Friday, July 30, 2010

Lazy Summer Saturdays, Tag Sales - and A Giveaway!!

***THE GIVEWAY IS NOW CLOSED (as of 8/12/10)***

I don't know if it's the same everywhere you go, but here in the Pioneer Valley, from May through September, Saturdays are the official "tag sale" day. Tag sale, garage sale, put-your-stuff-out-on-the-lawn-so-someone-will-take-it sale - whatever you want to call it - these events are huge in the summer months. On Thursdays, the signs start going up; Friday, the paper has a special section with the details about where there'll be sales and what goodies there are to be found; then come Saturday - it's game on.

On occasion, I like to puruse the offerings in my neighborhood. You never know what you'll find - be it a cool vintage (or vintage-inspired) bedroom vanity (I always loved watching my grandma sit at hers), gently loved cookbooks or paperbacks (can you ever have too many?) or a slot machine (seriously, I just saw an ad in the paper for a tag sale with a not 1 slot machine - but 2!).

Not only is it fun to poke around and see what new treasures you might find, it's always exciting to think you might be getting a real steal, like finding out what you thought was a Monet-inspired painting is really an original Monet! (OK, I know the likelihood is slim to none, but a girl can dream.)

Not everyone can enjoy the fun of tag-sale Saturday, but I've still got a deal for you. How about the chance to win a $70 gift certificate to shop at any of CSN's 200+ stores (like and Sounds pretty good, huh? Guess what - it gets even better: there's FREE Shipping in the U.S.!*

Personally, I'm coveting this ice cream maker:

Mr. ValleyWriter says we shouldn't have an ice cream maker at home because we'd be eating ice cream all the time. It's probably sound advice - and keeps me from buying one out of our joint account - but if I were to get a gift certificate for one... Well, then all bets would be off.

How about you? What would you put the $70 CSN gift certificate towards buying? Leave me a comment with your answer and you'll be entered to win. For extra chances:
1. Post a link to this contest on your blog (and leave me a comment telling me so).
2. Become a follower (and leave a comment telling me you've joined - or that you're already a follower).

No matter how you enter, be sure to either put your email address or a link back to your blog in the comments so I can contact you if you win.
Enter to win by midnight (Eastern daylight time) on August 12th. I'll draw the winner randomly on August 13th (so someone's Friday the 13th will be super lucky!) **THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED**

Good luck!

*Free shipping on most items. Canada folks - you're welcome to enter for the gift certificate, but you may have to pay shipping and other International fees.

Disclaimer: Although CSN has provided me the opportunity to give away a gift certificate to their site, I have not received any payment or compensation for my review and my opinions of CSN are my own.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

BBQ-rubbed chicken drumsticks & first-of-the-season corn on the cob

Over the last two weeks or so, I started seeing more and more "Native Corn" signs on my way home from work and I started to get excited. Valley corn is THE best in my opinion. It's sweet, it's juicy - it's perfect. But to do it justice, you really have to get it fresh and use it within a day or two. Picking up ears at the grocery store, when you have no idea how long they've been sitting there, simply will not do. It's taken me a few days to get corn on the menu, but finally tonight I got my act together and made it to our local farm in time to grab a few ears.

I decided to go really simple and serve it with BBQ-rubbed drumsticks. As I mentioned last post, one of my tricks to eating healthier, more organic, etc., is to buy things on sale. A lot of times, that also includes less popular cuts of meat. Boneless, skinless chicken breast seems to be the queen of chicken cuts these days. She goes for about $6/lb around these parts (that's for antibiotic-free, hormone-free, humanely treated chicken). But drumsticks and thighs? Always cheaper. Sometimes MUCH cheaper. This week - drumsticks were $1.49/lb. And drumsticks are perfect for grilling! They stay nice and juicy and they're very flavorful, even if you remove the skin.

BBQ Spice Rubbed Chicken Drumsticks

1 1/2 lbs. chicken drumsticks (leave the skin on for now; if you don't want to eat it, remove it after cooking)
2 tsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. ground mustard
1 Tbsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. celery seed
1/2 tsp. salt

In a zipper bag or glass bowl, toss chicken and olive oil. In a seperate small bowl, mix paprika, mustard, cayene, garlic powder, celery seed and salt. Add to chicken and toss to coat. Refrigerate at least 4 hours to let flavors penetrate chicken
Place drumsticks on grill set to medium heat. Turn drumsticks every 5-7 minutes, covering grill in between, for about 35 minutes until juices run clear (if you're using a meat thermometer, aim for 165-175 F).
Let sit about 5-10 minutes before serving (just enough time to boil a few ears of corn - yum!).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Eating well (and healthy) on a budget

I think there's a notion amongst many people that eating healthy food costs too much. By healthy, I mean eating lots of fruits and vegetables, buying organic whenever possible, eating humane, antibiotic-free meats, etc. This is how I try to eat, with some convenience foods thrown in on occaision, well, for convenience.

Because I've always heard the "too expensive" remarks, I've also thought I must spend way more on groceries than most. But I just did a breakdown that surprised me greatly. On average, I spend about $130 a week on groceries. That typically feeds 2 adults 19-20 meals (we usually 1-2 meals out, though sometimes that's just grabbing a coffee and a bagel one morning). So that works out to about $6.50 per meal. I definitely realize that's still a luxury for some, but in my book, that's not that bad.

Some of the ways I try to save are by stocking up when things are on sale. I'll either plan my menu based on sales or freeze things for later. Speaking of planning, I always plan my meals out for a full week, right before I go shopping, so I can, say , use 1/2 of the cabbage on Tuesday for tacos and the other 1/2 on Friday for coleslaw. I also try to eat things when they're in season. Strawberries in December are pricey - and not that good. I have no problem with buying frozen veggies, either, if they're a better deal. They're usually flash frozen with no salt or preservatives added, so what's the big deal if you were going to cook them anyway? (That's my thought at least.)

What are your thoughts? Do you think it's too expensive to eat healthy? If I may ask, how much do you spend on average per meal? Got any tips to share on how to save and still eat healthy?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Simple, But Delicious - Quick & Easy Coffee Cake

As I'm sure many have heard by now - it was one heck of a hot, muggy week last week in the Northeast. We are fortunate enough to have central air conditioning (a luxury in this neck of the woods where it's really only needed a couple of weeks a year) - but I'm still not keen on the idea of heating up the house more than I need to, so I've been grilling and a sticking to cold foods the last week. And of course, the entire time, I've been craving baked goods. Silly, I know. I think it's almost that - "you can't have it so you want it really badly" mentality.

Anyway - we finally got some rain yesterday which cooled things off a bit, so when I woke up to find it was "only" 70 degrees this morning, I decided I'd strike while the iron was hot (but not the house) - and make a quick coffee cake.

The great thing about this recipe is that it's simple, comes together quickly and uses ingredients that most people have on hand. The only thing I sometimes am missing is the sour cream, but yogurt also works - especially greek yogurt. From the time you start mixing to your first bite, you only need about an hour and 15 minutes, and the majority of that time is for baking. 

Quick & Easy Coffee Cake

1/2 c. butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. sour cream
1 Tbsp. vanilla
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder

1/3 c. white sugar
4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream together butter and 3/4 c. sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Then beat in sour cream and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda and powder. Add to liquid ingredients, beating on low speed just until combined.
In a small bowl, mix 1/3 c. white sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Grease and flour a bundt pan.
Sprinkle 2 Tbsp. of sugar & spice mixture on the bottom of the pan. Spoon in 1/2 of the cake batter. Sprinkle remaining sugar mixture over the batter. Top with remaining batter.
Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes until toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Let cool for at least 20 minutes. Then run a knife around the edge, place a plate over the opening of the bundt pan and flip over to release cake.
Grab your favorite cup o' joe and enjoy!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Do you like pina coladas?

If you like pina coladas - even if you're not big on getting caught in the rain (heh) - then you'll like this latest creation - pina colada pudding shots!
We'll be attending a Luau-themed party soon and people often bring tropical-inspired drinks (and food) to share. There were some creative jello shots last year that sounded like they might be good... but there was one little problem - I despise gelatin. So, I didn't partake.

This year, I decided to try to make my own pudding shot (pudding is fine - just that jiggly gelatin that gets me!). I thought pina colada would be fitting for the luau theme, but I couldn't find a recipe. No worries, I thought - I'm always up for experimentation! And experiment we have... Finally on round 3 we got it down (don't worry, no driving or blogging was done during the trials!). So, now we have...

Pina Colada Pudding Shots
(Makes about 16 1-ounce shots)

1 (3 oz) pkg. vanilla pudding
1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. cream of coconut
1/4 c. spiced rum
1/2 c. pineapple-flavored rum
8 oz. whipped cream

Beat pudding, milk, cream of coconut and rums together in a medium size bowl for about 2 minutes until the mixture is smooth and starts to thicken. Fold in whipped cream. Portion equally into individual cups (or any freezable container if you're just making them for yourself!). Freeze at least 4 hours until set. Keep in freezer until ready to serve.

Enjoy - responsibly!