9/26/14

No more library


A few weeks ago, I decided to stop checking out library books because I didn't want to worry about returning them when the baby comes.

It's been hard.

Even at $4 apiece for used books on Amazon, my reading habit is getting expensive.
I guess it's time to read all those books I own but haven't read yet!

I have to admit that it has been fun to buy books for a change, only it seems wasteful if the book turns out to be something I'll never read again. Normally I only buy books that I know I'll read over and over again, or books that I know will take me a very long time to read.

Do you buy books or check them out? Which do you prefer?

9/18/14

Recently tried recipes


Apple cinnamon oatmeal bread. We loved this, even without the glaze. I will definitely make it again. Oh, and did I mention it's super easy? I didn't combine the wet/dry ingredients separately first; I just mixed everything together. I subbed whole wheat flour with no problems.

Sesame cucumbers. I used the sauce from this recipe over cucumbers instead of noodles. Yum!

Chocolate chip butter cake. Really good! Bonus: the batter is thick enough that the chocolate chips don't sink.

Lion House rolls. These were perfect. I've wondered in the past why I can make such nice loaves of bread but my rolls never turn out. These rolls turned out beautifully.

Baked spaghetti. We liked this, which is good, because I made extra to freeze. I used cottage cheese instead of ricotta.

Cup of cocoa cake. A nice, dense cake. I found myself wishing it had some sort of glaze or icing.

Broccoli quinoa casserole. We made this without the chicken. Super yummy! Even the kids who didn't want to taste it at first were converted.

9/15/14

Red Chief makes brownies


Yesterday I let Red Chief make brownies. By himself. The brownies turned out great (yay!), but somehow we ended up with a boy covered in cocoa powder, cocoa footprints going across the carpet, and a big cocoa mess on the counter. He took a quick bath while the brownies were in the oven, and I took over clean-up to avoid further disaster.

It was worth it. He was so proud.

9/12/14

Freezer to slow cooker meals with VEGETABLES and LESS or NO MEAT

Slow cooker photo in public domain (source). Broccoli photo copyright David Monnieaux, Creative Commons share alike license (source).

I've tried a lot of freezer to slow cooker recipes over the last few months. Some we liked, and some were just okay. I've learned a lot about crockpot cooking, like that you can shred cooked chicken in the mixer, and that standing your gallon freezer bag in a pitcher is a very good idea.

I've also learned a bit about myself, including the fact that I don't want chicken (or even meat) every night, and that I like more veggies than meat in my dinners.

In any case, here are some of our favorite freezer to crockpot meals. They're all fairly easy to prepare. I like to double them: one to cook today, and one to freeze for another day. I feel more sane if I just make up one or two recipes every day, instead of trying to make them all at once.

Frozen chopped onions work well in all these recipes and save a lot of time and tears.

This page has a printable to help you keep track of what's in your freezer.

A note on side dishes: Brown rice freezes very well. Cook up a batch and freeze, then thaw overnight and reheat in the microwave in just a few minutes. These biscuits freeze beautifully as a side for soups and go straight from freezer to oven.

I will update this page if I find more recipes that we love.

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Creamy cauliflower soup
1/4 cup butter
1 onion, diced
2 1-pound bags frozen cauliflower (fresh is nice too)
1 cup water
2 tablespoons chicken bouillon
1 cup dry instant powdered milk
salt and pepper to taste

Sauté onion in butter, then add 1 cup water, 2 tablespoons chicken bouillon, and milk powder. Freeze. When ready to cook, add frozen mixture to slow cooker with 2 bags frozen cauliflower and 3 cups water. Cook on low 7-8 hours. Purée in blender or food processor, or with stick blender.



Chicken broccoli alfredo
1.5 chicken breasts, cubed or whole
1 16-ounce bag frozen broccoli
1–2 bell peppers, chopped
1 16-ounce jar alfredo sauce
12 oz. pasta

Dump all ingredients except pasta into gallon freezer bag; freeze. Thaw in fridge overnight, then cook on low 4-6 hours. If you left your chicken whole, remove and shred, then add back in. Mix in 12 oz. cooked pasta.


Chicken fajitas
2–3 bell peppers, cut in strips
1 onion, cut in strips
6 chicken thighs, cubed
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 packet taco seasoning
1 packet ranch seasoning

Dump all ingredients into gallon freezer bag; freeze. Thaw in fridge overnight, then cook on low 5-6 hours. Serve with tortillas, salsa, sour cream, chopped tomatoes, cilantro, etc.


Sloppy tamale pie
1 pound ground beef
1–2 carrots, shredded
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 14-ounce can corn, drained
1 packet taco seasoning
1 14-ounce can tomatoes
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce

Brown ground beef with carrots, onion, and pepper. Drain. Dump all ingredients into gallon freezer bag; freeze. Thaw in fridge overnight, then cook on low 5-6 hours. Serve over cornbread or corn muffins.


Sesame ginger chicken
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 lb. chicken thighs, chopped
1 16-ounce bag frozen broccoli or green beans

Combine all ingredients except vegetables into gallon freezer bag; freeze. Thaw in fridge overnight, then cook on low 8 hours. Dump frozen (unthawed) vegetables on top an hour before serving. Serve over brown rice.


White bean stew
1 cup white beans, uncooked
2 carrots, diced
1 onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 tablespoons barley or brown rice
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons chicken bouillon (reduce amount if using ham)
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon pepper
diced leftover ham, optional

Combine all ingredients into gallon freezer bag; freeze. Thaw in fridge overnight, add 6 cups water, and cook on low 8 hours.


Lentil taco salad
1/2 cup brown rice
1 cup brown lentils
1/4 cup dry bell peppers (optional)
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chicken or vegetable bouillon
4 cups water

Layer all ingredients except water in pint jar (will barely fit) or in 1.5-pint jars (will have room to spare). Store on shelf; no need to freeze. Add to slow cooker with water; cook on low about 5 hours. Serve with your choice of lettuce, tomato, sour cream, salsa, crushed chips, cheese, avocado, etc.


Pepper steak
1–1.5 pounds steak or other beef, cut into cubes or strips
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon beef bouillon
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 onion, chopped
2–4 bell peppers, cut into strips
1 14.5-ounce can tomatoes, undrained
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar

Brown beef in vegetable oil. Add to gallon freezer bag with all other ingredients; freeze. Thaw in fridge overnight, then cook on low 6–8 hours. Serve over rice.


Mexican chicken soup
1–2 cups cooked, shredded chicken (or 1 raw chicken breast, or 1–2 cans chicken)
1 15-ounce can tomatoes
1 15-ounce can corn, drained
1 15-ounce can black beans (optional)
1 10-ounce can enchilada sauce
1 4-ounce can green chiles
1 onion, chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons brown rice (optional)

Combine all ingredients into gallon freezer bag; freeze. Thaw in fridge overnight, add 4 cups water, and cook on low 6-8 hours. Shred chicken if needed. Serve with crushed corn chips, if you like.


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Original recipe sources
Sesame ginger chicken
Chicken broccoli alfredo
Chicken fajitas
Sloppy tamale pie
White bean stew
Lentil taco salad 
Creamy cauliflower soup
Pepper steak 
Mexican chicken soup

9/9/14

Teaching good use of time


Red Chief did great transitioning to third grade in the first week. But then the second week hit with its accompanying homework, and he felt discouraged at his lack of free time.

I knew he had time for everything he needed and wanted to do, but he was taking so long with his obligations that he had no time left for himself at the end of the day.

Last night at Family Home Evening, I crunched some numbers for him. We estimated how long each of his tasks would take if done efficiently, then estimated how long they were taking at his current pace. It turns out that at his current pace, he was using up every available minute of his time at home before and after school to get his things done—five hours. But our estimate for how long it should take was only about two hours.

I drew up a couple of pie charts to show him what it looked like—and it clicked with him. This morning he got up a little early and took care of his work quickly, and he had free time before breakfast. I'm hoping that he will keep it up over the next few weeks until it becomes a habit.

As I was helping Red Chief realize how he fills all his available time with his work, I realized that I do the same thing. I can get an amazing amount done around the house in the hour or two before someone comes over. But that same work might take me a few days if I'm not on a deadline.

I guess he's been following my example! I will work on my own use of time as I continue to work with him on his.

9/5/14

Simplifying more

 

I've done a lot to simplify my life in the last few months, but I'm taking it one more step in the next month to prepare for the new baby's arrival. Some ideas:

  • Get all the library books returned and don't check out more. It's painful to think of taking a few months off from the library, but I do actually own a lot of books, so I will probably survive.
  • Use the slow cooker more. I love that it allows me to prepare meals in the morning, when I have more energy.
  • When cooking, make extra to freeze. This way I can fill up the freezer without having big cooking days.
  • Train Red Chief and Tiger Lily to complete their responsibilities without reminders. This is obviously a huge undertaking, but tying their allowance to it does help.
  • Get Red Chief used to packing his own lunch. I actually don't mind packing him a lunch—I kind of like it—but I'd like him to be able to do it when the baby comes.
  • Get rid of extra toys and books. I will never have to pick them up again.

9/3/14

Minivans, carpet, and dinners

 

We took a quick trip out of town to buy a minivan (!) over the long weekend. We've never left on such short notice before, but it all worked out. The kids are pretty excited about our new vehicle. I personally hate getting used to driving new cars, but I'm sure I'll get used to driving it eventually. It's actually no longer than our car, just a bit wider.

This week we had the carpets in our living area professionally cleaned, in hopes that it would buy us another year before we get new carpet. They got out stains that we thought would never come out—stains that came with the house, that we had gone over several times with our own carpet cleaner. I felt lazy having someone else clean my carpets, but it was worth it! They also re-stretched our carpet (it had some wrinkles) and patched an area the cat clawed up. I love having clean carpets!

While the carpet cleaners were here, I made six dinners: two for this week, and four for after the baby comes. I always try to plan something productive to do while there are people working in the house; otherwise I just feel awkward. Six dinners isn't too bad for an hour and a half!

Next up on my list: get the garage cleaned out and wash the floor, because I think the carpets will stay a lot cleaner if our garage isn't filthy! I don't know when it will get done, because I am very tired and it's hard to stay on top of the normal work like dishes and laundry.

8/28/14

Fruit fly trap


Last week we had fruit flies. They started out in the fruit bowl, then when I took care of that, they moved into some cherry tomatoes we had sitting out.

I don't like vermin in the house, so I looked up and made a fruit fly trap. It was pretty much the easiest thing ever to make, and extremely effective.

Between the trap and keeping the dishes done and no food out on the counter, the fruit flies were gone in a few days.

8/26/14

Things I want to sew before the baby comes


Curtains for Red Chief and Tiger Lily (to be saved for Christmas)
Bibs and aprons
A flannel blanket or two
Burp cloths
A baby hat
Doll diapers for Tiger Lily
Baby shoes
Some white pillowcases
Mittens
A tag blanket / play mat

There's also a quilt to finish. I don't think I'll sew all of that, but it's nice to have a wish list.

8/22/14

New shirt


I had ambitious plans of sewing Tiger Lily an entire wardrobe before she started kindergarten, but of course I didn't. I did, however, find time to make her a quick peasant shirt from this pattern, which I love. (I've used it twice before, here and here.) One thing I like about this pattern is that I can make it from woven fabric, but she can pull it on over her head and not have to worry about fasteners. Also, the fit is very flexible: she's still wearing the dresses I made her two years ago.

She is getting so big—bigger than the pattern, so I made some small changes which actually worked out. I will probably buy the bigger size of the pattern if I make it again, since I like it so much.

I found the fabric in my stash. It's either a pass-along from someone else or thrifted; I can't remember where everything came from anymore. I think it's polyester, but it's very cute, and it was easy to work with.