Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Monthly Freezer Cooking

All the moms on one of my favorite forums, Diaper Swappers, love to chat about once-a-month cooking.  It seemed like a lot of work to me, especially considering a lot of the dishes shared (such as lasagna) are completely pre-cooked, requiring a lot of oven time on the day you do your cooking.  Since we are in the last days of summer, I really couldn't justify keeping my oven on all day and heating the home up.  But, after finding a link to this post on Ring Around the Rosies, I was inspired!  It seems so logical to put together every ingredient and then simply cook it in the crockpot on the day you want it!

I also downloaded the e-cookbook she recommends from Mama and Baby Love.  There are a lot of good recipes in here and we have tried almost all of them in our first month of once-a-month dinners.  We've liked most of them so far and I think it was worth buying just to get some ideas.

To get started, I first brainstormed recipes.  Using the e-cookbook was a good starting point, then we just added in things that were already favorites with us.  I used this menu to make a shopping list, going through each recipe and writing down every ingredient we'd need.  In the recipes from the website mentioned above, each recipe is set up to make two full meals, so you can eat one and bank the other for a supper down the road.  I don't think I've ever bought so much meat at one time in my life!  But, knowing it was a full month's worth of meals plus some, I went ahead.  I was surprised then, when I only spent $267, and that included a lot of spices and things that I won't need to buy again for a long time (such as coriander, cumin, and curry) that I didn't already have on hand, plus breakfast, snack, and lunch things for us.  Those can add up really fast!  And that's still a lot less than the $700 or so that the average American family of four spends on groceries a month.  For the rest of the month, I only anticipate buying milk and fresh fruit and veggies for snacks.

We brought home all our ingredients, along with the recipes, and started the assembly line!  It was actually fun.  We did it after the girls were in bed so we didn't have any little "helpers" to deal with, and we enjoy just hanging out together anyway, so it was nice to keep our hands busy and talk.  We assembled each recipe, split the ingredients between two gallon ziplock bags, and added the meat last.  In some recipes, I substituted cuts of meat that were less expensive or that I already had on hand.

It was not an orderly assembly.

As we got each bag finished, we made a label with the ingredients, the assembly date, and the cooking instructions, such as adding a cup of water to the slow cooker and cooking four hours on high.  Each bag was then smashed flat with all the air removed for storage.

The bags were stacked in the freezer, and my menu put on the front of the fridge for easy reference.  Each day, I simply take the bag I want out of the freezer (hopefully without an avalanche...there's a lot of meals in there!), and stick it in my Crock Pot.  So far, it's been smashing success.  It is super nice to not have to think about what we're having for dinner.  It's even nicer to empty a bag into the slow cooker at eight in the morning and not think about supper for the rest of the day.  All told, it took about four hours to assemble the meals, and I could not be happier.  I will definitely be doing this again.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Cedar Chest as Chalkboard Coffee Table

When we moved, we had a LOT of things.  Our home was pretty big, with a garage, attic storage rooms all along the second story, and a basement.  We also had tons of closets.  When we moved here, we knew we were going to have to pare down and simplify.  I wasn't horrified by the idea, since we've been trying to embrace voluntary simplicity for quite a while.  It WAS a challenge to figure out how to fit our entire lives into a 6x12 moving trailer, though.  It really gave us a chance to evaluate what was important to us, what was necessary, and what we were ready to let go.

In the end, we ended up giving away and donating truckloads of our things.  We also had to rethink our furniture because what we had just wasn't going to work in our new small space.  One of the things I had hiding in a spare room was an old cedar chest.  It had a big ding in the top and the finish was flaking off, but it had a lovely shape and I really just love cedar chests in general.  They make me think of family.

We decided it would be a perfect coffee table, taking the place of our large octagonal one which was simply too big for the space and too heavy to move.  The chest would be both narrow in the room and would do double duty as a storage space for blankets.  I didn't have a chance to do any refinishing on the chest at all before we moved, other than a good wipedown as we had less than a month to pack and move after Preston accepted the job here.  So, once we got here, I decided to simply give the top a coat of chalkboard paint (thank you, Pinterest!).

Everything is sort of temporarily arranged until we get a chance to get our new couch.

I think it looks pretty nice, and it's a great spot for impromptu art!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Day in the Life

Some of you might be wondering what in the world we're doing now that we're here, for the first time, away from family and friends out in the big wide world.  Well, we are spending much more time together, now that three hours out of every day aren't being spent commuting to and from Preston's job.

We are going to the Farmer's Market a lot.  The girls love all the sights, smells, and tastes, and I like buying from people in the community to keep our money local.  I've been using this gorgeous head of Bibb lettuce ($1.00!) as both a food, and a centerpiece on our kitchen table.  I bought it with the roots on, and I just keep watering it and picking off leaves as I need them.  Multipurpose for the win!

We've, therefore, also been eating lots of good food.  We've been eating on kind of an adjusted schedule, both as we acclimate to the time change, and as we get used to Preston's new schedule.  We have been eating a small meal/snack (granola, fruit, etc) when the girls get up, and then having brunch with Daddy when he gets up.  That lets us then have a meal with him early (he gets up about 10:30 after getting home at 2:30 in the morning) and then we're also able to have a late lunch with him before he leaves late afternoon.  Then, the girls and I have a light meal/snack in the evening and Daddy eats at work.  Here is this morning's brunch, French toast with blueberries and powdered sugar:

Oh, yum.

We've also been trying to get settled in to our new home, which is a great deal smaller than our last house.  We are finding places for everything, and love living on the river.  There's nothing quite like waking up to the sound of the water flowing by to soothe you to sleep.

I hope in the near future to be good about updating so we can all keep in touch!
Hello, friends and family who are finding your way here!  We've decided to start a family blog to let you all know a little about what we're up to here in the wilds of western North Carolina.  It's more dynamic than a Christmas newsletter, less expensive than sending you all postcards, and easier than smoke signals.  I hope you enjoy it!