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Family-friendly recipes from a frugal gal that likes to eat

Archive for the category “Favorite Things”

Cinnamon Churro Chex Mix

A big thing happened this week. I. Turned. Thirty. I know many women freak the bleep out when they turn 30, but I’m totally cool with it. I love my life, and turning 30 for me was just an excuse to have a great big party with everyone I love.

My day started out with gifts from my sweet husband. He bought me a massage pillow because I was drooling over them a few weeks earlier.

I love how this picture makes the pillow look like a robot!

He also treated me to a few of my favorite things.

This was the most chocolaty cake I have ever seen, and it was fabulous! My husband knows me so well. Which brings me to the next treat he bought me.

Who doesn’t love Reese’s, right? But don’t be fooled, this ain’t no ordinary pack.

That’s a ONE POUND pack of chocolate peanut butter goodness. Ahhh I can’t wait to get home and take a giant bite out of one of those cups!

After the gifts, we started to prepare for my party. We had some friends over to eat, drink and watch the Vikings game.

We had a great spread, including Dr. Pepper pulled pork, spicy jalapeno slaw, meatballs, taco dip, jalapeno popper dip, limoncello cupcakes, red velvet cake cheese ball and more, but my most favorite recipe from the whole day was the Cinnamon Churro Chex Mix.

I die! I inhaled about 50 cups of this stuff. The recipe is a breeze, and it’s a fun and different party food. It’s easier to make than puppy chow and a million times more delicious. This coming from the girl with the one pound Reese’s on her kitchen table!

Cinnamon Churro Chex Mix
from Just Another Day in Paradise


9 cups rice Chex cereal
3 cups cinnamon chips
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon


  1. Pour Chex into a bowl and set aside
  2. Combine sugars and cinnamon in a small bowl. Divide sugar mixture into two gallon-size freezer bags. (You can estimate here.) Set aside.
  3. Pour cinnamon chips into a microwaveable bowl, heat for 1 minute and stir. Heat for 30 seconds and stir. If your chips are not melted at this point, continue heating and stirring in 30 second intervals until the chips are completely melted.
  4. Pour melted chips over cereal and toss until well coated.
  5. Scoop half of the cereal into each freezer bag and zip up. Shake each bag until the cereal is well coated.
  6. Pour the mix into a bowl and enjoy!

Trader Joes Product Love – Part Two

If you read my first Trader Joes review, you know how much I love their products. I took a recent trip and bought a whole bunch of great new things.

First up, Chocolatey Cats Cookies.

I love these cute little treats. They are crunchy and have a great chocolate flavor. They remind me of Teddy Grahams, but better! Plus, they’re low fat. Meow!

Next we have the Roasted Gorgonzola Crackers.

If you like Gorgonzola cheese, you will like these crackers. They are teeny tiny, so you will want to eat a million, but be warned, the flavor is quite pungent. To be honest, I don’t love these. I mostly enjoyed them dipped in sour cream spinach dip (which was delicious), but they are too strong for me on their own.

I may not love the crackers, but I adore this next item!

Pretzel Rolls. Soft, chewy, carby pretzel rolls! I fell in love with pretzel rolls when I had a burger served on one at the St. James Hotel in Red Wing, MN. These rolls are excellent, but definitely just a treat for me, as they have over 300 calories each. My husband and I made roast beef and cheddar sandwiches on these, and smothered them with this next product.

Yum! This hummus is perfect. It has just the right amount of kick to it, so it made a perfect sandwich spread. It’s also excellent on crackers and raw veggies.

Finally we have Soyaki.

The name says it all for this one. It’s the perfect combination of soy and teriyaki sauces. I’ve used this sauce as a marinade and in stir fry. It’s sweet, savory and a great mix of Asian flavors.

I could go on and on about all the other great TJs products I love, but I won’t. I’ll save that for part three. 😉

July Birchbox

Hey there, happy Monday! I hope you had a nice weekend. I didn’t spend much time in the kitchen this weekend, as I was out partying it up at a good friend’s bachelorette party!


What made Saturday even sweeter was that my July Birchbox came right before I had to leave for the party! And even better news? There was a great shade of lip gloss inside that perfectly matched my makeup for the night!

Please forgive the blurry picture – I was in a hurry to get partyin’!

  1. Birchbox Exclusive Earbuds – Nice pink and blue earbuds. I tried them out and wasn’t blown away by the sound quality or anything, but they sure are cute!
  2. Annick Goutal Eau d’Hadrien – Smelled like alcohol! ICK. I guess I just don’t understand perfume. The full size of this costs $85 and smells like  Absolut Citron. No thanks!
  3. Tea Forte minteas – I got the lime mojito kind, and they are pretty good. Definitely not the best for freshening your breath, but it’s a nice little candy to keep your mouth busy.
  4. Color Club Summer Pastels Collection nail polish in Blue Ming – Ohhh I just love this! It’s Tiffany blue – so pretty! And I don’t have a color even close to this, so I’m really excited.
  5. bosia B.B. Cream SPF 27 – Ok, nobody tell MAC, but I found my new favorite primer! This goes on smooth, doesn’t get greasy, is the perfect sun-kissed color and has SPF in it! It doesn’t get better than this, folks.
  6. stila It’s Go Time Lip Glaze – The Birchbox website said it was a trio of lip glosses that came in the July box, but I only got one. Not that I’m complaining though because it’s a full size lip gloss in a nice bronzy shade. I’ll take it!

Can’t wait to get home and paint my nails!

Trader Joes Product Love

I heart Trader Joes. I mean who doesn’t really? Their products are delicious, full of pronouce-able ingredients and are usually pretty cheap. My only gripe is that the stores are pretty small and CROWDED, so it’s hard to really spend your time looking at items on the shelf. To save you some time on your next trip, here are a few brief reviews of my current TJs faves.

Ok, stop reading this and run to your nearest TJs because you need to have this RIGHT. NOW. Speculoos Cookie Butter tastes like Biscoff cookies (you know, those little cookies they give you on Delta flights). If you’re not familiar with Biscoff, it’s similar to gingerbread, but has a smoother, less spicy taste. It’s the same texture and color as peanut butter, but it’s sweeter and more dessert-like. I spread it on a graham cracker for an after dinner treat. A little goes a long way, so it’s perfect like this. Yum yum!

Next up is a dinner staple in our house.

The frozen Mandarin Orange Chicken is so close to the real thing it hurts! Ok, maybe not real, authentic Mandarin orange chicken, but as close as the dish you get at your local Chinese food buffet. It’s crunchy and sweet and so easy to make. It takes about 20 minutes to cook and we serve it over brown rice and bell peppers (two more great products from TJs). The calorie count is much lower than the takeout version, and it’s just as good. Cross my heart!

Another Asian food product we love are the potstickers (or gyoza).

These are sautéed in a skillet for a little crunch and then steamed to heat through. Easy peasy and really tasty. They are the perfect side for the Mandarin chicken or work well as an appetizer (or late night after bar snack!).

The final product, Tricolor Quinoa, sounds really boring, but my love for this is really more about the packaging!

I have been buying my quinoa at Trader Joe’s all year (they don’t have it at my Cub!), and normally I would buy the regular kind that comes in a box. I always managed to rip the crap out of the bag, so I end up with a box full of loose quinoa (#firstworldproblems)! ANYWAY. This quinoa comes in a resealable bag, and it tastes great, so I’m sold.

That’s it for now, but I’ll be back soon with more reviews and some new-to-me products! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to stop my finger from finding its way into the Cookie Butter jar!

A Tribute to my Favorite European Eats and Drinks

In 2007, two of my girlfriends and I backpacked across Europe to visit our friend, Aboma. Aboma moved to Spain to live la vida loca, and one night when he was home in Minnesota for a visit, we got to talking and decided that now was the perfect time in our young lives to travel through Europe. The four of us leaned across the beer pong table, joined pinkies and made a (now legendary) promise to meet again in Spain.

We started planning our trip in September, and took off for a full month in October. The trip was fast and full! We visited Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Munich, Bern, Alicante, Barcelona, Brighton and London. We sightsaw, explored, rode on planes, trains and automobiles and ate and drink our way across Europe. I don’t have many pictures of the local fare we indulged in, but the memories I have are strong. I can still taste these delicacies! Here’s a rundown of some of my very favorites.

Source: Alacarta Express

The kebab. Or kebap. Or bocadillo – whatever you want to call it. Bottom line, this is the BEST sandwich I’ve ever eaten. We spent about 10 days in Alicante, Spain, and I had this sandwich at least four times. It’s very similar to a gyro, with shaved lamb or chicken, tomatoes, lettuce and a yogurt sauce, but this was so much more special than a regular gyro. It was fresh and the bread was so soft and flavorful. I’ve considered buying a plane ticket to Alicante just to eat one of these!

This next one, cafe con leche, is a no-brainer. Obviously one should drink cafe con leche in Spain.

Rich, bold, creamy and always steaming hot. Every morning in Alicante, we’d wake up and walk a few blocks to one of Aboma’s favorite cafes. We’d order cafe con leche and a pastry or toast and jam and spend an hour or two enjoying our coffee and playing Sudoku.


Another one of my Spanish favorites was the tea.

We frequented a small tea shop that served sweet, minty tea. We would order a pot for the table and play dominos for hours. So relaxing and enjoyable. Gosh I miss this tea.

My final favorite in Spain is Ensalda Rusa, or Russian salad.

Source: Supercook

This was a creamy potato and tuna salad. We often ordered it along with many other tapas to enjoy at dinner. It sounds/looks weird, but I loved it, and I’ve never seen anything like it here.

Let’s move Northeast to Munich, Germany. It was cold in Munich. Bitterly cold. So after a chilly, drizzly guided tour around the city, we ran to the Hofbräuhaus seeking shelter and authentic German brew.

I’d never typically order a big ‘ol German beer, but this was so much more about the experience. My girls and I downed two of these babies in a matter of minutes. 😉 I’d give anything to be back in that beer house with a mug of Hofbräu Original in hand.

Also, when in Germany, you have to eat a Bavarian pretzel, of course!

These pretzels were great, but they came with an even better story. You see, nothing in Europe is free, or cheap for that matter, so when we saw these pretzels sitting in a napkin-covered basket on our table, we were psyched! Free food for a change! After paying for packets of ketchup at McDonald’s, this was the best sight ever. We gobbled up all of the pretzels before our waitress arrived and then it occurred to us. These pretzels weren’t free. Of course they weren’t! So, being the sly cats that we are, we slowly recovered the basket and acted very innocent. Our waitress came, took our order and swooped in to grab the basket. Yup, she knew we had eaten them, and you better believe the price was added to our bill. Dang. Disappointing, but oh, so worth it!

I tasted so many delicious things in Europe, and of course the food is just a small part of the experience, but it was one of the most memorable. I dream of a day when I can go back and taste a million more new foods!

June Birchbox

BEST. BOX. YET!!!!! Not only are all of the products fabulous, but the sample sizes are very generous. And there was something to eat in the box, which obviously I like.

Let’s get started! 

  1. theBalm cosmetics Staniac lip and cheek stain – I’ve never used a stain before, so I have nothing to compare this to, but overall it seems pretty good. When I put the color on my cheeks, my first thought was, “Hello Shirley Temple!”, but after I applied the stain to my lips, everything came together. I’ve gotten pretty lazy with my makeup routine lately (powder, bronzer, mascara), but I could easily see myself adding this cheek and lip stain for a more complete look.
  2. Comodynes Self-Tanning Intensive wipes – What a smart concept! I usually use Jergens tanning lotion, but I’ve wound up with orange knees and elbows one too many times, so I’m open to a new method. One towelette is supposed to cover your whole body, but I just tried it on my legs. The color is really even and application couldn’t have been easier. I’d definitely buy these!
  3. stila one step bronze – This is the generous sample size that I was referring to. It’s one fluid once, which is the size you can buy for $36! That’s the cost of almost four months of Birchbox! Plus I just love this. It’s three different shades, so the color will work on most skin tones. It’s the perfect amount of color, it covers evenly and it’s not at all greasy. Love love love!
  4. Wonderstruck Taylor Swift perfume – Smells too old lady for me. Sorry, Tay Tay.
  5. LUNA Bar Peanut Butter Cookie – I ate this the second I saw it! So yummy, but there are way too many calories in this little bar for me. This type of snack would never hold me over, so I wouldn’t buy them. Plus, they are too expensive and full of wacko ingredients. 

So there we have it! Another month, another great box. Have I convinced you to sign up yet?! When is Birchbox going to start sending me my commission? 😉

How I Ran my First 5k

Two months ago I got an email from my good friend asking me if I wanted to run a 5k that her work puts on for employees, friends and family. I sat on that email for five hours before I finally realized that I had no good reason to say no! I was immediately nervous and unsure how I could possibly run a 5k. I’m embarrassed to say that before that day, I hadn’t worked out in months. I walk the dog most nights and do a lot of walking at work, but that was the extent of my exercise routine. Pretty pathetic.

That night, I downloaded a couch to 5k app on my iPhone (this one). Here’s what the logo looks like:

Having technology to push you through your workouts helps a ton, but it’s not necessary. This particular couch to 5k program takes eight weeks to complete, three workouts per week, all in 25-40 minutes. Very manageable. There are many couch to 5k programs out there that help you gradually increase your running stamina. This is a very popular one.

 I also eventually started using a Map my Run app to help me keep track of mileage and pace.

For the first few weeks of training, I stuck to my treadmill. I was too nervous to run outside because I had tried it before and thought it was incredibly hard. Finally, after weeks of my runner friends telling me I had to get outside, I did it. On April 12th, I laced up my sneakers and set out on a straight, flat trail near my house. I ran/walked for 3.03 miles in 38:53 minutes. That’s a pace of 12:53/min. I was shocked. I had done it, and it was pretty darn decent!

After that first run on the trail, I was excited to get back outside. I haven’t stepped foot on the treadmill since because running outside definitely is easier and way more interesting.

I mainly run on the Gateway State Trail or around Lake Phalen.  I feel safe and comfortable in these places, but I know I should really branch out. I’m getting kind of bored. Although, Phalen is really beautiful!

So after seven weeks of training, logging about 10 miles/per week, it was finally time to do the 5k. I felt ready. I had worked hard and never missed a training session. The only real problem I experienced while running was that my right foot would consistently fall asleep during runs. It usually happened about 20 minutes in and would last until I stopped running and stomped my foot on the ground. It was awful and frustrating, but then I realized that it was probably happening because of ill-fitting shoes. I switched back to my old pair, and the sleepy foot syndrome stopped. Phew.

The race was on May 5th at the General Mills Campus in Plymouth, Minnesota. It was cool and drizzling out, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I had a nervous tummy, but managed to eat some toast with peanut butter and banana.

We had about a half an hour of standing around time before the race started, so naturally we did a photo shoot.

Finally, it was time to start the race! The faster people start closer to the front, so I moved my way back towards the end of the crowd. All of us had goals that we hoped to meet, and since my goal (finishing under 40 minutes) was the slowest of the group, I knew I’d be running alone, and I was ok with that.

I started the race feeling pretty good, but noticed that it was kind of hard to breathe. I found out later that it was 80% humidity that day, so that definitely affected me. I ran the whole first mile without stopping. As soon as I passed the first mile marker, I had to stop and walk. I was really disappointed because I was already feeling tired. Way more tired than I normally would after one mile. But I soldiered on and ran as much as I could. There were more inclines on the course than I was used to, and that slowed me down as well.

At mile two there was a water stop. At that point, I had started to get a light side ache, so water sounded terrible to me. I had two small sips and tossed the rest.

Between miles two and three there was a large hill. I walked up it and tried to take deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth. My side was absolutely killing me, and my ankle was starting to hurt as well. I was in bad shape, but I just kept telling myself, the faster you go the faster you’ll finish. I picked up some speed through the end of the second mile and decided to walk for the last time when I was almost to the finish line. I wanted to be able to run down the whole chute, and finish strong. As soon as I turned the corner, I started to hear cheers and heard my friends yell my name. I was almost done!

Always be sure to smile for cameras on the race course!

I finally crossed the finish line in 35:05. I am proud of that time. I wish I would’ve had more energy left at the end, so I could have sprinted and finished under 35 minutes, but I gave that race all that I had.

Overall, I had a great experience, and I can’t wait to run my next race. I’m signed up for a 4k at the end of June and another 5k at the end of August. Having races to train for is the best motivation. Nothing else has worked for me, so I’m going to stick to it. I am so proud of myself, and I can’t wait to see what I can do next!

Catching up and the May Birchbox

It’s been a month since I’ve last posted. For shame. Truth be told I haven’t been in the kitchen much this month. I was busy enjoying the weather, training for my first 5k (stay tuned for a full recap!) and attending the wedding of my baby sis!

Additionally, the hus and I are trying to save some money, so we’ve been throwing together dinners with ingredients we have stashed in our pantry, fridge and freezer. We’ve come up with some good stuff, but nothing blog-worthy. I promise to be back in the kitchen with tasty recipes real soon!

For now, here’s a rundown of what showed up in my May Birchbox!

  1. fresh Sugar Rose Tinted Lip Treatment SPF 15 – LOVE this! It’s the perfect amount of tint and tastes great. I plan to buy more when my sample runs out!
  2. BVLGARI Omnia Crystalline Eau de Toilette – Bleh. You guys know how I feel about perfume. I just wish Birchbox did.
  3. Kiehl’s Abyssine Cream + – Products like this are the reason I joined Birchbox. It’s a treat to get to use a product from Kiehl’s. This isn’t the first anti-aging product I’ve received from Birchbox though, and I guarantee it won’t be my last. Apparently at 29 I should be treating my future wrinkles. 😉
  4. Miracle Skin Transformer Body SPF 20 – This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen! Basically it’s concealor/bronzer for your arms, legs and décolleté. On Sunday, I wanted to wear a tank top, but my arms are still pasty white, so I slathered on some of this and it made a world of difference! It’s like using a really light treatment of self tanner, but it washes off in the shower, so you don’t have to worry about streaks. It also helped cover up the bruises and tiny scars I have on my legs. It’s a very subtle change, but that’s why I love it. It’s so great. I am going to run out of this sample so fast!

Overall, I’m very pleased with this box and Birchbox in general. I’ve recommended it to several people and a friend told me today that she signed up, received her first box and is hooked. Too fun!


No, Birchbox is not something you can eat, but I think it’s so cool that I just have to post about it. I heard about Birchbox a month or so ago, and I decided to give it a try. In short, Birchbox is four to five hand-picked deluxe samples delivered to you for $10 per month. When you sign up, you fill out a beauty profile that asks questions about your skin, eye and hair coloring, as well as your beauty routine and your preferences. This way Birchbox can send samples specific to each person. Cool, huh?

My first box came on Wednesday.

Inside the box came six interesting samples. For more information about each, click on the links.

  1. Tea forte – Haven’t tried this yet, but the cherry marzipan sounds great!
  2. AHAVA Essential Day Mositurizer – Goes on smooth, but a little greasy. Smells amazing.
  3. Annick Goutal Eau d’Hadrien – Smells ok, but I’m not really a perfume person, so I will probably toss this.
  4. Color Club Neon Nail Polish – The shade I got is called Peace Out Purple. It’s a great color for spring, so once I wipe off my St. Patrick’s Day green, I’ll try this out. 🙂
  5. Jouer Luminizing Moisture Tint – I like this a lot! It will be perfect for the summer when it’s too hot to put a ton of makeup on. It’s light and is a nice bronzy color.
  6. Orofluido Elixir – I LOVE this. Definitely my favorite sample this week! It’s a serum for your hair that I put in when my hair was slightly damp. It tamed and smoothed my hair without looking greasy, and it smells great. I will probably buy some of this when my sample runs out!

The Birchbox website is so easy to use, and you can purchase products right from them. When I got my box, I wasn’t sure when to put the Orofluido on my hair (wet? damp? dry?), so I hopped on and looked it up. There’s a product breakdown right there and a “How it Works” section, so I found everything I needed to know.

So far I’m very impressed with Birchbox and would recommend it to anyone who loves trying different beauty products. Plus, who doesn’t like getting packages in the mail!?

Can’t wait for April to get my next Birchbox!

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