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Monday, January 28, 2013

Super Bowl Party (Football Parties) ~ Appetizers

Mini Football Subs
You can expect a high number of interceptions when you pass these individual-size meatball sandwiches during halftime festivities.What you'll need:
Spaghetti sauce
Shredded Cheese
Individual-size rolls
To make a batch, first prepare your favorite meatball recipe, shaping each meatball into a mini football before cooking. Once they're cooked, add the meatballs to a skillet of spaghetti sauce and warm them through. For each sub, cut a V-shaped notch from the top of an individual-size roll, place a meatball in the roll, and top with cheese shred laces. Finally, get the sandwiches in a huddle on a cookie sheet and place them in a warm oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese.

Down...Set...7-Layer DIP!
This fun Football 7 Layer Dip is fun food!What you need: (layering)
lettuce on the bottom
shredded cheese
sour cream
refried beans (mixed with a package of taco seasoning)
Pipe the sour cream on the top to make the laces.Use a football bowl, or you could just use a round plate and shape a football on that. Just put the shredded lettuce around it and that would look just as good!

Spicy-Sweet Football Deviled Eggs
Chutney and ground red pepper add a little kick to these football day stuffed eggs. You'll get extra points when you arrange fresh chives to resemble the laces on a football. What you need:
1 dozen hard-cooked eggs, peeled $
1/2 cup mayonnaise $
3 tablespoons mango chutney
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
Kosher salt to taste
Garnish: sliced fresh chives
Cut eggs in half lengthwise; carefully remove yolks. Mash yolks; stir in mayonnaise, chutney, and red pepper until blended. Spoon yolk mixture evenly into egg white halves. Sprinkle evenly with desired amount of salt. Garnish, if desired. Chill until ready to serve.

Touchdown Meatloaf
What you need:
1 pound ground beef
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (from about 1 slice sandwich bread)
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 small carrot, peeled and finely grated
1 teaspoon salt
1 small zucchini, finely grated
Ketchup, for decoration
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 large white onion, for decoration
1 egg
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and lightly grease a baking sheet. Using your hands, combine all ingredients except ketchup and white onion in a large bowl and mix well. Place the mixture on the baking sheet and mold it into a football shape, making sure to pat down the middle so it’s no thicker than the edges. Bake 50 to 60 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees F. Remove the meatloaf from the oven and spoon a few tablespoons ketchup in the center to make a base for the football’s “laces.” Slice a thick ring from the center of the white onion, peel off a strand to form the anchor of the lacing and lay the piece over the ketchup. Then cut shorter pieces of white onion to make the lacing’s crosshatches. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Football Fare
Score points this season with two winning recipes: A hearty chili and grilled cheese footballs. What you'll need:
Your Favorite Chili
Cheese (your family's favorite)
Pumpernickel or wheat bread
Warm a lightly greased griddle over medium heat. Sandwich slices of your favorite cheese between pumpernickel or wheat bread. Then use a cookie cutter or butter knife to cut the sandwiches into football shapes. Grill the sandwiches on one side until browned. Then flip and continue to grill until the other side browns and the cheese begins to melt. Garnish with cheese or mustard "laces" and serve while warm.

Kickoff Pizza
What You Need:
19 slices OSCAR MAYER Pepperoni
1 frozen cheese pizza (12 inch)
1 KRAFT Singles, cut into strips
To make arrange pepperoni slices in football shape on top of pizza. Bake pizza as directed on package. Arrange singles strips on center of pepperoni for the football lacings.

Chili Football Bread
Zesty goodness into football-shaped bread as a Super Bowl snack. Actually, this delicious chili recipe could be used as a chip dip or served as is invidiually in the football bread bowl.What you need:
1st Mixture
1 TBS Mild Bills Onion Granules
1 TBS Mild Bills Garlic Granules
1 TBS Beef Granules
1 TBS Chicken Granules
1 TBS Mild Bills San Antonio Original Chili Power
1 TBS Mexene Chili Power
1/8 tsp Salt
2 Dashes Louisiana Hot Sauce
2nd Mixture
1 tsp Garlic Granules
1 TBS Cumin Mild Bills
1 Package Sazon Goya
1 TBS Cowtown Light Chili Power Mild Bills
1 TBS Mexene Chili Power
1/8 tsp Cayenne Pepper
2 Dashes Louisiana Hot Sauce
Brown 2 lbs of Chili Grind drain off grease add 1 can beef broth, ½ can chicken broth, and add 1 ½ cans of tomato sauce. Bring up to a boil and then reduce heat to a slow simmer for 40 min. Add 1st Dump and simmer for 40 min. then add 2nd Dump cook on low heat for 25 min. Taste you may have to add salt and if it’s too hot, add 1/8 tsp brown sugar if needed.

Football Bites
What you need:
favorite crackers
summer sausage, sliced thin (about 1/8″ thick)
block of cheddar cheese, sliced very thin (about 1/8″ thick)
ranch dressing
On a sturdy cutting board, use the aluminum can (or cookie cutter) to shape the cheddar and summer sausage pieces into individual “football” shapes. (See photo above.) Then assemble the football “bites”, by layering cheddar and summer sausage atop the crackers.Finally, pour some ranch dressing into a Ziplock bag, and then use scissors to snip a very small triangle from one of the bottom corners. Pipe the dressing onto the cheddar to complete the football bites.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Super Bowl Party (Football Parties) ~ Sweet Treats

Yummy Football Rice Crispy Treat
Huddle together to make this fun recipe for the big game. The football shapes are easy for little hands to mold.What you need:
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 package (10 oz., about 40) regular marshmallows
4 cups miniature marshmallows
1/2 cup peanut butter
6 cups Kellogg's® Cocoa Krispies® cereal
Canned frosting or decorating gel
Why use Kellogg's® Rice Krispies®?
In large saucepan melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat. Stir in peanut butter until melted. Add KELLOGG'S RICE KRISPIES cereal. Stir until well coated. Cool slightly. Using buttered hands shape mixture into sixteen 3-inch footballs. Decorate with frosting. Best if served the same day. Note:For best results, use fresh marshmallows.1 jar (7 oz.) marshmallow creme can be substituted for marshmallows.

Football Cupcake Pull Apart Cake
What you need:
1 box Betty Crocker® SuperMoist® yellow cake mix
Water, vegetable oil and eggs called for on cake mix box
2 containers (1 lb each) Betty Crocker® Rich & Creamy chocolate frosting
½ cup candy-coated chocolate candies
1 tube (4.25 oz) Betty Crocker® white decorating icing
Heat oven to 375°F (350°F for dark or nonstick pans). Place paper baking cup in each of 24 regular-size muffin cups. Make cake batter as directed on cake mix box. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups (about 2/3 full). Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes; remove from pans to cooling racks. Cool completely, about 30 minutes. Spoon frosting into decorating bag with large star tip (size #5). Arrange cupcakes in football shape using 15 of the 24 cupcakes. Pipe thick lines of frosting over football-cupcake shape. Using spatula, spread frosting over cupcakes. Pipe decorative border of chocolate frosting around edge of football. Sprinkle decorative border with candy-coated chocolate candies. Pipe laces with white icing. Frost and decorate remaining cupcakes as desired, and serve alongside football.

Hand-Dipped Football Strawberries
What food could be better for a football party than gourmet dipped strawberries decorated like footballs? Each sweet strawberry is hand dipped and decorated with white stitches simulating the gridiron pigskin. Send these to your favorite football enthusiast or order them to arrive for your football halftime party. Either way they will be remembered like a famous touchdown.

Touchdown Treat: Football Cupcake
Score major points with these easy-to-make football cupcakes.What you'll need:
A cooled cupcake (baked from your favorite recipe)
Green and white frosting
Fruit leather
Pretzel stick
Chocolate-covered almond
Frost a cooled cupcake (baked from your favorite recipe) with green frosting, then mark the yard lines with white decorators' gel. For a pennant, wrap a fruit leather triangle around a pretzel stick and plant it in the field as shown.
Set a chocolate-covered almond or brown almond M&M football topped with white decorators' gel laces on the field, and you're sure to score points with your favorite sports fans.

Touchdown Brownies
What you need:
1 box (1 lb 6.5 oz) Betty Crocker® Original Supreme brownie mix (with chocolate syrup pouch)
Water, vegetable oil and eggs called for on brownie mix box
Betty Crocker® white decorating icing (from 4.25-oz tube)
Heat oven to 350°F. Line 13x9-inch pan with foil so foil extends about 2 inches over short sides of pan. Grease bottom only of foil with cooking spray or shortening.Make and bake brownie mix as directed on box for 13x9-inch pan, using water, oil and eggs. Cool completely, about 1 hour.Remove brownies from pan by lifting foil; peel foil from sides of brownies. Cut brownies with 3 1/2x2-inch football-shaped cookie cutter. Pipe on decorating icing to look like football laces.

Watermelon Football Helmet
Using a round watermelon, slice off a piece approximately 4 inches down on the stem end. Set cut piece aside to use later for mouth guard. Make a curved cut from one side of the melon to the other to cut out the face portion of the helmet. Hollow out the entire melon. Take the piece that was set aside in step #1 and place cut side down. Place knife at the center of stem end and cut in half. Take one half of cut piece and draw mouth guard grid with a sharp pencil or thin marker as shown in picture. Remove flesh and using a small knife, cut out grid design. To assemble, place mouth piece on a plate. Place the helmet piece on top, pushing the mouthpiece ends towards the inside of the helmet. You may need to carve a little out of the helmet ends to fit the mouth grid comfortably. Fill with fruit salad.

Football Cake Pops
What you need (for about 50 football pops):
1 box of chocolate cake mix
other ingredients needed to bake the cake (usually eggs and oil)
1 can of chocolate frosting
1 bag of chocolate candy melts
microwave-safe container for melting chocolate
shortening/ Crisco
4" paper lollipop sticks
a big styrofoam block
candy writer decorating pens
Bake the cake in a 9 x 13" pan according to the directions on the box.Let the cake cool completely.Crumble the cake into a large bowl.The smaller the crumbles the better.Mix in about half the jar of room temp frosting. It really depends on how moist your cake already is. Add more if you need it. Use the back of a wooden spoon to combine, NOT a hand mixer. You want the mixture to be about the same consistency as cookie dough, moldable but not mushy, able to hold its own shape but not too dry.Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Scoop some "dough" and roll it into a ball about 1" in diameter. Squash and mold your ball into a football shape.Fill up the sheet and chill in the fridge.While the footballs chill, heat up half a bag of the chocolate candy melts. Microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring between.Be careful not to over-microwave it because it will get dried out.DON'T add water if this happens. Use the shortening.
It will thin the candy out and also help when you start dipping.Pull your footballs out of the fridge. Dip the end of a lollipop stick about a 1/2" into the candy. Then stick it into the football. There should be a little puddle of candy
around the base. Wait until it hardens. This will help keep the football "glued" to the stick while you dip the whole thing.Dip the footballs in the candy to coat them, tap the stick on the edge of your container gently to remove the excess coating. Then poke the stick into the styrofoam block, making sure the pops don't touch each other while they dry.In the meantime, you can heat up your candy pens. Follow the instructions specific to your pens...usually you set them in some very hot but not boiling water.Draw on the laces with the white pen.Use slow movements and even pressure. Lay the pops down on a wax-covered baking sheet to make decorating easier.Let the laces dry.

Touchdown Treat Football Cookies
Everyone on your team will want to be eligible receivers for these winning football-player cookies.What you'll need:
Large, soft cookies (we used Archway oatmeal cookies)
Food coloring
M&M's Minis
Black decorator gel
Black licorice
To make each one, first spread a thin layer of frosting on a large, soft cookie. Cut a square from a second cookie to create a helmet shape and set it atop the first. Coat the helmet with frosting tinted the color of your family's favorite team, then add eyes (M&M's Minis with black decorators' gel dots), a black string licorice face mask, and 2 more M&M's Minis for the helmet's ear holes.

Football Whoopie Pies
What you need:
1 cup butter, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup baking cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 cups marshmallow creme
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with water and buttermilk, beating well after each addition.
Drop by tablespoonfuls 2 in. apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 375° for 5-7 minutes or until set. Remove to wire racks to cool completely. In a small bowl, beat filling ingredients until fluffy. Spread on the bottoms of half of the cookies; top with remaining cookies. Yield: 1-1/2 dozen.

The key here is finding a mini egg shaped pan. Make the batter according to the recipe then scoop them into your well-greased pan – nearly full, with tops as smooth as you can get ‘em. 18 minutes at 350, you might want to start checking them around 16 – 18 minutes – they’re done when a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cake comes out clean.To fill and decorate them, cut each cake in half and gently brush off any large crumbs. Put a big dollop of crème on the bottom half (enough to scare you a little bit) then put the top on and gently push down. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect – you can clean around the edge with a butter knife and make it pretty.Use a pasty bag with a small round tip to pipe on the laces.You can use a toothpick to fix the lines.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Fun Valentine's Day Ideas For Your Kiddos Parties

Mad Love
Mad Libs, with their elements of nonsense and the occasional (and purely accidental, we're sure) off-color joke, are a perennial hit with kids.What you'll need:
a Mad Libs page
origami paper
red paper
hole punch
scissors (an adult's job)
For each card, roll up one Mad Libs page, then roll a piece of origami paper (ours are 3 inches square) around it. Secure the roll with a length of yarn and tie it. For the tag, cut out a paper heart and punch a hole in it. Write a message on the heart, then tie it to the scroll.

An Eye For You
What you'll need
Craft or scrapbook paper
Fine-tipped markers (black and brown)
White craft paint and small paintbrush
Glue stick
4- by 7-inch piece of white or off white cardstock for the card face
7½- by 9-inch piece of colored cardstock folded in half for the card
Use a shape of your choosing and cut out pieces from varied colors of paper. Use the black marker to draw a round pupil on the center of the iris. Glue the iris and the green eyelid atop the eye. Then add a “glint” by using the tip of a toothpick to apply a tiny dab of white craft paint to the upper iris. Next, brush a thin coat of white paint on the horns at the top of the green body shape. Once the paint is dry (it won’t take long), use a brown marker to darken the edges and tips of the horns. Use a black marker to draw on a grin line, using the template piece as reference for the shape and placement. Glue the assembled eye in place at the top of the body. Glue the card face onto the card. To finish the valentine, cut out the greeting words from the template and glue them above the image, arranging them however you like. Or, simply print on your own greeting.

All Aquiver
These arrows from Cupid's quiver may not have any supernatural effects, but that doesn't make them any less fun to share.What you'll need:
pretzel sticks
heart-shaped gumdrops
cellophane bags
card stock
For each arrow, insert the end of a thin pretzel stick into the top of a heart-shaped gumdrop. Cut the top from a second heart gumdrop as shown here, make a hole with a toothpick, and insert the other end of the pretzel into the bottom of the gumdrop. Package the arrows in a small cellophane bag (found in the candy-making section of major craft stores) and fold over the top. Write your message on a folded card stock label, then staple the label over the top of the bag.

Lovin' Spoonfuls
These whimsical white chocolate confections -- perfect for Valentine's Day gifts or party favors -- can be eaten right off the spoon or stirred into cups of hot cocoa. What you'll need:
white chocolate
small candies
plastic spoons and lollipop bags
Present the spoons in lollipop bags sealed with twist ties or ribbon. If you like, include a note explaining that the spoons make great hot cocoa stirrers. Arrange plastic spoons so that their bowls are level (we set ours with the handles resting on the edge of a cookie sheet). For every eight spoons, melt 6 ounces of white chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl according to the package directions, then transfer the chocolate to a ziplock bag and snip off a corner. Pipe the chocolate into each spoon and gently tap the spoons on your work surface to level the chocolate. Sprinkle small candies, such as conversation hearts, red hots, and nonpareils, on top. Let the chocolate cool completely.

Valentine Bookmarks
With long pipe cleaner stems that tuck neatly between the pages, these bookmark roses will do the trick.What you'll need:
Heart template
Scrapbook paper
Glue dots
Green pipe cleaners
Print out heart template and cut out the pieces. For each rose, cut out four hearts from scrapbook paper.Turn one of the hearts upside down to resemble one of the center petals of a rose bud, and use a glue dot to stick the top of a pipe cleaner stem in place, as shown. Place a second heart on top of the first, matching up all the edges and pressing down firmly to adhere it to the glue dot. Use your fingertips to curl the tips of the hearts.Fold each of the remaining two hearts in half vertically. Fold back the rounded sides of the hearts, as shown, and then fold down the tips. Sandwich the sides of the center petals between the folded hearts, using glue dots to hold them in place.

Caped Cute-sader
Your kid will be a hero when he hands out these supertreats.What you'll need:
card stock
hole punch
glue stick
black marker
Download our free template. Cut the cape and mask shapes from card stock. Write a message on the cape, make a hole near the top with a hole punch, and attach a paper heart with a glue stick, if you like. Slip the cape onto the lollipop, pushing it gently over the wrapper to keep it in place. Draw eyeholes on the mask with black marker. Wrap and tape the mask around the lollipop.

Pretty Produce
Did you know that a rose hides inside every head of celery? Find one with your child in this easy printing project. What you'll need:
head of celery
kitchen knife (an adult's job)
white card stock
sponge brush
red and green paint
The closer to the base of the head of celery you cut, the closer together the rose's petals will be. First, pull a stalk from a head of celery and set it aside. Slice through the head a few inches from the base. Use the celery stamp to decorate cards made from folded sheets of white card stock. Place the card on a folded newspaper. Have your child use a sponge brush to daub the cut surface of the celery with red paint, then press it onto the card. Trim the end of the remaining celery stalk to give it a clean edge. Brush the end with green paint and stamp it onto the card twice for each leaf.

Animal Attractions
Go wild with these jungle-toy cards.What you'll need:
wild-animal figurines
card stock
glue stick
animal-patterned paper
hole punch
white paper
We made our menagerie with wild-animal figurines (collections are sold in tubes at craft stores). Cut card stock into 2 1/2- by 8 1/2-inch pieces. Use a glue stick to mount 2- by 6 1/2-inch pieces of animal-patterned paper to the cards. With a hole punch, make two holes in each card, then tie an animal onto the card with yarn. Cut speech bubbles from white paper. Write a funny message on each and adhere it to the card with the glue stick.

Sweet Suitors
Here's a clever way to transform an old deck into messengers that are well suited to reveal your child's hand on Valentine's Day. What you'll need:
Heart templates
Red and pink paper scrapbook paper
Black and red markers
Glue stick or glue dots
Red, pink, and white pipe cleaners
Playing cards, in the suit of hearts
Print out heart templates and cut out the pieces. For each suitor, use the templates to cut out a cape heart, a head heart, and two 1-inch squares for the feet from red paper. Cut out a face heart from pink paper. Trim a red pipe cleaner so that it is 10 inches long. Glue the center portion to the back of the card, positioning it along the upper edge, as shown. Fold down the very top of the cape heart. Glue the cape in place, sticking the folded top to the front of the card and the portion below the fold to the back. Shape the arms, bending them at the elbows and looping the ends for hands. Turn the head valentine so that the tip faces up. Glue the face heart in place. Draw on small red hearts for the nose and mouth. Use the black marker to outline the facial features and to extend the corners of the mouth into a smile. Glue the bottom edge of the head to the top of the card. For feet, fold the red paper squares in half and cut a small notch in the fold near the back, as shown. Insert the bottom of the card into the notches. For a staff, cut out a pair of matching hearts from scrap paper and glue them together, sandwiching the top of a 5-inch length of a pink or white pipe cleaner between them. Slide the bottom of the pipe cleaner through one of the hand loops.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

He Restores Your Soul

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul...” Psalm 23:1–3

God wants to restore your soul today. Your soul is your mind, your will and your emotions. You are a three-part being: you are a spirit ~ that’s the part of you that lives for eternity, you have a soul, and you live in a body while you’re here on earth.

Your soul is where you may store hurt, disappointments or brokenness from the past. When God restores your soul, He brings His healing power to those broken places and makes you whole again. And when God restores you, He makes you better off than you were before. He makes you stronger, more alive, and more loving.

I love the picture painted in this verse. Notice that He leads us beside quiet waters. He makes us lie down in green pastures. This is a picture of rest. When we are resting in Him, He is able to do a work in our lives. He is able to bring that restoration. Don’t let the busyness of life keep you going so fast that you don’t stop and rest. Take time to be still before the Lord and let Him restore your soul.

Father, thank You for leading me into a place of rest. Today I surrender my brokenness to You and open my heart to receive Your healing so You can restore my soul in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The New Has Come ~ No Good Thing Will Be Withheld

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

As a believer in Jesus, you are a new creation ~ you have a new spirit and a new life! There may be “old” things in your life that you are trying to get rid of, maybe you have old habits or addictions that you want to change so today (as is everyday) the new has come, His mercies are new every single morning.

It’s a new year with new opportunities, and it’s time for you to be a new you. Let this be the year that you break old habits and addictions, the year that you move forward into a new life of victory, the year that you take hold of all the spiritual blessings the Lord has promised to ALL of us ~ peace, health, protection and victory.

What "new" things do you need from the Lord today? Do you need peace, provision or guidance? The Word of God promises that no good thing will He withhold from those who walk blamelessly before Him ~ "For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” Psalm 84:14. You may be thinking, “I’m not perfect so how can I have a blameless walk?” The Good news is that when you receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you automatically have a new, blameless walk. The past is erased in God’s eyes. And sure, you may make mistakes from time to time, but 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Be encouraged today because no matter what is happening in your life right now, you have a chance for a new beginning, nothing will be withheld! Choose to leave the old behind ~ the old behaviors, the old thinking, the old words, and the old mindsets and instead embrace the NEW YOU by faith. Trust that He is leading you, declare His Word over your life and embrace the blessings that He has prepared for you!

Understand today that God wants to pour His favor and honor on you ~ we have to trust Him, embrace Him and let Him lead. If you feel like there is anything in your life that you need to be cleansed from, go to Him today and confess it ~ let Him make you new so that you can receive the good things He has in store for you! Make this your best year yet!

Heavenly Father, thank You for making me new. I choose today to leave behind the old life and ask that You empower me by Your spirit. Help me to understand Your plan and know the truth of Your Word that sets me free. Search my heart and lead me in our everlasting way. Thank You Lord God for loving me and choosing to pour out Your favor and blessing on me today and for giving me a new beginning, making me blameless in Your eyes, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How to save 50% on groceries this year ~ Use this simple tip to reduce the pain in the checkout lane.

Your grocery bill will likely be going up soon, thanks to the 2012 drought in the Midwest. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects food prices to rise 3.5% to 4% in the coming year. Food is one of our largest fixed expenses, but it's also the one with the most wiggle room.

You probably can't negotiate lower rent or a lower car payment, but a little creativity can produce a lower grocer bill, especially if you follow the advice offered by Alea Milham on her Premeditated Leftovers blog -- a simple tip that can save you 50% or more. "I go grocery shopping with my list and coupons, but I add one more step to my trip to ensure maximum grocery savings: I look through the manager markdowns. Every. Single. Time," Milham says.

I'm also a huge proponent of the manager markdown, in various forms:
**"Used meat." That's what a friend calls it, jokingly. Marked-down meat is fine if it's used or frozen promptly -- and it's 30% to 50% off.
**Day-old bread. You'll find everything from focaccia to hamburger buns that were baked in-store the day before. Check the packaged bread aisle, too; I've lucked into considerable discounts on close-dated multigrain loaves.
**Dinged produce. Apples that sustained a few bruises, zucchini with a couple of nicks, potatoes from larger bags that got torn open -- whatever the reason, it's cheap.
**Scratch-and-dent canned or dry goods. Cereal boxes with crumpled corners, cans with dents, seasonal items (e.g., canned pumpkin or "holiday" coffee or tea) and other odds and ends show up in markdown bins.
**Close-dated dairy. When I see that orange sticker on milk cartons, I pounce. Soon-to-expire milk works well for yogurt or rice pudding.

Obviously, you can't count on getting all your groceries this way. But even a few finds a week can have a noticeable impact on your food budget:
**That half-price sandwich loaf means cheaper brown-bag lunches.
**A 50%-off family pack of ground beef translates to multiple meals: meat loaf, tacos, spaghetti, sloppy Joes.
**Recently I bought diced tomatoes for 59 cents, sweet potatoes for 34 cents and mixed vegetables for 39 cents. All have a place in a "can-do" kitchen.

Look beyond the supermarket
Manager markdowns might even improve your diet, Milham notes, by "allowing you to buy organic items that are normally too expensive for your budget."

The photo accompanying her article shows a large container of organic baby spinach for $2.99 and a 1.28-pound package of pork for 83 cents. Yes, 83 cents: The manager put a "$3 off" coupon on a $3.83 package vs. a "50% off" reduction.

Sometimes the reason for a markdown isn't clear. For example, I bought a package of Tillamook cheddar cheese slices for just over a dollar, even though the sell-by date was several months off.

Manager markdowns aren't limited to supermarkets, either. I found boxes of vanilla-pudding mix, whose sell-by dates were more than a year in the future, for 9 cents (yep, 9 cents) in a drugstore clearance bin. The same drugstore yielded bags of Starbucks coffee for 50% off, a price made even better by manufacturer coupons.

I've even seen marked-down items at a gas station convenience store: a 5-pound bag of flour for $2.50 and a 16-ounce jar of peanut butter for $1.80. Both had sell-by dates of more than six months in the future.

Some best-practice tips
Milham is serious about the "every single time" thing. Even when she just needs milk and eggs she'll make a quick tour of the markdown bins. (So do I.) In fact, she reserves 10% of her grocery budget for such finds. Get to know the store manager, she advises, and ask what time the deals are set out.

You shouldn't buy more than you can use, but you may be able to find a way to make even close-dated items last longer. When I lived in Seattle, I turned 33-cents-a-pound damaged apples into chunky applesauce with cinnamon and a little brown sugar -- a delicious dessert, and even better mixed with homemade yogurt. Sometimes I'd luck into discounted mandarin oranges and simmer them into a simple marmalade, another great yogurt add-in. I also found marked-down lemons and limes, squeezing and freezing the juice for later.

Your freezer is your friend. Any close-dated meat should be used promptly or frozen; ditto late-date breads and milk, and marked-down cheese. Or how about freezing discounted vegetables or some of that homemade applesauce? The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a terrific resource for storing all sorts of comestibles.

When is a scratch-and-dent can too dented? According to this USDA fact sheet, you should pass up any can that is swollen, leaking, extensively rusted, has visible holes or punctures or is crushed/dented badly enough "to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel-type can opener."

As for sell-by dates: Fresh juice and dairy products are best bought by the dates on the package, according to the USDA's "Food Product Dating" fact sheet. But for shelf-stable foods, the sell-by or best-by date relates to peak flavor only. I've eaten food that was years past its best-by date and I haven't died. Not even once.

Just so you know: There is no universally accepted food-dating system in the United States. No federal law requires expiration dates except for infant formula and some other baby foods.

One last thing: If you see a ton of foods you like in the scratch-and-dent bin or want to make enough applesauce to can, go ahead and ask if you could get an additional discount for taking all of the items off the manager's hands at once. As frugality author Jeff Yeager once told me, "The ultimate proving ground of your negotiating skills is if you can negotiate on groceries."


Friday, January 4, 2013

Forget the Former Things and Pay Them No Mind ~ It's a New Year!

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” Isaiah 43:18

Too often, people spend so much time and energy dwelling on the past, dwelling on mistakes, or dwelling on disappointments. They don’t even realize that their focus is keeping them from moving forward in life. But in order to fully experience God’s blessings, you have to let go of those past hurts; you have to forget the former things to make room for the new.

In scripture, King Saul had some people come against him ~ “But some scoundrels said, ‘How can this fellow save us?’ They despised him and brought him no gifts. But Saul kept silent.” 1 Samuel 10:27. They were making fun of him. He could have easily become distracted and lost his focus. He could have defended himself saying, “I’m a good leader. I have what it takes.” But what did he do? He kept silent. One translation says, “He paid them no mind.” Sometimes that’s what you have to do when people are coming against you. You have to realize that some people are just jealous. Not everyone is going to have your best interest at heart, but don’t let them control your destiny. Don’t let them distract you from God’s best.

Instead of playing up to people or trying to win over all your critics, keep your eyes focused on what God has for you. Spend time with people who see what God is doing in you. Focus on those who will celebrate you. Ignore the critics so you can be all that God has called you to be.

God has a new beginning in store for you, and the way you prepare for it is by getting rid of the old. Don’t spend time focusing on where you’ve been; spend time focusing on where you’re going. When you “forget the former things,” it means you’re not worried about the past anymore. You don’t allow it to dictate your future. You may remember past events, but you don’t feel the pain like you used to. You’ve opened your heart to receive God’s healing. Begin today by declaring that your past is over! Forget the former things and receive the restoration and victory God has in store for you!

Father, today I keep my heart and mind focused on You. I choose to ignore the naysayers. I choose to turn away from critical voices. I declare by faith that I will accomplish the plan You have for me as I daily put You first in everything that I do. Thank You for the life of blessing and victory You have prepared for me as I choose to forget the past, choose to forgive, and choose to open my heart to You and receive everything You have in store for me in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Low-Cost Kitchen Updates

Stretch your kitchen budget and put these creative, money-saving ideas to work for updates such as revamped cabinets, a fresh backsplash, and more!

Cozy Up the Work Space
A colorful or patterned rug instantly gives your kitchen a boost of personality and comfort. Plus, a comfy rug adds warmth underfoot and a touch of homeyness to your hardworking kitchen space. Consider placing a rug in areas of the kitchen such as in front of the range, refrigerator, or sink, where you tend to do a lot of standing. Be sure to place a slip-prevention mat beneath the rug for safety.

Refreshing Change
The quickest way to rev up your kitchen's style quotient is to roll on a fresh coat of paint. With so many color choices available in wipe-clean paints, drab cabinets or walls can be banished in a weekend. A burst of cheery yellow cabinetry, tempered by a rich wooden island and floors and a white beaded-board ceiling, cozies up this room.

Bright Ideas
Updating your kitchen's style might be as simple as looking overhead. Consider switching out an old light over an island for a more personalized look. With so many styles and finishes available, finding unique lighting to suit your kitchen's style is easier than ever. For lighting that will hang above a work space such as an island, search for a model that balances style and function and provides adequate lighting for cooking tasks.

Open Up
To give your kitchen a major style update, forgo ordinary kitchen cabinets and incorporate open shelving. Open storage offers display space for pretty dishes and transforms even the most ordinary pieces into works of art. If totally exposed cabinetry sounds a bit daunting, consider replacing some of your cabinet fronts with frosted glass. The result will look modern and fresh while slightly obscuring the cabinet's contents.

Window Dressing
A kitchen with windows offers an opportunity to incorporate storage in unexpected ways. In this kitchen, a bank of sturdy shelves has been installed directly over the window trim and painted the same crisp white as the trim and surrounding cabinetry. The fixed shelving adds display space for decorative dishware and draws attention to the stunning bank of windows.

Lift your kitchen's appearance with cheery wall art. Although kitchens are often considered mere work spaces, giving your kitchen a boost of style will transform it into a cozy gathering space. Hang playful prints on walls, or place them on floating shelves and countertops to spruce up your space and give it a dose of character.

On Display
Save your favorite decorative dishware from a life of collecting dust by looking overhead. A row of small clear- or frosted-glass-front cabinets above concealed cabinetry is perfect for displaying little-used dishes such as pitchers and oversize serving bowls. To create a cohesive look, make sure all of the dishes are relatively the same color and scale.

Changing Identities
Improve the functionality of your kitchen -- without spending a lot -- by transforming an old furniture piece into a work space. Any table or chest can be enlisted as an island stand-in, provided it can be adjusted to the right height. This narrow table, painted white and outfitted with a beveled-glass topper, now serves as a delightful dining area in this tiny kitchen.

Basket Storage
Break up a wall of concealed cabinetry by removing the doors and adding pretty storage baskets. To create drawerlike convenience, purchase hardware that will accommodate slide-out baskets. Use the baskets to store items from shelf-stable vegetables to kitchen linens.