Home School Cooking!

finalMy daughter and I love to spend time together in the kitchen.  We started doing this when she was very young and it makes up some of my most favorite moments.  I have the best memories of her as a little girl (about 4 or 5) helping me prepare for our big Thanksgiving Meal for family and friends.  She liked assisting me while I cooked, but also wanted to be in charge of something that she could do on her own.  She was already reading pretty well and so I decided to make a big, long list of every ingredient we would need from the pantry, the spice rack, and the fridge and have her set it out on our kitchen island.  She absolutely loved doing this and set about doing it very enthusiastically.  She had the spices all lined up, the canned goods grouped together neatly and didn’t miss a single thing.  It was truly a beautiful thing she accomplished and she was so proud of herself.  We still do this Thanksgiving ritual together to this day, and she still loves doing it.  She also looks forward to the cooking part, but there is something about a solo victory that’s uniquely satisfying.

Sometime ago I began to train her to cook simple things for herself as well as for the family: a grilled cheese sandwich, an omelet, French toast, a quesadilla, pancakes.  She is also becoming quite the little baker as well.  This has been great training and preparation but, I also wanted her to be able to plan an entire meal with a budget, and then shop for the ingredients on her own, and finally prepare the meal and share it with her family.  I know this sounds simple, but frankly I know of many children her age, as well as some teenagers, who aren’t able to confidently even make ramen noodles and this can be quite problematic.

The first time we walked through it together and we started out on Pinterest looking for fun and simple recipes to try.  (You can find my Pinterest boards here.)  Then we searched for a delicious dessert and we were ready to make the list.  I looked over the ingredients required and, after determining what we already had, I assigned her budget – this was usually $5 (if we had the protein) or $10 if we didn’t.  She would write everything down and we would assign an assumed dollar amount to it, totaling to the budget amount.  I would have her put this list in an envelope along with the money I gave her to shop with.  She loved having the responsibility of being in charge of this process and became more confident as time went on.

The next step was on to the local grocery store and I chose one that had a self-checkout lane because I wanted her to do as much by herself as possible – she really LOVED this part!  We went through the aisles and she picked out the ingredients, choosing the best value and taking note of whether it was roughly over or under the budget for it.  We went in the order of ingredient importance and learned to adjust amounts or ingredients where necessary (broccoli is on sale instead of asparagus, so substitute).  Next we would head to the checkout line where she scanned or keyed in information, bagged items, and finally paid.  She always came in under budget, usually less than a dollar, but it was a significant psychological victory.  She would put the receipt and the change into the envelope for the following week when she could use the overage if necessary (she rarely needed it).  At the end of the quarter (we would do this seasonally), she would get to keep the difference, which was usually only a few dollars at most, but she was so proud of her accomplishment she took great care in how she spent it.

Finally, we would bring the ingredients home and she would set about to prepare them.  I helped much more at first, teaching her how to safely cut and cook things.  In the beginning I only let her make things such as casseroles, soups or sauces that didn’t require high heat sautéing or frying.  She has made many things and each of them has been delicious andipod july 2015 281 greatly enjoyed by our family.  She beams with a sense of achievement & self-assurance that I believe will prove priceless in her life.  She is learning so many values and skills, one of the most important being the satisfaction of serving others.

I encourage you to try this with your kids, because I think even resistant ones will find that they enjoy it.  It is a good way to engage picky eaters to try new things and gain a sense of empowerment over things that may unsettle them.  This is easily converted into as simple of a mission as you’d like it to be, according to age, enthusiasm and ability.  You can just have them decide on what to serve for a snack – strawberries, crackers & cheese, hummus and snap peas – whatever.  You can make a list together, have them put the items in the cart, take them home, wash & prepare them, plate them and serve them to the family.  Trust me, they will love doing it! When my daughter was younger we would use fruits and veggies to make silly faces on a plate.  We would use grape eyes, a strawberry nose and a banana smile.  Sometimes we would use goldfish crackers, cucumbers, celery, carrots and tomatoes to make an under-the-sea scene.  It is so much fun to cook with your kids and so rewarding and delicious in every way!

Firecracker Shrimp Caesar Salad

Here is my recipe for one of my most favorite salads, heck meals even, and I encourage you to try it – share with me if you do!


Firecracker Shrimp Caesar Salad

Approx. 1 lb of shrimp, cleaned & deveined, tails on or off as preferred (serves 3 nice sized salads, for other servings, please adjust accordingly)

1-1½t Fajita seasoning, can add cayenne pepper or pepper flake if desired

1-2 T butter or olive oil

4 C Romaine lettuce cleaned and chopped

½ C Cherry tomatoes halved or quartered

¼ C Chopped cilantro

½ C Roasted or cooked corn

2 Ripe avocados, diced

Pineapple salsa from Trader Joe’s

Chipotle cream sauce (chipotle puree mixed with sour cream)

Cilantro Caesar dressing (Caesar dressing mixed with fresh cilantro) or regular Caesar dressing

Tri-colored tortilla strips

Grated parmesan to taste

Begin by preparing the shrimp and then drying them well on paper towels.  Sprinkle the seasoning on and set aside while you heat up the butter in a pan on Med-High heat.

Toss the shrimp into the pan and stir them around to ensure even cooking.  Flip them over after about 1-2 minutes and continue cooking until done (another 1-2 minutes).  They are done when they turn pink and curl up slightly (about 4 minutes).  Do not overcook them, as this tends to dry them out and toughen them up.  Remove them to a plate to rest while you assemble the salads.  If you prefer them to be cool, you can place them in the fridge for a couple of minutes.

Assemble the salads in whatever order you prefer for visual interest and ingredient uniformity.

Grate on the parmesan cheese and season to taste.  Enjoy!

If you make this recipe, please let me know by dropping me a comment or sharing pics on my Facebook page.


You can watch me making this recipe on my YouTube channel, here – Don’t forget to subscribe!:

Why Cooking is my Favorite Art Form

Is cooking an art?  To answer that, first we see what art is.  Merriam Webster defines it as:  “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects”.  Well, it could be argued that sometimes making a meal is a creative outlet that uses skill to produce an aesthetic object.  In fact, I believe that a delicious and visually appealing meal can be far more powerful in evoking emotions and visceral reactions than other forms of art, and in a larger percentage of the population.  Some people never seem to have an interest in art or at least in a traditional, organized way.  However, almost every person on the planet has a powerful and consistent attraction to food, the better the food the stronger the reaction.

Aaahh food…. delectable food!  Food has almost limitless potential of embodiment.  It’s full of colors and textures and temperatures which all morph and change with various arrangements and service methods.  There is such a wide array of flavors, each with a spectrum of intensity that can transform with different pairings.  Furthermore, there is a whole vast universe of spices, seasonings, and herbs.  Each element can masquerade once again in various sauces and broths and a plethora of preparations, the possibilities are virtually endless!  Oh my, I’m getting hungry…

I love food and I love to make delicious food, especially for the people I care about.  Not only does it sustain them and make them healthy and strong, it can show them my love and care in a very tangible way.  It makes them happy, and because we make time to dine together it solidifies our family bond.  It conveys to them on a deep level that they are worth the time and attention I take to feed their body, and nourish their soul.

Whether you are like me and love to cook, or if you never step foot in a kitchen, challenge yourself to try something new this week or this month.  If you do cook, try a new recipe or type of food.  (After trying to make a coconut curry chicken recipe out of my lonely Betty Crocker cookbook, I fell in love with the flavor profiles I found there, and have since taken many rewarding excursions into Indian cuisine.)  If you rarely cook, try making something new and simple that you’ve enjoyed elsewhere and are familiar with.  If you NEVER cook, then go out and find a new cuisine or an interesting restaurant you’ve been wanting to try.  Be brave and step outside of your comfort zone, even little steps can exhilarate you and bust you out of the rut – you won’t regret it!!

(PS)  Cooking is where my heart lies, though I do like to bake occasionally too.  I guess I love the free-flowing way that you’re able to throw things together and guess about how much to use rather than measure every ingredient and mix it in such-and-such order.  I RARELY use recipes or measure what I put into dishes.  For me, it’s all about instinct and guessing, then adjusting, and it never turns out the same – BUT it is always enjoyable.  This is part of why this journey is delicious – life is meant to be lived live.  Is that redundant?  I don’t think so because it’s true, in life there are no pause buttons, no rewinds, no fast forwards and no restarts.  It’s live, unscripted and that’s where the magic happens – go with the flow!  In cooking, if you just learn to do a handful of simple techniques, you will always be able to “save” a dish.  This will be an upcoming blog post – sign up for my blog’s e-mail notification HERE so you don’t miss it.

Can you afford to quit your job?

Surprisingly, the answer may be yes, especially if you:

…live in a two income household where your income isn’t the primary source

…don’t depend on health insurance solely through your employer

…have at least one child which you pay childcare for

…work outside of the home with even a modest commute

…don’t mind reducing some of your extraneous spending if and when you decide to quit working

Shocking?  Maybe, but you decide for yourself, let’s take a look at the cold, hard facts.


Now, to be more than judicious in this equation, I will be modest in my expense forecasting because I am also going to use a modest income model.  Here’s what we will use:


We will use model of $12 per hour, based on a 40 hour work week.

This calculates to $480 gross.  After AZ taxes at a married rate it comes to $398.76, so we’ll round up to a $400 net income.


I’ve checked here locally and found reasonable prices average from about $150 – $200, so we’ll say $175 for childcare.

Extra Transportation Expense:

I have figured in an average 20 mile one-way commute which, again, is about average here in Phoenix.  With a 25mpg, this totals out to an extra 8 gallons of gas.  The current gas price is around $2.30 – we’ll round up to $2.50 for wear and tear and vehicle maintenance – which comes to $20 per week.

Midday meal:

Now, when I was working, how this worked for us was that we both bought our lunch most of the time.  While this averaged more than the $10 per day (total) I’m allotting here, I will use this figure because I realize many people bring lunch from home frequently already.  I submit that if you are staying home, you will be able to make your spouse’s lunch most of the time and, since you will be eating at home, this will be at least a $10 per day savings.  Side note:  I’m not even factoring in that morning bagel and $3 latte, or that lunch with the friends from the office that easily runs $20 a pop – so you know this could be a HUGE savings, am I right?   We will use a savings of $50 per week.

Extra Food Expense:

We all know about those “I’m so tired, grab take-out on the way home / order pizza in” kind of nights.  This happens more than we would all like to admit and boy, does it add up!  Whenever I’m over budget, I can pretty much rest assured that THIS is THE culprit!  Honestly it still occasionally happens now that I’m a stay-at-home mom, but it’s infinitely more rare!  I am only attaching $30 per week to this, which would be one complete take-out meal for our family at a nicer fast food place like Rubio’s or Pei Wei (including beverages or dessert) or two moderately priced take-outs.  $30 per week

Extra Personal Expense:

Here I am talking about maintenance for wardrobe, personal grooming, accessories, etc.  Now, I’m not suggesting that if you should decide to stay home you stop caring about what you look like, that’s ridiculous!  However, I don’t want to overlook the fact that when you work outside of the home, there is frequently an expense attached to that, and sometimes it could be quite substantial.  Office jobs tend to require a type of professional image and wardrobe that most people don’t tend to wear during times they aren’t in the office.  When I was working in the corporate world, I frequently wore dresses, skirts and suit pants or jackets.  These types of clothing tend to be more expensive to purchase and maintain.  Now I rarely, if ever, wear these in my everyday life and over the years most of them have disappeared from my closet.  Furthermore, while working I got my hair done far more often than I do now, and I would also get my nails done – which I stopped doing altogether.  I would like to assign an amount to these expenditures, despite the wide variation between those who it wouldn’t effect much to those who it would drastically and permanently effect.  I will assign $20 per week.

So, obviously this isn’t the full list of all of the expenses associated with having a job, and you may find that your circumstances are much different – in either direction – but it is certainly interesting to explore.

Taxes are sure to be affected by this change as well, and could push this either way.  If you have a larger deduction purposefully taken out of your payroll to either offset taxes owed or to pad your refund, then this could have a huge bearing on the outcome of your income.  For our family, losing that second income actually put us into a different tax bracket which increased the percentage of our tax refund.  We consider that extra “income” when making up our yearly budget and payment planning.

OK, are you ready?  Here is the final tally:

$ 400 Net Income

-$ 175 Childcare

-$ 20 Extra transportation expense

-$ 50 Mid-day meals

-$ 30 Extra food expense

-$ 20 Extra personal expense

$105 Final weekly take home pay!


Is it worth it?  Only you can answer that for yourself and your family!

And remember, if you decide you can “afford” to stay home, you can always supplement your income in a variety of ways – find out more about that in my upcoming blog “10 ways to start making money from home TODAY!”  I’ve got some great and practical ideas to help you make up some of that “missing income” right away, should you decide to take the plunge.

Taking this step was one of THE BEST decisions my family ever made – for me, for my daughter and yes, for my marriage!  I’ve never regretted it, we’ve never regretted it and I know you never will either!  Come on in, the water’s fine!


Broke & Proud of it!

Yep, you heard me right – we’re broke and I’m proud of it!  Now, this isn’t the old “I’m broke because I spent this month’s clothing budget on a new pair of shoes broke”.  Nope, this is the “we…live on one income, …have no health insurance, …fall behind on the mortgage payment 11 months out of the year (thanks tax return!), …hit 300,000 miles on our ’97 duct-taped pick-up, …have $8 left in checking once everything clears, …keep our teeth clenched about the gas gauge until payday… kind of broke!”

Now, I admit these are the unfortunate consequences of a conscientious choice that is very important (and costly!) to us.  Personally, the goals that are our highest priority require one full-time parent / house manager to implement.  We think that, for us, it’s most important to home school our daughter and therefore live on one (traditional) income, this necessitates that we live a less materialistic, processed-free, make from scratch kind of life with minimal maintenance and upkeep.  That’s o.k. with us though, because our motto – put simply – is to work to live and not live to work.

I am very blessed and thankful to have everything I do have and I realize that just by being born here in the USA, I am more financially fortunate than most of the rest of the world.  I am afforded personal freedoms, endless opportunities, and a unique living stability that is lacking in too much of the world and I am eternally grateful.  I could count my blessings  and go on for days, but I’ll just mention a few here that I thank God for every day.  My health, my family and friends, my wonderfully funny and hard-working handsome husband, my kind and bright-shining beautiful daughter who is my hero, my two sweet puppy dogs who make me laugh every day, my comfortable house, my fridge full of food, my car that runs (most of the time) and has air conditioning (again most of the time), my faith that gets me through the darkness, and the list goes on and on and on…


I have it good, I know I do, most of us have it good, it’s just we all have it different – our problems are different, our lack of problems are different, our challenges, our fears and worries, our joys and laughter, our strengths and weaknesses, but that’s what’s so wonderful and gratifying and exciting and mysterious!  I hope we can all agree though, for all it’s ups & downs, twists & turns, ins & outs, truly…  THE JOURNEY IS DELICIOUS!!