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2012 Olympic Swim Trials



Last week I mentioned that the US Olympic Swim Trials are this week. We have been watching them both on NBC and on nbcolympics.com. The kids are really loving it and it makes them even more excited for their swimming lessons this week!  They are actually disappointed that they don't have lessons next week due to the holiday.  It sure helps to see a perfect model of how a stroke looks. We loved watching Phelps and Lochte battle it out in the 200m freestyle. So exciting! My kids are huge Michael Phelps fans but there are a bunch of other ones that they have each picked to root for. If you haven’t watched the trials this week there is still time! The trials are running through July 2, 2012 and will continue to be broadcasted every night at 8 pm Pacific on NBC.

There is an awesome site that you should be sure to visit, USA Swimming and  also the website SwimToday.org. This site is a wonderful tool for parents who want to get their kids into swim lessons. On the site, you can find a place to swim in your area, self-assess your ability, and learn the benefits of swimming and fitness. SwimToday.org can also help parents find swim facilities that offer scholarships. If you haven’t already, be sure to check them out!




The Motherhood and USA Swimming are throwing a Twitter party on Monday, July 2, at 7:30 p.m. ET to cheer on Dara Torres in real time as she swims. My daughter can't wait for this one!  The party will last about an hour and they will be giving away some prizes, talking about swimming, and cheering on Dara.  I can't wait!

So has your family been watching the trials? Does your family plan to watch the Olympics?  My kids were excited before but the swim trials on NBC have made them even more excited!


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30 Days of Thrifty Tips: The Complete List

image source unknown


Now that we have reached the end of June, my series of 30 Days of Thrifty Tips is drawing to a close.

I have really enjoyed writing the 25 tips I published over the past month, and I hope you have enjoyed reading them.

As I said back at the start of the month, one of my purposes in writing the series was to get me back into the habit of blogging.  And I'm happy to say that I feel I've got my blogging mojo back.

I've listed the entire series of tips below.  Happy reading!
  1. Decide what is important to you
  2. Track your spending
  3. Live abundantly
  4. Become a student of history
  5. Know what you have
  6. Reduce car use
  7. Get to know your neighbours
  8. Make every second month a spend-free month
  9. Simplify your shopping list
  10. Make your own cleaning products
  11. Reduce energy consumption
  12. Grow your own food
  13. Preserve your excess
  14. Make a pot of soup each week
  15. Use found items
  16. Plan your menus
  17. Use your library
  18. Swap and share kids clothes
  19. Make do and mend
  20. Avoid products with consumable parts
  21. Avoid shopping
  22. Cook in bulk
  23. Ride a bike
  24. Holiday at (or near) home
  25. Join or start a babysitting club
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Almond Mice



My daughter has been wanting to make these for a long time.  She got a cookbook from a friend full of desserts and she has post it notes marking many pages. We needed to bring something to a potluck and she immediately pulled her cookbook out and wanted to make these. They seemed easy enough and she did most of the work. 

They turned out adorable and everyone loved them!  We thought about putting tails of them but decide they probably wouldn't stay on so we didn't.  We also had trouble finding the silver balls for the eyes.  My kids went to the store for the ingredients and called me saying that they couldn't find silver balls anywhere in the decorations.  We ended up just using a small tip and dotting the eyes on. It wasn't as pretty as they could have been but they still were adorable and fun.   



Almond Mice

5 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
6 tbsp. heavy cream
1 cup Oreo crumbs**
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
Silver balls for decorating
Flaked almonds for decorating
Red licorice for decorating ( I didn't use)

Melt the chocolate with the cream in a double boiler.  Mix in the chocolate wafer crumbs until well blended.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour until firm.  Form the dough into balls the desired shape.  I rolled mine into balls and then just elongated one side for the "nose".  Roll half the balls in the confectioners sugar until well blended.  Decorate with sliver balls for the eyes, almonds for the ears and a small length of licorice for the tail.

**I made 2 batches, one with the cream filling in the Oreos and one without the cream filling.  There wasn't a whole lot of difference, both held together fine.  The one with the cream filling were just a bit sweeter. 

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The Motherhood - Gluten Free Living

Join me this afternoon! I've been trying to live gluten free for a long time now and still have questions and love to talk and get ideas for better ways to eat.  

What: A live, all-text Talk on The Motherhood, called How to Life Gluten Free. What does it mean to live gluten free? How and where can you find gluten-free food options? What's the best way to tell if a particular dish or ingredient contains gluten? Tell us about how you handle your gluten allergy (if you have one), share recipes and resources, and exchange ideas for life without gluten.

When: Tuesday, June 26, at 1 p.m. ET. We will chat for 30 minutes!

Where: On The Motherhood, right here -
http://bit.ly/Kz1Cqd

Who: The all-text chat will be hosted by Debbi Smith of the blog Debbi Does Dinner ... Healthy & Low Calorie, http://debbidoesdinnerhealthy.blogspot.com/. Co-hosting are these lovely people:

Lauren, As Good as Gluten,
http://asgoodasgluten.blogspot.com/Lisa, Extraordinary Gluten Free Life, http://my-extraordinary-life.blogspot.com
Veronica, Veronica’s Cornucopia, http://veronicascornucopia.com/


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Thrifty Tip # 25: Join or Start a Babysitting Club



One of the best things we ever did when our kids were small was join a babysitting club.  Without the club, my husband and I would almost never have gone out. 

Here's how it worked:
  • There were about 25 local families in the club but we usually babysat for, or used as baby sitters, families that we knew well.
  • The geographical boundaries of the club were clearly defined, so no one had to travel too far
  • Those who babysat  received points for each hour that they worked.  The same number of points was subtracted from the points tally of the babysittees. Bonus points were given for sits in December and for sits that ended after 12.30 am.
  • Anyone who had a high point score was encouraged to use up some points by going out.  Likewise, anyone with a negative balance was encouraged to do some babysitting.
  • The member families took it in turns to look after the club books, which involved finding sitters for anybody who rang needing one.  We looked after the club books for one month every two years or so.
  • The children being babysat had to be bathed and ready for bed when the sitter arrived, the dishes had to be washed, and supper was left for the sitter - it was heaven!
Now that my eldest three kids are teenagers, I have home-grown babsitters for my youngest son, so I don't need a club anymore.

However, I would thoroughly recommend either joining or starting a club for anyone who has little kids and no family nearby to help out.

Have you ever been involved in a babysitting club?

This post is part of my series, Thirty Days of Thrifty Tips.
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Dominos, Bangalore

The minute i mentioned book store, my cousin chimed in "can you pick up an order of Garlic sticks from Dominos along with some cheese dip please, her face broke out in the biggest grin i'd seen"
  


I smiled and nodded watching her beam in joy.. She was 8+ months preggers and had a craving for garlic sticks... 

Headed out to explore a few book stores in the neighborhood before hitting Dominos. I was accompanied by my other cousin R, who asked if we could have something to eat while we waited for the Garlic Sticks order to be processed. We ordered a medium thin crust Mexican veg pizza. The entire outlet was decked in standard red colours, with quite a few balloons and posters of new items on the menu...

 

The pizza was quite delicious.. It had tomatoes, capsicum, Jalepenos, onion and cheese. The base was thin crust, well cooked and not crunchy like chips. The pizza was filled with flavour and quite yummy. By the time i reached out for my 2nd slice, the Garlic sticks arrived in our table. I was at Dominos after ages, and discovered they had stopped serving the Wraps [ have had them earlier in Chennai, and enjoyed them]

The Garlic sticks came home and within minutes a box was empty. The sticks are so soft, and ooze with garlic flavour. 

Price: 8/10 [The Pizza, 1/2 lt coke and 2 garlic sticks worked out to Rs525]
Ambiance- 8/10
Service- 8/10

Address:
The outlet i visited in Bangalore is near Frank Antony School, Ulsoor
You can also order online-   http://www.dominos.co.in/


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Thrifty Tip #24: Holiday at (or Near) Home

Image is courtesy of http://www.1900s.org.uk/1940s-trains.htm


During World War Two, when petrol was rationed, the British government encouraged people to holiday at home.

Official attempts to dissuade people from making such trips led to the campaign for was ‘Holidays at Home’ in 1942 and 1943. The scheme encouraged local authorities to draw up a programme of events and amusements for the summer months, using local parks and local sports facilities. M-O’s Holidays 1937-51, in File E, deals with the ‘Holidays at Home’ campaign for 1942, and contains programmes, newspaper cuttings and reports on events in various London areas, including Beckenham, Willesden and Paddington. Open air concerts, dances, children’s games, swimming galas and other sports competitions were typical ‘Holiday at Home’ events. Other institutions added their own contribution, like Westminster Abbey’s historical lectures. There was a special cricket match at Lords over August Bank Holiday weekend in 1942, Middlesex and Essex played Kent and Surrey, attracting a crowd of 22,000. Local collections often contain programmes and publicity material about the arrangements, usually preserved with the Parks Department records. Among the records of the LCC Parks Department is correspondence about outdoor summer entertainments such as Sadlers Wells’ ballet season in Victoria Park in July 1942, LCC/MIN 9014. Council Minutes may refer to the appointment of temporary organisers for such schemes. East Ham, for example, advertised for one in Theatre World in 1943, offering £6 a week from April 12 to August 31.                                
Quoted from http://www.history.ac.uk/ihr/Focus/War/londonLeisure.html
These days, holidays at or near home can save money compared to travelling a great distance.  In addition, by visiting local attractions we support and strengthen our local economy.

Having only lived in South Australia for a few years, I'm  keen to holiday near home for the next few years as there are so many beautiful places that I haven't visited yet.

Have you holidayed at home?  How do you make such holidays memorable?


This post is part of my series, Thirty Days of Thrifty Tips.


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Thrifty Tip #23: Ride a Bike

Instead of telling you (again) how fabulous cycling is for saving money, improving fitness and health, and cutting down on fossil fuel consumption, I thought I'd share the following video about cycling in the Netherlands.

This post is part of my series, Thirty Days of Thrifty Tips.
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Thrifty Tip #22: Cook in Bulk



Do you cook in bulk?


By cooking in bulk we can save time and save on fuel costs.  We can reduce the temptation to buy takeaway meals on busy weeknights, which saves money.


I have found preparing food in bulk to be very helpful, especially as a busy mum who works four days each week.

On the weekend I usually spend a few hours preparing food for the week.  I often bake cakes or slices for school snacks, make a big pot of soup, and prepare a couple of dishes that will last longer than one night.

For example, tonight I marinated enough chicken to last for two days and soaked chickpeas to make a double batch of felafels tomorrow.  Tomorrow I plan to make the felafels, a pot of vegetable soup, a carrot cake and scones.  I will also roast a chicken for dinner that will provide meat for sandwiches, and make a leek gratin that should last a couple of days as a side dish.

This post is part of my series, Thirty Days of Thrifty Tips.
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Baked Salsa Rice with Green Chilies, Lime & Cilantro


I still haven't bought a rice cooker or a good pan with a lid to make rice.  So I was excited to make a baked rice.  I love having rice with my mexican meals. I actually ended up chucking the rice and the beans onto the taco for one big heaping messy taco. 


Leftovers are the best! Dinner the next night was taco meat with beans, rice and scrambled eggs with spinach. Once again, it didn't stay pretty for long. All jumbled up, it tasted pretty darned good!


Baked Salsa Rice with Green Chilies, Lime & Cilantro Recipe
Adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen

1 onion, chopped
1 can (4 oz) diced green chilies, with juice
1/4 tsp. tsp. ground cumin
1 cup salsa
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 tbsp. lime juice, divided
1 cup long grain rice
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Saute onion in a bit of cooking spray for about 5 minutes.  Add the cumin and diced green chile peppers and cook for about 2 - 3 minutes more.  Add the salsa, chicken broth and 1 tbsp. of the lime juice and bring to a boil, then stir in rice.

Transfer the mixture to a casserole dish with a tight fitting lid.  Cook the rice, covered for about 45 minutes or until all the liquid has absorbed and the rice is cooked through.  When the rice is done, fluff with a fork, stir in the other tablespoon of lime juice and chopped cilantro.  Serve hot.  Add Tabasco sauce if you'd like it hotter. 

One Year Ago...








Ham and Pineapple Fried Rice



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Thrifty Tip #21: Avoid Shopping

Yeah, I know, this one is kind of obvious.

However, for many of us (including me), shopping is a social activity, almost a recreational sport.

And while we may only plan to window shop, so often we can be tempted by what we see.

I find that the best way for me not to spend is to avoid going anywhere near shops.  I have a "no advertising material" sticker on my letterbox so I am not tempted by catalogues.  I often do my grocery shopping at 7.30  on a Friday morning, and one reason I go so early is that none of the non-food shops are open.

How do you avoid the temptation to shop?

This post is part of my series, Thirty Days of Thrifty Tips.

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Simar, Chennai


Khader Nawaz Khan road in Chennai has become an eat street, except unlike in other towns these eateries are neither road side joints nor are they small time cafes. Most of these are speciality restaurants.. There is Fresca, specialising in Neopolitian cuisine, Yoko Sizzlers, Cream n Fudge [ cold stone ice cream] and much more. And now, adding yet another feather to the hat, rather the street is Simar, a restaurant that claims to be all about the North Western Frontier.




Named after the lady who owns the place, Simarjeet, this is a restaurant that oozes with class in its decor- the light fittings, the black and off white wall papers, the charcoal sketch on the wall and the smart furniture. All of 5days old, the restaurant sure seemed to have attracted customers, i noticed a few other tables were occupied.

North Western Frontier brings to my mind Pakistan, Afghanistan and regions beyond, but the cuisine here is largely about Punjab, the land Simarjeet comes from and familiar with.We were seated almost in the center of the restaurant and got to chatting while we waited for water and food.  As we nibbled on the pappad with coriander and curd chutney, we got to talking about how the city has changed and eating scene along with it.

The starters that arrived on the table were a mix of both Vegetarian and Non vegetarian kebabs. There were about 5 of us vegetarians and well, we did make sure to sample atleast a piece each from the 2 starters. One was a Veg Sheek Kebab, which is one dish i kinda steer clear from at any restaurant. it is one of those boring staid dishes. Well, here too it dint really have me going. It was soft, and tender but there was one flavour that stood out, that had me nearly cringing, i just could not put my finger on the spice/flavour. It was not ginger, it was not chaat masala, i dont know....   



 
The other starter was Mushroom stuffed with spinach, and it was good.. I love mushrooms in any form, and this was cooked well, and not oozing with oil or overloaded with spices.

The non veg starters seemed to be a hit with the guys- the chicken Kalvi kebab, the Fish Lasuni tikka[ fish that had been rolled with a garlic & green chillie piece inside] and Mutton seek kebab all were polished off. Though S did spot a bit of blood in his chicken and we pondered over whether it was blood or just the colour on cooking the chicken.




Simar joined us on the table and spoke about her family, her background [ she has been in the media for a while, acted in a couple of Tamil TV serials] and now entered the Food industry, bringing in her family recipes and secrets. While flipping through the elaborate menu and straining to catch bits of what she was saying, we were served a tall glass of Mango Lassi that i quite liked, especially since it was low on sweet... The other lassi we were offered was the Salt lassi, which true to its name was quite salty [ i assumed since at home we cook with barely any salt, it felt salty, but soon others on the table shared the same thought] . The lassi helped calm the hungry tummies as the wait for the main courses began... and we did wait quite a while............

2 bowls with different rotis/parathas landed on the table with a bowl of Yellow daal, and then before we knew it there was a flurry of dishes coming to our table. There was Baingan Bartha, Paneer Butter masala, Channa salad and a plate of Peas pulao for us veggies. The non veg group got a Chicken curry and Rogan Josh to accompany the roti and rice. I liked the paneer butter masala, felt the daal was yet again salty and the Baingan Bartha, well let me not say too much about it, am not a big fan of the veggie and have eaten better ones at my uncle's home!!  The Peas pulao was quite a treat, except i felt the peas needed few more minutes to cook through. And just as we were about to wind up for the day, a Gulab jamun and a serving of Rabdi was offered. Am not into sweets, and hesitated, but did decide to give it a taste..

The gulab jamun was too sweet, and the sugar syrup tasted of oil, while the rabdi was just weird, it had a grainy feel, almost like dosa batter that had not been made correctly. Dint really care too much about them, and left them aside.


Well, am sure like any other new restaurant, they were just having a few teething issues and hopefully, if as much attention as decor is paid towards the food, the restaurant will do well.. All the best Simar!!

Ambiance: 8/10
Taste [Flavours]: 5/10
Service: 6/10
Portion size: 8/10
Price: 7/10
Overall Rating: 5/10

Address:
20-B, Ground Floor, Khader Nawaz Khan Road,  
Nungambakkam , 
Chennai
Phone: [044]42132066, 45122066, 9840003650
It is located on the ground floor in the same building as 3 kingdoms & yoko sizzlers.. It is also right next to Wills Lifestyle.

Disclaimer:
The reviews posted on this blog are based on my personal experience. Also remember that restaurants and eat outs sometimes change with time, so does their food and service. So, kindly consider these factors while visiting the places. Remember, no two palates are the same. Bon Appétit  :-)

This was part of a CFG Showcase that I attended and was conducted by Chennai Food Guide.
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Sausage, Butternut Squash and Veggie Cassoulet


I'm always impressed by a dish that has a ton of veggie and tastes so good.  Joanne put vegetarian sausage in her cassoulet and I wasn't even sure that I wanted any sausage. I was thinking about just putting some large butter beans and keeping it meatless.  Chickpeas would have been good too.  In the end, I did happen to have some sausage in the refrigerator that I threw in.  It's really up to you, vegetarian or not. You really can't go wrong here.




Sausage & Veggie Cassoulet
Adapted from Eats Well with Others

1 large butternut squash, peeled and diced
12 oz. sausage links, cut into coins (feel free to use vegetarian if you'd like)
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, cut into chunks
2 zucchini, cut into coins or moons
Salt and pepper
28 oz. canned diced tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. oregano
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
Pinch of cayenne

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Spread butternut squash on baking sheet, spray with cooking spray and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 30 - 40 minutes or until fork tender.

In the meantime, heat about a tablespoon of oil in a pan and add the sausage coins, turning as needed until the pieces are deeply browned on all sides about 5 - 10 minutes.  Remove from pan.

Reduce heat to medium and add the garlic, onions, carrots and zucchini.  Sprinkle wit salt and pepper.  Cook until starting to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the canned tomatoes and the liquid along with the sausage and herbs.  Bring to a boil.  Add the beans and bring to a boil again.  Reduce the heat so that the mixture bubbles gently but continuously.  Cook for about 20 minutes.

Add the butternut squash into the mix.  Simmer for a couple of minutes and taste and adjust seasoning.



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Thrifty Tip #20: Avoid Products with Consumable Parts



A few years ago I bought a highly recommended Miele vacuum cleaner.  The vacuum cleaner works a treat.  The only problem I have had with it is the high cost of replacement vacuum cleaner bags.  I now wish I had purchased a bagless model.

Whether it's bags for the vacuum cleaner, printer cartridges that cost almost as much as the printer, 'pod' coffee machines that require the purchase of brand-name coffee pods, or Swiffer mops that require special replacement pads, canny businesses can make a killing out of products with consumable parts or accessories.

The business model where one item is sold at a low price  in order to increase sales of a complementary good is called the razors and blades model.

According to Investopedia:
The Razor/Razorblade business model owes its name to one King Gillette, founder of the eponymous razorblade company. The story goes that Gillette's idea for creating disposable razors stemmed from his personal experience with a straight razor so worn it was rendered useless. Gillette reasoned - and rightly so - that if he could offer consumers a sturdy, permanent razor supplemented by cheap, easily replaceable blades, he could corner the men's facial grooming market and create a massive, repeat customer base.
While a great idea for the businesses that create these products, constantly having to pay for replacement parts is a bad idea for consumers, and an even worse idea for the environment.

Wouldn't it be lovely to return to a world where goods were made to last and "razors and blades" marketing was unknown?

This post is part of my series, Thirty Days of Thrifty Tips.
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Thrifty Tip #19: Make Do and Mend

During the Second World War, the British people were encouraged by their government to 'Make Do and Mend'.  Food, fuel and clothing were all rationed.

How different to today! These days, most clothes are comparatively cheap and disposable, often made in slave labour conditions in China. I can't remember the last time I saw an item of clothing made in Australia. Most people, it seems, throw out damaged clothes rather than mending them.

It is with great fascination that I have recently read Make Do and Mend: Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations.  This handy little book is made up of reprinted World War II pamphlets.  Until I read it I didn't know the correct way to darn a hole vs. a tear,or how to make children's slippers out of rug wool.  I have never even considered reinforcing the family's underwear to make it last longer - who would?  Similarly, how many people today would cut down men's pyjamas for a little boy, or alter a man's old suit to become a skirt and coat for a lady?

Yet while many of the suggestions in the book seem extreme by today's standards, the techniques found there are both thrifty and environmentally friendly.

While I will probably never be a great seamstress, I do hope to improve my skills at simple clothing repairs, with  Make Do and Mend as my guidebook.


This post is part of my series, Thirty Days of Thrifty Tips.
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Menu Plan Monday ~ June 17 - June 24, 2012


Monday: Chicken fajitas

Tuesday: Chili

Wednesday: Smokehouse Chicken & Roasted Red Potato Salad

Thursday: Asian Broccoli Slaw Wraps

Friday: Leftovers

Saturday: Busy day running around, we'll probably eat out or at my dads

Sunday:  Family party, I'm bringing Bacon Ranch Potato Salad, Shredded BBQ Chicken, Berry Trifle



More menu planning ideas at I'm an Organizing Junkie.





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Thrifty Tip #18: Swap and Share Kids' Clothes


http://www.museumoflondonprints.com/image/68222/john-thomson-the-old-clothes-of-st-giles-c1877

I have saved a great deal amount of money over the years either by keeping my older kids' clothes for the younger ones, or by gratefully accepting outgrown clothes from other people.

In particular, just before we left Melbourne a friend rang to say that she would like to drop off some clothes that would fit my younger boys.  As I was busy decluttering for our move to Adelaide, I was rather unwilling to accept her offer, but eventually she just showed up at my house.  And boy am I glad she did!

This kind lady had bags full of brand-name boys' clothes, some with the labels still on, that she had bought on sale for her two boys.  However, her sons had outgrown the clothes before they had time to wear them. 

I was very happy to accept these clothes and many of them have been well-worn now.  Any of the clothes my boys didn't like have been passed on to others.

My daughter has not had as many hand-downs as the boys, but she did receive many clothes from an adored friend in Melbourne who was a few years older.

How do I store excess clothes?  Because my two younger boys share a room and have limited space, I store excess clothes in a large old suitcase in the garage.  I get the suitcase out once or twice a year to swap over clothes.

I don't think there is any shame at all in accepting hand-down clothes, or indeed, any other goods for babies and children.  Hand-downs can save a lot of money, and little kids in particular don't care where their clothes come from.

Do you accept hand-downs for your children?

This post is part of my series, Thirty Days of Thrifty Tips.
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Thrifty Tip #17: Use Your Library

Image source unknown

Local libraries are a wonderful resource for thrifty living.
Not only are there loads of books, CDs and DVDs that can be borrowed for free, as well (usually) as free internet access, most local library networks also offer a range of free or inexpensive community activities.

My own local library network currently offers knitting lessons for beginners, healthy living talks, children's reading times, on-line homework tutoring and a free computer school.  They have just started loaning Kindle e-readers as well.

So I recommend that, if you haven't done so recently, go and visit your local library, or find out what it offers online.

Do you visit your local library?

This post is part of my series, Thirty Days of Thrifty Tips.
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Swimming Fever and Summer Olympics


My kids are crazy about swimming.  They just started the next batch of lessons this last week in fact.  My son wants to be a swim instructor and plans to take the class this fall helping to learn how to teach.  He's only 13 but loves to play and help the little ones in the pool. He also is interested in diving and plans to pursue that as well. My daughter is 15 and plans to take the life guarding class this fall.  She's hoping to get a job at the community center life guarding!  While it's hard for me to believe my kids are even old enough for jobs, I am glad they have chosen swimming as the direction they want to go.  At least while they are young.  They will learn things that will last a lifetime.

Check out this short video of the Olympic pool being built.  I watched it several times, very cool. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgmnyBgVViE

I had the pleasure last week of participating in a conversation with Karen Linhart and Jamie Fabos Olsen from USA Swimming.  Also Lindsay Mintenko and Emily Silver, gold and silver medalists in the Olympics for swimming.  It was a blast listening to them and their enthusiasm for swimming is contagious! 

We all know the summer olympics are coming up and the swimming team trials will be aired live on NBC June 25th - June 2.  Won't it be awesome to see who's going to be in the olympics!  I know my family and I are very excited. Fans rank swimming as their favorite Summer Olympics sport.

We're hoping to spread the swimming enthusiasm around to moms and kids. People want to swim, but have questions on how to begin: What level of swimmer am I? What level is my child? What equipment does my child need? Where can I find a place to swim in my area? How do I get started or get my child started in swimming?



 I learned about a fantastic website SwimToday.org. SwimToday.org is an online resource that provides moms with a one-stop shop to get all the information they need to make entering the sport as easy as possible. On the site, you can: find a place to swim in your area, self-assess your ability, and learn the benefits of swimming and fitness.
Benefits of swimming – why should moms get their kids involved? 1) SAFETY 2) FITNESS 3) SOCIAL

SAFETY Drowning is the 2nd-leading cause of accidental death for kids 1-14
Swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 80%

FITNESS
Swimming is a whole-body exercise
A low-impact sport, it is a life-long fitness option

SOCIAL As an individual sport, swimming teaches work ethic and goal-setting
As a team sport (swimming is both!) swimming builds social skills and teamwork


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Here are some questions answered by the team at USA Swimming and Medalists Lindsay Mintenko and Emily Silver:

Q: At what age should I start teaching my child to swim?A: Most places that offer swim lessons begin when the child is six months old, but there are places that do “Mommy and Me” classes as an introduction to water at an even younger age.


Q: What is the right age for kids to start learning swim strokes? Should young kids focus on strokes or fundamentals?

A: It depends on what you are comfortable teaching them. Focus on the fundamentals first, but if they know the fundamentals, you can move on and teach the strokes whenever they seem ready. The goal is for kids to have fun and be safe and comfortable around the water.
Q: How can I give my child the confidence to swim without arm floaties?
A: USA Swimming advocates against flotation devices, because they can give kids a false sense of security. Try to avoid any kind of flotation aid, and get your child in swimming lessons. There is no substitute for professional swimming instruction, and instructors are trained to help kids with their fear of the water and help them acclimate to the water at their own pace.

Q: Should kids be allowed to wear goggles in the water?

A: If goggles help kids when they are in the water, wearing them will not be detrimental.

Q: What are the expenses for swimming lessons and team swimming?

A: It varies by location and club, but a full session of swim lessons (approximately 8 lessons) generally costs about $50. USA Swimming partners with about 525 participating clubs nationwide on their Make a Splash charitable effort, which provides every child in America with the opportunity to learn to swim. Swim clubs on SwimToday.org with a water drop next to their name provide a designated number of swimming lessons for free or at a discounted cost. The distribution of free or discounted lessons is club-dependent, and you can ask your local club about it directly. If expense is a concern, visit SwimToday.org and enter your ZIP code to find out if a swim club in your area is a Make a Splash partner. More about Make a Splash: http://www.usaswimming.org/DesktopDefault.aspx?TabId=2092&Alias=Rainbow&Lang=en


Q: For kids interested in competitive swimming, what type of time commitment should they expect?
A: Summer league teams require a minimal time commitment, take place during just the summer months and are a great way to get kids started in swimming. Summer leagues are often offered through local YMCAs. The actual club teams usually have two-hour practices each day, which are similar to the time commitment involved in other sports like basketball or soccer. The club finder tool on SwimToday.org will help you locate clubs with competitive swimming programs that fit your family’s needs.
Q: Is there anything kids can do outside the pool to help strengthen their swimming skills in the pool?
A: It depends on the age of the kids. Coaches will probably tell your kids if there are exercises that might help them outside of the pool, but if your kids are younger and just getting involved in swimming, the best thing they can do is enjoy the sport and get involved in other sports. In competitive swimming at an older age, you could add push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups outside the pool.

Q: What about lessons for adults?

A: A lot of the Make a Splash providers are able to provide lessons to adults as well. It’s never too late to start swimming.
Q: What are the health benefits of swimming?
A: Swimming is one of the best all-around exercises out there for toning your body. It is better for your knees than running, and it’s very good for your cardiovascular health. In addition, being active generally sets a good example for kids.
Q: What is your advice to moms of young athletes in general?
A: The most important thing is to allow kids to make their own decisions regarding their sport, and to make sure they enjoy it. Encourage them to try new sports and identify what they love to do, rather than starting them in just one sport from a young age. If they want to take a break from their competitive sport and the intense training, allow them to do so. Burnout is very real.
Q: How can we support the swimmers involved in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials June 25 – July 2?A: Tweet using the #SwimToday hashtag, follow @USA_Swimming on Twitter (where you can also find Twitter IDs for U.S. swimmers competing in the Trials), encourage your friends and family to watch the trials and cheer the athletes on, and host Olympic watch parties using Splash Bash resources from USA Swimming: http://www.usaswimming.org/DesktopDefault.aspx?TabId=1611&Alias=Rainbow&Lang=en
Don't forget!  U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Swimming will air live on NBC June 25 – July 2.



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Thrifty Tip #16: Plan Your Menus



When I recently asked a group of friends for ideas for thrifty tips, they were almost unanimous in suggesting menu planning.

One man said that his family rotates through a set three-week menu plan.  Someone else said that she organises her menus by ingredient, for example, Monday - beef, Tuesday - chicken, Wednesday - pork.

Way back in 2008 I wrote a very detailed post about menu-planning, which I won't repeat here.

Reading that post after four years I was amazed at how organised I was back then.  Probably the biggest change between then and now is that I use recipes less now and 'wing it' more.  My menu planning these days is more spontaneous because I now have a better understanding of seasonality and flavour combinations (which is a polite way of saying that I've grown lazier). 

I often plan what I'll cook as I go around the supermarket aisles, with only a general plan written out beforehand.  When I get home I jot down what I intend to make during the week, based on what I have just purchased.  I know that is not really menu planning, but it is working for me at the moment.

Do you plan your weekly menus?  How do you go about it?

This post is part of my series, Thirty Days of Thrifty Tips.
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The Great Biryani Cookout from CFG

I've been with the Chennai Food Guide group for a while and its been an amazing journey! Apart from restaurant reviews, the team has now branched out into organising various workshops. Though i've not attended any, the feedback and reviews have been left me quite envious. One more is in the offing.. It is the.... drum rolls please..... c'mon, keep em coming....

The Great Biryani Cookout

Who does not like a good biryani? I have had quite a few across restaurants and some were outstanding [simple yet packed with flavour] while others well, less said the better. But i have always wanted to learn the art of making a good Biryani [wonder when that will happen]. For now, here is a treat for all you wannabe Masterchefs, or rather wannabe Biryani connoisseurs 

When-- Saturday, June 23, 2012

What Time-- 11am through to 2.30pm 

Where-- Lakshmi Farms.
How to Get there-- It is 3rd Farm House on the RIGHT HAND SIDE after the ECR Toll Gate from Thiruvanmyur towards Mahabs. You won't miss the place on the day of the event!


Who's teaching-- Learn from the best there is, a traditional Chef - Rajab who has under his chef's hat over15 years of experience of cooking Tamil Muslim Style Biryani at weddings, and other functions. Tempting right?


     What is in store for you??

  • This workshop completely teaches you how to cook Biryani (Veggie, Mutton and Chicken) Chennai Tamil Muslim Style from the beginning till the very end, along with the Chicken 65, Raitha, Brinjal Thokku and Bread Halwa. The idea is that all participants get engaged right from cutting the vegetables, washing the rice to loading the Biryani in the Dum.

    Later you all can eat what you have cooked.

    Note: SEPARATE COOKING AND PREPARATION FOR VEGGIES AND NON VEGGIES [ so, dont smirk or scrunch up your face  at the mention of Non veg biryani being cooked alongside veg]

    Things on the COOK, EAT & LEARN Menu:

    VEG MENU
    1) Veg Biryani
    2) Gobi 65
    3) Onion Raitha
    4) Brinjal Thokku
    5) Bread Halwa
    6) Flavoured Sweet Rice

    NON VEG MENU
    1) Chicken Biryani
    2) Mutton Biryani
    3) Chicken 65
    4) Onion Raitha
    5) Brinjal Thokku
    6) Bread Halwa
    7) Flavoured Sweet Rice

    Scaled Recipe Booklet will be Provided and Instructed by a Traditional and Experienced Cook/ Chef.

    Cooking will be done in traditional vessel and possibly using wood fire.

    Everyone gets to take home Desserts - Bread Halwa and Flavoured Sweet Rice

    Unlimited Soft Drinks and Water will be available

    How much-- 1499/- Per Person [Includes everything mentioned above]

    What to bring-- A Chopping board & a Knife [so we dont get caught if you accidently commit any crimes, other than chopping veggies/meat that is...]

    How to Register?
    Those who are interested to take part in the CFG Biryani Workshop on Saturday June 23rd 11am-3pm need to contact Nishanth Radhakrishnan via mobile +919840340490 or email him on nishanth@chennaifoodguide.in

    Your participation will be confirmed for the event once payment is done. You can come deliver the amount to our office. Address details are as follows:
    Chennai Food Guide
    ARZ Consultancy
    No. 17/12 Venkatrathinam Nagar
    Extension 2nd Street
    Adyar, Chennai - 600020
    Behind Cafe Coffee Day

    For e-transfer - email Nishanth [
    nishanth@chennaifoodguide.in] for account details.

    First Come First Serve Basis: 50 People only

    ALSO GET DISCOUNT VOUCHER FROM DAAWAT A BIRYANI for all participants. For more info on them visit:  http://www.facebook.com/daawatabiriyani
    What are you waiting for? Vethala paakku or the red carpet??? Get going and Register already!!
    You can also check out the Facebook page for The Great Biryani Cookout
     
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Thrifty Tip #15: Use Found Items


The idea for this post came to me as I collected pine cones on the way home from work yesterday.

You see, pine cones make excellent kindling and they are freely available in the park I ride through each day.  At this time of year there are so many littering the ground that I can be picky; I choose the biggest, chunkiest ones and leave the smaller ones alone.

As I collected pine cones I thought about the other found items that we use around the house.  There's the rectangular worm farm tray that made its way home on the back of my bike - I had been looking for an extra tray for years.  My daughter had a lovely fabric-covered cork board that someone left out the front of their house with some other junk.

Best of all is hard rubbish collection week each year.  A year or two ago I collected a lovely bookcase that I painted and now lives in our family room.

The trick with hard rubbish collections - or any other found items, for that matter - is to only take things that you know you will use.  Otherwise, it is easy to end up with far too much clutter.

Have ever found anything wonderful that someone else has discarded?

This post is part of my series, Thirty Days of Thrifty Tips.
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Spicy Serrano Maple Scalloped Sweet Potatoes


Have I mentioned that I love sweet potatoes?  I ate this whole dish by myself. Not in one sitting, it was over 3 days, but I ate it all.  And I'd do it again.

Layered with spinach and a fantastic tomatillo serrano pepper sauce, this was incredible. 

This was supposed to be inverted on a plate after cooling. I skipped that step as I wanted to dig into it fast.  Plus, in the past, I haven't had much luck with inverting things.  I put this in an 8 x 8 in. pan because I don't have a deep dish pie plate and I was afraid mine was going to be too small. I used a lot of potatoes though.  I think this would have inverted nicely though and made a great presentation.  Maybe next time.



Spicy Serrano Maple Scalloped Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from Cooking on the Weekends

1 cup roughly chopped tomatillos
2 tbsp. chopped serrano, seeds removed
3/4 cup half and half
2 cups pepper jack cheese (I used a bit less)
2 tsp. garlic, minced
4 tbsp. maple syrup, divided
3/4 tsp. salt
Pepper
About 2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled
1 tbsp. butter, melted
2 cups packed, fresh spinach leaves

Combine the tomatillos, serrano pepper and half and half into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  Add the cheese, garlic, 3 tbsp. of the syrup, salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Slice the sweet potatoes with a slicer fairly thin.  Set aside.

Add the melted butter to an 8 x 8 in. pan or an 8 in. pie plate.  Add the other tablespoon of maple syrup and swirl around. 

Neatly add two layers of sliced sweet potatoes directly over the butter syrup mixture.  They should be overlapping and layered.  Add the remaining sweet potatoes to the cream mixture and use your hands to be sure that each slice is well coated with it. 

Layer about a third of the coated sweet potatoes on top of the first two layers already in the pan.  Then add half of the spinach. Repeat with 1/3 more coated potatoes, then the rest of the spinach.  Then layer the last of the sweet potatoes on top.  Pour any remaining cream mixture on top and move around so it seeps into the dish.  Bake in oven at 425 for 20 minutes.  Then, turn the temp down to 375 and cover with foil and bake for another 30 - 35 minutes. 

Remove the pan from the oven and let it sit at room temperature for about an hour. Place on a plate or a platter that is a couple of inches larger than the cake pan, upside down on top.  Flip over gently to invert potatoes.   (I skipped this part and we just dug in but I'll bet it would have been gorgeous inverted on a platter.)


One Year Ago...








Strawberry Lemonade Muffins




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Kebab Street, Chennai

As i walked down the narrow familiar lanes, i spotted the Sign board "Kebab Street". A small place, it seemed alive with the bright lights and people buzzing about. I wouldn't call it a cafe, nor would it fit into the category of a Restaurant, it is more of a "grab a quick bite" kinda place. Before giving the "yes, i am in" confirmation to Nishanth, i asked him if the place had any veg items and he confirmed the same [so all you veggies, make note]

Only 2 months old, the place seems to have attracted quite a few from around the locality and beyond, who came back for repeat orders. A simple small space dotted with a few tables and chairs, the walls showed off some of the key items from their menu. At the entrance, if you observe is where the Shawarma stall stands.

I went ahead and placed the order for a "plain lassi" opting against the Rose lassi[ not too fond of that flavour]. The lassi arrived in a take away glass and was quite divine, perfect for a warm summer evening. Within minutes, a red box landed in front of me and instantly i noticed the "veg" "non veg" labels on the box and that there was a tick mark against the "veg" on mine... :-) 


Like a little child opening a gift box, i opened my box to see a wide array of Kebabs waiting to be devoured. It was accompanied by a small container with Mint chutney and another with  Vinaigrette onions. 

The box contained 
Tandoori Paneer tikka
Achari Gobi Tikka
Dulehari Paneer tikka [ which was my favorite, it was paneer with beetroot stuffing]
Tandoori Stuffed aloo[ that had a strong ginger flavour]
Vegetable Shammi kebab [ the one kebab that i usually avoid but one that surprised me here]
and a nice piece of roti, almost resembling a rumali roti [none like the usual pita bread]


 The meat eaters got a similar box with some of the veggie kebabs and few non veg ones- mutton tikka pepper BBQ chicken, chicken tikka, Fish tikka, Stuffed Tangri Chicken, Chicken Sheek Kebab, and Mutton Seek Kebab [yes, they had more options, but i aint complaining] and a roti as well. Apart from this , they each got a small roll - the Shawarma.. Watching them devour, i can safely conclude that it was delicious.. Some of them spoke about how the sauce, flavour was just perfect and not overpowering. 


We ate, we drank, we chatted away, and yes, have i mentioned we ate? yes, the food came non stop to the table. It was either a repeat order of the kebabs or a platter with Jeera pulao[ quite divine i must say- the flavours were simple but it was rich], Yellow Daal, Dal Makhani and Paneer Butter masala . Well, these are unfortunately the entire gist of the Veggie dishes, but you wont be disappointed. I enjoyed the Pulao, Dal and Paneer [which was a tad sweet but was so fresh and soft... it made up for the sweetness]

The non veg eaters also got a similar platter- Biryani with Butter chicken and Tawa Chicken. Well, i shall not comment on these as i was busy enjoying the Jeera rice to notice them.. :-) 

All the food was served in use and throw boxes with matching cutlery. Tabrez, the man who owns Kebab street mentioned this was a conscious decision, one that was meant for the Hygiene factor. So, no worry of washing cutlery, plates or bowls and no messy platees or glasses with fingerprints on them. Before we could wind up for the night, Tabrez insisted we try their dessert- Kheer [made with rice, dry fruits and sugar] It was smooth, cool and yumm... Not too sweet, exactly how i like my desserts!


During the course of the evening, a few ordered soft drinks, more precisely Coke and Diet Coke's, with Doc in the house we got to talking about the good and bad of Caffeine, especially in soft drinks. He mentioned how it was bad, no matter how much one had during the course of the day.... The conversation got quite interesting, reaching great heights till all of the cans were piled in the center... Take a look at how many were guzzling down these aerated drinks....



Overall, it was yet another fun night. The place is definitely one i would visit many times, if only to grab a box of kebabs and some Jeera pulao....

Ambiance 7/10
Food 8/10
Service 8/10
Price 8/10 [ a meal for 2 should cost around Rs600]

Address:
Kebab street
106/26, Landons Road,
Kilpauk

There are two routes to reach the eatery:-

1. Drive down the road next to Ega theater, turn left at the end and drive down till you spot the VIP showroom. The restaurant is right next door.
2. Head towards Taylors Road, go down the road, and turn right near Selvam Stores..less than 100 yards and you will spot the VIP showroom. The restaurant is right next door.


Disclaimer:
This was part of a CFG Showcase that I attended and was conducted by Chennai Food Guide. 
The reviews posted on this blog are based on my personal experience. Also remember that restaurants and eat outs sometimes change with time, so does their food and service. So, kindly consider these factors while visiting the places. Remember, no two palates are the same. Bon Appétit  :-)  
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