Monday, January 31, 2011

What Once Was Old Is New Again

Being lovers of books, my family has multitudes of reading material. We have bookshelves intended to hold our collections, but often those books never make it to the shelf. We all have our favorites, and even our girls seem to gravitate towards a handful of the books they own.
We love reading to the girls, but we are getting a bit tired of turning the same pages of the same books over and over. After a trip to our local library, I came up with a solution to the "same old book" habit! Each month, our wonderful Children's Librarian sets out books that have to do with the current season, or upcoming holiday. Why couldn't I do this at home? Well..

We have our own seasonal selection now! I found a box that wasn't being used in our house, and gave it new purpose. I searched every bookshelf in our home, and found every book dealing with winter, Valentines Day (love), and President's Day. I pulled the books from the shelves, and put them into the box. I plan to decorate the box tomorrow to reflect the theme for the month. A little double-sided tape, a few foam snowflakes & hearts, and voila! A February reading box! When March rolls around, I will put the February books back on the shelf and search for stories related to St. Patrick's Day, luck, gold, Ireland, etc. The books will go into our reading box, and we'll redecorate it with shamrocks.

I have set the box in our living room, and if the girls would like a story (with the exception of bedtime stories), I will request they choose something from the box.

My hope for the Seasonal Book Box is that our girls will enjoy choosing a book they haven't read in months (maybe years), and I won't be reading Santa stories well into summer!

I hope you enjoy this tidbit!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Comfort Food

A friend shared this article from PBS, and I want to share it with you.

Another reason to keep those meals in the church freezer, and maybe a few extras at home. You never know when comfort might be needed in the form of a 9x13" pan or freezer bag.
I was touched by the author's obvious comfort and thankfulness for her friend, and the extra effort her friend put into the meal. In moments of sorrow and grief, sometimes keeping the details simple is best.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Price of Produce

It was a rough day. Nothing in particular made it rough, just one of those "the cards are stacked, and you're gonna lose" kind of days. I woke up grumpy, and that factor alone would be survivable. However, my children also woke up grumpy. Need I say more? Our day was filled with very sweet moments, followed (and outnumbered) by screaming and chasing one another around the house. I have yet to understand why, for 364 days of the year, my daughter (I will not say which daughter) is content with the blue-eyed baby doll, but one day she decides the doll with the green-eyes is her destiny, and she will do everything in her power to win THAT baby doll. This pretty much sums up how the rough day began. Over a baby doll. And I should mention the fact that we have many, very cute, baby dolls in our house, but only one of THAT baby doll.

Anyway, I know you all have days like this. We are human, and in God's design; we are far from perfect! Whether it's stress caused by a tender-hearted and slightly stubborn child, ourselves, a spouse, co-worker, relative, boss; I think we all have a way of re-energizing, and sorting through it all. I used to think I was an emotional eater, but I have decided I am an Emotional Cooker! Justin came home from work, and I took off for a trip to the grocery store. I usually dread the grocery shopping, but I needed a break, and well...we needed toilet paper. I left the store feeling energized and excited to prepare a meal. I returned home to two beaming little girls, happy sounds, and a tired husband.

As I cooked dinner, I found myself enjoying every single task. Cooking wasn't a chore. Dare I say it? It was actually therapeutic! Chopping, washing, separating, peeling, boiling, baking...everything! This is when is occurred to me; I don't always eat the meals I prepare. I get tired of smelling, or seeing, the food cook. Often times I don't even enjoy eating my own cooking (and I'd like to think it tastes fine). I know, it's weird, but I chalk it up to overexposure while cooking.

After a rough day, we all settled around the dining room table together, and enjoyed our dinner. There was laughter, conversation, and happy people. I do love being in the kitchen, and from now on, I will bask in the quiet, satisfied sounds of my family enjoying dinner together. A dinner I took every pleasure in preparing.

Because the quality of produce is hit-and-miss and the prices are always sky-high, I have started making my own applesauce. Our family (especially our girls) love apples, and I refuse to pay the grocery store price for a jar of applesauce. I don't really think I'm that frugal, but I did the math, and I can make ginormous batches of applesauce at home for a fraction of the cost of the store stuff. My applesauce is healthier, and quite frankly, a lot better tasting than the expensive jars! I wanted to share the recipe I use for applesauce because it freezes really well, and is quick to make. I make a batch whenever I see apples on sale.

Sarah's Applesauce
4 apples - peeled, cored and chopped
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. In a saucepan, combine apples, water, sugar, and cinnamon. Cover, and cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until apples are soft. Allow to cool, then mash with a fork or potato masher.

Also, do you remember when I said I am an Emotional Cooker? Cooking makes me happy, and eases stress? Well, that's all true, but I would like to add consuming apples to that list. I love apples, and nothing tastes more comforting. I try to eat most of my apples raw instead of cooked because of health reasons, but let's face it, an apple pie is an apple pie!

I will end this post now. I have a serving of warm apple crisp waiting to give me a food-hug.

Coffee Cups and Casserole Dishes

January made its brisk arrival, and with it many inches of snow and a new year. Our meal swap meeting this month was held at our local coffee shop, Mochavino. We all gathered around a functionally small table to converse, sip coffee, and nibble toasty sandwiches. It was a wonderful way to salute a year gone by, and celebrate this wonderful new adventure called 2011!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

How to Begin a Meal Swap Group

(Beware...this post will read like an infomercial!)

Are you sick of rummaging through the recipe box, thirty minutes before meal time, looking for something to cook for dinner? Is your freezer looking rather empty? Do you enjoy trying new recipes? Looking for a reason to spend time with friends? Well....a meal swap group is for you!

Here are some guidelines our group came up with when we began our meal swap. So far, we haven't really run into any problems. One thing our group decided to do, since we are all members of the same Bible study group, is to cook an extra meal for our church. Each month, we prepare an additional dish and add it the freezer at church. When there is a need (birth, funeral, lost job) our pastor is able to go to the freezer and choose a meal for the family in need. We include reheating instructions with the meal, usually written in permanent marker on top of the foil covering, or typed, printed, and taped to the top of the casserole. It's a great way for us to contribute to our church, and the meals seem to be used rather quickly!


*Each member will cook an entree, or main course meal, for every family in the group (including yourself).

Each member will contribute 2 recipes they would be willing to prepare. The other members of the group will vote for their preferred recipe/meal to include in the swap (one from each person) the next month. This will be done each month through email. Feel free to "reply all" in order to vote for your recipe preference. Note: This does contribute to a lot of emailing, but it works very effectively. We always include the main ingredients when emailing our recipe choices, so other members of the group know what's in our meal when they vote.

* Each meal/entree should include pork, chicken or beef (no raw meats, unless packaged separately), and be enough to serve 6 people. Note: Our group decided to avoid seafood, venison, etc. because we are all mothers, and children are picky eaters!

* Each meal/entree should be ready to be cooked/reheated in oven or added to a crock-pot. Easy prep is preferred! :)

* Reheating instructions should be written on the foil covering (or ziplock bag) for each meal, or can be written/typed and given to each meal swap member. Note: We also share the recipe for the meal we are swapping, and either submit it to be published on this blog, or bring a copy to the meeting.

* Please let the meal swap group know about food allergies in your family. For instance, my daughter has a peanut allergy, so our meals can't have peanuts or peanut products in them. However, this simply means eliminating peanuts from the meal we receive, and labeling it as "no peanuts". It would be too difficult, and expensive, to use substitute ingredients, so we plan to just leave the allergy-causing ingredient out of the meal when necessary.

* If you can't attend the swap meeting, you will need to have your meals prepared ahead of time, and make arrangements with the group coordinator(s) to have the meals delivered or picked up at a convenient time.

*Everything for the entrees will need to be included. We don't want to send anyone on a last minute run to the grocery store. :) This means if the recipe you are preparing needs rice or pasta to complete the meal, then you should include the measured servings of rice or pasta with each meal. Either par-cooked, or raw.

* Our "meetings" aren't really intended to be "meetings". We want to have fun with friends, and exchange delicious meals! We plan different ideas for each meeting (dessert & coffee, a movie, garden tea party, fondue party, or simply meeting in someone's living room and chatting...ANYTHING!)

I hope you find this list of guidelines helpful, and I wish you the best of luck with your new meal swap group!