for 3/$1. My cart was filling up quicker than you could say cheese - but we'll get to that in a minute.

Over at fruit, the golden delicious apples were shiny and fresh and $.69 lb. 3/$1 lbs. of bananas, and my personal favorite - $.79 lb. extra large red bell peppers. I grabbed 3 of those - I simply could not resist. Over at salad mix, I grabbed a bag of Tender Lettuce mix for $.50. With all the cheap/free salad dressing I have, this will pair nicely. Very nicely.

For some reason, my hungry feet guided me over to the cheese where there was 6 oz. blocks of Natural Jack Mediterranean cheese. Somehow, 3 of those jumped in the cart, but at least I remembered the milk that I was supposed to get. Thank goodness for small miracles! Good cheese is always a miracle - especially when I think back to the days of Velveeta - and we (as children) were excited to get that. How times have changed! Before couponing and hounding, cheese was a luxury item - now, it's a basic staple and I keep at least 6 varieties on hand at all times. Right now, I probably have more like 8-10 kinds. Not that I'm complaining...not even a bit! or in my case, a bite.

So, what am I having for lunch/snacking on this week:

Apples and peanut butter
Banana split (using free ice cream and some leftover coconut, pecans, walnuts in my pantry)
Salad - topped with real bacon and croutons, with parmesan cheese and ham, or just straight out of the bag
Baby carrots and celery sticks with roasted red pepper ranch dip - thanks to Lisa B for the recipe! (I add half of a large
red bell pepper, finely diced, roasted preferrably, to this dip. It tastes like heaven!)
Cheese and crackers - with a salad and an apple - this is my lunch today!

Before I go off in search of one or more of these tasty snacks to devour, I better grab my breakfast - or lunch will be gone in minutes!

What are you snacking on this week? I'd love some good ideas!!
I love experimenting, trying new flavors, seeing new places, and rarely am I disappointed. The only exception - when you try new recipes, the long list of what ingredients you don't have on hand is daunting, pricey, and occasionally - unsatisfying. This might explain my love/hate relationship with cookbooks.

The feeling of cracking open a cookbook, the tantalyzing flavors that lay hidden in the many pages is a recipe for financial disaster. The luscious, shiny photos make me whimper and cringe. I know there are 3, 4, and 5 ingredient cookbooks - but the recipes you find there are for BBQ ribs (got it), grilled cheese (yep, covered that one in 4th grade), and using almost all pre-made stuff (which isn't a bad thing - but I do like to feel in control of my own meal). Still, any trip to a bookstore finds me wandering back into the cookbook area - flipping through, alternately drooling and chuckling - who do these people think they are, Iron Chef? Oops, sorry Bobby Flay. I guess you are.

What about the rest of us? (Naturally, I hope I'm not alone in this!) When we want something a little different, but not a budget-busting experiment, where are we supposed to turn? It took me a while, but I finally came up with an idea. If you don't like what's on offer - it's time to do something about it. So, last February, I began cataloging all my recipes - the ones I've created, anyway - and so I wouldn't have to worry about misplacing them, I've started a cookbook blog, Chicagos Cookbook.

At first, it was just a new way to organize - which I so desparately need. Then, as time went on, I noticed a few people had come to take a look - and I was amazed. As I started adding followers, I was stunned again. I considered myself a decent cook and a good baker, but never imagined it would amount to much. So, to keep things interesting - I have set a goal for myself.

365 original recipes by the end of the year. If I used someone else's recipe, and made my variation of it - I always give them credit for it, but no recipe in my collection has been copied and pasted from somewhere else. As we near the midpoint of the year, I can see I am well on track to meet my goal, though I do need to beef up my side dishes chapter, no pun intended, of course.

At the end of this year, I'd like to look back at all the new flavors I've tried, decide on my favorites, and maybe even try to get a cookbook actually published. I know that last part is a long shot, but if nothing else - I have finally created a way of keeping track of all the recipes I've made, all the fantastic fresh food I've sampled along the way, and I come out of this journey a well-seasoned (hahaha) traveller.
This is going to be a crazy week at work, my organization is having their summer board of director's meeting - all weekend long, so I expect some longer days/nights leading up to the meeting. I tried to tailor the menu to easy to make meals, since I won't have time to do any real cooking!

Monday - dinner at DaMama's
Tuesday - Chicken alfredo (using leftover grilled chicken and jarred Alfredo sauce)
Wednesday - ground turkey tacos with red bell pepper, beans, chips, and salsa
Thursday - Swiss & Mushroom Omelets, hashbrowns, raisin toast, and juice
Friday - Italian style chicken salad sammies, cheese cubes, and juice
Saturday - Date night! Or I just collapse on the floor when I finally get home...whichever comes first.
Sunday - Sausage on the grill, corn on the cob, fresh strawberries, rice, tortillas
Sunday sure isn't a day of rest for us couponers! DaMama and I hit 2 stores, did 4 transactions, and spent less than $8 between us. How did we do? Keep reading!

36 jars Fisher Peanut Butter reg. $1.90 - sale $.99
1 36 count box Hefty One-Zip bags reg. $4.05 - sale $1.00
36 -$1 off any Fisher product 4.0 oz. or larger
1 - $.20 peelie coupon from the Hefty bags

Total OOP - $1.19 Saved $68.75

From there, we scampered to Jewel - in search of some free ice cream. In and out of that store in less than 40 minutes, here's what we found:

Transaction #1:
16 boxes Lipton Onion Soup Mix - Regular $2 - sale $1.00
After $15 in catalina coupons - $1.96 was our total, and $15 in cats printed out - love it!
Saved: $31.25

Transaction #2:
5 - 1.5 quart Breyer Ice Cream - assorted flavors reg. $6.50 - sale $3
1 64 oz. Dole Juice blend regular $3.49 - sale $2.50
1 8 oz. Jewel brand Swiss cheese regular $3.00 - sale $2.00
- $.50 Q's off each (5)
-$15 in cats
OOP = $2.34 Saved $38.75
got back $15 in cats

Transaction #3:
4 bags Chex Mix reg. $3.17 - sale $1.66
6 bags Gardetto's reg. $3.16 - sale $1.66
2 bags Bugles reg. $2.99 - sale $1.67
- $.50 Q's printable (4)
-$15 in cats
OOP = $1.66
Saved: $29.85
got back $15 in cats.

Got to love rolling a cat, the deals are great, Annie's Market is bursting with tasty goodies!

Total OOP = $7.15
Total Saved = $168.60
With all the great deals I'm finding, I've been shopping before work, on my lunch break with a shopping buddy, and on my way home (quick trips) or just after work shopping (2-4 hours of fun). Maybe I'm just experiencing shopper's burnout, but I am getting a little tired running all over Chicagoland (or my corner of it, anyway) snapping up the deals.

As my grandpappy would, "You'd b*tch if you were hung with a new, waxed rope." Never quite understood that saying growing up, but now I have a rough idea and it always makes me laugh.

I don't remember this plethora of deals last summer, but stores weren't really trying to stay competitive then either. Now that retailers are worried in this economy, they are rolling out the savings wagons, cautiously, but continuously. I keep thinking there's a brief respite to the deals, and another big one barrels down on me - like large SUVs in the parking lot. You know your measly cart isn't going to save you, but you stand there transfixed anyway, until the moron swerves around you, giving you a less-than-friendly gesture or yelling some endearing obscenity through an open window, while looking at you like you're the crazy one. Yes, it's moments like these that I feel at one with the universe. I know, I know - enough of the sarcasm.

Between Jewel, Butera, and Meijer - they are conspiring to empty me of coupons (a good thing), wear my sorry, bargain huntin' butt out (not the greatest scenario), and leave me stunned at the amount of goodies I've socked away for the lean times (I know I can't complain about that!). I'm so glad today is the last day of the deals, so I can stumble home - probably 1-2 hours after I planned on coming home, wore out, spent of time, coupons, money, and common sense, and looking forward to a slow, lazy, bargain-free week. Think that'll happen? Probably not, but DaMama will have the ads today, so I'll find out tonight!
I have been getting bored with the same old thing, so this week - we're switchin' it up!

Monday: dinner at DaMama's
Tuesday: Teriyaki Pork skewers, potatoes julienne, and corn
Wednesday: cheese slices, crackers, ham, and grapes
Thursday: Chicken, black olive, and mushroom pizza (homemade, of course!)
Friday: French dip on a hoagie roll with swiss cheese and au jus, side salad
Saturday - going into the city to see Maria Bamford - I can't wait!!!
Sunday - grillin' time!
Saturday was a hop & shop kind of day. Jewel had their generic cereals on sale for $.99 a box, Arm & Hammer laundry detergent onsale for 2/$5, and StarKist Tuna for 2/$1. After numerous transactions - mostly on Saturday - and filling the back of my car, DaMama & I ended up with:

64 boxes of cereal (limit 4 per person)
16 bottles of Arm & Hammer (Limit 2 per person)
32 cans of tuna (Limit 2 per person)

And rainchecks for 16 additional boxes of cereal as well as 12 more bottles of Arm & Hammer.

After all that shopping, I was ready for a nap! But dinner and a movie with DH was even better. We went to see The Proposal, used our free movie passes - tickets cost us $0! Dinner was late, so we grabbed some tacos fresco from Taco Bell for $8.84. And we snuck in an caramel apple empanada. Dinner, dessert, and a movie for under $10! Now, there's some date night savings.

Now, I'm gearing up for the Jewel deal: spend $30, get $15 in cats on select Knorr/B.C./etc. products. Let's see what kind of cheapies & freebies I can load up on!

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