Thursday, July 30, 2009

Homemade Version of Bertolli's "Oven Baked Meals"

A few nights ago neither of us felt much like cooking dinner - not a shock considering it's been kind of hot outside! Instead of going out to eat, we pulled something from the freezer: a Bertolli Oven Baked Lasagna dish (don't you just love toaster ovens?!).
We've had this dish once before and both enjoyed it very much. However, this time when I started thinking about it, I thought about what an enormous profit Bertolli is making from these meals and it just galled me!

If you've never had one of these meals, let me explain. The entire dish consists of two lasagna noodles filled with a ricotta cheese mixture, several cubes of marinara sauce, and a small plastic pouch containing about 1/4 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese. You put the lasagna and the marinara sauce in a baking dish, cover it, and let it bake for about 30 minutes or so. Then, you remove it from the oven, sprinkle the mozzarella on top and put it back in the oven until the cheese melts. Viola! Dinner is done. I mentioned to Kevin how easy it is to make lasagna roll-ups - which is basically what this dish is - and how inexpensive they would be to make at home. I said that I thought it would be a fun project to make these together, package them in meal-sized servings and put them in the freezer for later use, and he agreed.

Today I purchased all of the ingredients while I was out grocery shopping. This afternoon we spent about an hour or so getting the noodles and sauce cooked, creating the cheese mixture and making the roll-ups. In the Bertolli dinners, the marinara sauce has been frozen into small cubes - similar in size to a cube from an ice cube tray - which gave me an idea. After making the sauce, Kevin sprayed three ice cube trays with cooking spray and portioned it out into each cube. We put the ice cube trays and the individual lasagna roll-ups in the freezer. When they're both frozen, we'll portion the roll-ups and sauce into freezer bags, and add a snack-sized baggie of shredded parmesan. The next time we're too tired or it's too hot to cook and we're in the mood for Italian food, we can pull out our own homemade version of Oven Baked Meals and enjoy a very tasty, inexpensive homemade meal.

If you're thinking that there can't be enough of a money difference to go to the trouble of making your own, let me break it down for you. The Oven Baked Meals by Bertolli generally sell for about $7.99; if you're lucky, you can catch them on sale for $5.99, and sometimes you can even find a $1.00 off coupon. Therefore, you're looking at either $7.99 (not on sale, no coupon), or $6.99 (not on sale, but with a coupon), or $5.99 (on sale but no coupon), or $4.99 (on sale, AND a coupon). The meal is for two people making each individual serving $3.995, $3.495, $2.995, or $2.495 respectively. Our homemade version? We ended up with 17 individual servings, with a grand total of all ingredients of $10.63 or $0.625 per serving. That's a savings of $1.87 off the lowest possible price of the Bertolli version. WOW, that's an enormous difference!! Still think it's not worth a little effort? I didn't think so =)


This is what we'll be doing for the next couple of weekends - painting ... and lots of it!!

We think (fingers crossed, please!) that we will get the new house this Saturday. That means we have this weekend to paint and Kevin can work on it a bit more on Monday. I go back to work on Monday (please tell me: where did the month of July go?!) and Kevin leaves on Wednesday for Pittsburgh. I'll still have Fridays off, though, so I'll be painting like a mad woman - along with my mom-in-law (hi Vicky!) and (hopefully!) a few friends (ohhhh Bev and Ken...where are you?!) - until Kevin returns. Then he starts back to work on August 17th and we're planning on having the movers move the furniture in on Saturday the 22nd. WHEW! It's going to be a phenomenally busy couple of weeks!

We checked our paint supplies the other day and went to Home Depot to replenish what we needed; now all we have to do is buy the paint. (That's tomorrow's task.) We would have bought the paint when we were there the other day, but we wanted to go home and double check the paint swatches and make a final decision on what to buy. I'm glad we took that step; we were able to eliminate two colors by deciding they were similar enough to two other paint choices that we were already using, thereby eliminating the purchase of two more gallons of paint. Wow, look at that - we've saved money already! ;o)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Perfect Summer Breakfast

Mmmmm ... fresh blueberries! You can taste the warm summer sunshine in every single bite. Those sweet, delicious berries just explode in your mouth. Definitely summer at it's finest.

One of our local stores has fresh blueberries on sale for just 88 cents per pint. Such a great deal!! Needless to say we stocked up and our freezer is now home to numerous pints of fresh blueberries. The frozen blueberries will be a delicious treat in the middle of winter when fresh blueberries are but a memory. But ... what shall we do with them now, while they're still fresh?

Blueberry pancakes, of course!! This morning I made a wonderful breakfast of fresh lemon, blueberry pancakes. They were absolutely delicious! Kevin and I both agreed: this recipe is definitely a keeper.

Lemon Blueberry Pancakes

2 eggs
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 - 2 1/2 cups lowfat buttermilk (amount depends on desired batter consistency)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cups all purpose flour
dash of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 pint fresh blueberries
powdered sugar for garnish
warm berry compote for topping (if desired)

Crack eggs into mixing bowl; beat lightly until lemon colored. Add vegetable oil, buttermilk, lemon zest, lemon juice and granulated sugar; mix well. Add flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Mix well. Spoon batter onto non-stick griddle. Add fresh blueberries to each pancake. When pancakes are bubbly, flip gently. Pancakes are done when golden brown on each side. Plate pancakes and top with a few fresh blueberries and a pinch of powdered sugar for garnish. Serve with warm berry compote to top pancakes. Enjoy!

Ventura Highway... in the sunnnnnnnnnnshine

Saturday. Get-away day in L.A. We thought we'd take a nice lazy drive up the coast to one of our favorite little coastal towns, Ventura. Unfortunately, everyone in L.A. had the same idea! A trip that normally takes about an hour and fifteen or twenty minutes, turned into a two and a half hour nightmare. Okay, it wasn't a nightmare, per se, but still ... the traffic wasn't pretty. But I suppose that's to be expected when the temperature at the coast is a delightful 75 degrees, while the temperature in land soars to a hellish 105 degrees. Who in their right mind wouldn't want to escape to the coast?

One of our main reasons for heading to Ventura - over and above the weather - is always for ... BBQ! Several years back we made a wonderful discovery: a small hole-in-the-wall-don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it BBQ place. (Don't worry if you think you won't be able to find it ... just follow your nose!) They have THE most tender, delicious smoked meats you could ever sink your teeth into. While we've always enjoyed a sandwich while we're there, several trips ago we decided that we wanted to indulge in this delightful treat more than just every great once in a while, so we wised up ... now we bring a large cooler with us! In addition to satisfying our 'right now!' need for BBQ, we brought home two pounds of pulled pork, two pounds of tri-tip, two half slabs of ribs, two pounds of scraps for the Slips (only $1.00 per pound!), and two bottles of their phenomenally delicious sauce. Ahhhhh, sheer delight! We packaged everything when we got home and stashed it in the freezer. I see many delicious meals ahead of us!

Another Ventura indulgence is their many antique and thrift stores. Out of all of the stores there on Main Street, I take sheer joy in visiting my two favorites: Nicholby's and American Home Antiques and Vintage. Nicholby's has been there forever. It's actually an antique mall with countless vendors within. It never ceases to amaze me to walk through the narrow aisles and poke my head into each and every little nook and cranny; you just never know what you'll find there. I can't tell you how many fun and unique gifts I've found there over the years. American Home is also an antique mall with various vendors, albeit on a much smaller scale. As we were walking through yesterday, my ever patient Kevin uttered aloud, 'This is definitely a Ranny store.' No truer words were ever spoken! It never fails - I always find a treasure or two to bring home from this store. Yesterday was no exception. The bathroom of our new house is very vintage 50's; it somewhat small, but very charming. It has a pedestal sink and the original aqua and white tile (in great shape!) in the tub -- plus a small tiled ledge at the end of the tub. That little ledge will be just perfect for a plant or two and lots of candles! To match the theme of the bathroom, I painted our bathroom etagere - which, in it's current state is a dark tan - a soft, creamy white to match the new bathroom. While at American Home yesterday, I found a treasure trove of goodies that will blend with this clean, vintage look very nicely. I can hardly wait to show them to you once we're in our new home!

Our final stop in Ventura was McConnell's ice cream shop. Ohhhhh man! If you're an ice cream lover (and who isn't?!), this is the place for you! Years ago I discovered McConnell's ice cream when Deb and I ran across a scoop shop in Woodland Hills. The ice cream was so delicious, I nearly swooned! Just after the initial discovery, I found a local store that carried this decadent treat in their freezer case. YAHOO! Alas, it was not meant to be -- they stopped carrying the ice cream a short time later and I haven't seen it since ... until yesterday. As we exited the freeway on Main in Ventura and began to drive down the street, the green awning caught our eye. There it was - in big as you please white lettering: McConnell's Fine Ice Cream and Yogurt. We both nearly squealed with delight! Though Kevin had never actually had the pleasure of tasting this amazing treat, countless times I've described it - in great detail - to him. So much so that he could barely contain himself when we found the shop! As we were driving out of town, we made McConnell's our final stop in Ventura. I'll say this: it's been at least nine years since I had the pleasure of enjoying this delicious ice cream; I'm pleased to announce that, enjoying it again yesterday, well - it was worth every moment of the wait!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Who Doesn't Love a Free Movie?

I know we do! I opened an account for us at Redbox, and free movies are now in our future. (Well, actually one is now in our past as we watched it last night =) When you sign up, they send a free movie code to your email address so that you can watch a free movie right away. Then, once a month they send you codes for free movies. And, if you're internet savvy, you can look around at different websites and find more Redbox free movie codes.

Again I ask you, who doesn't love free movies?!

The Sky is the Limit

Yesterday Kevin and I headed over to the Griffith Observatory. What a cool place! Neither of us had ever been there before and I'm so glad we went. There were all sort of interesting things inside, among them a Foucault pendulum (a device that demonstrates the rotation of the earth), a camera obscura, information on the solar system and how to observe the planets and the stars in general - and then more specifically, in California, information on time - specifically day/night, seasons and tides. So much cool stuff here!! If you're in the area, you should definitely plan a stop at the Observatory. Need another reason? It's free! All of this and a phenomenal view to boot! (of course it was a bit hazy yesterday - the view would be much better on a clear day.)

Never heard of the Griffith Observatory? Maybe not, but you may have seen it ... inadvertently. If you've ever seen the James Dean movie 'Rebel Without a Cause', you've seen the Observatory. One of the crucial scenes of the movie takes place on the Observatory grounds, high above the city of L.A.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Frugal Fe$tival!

If you live in or around the L.A. area and you're looking for something fun to do on Sunday, why not check out the Frugal Fe$tival? Kevin and I are going to go for a little bit - hopefully it won't be too hot! It sounds like fun. Hope to see you there!

My Fellow Americans...

Yesterday Kevin and I went to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Birth Place in Yorba Linda. It's really a beautiful place - and very interesting!

We both remarked on how lucky we are to live in such close proximity to TWO presidential libraries! (Ronald Reagan being the second library.)

The Nixon Library contains all sorts of fascinating memorabilia from the Nixon elections - from his California Representative and Senator days all the way on up through his Presidential campaigns. There is, of course, a section of the Library dedicated to the Watergate scandal (in fact, it's being expanded at this time and will house even more information), an area called the World Leaders Room (kinda creepy, actually -- life-sized 'bronzed' statues of the Heads of State that Nixon worked with such as Golda Meir, Anwar el-Sedat, and Nikita Khrushchev. Neither of us could put our fingers on it, but there was definitely something very sinister about this room ...), and they even had the Marine 1 helicopter that shuttled Nixon away from the White House after his resignation.

It's actually a beautiful place. The rose garden is beyond amazing, plus there is a gorgeous reflecting pool on the grounds. And the gazebo that Tricia Nixon Cox was married in on the White House grounds is on loan to the Library from the White House! In addition to the house that President Nixon was born in (it's absolutely darling!), the grounds are also the final resting place for President and First Lady Nixon.

All in all, it was a fun place to visit and, if you're ever in the area, I'd definitely suggest the Library as a 'must see' attraction. Oh yeah and ... if you have an Auto Club card, show it to them and you'll receive $1.00 off of the $9.95 admission price! Here are a few pictures of the Library and grounds:
(See what I mean? Kinda creepy!)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

We Did It!!

We found an adorable house for rent, signed the papers and will begin 'moving' around August 1st.

I say 'moving' because we won't actually move anything in at first. We will be painting everything before we move in. Because the current house is in foreclosure, we have 90 days in which to vacate and, as an added bonus, we're not paying rent here any longer. YAY! That allows us to not have to rush into the new place. We can take our time - paint all of the rooms while they're empty of furniture, decide where each piece will go when it's moved ... and then move our furniture in and begin to unpack.

Though we will be out of this house and into our new home by middle of August, our goal is to have everything completely finished -- everything unpacked and placed in it's new spot, pictures hung, etc. -- by the end of September. It's a bit of a lofty goal, but I think we can manage it. Once we put our minds to it, Kevin and I can accomplish anything. We're quite a team =)

The house is perfect for us. It's close to where we are now, albeit in a better neighborhood. It's about a half mile north of where we are now (we call it the 'high rent district' -- and it is, but our new landlords set the rent very reasonable because they, in turn, know they are getting good tenants), closer to the beautiful foothills that we love so much. As the current house is, the new one is north facing so we have a wonderful view of the mountains. It's an older 'original' ranch-style home. The original in quotes because ... well, it is. It was built in 1953 - when ranch-style houses were the latest trend. Anything after that era is a copycat. To that end, this home has many, many charming details that I adore about older homes.

We sort of lucked into this house. I happened to call a property management place to see if they had any rentals; as luck would have it, the woman I first spoke with - Rosemary - was so kind and helpful. She sent us a listing of things, but happened to mention that there would be a property coming on the market the following week that may just fit our needs perfectly. Her partner in the office was the listing agent. We worked together with both of them and they couldn't have been more wonderful! They visited our current location to see how we live and have maintained this house so nicely. Rosemary said it was then easy to go to the landlords and 'sell' us as tenants. We were able to view the property before the current tenants had even moved out -- and the house never even hit the market. It was ours! YAHOO!!

I look forward to sharing with you lots of before and after photos of the new place in the coming weeks. It's so exciting!! We get to start from scratch - fresh paint; perfectly organized cupboards, cabinets and closets; a new yard in which to work floral and fauna magic. We are rarin' to go and can hardly wait!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What You Can Do When You Don't Know What to Do...

It's odd; I feel as if my hands are tied. Normally during this month off, I would be working on gift crafts and doing little cleaning and organizing projects around my house. This year, however, is not 'normal'. At least not in that sense anyway. First of all, this isn't our home anymore; we're still sleeping here, but so many of our things are packed it's definitely not feeling like 'home'. And, with so many things packed, it's difficult to pull things out - such as craft supplies. Besides...that would just be one more thing we'd have to pack!

Tomorrow we have an appointment to look at a new house. It sounds promising and we're hoping that we like what we see! In the meantime, here are some things you can do when you don't know what to do:

1. Mend clothes.
2. Do laundry.
3. Iron clothes (though this does seem a bit chancy since they'll probably get wrinkled when we move anyway...)
4. Buy a new 19-month planner and enter important dates, deadlines, chores, etc.
5. Download songs to your iPod.
6. Work on writing menu planning cards that include necessary ingredients to have on hand for the menu.
7. Read a year's worth of Sunset magazines (courtesy of the library).
8. Copy the 'Day Trips' pages of the Sunset magazines before returning them to the library.
9. Knit.
10.Pack more boxes (which I'm hesitant to do until we know for sure when we will be moving).
11.Look for cheap summer entertainment.
12.Read: magazines, newspapers, soup can labels, bath product labels, cleaning product labels, get the idea. (all of our books are already packed.)
13.Clean things that we'll be moving with us (such as the toaster oven, microwave, etc.).
14.Wash and clean out the car.
15.Dream about the time when you're settled back into your routine...and hope that the time will come soon!
17.Read other blogs.
18.Talk to family on the phone.
19.Go through paperwork drawers and purge.
20.Continue to look for a new house (hopefully this will be crossed off the list tomorrow!!)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sparkle & Twang

Today we went to the Autry Museum. If you've never been there, I highly recommend it! Especially the second Tuesday of every month ... because that's when it's FREE!!

Among other things, there was a really cool exhibit called 'Sparkle & Twang' - about (what else?) country music. It was so cool! Unfortunately, they don't allow flash photography - otherwise I'd share some of the most wild and elaborate country music costumes with you. Anyway, it's well worth the look if you have the chance to check out the museum - or if the same exhibit shows up a museum near you. Fun, fun!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cheap Summer Fun

Though we've been pounding the pavement searching for a new home (we think we may have a lead on a great place; keep your fingers crossed!), we've decided that we also have to sneak in a little fun here and there. Oh and, the cheaper, the better!

With that in mind, we headed out today in search of some cheap summer fun. We were not disappointed! First, we headed off to our new town library. It's absolutely beautiful! So much larger and more 'up to date' than the old library. It was fun perusing and getting familiar with the new layout. Kevin ended up finding a great book about writing and I checked out a year's worth of Sunset magazine. Cool! Lots of new fun ideas and recipes at literally no cost!

Next, we headed over to McDonalds for our FREE iced mocha. YUM! The perfect treat for a hot summer day.
Who says you have to spend money to have fun?

Welcome, Fellow Blogger!

Kevin has decided to try his hand at blogging! Welcome, honey! We're glad to have you on board. Check out his new blog .

Menu Plan Monday

I just discovered the most wonderful site! Head on over to and check out her site. She does 'Menu Plan Monday' - and, since I need to jump back on the bandwagon with my meal planning, this is the perfect inspiration for me!

This will be the first time I've participated at her site, but definitely not the first time I've written a meal plan. I've been doing this for about 4 years now and it certainly makes my life a bit easier. Here's something ironic, though: when my life gets a bit harried as it is right now, the first thing out the door is menu planning. The reality of it is, menu planning is something I need to work in at all costs -- just because it's makes things simpler! Go figure. Anyway, here's my first round for 'Menu Plan Monday':

Breakfast choices: cold cereal, fruit smoothies and toast, cream of wheat, oatmeal, scrambled eggs

Lunch choices: sandwiches (either lunchmeat, egg salad or PB&J), soup, dinner leftovers

Dinner plans: Monday 7/13 - grilled steak, corn on the cob, green salad
Tuesday 7/14 - marinated grilled chicken tenders, grilled veggies, rice
Wednesday 7/15 - chicken sausage and cheese ravioli with fresh homemeade pesto, garlic bread
Thursday 7/16 - daytrip: Old Town Temecula - grab a bite out
Friday 7/17 - Thai peanut chicken over noodles
Saturday 7/18 - hotdogs, peanuts and frozen lemonade (BYO - Dodger game)
Sunday 7/19 - marinated grilled turkey tenderloin, pasta salad, grilled corn on the cob

Friday, July 10, 2009

Yep, This is Our Life...

You see, it looks very pretty. Nice and calm. Lots of sparkly lights.
But suddenly, someone starts it up and it starts to look like this ... Still pretty. Still lots of sparkly lights. But, uh, a bit out of control, right?

Last week on Kevin's first day of vacation, we had a knock at the door. It was a realtor - someone we've never met - and she kindly informed us that our landlord, did indeed go into foreclosure and the bank now owns the house in which we live. Um - huh? Didn't our landlord just tell us at the beginning of May that he'd renegotiated the terms of the loan and he still owned it? That we no longer had anything to worry about? I'm sure those were his words. In fact, he uttered those same words just the week before last when I asked him how everything was going with the house. Even still, Kevin called him the night the realtor came to the door and he still swore up and down that 'everything is just fine'. Wow. I think he's living in a parallel universe because all is NOT fine in this neck of the woods.

Truth be told, I kind of had it in the back of my mind that this may happen. Afterall, he hasn't been honest with us about much else, why would this be any different?

Oh well, no matter. What's done is done and now we're off looking for a new home to rent. We're both still convinced that we're not ready to buy anything yet, so it's off to look for a nice home to rent. We've looked at several things and thought we'd found the perfect house. However, apparently the landlord chose another couple instead. But we're strong. We have faith that that 'perfect' home is waiting for us just around the next corner. Besides, the reality of it is, as long as we're together, wherever we are is home. Wish us luck!