Busy Mama Weeknight Cooking

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

Many of you know this about me, but I’ll say it again:  I am a coupon addict.  It pains me to go to the grocery store without a stack of them.  I love the rush of feeling like I just robbed the store.  I plan, I plot, I wait, I watch.  Then, I swoop in and buy, buy, buy!  Now, before you get concerned, let me clarify: I only buy stuff we actually use, unless I can get it for free and then I donate it. I have not built an addition onto my house to store 3 years’ worth of groceries, and I don’t clean out an entire department of my grocery store in one fell swoop.  But, I do sleep well knowing that I have my own little personal hoard of olive oil, soup, rice and beans  (and occasionally feta cheese, pie crust, spaghetti sauce and pickles).

Last week, I noticed that a new product was on sale at Publix: Progresso’s “Recipe Starters.”  At first, I thought this was similar to the new concentrated stocks that a lot of broth companies have introduced. I downloaded some coupons and decided to check this stuff out.  As it turns out, these are not all stocks.  They are bases to start recipes. In addition to the product, the box offers recipe ideas. I selected a variety to give it a try:  Creamy Parmesan Basil, Fire Roasted Tomato, Creamy Roasted Garlic and Creamy Three Cheese.

Just a few days later, I received an email from MyBlogSpark, introducing me to “Progresso Recipe Starters,” which included a link to a high value coupon for the product.  They have encouraged me to post this coupon link for you, my faithful reader, to download and give the product a try.  I decided to use one of them myself so I could give you my two-cents’ worth, in case you’re interested.  I used the “Easy Weeknight Bacon Mac n Cheese” recipe right on the label.  You can view the recipe right here. 

I served it with a grilled flatiron steak and green beans.  This dish was very tasty (BACON!) and very creamy.  I think the flavor could be boosted even more with a sharper cheese thrown in, like blue cheese maybe.  And, it was a snap to prepare.  It absolutely fits the bill for an easy weeknight dish.  If you are the type who prefers the old school, drier oven baked macaroni from your grandmother, this may not do it for you.  But, if you are one who digs hot, cheesy, creamy pasta…this is a winner.  If you’re interested in trying out this product, the nice people at Progresso have made this coupon available to us.

And, their generosity doesn’t end there.  They also included a coupon for Progresso Light Soups.  These are low calorie soups; some as low as 100 calories!  Please note that this information and the coupons were provided to me from MyBlogSpark and Progresso.  Download the coupons and try out the products.  Thank you Progresso!

Back to School

By: Katie Austin

It’s that time of year when summer is coming to a close, when daily routines consist of packing lunches, participating in after-school activities, and completing homework assignments.  Wasn’t it just yesterday that summer began? Where did the time go? Time flies when you are having fun, and it goes even faster as you get older.

I bet that when I mentioned school you thought I was talking about my son, Brandon, who is starting his senior year in high school. I will definitely take the opportunity to talk about him because I am so proud of all that he is accomplishing as he gets ready for his next chapter.  Actually, the student I am talking about was me! Yep – I am back in college as a part-time student at the University of South Carolina.  I can’t believe that I am once again a student who has homework assignments and tests.  I thought it was time to tackle another bucket list item – finishing my Computer Information Systems (CIS) degree.

Why go back to school? I want to finish what I started so many years ago.  I figure that if I can beat cancer, I can certainly finish my degree!  However, you don’t need cancer to motivate yourself to accomplish what is on your bucket list.  Pick one thing, make it a priority, tell yourself that you are important and that you can reach any goal you set as long as you continue to believe in yourself. Since I have a job, I can’t go back to school full-time, so I plan to take 2 or 3 classes a semester. I’ll keep chipping away at my dream of one day walking down the isle with my degree in hand. I will get there one day, and I will take it one step at a time until I reach the finish line.

This semester, I am taking 3 classes. I start my day at 5:00am, go to work, attend classes in the evenings, and get home between 8 and 9pm. One of my classes is Business Writing, which is every other Saturday starting at 9:00am and ending at 1:30pm.  I am sure many of you are thinking “Why take a class on Saturday?” For one, it is only every other Saturday and, most importantly, there are only 9 class days needed to complete the course. Despite homework, projects and the occasional quiz/test, it has been the easiest of my classes.

Are any of you back in school or taking classes outside of work?  Or are you tackling a different item from your bucket list?  Please share your story and your tips to stay motivated!

Wishing everyone a blessed day and hope to hear from you soon 🙂

It’s Pumpkin Spice Season!

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Ahhh, how I love Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte! Although it comes out in early September, when it’s still plenty warm – hot, even – its arrival signals the start of Autumn for me. With my transition to healthier eating, I’ve mostly switched to Pumpkin Spice K-Cups, but every now and then, I still treat myself to a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

That being said, I was shocked to see in the October issue of Prevention that a 16 ounce serving of Pumpkin Spice Latte has:

  • 380 calories, as many as seven Chips Ahoy! cookies
  • Eight grams of saturated fat, 40% of your dietary reference intake
  • 49 grams of sugar, nearly double the amount found in 16 ounces of cola
  • 51 grams of carbohydrate, almost as much as four slices of white bread

As Sister just so wisely said, “That’s why you can’t get them all year long.” Touche!

I recently stumbled upon a fabulous Pumpkin Spice Smoothie recipe on an equally fabulous website, Healthful Pursuit. Compared to the same size Pumpkin Spice Latte, it has half the calories and sugar, a third less carbohydrate and even a nice amount of fiber! Given that, I think you could add a little whip with no guilt!

Another treat I’ve tried and loved: Crock Pot Pumpkin Spice Steel Cut Oats. Hearty, easy and delicious!

What is YOUR favorite fall food? Have you found any healthy alternatives? Please share them!

Time After Time

By: Roshanda Pratt

I would like more time.  There, I said it.  Last month, I talked to you all about my late nights, which resulted in a lack of sleep. I need more time.  No, actually I need to prioritize.  I have gotten better at getting to bed before the start of the next day. However, I need to be a better steward of my time – between dropping kids off, working from home, picking kids up, supervising homework, making dinner, going to bible study, and the list goes on and on and on.  I have recently decided I am going to make my days and my time count! How about you?

I have started by making time for my family.  In our busy-ness, we sometimes forget the people that matter the most.  In our home we always have Friday nights as “Family Fun Night.”  We have three young children: 2, 4, and 6 years old.  As you can imagine, when we first started family night, it sometimes ended in complete disaster: sibling squabbles, crying, and me saying to my husband, “We are not doing that AGAIN!”  But we stuck it out, and I can say my children look forward to it now, so much so we have added another day.

I am a big fan of creating memories with my family.  Children grow up fast!  Have you discovered that?  Some of our favorite family memories have been putting a puzzle together, tag at the park, playing the matching game, and eating out at our favorite restaurant.  I am so serious about family time, I have made a rule that I do not speak to clients on those two days.  Time is a precious and valuable commodity.  Years from now, you won’t want to look back and see that you wasted you precious time, so spend it with those who you love.  Make it a point to prioritize your time.  Time is a gift, so make sure you give it to the right people.

Here are some “Family Friendly” ideas. You can get the complete list at Discover Fun.  Have you tried any of these? Let us know what you do with your family!

  • Attack a household chore as a team – then go out to celebrate!
  • Build a fort with pillows from the couch
  • Have a backyard vacation
  • Make up a funky dance with your children
  • Play miniature golf
  • Have a cooking or baking party
  • Get some old magazines and glue to put together a collage of your dreams
  • Make vacation plans for somewhere outrageous. Then work as a family to cut down on expenses and save money so you can actually go!
  • Set up an “Olympic Games” obstacle course in the backyard
  • Create a family “workout routine”
  • Go camping or fishing – or both
  • Do charity work together

What’s On Your Happiness List?

By: Shannon Shull

I recently discovered skirt! Magazine. I had the pleasure of coming across the September issue and I must say, I loved its inspiration!  I’ve already emailed the brilliant editor Nikki Hardin to praise her for her genius writing. I told her that her creative way of thinking outside the box is just the kind of empowerment us goddess women need! skirt! Magazine covers the Columbia/Augusta/Aiken, SC areas and it’s FREE. The September issue is the “feel good” issue and I can confirm that it did, indeed made me feel good. Check out a sample of the fabulous copy she wrote for the cover of the magazine:

“Create your own University of One and major in wild ideas. Think sideways instead of straight and narrow. Make the music instead of the musician. Be the power, not the woman behind the power. Lead if you usually follow; surrender if you always resist. Choose Door # Unknown. Become a beginner at something you think you’ve mastered. Let go of anything that doesn’t beautify, edify or sanctify your life. Read out of your depth. Start something impossible or outrageous or out of reach and take a baby step. And then another.”

Isn’t that just flat out FANTASTIC!?!?!? I just love this way of thinking. “Create your own University of One and major in wild ideas!” That seriously rocks!

In this issue, the publisher, Nikki, shares her “Happiness List,” which consists of the “little, everyday pleasures of daily life.” She depends on this list to pump her up when she’s feeling down. Some of the items include: the song “Parachute Heart” by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals,  Hendrick’s Gin & Tonics with one of her BFF’s after a Sunday yoga class, her Instant Queue on Netflix, and researching her next tattoo.

I think it’s a great idea for all of us ladies to make a happiness list and to recognize the little things in our daily lives that bring a smile to our faces, give us comfort, and help to carry us though our day.

Here are some of the things on my Happiness List right now:

  • The smell of my Midsummer’s Night Yankee Candle
  • Singing along to the “Vows” album by Kimbra
  • Sweet Tea. It is so good to be back in the South!
  • My newfound love of skirt! Magazine and its website, skirt.com
  • The sound of my participants hootin’, hollarin’ and laughin’ it up while having a blast during my Zumba and Aqua Zumba classes
  • Researching puppies – yes, I’m considering it!
  • My new, hot pink, super awesome Nike sneakers that I wear when I teach Zumba

Gosh, I could really go on and on!  See… it’s good to take a moment and take note of the little things. In our busy, stressful lives, we really do have so much to appreciate and the sooner we recognize the happy, little things that are a part of our day-to-day grind, the sooner we’ll allow ourselves to appreciate the bigger things in life.

What is on your Happiness List today?

Pasta with Roasted Balsamic Vegetables

By: Brady Evans

It is football season! That means a couple of things.

My Sunday night love of watching 60 Minutes on CBS will be inevitably delayed an indeterminate amount of time each week.  The football games ALWAYS run over the alotted time but NEVER by the same amount, so I find myself dashing in and out, checking the football clock not because I care about the game, but trying to see if I can fit one more chore in before the tick tock tick tock of my favorite show.

It is football season! That means I can’t accidentally wear orange or the locals will think I’m pulling for the rival, and I’ll be blacklisted.

It is football season! Gameday traffic and the TV on during Thanksgiving dinner, and friends being unavailable because they watch football and I don’t.

It isn’t that I hate football.  I just hate how my non-football oriented life is interrupted.  In case you’re like me and you’re trying to delay the season little by little, then put away your chili recipe and your hot wing cravings and enjoy this meal of waning summer produce.  It is loaded with veggies and seasoned simply with high quality balsamic vinegars and olive oils.
Pasta with Balsamic Roasted Vegetables (adapted from Epicurious)


6 ounces pasta, cooked according to package directions
2 yellow squash or zucchini, sliced
1 onion, sliced
3 roma tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 T basil infused olive oil


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Whisk together garlic, olive oil, and vinegar.
  3. In a large bowl, toss vegetables with balsamic mixture until completely coated.
  4. Spread vegetables on a roasted pan and cook 20-25 minutes until browned.
  5. Season with salt.
  6. Toss with warm pasta.

Living With ADHD

By: Crissie Miller Kirby


Those letters loomed large in front of me.  I’d heard them and had even casually commented in passing that I wondered if my children (two boys, two and half years apart) suffered from it. However, like many, I never actually believed that either of my sons suffered from it, always chalking their behavior up to the just being “boys.”

Well, that was, until last week.

My “fears” were realized.  I use the term “fears” loosely.  True fear was last fall when I spent five days waiting for test results from a biopsy of an enlarged lymph node on my oldest son; I truly felt a weight lift from my shoulders when the nurse said his cancer panel was negative.

However, we all have hopes and dreams for our children and when we realize that there is going to be a stumbling block placed in front of them, we fear that unknown- that uncertainty.

After many months of counseling with a child therapist, during which she had given me the Vanderbilt testing forms, we reviewed the results together after both my son’s teacher and I had completed them.  They weren’t very favorable.  However, we chose not to address the test results with the pediatrician just yet. Instead, we chose to continue counseling through the summer.  I was fearful of taking a lassaiz faire approach and just “sticking” him on medication.

Two weeks into first grade, my opinion began to shift.

“He is not focusing on his work.  Could you please speak with him?” said the note from the teacher.  This was on the second day of class. “I am having trouble getting Pierce to focus on his work again today,” said the email less than a week later.

“He’s crying every time we try to talk to him or work on his homework with him,” said the phone call later that same afternoon from our church after school program.

Something had to be done.  If it was not ADD/ADHD, then my son was definitely experiencing some anxiety issues that I was ill prepared to handle in a six-year-old.  Having long suffered from anxiety issues myself, I benefit greatly from daily medication and counseling.  A visit to the pediatrician was definitely in line.

My pediatrician reviewed the Vanderbilt forms.  She reviewed some of Pierce’s schoolwork.  She listened as I described his behaviors.  She observed him in the office, where he was not being “bad” or truly “mischievous,” but was constantly on the move.

He was positively ADHD.  She had no doubts; even telling me, that if she had any doubts she would recommend counseling and would not prescribe medication, and that if it were her own son, she would try medication.

So we left the office with a prescription for Focalin, which we started the very next morning.

“I have seen a change already!  He has kept up with all the work so far today!!!” said the email from his teacher after I notified her of what had occurred the afternoon before.

“He finished all of his homework in about half the time and even had time to do a few extra sheets.  Now he’s playing,” were the words said to me when I picked my boys up from the after school program.

I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical that the medication could work that quickly.  However, Pierce’s counselor assured me that it could, and most likely had, worked that quickly.

Now comes what I deem the hardest part: learning to live with the ADHD diagnosis.  No, it is not life threatening, and for that, I am grateful.  However, it is a stumbling block- one I really never considered.  Just as a child who is diagnosed with juvenile diabetes (although that can be life threatening and much more severe than ADHD), it is a diagnosis with which we must learn to function.

Like so many other issues and events, the actual “patient” is not the only one affected by the diagnosis; for us to overcome it as a family, it will require changes by everyone.  My son’s counselor has suggested changes to our morning and evening routines to create clear structure and boundaries.  She has said that better organization in our home will also help him focus better and prevent him from being overwhelmed with too many choices.  We have also already added additional help with his reading to hopefully help him catch up and help boost his confidence level.

I am comforted both by my decision-making process and the timing of that decision, knowing that we had already taken steps to help him out, non-medically, through counseling.  We had tried another approach and it did not solve the dilemma. At the end of the day, while I struggled with the ADHD diagnosis and the decision to medicate my son, I think it was the right decision.

Fall Essentials: Blazers

By: Staci Rutherford

Blazers are a key element in my fall wardrobe since they are extremely versatile and make it easy to put together a polished look.  It has become a staple in my wardrobe that can be worn to the office with a pencil skirt, pants or a shift dress, and on the weekends with a fitted tee and jeans.  Since I work at a law firm, I rely on blazers for a professional image that still allows me to show off my personal style. With hundreds of styles on the market, I did a little research so I could share shopping tips to help guide you in determining which blazer is the perfect one for you.

Tip #1:  Select a style based on where you are going

Before selecting the right style, keep in mind where you are going to wear it – is it strictly for the office, going to a party, date night or running errands on the weekend?  Go with a classic single-breasted blazer in a neutral color when you want your blazer to serve many purposes.  Consider a more fun color or print when you want to take your look from day to evening.  Remember, blazers can be paired with trousers, skirts, and dresses, so make a mental note of what you already have in your closet to determine which style goes with what.

Tip #2:  Choose good quality and easy-to-maintain fabric

Blazers are available in a variety of fabrics such as cotton, silk, polyester, wool, knits, and blended materials.  Keep in mind which fabrics are easiest to maintain. For example, a cotton blazer can be machine washed while wool or silk blazers will need to be dry-cleaned.  Also, blazers in high quality fabric can keep the ‘same-as-new look’ for years.  Check the stitching and other details to determine whether it is good quality and worth the price.

Tip #3:  Make sure it fits your body type

Blazers should have a snug fit without being too tight or loose at the shoulders.  A curved seam at the torso often provides a better fit.  Some blazers have a slit at the back for more comfort.  Remember to try it on with a shirt underneath to determine if you are able to button it.  Don’t be afraid to go up a size or to have it professionally altered to get the perfect fit that flatters your shape.

Now that we have covered how to shop for your next blazer, check out my favorite far-from-ordinary blazers that will instantly update your wardrobe.

Toby Textured Blazer in African Amethyst, Price: $139.00 at Chico’s

Gap Pointe Academy Blazer in Fuchsia Shock, Price: $88.00 at Gap

INC International Concepts Boyfriend Blazer in Turq Dove, Price: $89.50 at Macy’s

Artdot Blazer, Price: $138.00 at Madewell

Anne Klein Houndstooth Jacket, Price: $149.00 at Nordstrom

Fantasy Fabric Blazer in Red, Price: $129.00 at ZARA

C.Luce Stripe Blazer, Price: $89.00 at Piperlime

One Man’s Junk…

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

I love to crab, which is good because I also love to eat crab.  I’ve crabbed in the surf, in a boat, in the creek, from a pot, off the rocks.  I know a good crab when I see one, so don’t even try to talk to me about crab with a “k,” surimi, or whatever else people try to pass off as crab.  I’ll eat, and enjoy, Alaskan crab but it’s just not in the same league as a “real” crab: the blue crab that adorns our waters here in the South and all up and down the East Coast.

My sister and I are probably the only people you’ll meet who will say that we actually enjoy picking crab.  We learned as kids and as we moved into adulthood, it became a peaceful end-of-the-beach-day ritual for us.  Get showered up, pour a glass of white wine and sit out on the balcony picking crab in the breeze.

Most people complain about blue crabs because they aren’t easy to deal with.  Cleaning, cooking and then picking them is indeed a task. But the reward of fresh, creamy, milky crabmeat is well worth it.  My mom (a Floridian) actually ices them down, which puts them to sleep.  Then, she cleans them while they’re still alive. I know, I know, this sounds horrific.  However, us biology geeks know that crabs really only operate off a “nerve net,” not an actual brain, so there is no suffering involved here.  This way, we cook the cleaned crabs and there’s no spongy, foamy garbage left inside the body, which is just grosser than gross.

BUT…there’s always a but, right?  No one likes dealing with the claws.  They are a pain in the rump, frankly.  But, it’s hard for us to waste anything, so we freeze them assuming we’ll deal with them one day.

Well, my parents have had crab claws in their freezer for a few months now and it’s been driving my dad crazy.  He keeps planning the day to put them in the trash (the night before pick up because crab in a can on a hot day=horror movie) and then that day comes and goes and he realizes that he forgot to put them out there.

Not long ago, I was watching the Food Network when one of Maryland’s big time crab cakes places mentioned that they use the claw meat in the crab cakes and save the lump meat for more sophisticated dishes.  AH HA!  I had the answer!

Fast forward to September.  I took the claws off my dad’s hands.  I put together one gallon sized Ziploc of claws, which gave me about 1/2 pound of meat.  I’d never used the claw meat in a cake, so I was really curious to see how it turned out.  I made a basic cake…tore 2 slices of bread (crust removed) into small pieces, moistened with milk, then mixed with fresh parsley, some mayo, worchestershire, Old Bay, salt, baking powder and an egg.  I refrigerated the mixture to firm it a bit. I then shaped it into cakes and pan-fried it.  That little 1/2 pound of crab yielded 6 AWESOME crab cakes for our dinner tonight.

Here’s where I brag about the wunderkid again: When I told her we were having crab cakes for dinner, her reaction was “really?  I love it, love it, love it, love it!”  Imagine her reaction when I told her I’d also made homemade peach ice cream for dessert?  It was rockin’ good.

Late Night Ramblings

By: Roshanda Pratt