Monday, August 27, 2012

Being Broke Isn't Really a Joy

     The irony in the title of my blog is that being broke really isn't joyful in and of itself.  I've found through my faith in God, I can be joyful in any situation.  I'm not saying I'm deliriously ecstatic about being broke, but I can still find joy in life and with my family.  
     I get incredibly stressed some days, especially when a friend calls and one of my children overhear me turning down an invitation to go see the newest Disney movie, or head off to a theme park offering half price admission.  Four kids at the 10am Saturday morning show means, $30 in admission and $15 for a popcorn and 2 drinks to share among the six of us.  Wow.  That's $45 for less than 2 hours of entertainment.  I can buy 2 movies on blu-ray and a box of microwave popcorn and 2 2 liters of soda for that price and we can watch the purchased movies as many times as we want.  I explained this to my teary eyed 10 year-old last year and he (FINALLY!) got it.  It's not that I don't want to to take my kids to a movie, but it's not the best way to spend our money when our budget is so tight.  
     I am an older mom and was raised in the era when the economy was thriving.  There was always extra money.  I had a part time job, not to pay for college, but to buy the things that my mom said I had to buy with my own money because she was NOT spending her money on that crap.  I worked in college to pay for pizza nights and shopping sprees and sorority dues and because you're supposed to get a summer job in while you're in college.  What else do you do with your time?  Now college kids work so they can graduate with less debt or no debt and pray they can get a job when they graduate.  I had a great job, making good money and worked hard to be debt free.  You never know when life's going to throw you a curve ball.  Apparently, we got a pitcher that can only throw curve balls.  It's forced my husband and I to rethink everything in our life.  
     I was raised by a scoutmaster.  The "Be Prepared" motto spilled into our every day life.  My husband was raised in a fly by the seat of your pants family.  His parents farmed, so everything was unexpected and unpredictable, from the weather to the market price on grain.  His mom is a worry-wort type.  I inherited my mom's roll with it attitude along with my dad's emergency preparedness skills.  My husband got his mom's worry-wort trait and his dad's duck tape will take care of that skill.  So when something breaks he worries about whether the duck tape will hold and I'm relaxed and prepared with a back up plan.  It's been interesting to say the least.  And I have learned to not to say "I told you so", but I can't keep the expression off my face and he knows when I'm thinking it.  
     My computer has been my social connection to many of my friends.  I live vicariously through them.  I'm sometimes wistful, because I can't go meet them for a mani/pedi or have lunch with them at a posh restaurant and spend the afternoon shopping, but I have memories of times when I could do those things (and did) and I know someday I'll be able to do those things again.  I'll treasure them more and be less frequent about it, but nonetheless, I know the day will come when my youngest will start school and I'll go back to work full time, student loans and the 401K loan will be paid off.  When that day comes, we'll rebuild our savings and be able to tithe 10% and help those in need as others have helped us.  
     Meanwhile, I'm rediscovering the joy in the little things.  Nature walks with the kids, the bug in the jar that just won't die, stars and constellations in the sky, the beautiful colors of flowers, jumping contests and using our imaginations to create games, songs, stories and memories that I hope will last a lifetime.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

Easy Chicken Parmesan

This is a favorite at our house and there are never leftovers, even when I make extra.  The no leftover thing bums my hubby out so I try to set a portion aside for his lunch the next day whenever I can.  

This recipe is super easy, and you can make it with low fat cheese if you need to.  You need 2-3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  Lately, I can't make chicken without my favorite meat pounding tool.  I usually buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts when they are on sale which usually means large pieces of meat that are quite thick, requiring longer cooking time.  SOLUTION:  This gadget from Pampered Chef is now one of my favorites.  (link to see said gadget)  I use the flat side and gently pound those pieces flat - the flattening process also makes them larger and more tender.  Once they've been flattened, I cut each ginormous chicken breast in to 3 smaller pieces.  You don't have to buy this particular one, find one you like that you can afford.  This was only $25 when I bought it and I cringed at the price, but it was totally worth it, in the amount I've saved by using much less chicken this way.  Digression in italics out of the way, pound out chicken breasts as described above, cut each into smaller portions.  A good sized portion of chicken is about the size of the palm of your hand, according to the most dietitians.  

Now at this point, I preheat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet and coat each piece of chicken with flour.  I use a gluten free all purpose flour or rice flour since I cook gluten free and we've found that it gets crispy and has a better texture, but regular flour works fine too.  Place chicken in skillet and cook on each side until flour is a light golden brown.  If you want these low fat/low carb, skip the flour and grill or broil your chicken.  
cooked chicken breast, add marina sauce, top with mozzerella

Grease a large baking dish and place cooked chicken in a single layer.  Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of your favorite spaghetti sauce or marinara sauce over each piece of chicken.  Top each with 1-2 tablespoons of finely shredded cheese. I use mozzarella, but it works with just about any kind.  Use your favorite, I promise not to judge.  Just make sure you cover and refrigerate any left over sauce.  I had a momentary lapse and put it back in my pantry once.  Oops.  I'm just glad it was a clear jar and I didn't have to open it to realize what had happened.  I threw it straight in the trash and skipped washing the jar for recycling/reuse.  

Bake 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, until cheese is melted and bubbly.  The chicken will be so tender you can cut it with your fork.  See, I told you it was easy!  

I used serve it with pasta and poured the rest of the jar of spaghetti sauce over the pasta, add a leafy green salad and garlic bread.  My gluten free version is now, roasted potatoes and a green vegetable, usually broccoli or a salad. 

Update:  If you want an even quicker version of this, use prebreaded southern style chicken breasts instead of flouring and frying your own.  They aren't quite as healthy and they are a little more expensive but it eliminates a cooking step, saves time and some clean up.  You can also use slices of mozzarella, instead of shredded.