Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Questions and Updates

It's been a long while since I posted regularly (that should change soon again). We've all been ill over here. The kids have had some minor colds but I have had bronchitis that turned into pneumonia, and have spent quite a bit of time on the couch when I wasn't pulling myself upright to do some needful things. I'm finally no longer feeling as though someone is standing on my chest (thank God), and I can breathe without coughing most of the time ;). When does spring start? LOL

Some questions from my mailbag:

Keep the recipes coming! I want to learn more about organization too. I hope you post more on that.

Yep! More is on it's way...I've had some issues with my camera and so I haven't taken any photos in a while and also being sick I didn't want to post chicken noodle soup every night for 4 weeks either ;).

Upcoming posts in the works: making creamy garlic soup, making homemade garlic bread, organization in the kitchen, remodeling the kitchen on a shoestring as money floats in (my own ongoing project of the last 2 years)--including making a handmade mosaic backsplash and refinishing cabinets, Hungarian Goulash with potato dumplings (Knoedel), organizing schoolwork, family friendly remodelling/decorating stuff on a budget, and more.

Do you use software to do your taxes? We are trying to save money this year by doing our own and I was looking for some frugal but idiot proof tax prep tips.

I just did our taxes last night. :-) I've used Tax Cut since it first came out back when we were newlyweds, and I love it. I find it really simplifies taxes for us, even with the home business. We did have the help of an accountant in setting up our original accounting system for my business and we use QuickBooks to keep track of stuff for the business, which also simplifies the nitty gritty of all that. Quickbooks generates reports that I can use when doing the taxes.

Did you ever get your van fixed? I've been praying for you.


Well, we have the money for the repair in the savings account right now, but the problem has been to find a suitable transmission for the van. It appears that our make and model is one of the hardest transmissions to find because most of the time when they break the whole block cracks (whatever that means). Most of the junkyard 97 Grand Caravans are there because of trans problems. ;)

We have had a few quotes done for rebuilding our existing transmission but they are quite high (more than the blue book value on the van), so we are hesitant to do that on a vehicle with close to 400,000 miles on it. Right now we are praying for wisdom about either continuing to wait it out or selling the van for parts (we've had several offers to do so from other 97 Grand Caravan owners desperate for spare parts in good shape) and buying another used van with the money saved plus money from the sale of the vehicle.

This morning my dh's car would not start and so that was another nudge in the direction of doing something soon, because missing work due to vehicle troubles is not good either. Thankfully AAA road service came out and gave him a jump so that he could go buy a new battery. :-)

The fact that we can't really do anything until we have a van (doctor's appointments, dentist appointments, mailing orders when it is blustery outside, going to church together as a family, etc.) makes me flop between contentment, knowing that we are saving tons of money by not paying for insurance, gas, etc., and frustration when I need to get somewhere or do something while my dh is at work but I can't. Then I get an attitude check by thinking of all of the families out there who are only 1 vehicle families...or the many around the world who don't even have one car.

Finally, I had several emails all ask the same basic thing:

When in the much-anticipated XHTML Curriculum coming out?

Not soon enough....~smile~

I have been working for the last year on a video web design curriculum for homeschoolers for writing your own XHTML/CSS site in Notepad, and teaching not only principles of XHTML, CSS, and basic image editing but also how to write copy for the web, design principles for the web, Search Engine Optimization, Internet safety, ecommerce basics and more. This was birthed out of the request of several moms I know to teach their kids how to make websites, as that is a great potentially money-making skill, and one that is now taught in many schools. On top of that, despite the plethora of web design books ,very few explain things in a clear manner from the beginning (most assume some knowledge that not everyone has), and even fewer teach good design principles and user-based design.

I am nearly done recording the first several lessons and editing them. I had to redo some of them because I didn't feel they were clear enough, and it seems like I am such a perfectionist that I need to finally just leave it alone and say it is good enough :-)

I am also debating back and forth within myself about how to sell this curriculum. I have several options:

1. As a DVD (most expensive option and would require me to order it in a large quantity)

2. As a CD-ROM set (also could be expensive and require inventory).

3. As a download (will eat up my bandwidth and could become expensive, and it could be difficult for those on dialup)

4. As a members-subscription type of website, where you pay a subscriber rate, watch lessons, ask questions in a forum, and learn.

5. As an online class. Similar to above but with a definate start and end date, assignments, and more interaction.

I'm leaning towards either 4 or 5. Because it appears that some states will now add "internet learning experience" to their grad requirements (according to a homeschool mom I know) and because many colleges now have online class requirements, I think this may help students learn not only web design but also online learning skills in a safe environment.

anyway, that's a project that we really want to get off the ground sooner than later, but it has been shocking to me how much more complex editing video is than writing a book. LOL

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Lessons Learned through Classic Movies

I've recently become a Netflix addict. I didn't think it would happen.

A relative bought our family a Netflix subscription for the year, and prior to that I had assumed that Netflix was mostly brand new movies, most of which were not fit for little (or big) eyes. Not so. Netflix has an impressive collection of classic movies, and I don't even have to leave my house. Our queue of movies currently has over 100 on it. We'll be getting fresh movies every few days for the next several months !

Among those was have watched are "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (one of my favorite all time films) and last night we watched "To Kill a Mockingbird", having just finished up the book of the same title as a family.

Mr. Smith is a great film for teaching our children about how the Senate works, and how corruption and special interests sometimes block the Senate from functioning as designed. The backdrop of gorgeous and moving shots of the various monuments located in Washington, D.C., as seen through the eyes of a naive patriotic young man (Mr. Smith) is incredible, and we found ourselves pausing the movie to discuss certain things in more detail.

To Kill a Mockingbird deals with the touchy subject of racism in the deep south of the 1930s, when a black man is falsely accused, and Atticus Finch defends him.

I never have understood racism, even though I grew up in a family that was very racist. To me it never made sense and always angered me. I want my kids to likewise see racism for the ugly and pointless thing that it is. I always have found it strange that many "lefties" refer to Christians as being racist because judging another person based on skin color is so vile to God and totally contradictory to the Bible's teaching on the subject....there is only one race and that is the human race.

Last night after we watched To Kill a Mockingbird, we talked for a long time about racism and races, and what the Bible says about it. Today we are starting to read the excellent book by Ken Ham called "One Blood" (highly recommended for a Biblical response to racism), and discuss it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Deep Discussions with My Teen Son

When I was pregnant with my last baby, some people would look at me and say, "Oh, just you wait! You don't know what you have done to yourself! You're going to have five teenagers at once!" At the time my kids were prenatal, almost one, 2, 4, and almost 6. Now they are almost 9, almost 10, 11, 13, and almost 15. gets better the older they get. I especially enjoy the deep discussions I can have with my teens and pre-teens now, and hearing their thoughts on different things. What a blessing.

One of those moments came last Friday. My mom gave each of the kids a McDonald's gift card for Christmas, and so I have decided to use this as some one on one time with each child, going out grocery shopping together, and then to the golden arches for some artery clogging goodness and fellowship time.

As we were sitting there, a large screen plasma was talking about world events. Our tv doesn't get much in the way of reception so this is the first time we have had "the news" on in a while, and they were discussing the President's economic stimulus plan on CNN (which would mean a windfall of over $4000 for our family). My son surprised me.

"But, Mom,...that wouldn't really be a good thing, right?" he said to me. "I mean, good for us personally but not good in general."

"Why do you say that?" I knew the answer of course, but I was surprised that he had realized that "free money" is not without strings attached! too many people are already spending it in their minds, without regard to what sort of unsteady future this sort of spending and debt continues to bring to our nation.

"Well, it'd be nice to have that extra money....but isn't that bad for dollars in what they are worth? If our dollar is devalued, then just pulling more money out of thin air will devalue it more, right? Flood the market? If we have a deficit already, where's the money coming from?" he said thoughtfully. Living near the Canadian border, we had discussed how Canadian dollar is not worth the same as American dollars, and how at one time Canadian money was worth less than US money, but now it is worth more.

After a pause, he continued, "It's because it's an election year, isn't it?"

I was smiling. I am so proud to have a son who THINKS about this stuff, instead of just being excited about all of that "free money" they are getting with their tax refunds.

I asked him what we should do with the money that was coming to us. After a few French fries, and moments of silence, a smirk was on his face.

"Buy Euros? or maybe Gold?"


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It's been a while

It's been a while since I blogged. Life has just been too busy :-) but in a good sort of way. Our family has been passing around some sort of nasty upper respiratory thing and it has hit me every-other-person. Now that it has run its course through everyone, I am hoping this is the last time I'll have it. ~smile~

I found the neatest thing at a garage sale this past summer: a rotisserie. I just today used it (sorry no photos--I need to get some new rechargeable batteries, as mine no longer want to recharge), and we had the most succulent and yummy chicken I think I have ever tasted. I wanted to get it because I like gyros sandwiches and also sharwarma style chicken (a middle eastern thang), but we were given a few whole chickens from someone, and so I tried one of those on the rotisserie. Yum-o. We served rotisserie chicken with a side of brown rice and a nice big salad. It was perfect.

the only hitch is that 1 5 lb chicken is not quite enough for the whole family, and yet anything larger doesn't quite fit nicely in the rotisserie. I guess it is another one of those cooking gadgets that was designed for smaller families. It would work great if we had 1.8 kids. LOL however my teenaged son could probably have eaten the whole chicken by himself (and wanted to). Maybe I'll find another rotisserie at another garage sale, and then we can cook two chickens at once. :-) too bad a turkey wouldn't fit in there.

I've also been trying different ways to prepare egg rolls since I don't like deep frying them. Baking them seems to make them too dry (like "baklava without the syrup" dry!), and we tried steaming them this past week, only to have them fall apart easily afterwards (though to be honest, they tasted better that way--perfectly moist but not greasy).

Friday, January 04, 2008


I had a few emails that I've responded to privately which I've decided to respond to on the blog...I touched on this briefly in my recent newsletter too.

How does a busy mom of many get organized? What is the best way to organize one's time? How do I organize my time?

Well, I am not about to say that my way is the only way, because I have found from trial and error that a schedule and any sort of organizational structure in our homes and lives has to reflect us. Just because something works for me doesn't mean it has to work for you. I've tried many "programs" that gave me some assistance but didn't completely work for me without modification. So, make it your own. Make it work for you.

I'll probably talk more about organizing other parts of our lives later...but for right now, this is going to be about organizing time, also known as scheduling.

Before I start though, my thoughts on babies and schedules...When my kids were babies, I tried a feeding schedule, which resulted in my milk drying up from not feeding often enough, so when it comes to wee little babies (under 2-3 months old) I tend to go with the flow, and slowly easy them onto a schedule when they start to get older. Most of the time, with mine anyway, they started to fall into a routine by that time. It was way too stressful to try to recover from childbirth, care for the house, cook meals, and care for children while trying to make a baby and several toddlers follow my schedule (maybe it was because they couldn't read my pretty color-coded schedule on the fridge LOL). When it comes to babies and young happens more than usual, and you have to learn to relax and be flexible.

You also have to work around your husband's schedule and his preferences regarding a level of structure in the home. My hubby liked to follow my pretty color-coded schedule about as much as the baby did. ;) He preffered things to be a little more laid back, and so I had to strive to overcome my obsession with office supply products, schedules, lists, and planners and work together with him to hit a happy medium. By God's grace, after nearly 16 years of marriage, my husband carries a small appointment calendar most days (and sometimes even looks in it!), and I have learned that I will in fact live even if I don't finish everything on my to-do list. I can even survive doing things that were not scheduled in my planner!

But, what works for me?

The main point of my system is having a power list which I work my way down each day. There are certain things which I do each and every day no matter what (I keep these on a laminated sheet, which I then check off with a dry erase marker), and then there are special things that I need to accomplish too. These special things which don't occur every day are coded so that I know what priority they have--I give them an A, B, or C. If I skip a "B" or a "C", i transfer it to the next day's to-do list, and usually give it a slightly higher priority (if it was a "C", it usually becomes a "B" unless it isn't really that urgent).

There's a fantastic recording by Susie Glennen of the Busy Woman Planner, which you can get from her site that talks about a similar organizational method (only she has some added levels of prioritizing items on the list). I really enjoyed what she had to say, and it certainly helped me more proficiently use my planner. Her MP3 is called "How to Put Together Your Planner", and is something I like to re-listen to every now and then. Most people think a planner is going to solve their organizational problems, but don't have a clue how to use one effectively. This will help you. :-)

My current daily to-do list (the laminated one) is divided three ways--homeschooling, household, and business life. I don't really include my personal (which includes my quiet time, my exercising, etc.) because that has become 2nd nature now. :-).

For home schooling, we have a set itinerary for each school day. It is a list of what must be done, in order, but without scheduled times. We've been doing this so long now, we don't even think about it.Whenever you start something new, just remember that if you do it consistently for 30 days, you will have the habit instilled in you. Each of the kids gets a lesson plan for the year (I have a template I designed in MS Publisher), and that also helps.

For household, I have certain daily chores, and then also some weekly and some monthly chores, and I have them on different laminated sheet. By the way, you can also use a gloss page too. I just am one of those that has to have it fit into my planner purse I got from Susie's site a few years ago! The kids also have set chores they do each day, rotating.

For business, I have a few daily things I do to stay on top of things...but mostly I have just a list, which I work on when I am done with homeschool and housework. :-) Sometimes I let the kids bid on doing jobs for me, if they are capable of handling something (such as packing orders, or filing receipts). Ruth does my QuickBooks for me.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Family Fitness Thursdays 1/3/2008

One of the most common new year's resolutions falls under the category of weight loss and fitness and all that. Maybe you have one too?

I think part of it is after all of the eating that happens around the holidays, and the fact that our schedules are all "off", we long for some normalcy, to get back on track with things, to eat healthier.

This week, I was trying to get back to exercising more consistently again. It's so cold and this old body of mine doesn't like to move much when it is cold...but once I get moving I am surprisingly nimble and warmed up. I find that exercise is one of those things that takes a virtual act of God for most of us to start, but once we do it (unless we over do it), we rarely regret it.

Just as I rarely get up from some fruitful time in the Word of God and say, "What a waste of time!" I very rarely, after a good workout, "I sure wish I hadn't done that today!" I always feel better.

I focus more on fitness overall than "weight loss" and low cal stuff. I try to eat healthy, and in moderation. I make lower fat, and lower calorie choices overall, but you won't find me eating lean cuisine either. Most nights, we have a little bit of "hot food" and a whole lotta salad. Most of the time, when you see me making some sort of soup or stew for dinner, I have one bowl of that, and a heaping bowl of salad full of fresh veggies. That's a habit which we have started to form, and which works for us for a few reasons.

One is that I am cooking for more than just me...we have 7 in the family plus frequent dinner guests as we open our home to hospitality. I quit my job as a short order cook back in college! LOL I find that if I make mostly healthful food that everyone will eat, and also a big salad, I can enjoy a little bit of the main course and a whole lot of the salad, and everyone can choose their portions. My husband and teen daughter would rather have salad every day ;)

But this is also another reason to exercise...I find the more I work out (that is consistently--not sitting on my seat doing nothing for a few months and then working out for 3 hours every few months--that is very bad for you! ;)), I desire healthier foods. My appetite is normalized. I want salad. I want yogurt. I want to drink more water and less coffee.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Debates and Primaries

I was just reading something interesting over at AOL's new site, as I look over the news this afternoon. First, according to their straw poll, Ron Paul has more votes than any other Republican Candidate but according to the news story, he won't be allowed to come to two pre-primary debates.

What's the matter, Fox and ABC? Does he make too much sense for you?

In telephone polls of people who are registered as Republican, he is not yet in the double digits. However, I know many life-long Democrats that are planning on going to the polls to vote for him and want to see him president, as well as all of my Libertarian and Constitutionalist friends (and independent voter). I even have three friends I know who have never voted in their lives (at all!) who went out and registered to vote so they could vote for Ron Paul. So...I have to wonder how it will all turn out on the could surprise many, especially if Ron Paul's internet based followers (who have him winning in most internet straw polls) all collectively pull away from their computers, leave their houses, and vote.

The Primary is January 15th. If you are a registered voter, go vote. For the first time ever in my life, I am actually going to show up and vote in a Republican primary...because for the first time ever there is a candidate I believe in. If you feel the same way, go let your voice be heard on Tuesday, Jan. 15th.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Welcome, 2008!

Happy New Year (nearly 24 hours later...)

I'm playing catch up right now because of some crazy busy-ness in my life. I am helping with the launch of The Homemaker's Mentor, a new website from Martha Greene of Marmee Dear and Company and Rebekah Wilson of Hope Chest Legacy. Together they are creating an online mentoring site (by subscription), and it launched today. My role in this venture is that of web designer and techie. Thankfully, my husband has been home the last few days, and so I have spent more time that I normally would prefer on the computer and the phone, helping smooth out the rough edges and make things work properly. It looks to be a promising venture that is sure to bless many.

I was thinking about the whole concept of new years resolutions recently, as I was reading in the Word and meditating on the topic of goals and plans. I am a list maker and so I tend to keep an open notebook with a running to-do list, as well as several notebooks for books-in-progress. I was just starting to write down my goals for 2008 as I reviewed my goals for 2007....and it occurred to me how universal it is to have this desire for a fresh start and clean slate. Maybe I just have some issues relating to an obsession with office supply products (forget the mall, give me a gift card to office depot!), and my excitement over putting in clean, fresh, new calendar pages into my planner and tossing the old year's calendars once and for all.

God gives us a clean slate each and every morning! This verse was in my head and heart as I did my planning,

"It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.

Oh, thank you Jesus! Woo!

We can have a new, clean slate each and every day! We dont' have to wait for January 1st of 2009 if we fail...we can run boldly to the throne of grace right now (Hebrews 4:12). God is so good.

I do still have my list though ;)

Here's my list from last year--personal items left off-- (with my report card):

1. Faithful quiet time, both personally and with the children (check, mostly)
2. Complete the Reformer's Unanimous Stronghold's course (check--did that in September and now am on my 2nd time through).
3. Teach and train Ruth to use Quickbooks and do data entry for me(check--what a blessing).
4. Have at least $xxx in the savings account (nope...maybe next year lol)
5. Keep my office clean (well, it's clean now...sort of....)
6. Install my countertops and fix the kitchen cabinets (we're half way there--the rotting countertop is gone, the new one is in, but the cabinets still need work).
7. Train the kids to do their own laundry...check :-) (thank GOD!)
8. Do more marketing of my website (check...but bummer. Did more marketing but got less does that work? LOL)
9. Learn to play the piano (check...I played in church the other week...not particularly well...but I played.LOL)
10. Finish my video curriculum "The Art and Tech of Web Design 1" (uh....not quite. Too busy designing websites to write and film about designing websites).
11. Have kids finish interactive children's ebooks "Mommy's Garden Helper", Mommy's Kitchen Helper", and the Stewardship book....(not quite done...they did a lot of artwork for them but we are still working on the format...expect these near the summer months).
12. Lose 75 lbs. (not quite. I lost 46...well actually I lost and then gained, and then lost again...but last year's January weight minus this years is 46 lbs!)

My goals for 2008 (personal goals left off ;))...Lord willing I want to:
1. Faithful Quiet Time personally and with the kids.
2. Keep learning piano for fun...
3. Finish "The Art and Tech of Web Design 1" by June.
4. Work with kids to finish the interactive ebooks, as well as making "Advent" into an interactive ebook.
5. Write some more articles, and keep my site up to date.
6. Work with the kids on writing skills.
7. Help Ruth launch her business idea.
8. Get some cabinet doors, Lord willing.LOL Painted too!
9. Finish Cartooning Ebook/Video for home schoolers (this is based on my co-op class).
10. Lose 50 lbs, and get that nasty word "obese" stricken from my medical records.

Better than Takeout: Homemade "mock" plum duck sauce

Necessity is the mother of invention.

We love oriental food, but when our income plummeted several years ago, our occasional take out treat went from once every few months to "never". During that time, I learned how to make all sorts of our favorite take out foods, including egg rolls, wonton soup, egg drop soup, fried rice, and stir fries. With the increase in our egg roll consumption, we realized we needed to do come up with a way to create plum duck sauce for the egg rolls, since a jar of it cost about $2.69 at the local grocery store.

I was delighted to find a recipe in the Ball Blue Book of Canning, but we were not thrilled with the results.

I was reading the back of a jar of our favorite brand of duck sauce for some inspiration when I realized that our favorite brand had no plums in it--the main flavor was from pineapple juice. The main ingredients were: pineapple juice, sugar, dried onions, dried bell peppers, dried garlic, salt, and pectin. Awesome! I have all of those at home!

For the purposes of this photo tutorial, you will see me using boxed pectin. I normally buy mine in bulk, as it is cheaper, but for the first timer, a box is the way to go, if only to get the handy little chart which one finds in each box. The chart tells you the right proportions of juice, sugar, and pectin for each sort of fruit. I keep mine on the inside of my cabinet door...or rather, I will put it back up there when we put ours back up :-) (ah, remodeling!).

You will also see an insane amount of sugar going into this. Because we are essentially making a jelly with onions in it, the sugar and the pectin work together to thicken things up. If you don't want to use that much sugar, there is no sugar or low sugar pectin which you can buy, which is formulated to work with low sugar recipes. The results are not always perfect, but at least you are not making something with that much sugar.

Before I started any prep work, I filled up my water bath canner in preparation for canning, and brought it to a boil. This way, there would be no waiting. It would be a wise idea to also find all of your other canning paraphernalia, as it is no fun trying to find your jar lifter as your timer is buzzing at you...not that I did that this past time...a'hem.

I began by measuring out a can of pineapple juice. The pineapple juice (and all canned juices) were on sale at the local Spartan, and so I stocked up if for no other reason than to make a year's supply of plum duck sauce. Then, I poured the pineapple juice into a stainless steel pot, and brought it to a boil, with 2T. of dried onions, 2T. red and green peppers (I bought these at the bulk food store), and 1T. of crushed red pepper (the hot stuff--optional if you don't like FIRE). I also added a pinch of garlic powder.

Once the pineapple juice with spices was boiling, I added the pectin, brought it to a boil again, and after a minute I added all of the recommended sugar. For 5.5 cups of pineapple juice the recommended sugar was a whopping 6 cups, which I had standing by. They didn't have pineapple juice on the chart in the box, but I remembered from last time that the amounts were the same as for plums. :-)

I poured my sugar in all at once, and stirred to dissolve it.

I again brought it to a boil, per the directions in the pectin, while I prepared my canning jars. I poured boiling water into my clean sink, and added the canning jars and lids to sterilize them, after checking for any cracks and so forth. Always use new lids (you can reuse the bands).

I filled the jars with 1/4" headspace, and wiped the lip of the jar as well as the lid itself, before putting it on, and screwing on the band.

After I had filled 7 half-pint jars (which is what fits in my canner at once), I poured the rest into a large canning jar for use that day during our dinner, as well as for later use stored in the fridge. If I were making more than just one little batch, I'd have filled as many half-pints as needed.

I canned them in the water bath canner for 5 minutes...or maybe a little bit longer while we scrambled to find the jar lifter which had fallen behind the stove....;) LOL

I lifted the jars out of the canner, and onto a towel I spread out on the counter, setting them about an inch apart.

If you are not familiar with want to hear them all start to pop either shortly after you lift them out of the boiling water, or within an hour or two. That means the lid is sealing to the jar. After they have cooled, touch the top of the lid to see if it is "down". If it pops down then up again, put that one in the fridge for safety.

Better than Takeout: Fried Rice and Stir Fries

Fried rice and stir fries are those sorts of dishes that can be as varied as the veggies at the grocery store or your own backyard garden. That's part of the beauty; they can be made with anything you have on hand.

Our friends came over for a meal and we decided to make a complete Chinese Take-out style feast, full of photo-ops to share with you. I never quite know what will go into our stir fry until I get to the grocery store. This week, we found a package of multi-colored bell peppers for an amazing price, as well as carrots, onions, and garlic. I also found cans of Coconut Milk on sale, which would form the basis of my sauce.

I started out preparing the ingredients. For us, that meant first cooking up the rice according to directions. Normally I use brown rice, but someone blessed us with a box of food, and in it was a nice big bag of white rice, so I'm using that. You can use whatever kind of rice you want. This also works especially well with leftover cooked rice.

I began preparing the other ingredients:

For the Stir Fry, I sliced chicken breast into thin strips. This is done easiest with a pair of kitchen shears, with the chicken still slightly frozen.

I had my daughter slice up the peppers (about 5 of them since there was 14 people all together over for dinner!), carrots, and onions.

For the Fried Rice, I sliced 1 chicken breast into small cubes, as well as 1 carrot, 1 celery stalk, and 1 onion (all coarsely chopped).

I only have one wok, though I had to use it for both dishes. I decided to make the Egg Roll Filling first, then allow it to cool while making fried rice, then, after transferring the fried rice to a bowl, I prepared the Stir Fry.

The Fried Rice

I began by heating the wok over high heat. I didn't wipe out the bits of remaining egg roll filling, so as to include it in the fried rice too. I poured in 1T of vegetable oil (I am actually using that garlic vegetable oil my friend got me for Christmas! Mmmmm), and a teaspoon of sesame oil for flavor. Next, I added 1t of fresh ginger (dried also works), and 2-3 sliced cloves of garlic.

I stirred well to blend the flavors, and then added the meat.

I stir-fried the meat, moving it constantly in the hot wok until it was completely cooked.

Next, I added the chopped vegetables, stir frying them as well. I also had some leftover sliced almonds which I added to the vegetables.

Once the carrots were tender, I added the rice, on large scoop at a time, stir-frying to blend it well before adding more rice. I seasoned with soy sauce while stirring i the rice. I added enough rice to fill the wok before turning it off, and transferring the fried rice to a different bowl.

The Stir Fry
I wiped the wok clean of any remaining fried rice before preparing my stir fry. I began, as with the fried rice, by heating the wok, adding both vegetable oil and sesame oil, and seasoning the oil with ginger. I also added a half teaspoon of Oriental Five Spices (a spice blend which you will find in the Oriental foods aisle of your grocery store).

I added the meat a little bit at a time, stir frying each batch until cooked, then pushing it up onto the sides of the wok before adding more meat to the center to stir fry. In several small batches, I cooked all of the meat well.

I like my vegetables, especially peppers, to be crisp-tender, so I added them after I prepared the sauce, letting them steam instead of stir frying them. I began the sauce by adding 2 cans of coconut milk. I don't use this often as it is very high in fat, but it is nice to use for special occasions (happy new year!). I also normally don't make quite so much sauce, but it helps the meal to spread when you are having 14 over for dinner! I also added 1 cup of chicken broth to the coconut milk, and let it simmer.

Once the sauce was simmering, I stirred in 1 cup of cold water mixed with 1T of corn starch to thicken it.

After the sauce had thickened, we did a quick taste test, and decided it needed more seasonings, so we added ginger, curry powder, cilantro, chives, Soy Sauce, and a little bit more Oriental Five Spices. We like our food spicy. Your sauce should be seasoned to your tastes, using similar spice blends.

I added the vegetables, as well as 2 sliced green onions, and the rest of the bag of almonds I had in the pantry. I turned off the heat, put the lid on my wok, and allowed the vegetables to steam without stirring. We had about 15 minutes before we were going to eat yet, and that provided enough time for the vegetables to become crisp tender, and yet remain warm.