Do you or would you like to start cooking more meals with plant-based proteins like beans and lentils?
Do you hate how the oven heats up your entire kitchen when you’re cooking?
Do you hate to use your huge oven when you just need to cook something small?
Are you trying to save money on your electric or gas bill?
Are you trying to reduce the amount of fat in your diet?
Do you need extra motivation to try new recipes and get out of a I cook-the-same-food-all-the-time-rut?
Do you have the patience to read a fair amount of directions before you start using an appliance?
Do you want to bake cheesecakes, but get frustrated with the difficulty of doing so?
Do you often decide last minute what to make for dinner and need to thaw out frozen meats quickly?
Do you often forget about food you began to cook only to find it burned up in the oven or on the stove?
Do you cook boiled eggs often?
Do you cook rice often?
Do you not have access to a stove or burner for an extended period of time?
Do you not have a microwave?
If you answered yes to a few of these questions with #7 being especially important, you will probably make use of your instant pot quite often. I’m still learning to use mine to fit my needs, but I have been using it almost daily or multiple times a day.
Instant pots are energy-efficient, won’t heat up your kitchen, and make cooking beans, lentils, rice, veggies-including spaghetti squash, boiled eggs, cheesecakes, and cornbread much easier. It has also served as a good motivator for me to try new recipes and switch up my routine, because anything I put money into is an investment that I make sure to give some of my energy to.
They are not cheap, but especially if you are trying to cut back on your meat intake and use less oil in your cooking, instant pots are a big help. Cooking beans and lentils yourself will also save you money and allow you to have complete control over what is going into your beans.
The instant pot takes time to learn about, and requires some trial and error cooking, but it has some features which I love.
The saute feature- If you don’t have a stove or burner this is a life saver!
The automatic hold warm feature- I can take this pot to church functions like you would a crock pot and plug it in to stay warm, or it seems to retain heat well with the lid on. And it didn’t leak in my car either like crock pots have the potential to do!
Trivet- Allows you to cook things like cheesecakes, chicken, veggies etc. up out of the water so that they are not cooking through boiling, but through the heat of the steam surrounding them.
Cons- Chicken thrown into the Instant Pot doesn’t have the same flavor as meat cooking in a pan or the oven, but when you are cooking chicken to put into something else and want in to take on the flavor of whatever you are adding it to, this is a quick and easy way to cook frozen chicken breasts without having to defrost them and then cook them in a pan or throw them into the oven.
If your food isn’t done the first time, prepare to patiently wait while the pot reheats back up to temperature and then cools down enough that you can open it up again when it is done.
Learning Curve- Be prepared to read long directions before using this guy! It is not intuitive to use in my opinion, but with a bit of effort it gets easier.
Pre-heat time, but I can’t think of an appliance besides the microwave which doesn’t require time to warm up.
Want one? I’ve seen stellar deals on Instant Pots on Amazon around Christmas time, Cyber Monday, and on Amazon Prime Day. With brick and mortar stores preparing to run ads to bring people through their doors, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them deeply discounted in January and February. If you move you can also try applying the Amazon Move Discount. Credit Cards will also offer cash discounts when you spend a certain amount at a particular store. You may look into a few of these options.
Cookin lentils with and Instant Pot they become surprisingly easy to cook as well. I like to saute some onion and garlic in my instant pot, put lentils in the pot, cover them with water and 2 teaspoons of bouillon and then cook for 15 minutes on manual mode with a natural pressure release for 10 more minutes. Now you have lentils ready for nearly any recipe you’d like to make.
My Top 3 Tried and True Lentil Recipes:
Lentil Shepherds Pie ( I like to add Worcestershire sauce to this recipe for flavor in place of soy sauce and put french sliced green beans on top)
If you’re low on zuchinni make my Wrecked Zucchini Boats with some tips from the slideshow below:
3. 5 minute Red Lentil Curry ( I use brown lentils, beef or chicken bouillon, red curry paste and add pineapple and add other veggies like carrots and broccoli for extra flavor)
All three of the recipes above have been put into my cooking rotation as Matt and I have continued to work towards eating more plant based proteins. Meatless or low meat meals can be delicious. I hope you enjoy trying these out!
All of the following items were purchased in December of 2017 at the Dollar Tree. While their inventory varies, I’ve seen similar items at the various stores I’ve visited throughout the United States.
Best of all, I can keep using these candle holders into January just by changing the ribbon and adding a few other touches. . . Although I do wonder about how the burgandy will work with the blue on this ribbon. Hmmm I’ll worry about that in January.
I’m not sure how long this have been offered, but today I noticed that on Amazon when Prime members reload an Amazon gift card with 100 or more dollars they get $10 additional dollars to use. *Pst– the digital gift cards are way easy to use. I reloaded an old card and my new gift card showed up right away under my payment methods. I didn’t even have to type in gift card numbers or do anything annoying to make it work. I wish I could say Groupon worked so smoothly . . .
10% off Amazon Home Purchases through USPS
If you’ve moved or are planning to move let Amazon know through USPS and you can get 10% off of home purchases fulfilled by Amazon. After you sign up, it automatically takes off the discount in your cart before you purchase. It will even let you have this discount on top of cyber Monday deals!
Matt and I enjoyed living in the south and eating out, perhaps a little too much. Living in a hotel I did manage to cook quite a bit, but by our second long-term stay hotel I lost some steam and we ate out a lot. Throwing all caution to the wind when it came to food, both of us have gained some weight.
So being in an apartment and without the easy access to exercisde equipment our hotels used to offer us, I’m looking for inexpensive ways to exercise. This morning I decided to go back to using an ap I really enjoyed this last summer. It’s called the C25K ap from Zenlab’s fitness. It’s based on an exercise program called the couch to 5k, which was designed to help people who haven’t been active, “couch potatoes” if you will, to get active by following a step-by-step program done 3 times a week for about 30 minutes each week. The program prompts you to walk and run in intervals until over time you are in a condition to run a 5k. It’s designed to help non-runners work up to running longer distances over time. The ap I mentioned above makes this easy by cutting into your running music and prompting you to start and stop running and letting you know how many more runs you have to complete and when you’re almost done. You just listen to your music and follow the directions to run and walk when it tells you to do so. I’m not an exercise fiend or a runner so I was amazed that this ap got and kept me running. I have never trained for more than a 5k yet, and the 5k training portion of the ap is free, so it’s been a great deal for me.
So if you don’t have money for a gym membership or the stamina to run continuously for 30 minutes, this ap could be away to get back into good habits or help you maintain good habits you’ve built. I fall on and off the exercise wagon often, but have come back to this ap a few times, so I hope it can be helpful for anyone who’s looking for inexpensive ways to get healthier.
I made cheesecake in my Instant Pot recently and had a few pieces left over. Gasp! Leftover cheesecake, how is that possible? I myself am shocked, but after I saw it in the fridge today, I pulled it out and spread some of this tasty cheesecake onto a cookie and had an epiphany! Why not make a sweet cheese ball instead of a savory one? A fall cheesecake ball!
This cheesecake ball is a great party treat for those of us who want to taste a little of every dessert at a party.
This ball was made from a maple pumpkin cheesecake I made from another blog. You can find all of the ingredients and directions to make the cheesecake on the blog post I linked to above. No need to make the glaze that goes with the cheesecake, unless you’re going to eat half of the cheesecake, as normal cheesecake like we did. If you’re making the cheesecake just to use for a cheesecake ball, you can make the recipe above without the crust and skip step 3 below.
Pumpkin Maple Cheesecake Ball
Makes 1 cheese ball or 2 cheese balls if you use an entire 7′ cheesecake.
1/2 pumpkin maple cheesecake
1/2 bag of ginger snaps
1/2 sleeve of graham crackers
1. Pull your cheesecake out of the fridge to soften for 10-15 minutes or make a maple pumpkin cheesecake without a crust and let it cool over night.
2. Crush up 4 ginger snaps, graham cracker, or finely chopped nuts in a sandwich bag. You may even consider just sprinkling cinnamon on the ball instead of the coating it with cookies or nuts.
3. Cut the crust off of the bottom of your cheesecake or make your cheesecake without the crust.
4. Using your half of your 7″ cheesecake, roll the cheesecake into a large ball with your hands.
5. Spread your crushed ginger snaps, graham crackers, nuts etc on a small plate and roll the cheesecake ball around until it is completely covered.
6. Put your cheese ball into the middle of a plate and place cookies and crackers around it.
I think colored vanilla wafers would give the plate more color, but I didn’t have any of those on hand so this plate is a little monochromatic, but boy was this pumpkin maple cheesecake ball delicious!
Anyone else have other colorful cookies they think would look good around this sweet cheese ball?
Cost: $10 per person or $4 for children, seniors, and military
Tip: Consider visiting the town first thing in the morning or evening and then enjoying the air conditioning in the museum. We struggled to walk around the town in the heat of the day in August..
This museum was extremely informative. The museum explains the progression of several major industries in Mississippi including timber, cotton, catfish, and aerial crop dusting. There are artifacts, exhibits depicting the industries mentioned above, model trains, videos, and restored airplanes. The information in each exhibit was extensive and interesting.
There is also a small town built around the museum which depicts what life would have been like in Mississippi in the 1920’s. The town has a quaint general store with old-fashioned Coca Cola and other sodas, toys, and candy. The town also has an old church, a barn, a lumber mill, a doctor’s office, a blacksmith shop, and a cotton gin, among other buildings. We visited in August and not everything was open in the town, but during certain times it looks like they have more people doing demonstrations and manning stations within the town. They also have animals too, but we didn’t see any while we were visiting.
This was one of my favorite places to visit in the area. You could easy spend up to 2-3 hours here reading all of the information at each exhibit and exploring the town. Kids will love watching the model trains in the museum and walking through the 1920’s town.
A frog smaller than a dime!
Check out this frog’s camoflage
The biggest spider and spider web I’ve ever seen in the U.S. (Banana Spider)
Tip: Wear plenty of bug spray and pants because some of the trails are overgrown.
There are several trails but I tried the paved walking path just off of the Natchez Trace Parkway near Highway 51 and Rice Road. The path was paved and would be perfect for a quick walk or bike ride. There are parts of the trail under construction so to get a long walk or ride in could be a little bit tough, without having to cross several busy roads to do so.
The Yockanookany trail/Cyprus Swamp Trailhead is the starting point to several trails, but there is a short loop you can take if you just want to take a quick hike. The trail winds through trees and while mostly clear, has some long grass on each side of the trail. I saw and heard several birds, frogs, bugs, and butterflies. I went in August, in the evening, but didn’t see anyone else on the trail.
Cost- $10 a person or We found a Groupon that admitted two people for $8.25
Tip: If you can go in the fall it is less busy
The visit begins with a trail that is about 6 blocks in length, which winds through the trees and takes you past a series of petrified logs. Petrified wood is wood that has completely been replaced by different types of minerals, changing the log’s appearance and composition. The logs in this forest weigh hundreds to thousands of pounds and were formed millions of years ago from different types of trees.
While the path was nice, and the information written about the wood was interesting, I think my husband and I’s favorite part of the forest was the museum which features gems, fossils, and petrified samples from all over the world. Above are a few pictures of some of my favorite samples.
Kids under 8 probably wouldn’t appreciate the forest and museum much, unless of course they have a special interest in geology. However, the collection inside the museum was awesome to look at and while quite small, has impressive specimens.
1 t minced garlic or 2 cloves of fresh diced garlic
2 T. olive olive oil
2 cubes Knorr Chicken Flavor Bouillon (or 1 cube for every cup of water if you are using traditional bouillon cubes)
5 C water
3 medium sized red potatoes (peels on)
2 medium sized carrots
2 green onions
1 medium sized zuchini (peels on)
2 handfuls of baby spinach (optional)
Any other veggies, celery, squash, pumpkin, bell peppers, etc.
1 frozen chicken breast
salt and pepper to taste
Prep Time: aprox. 30 minutes
Saute your onions until transparent (2-3 minutes). I reccomend doing this in your instant pot or in the soup pan you’ll be putting the rest of your ingredients into. If you have celery to put into your soup, saute it with your onions.
Add the garlic to the onion and saute for 1 minute then turn the Instant Pot to the warming mode or if using a stove turn off your burner.
Put in your 2 bouillon cubes and 5 cups of water.
Turn your Instant Pot back onto saute or the burner on your stove to medium and let the broth heat up while you gather and chop your veggies.
Add all veggies listed above and more if you’d like–except the spinach!
Add your frozen chicken breast into the soup to boil. I like to do this to avoid needlessly creating extra dirty dishes–especially since we don’t have a ton of cookware here in our hotel. But you could thaw and then cook the chicken however you like before adding it to the soup.
Let your soup boil for about 10-15 minutes depending on how cruchy you like your veggies.
Fish out the chicken breast with tongs or a large spoon and dice it or shred it with a fork and then put it back into the soup.
Throw in the two handfuls of spinach right before you are about to serve the soup.
Add salt and pepper as needed.
Switch the instant pot setting back to hold warm.
I can’t say enough about minced garlic! You can buy it in small jars in the store and it lasts forever. Or you can buy it fresh and mince it. It adds a ton of flavor to food and lasts for a long time in the fridge. It was one of a few ingredients I bought to cook with in our hotel over the two months we’ve been here. I use it with meat, veggies, and in fresh salsa all of the time. I use the brand shown above and have seen it at almost every grocery store I’ve been too. Consider picking some up.
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At the end of this month Matt and I will be moving to Oregon. We’re excited to be leaving our hotel and live in our own space again, but haven’t loved the ups and downs of looking for an apartment. We’re not from Oregon and haven’t ever even visited Salem where we’ll be living. We’ve felt overwhelmed and frustrated at times as we looked for an apartment and agonized over what we needed and wanted and what price we were willing to pay for our wants. Needless to say we learned a lot by trial and error and turn over our findings to you. We hope these steps will help you avoid some of the pitfalls we encountered on our apartment hunting journey.
1. Determine Your Must Haves
How many rooms and bathrooms will you need?
How important is it to you that you have washer/dryer hookups in your apartment?
How important is it to have A/C? In Salem we were surprised to find that a majority of the units we were looking at did not have A/C.
What amenities are important to you? Is it worth $50-100 per month extra to have access to a pool and fitness center or would you be just as happy paying for a gym membership with that money? Or could you buy your own machine with the money you’d save and then re-sell the machine when you move?
If you want to keep your monthly rental cost down, you may have to make sacrifices. Even just $100 extra each month adds up. Just think–over the course of a year, you will be spending an additional $1200 for access to these amenities. If the you know you’ll utilize the amenities then these extras are worth their cost to you. But, if you don’t think you’ll use them, consider finding a less expensive rental.
2. Break Down the Costs
It’s generally recommended that a person spend about 1/3 or less of their net monthly income on housing. This guideline gave us a solid starting point on figuring out how much we could afford to pay in rent every month. Also, consider you may have other financial goals or aspirations which limit that to a smaller percentage of your income.
Look at your budget before you begin looking for an apartment. You can adjust it later if necessary, but start with a dollar amount that you are willing to spend first. Now take into account the other costs associated with renting. As you look at listings take note of the following about each property:
Are some utilities included? Some landlords will pay for the water, sewer, and garbage. Does the monthly cost include Internet access?
Is there an additional cost for parking or HOA?
What other costs will you have in addition to your month rental payment?
How far away is the rental from work? How much more will you be spending in gas for a longer or shorter commute?
Get the real monthly cost of your favorite apartments so you’re comparing apples to apples. Then stick to your budget. If you don’t, the nicer housing can make it easier to justify spending more. And if you do fall in love with an apartment outside of your budget it may help you to ask yourself a few of the following questions:
Am I willing to eat out less to be in a nicer apartment?
Am I willing to spend less money on traveling, movies, shopping, and other entertainment to live in a better apartment?
What could I buy with the money we save on rent every month by living in a smaller or less fancy place?
3. Go Beyond Google
In our experience classifieds and property management sites offered cheaper rental options that websites like Trulia, Apartments.com, or ApartmentFinder.com which come up first on search engines like Google. We found a lot of cheaper listings on sites like:
Craig’s List: It sounds super sketchy I know–thanks to news stories about Craig’s List Killers–but on classified sites you’ll find small business owners tend to post less expensive monthly rentals for housing. This is probably because referral sites like apartments.com charge fees for listing rental properties. So look at classifieds first and while they are not at convenient, you’ll find great properties at lower costs.
Property management sites were also a great place to find discounts and similar properties in your price range!
If you can’t find enough pictures or a sufficient description of a property that interest you on Craig’s List or a the property management site, google the property address and other sites are likely to have more pictures and information, including referral sites like apartments.com.
If possible, talk to people in the area who may have leads on better deals.
4. Research Safe Areas
Ask/Take a Drive
Even if you’ve lived in a city for a while, you may not know everything about each area of the city. If you’re local, drive to the area and look around, ask co-workers and friends about what the area is like, and use some of the tools mentioned below to find out as much about the area as you can.
Use Social Media
Starting out we knew very little about the safe and unsafe areas of Salem. Matt read about a few areas and then reached out via social media to see if he had any friends who had moved to the area. It turns out he did. He was able to ask our friends about the area, and they were even kind enough to walk through an apartment for us and videotape what it looked like. They were also able to tell us more about the surrounding area.
If you don’t have this luxury because you are moving to a new area from out-of-state or out of the country, and don’t know anyone, I recommend using a handy tool Matt discovered on Trulia.com listings.
Use Trulia’s Anything You Could Ever Want to Know About an Area Tool
Trulia may not have as many listings as other sites, but they put together a tool that is invaluable in your apartment search. When we began looking for apartments, we pulled up neighborhoodscout.com to look at crime rates and Google maps to calculate Matt’s commute time. These sites were helpful, but Trulia has managed to merge them into a handy tool that combines almost anything you could ever want to know about your area into one easy-to-use tool and it’s free when you sign up for an account on their website. I included a screen shot of the tool bar that superimposes the information about crime, schools, your commute, etc. over the map of the area you’re moving to.
Here are a few examples of the helpful data we found on Salem, Oregon:
Crime Rates: Red= Dangerous areas
Heavy Traffic Areas
Food: Place to Shop and Eat
If you have a minute check out your area on Trulia.com and see what the crime stats and hazards are near you. Based on your experience, how accurate is the map of your area? Please let me know in the comments below.
Matt and I are not sure of the accuracy of the tool yet, but if the data is accurate, it is incredibly helpful. We’ll keep you posted on if our neighborhood is crime-ridden as soon as we get there. 😉
5. Look at Apartments One Month in Advance
If you look earlier than a month in advance, you’ll likely end up paying extra fees to hold the apartment. If you are particular, this peace of mind could be worth the extra fees. However, consider that most land lords only get one month’s notice that their current tenant is vacating, and may not even know if their units will be available two or three months in advance. Looking one month in advance allows for some flexibility and gives you a better idea of what units will actually be available in your time frame. It also gives you time to see how competitive the market is and snatch up a place if units are turning over quickly.
Watch the listings. You may find prices drop over time. If you notice listings are only up a couple of days call about a property as soon as you see it and then put in an application before looking at the unit and signing the rental agreement. Doing this will reserve your spot in line. Plus, many property managers are willing to refund your application fee if another renter’s application is approved before they get to yours. Just be sure their application fees are refundable before you take this approach.
5. Keep a Record
Use a Google or Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the places you’ve checked out, their prices, features, amenities, availability, and why they did or didn’t make it to the top of your list. If you don’t, you may find yourself looking at the same listings over and over again wondering why the unit wasn’t right for you the first time you viewed it.
6. Be Patient and Persistent
Don’t get discouraged! It will take time, plenty of phone calls, and a few applications until you find the right apartment for you. But if you consider what you need in advance, break down the costs, research the area, give yourself a month, keep a record, and try to be patient, you’ll be sure to find an apartment with what you need at the right price.
1/8/17- Update- The neighborhood our apartment is in seems great, but unfortunately we don’t live in it yet because we are waiting for all our stuff from the storage units to arrive. But as far as crime goes, we met a cop at the church and he let us know that where we are living should be fine.