Monthly Archives: December 2012

Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells

I knew I wanted to make a pasta dish tonight, and I had some lonely jumbo shells sitting in my pantry so I knew this recipe would be it. This recipe for stuffed shells is based off of this one from Skinnytaste, but I was missing some of the ingredients and I wanted to make it a little healthier so I could have more shells per serving.


Spinach Stuffed Shells

Serves: 2 Prep Time: 30 mins Cook Time: 40 mins

10-15 jumbo pasta shells

1 1/2 cups of part-skim ricotta cheese

1/2 cup fat free cottage cheese

1/4 cup mozzarella cheese

1 egg

5 cups fresh baby spinach

2 tbsp (2 cloves) garlic

1 32 oz can of diced tomatoes (or crushed)

1 onion, chopped

1 tbsp Italian seasoning (basil, marjoram, oregano)

1  tsp garlic powder

1 tsp siracha (optional)

salt & pepper

coconut or olive oil

First, prep your ingredients by chopping your onion and garlic. Put a pot of water on to boil when ready cook the shells to al dente.

Put two sauté pans on the stove, crank to low-med heat and add your coconut/olive oil. (Depending on how good you are at multitasking, you may want to do one pan at a time….I did).

Add garlic to both pans and cook until fragrant. In one pan, add your baby spinach. In the other, add your onion and cook until translucent, about 4 mins.


Cook spinach in one pan until wilted, about 3-4 minutes. Take off heat.

Pre-heat oven to 375.

Add your tomatoes to the sauté pan with your onions and garlic. Break up the tomatoes with a spoon and add all of your spices: Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt & pepper to taste, and siracha (if you like a kick!). Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 15 minutes. ****You could obviously use canned spaghetti sauce for this, but I prefer making my own. It’s so easy and I like the fresh taste.


Sauce with all the spices added

While the sauce is simmering, prep your shell filling. Place all of the cheeses and the egg in a medium bowl with the cooked, wilted spinach/garlic mixture. Add a dash of salt, pepper and garlic powder. Stir!



All mixed up

Stuff your shells with the filling and place in an oven safe baking dish with 1/4 cup of the cooked tomato sauce for a base. Cover the stuffed shells with more sauce, cover it with foil and then bake for 35-40 mins.


Ready for the oven





Changing my blog name!

Welcome, if you noticed- there’s a different title at the top of my blog today…Welcome to Pencils and Pancakes. I’ve labored over a blog title for a little over a month now, since I knew I wanted to change my blog from just teaching to healthy living as well. I finally landed on this title. I think that it encompasses the content of the blog a little better- a little bit of teaching advice, and an homage to my FAVORITE breakfast EVER- Pancakes!!!


I hope that people passing by on my blog now will have a better idea of what my blog is about. Not only will you find middle school teaching strategies but also recipes, workouts and any other life lessons I may come across. Hope you enjoy!

Question: How important is a blog’s title in decided whether or not you’ll read it?


Pros and Cons of planning a wedding on Pinterest



We all, meaning I, have spent hours browsing the endless eye candy that Pinterest has to offer. When I first joined I really didn’t understand what it was, other than I was finding tons of recipes, fashion, fitness and wedding (even though I wasn’t then engaged) ideas that I wanted to put into action. Pinterest can be a great tool to use to plan many things, and when I got engaged (and even before lol) I was immediately going Pin-crazy. Now that I’ve been putting my planning and Pinteresting into action, I’ve put together a list of good and bad things about trying to Pinterest plan.



-Ideas for pictures: I’ve found countless of picture ideas I never would have thought of if I never got online. I can easily show my photographer some great snapshots I can’t go without on my big day.

YES - Have your family and friends in the background of the first kiss instead of the officiant


First kiss from behind the preacher

Awesome shot!


I’d love to do this!

– Ideas for colors/bridesmaids dresses and flowers: I can easily show a florist and look for bridesmaids dresses that go along with a shot I’ve seen and easily Pinned.




-Easy organization. When visit a vendor or go to the bridal salon to buy bridesmaids dresses, I can easily whip out my phone and show colors, ideas and my vision. I don’t have to print out endless amounts of pictures and remember to bring them with me when I meet with a vendor. It’s all right there!


-Idea and Information Overload: I have One could possibly spend countless hours looking at ALL of the great ideas for favors, pictures, colors, decorations, extra fun activities, etc. But you can easily get overwhelmed with all of the ideas, trying to do all of these great ideas that sounded good at the time but make you lose track of the purpose of the day- marrying the love of your life. I was talking to a friend of mine whose friend recently got married, and commented that she got so caught up in doing all of the ideas she saw on Pinterest, it became too stressful. I don’t want to spend my wedding day stressing over whether the photographer is going to still be there at the end to snap that awesome ‘sparkler picture’.

-Will I be able to afford that?: As I begin to actually plan my wedding, I’m quickly realizing that:


Things that I thought I was definitely going to have at my wedding- like a rustic barn venue and vintage cowboy boots for all of my bridesmaids- just aren’t a financial reality for me. Looking at all the pictures then realizing what you can actually afford can leave you feeling inadequate and unfulfilled. Just remember that you don’t need all the bells and whistles- remember the true meaning of the day!

absolutely amazing


Not my wedding….. Sad smile

– Usability of images you find: Again, as I start to plan my wedding, I’m realizing some of the stuff I Pinned really isn’t even useful to my actual planning. I Pinned a ton of dresses before buying my wedding dress, but when I went I didn’t even  show the consultant. There isn’t a substitute for knowledge and face to face interactions when it comes to buying your wedding dress! The wedding dress I bought was in the style of my original vision for my dress before I even knew what Pinterest was anyways.


Pinterest can be fun- but try not to get overwhelmed! It’s really easy to get caught up in “I need to do this” and “I must have this”. Don’t lose sight of the point of your day. My advice is pick 2-3 really good ideas that you find and focus on those instead of trying to focus on 15 things you find you want to do.

What do you think? What are you finding as you plan/planned YOUR wedding on Pinterest? I’d love to hear!


Quinoa Breakfast bowl & Winter Workout

Today I wanted a workout that would be quick and effective to do in the gym, because I had to work out at the school gym. I knew I would be working out amongst my students, so I wanted to limit the awkwardness and get in and get out. I find switching on and off from cardio to strength ensures my heart rate stays up during the whole workout. I tried decreasing weight reps and increasing weights as well in order to challenge myself. My favorite kind of work outs are ones that go by fast and keep me working hard so the next thing I know the workout is over and I’m covered in sweat! This one did the trick.












I also completed more of my 2012 Closeout Challenge Work Out:

73/503 Burpees

88/503 Lunges

88/503 Mountain Climbers

74/503 Push Ups


It’s been a rough week, so happy tomorrow is Friday! The other day I tried something new for breakfast….Quinoa breakfast bowl:\

quinoa breakfast bowl








In the bowl:

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

1/2 scoop chocolate protein powder

1/4 cup quinoa

1/2 of a banana


A few chocolate chips!

I mixed the protein powder and sweetener with the yogurt in the bottom of the bowl then added everything else. I was kind of on the fence about quinoa as a sweet breakfast item. I think I prefer it savory. Everything else in the bowl was quite yummy though. And it definitely gives you plenty of protein to start your day.

Question: Do you prefer your quinoa savory or sweet? And also- I really need some strategies that people use for washing quinoa. It is such a PITA for me because I don’t have a sieve. And you definitely need to wash it because it has a bitter taste. How do you wash quinoa???


How to deal: when your lesson doesn’t go as planned

MP910220894Yes, it’s been one of those days. Only Tuesday. Eek. Everyone has them- days when the students just aren’t getting what you intended and you become frustrated. This happened today. The students are struggling with the material, and quite honestly I am a planner. I have everything planned out perfectly until after Christmas break and already set and copied. But the problem is everything doesn’t go as planned. Even veteran teachers run into problems and I am no veteran. I had to calmly talk myself down today and reminding myself of these things helped quite a bit:

1) It’s okay to stray from the plan. It’s easy to get caught up in “I have to get this done” and “I need to get through this material” and “This doesn’t go along with the plan”, but when it comes to following a plan, if I have to change something and put what I initially had planned on hold, IT’S FINE! My main goal is for the students to learn, not for me to “get through material”.

2) If you don’t cover the material now, it will cause problems down the road. I’m not a math teacher, but I could only imagine if I ignored the fact students were having problems doing addition, and just pushed ahead because I had to ‘get through things’, there would be an even bigger problem when I tried to teach them how to multiple. Skills build on one another, so slowing down now will be worth it in the end.


3) The main goal is student learning. Yeah, I might have to push my unit back a week. Yeah, we might have to spent more time writing thesis statements. Who cares? The main thing to remember is that the goal is student learning. If I have to push things like paperwork, planning and extra curricular activities aside, so be it.


It’s going to be okay!

Whew! I feel better already. After the day I’ve had, I decided to revamp a couple of lessons that I plan on doing in the next few days and slow down the instruction to insure that students are really getting it before moving on. I hope this will help me avoid problems in the future.


2012 Challenge + Weekend recipe wins

Hope everyone had a better Monday than I did…..have to admit it was a rough one. Well- it’s almost over so I’ll look on the bright side. Today I just wanted to write about a couple of things I discovered over the weekend.

My French toast coffee got me through the morning.




One of the recipes I made last night was some peanut butter granola from Peanut Butter Fingers, and it turned out great!!! I’ve made more of her granola recipes and even though I burnt the first batch it was a winner.  It was the perfect accompaniment for my morning snack.

yogurtAnother winner for the weekend:Peanut Butter Protein Cookies via Dashing dish. Sorry- no pictures, I scarfed them down quite rapidly.  They are a keeper recipe for sure. I might use these as the base for the kiss cookies I want to make for Christmas. Speaking of Christmas, I was actually able to get some wrapping done this weekend!



Woo hoo!

Anyways, I thought I’d share the challenge I joined on Saturday- I’m actually quite excited about it. I heard about it from Emily’s blog and turns out the leader of the challenge is from a blog I regularly read, Sweet Tooth Sweet Life. The challenge is to do 2012 different body weight reps by the end of December. I chose:


Mountain Climbers

Push Ups


I simply divided 2012 by four which works out to be 503. So I will do 503 reps of each exercise by the end of December.  It’s do able. It works out to about 13 reps of each a day. Piece of cake. I have been doing 25 reps a day so far because you never know when you might need a skip day. I decided that no matter what my workout is, I am going to do these in addition to whatever is included in the workout. Like today my workout included mountain climbers and push ups, but I did the ‘challenge set’ at the end just to add to my overall workout. It’s fun! You should click on Courtney’s site link if you want to sign up!

Question: What gets YOU through Monday?


How to grocery shop on a budget using coupons


It’s Sunday, so for me that means weekly coupon organizing, grocery shopping and weekly meal planning. I was excited about how much I brought home today at Tops for under my budget, so I decided to write a post about it because this is something that I’m sure many people struggle with.

I’ve been using coupons for more than a year now, but it wasn’t until recently that I started really becoming more serious about it and learned to budget my shopping so couponing actually was worth it. A couple of my friends turned me on to the website I am THAT Lady, a coupon blogger from Syracuse who posts weekly deals and coupon match ups. Ever since, I have been following her blog and have learned to do my own coupon match ups with local stores. Her blog is a great place to start if you are wondering the basics of couponing.

Today I was able to get all this stuff at TOPS for $26 bucks!



(Missing Austin’s whole milk which was in the fridge and cost $3.47)

I’m no extreme couponer, but not too shabby. I was able to get some great deals. The original total was about $50 bucks. I paid $26.


Before you become too coupon happy, here are some guidelines that I generally like to  follow:

1. Set a budget. When I first started couponing, I literally wanted to go get everything that was on sale with every single coupon I had at every single store. This resulted in unneeded food and items that I wouldn’t really eat/use otherwise. Just because you have a coupon for it doesn’t meant you HAVE to have it. I set a budget of $200 a month for Austin and I. This includes toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo, etc. This doesn’t include when we go out to dinner (which we try to limit, obviously). Before buying something, I really ask myself if I NEED it. If I don’t and it’s not in the budget, I don’t get it.

2. Shop the sales. I literally do not buy an item if it is not on sale or if I don’t  have a coupon for it. The ideal situation is that the item is on sale AND I have a coupon for it. This allows you to stock up on things at a very low price. For instance, I didn’t really NEED cans of corn and beans this week, but it was on sale and I had a coupon that allowed me to get it at .25 a can. So I stocked up. This way when I do NEED it, I’m not paying $1-2 a can (gasp). The only reason I would buy something that does not have a coupon or is not on sale is because it is a basic staple we need like milk, bread or meat.



I also got some ground chicken on sale. If you look in the meat dept sometimes they mark down meat that needs to be sold that day. I’ll freeze this asap and use next week. Got two of these. Score!


Sometimes, if you are able to combine a coupon and a sale item AND your local grocery store doubles coupons (TOPS does), you can even get items for FREE! Case in point: free turkey bacon today! It was on sale for 2 for $3 and I had a .75 coupon which doubled.


I love free food.

3. Plan your week. This is the most time consuming part. I spend about an hour every Sunday looking at the ads, planning out meals and cutting and printing coupons. I look forward to it…which is kind of sad lol. I’ve learned to plan my meals around what is on sale/what I already have in the cupboard. For instance, I know that I already have chicken in the freezer, and Ken’s blue cheese dressing and wing sauce was on sale at a local grocery store. I also had a coupon for the dressing. So tomorrow we’re having buffalo chicken wraps. Sometimes it stinks if you like printing up fancy and elaborate dinners with lots of ingredients, but over time I have learned to incorporate my love of cooking and reading food blogs with my love of …

4. Go to many stores to get the best sales. Be aware that you will probably be going to more than one store if you want the best deals. I usually go to 2-3 different stores including Rite Aid each Sunday. I am THAT Lady has a great blog section for how to shop at each store if you are interested. Some people say it’s worth going to Wal-Mart and just getting the cheap generic stuff without coupons, but I definitely prefer this way of shopping. Even though I go to more than one store, I don’t have to deal with all the hooligans, terrible lines, crappy service, broken carts (can you tell I hate it?) in Wal-Mart and I get name brands for the same price or even cheaper. If I’m desperate and don’t have a lot coupons for the stuff I need or there aren’t good sales, I’ll begrudgingly go to Wal-Mart. I’m lucky in that my town is relatively small and it’s really not a big deal to go to different stores since they are all right near each other.



If you want to get into couponing don’t be scared! It can be very overwhelming, but just remember to stick to a budget, buy things on sale and make sure you plan. Start by using a coupon blog that does match ups and sooner or later you will be able to do your own match ups.

Question: Have you tried couponing? What are your tips and tricks? Or do you think Wal-Mart is the best bet? Comments people!


Pancake Saturday

It’s Saturday and that only means one thing:


I could hardly wait to get up this morning. It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve been home on the weekend to make pancakes and sit around and be lazy so as soon as I woke up I had a one track mind. Today will be spent at home cleaning the disastrous mess our house has become from being away for a week and a half on vacation. Speaking of vacation, we’ve FINALLY decided where to book our honeymoon:

Majestic Elegance Punta Cana


Majestic Elegance Punta Cana in the Dominican. It’s a completely opposite type of resort that I originally wanted to go to. For the past couple of months we have been looking at places in Aruba. I originally wanted something that was low key, maybe more private and non-touristy. We even looked at private homes in which we would have our own little island and beach. However, we would have had to do our own grocery shopping and cooking. I’m not sure I want to be worrying about that during our honeymoon.

The reason we were originally looking at Aruba is because I had this idea that since we are going in August, we need to avoid places where a hurricane is possible. But none of the resorts in Aruba really got us interested.

Austin’s sister is a travel agent and sent us The Majestic Elegance resort in Punta Cana to look at. I would have completely dismissed it but the price was really below our original budget and it had great reviews. We get a swim up room and there is something like 13 bars in the whole place. It’s all inclusive and everything is already taken care of.

It’s weird because the first thing Austin said to me was he didn’t want to go to the Dominican or Mexico. LOL…but this place just fit the bill. We won’t have to worry about anything, there are a variety of things to do and the price is right.

I’m enjoying my coffee before heading down to the basement to do my Saturday workout. Good thing I had these babies to fuel me! Happy Saturday 🙂


Question: Where did you go on your honeymoon? Any advice as to things you thought were important/not needed? Thanks!