Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I'm out of here....

Wish me luck!  We are leaving on vacation for a week with the whole family... camping.  I hope to come back with great tips on how to have fun on a summer vacation while not breaking the bank.

I hope that none of you will miss me much.  Make sure to come back to GrowingOranges.com on July 5th.  I will have lots of pictures and information and probably some recipes.  I will also have some tears since my #3 is turning 1 on July 4th.

Until then... stay safe & have lots of fun in the OC!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Semi-Homemade Banana Cake

Semi-Homemade Banana Cake
Semi-Homemade can literally be my nickname.  Making things from scratch can be time consuming and often can cost a lot of money; so I enjoy finding shortcuts.  And when I find a good shortcut, I use it… often.

A friend of mine once gave me a recipe for a Semi-Homemade Banana Cake.  It was so easy to make and tasted great.  Once my family gave me their approval (AKA- they licked their plates clean) I knew that it would forever become part of our dessert rotation. 

So, since I’m a giver… I thought I would share this recipe with you.  Enjoy!

Semi-Homemade Banana Cake

1 box of yellow cake mix
Whatever ingredients the cake mix calls for
2 very ripe bananas
1 tsp of baking soda

Make the cake mix according to the directions.  Take the 2 bananas and mash them up in a small bowl.  Sprinkle in the teaspoon of baking soda and mix. 
Banana Mash-Up
Pour the mashed bananas into the cake mix and stir it together, then pour into a 9x13 pan (or whatever size you prefer) that has been greased.
Pour into cake mix
 Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes (check your cake box for their cooking instructions).  Once it’s done baking you can eat the cake plain or top it with some yummy cream cheese frosting.
It's super yummy with or without the frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting (this is a generic recipe, if you have a better one… please share)

2 (8 oz) packages of cream cheese, softened
½ cup butter, softened
2 cups of powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix the cream cheese and butter in a mixer until creamy.  Add in the vanilla and slowly add in the powdered sugar.  Spread onto the banana cake and lick the spoon (and bowl clean). 

It's so good... want a bite?

Friday, June 22, 2012

The fair is coming to Orange County!

I feel bad even posting information about the fair because I’m not a huge fan.  Their prices are outrageous and my kids are always screaming “Buy me corn! I want to buy that toy! Why won’t you let me go on that ride again?”  Not to mention, when the sun goes down the crowd tends to change.  However, if you are a fan of the fair then let me at least share with all of you the promotions they are having for 2012.

The fair is at the OC Fair Grounds from July 13 – August 12 which means you have at least 1-2 paychecks during that time frame to help you pay for this expensive “family outing”.  But, if you want to at least save on the admission and parking you can get there on July 13th between 12-1pm (yes, they give you only ONE hour) and it will be free (parking/admission).  I’m sure that it will be very busy, so make sure you arrive early to prepare for all of the traffic.

Other Fair Promotions:

All military (active & veterans) get in free daily with their I.D.

Wednesday- We Care: One free admission and one carnival ride per person. 
Wednesday, July 18th (noon-4pm)-    Five non-perishable food items (one admission /carnival ride per 5 items)
Wednesday, July 25th (noon-4pm)-    1 new children’s book or 3 gently used children’s books (one admission /carnival ride per items)
Wednesday, Aug 1st (noon-4pm)-      5 gently used clothing items (one admission /carnival ride per 5 items)
Wednesday, Aug 8th (noon-4pm)-      1 new school supply valued at $5 or more (one admission /carnival ride per item)
Thursdays- Kids Day
            Free admission for kids (12 and under) all day

Fridays- Seniors Day (60+)
            $2 off admission plus free Ferris wheel and merry-go-round rides- all day

            $2 Taste of Fair Food (noon-4pm)

Friday-Sunday OC Fair Express
            OC Fair Express riders traveling to the OC Fair receive a coupon for $2 Fair Admission. 
            OCTA service hours: Friday 3pm- Midnight/ Saturday & Sunday 10am-midnight.
            Bus Fare: $1.50 one way/ $3 round trip

Every Saturday & Sunday     
            Rise & Shine
            $2 General Admission (10-11am)

Read & Ride
            Read 2 books for 3 carnival rides (age 5-11)
            Here is the form to fill out (submit it to the Information Booth @ Centennial Farm):

Other Carnival Promotions:

Every Wednesday & Thursday         
            $30 unlimited carnival ride wristbands – plus 2 free games
            (Sold until 5pm- valid until 8pm)

Every Friday
            $2 Rides & $2 Games
            (Sold until 4pm)

OC Summer Reading & Fun Free National Programs!

It’s time to start to fill up your summer calendar, especially since we all know that bored kids mean HORRIBLE kids.  So, if you are anything like me than you will be looking for cheap or free programs since money doesn’t grow on trees (my husband reminds me of this weekly). 

So, I started to compile a list of programs that can help keep those crazy kids entertained without draining your savings account:

Local Library Summer Reading Programs

Aliso Viejo



Buena Park

Costa Mesa


Dana Point

Fountain Valley


Garden Grove

Huntington Beach


La Habra

La Palma

Laguna Beach

Laguna Hills

Laguna Niguel

Lake Forest

Los Alamitos

Mission Viejo

Newport Beach



Rancho Santa Margarita

San Clemente

San Juan Capistrano

Santa Ana



Villa Park


Yorba Linda

I also found a general calendar where you can look by the date and see what all the local libraries are doing that day (not by city):

OC Fair Reading Program

Read & Ride
            Read 2 books for 3 carnival rides (age 5-11)
            Here is the form to fill out (submit it to the Information Booth @ Centennial Farm):

Here are some other National Reading Programs:

Apple Camp
kids ages 8-12 learn to use iMovie at an Apple retail store workshop over the course of three days.

Barnes & Noble Summer Reading
Read 8 books and submit Reading Journal for a free book from selected list. Form has choices for grades 1-6.

Book Adventure
Free reading program from Sylvan Learning.

Books a Million
summer reading program - free Dr. Seuss insulated lunch bag for participating kids, while supplies last. See store for details.

Chuck. E. Cheese
Reading Rewards Calendar - Redeem certificate for 10 FREE tokens. Limit 1 free token offer per child, per day. Only at participating locations.

Free Bowling at AMF Centers
Receive a weekly voucher for 2 free games/child/day for kids 15 & under thru 9/3, based on lane availability. Shoe rental not included.

Half Price Books
Kids that are 14 yrs. and under can earn a $5 GC each month for reading 15 min/day in June and July.

$5 to join for the summer- activities at local malls

Kids Bowl Free
Kids within age limits specified by participating bowling centers can receive 2 free games a day, all summer long.

National Amusements Theaters
Bookworm Wednesdays - During the summer, kids can get free admission to a kids movie on Wednesday at participating Cinema de Lux, Showcase, or Multiplex cinemas by submitting a book report. (Accompanying parents or guardians and children under six years of age receive free admission and do not need to submit a book report.)

PBS Kids iVillage
Summer Reading Challenge - Six week reading program/challenge starting June 18. Daily sweepstakes.

Pizza Hut
Local Pizza Hut restaurants may choose to partner with the library to offer the Book-It certificates during the summer. Call your local Pizza Hut to see if they will participate - they can call BookIt for details: 1-800-426-6548.

Pottery Barn Kids Summer Reading Challenge
Read all of the books on one of their lists and receive a free book + a chance at a backpack full of books.

Scholastic Summer Challenge
Kids can log their reading time to win virtual rewards like book & audio chapters and virtual badges and sign up for periodic sweepstakes for Scholastic prizes.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Semi-Homemade Biscuits & Gravy Recipe

My Semi-Homemade Biscuits & Gravy.

I have literally woken up at 2am and craved Biscuits & Gravy; sadly, I wasn’t pregnant.  There is something about this meal that makes my stomach rumble and my mouth water.  My love for biscuits that our smothered in gravy was been passed down to my children… and even my husband.  So needless to say, I make this often.

This is what you will need:

Biscuits (I often use the Pillsbury pop can type but you can also use Bisquick or be a show-off and make homemade biscuits.  One can is enough for my family with two small kids eating, but we will soon be upgrading to buying two cans.)

Sausages (I highly recommend buying the Farmer John sausage in the white package, the cheap ones, because they give you a lot of grease to help make the gravy.  You can also use bacon.)

Flour (about 3-4 TBSP)

Milk (a few cups)

Ground Pepper

Eggs (1-2 eggs per person)


First, you will want to cook your sausage in a large skillet.  Brown them up good and take them out of the pan and onto a napkin.  Leaving the burner on with all that yummy grease, add about 1-2TBSP of flour at a time.  You’re adding the flour as you stir trying to get a thick combination without burning it.  For “professional cooks” this is called a Roux.  I personally call it “thick greasy flour that will put 10 pounds on my butt”.  This part takes practice to get down perfect, the first couple of times you may not put enough flour or maybe put too much.  Over time you will figure out the perfect combination, but what you want is to make it thick. 

I forgot to take a picture of just the roux.  But you can get the idea of what it
should look like, it's that clump in the center
Once you have it thick, you will slowly start to add in the milk making sure to keep stirring as you add.  I usually put in about half a cup at a time and stir, then let it set for a few minutes to get thick again then add in more milk.  I repeat this process until I make enough gravy and I like the taste (1 package of sausage works for our family, but like the biscuits I will need to upgrade to two packages soon to make more gravy). 
This is an example on how I allow it to thicken
up (on med-low heat) before adding in more milk.
 When I’m happy with the amount/taste of gravy, I cut up the sausage and put it inside the gravy then add in ground pepper.  Pepper is the trick!  Anytime your gravy has too much of a flour taste or maybe not enough flavor… add pepper!
Add your cut up sausage to the gravy.
Now, throw those biscuits in the oven (following package for cooking instructions) and make sure to watch the time.  You don’t want to burn them.  While they are cooking, grab your eggs.  You will want to cook them sunny side up (don’t cook the egg yolk; you want it to be runny).
Perfect eggs, ready to be broken into. I use the oil method to cook them,
where you put a little bit of oil into the small pan then crack the egg inside.  Instead of flipping
the egg (which might break it) I take my spoon and just pour some of the hot oil over the top of the
egg white to cook it.  Pretty simple.
Put 1-2 eggs on each plate, take 2-3 biscuits and shred them up and put on top of the eggs, then go ahead and pour the gravy all over the top. 
Your family will be surprised when they break into the meal and get egg yolk,
but the surprise will be very welcomed because it is a delicious combination. 
This my friend, is the reason my husband still loves me.  I may not keep our house super clean, or teach our kids to behave like humans instead of wild animals… but I can make the best Biscuits & Gravy in all of Orange County!

**Don't forget to "like" us on Facebook or "follow us" on Twitter, I will be posting some of my deals that I come across, updating you on futures posts that I'm working on, and just writing about my crazy & hectic life.

Today I'm working on putting together a list of summer reading programs for the kids and working on a summer "bucket list", will explain this more soon.  So stick around,  you won't want to miss out.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Kids Bowl for FREE

Looking to take your kids bowling this summer?  AMF is offering vouchers for  kids (under the age of 16)  to bowl for free (up to 2 games per child per day).  The only "catch" with this deal is that it doesn't include shoe rental.  So, this is not the most amazing deal but if you are looking to go bowling it will save you some money.   I've talked about this before, make sure you do your research and confirm that a "deal" is really a "deal", thankfully this doesn't take any commitment.  Just sign up and use it if you want.

For adults:  Pricing (before 5pm) is $4.45 a game.  You will all need to rent shoes at $4.60 each.  If you go with a group of mom's you can rent one lane for just the adults and pay a flat $15 an hour for the lane.

There are two AMF locations in Orange County: Westminster & Fullerton.  So if you are looking to take your kids to a wholesome game of bowling, follow this link to register:


Low Country Boil

Low Country Boil

My husband will be the first to tell you that I like trying new recipes.  I’m not that mom who cooks pasta on every Monday, meatloaf on every Tuesday, etc.  I like to try out new recipes and get my boys to try new things.  So, for Father’s Day I was looking for something that was not only good but fun.  Fun?  Yes, fun.  Food can be fun.

I lived in the south (as in North Carolina not San Clemente) for some time and fell in love with the food.  I love everything about southern cooking, except the waistline it gives me.  So as I was looking through the grocery store ads I saw that Albertsons had whole shrimp on sale for $4 a pound and it hit me.  I was going to make a Low Country Boil.  Yum.

This is what you will need (feeds about 6 people, you can adjust the recipe up or down to fit the size of your family):
Ingredients for Low Country Boil

A big pot
Old Bay Seasoning (they didn’t have this at Ralphs but I found it at Albertsons)
10 red potatoes (sliced into four)
2 packages of sausage (I bought Helshire Farms Turkey Sausage)
4 ears of corn (broke each into three)
6 lemons
1 large white onion
2 pounds of shrimp (mine was frozen that I defrosted)

Fill the large pot up with water, leaving enough room for you to add ingredients without it overflowing.  Add the Old Bay seasoning (I put in about 4-6 tablespoons, put in what you like, taste it and see) and bring to a boil. 

When the water boils, add the potatoes (I added the sausage also, but they overcooked; would recommend waiting to add them.).  

Cook on medium heat for about 20 minutes. Add corn, sausage, onion, two lemon halves (squeeze juice into pot them throw them in) and cook for an additional 10 minutes.  
Squeeze that lemon and then just throw it inside.
Add shrimp and cook for 3 more minutes (don’t cook it any longer or it will ruin the shrimp).  Drain.
Don't overcook the shrimp. No longer than 3 minutes.

Put some plastic down on your table and some newspaper on top of that.  Pour the food right onto the newspaper.  Serve with melted butter, sliced up lemon wedges, cocktail sauce, French bread and lots of napkins.  We literally let the kids grab it with their hands and just dig in.  It was awesome.  The flavor was so good we didn’t even have time to talk in between shoveling into our mouths. 
All that was left over after my family grubbed! Pigs!
This recipe is easy to adjust; you can add different things to it like crab (whole or legs), mussels, or even lobster. Next time I will attempt the crab legs with the shrimp, but I could not find a good price and you know me… I’m cheap!

Once you try the recipe, come back and let me know what you think.  I would love to hear about how your family reacted to eating off the table.  Hopefully my kids won’t expect for our pasta to be served on newspaper tonight; that might get a little messy!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sneak Peek of Recipes Posting this Week!

Here are a few sneak peek pictures of recipes I will be posting this week.  All the recipes are easy (I'm not a cook, so if I can make it edible... so can you) and relatively inexpensive (the Low Country Boil is a little pricey because of the shrimp, but it's been on sale lately and feeds A LOT).

Here is the Low Country Boil that we grubbed on for Father's Day.  It was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!  I have some good hints & tricks and will be posting all of the details tomorrow (Tuesday, June 19th).
Low Country Boil
This is one of my very favorite breakfast recipes.  Good ol' Biscuits & Gravy with runny eggs underneath.  I ignore the screaming of my thighs (that often yell at me that they can't grow any larger) and shovel this into my mouth; enjoying every single bite. Will post on Wednesday, June 20th. 

Homemade Biscuits & Gravy

Quick and easy Banana Cake.  If you just took a bite, you would assume I actually took out the flour and sugar to make this, but it's a box cake with some added banana.  No one would ever guess. Will post on Friday, June 21st.
Banana Cake-
Great plain or with some cream cheese frosting on top

So make sure that you come back soon for some great recipes.
Also, don't forget to "LIKE" us on Facebook and "Follow Us" on Twitter.

Homemade freezer jam... pretend you are amazing with this EASY recipe.

My "pride and joy"
I never realized how much jam I would go through in one year until I started packing school lunches.  Holy Moley!  The worst part is the price, if you don’t have a coupon you can easily pay $5 for a small little jar of Smuckers.  It kills me.  So, a few years back my neighbor let me in on a little secret; make your own!

Now, I am not a Suzy Homemaker; not even close.  I hate cleaning house.  I would rather buy new socks than do laundry.  And my car has never felt the slime of soap being washed all over its body.  If I was to get a grade, I would definitely receive an “F” in Domestic Engineering.  However, I can make my own freezer jam.

It is so easy, even my 4 year old made some (with the help of me measuring and reminding him to stop eating the sugar).  And if you can get over all of the sugar that has to be added (it’s scary) and just close your eyes and taste it… it is amazing.  By far the best jam I have ever tried and if you get your strawberries on sale, it’s super cheap.

Now, I prefer freezer jam though many will disagree.  The good part of making freezer jam is that it’s quick and you don’t have to boil all the fruit (we did this once with grapes and part of my stove is still broken).  The downfall is you have to have enough room in your freezer to store it (if you don’t have a freezer for your garage, you should invest in one).  So, if you don’t have room in your freezer you can still make jam it will just be a slightly different process (check the recipe on the pectin you purchase for more details).

So here are my steps on making YUMMY strawberry jam:

The supplies (you don't need the hand smasher if you use a blender or food processor)
1.     Buy the strawberries.  On sale until tomorrow (June 19th) Ralphs has them on sale for 88 cents a carton.  If they are sold out, ask for a rain check (they may or may not give you this, but it’s worth trying).  I bought 10 cartons and it was enough to do 14 jars (1 pint each) and have a little left over for my kids to eat.

2.    Buy your pectin & jars.  I purchased my stuff at Walmart (because it’s cheap).  I got a 12-pack of 1 pint jars by Mainstays for about $8 (if you already have some, you can just reuse them and buy new lids/sealers).  Then you need to grab the pectin.  I bought two kinds: Sure Jell & Ball.  This will be a personal preference on which you prefer.  The Ball took less steps and less sugar, but the taste wasn’t as good.  The Sure Jell took a LOT more sugar (scary amount) and a few extra steps, but I would hate to see the calorie content.  ** You should buy about 2 small containers (or 1 big) of the Ball for 12 jars or 4-5 boxes of Sure Jell.  
Sure Jell- I prefer this but it has A LOT of sugar

Ball Pectin- not my favorite!
3.    Stock up on your sugar.  You’re going to need it.  One large package will be plenty.

4.    Make sure you wash your jars really good in soapy water

5.    Clean your strawberries, cut off the tops, and smash them.  You can either use a mashed potatoes masher or a blender or a food processor.  Either way, you will want to make sure you leave some chunks.  Jam should always have some chunks. 
These are the strawberries after a few seconds on the "pulse" with my food processor. Under the bubbles are more chunks, not huge but some texture.  Make sure to try and keep some strawberries pieces.

Ball Pectin (Recipe is on the container- this will make about 1-1.5 pints)

1.    Measure out your mashed strawberries (about 1 2/3 cups per pint) and throw them into a large bowl.

2.    In a small bowl mix together your pectin (2 tbsp) with your sugar (2/3 cups).

3.    Pour the sugar/pectin on top of the strawberries and mix together.
Can you find the strawberries?
4.    Pour the mix into a jar (leave about 1/2 an inch from the top), seal the jar, and let sit for about 30 minutes before freezing or eating.


Sure Jell (Recipe in box- this will make about 3 pints)

1.    Measure out your mashed strawberries (2 cups) and throw them into a large bowl.

2.    Pour your TON of sugar on top (4 cups), mix together and let it sit for 10 minutes stirring it occasionally.

Little bit of strawberries a WHOLE lot of sugar

3.    In a small saucepan mix together 1 box of pectin with ¾ cup of water.  Let boil for about a minute.

4.    Pour pectin mixture into the fruit and stir until completely dissolved.

5.    Put into jars (leave about 1/2 an inch from the top), seal, let sit for 24 hours at room temperature, then put in freezer.

My mouth is watering just looking at them
That is all it takes!  If you want to look really fancy, get some chalkboard paint and put it on your jars then you can write something like “Homemade Freezer Strawberry Jam” and put some ribbon around the top and hand them out to your neighbors.  When they stare at you with amazement, just smile and say something like “It was no big deal, I was able to make it in between reorganizing my cabinets, cleaning out the closets, and dusting down the whole house.”  Unless they read this blog, they will never know!    

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Free Summer Events in ALL OC cities

Summer time brings warm weather and bored kids, so I thought I would help fill your calendar with free things to do.  First up, take your kids to a movie (or concert) at your local park.  Grab your lawn chairs, blankets, picnic basket filled with dinner and treats (or grab a $5 Little Cesar pizza), some microwave popcorn (pop it at home before coming), and some drinks and join a big crowd of other tired and frustrated parents to relax and watch a movie under the stars.  The best part: it’s free.  The worst part: you have to take your kids. 

Here are a link to your local cities websites to find out exact time, dates & movies being played:

Aliso Viejo



Buena Park (concerts in the park)

Costa Mesa (concerts in the park & free movies)

Cypress (concerts on the green)

Dana Point

Fountain Valley (concerts in the park & movies)

Fullerton (outdoor concerts)

Garden Grove (concerts in the park)

Huntington Beach
http://www.surfingmuseum.org/events.html (surfing themed concerts)

http://cityofirvine.org/ (Sizzling Sunday Concerts)

La Habra (Children events all summer at their museum)

La Palma

Laguna Beach (Shakespeare in the Park)

Laguna Hills (community camp out)

Laguna Niguel (concert in the park)

Lake Forest (concerts & movies in the park)

Los Alamitos

Mission Viejo2 (movies at the lake- YOU MUST BE A MEMBER OF THE LAKE which is complete crap since not every neighborhood in the city is allowed to join the lake membership which leaves about 3 neighbors left out of about 95% of the fun things to do in the city during the summer. Can you tell that this ticks me off?  I hate this city)

Newport Beach (Shakespeare by the Sea & Concerts in the Park)

Orange (concerts in the park)

Placentia (concerts in the park and movies in the park)

Rancho Santa Margarita (concerts in the park)

San Clemente

San Juan Capistrano (summer concerts)

Santa Ana
Seal Beach (summer concerts)

Nothing listed on their city website

Tustin (Concerts & Movies in the Park)

Villa Park (Summer Reading Event)

Westminster (summer concerts)

Yorba Linda (concerts in the park)

Please post a comment if I left out an event that you know of.  Some areas like Ladera Ranch and Talega offer summer events, but don’t put it on a public website for others to read about it.  So if you know of other great summer family events on a budget… email me or share in the comments section.

Hope this helps you out!