Monday, March 5, 2012

Half-Eaten Bowls of Chicken Soup, and The Wonders of a Deep Freeze

All week, various members of our family have battled a stomach bug of some sort.  It has hit us in different ways, at different times, but it's really all the same - nasty.  When I think of food, the only thing that sounds like it could remotely be good, is soup, and preferably a pretty mild version of chicken noodle.  Thankfully, yesterday I had everything in my freezer ready to make a stomach soothing version, and though most of us only got half a bowl down, at least it was something, and at least it wasn't from a can, or Chick-Fil-A.  Thank you, deep freeze.
About three years ago, my husband decided that if he was going to ask me to join him in entertaining/hosting/hospitality adventures constantly, he would need to make it very easy for me as the keeper of the house and kitchen.  Smart.  :)  So, we purchased a deep freezer from Sams, put it in the basement, and have never looked back.  Last week, it was full to overflowing with bags of cupcakes in preparation for his surprise graduation party (more on that later), and the week before that I had spent the better part of a day after grocery shopping, preparing bags and containers of food, which represent quick dinners in the midst of homework, piano practice, and play-dough fun after school, not to mention showers & chores!  Here's a quick run down of what I filled the freezer with, plus my super easy chicken noodle soup recipe:

 Roasted tomatoes I bought on sale at Homeland, (see this post) - can you tell by the pan that I kinda forgot about them in the oven?  No matter - better flavor!  ;)

 I took advantage of the $1.99lb sale on organic roasting chickens Whole Foods had that week, and purchased 4.  Two I used for dinner that night, as it was a very special occasion - we were sending Dad off to defend the thesis he'd been writing for the past year!  (My first time to ever roast chicken!).  The other two chickens I shredded after boiling them for about an hour, and strained the broth to save for soup and other things...
 Here's one pan of shredded chicken.  I froze it for about an hour, then scraped it into a large zipper bag to save in the freezer for soup, casserole, and maybe even chicken salad sometime soon!

 Okay, you're right, this fruit didn't go into the freezer, but I did take the time to wrap it in tissue before I put it in the drawer in the fridge.  Your fruit will last longer if it isn't touching each other, and since most of this fruit was to be used over the next two weeks, and some for even longer down the road, I didn't want to take any chances with it!

 That day we had tacos for lunch, which I made with some of the hamburger meat I was cooking with chopped onion to freeze.  There was leftover seasoned meat, so I quickly made and wrapped up some soft tacos to freeze for lunchboxes later on.  The rest of the cooked meat, I left unseasoned (except for the onion), and froze just like the chicken, on trays for awhile, and then in bags.  That meat can be used for tacos, spaghetti, pizza, or something else later on.

 I typically buy a half gallon of buttermilk when I'm doing a big shopping trip, to use for pancakes or desserts, but even though I love it, I don't go through it very quickly.  I froze three cups for later use, so none would go bad!

Crest had begun their annual anniversary sale when I was there, so they had some of their meat marked down.  I bought two large packages of pork chops, because one of my girls loves breaded pork chops!  I went ahead and breaded them according to my favorite recipe from Cooks Illustrated, with flour and dijon and egg whites, and toasted bread crumbs and garlic, and flash froze these as well - before I put them in bags for the freezer.  Two meals plus leftovers for lunches!

Along with these, I have sandwich bread, frozen veggies and blueberries in the freezer, and even cheese I bought on sale, to save for a pizza night later in the month.

The recipe for chicken soup, from the top of my head:
4-5 cups of thawed chicken broth (I use the microwave, and my handy "defrost soup" button!)
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
2-3 stalks celery, sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 t kosher salt
1/2 t pepper
1/2 t rosemary
2 bay leaves
leaves from celery stalks
Set on high heat, and cover for 20 minutes.
Broth should be boiling, so add the following:
2 cups chopped chicken, from the freezer
2 cups frozen corn
about 1/2 cup macaroni noodles, or whatever other noodle you have on hand
Cover pot and bring to boil in about 5 minutes, then turn down heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes longer, or until ready to eat!

Thursday, February 23, 2012


A mom friend asked me the other day what chores I have my children do, which made me think it might be a helpful topic here.  So...let's talk about chores, allowance, and philosophies.   :)  First, here is my chore list for the week:
I don't know if you can read it, but each day, on top of the things that have to be done like cooking meals and making beds, etc.  there are at least a couple of cleaning chores I tackle so that by the end of the week each part of the house has been totally cleaned.  I know, I know, you may have the same argument as I once did, "but it's not all clean at the same time!  You never have a completely clean house!"  Well, fight me if you must on this, but this is the way I now see it - if the carpets are vacuumed on Monday, the stove top, other appliances and kitchen sink are scoured on Tuesday, bathroom is scrubbed down on Wednesday, and wood floors are mopped on Thursday, that company coming on Friday or the party we decide to throw on Saturday, is a piece of cake!  All I have to do is scoot through the house picking up random shoes and books that might be out, and run a wet rag around the sink in the bathroom to make everything appear as if I have just spent all day cleaning my heart out.  When I make sure that a couple of key areas are clean every day, I do not fear company dropping in, or the added details of throwing a party, or the time it takes me to cook dinner, because the house as a whole never gets disgusting, and I feel (and have my husband convinced) that I am on top of things.    ;)
So, since I do the bulk of chores around the house because I am the one here all day, where do chores for my children come in?  Well...last year when my oldest decided that it was time for her to have an American Girl doll, I told her that I had to save up my own money when I ordered mine, and I thought that was pretty fair for her to have to do as well.  She was okay with that plan, except how was a 7 year old supposed to make money?  Since my husband wasn't going to go the lawn-mowing route that my dad went with me :), I had to come up with some things inside.  She began unloading the dishwasher for .50 per load.  That works out to be about $3 per week give or take here and there, which added up nicely.  That was an agreement we had made, and it worked out well.  However, I do not believe in paying for every single little thing my children do to help out!  I work all day every day, and do I get an allowance to buy dolls with?!?!  That is completely unrealistic to the ins and outs of a family and a household.  The dog has to be fed and watered, and the table has to be cleared, etc.  Nobody's getting paid for those things!!!
This year, the dishwasher gets unloaded, and sometimes it is by oldest little girl, but she has also learned a new chore:  ironing napkins.  I figured this is a great way to learn how to iron, and since we use cloth napkins even sometimes instead of paper at parties, there are usually a significant amount in the wash every week.
When I take them out of the dryer, I fold them in half, and then she does the rest later, usually during family reading time Thursday evening (Thursday is laundry day!).  She is responsible for putting them away, as part of making sure the task is complete.  This job earns her $1 per week.  
My son, who is almost 6, has graduated from matching socks and folding wash rags, to folding all the towels clean at the end of laundry day, and this is what he gets paid for this year.  Once a month, he cleans out from under his bed and dusts with a damp rag, and every day there is something for him to take out to the recycling bin.  He helps take care of the dog, and he's usually the one responsible for sweeping the porch when it needs it, but folding towels is the job he gets paid for.  
There is a specific way they need to be folded in order to fit into our narrow, old house linen cabinet, so that has taken some practice for him, but he's getting it even though it has meant a couple of re-folds.  He also usually takes care of this during reading time.  A nice quiet activity which occupies his hands as we all listen on the edge of our seats to find out what will happen to Harry and his friends next...or, if Mom's reading, Frank and Joe Hardy on whatever sleuthing adventure they are currently on...
3 year old Little Girl has taken over wash rags and sorting underwear.  I had to convince her that they were all freshly washed and dried first.
Her hands are only big enough to handle the kids' stuff, so when I dump them out for her to sort, I put those in a pile for her, making sure they are all turned right side out.  Yes, since they are already in my hand, this would be a very easy job for me to take care of in less than a second, but it's been good for her to have a laundry job too.  The kids all share a drawer in the bathroom for under-garments, so they aren't folded, just stacked and then pushed through after showers as if it is impossible to just reach in and grab from one's own stack.  The drawer remains an absolute wreck at all times, but don't tell Little Girl that she could just smash her pile of chore in, and no one would know the difference....  
Maybe my favorite chores to have help with, are vacuuming and dusting.  When I get out the vacuum and ask Little Girl to help, she gets her vacuum and scoots right along beside me,

And she knows how to go get her hands wet a couple of times, and dry them with a wash rag, then come help me dust the furniture with her damp rag.  On Monday we dust, and part of dusting inevitably means clearing the clutter accumulated over the weekend, so everything we find out of place around the house that might be in the way of dusting or vacuuming, we put in a big laundry basket, and when the other kids get home from school, we all work to make sure that laundry basket is emptied and all the contents are put where they belong!!!  And thus begins a new week of cleaning the house.  :)

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Twenty days after Little Girl's birthday, is her cousin's day.  Same year.  It snowed on the day he was born, and the whole city was a sheet of ice.  I remember well - I was stuck at home unable to get a babysitter, and wondering how I would even drive to the hospital if I could get someone to drive to my house to watch the kiddos... We have missed all of his birthday parties since he lived in Houston, but this year he was in town right around the special date, so we gave him his gift in person.  Can you guess what I made him?

Homemade play-dough!  Yes, I have "real" Play-doh in my gift closet, and yes that would have taken less time and energy.  I knew his mom would appreciate homemade though, so that's what I did.  Here's the recipe:
1c flour
1/2c salt
2t cream of tartar
1c water
1T veggie oil
liquid food coloring
dump all of that in a pot over med-low heat, and stir until it forms a ball.  Knead it on a work surface until it feels like it should :), and play, play, play!  I halved the recipe for each different color, and that worked great.  I knew I was using small containers to package it in, and the recipe makes a pretty big batch, so even after halving it, I had leftovers.
Taking from the project I did for Little Girl's birthday party activity,
I cut numbers 1-10 out of construction paper, along with a shape in the corresponding amount (the number 6 and 6 hearts, etc.), and using a glue stick glued them on white paper, then laminated each card, punched a small hole in the top corner, and connected them with a metal ring.  They turned out really cute, and they can be used for play-doh or anytime to practice colors, shapes, number recognition, counting, etc.  Little Girl has an order for some on the way!

(There's a big Playmobile school bus inside the rather large gift bag, in case you were wondering...)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

DIY: Make Time for Reading!

I really like the movie Julie & Julia.  A lot.  And I really like cooking, though I really haven't attempted to even crack open the two volume set of Mastering the Art of French Cooking  my husband gave me for Christmas, much to his lament.  I have however, read the book he gave me with those volumes, My Life in France, by Julia Child.
Now, if you happened to have liked the movie and you thought it would be fun to read the book by Julie Powell, and you were perhaps a bit disappointed by it as I was....allow me to assure you now that Julia Child's book is wonderful.  Well worth your time, the book will allow your love of the movie to only grow deeper.  Scenes from the movie are taken directly from this book, and even if you haven't seen the movie and loved it (yet!), your appreciation for Julia Child will be what it wasn't before.  She dedicated her life to teaching Americans how to cook and appreciate French food, and that is not an exaggeration.  I had no idea how much went into the creating of these cookbooks, nor how significant they have 
been - seminal work this was, without a doubt.  Here are a few great quotes:  
after already spending several years working 40 hour weeks on the cookbook, Julia reflects on her uncertainties, "But American supermarkets were also full of products labeled 'gourmet' that were not:  instant cake mixes, TV dinners, frozen vegetables, canned mushrooms, fish sticks, Jell-O salads, marshmallows, spray-can whipped cream, and other horrible glop.  This gave me pause.  Would there be a place in the USA for a book like ours?  Were we hopelessly out of step with the times?"
"But then we looked at each other and repeated a favorite phrase from our diplomatic days: 'Remember, No one's more important than people!'  In other words, friendship is the most important thing - not career or housework, or one's fatigue -  and it needs to be tended and nurtured."  I think I'll write that one up and pin it to the wall.
After detailing her trial and error approach to french bread, Julia writes, "We had created the first successful recipe ever for making French bread - the long, crunchy, yeasty, golden loaf that is like no other bread in texture and flavor - with American flour in a home oven.  What a triumph!"
Throughout the book, Julia shares with wit and wisdom, her trials with co-authors, her love for her husband, the trials of having a dad she didn't see eye to eye with on anything, and the  uncertainty over her husband's work they both struggled with...this book is about far more than cooking or writing a cookbook.  In the spirit of Kathleen Kelly I say, "Read it.  I know you'll love it." 

all quotes taken from My Life in France, by Julia Child.

Cranberry Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Well, I have been busy busy busy, but not blogging about any of it!  I have taken pictures along the way, to which my daughter rolls her eyes, and can't believe we have to stop everything so Mom can focus the camera...  Maybe I should start with last night, and work my way backward...  ;)  Last week Bon Appetite magazine came in the mailbox, and as usual, was read cover to cover with promptness.  I love the magazine, and chose several recipes to try this last night I made cherry oatmeal moon pies, without the cherries.  And without the "moon," come to think of it.  The cookies are ridiculously decadent, and dried cherries are ridiculously expensive, so I substituted dried cranberries, left out the marshmallow cream sandwich part, and in general just changed that recipe right up along the way...  I think we got the main point of the taste though - they were delicious, and will definitely make an appearance at our house again!  
Cranberry oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, modified from Bon Appetite's chocolate-oatmeal   moon pies:
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 1/4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temp.
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
 Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda & salt, then in a separate bowl combine the oats, cranberries, chocolate chips and pecans.

 Beat together the butter, brown sugar, egg & vanilla, then gradually add flour ingredients.  With mixer on low, mix in the oat mixture just until combined.  Roll batter into about one inch balls, and flatten slightly with your fingers onto parchment paper.  The recipe made 36 cookies, so I filled two cookie sheets to bake, and one to freeze.  Bake at 350, for about 18 minutes, rotating pans halfway.  

Once the cookies are cool, the optional chocolate drizzle recipe is simply 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate and 1 T honey, mixed with 1/2 cup heavy cream that has been heated on the stove. This drizzle doesn't thicken up very much, so I drizzled the cookies and then put them in the fridge for about 30 minutes to harden the chocolate a little.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Amoretti: Fabric and Freezer Meals

Hey, Hey! Head over to one of my favorite blogs, Amorettiand enter her fabric giveaway! Don't you wish you could claim to be a mom of five, classical school teacher, and creator of your own fabric line!?!?!!?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Saturday Morning

 I woke up before anyone else on Saturday morning, and found my way downstairs in the quiet.  As I filled the tea pot, I noticed the Paper White a friend gave me for Christmas beginning to bud in the window, and I couldn't help but smile...

 And yes, once again I was struck by the beauty of the coffee bloom as the hot water bubbled up on the grounds inside the filter.  This time, my camera was handy.

"Do we truly stumble so blind that we must be affronted with blinding magnificence for our blurry soul-sight to recognize grandeur?"  -Ann Voskamp

It amazes me that I added water to a flower bulb placed on top of a string of plastic beads, and in four short weeks, a beautiful creation grew.  Saturday morning I was not too busy to notice, and to smile, and to enjoy a drink made out of beans.