Entertaining on a Budget – Desserts

donuts and bagel display
Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Pexels.com

Any good party or get together needs to include sweets. Though my guests and I often eat too much food and are full afterwards, we always have desserts.  As much as we enjoy these things, usually what we have isn’t too elaborate, and doesn’t end up costing much either.

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(photo credit Walmart.com)
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(photo credit wired.com)
This is a simple dessert that many times ends up being just enough. Just enough as it is light, sweet and doesn’t fill you up. You can serve the pudding in a large bowl, with smaller bowls on the side. Including different kinds of toppings makes the pudding extra special. We have used chocolate chips, sprinkles, crushed cookies, crushed candy canes, and mini marshmallows. If you want to get a little fancier, you can serve the pudding in small bowls, or to make a bigger impact, layer pudding, cream topping, repeating – like a parfait inside a champagne glass. Classy!

The same thing above can be done with jello. Again, serve in a large bowl. Or do the same parfaits – you can get very creative. I’ve done red and green layered with cream for Christmas, yellow and orange for Easter. You get the idea. There are a variety of gelatins – just check out all the color combinations you can make! I have done jello parfaits in team colors. And you will be surprised at how well jello will go over with your guests. It is a light and easy dessert – just something sweet to end your meal.

Cake mixes are frequently on sale.  You should always have a few on hand.  Combined with a canister of frosting, you can make a tray of cupcakes.  Or a sheet cake.  It’s not fancy, no.  If you want a desert that will feed a lot of people, this can be the one.  Always having different colored sprinkles will be able to jazz things up, in colors appropriate for your gathering, or whatever holiday you are celebrating.

The last standby is ice cream.  Unless your an ice cream addict and can’t resist it, buy a few half gallons when it is on sale.  You know, stock up.  Frequently here we can get them for $1.99 each.  Pick neutral flavors (or ones you know your guests really like), set out the whipped cream, sprinkles, nuts, chocolate chips.  Have a box of ice cream cones available and a few small dessert bowls.  I have found that providing a “Make Yourself a Sundae” buffet is always successful.  Because everyone always has room for a few spoons of ice cream!

Entertaining on a Budget…Food

lunch table
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I enjoy entertaining. To me, nothing is better than sitting around with family and friends, enjoying each other and enjoying good food. Of course, me being me – I try to combine style and fun with low cost (yes, it is possible). Get together events do not have to cost a fortune.

When I talk about casual gatherings, what we usually have is a buffet style event. And most of the time, we have more than one variety of food. Always leftovers, which is a good thing! There are so many different kind of things you can serve that are both economical and delicious. As with most financial aspects of just about anything, the key is preparing in advance. Having a decently stocked freezer with some of these items purchased on sale will assure that you don’t go overboard financially. Even if you don’t have them on hand, the cost of these isn’t too bad.

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A large baking dish of chicken drumsticks usually goes over really well. You can make three or four smaller pans of different flavors, or if you want – just put a bunch in one pan, and choose a marinade to bake them in. It’s very easy to just pour barbeque sauce over the top, bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes. Served with a big bowl of rice, this has always been a big hit at parties here.

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(photo credit Instacart.com)
Early in your day, long before people are due to arrive, throw a bag or two of these meatballs into your crock pot. Set the crock on low with a jar or two (depending on the number of meatballs) of spaghetti sauce. When they are done, you can have a bowl of pasta on the side for these, or you can have rolls and shredded cheese and people can make meatball sandwiches.


(photo credit dollartree.com and walmart.com)
A very good and successful dish to serve is pasta with ground beef. It is very simple. Boil one box of pasta, and while that is cooking, brown one pound of ground beef (or ground…whatever you usually use). Drain the pasta, and then put it back into the pot it was cooked in. Add the browned ground meat, and pour in a jar of spaghetti sauce. Stir, and put in a serving bowl. Depending on the number of people you have coming, you can do two or more portions of this. Just follow this rule, one box of pasta (16 oz.), one pound of ground meat, and one jar of sauce. Simple.

taco
(photo credit Target.com)
When it comes to reasonably priced meals, you can’t really beat tacos. Depending on the number of people you are having, fry up your ground meat and add one package of taco seasoning. They taste great, it is easy to do and people usually eat them right up. Quickly. You can have a package of soft shells and a box of hard ones. Put these with the usual taco toppings – shredded lettuce, salsa, hot sauce, chopped onions and of course sour cream.

Eat, drink, have fun. Enjoy!

The challenges of being a Multi-Cat Mom…

I have been around cats for over fifty years. At the beginning, we had one cat. When Max died, we waited a year and then got Sam. As a newlywed, we got Harry, and she lived for nineteen years. There was a short period of time, about four years when we just had our Beagle, Fred. In December of 2007, we got Beavis. So while I have had cats for most of my life, we didn’t get a second one until early 2008.

My mother came to live with us then, and she had a big, fat white cat that for some reason my oldest son was very allergic to. We knew Kitty couldn’t live with us, and my sister had two in the townhouse she was renting at the time. After some discussion, it was decided that her kitten, Stanley, would come live with us. We would have the two little ones, and she would keep the two older ones. This was with the understanding that if and when one of the older ones would pass away, she would get Stanley back. Ha! Fat chance. My kids fell in love with him immediately, and he fell in love with me. I have no idea why. To this day, the boy remains totally devoted to me. Beavis and Stan lived together as brothers for years, until 2014. That was when the three of us moved in with my sister and her family. They had a tiny cat, Sammy, who tolerated the boys very well. We acquired George as a Father’s Day gift.

Fast forward to Florida, when we moved there. My cousin had four, so we were a household of six cats. Christmas of 2017, a cat showed up and adopted us. Lester made the number of cats in the house a seven. When we decided to leave Florida to move back home to Pennsylvania – there was an outside cat that again, adopted us. We didn’t take him into the house, he lived outside and his name was JB. I knew I couldn’t drive away with the moving truck leaving him behind. So, JB was ours and we lived as a three cat and two person family until the holidays. That was when I stopped into a local shelter rescue to drop off some food that my boys didn’t like. Before I knew it, I was agreeing to take two kittens home – not permanently, supposedly. Nevertheless, they have stayed and that brings our total (our final total) to five. Four boys and one girl. Nikita and Alexi make us laugh every day, though their older brothers are not always amused by them.

JB was diagnosed with supposed nasal cancer back in January. I say supposed because no actual tests were done. To get a definitive diagnosis, the testing costs would be astronomical. And I mean that. It would have been between three and four THOUSAND dollars, just for diagnostics. The vet recommended we treat him as if we knew he had this affliction. He gets a pill every day. Yes, a pill. Given to a cat. This is not easy, to say the least. Some days, he is good. Others, not so much. Even on the days we think he is good, he just might not be. Cleaning up litter two days ago, I saw the pill we thought he swallowed behind and to the side of one of the litter boxes. He is a rascal, without a doubt. Overall though, he has been a very good boy. Though it is a bit hard to try to overpower a cat who clearly does not want to take a pill. Medicating him is much easier than we thought it would be, however. It is a bit daunting to try to give him his pill with his two baby siblings staring and watching and being nosy…ugh! Once he clearly and absolutely swallows his pill, he gets a few treats…JB first, because…he deserves it. Then the rest get treats too, not because they deserve them, just…because.

And then there is Nik…our Nikita Adam, the character in this household. The one who never, ever fails to make us laugh. How to say it? Oh, I don’t know. This boy, he has…loose bowels. Diarrhea extraordinaire. It is coming to the time that we may need to get him treated by a vet, but until that time – we are trying to take care of him on our own. The BRAT diet? Eh, for a cat – this is what we’ve done. I boiled a chicken breast the other day, and shredded it in the small food chopper. Rice is good, and I put that in the chopper too. So, before everyone else gets fed, Nik (and Lexi, because they are joined at the hip) gets his bland meal. So far, so good. We think. It will be a few days before we decide if a vet for the boy is warranted.
Three of them had goopy eyes. Almost pink eye like. So, because I am always on the lookout for reasonable alternatives – they are getting lysine in their food. I could not find a pill crusher locally, and could not wait until one was shipped. I put the lysine pills in a dish, and crushed them – pushing them down with a measuring cup, making them into a powder almost. It has been over a week that I have been doing this, mixing the lysine with both their morning and evening meal. I am happy to report that our three afflicted boys are doing just fine. And I am very happy, and proud that I was able to find a reasonable alternative, money wise, that was able to take care of my cats in a good and effective way.

If things were different, if money was plentiful – maybe I would find it easier to run to the Vet. But, when you have five cats – that is a lot. And it is more simple to treat them at home, if you can. I would do anything I could to take care of our five. They are our babies. I just want them happy and healthy. If you interviewed them and asked, I am sure they would say they are well taken care of and well loved. That is all we can ask for…

Laundry Tips…

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Besides the five furries, our household consists of Jeff and I. Here are my tips for keeping laundry costs to a minimum…or at least as low as they can be.
1. One towel per week, for one person. If you hang them up decently after use, and they dry good – there is no reason why you need more than one in a seven day period.
2. If your clothes seem clean, hang them up – and spray softly with a light perfume.
3. This is pre-emptive, but…don’t buy clothes that need dry cleaning. And if you do buy these (at a thrift store of course), try the gentle setting on your washing machine. It can work wonders.
4. Hang your clothes to dry properly – put them in the dryer for a short while, say for 20 minutes – and then onto a hanger. It reduces the time you use your dryer, and will reduce wear and tear on the items.
5. Wash all of your “important” t-shirts inside out – for me, these would be my WWE and Lightning shirts – and dry on hangers. Trust me, I have shirts from 2001 that still look brand new.
6. For your important interests, consider doing clothes in relevant colors. Last spring, I wore only blue with everything I owned while the Bolts were in the playoffs.
7. If you have outside cats, or animals – as we do – use hot water and one squirt of dish washing detergent on the blankets, towels or whatever their bedding is. Trust me, this is just fine.
8. When you have a container of detergent that is almost empty, run a bit of water in the bottom of it – and you will have enough for a small or light load.
9. Truthfully, if you wear your socks for only a short while – wear them again. Give them a blast of perfume for good measure.
10. Never, ever leave a load in the dryer too long. If you do, you might have to repeat the load, getting it wet and drying it once more. You don’t want to do this.

Random facts – about me…

I just got finished taking one of those silly Facebook surveys. You know, the ones that have you list your favorite type things, have you done this, have you done that. And I started thinking about more of these type questions…

My favorite movie of all time is Austin Powers Goldmember.

I wear a size 7 1/2 shoe, in general. Though I have pairs in both 7 and 8 as well.

I got my first cat when I was about to turn five years old, and except for a very short few years I have had a cat in my life for most of my life.

I don’t know if it is a disorder or not, but all the labels on things I own (like in a cabinet, or the refrigerator) just NEED to be facing out. I can’t stand looking at the back of something, or the side. It’s just wrong! I know. Weird.

When I put the heat or air conditioning on in my car, I have to have it set on an even number.

When I get gas (we pump our own here in Pennsylvania) I always try to have the amount paid end in a 5 or a 0.

I sleep with three pillows. My mother in law used to ask me why I just didn’t sleep in a chair. I have to be elevated. Torture for me would be having to sleep flat. I just couldn’t do it.

I do not like horror movies. Yet, I enjoy true crime shows (like Forensic Files) very much. Reality at times can be much more scary than entertainment.

On my phone currently I have about 15 songs. This is in contrast to Jeff, who has just about every song known to man on his computer. True love is finding Bay City Roller and Backstreet Boys songs for your girlfriend to sing along to.

I would never put ketchup on a hot dog. Mustard belongs there. Though I do like ketchup on a lot of things – interestingly enough, I put it in chicken noodle soup.

Years ago, a friend of my son Kevin showed me a way to eat ice cream – in a bowl, with a bit of milk over the top. It is the only way I enjoy ice cream now. Almost like a milkshake in a bowl, sort of.

When it comes to take out Chinese food – I just CANNOT throw away those little packets of soy sauce and spicy mustard. Currently, we have a massive supply in our refrigerator.

The best job I ever had was being a transporter in a hospital that to me that felt like home. The worst job I ever had was being a sort of waitress, serving meals to rich old people. The oldies were nice enough, it was the management at the place that just…sucked. No other word for it.

I talk to myself. A lot. Both at home, and I admit – out in public too.

Ok, everyone – let’s hear some random facts about you…

Introducing… LISA’S LAUNDRY

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I am always looking for ways to get a little more money into my life, and so I have launched a little side business called Lisa’s Laundry.
This small venture is a laundry-at-home service. I will pick up and drop off laundry at the client’s requested location. I am offering very quick turn around. I will wash, dry, fold, hang. A regular load will be $7 and a large one will be $8. Also available will be ironing services.
Would love for it to take off sooner rather than later, but we will see…
Wish me luck!

(Partially) Homemade Baking Hacks

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I like to entertain. It is always a lot of fun to have people over, and those visits usually include food (and plenty of it). Typically, we eat so much that we are usually full, but there are always desserts. I make a few different things that come out pretty good, despite minimal effort.
Making a cake or cupcakes with a Strawberry mix instead of the usual Chocolate or Yellow is a nice change. It usually goes over well. Paired with plain white frosting, you can decorate them with pink sprinkles for Valentine’s Day, yellow or purple for Easter, or red and blue for a Patriotic event.
Muffins to me usually are more for breakfast, but sometimes I make them for other times. One of my favorites is using a Banana Nut mix, add a package of Banana Creme pudding to the mix, and throw in some chocolate chips. Before baking them, you can add nuts (or can grate some freeze dried banana chips) on top. They come out delicious! Very moist, almost cupcake-like.
Make up a decent amount of Vanilla Pudding, depending on how many people you’ll be having. To me, it’s easier to serve if you put it all in a big bowl, but making individual ones looks fancier. You can have toppings to choose from. With vanilla, I’ve used chocolate chips, mini marshmallows and even crushed-up grated red and white mints. With chocolate pudding, after it is done and set, you can mix it with a Cool Whip-type cream and make it become almost like a mousse. Same thing – it is fine in a large serving container, but I like the mousse in champagne glasses. Looks fancy!
You can make a simple homemade Peanut Butter frosting with powdered sugar, peanut butter and some shortening (butter or margarine) and frost Chocolate cupcakes or a sheet cake – Reese’s Cake. With chocolate cake, you can frost with the Cool Whip-type cream and grate chocolate sandwich cookies – Oreo dessert. Frosting this way should be done just before serving, however. Though if you want to make it a layer cake, you can frost the middle section and cover the top with the Cream just as you serve it.
Red Velvet Cake Mix is good for Valentine’s Day – frost with white icing and use red and pink sprinkles. You can also use white icing and green sprinkles for a pretty Christmas dessert.
Baking from scratch is wonderful, no doubt. You can still have nice desserts for minimal effort…

Yum Rum Cake…

As you know, we recently came back from a Cruise. It was wonderful – everything about it was perfect, and we had no complaints. None at all. What we did have was tons of compliments, and many favorite things. One of the best things we had while cruising was the Rum Cake. Eating the small one I brought home as a souvenir, I was wishing we could duplicate it. So this was mentioned to my nephew Dan who was on the cruise, and is currently involved in a Culinary Program in school. He made this cake for Sunday’s Pay Per View party, and to say it was delicious is an understatement. It tasted wonderful, and it was an exact copy of what we had in the Caribbean.
The recipe he used is as follows –
C A K E
Four whole eggs
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup Gold Rum (Bacardi)
1 box of Yellow Cake Mix
G L A Z E
1/2 cup Gold Rum (Bacardi)
1 small box of sugar free vanilla pudding
G L A Z E
1 cup of granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 stick butter
1/2 cup Gold Rum (Bacardi)
Dan’s variation – for one of the glaze rums, he used Amaretto. Mmm.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix cake ingredients and pour into a greased and floured bundt pan. Cook until done, about 60 minutes. Remove cake from pan. Mix the first glaze and drizzle on top. For the next glaze, combine butter, water and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce and continue heating for five minutes. Remove from heat, stir in rum. Get ready to enjoy!
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(Photo credit – Gracehill Bed and Breakfast)

I’m a lucky person…

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Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com

Yes, I am. I have the best friends and the best family, and I feel very fortunate.

You see, yesterday was a Pay Per View Day. That’s a day that the WWE broadcasts a special show, a PPV. While we have had a few minor parties, last night was one of our original, old school types. In the past, we have had nights that had themes – Royal Night, Irish Night, Honey Boo Boo Night, Massachusetts Welcome Back Night. It’s all been a blast. However, last night was just…a party. A fun time for us all to get together.

We had SO much food, and I have SO many leftovers – they were all delicious, and I love it – I won’t have to cook for days. My sister, Ellie and I ate some tonight, for a Girls Night. So good…

Christine finally got to meet Tom. It’s been seven years that they have heard about each other. Getting together after all this time, it was great. It was almost as if they’ve known each other all along. At one point, we actually had a line waiting for food. We had ribs and wings and pasta and loaded macaroni and cheese and chips and dip and homemade rum cake and pudding – whew! Just typing that makes me feel full…

The wrestling on screen was great, but the company here in Scranton was even better. And my babies charmed EVERYONE…

Random Money Saving Thoughts

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

I need to save money. As we are just about to plan our next cruise, barely a week after returning from the first one – it’s more important than ever. I have been thinking of a few things that can help me to add to my bank account (or at least have that same bank account not decrease).

* Don’t buy what you don’t need, if you already have one. That cute little bottle of lotion might not be expensive, but why bother if you already have more than several at home already?

* Bottled water – to me, it’s a waste. You can go to Dollar Tree and buy a few nice, cute reusable bottles – and fill them up from your tap, keeping them in your fridge all ready to go. If you don’t like tap water, invest in one of those pitchers that have filters.

* Don’t waste food. At all. Any. Immediately put leftovers in the freezer unless you KNOW you’ll eat them in the next day or two. Last night, I defrosted some kind of beef with rice – not sure where it originally came from. I mixed it up with a little bit of tomato sauce or tomato juice (I don’t remember which) and added some shredded cheese on top. Jeff and I had this for dinner, with saltines. It was kind of like a sloppy Joe type dish.

* Keep impulse buys at the grocery store to a minimum. Unless you know for sure that they are an amazing buy (though you should always be reading the circulars before you go).

* Do not ever buy travel size anything. You can get empty travel size bottles, airline approved at Dollar Tree. They come in colors, or clear. Make sure you label them or at least write down what is in them, though. I frequently make mistakes between shampoo, conditioner and leave in conditioner. They even have little spray bottles you can put liquid hair spray in so you can have your pump hair spray, if that’s what you are used to.

* Check all of your bills the next time they come in. There might be charges you can reduce or eliminate all together. Every little bit helps.

* Do not pay ATM fees if you can avoid them. In our area, there are a few convenience stores that charge no fee for using them. Search those places out where you live.

* If you can, avoid paying late fees on credit cards. I just hate having to do this.

* Consider a no-spend challenge. I did this for a one-week period. I told myself all I would get was gasoline, if I needed it. Turned out I didn’t, and seeing my bank balance exactly the same one week later was really nice.

* If you are considering a bigger type purchase or one that will be potentially expensive, wait it out. During that time, you might find a better deal. You might find that you don’t need what you were considering. If after waiting, you realize you still need it, you’ll be confident in what you’re about to purchase.

* Make a budget. This goes without saying. We all should have one. Once my situation here gets more stable and more regular, I will make one and I will stick to it.

* Don’t forget that life is for the living, and it’s to be lived having fun. Find frugal ways to keep yourself happy.