Knitting, soup, candles, and canning = FALL!

Fall is the time of year that I want to be a homebody. I love this time of year we are moving into because it’s time for knitting, making soup, burning my pumpkin candles and canning.

I always have grand plans and never quite finish all of them….but my intentions are good.

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At my sister-in-laws home this weekend she shared with me some fantastic recipes for canning. I am planning to try some of them out soon. They are super secret family recipes so I can’t share them. 😉

I’ll try to blog about my fall escapades as I have time.

Oh and here is a rarely seen photo of my little family from the wedding this weekend.

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Freezer Cooking: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Good – I won’t have to really think about a menu or dinner much over the next 2-3 months.  Plus, I had a fun weekend with friends doing the work.  Oh, and we did add in one additional set of meals for a friend going through chemo right now.  Her freezer is now full of meals and it’ll last her family a couple months.  So that’s pretty great feeling to be able add just a little bit more work and at the same time bless her family with a bunch of meals.

The Bad and The Ugly – Apparently I’m either not very organized or just did too much.  Every time we do freezer cooking I swear I’ll never do it again.  The task is so overwhelming: the planning, the shopping, the prepping, the cooking and the cleanup.  My feet and back hurt…still and it’s been 3 days.  And I don’t care if I ever see a zip lock baggie or baking dish again in my life.

This time I spent about 30 hours doing it….and my friends were there for most of it, too:

10 hours planning/shopping/unloading
10 hours on Friday night
5 hours on the Saturday finishing up what we didn’t on Friday
5 hours on Sunday cleaning my kitchen and dining room

This. Is. Ridiculous.

So if you are thinking about doing a freezer cooking marathon – GO FOR IT!  But be really prepared (better than me) and have some fun help to get through it all.

Anyhow – I KNOW it’s worth it but right now I just need to not think about it.

If I can be convinced to do this again I think we will split up the shopping and prep work evenly (chopping onions and carrots, cooking and shredding the chicken, cooking the ground turkey, etc).  If we do that I think it would save us about half the cooking time when we get together.

This time we did 15 different dinner recipes and 3 different dessert recipes.  We each took home two sets of meals and spent a total of $395 on 30 meals.

The recipes are:

* Any recipe without a link is listed out on this document (click here —–> Freezer Meals – August 2014).  These are my own recipes or ones I have used for years and there are no links to them online that I can find.  For those with links online you can hover over the recipe names for the links to them.  I have not posted these recipes on my attachment – so that I don’t get fussed at by the internet gods like I did last time.  : )

Oh, and a little bit of Vodka makes everything more fun…..it wasn’t added to the recipes, promise.

Chemo Care Package

A dear friend of mine was recently diagnosed with colon cancer.  I knew I wanted to put together something for her before she started chemo…so I reached out to a small group of friends to ask if they’d like to join in the effort.  They did!  We ended up delivering a huge basket of things to her last night in preparation for her first chemo treatment this morning.  Some items were boring and practical/necessary and a lot of items were “just because”.

We did some Pinterest research to see what some good ideas were to include in the basket.  So that was our starting point….and we just ran with it.  We ended up with this….a big box full of stuff:

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I also included this list below – which outlines a few of the items and the reason they were included.  I ran out of room, so didn’t include everything.

Chemo Care Package

Here is the Microsoft Word version if you’d like to download it and edit it for your own Care Package:  Chemo Care Package

I did not get any pictures of what was inside…but I’ve outlined each item below:

  1. Fluffy blanket
  2. Fluffy socks
  3. Heating Pad
  4. Scarf (all to keep warm during/after her chemo treatments)
  5. Bottles of water (to stay hydrated)
  6. iTunes Gift Card
  7. A couple good books
  8. Chapstick (to keep her list from drying out, which is a side effect of chemo)
  9. Sudoku Puzzle Book
  10. Trashy Magazines
  11. Hard Candy (to help keep her mouth moist and to help with mouth sores)
  12. Bath Stuff
  13. Kleenex
  14. Cocoa Butter Lotion (this is great for dry skin, a side effect of chemo)
  15. A cute t-shirt
  16. Framed encouraging print
  17. Cottonelle Wipes (a side effect of chemo is diarrhea)
  18. Germ-X (to keep the germs away)
  19. Keychain, cross earrings, and other trinkets
  20. Love Notes (a note written by each friend who contributed)
  21. Snickers (her favorite candy

We hope that we were able to put a smile on our friend’s face before she faces the hardest battle of her life.  I think we succeeded.  :)

Freezer Cooking (May 2014)

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Last time we did freezer cooking it was a little (or a lot) overwhelming with the planning, purchasing, prepping and cooking 108 meals and multiple loaves of breakfast/dessert breads that this time we pared it down to 45 meals.  MUCH BETTER!

It was much more manageable.  I made three small shopping trips for items and Darby finished up purchasing the large majority of the meat/dairy/produce items at Sams the morning of our cooking day.  I couldn’t have managed without her help this time.

We got together on Friday night around 5:00 pm and wrapped up 1:00 am.  We actually tripled the recipes – so we each took home 15 recipes and a few loaves of bread.

This was our menu (For some of the recipes I was able to find the link I used so I posted it….but all of the recipes are on the Word and PDF documents uploaded at the bottom of the post):

  1. Santa Fe Chicken
  2. Macaroni & Beef Casserole
  3. Chicken Quesadillas
  4. Cilantro Lime Chicken
  5. Italian Chicken
  6. Taco Soup
  7. Creamy Chicken Lasagna
  8. Jalapeno Popper Chicken Chili
  9. Chicken Spaghetti
  10. Homemade Lasagna
  11. Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole
  12. Chicken Pot Pie (makes 2)
  13. Sausage and Grits Casserole
  14. Ham and Cheese Quiche
  15. Dessert/Breakfast Bread: Banana Bread

Here are the files you can download and print:

  1. freezer-meals-blog (Word File)
  2. Freezer Shopping List (this lists the ingredients per recipe on one tab, then combines them all on the second tab, the third tab includes prep to be done ahead of time)
  3. Freezer Door Listing (this is a file you can print and put on your freezer door with thawing/cooking instructions – I found this online somewhere but don’t remember where to give the person credit)

If you have any questions about anything let me know.  :)

 

Baby Shower Invitation with birds, burlap and bunting

Last year I hosted a baby shower for a dear friend of mine with a few other girls.  I found one of the extra invitations today and before I chucked it I figured I should take a picture of it.  When I was looking for inspiration to design the card I pursued Pinterest and found some great ideas.

I also co-hosted Allison and David’s engagement party a couple years before and I used two little birds on that invitation.  So I figured I should bring those same little birds into her baby shower invitation.  I kinda love them.

I designed the card in Photoshop, then printed it on card stock.  I used my sewing machine to sew the little bunting flags on the front, then sewed it to a piece of burlap slightly bigger than the invitation.

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(The white-ish boxes aren’t really there….I just redacted the personal information on the invite.  Cause this is posted on the interwebs after all.)

Freezer Cooking (February 2014)

This was my second attempt at freezer cooking.  You can see the first time by clicking here: January 2014.

This time there were three of us and we did 24 different meals.  One friend doubled the recipes for her family of 6 and two of us just did a single recipe of each meal.  So in all we made 96 meals.

This was definitely a marathon cooking day.  I started the day at 7:30 am by baking some bread for us to freeze, and didn’t wrap up the day until 9:30 pm (and yes, I missed the super bowl to finish up the cooking).  It took WAY longer than anticipated…but it’s cool.

My two friends were there for most of that time, so the effort was definitely shared by us all.

goods(This is about half of what we bought – it doesn’t include the 200 pounds of meat and
any of the refrigerated dairy or produce)

For anyone wanting to try freezer cooking – there are hundreds of blogs/websites dedicated to it….but here are my recommendations:

  1. Start small.  Like really small (5-6, maybe 10 recipes if you are feeling super ambitious).
  2. Do it with a friend or two, but not more than 3 – unless you have a gigantic kitchen with two sinks and lots of counter space.
  3. Be very organized.  If you aren’t organized – forget about it.  Seriously.
  4. Don’t get all of your recipes from one freezer cooking blog or website.  Look around and pick out ones you and your family will like.  I’ve found lots of blogs have really cheap meals (“4 hours, 46 meals, $95”)….that’s just not realistic for the average person.  You just can’t find a $13 roast on sale for $4 like she did.  Or lean ground beef for $1 a pound.  Plus lots of her meals just don’t sound appetizing.  Why make cheap meals that your family won’t like?
  5. Do your bulk shopping at Sams or Costco and finish up at Walmart for everything else.
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  6. Shopping for the right quantity of food can be very difficult (especially when making nearly 100 meals).  So triple check quantities and have a friend help you with this.  I may or may not have bought 12 cups of olive oil when we only needed 12 tbs.
  7. Plan for a LOT more time than you think you will need.
  8. Buy disposable pans and lots of freezer bags.
  9. If you are super on top of your sales flyers and want to plan your meals around that – then go for it, but that requires way too much effort and I planned our menu weeks before we shopped – so there was no way to know what would be on sale and what wouldn’t.  And for this full time working mama I had to keep my sanity and only shop at 2 stores (Sams and Walmart) and not shop around for the best meat prices to save a few bucks.
  10. Only buy fresh meat, do not buy frozen since you can’t thaw it and re-freeze anything.
  11. Make a list of what you have and attach it to your freezer.   Mark out each meal as you remove it – so you’ll always know what meals you have left.
  12. As silly as this sounds – doing all of this is not only physically exhausting but mentally exhausting (at least for me), so be sure you do this on a small scale at first.
  13. Have Advil on hand.  Your feet and back will thank you.   Or Crown Royal.  It works, too.  

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(This is just 1/4 of the final product – what I am keeping for my family).

Here are the steps I took to prepare for the day:

  1. Pick freezer friendly recipes (either casseroles that are already cooked and just need to be reheated, or crock pot meals that are thrown into a freezer bag uncooked and need to be cooked the day you plan to serve it) – I’ve shared the recipes we did this time (click —-> Freezer Meals for blog), but there really are a hundred websites/blogs you can go to for ideas.
  2. Don’t plan to cook any foods that aren’t freezer friendly.  Here’s a good link (but I have frozen recipes with sour cream and cream cheese and they were fine): http://www.menus4moms.com/foods-that-dont-freeze-well/#sthash.HSb1OFxD.dpbs
  3. List out each recipe/ingredient/amount in a spreadsheet so it can be organized and easier to shop with and easy to sort – you can see my workbook (click —–> Ingredient List)
  4. Type out the recipe name with cooking and serving instructions on labels for the bags (I did not do it this time and it was definitely a time killer on cooking/prepping day)
  5. Print out the list of recipes so everyone has their own copy and can work straight from it on whatever they are working on.

And to answer a few questions people asked about on facebook:

  1. This took a total of 14 hours.  Half the time there were three of us working.  The other half it was either myself or one friend.
  2. Yes, it’s extremely exhausting.
  3. This saves tons of time – I won’t have to prepare a single dish from start to finish for my family for at least 6 weeks.  The only prep involved will be cooking rice and a veggie side dish or preparing salad.  All main meals are done.  I included some breads as well to be eaten as dessert or even breakfast/snacks.
  4. This saves tons of money.  For 96 prepped meals (and everything required to make them/store them) the cost was $1,070.  I budgeted $1,200, but we came in under budget by $130.  That boils down to $9.90 meal (including dessert and breakfast breads).  If our experience from January holds true about 90% of these recipes allow for leftovers for a full dinner or lunch the following day.  So it’s almost like we are getting twice the meals.  In addition, we have a lot of ingredients left over (like 10 cups of olive oil) to be used in the future that we won’t incur the cost of next time.
  5. Other benefit: We are eating much healthier than before.  With our busy schedule we have something every night of the week….and found ourselves running through a drive thru way too much.  In January I think we ate out a total of about 4 times, which is a huge change for my family.  So while it’s not only saving us money, we are eating better…and also trying out new recipes.

Many of the recipes are repeats from last time, there was only 1 recipe we didn’t like from last time (which we didn’t repeat).  I’ll be sure to update my blog on this post to let y’all know what I think about these recipes after we finish up with these meals. 

Happy cooking!

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A thought on crock pot cooking and snow storms:
If you happen to turn your crock pot on the morning of your state’s worst forecasted snow nightmare in 30 years and can’t get home for two days because the roads are a mess and the city shut down and thousands of kids are stranded and sleeping at schools and thousands are stranded at work and have to sleep in their offices and many are stranded on the roads and sleeping in their cars….then the lovely firemen of your community can go into your house (they have a universal remote – who knew?) and cut off your crock pot and let your dog out.  And if you are nice enough and tell them they can take the roast with them since you won’t be home for two days due to the weather – they actually will.  This happened to a friend of mine last week.  Firemen rock.

Freezer Cooking – 12 (or really 36) meals in 6 hours

UPDATED ON 2/1/2014:
We are doing another freezer cooking day tomorrow!  I would say this January cooking was a huge success.  However, there was one meal that was horrendous – the pepper steak.  So if you follow any of the recipes on these attachments – do NOT make this one.  All others were delicious!  

A friend and I got together this weekend to do some freezer cooking.  I’ve seen blog, Pinterest and Facebook posts for years about it and have always wanted to try it myself.

So when my friend, Michele, shared a blog post on facebook about it – I thought maybe she’d really want to do it with me (she’s married, is an assistant principle, is a basketball coach along with her husband and has four kids who each have a busy schedule)…she jumped at it!

We met at Sam’s Club last week to buy everything.  We decided to split the cost of it 1/3 – me, and 2/3 – her, since she will need to double the recipes to feed her crew.  It worked out wonderfully.  We were able to pick up 75% of our stuff at Sam’s Club and I grabbed the remaining items at Walmart.

The unfortunate part of all these freezer cooking blog posts is that everyone makes it sound so easy.  One lady said she made 40 meals in 4 hours – from prep to clean up.  She lied.  There is no way.  Michele and I worked for 6 hours and made 12 meals (well, really 36 meals when you triple it).  But still, we had TWO people working the entire time.  But (we think) we’d still do it again….just imagine the time we will save cooking over the next month….and it’s so much healthier then running through the drive thru after practice because I’m so exhausted I can’t imagine cooking dinner.  The good part about us working together is we were able to split the cost up, save the left over items for next freezer cooking day (like the freezer bags, seasonings, etc), and best of all – we really had fun doing it.  :)

After I posted a picture of our goods on facebook last night a few friends asked for the recipes we used and one friend (Kandice!) asked for the recipes, shopping list and menu….so I’m gonna post them all here.  This will not only be good to share with whoever wants it, but to also good for us to refer back to next time.

Our thought is that we’d repeat the recipes that were big hits, trash the ones we didn’t care for and add some new ones to the mix.

Here’s our menu (with a picture below of just what I took home, which is 1/3 of what we did).  Each recipe is listed in this link:  Freezer Meals

1. Savory pepper steak-not pictured
2. Honey bourbon crockpot chicken
3. Pineapple chicken burritos
4. Cilantro lime chicken
5. Crockpot Mongolian beef
6. Crockpot Honey Garlic chicken
7. Chicken spaghetti-my crew ate this tonight
8. Baked ziti
9. Chicken enchiladas
10. Honey lime chicken
11. Taco soup
12. Chili
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I made labels for each freezer bag or tin pan.  I’m sharing this with you, but please disregard the formatting – it’s terrible and I’m about to break out in hives because of this but I don’t have time to fix this – let’s all pretend everything is lined up and pretty:  Freezer labels
And the last thing is the shopping list I created with everything we needed to buy.  There were some things that I already had on hand I didn’t need to buy, so be sure you look at each recipe first before assuming what’s on this list is all you will need:  Ingredient List
So, there you have it.  If you make any of these recipes let me know.  Or if you’ve tried others that you love let me know that, too.  I’d like to add some other ideas to the mix.