the shortcut, shortcake

This weekend was one of my dear friend’s big 30th birthday and anyone who knows me knows how much I love to bake and make. Anything crafty, homemade, or unusual is typically right up my alley. I love to cook and am alright at throwing things together. Of course baking is more of a science and I love to decorate although I’m not always the best at it. So admittedly, these gifts or gestures, while always with the best of intentions, don’t always work out to be the best. Typically either they taste pretty good or look kind of decent but it’s a rare occasion that I am successful at achieving both; but even knowing this I still stick to homemade baked goods for many reasons. First anything made  (boxed, semi-or, homemade) takes some level of forethought and is usually made with love; second by making it myself I know exactly what goes into the recipe and eliminate many of those hard to pronounce mystery ingredients; and last but not least it almost always is more affordable to make something with the ingredients I already have rather than waste money on a box or pay someone else to do something I a. can do and b. enjoy doing.

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So for Jess’ big 3-0 bday BBQ I had the festive idea of following suit with a strawberry shortcake but did not want to buy all of those extra ingredients…def NOT on my grocery list. So with a little help from my favorite cookbook I made hotmilk sponge cake with homemade whipped cream and fresh strawberries. The only ingredients I didn’t have on hand were the fresh strawberries (which I usually keep in the house so it was a matter of restocking and using only some of them) and the ladyfingers that for $1.69 I thought was worth the decorative touch. Overall this beauty cost me $3.69 and even better only took 45 minutes from start to finish, saving me time and money. #priceless

Hotmilk Sponge Cake (I doubled everything)
-1 cup all- purpose flour
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 2 eggs
– 1 cup sugar
– 1/2 cup milk
– 2 Tbs butter or margarine

Preheat oven to 300F. Combine flour & baking powder. In a bowl, beat eggs with an electric mixer on high speed about 4 minutes, or until thick. Gradually add sugar; beat at medium speed for 4-5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Add flour mixture; beat at low to medium speed just until combined. In a saucepan heat & stir milk & margarine until it melts, add to batter, beating till combined. Pour into (2) greased and sugared pans. (I use sugar not flour) then cook 20-25 mins.

Homemade Whipped Cream
-2 cups whipping cream
-2 tbsp sugar
-2 tsp vanilla extract

Mix with electric mixer on medium until stiff peaks form (3-5 mins) Set in refrigerator until ready to use

Cut strawberries and sprinkle with sugar; once cakes have cooled assemble by starting with one cake, *lots of whipped cream in the center, strawberries, then top layer of cake. Cover fully with remaining whipped cream and decorate as you’d like. The pkg of ladyfingers fit perfectly around the outside perimeter and I secured with ribbon.

Honestly, the hardest and longest part was the tedious drive to the party hoping that it didn’t collapse, melt, shift, etc. lol

*Note for next time; this is the only improvement I would have like to have made and will for next time.

Happy Birthday, Jess! ox

Getting Back on Track

Breathing in and out…sometimes this simple task really seems monumental. Suffice it to say that life has been crazy. We have had so much going on and I have been on an emotional roller-coaster. The very lowest of lows combined with some great highs, celebrating some of my favorite people; leading into some very high anxieties of work kicking off my first summer of orientation at State and a to-do list miles long. I am very much looking forward to a weekend at home with my two favorite little ladies, fun friends (and hopefully some sun). I’m hoping that downtime is on the horizon but I’m also a person incredibly cautious, perhaps even neurotic, about saying too much, too soon.

For us this week though, it’s really been about getting back on track. Brent and I sat down and went over all of our bills and the tracking of everything. Remember this is extreme budgeting after all. I am excited to say that we are almost done paying off another debt and we saved almost $300 last month! Definitely not something I could’ve done on my own and I have to give props to the whole family. A portion of this was in childcare, thank you Nana! Another portion was us continuing to keep our spending freeze strong. Taking the good with the bad my tight grocery list got a little out of hand with all of the travel and trips and preparation that goes into leaving the fam for a weekend but we still were able, at least for last month, to come out on top. Although we have not targeted a specific goal for our 1 year mark, progress is slowly being made and for me, baby steps are great and I couldn’t ask for more.

With love and tight wallets, until next time…

ox

Coming Together, Saying Goodbye

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Needless to say this weekend was not exactly my idea of fun however it was very memorable and provided much, much needed family togetherness. Here’s a recap of the good, the long, the funny, and the heart-filled events that were all in memory of my Dad.

Heading West  
My step-mom Jill and my niece Lexie (who is 4 as well) picked-up Madz and I on Thursday and we headed west, literally. For about 10 hrs we drove with every attempt to make it to Nashville, our mid-way point, that evening. We got close but didn’t fully make it. We stopped for the evening and picked up early Friday am to finish the first haul; finally arriving at my Aunt’s house in Lowell, Arkansas at about 8:00p. It was such a relief to arrive but no one could actually breathe easy, because our reason for being together wasn’t exactly gumdrops. All in all for the drive the girls did pretty well. We have to give them props for a trip that was about 18 hrs non-stop one way. Day one was actually really entertaining and kind of fun, but by the end of day 2 after more than 20 hrs in the car it was enough. Laughing was over, singing had stopped, little bunny fufu mysteriously “disappeared,” my eardrums were bleeding and the whining was over the top. I tried to explain to the girls why Jill and I were acting so awful but they would have none of it 😉

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Friday night was just about the wind-down and settle-in, which was nice. I had only ever been to Arkansas one other time when I was much younger so there were many family members I had never met so really getting to be with everyone was great. Saturday the focus of family continued with a fun trip to the lake and some much needed time outside, but only after some VIP business was taken care of. We all gathered on Saturday morning after a big wonderful brunch, to open “the box.” I.e. my dad. (this is very weird sounding btw) There is a saga that has happened with my Dad’s passing and it only continued. See, his biggest fear about being cremated was that his three crazy girls would want to “take a piece of him” put him in a necklace or set him on a shelf. So, after agreeing and promising to not “split him up” (his words not ours) we open “the box” and the funeral home actual did it instead [yes, feel free to roll with laughter] THEY SPLIT HIM UP! I’m not even kidding. He arrived in two containers. I was mortified.

For me, there was only one thing to do …yup, that’s it. My sister’s and I went on a mission to get a creative container large enough for the big man, with the even bigger heart and put him back together. Being the wonderful southern girls that we are we took to our family’s favorite place…Wal-Mart. [feel free to continue laughing] It was a bonding event, if nothing else; and truth be told it didn’t take very long to stumble upon the perfect “urn” an oversized mason jar that screamed my Dad; and in true Frugal Fowler Fashion it was priced at only $3.54, yes, Daddy would be so proud. Sooo, after a long and very entertaining, albeit, grotesque, story short, he didn’t fit. And we wound up making a tin can container with duct tape [yup, keep laughing]. We told ourselves it looked like an oil can which was perfect for the truck driver Dad, but seriously?? I have to tell you in hindsight this whole story makes me smile and I can hear him telling it around the kitchen table, shaking his foot, shooting a straight hand out and laughing saying “I swear” lol Seriously, we cannot make this stuff up. Even together NONE of us are this creative.

Father’s Day

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Sunday, was my Dad’s funeral, enough said. We had all dreaded it for months but it had to happen and it was rough, but it was beautiful. I had the honor of placing his remains, or as I explained to my four-year old Grandpa’s memories, into his final resting place. I’ve never felt more connected to my sisters and family. We all told stories and buried some of our favorite memorial pieces with him. For Madz and me, we placed some photos of the infamous Banana Cream Pie incident, as well as some family pics and a softball signed by all members of the last Little League team he coached. The music was perfect and we closed with his favorite song Freebird. All-in-all the service was as good as one can expect and even the weather held out, but there are two standout moments that will forever remain with me and of course neither was planned. The first, as we pulled into the private, family gravesite, my nephew said to my sister “mommy, heaven’s not that big.” I melted into tears. What a precious and innocent statement only from the mouth of a child; and the second, it was Dad’s birthday and at some point after the service had concluded we realized we needed to sing, so we gathered all of his grandchildren (all under the age of 6) and they sang Grandpa Mark Happy Birthday one last time.

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Happy Birthday and Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. We love you and you are missed. A hole remains in our present lives but you live in our hearts.

The Week Ahead

Well, to say I have been dreading this week is an understatement. I woke up this morning crying, what a way to start the day. Reason is we have my Dad’s dedication this coming weekend and so I will leave part way through the week to be with our family in Arkansas. Needless to say the looming cloud that has finally arrived is a bit unwelcome, to be honest it feels like I am sitting waiting on my Dad to die all over again but I hope that after all is said and done we will begin to start the healing process and somewhere within that find some peace to live with. To be honest, and a bit cynical, I don’t know how this is going to happen but I have faith and am told…it will.

Nevertheless I still have a family to take care of and a few days of work ahead; and summertime in my office is absolutely nuts, so I need to be present mentally as well as physically. My plan, to do what I do best, plan. I am starting tonight. We are continuing with our spending freeze and the budget is tight so I have to be sure that everything is prepped and ready for the fam while I am away. I married a man who can cook and is an active father so yes, Brent can and is perfectly capable of taking care of everything but he also works 6 days a week and as a good wife/mother I try to make things easy when I can. Day 1: House is cleaned, everyone has enough clean clothes, and all menu items have been carefully planned out. Tomorrow and Tuesday I will prep and make ahead all of the dinners and the sitter will be fully prepped for “while mommy is away.”

Although the timing is sentimental it also makes it a little hard with father’s day on Sunday. So I have a few tricks up my sleeve to be certain Daddy gets all the special treatment he deserves. I’ll post on this later in the week as I get ready to head out but for now I thought my tips for the plan ahead meals might be useful to the blogging-world to add to their pinning and facebooking of food, menus, and what I affectionately refer to as feeding my personal MOM-OD (My Obsessive Meal-planning and Organization Disorder: symptoms include too many calendars, highlighters, and list-dependence). I have recipes for everything so FB or PM me if you are interested.

Sunday: Breakfast for the week
Overnight Oatmeal in the slow cooker
Purpose: this will serve as a quick, HEALTHY, go to breakfast for the mornings when Daddy doesn’t have time for pancakes and is adhering to the wants and needs of a 14 yr old and a 12 yr old (oh sorry I mean 4 and almost 2) lol A quick reheat and all is well!
Price per serving approx $0.50

Monday: Essentials Shopping Trip
Milk, diapers, wipes, toothpaste, and ice cream
Purpose: By going on Monday my preferred store will be restocked without the lines or weekend craze. The milk won’t go bad within the week that I am gone, and B *shouldn’t have to run out for anything; and by keeping his favorite ice cream in the house his sanity may just be around when I return.

Tuesday: Dinner Prep
The plan is to make dinners for Thurs-Sun so that Daddy and/or the sitter can pop in whatever is on the menu without any prep needed.
-Turkey Chili
-Homemade White pizza with cheese and mushrooms
-Meatloaf and Veggies (don’t fooled I make a MEAN meatloaf)
-Pork Tacos with Corn and Cilantro
-Baked Fish and Rice
Purpose: To ensure that in the darkest moment(s) the local delivery guy doesn’t wind up making one, or multiple, trips to the house and of course that there is still some amount of nutrition going into those little ladies. Also there’s an extra meal as a “just in case.”

Wednesday: Father’s Day Surprise
The girls and I will work to get everything ready for Brent’s special breakfast. It has become a tradition that he gets homemade corned beef hash with poached eggs and toast. I don’t make it any other day of the year so I’ll prep everything and get up early to spoil him rotten 🙂
The purpose: Needs no further explanation lol

Thursday: Breakfast, work, and… Goodbye
An early am father’s day celebration and then final prep and plan review with all necessary parties. I have to work a bit in the am and then I’ll meet up with my step-mom and pack up for an 18-hr (one-way) trek. le sigh…

To avoid my thoughts I am now going back to planning…what have I missed??