Archives For Food and Drink

Last Saturday was Jack’s first birthday. It was kind of a big deal for us, obviously. First birthdays are definitely as much about the parents as they are the babies. That first year is so intense and emotional and demanding-marking the end of it is part sigh of relief, part mourning the tiny newborn that grew so fast, part celebration of the toddler your baby has become.

Anyway, we wanted to have a small party at our house with friends and family. We kept it simple with a cold lunch, cupcakes, and easy decorations (not pictured below: the cheese plate I forgot to pull out of the fridge until later). I used mostly white ceramic dishware I already had and scattered a bunch of tissue paper confetti around the table. I made things easy on myself with disposable plates and forks, but at least I opted for the recycled content plates for a few cents more.

simple first birthday

I covered the table with a canvas painter’s dropcloth (the same one that I keep folded up on the back of the couch in the playroom/office), and just tossed a tea towel over a cardboard box to make a little stand for the cupcakes. My sister cut off part of a foil muffin pan to make a little pedestal for the birthday boy’s cupcake to sit slightly above the rest.

easy cupcake stand

The only other decoration was this fun photo garland. I forgot to take a picture of it before the party but it was still up the next morning. I got a bunch of pictures printed at CVS and hung them up in chronological order with some clothespins and string. I actually printed 64 pictures total but only 24 went up on the garland. After the party I put them all into an album-I didn’t keep a baby book but this is almost as good. The album I bought* has enough space that I can do this for the next two years and by Jack’s third birthday I’ll have an album of his baby/toddler years from beginning to end (that’s the album sitting on the ledge there).

birthday photo timeline

Jack seemed to have a really good time visiting with all his baby friends, not to mention the doting grandparents. I think he knew it was his party.

simple first birthday (2)

simple first birthday (3)

My sister made the cupcakes-pineapple carrot cake topped with cream cheese frosting (and all of it sweetened with agave instead of sugar). I printed out the “1″ circle from here and glued it onto a bamboo skewer to make Jack’s cupcake a little extra special.

simple first birthday (4)

I’d say he was a fan! I was too. Those cupcakes were delicious for something so healthy. I’ll link to the recipe below.

simple first birthday (5)

Friends with older babies tipped us off that opening presents usually does not go well with a room full of toddlers, so we waited until there were just a few family members and close friends lingering and helping clean up before tearing into the gifts. By then the birthday boy had been stripped out of his cake-covered outfit and he and his two baby BFF’s had fun playing with his new toys. I made sure to jot down who gave us what so I could send a thank you note to all the folks who weren’t there to see us open their gifts.


My mom’s side of the family always gets together for the Fourth of July so we held off to celebrate with them on the holiday instead of asking them to drive over an hour for the party at our house. It was kind of up in the air yesterday what we were going to do because my grandpa was in the hospital, but my parents ended up hosting everyone at their house and we had so much fun. We took some time out from celebrating America to pull out an angel food cake with whipped cream and fruit and sing Jack happy birthday. I think he is really liking this birthday business-he gets to eat cake! He got some more cool toys and cute clothes and was spoiled with hugs and kisses and cuddles all around.


In case you’ve got a kids’ party of your own coming up and are at a loss for what to serve, here’s our menu:

  • Finger sandwiches (turkey, ham, roast beef, and egg salad on white and wheat bread). An electric knife borrowed from my sister made these easy to make ourselves and the egg salad (cheaper than lunch meat) helped stretch our budget while also providing an option for our friends who don’t eat meat.
  • Potato salad made by Nick’s mom
  • Guacamole with tortilla chips
  • Hummus with cut veggies (carrots, cucumber, celery, snap peas, and broccoli) and pita bread
  • Cubed cheddar, monterey jack, and pepper jack cheese
  • Fruit kabobs-chopped kiwi, strawberries, cantaloupe, and blueberries on bamboo skewers that I arranged in a glass cylinder vase
  • Carrot and pineapple cupcakes with cream cheese icing
  • Tea punch, soft drinks, beer, and ice water to drink

Altogether we spent about $150. Not bad, I think! Everything was going smoothly until half of the guests fell violently ill the next day. Apparently I was carrying some sort of stomach virus that I passed onto almost everybody through the food I’d lovingly prepared. At least one person from each family got sick on Sunday, and the rest of them caught it from each other in the following days. I felt so terrible! Next time I cook for a crowd I’ll be scrubbing my arms up to my elbows like a surgeon for fear of getting everyone sick again.

*affiliate link

save money on groceries

A few months ago I posted about my system for meal planning and grocery shopping. I only started taking over the cooking around New Years’ and since my post in January I’ve made a few tweaks. For one, the structured meal plan was not really sustainable. We needed more flexibility and so now I just have maybe a dozen meals that we rotate through depending on what we’re in the mood for. They all use the same basic ingredients so it’s easy to shop without knowing exactly what I’ll be cooking that week. Here are our favorites:

  • Real Life Chicken Dinners-I shared three of our go-to meals in this post
  • Pasta with meat sauce-season and brown a pound of ground beef, add a jar of pasta sauce (Albertson’s has a tasty one in the dollar aisle), and serve over whole wheat pasta
  • Beans and rice-I’ll cook a pound of dry kidney or lima beans with some onion, garlic, and sausage and serve over rice
  • Grilled cheese with tomato soup-this is easy to keep on hand as a quick backup meal
  • Breakfast for dinner-french toast, pancakes, or scrambled eggs
  • Shrimp-I buy bags of frozen Gulf shrimp when it’s on sale. We’ve been really happy with both this recipe (served with rice) and this one (using fresh tomatoes and basil from our yard)
  • Steak-I buy inexpensive steaks on sale and keep a few in the freezer at all times. I cook them up on the stovetop and serve them with in-season veggies

My cooking is not revolutionary. Where the magic actually happens is the grocery store. I usually spend between $50-$70 a week for our family of three (Jack eats as much as a big kid). I occasionally use coupons when I find one for something I actually need, but the biggest thing that helps me save is the simple step of planning my trip.

  • I only make groceries on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. This is because sale ads come out on Wednesday. Friday is actually the best day at my grocery store because that’s when they restock the shelves, plus they often have 3-day sales that start on Friday and run through the weekend.
  • I check the sale ad online before I go. If you only take one piece of advice from this post, let it be this one. The best sale items are often not marked in my store, and sometimes they even hide stuff! I often have to go to employees to ask about items that were advertised at a deep discount. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they just happen to not have any out on the shelves. Maybe they’re worried about their sales numbers or maybe the employees just want to stock up for themselves, I don’t know, but if you advertise extra large Gulf shrimp for $3/pound you can bet your britches I’m going to ask about it.
  • I only buy produce on sale. The sale ad makes this easy-it’s basically a visual guide to what produce is in season and available at your store. It doesn’t get any easier than that! The only exception to this rule are bananas and carrots, which are cheap all year and a favorite of Jack’s. Every week I buy bananas, maybe one or two other types of fruit and maybe one or two types of vegetables, just depending on what’s on sale, then work them into our meals throughout the week.
  • I freeze milk in small portions. If I can get milk on sale I buy extra and freeze it, but even If I can’t I usually pour half the gallon into a couple of glass jars and put them in the freezer. This saves us from having to buy a fresh gallon every week and from having milk go to waste because we don’t use it fast enough. I only buy milk maybe once or twice a month now but we always have it on hand for cereal and cooking.
  • I make a list before I go. I have a saved note on my phone of all the stuff I need to keep on hand. Every week I copy and paste it into a new note and stand in my kitchen deleting whatever we don’t need. Then I check the sale ad and type in anything that I want to buy on sale, including the advertised price so that if there’s a problem I know how much it’s supposed to cost without having to truck to the front of the store for a paper ad.

Here’s my comprehensive list:

Every week I buy:
Fruits and veggies on sale
Ground beef

This is what I keep on hand and check before leaving:
Garbanzo beans (to make hummus)
Black beans
Olive oil
Garlic powder
Wheat shells
Peanut butter
Tomato soup
Pasta sauce
Greek yogurt
American cheese
String cheese
Shredded cheddar
Parmesan cheese
Soy sauce
Worcester sauce
Frozen spinach (in a bag, not a box, so I can pull out a handful at a time to add to meals)
Frozen chicken/beef
Check list on fridge (the dry erase board where I jot down anything I notice we’re out of)
Paper towels
Cat litter
Cat food
Dog food
Trash bags, laundry and dishwasher detergent
Toilet paper

That’s it! Notice that distinctly lacking from that list is junk food. It’s expensive and bad for you so we just don’t keep it around. Instead we find ourselves reaching for string cheese, fruit, or oatmeal if we’re craving a snack. Also, we pretty much only drink water at home. We only get cokes when we eat out.

Speaking of eating out, Nick and I have tried time and again to cut back with limited success. We always try to go cold turkey and fall off the wagon within a week. What we’ve finally found that works for us is telling ourselves we can only eat out once a week and to save it for the weekend. It’s easier to stick to this plan because we can look forward to where we’ll go on Saturday instead of lamenting that we’ll never eat out again! We’ll even start planning where to eat as early as Wednesday, even if it’s just our favorite taco shop. This is great for both our wallets and our waistlines.

So there you have it, the grocery shopping technique that’s been serving me well for the last few months! I shop at Albertson’s, so your mileage may vary depending on where you shop (Walmart may be less, Whole Foods may be more). We’re getting a Trader Joe’s later this year and maybe I’ll make the switch! I definitely like having a regular grocery store where I do all my shopping-I’m familiar with everything from what store brand items are the best to which cashiers are the nicest. Do you have any tips for saving money on groceries without veering into extreme couponing territory?

Original image from here

Oh man. My two sponsors have some awesome stuff to share this month. So if you usually skip over these posts, don’t. First up, the Original Sponsor herself, Brandi from A Brandi Sized Shop. She’s got several items that would be totally adorable popped into a frame and hung as wall art.

abs melody of love (380x570)

Vintage Frameable Sheet Music - Melody Time - Vocal Edition by Tom Glazer & H. Engelmann

abs summertime (380x570)

Vintage Frameable Sheet Music - Summertime by Landon Ronald

abs two songs (380x570)

Vintage Frameable Sheet Music - Two Songs for Vocal and Piano by R. Huntington Woodman

abs postcard (380x570)

Vintage Postcard - Silver Springs Florida

She’s also got a couple of really charming old books for your bibliophiles out there.

abs emma (380x570)

Emma - Vintage 1950′s Paperback Riverside Edition

abs arabian nights (380x570)

Tales from the Arabian Nights - Vintage 1950′s Pocket Library Book

And last but not least, a vintage faux-leather camera bag that’s probably too small for a big DSLR but just right for using as a purse. My diaper bag is a similar color/material/style and I love that it goes with almost everything. I get lots of compliments on it.

abs camera bag (380x570)

Vintage Camera Bag

Next up, Michelle from the blog Dixie Lust. Michelle shares some serious southern eye candy on her blog. I was practically spellbound by her beautiful photos from one of my favorite places on earth, LSU’s campus.

dixie lust agapanthus (570x379)

dixie lust magnolia (570x379)

dixie lust stately oaks (570x379)

dixie lust quad (570x379)

dixie lust sun through the oaks (570x379)

Ahhhhh, memories. Even though we still live within walking distance of LSU I can’t remember the last time I did more than drive around the perimeter. Seeing these photos taken in the heart of campus makes me so nostalgic. I appreciated the beautiful surroundings every time I stepped onto campus as a student and I miss it now (though I don’t miss the homework!). You can see more photos here.

Michelle also does restaurant reviews and these two photos from restaurants in Lafayette, LA and Orange Beach, AL had me practically drooling.

dixie lust cobalt (570x379)


dixie lust brick & spoon (570x379)


It seems like I am always hearing people talk about how much they despise living here in Baton Rouge-it’s corrupt, polluted, bigoted, and boring-but it is so nice to see Michelle just totally embracing life in Louisiana and the South in general. I’m a “bloom where you’re planted” kinda gal and I think you can find beauty and wonder in any locale. You must be the change you wish to see in the world, right?

I can’t say thank you enough to Brandi and Michelle for sponsoring my blog. They both have such great stuff to share and I’m happy to partner with them. If you have a blog, etsy shop, or small business and are interested in becoming a blog sponsor you can check out all the details here. Thanks for reading, y’all! One more day til Friday!

I got this idea a while ago, but it’s taken me a while to actually execute it. Finally, yesterday, I made it happen. My idea was to copy a recipe in my grandmother’s handwriting to a tea towel, and I love love love the way it turned out.

Grandma Gulley (or Nanny, as we usually called her) had this recipe for Sour Cream Apple Pie that was my absolute fave. I used to make it every year for the holidays, but Nanny taught me to use canned apples and I can never find them in stores anymore (only apple pie filling, which is different). I tried peeling and dicing my own apples one year but it was a lot of work and I think the different texture of the fresh fruit threw things off. So anyway, my Nanny passed away in 2004 and I have a lot of things from her-her/my engagement ring, some costume jewelry, handbags, mixing bowls, etc. But one of my favorite things is the recipe card for sour cream apple pie that’s scanned and saved on my computer. Whenever I want to make some pie I just click click click and there’s the recipe in her handwriting.

To copy it onto a tea towel, I had to cut and paste some parts to make it more into a square shape, then I enlarged it to be just shy of 28″ wide and had it printed at Office Depot for $7. I just uploaded my file from home, paid online, and picked it up that afternoon. Easy peasy. When I was ready to trace it, I rolled it out and taped it flat onto the floor.

024 (570x380)

Then I taped down my 28″ square tea towel, which had already been washed, dried, and ironed. Cat optional for this phase of the project.

033 (380x570)

I decided to start at the bottom so as not to upset Pistachio, who was laying there so sweetly and not ruining everything like she usually does when I’m working on something. I just traced Nanny’s handwriting right onto the fabric using a Sharpie. I googled it ahead of time to make sure it would work and from what I understand the only risk is that it may fade a bit with washing, which is okay with me as that would just give it a more authentically old-fashioned look.

039 (570x380)

Bam. I knocked this one out quickly during Jack’s naptime. I find projects like this so relaxing!

043 (380x570)

To say I love it would be an understatement. My only regret is that I don’t have the perfect spot in my kitchen to do it justice. I may hang up a hook for it to just hang there and look pretty. And I suppose perhaps I could dry my hands on it too.

handwritten recipe tea towel

I’m totally inspired now to come up with more ideas for sharpies and tea towels. I mean, I’ve already got the sharpie, and tea towels are pretty inexpensive with a coupon at places like Hobby Lobby or Michael’s. How cute would two of these be as cafe curtains in a kitchen? The old-fashioned handwriting is really what makes it so charming. Nobody writes like that anymore, especially not me! My chicken scratch is barely legible.