Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Meal Deal

Here's the deal, I abhor cooking without a plan. A set of guidelines to keep me on track so I know what I'm doing. Okay, you got me. I just don't want to put that much effort into trying to fix something fabulous for dinner, and running to the store at the last minute because said recipe calls for some ingredient that is not a fixture in my pantry. NO!! It's not called laziness. It makes me cringe just to think about the stress and anxiety that go along with trying to come up with a meal at the last minute. MEAL PLANNING DAY!!!!!

It's been really busy around here. Springtime in the great state of Michigan. It's impossible to stay indoors and get anything done. I just want to go outside and play in the dirt. Really!! We've waited so long for this beautiful weather and now it's here. With an exclamation mark!!  Everything is growing so well and looks so lush and inviting. However, as we all know, if you leave something for too long, you end up with a mess on your hands and must use a lot of extra time to get back on track. Like my household duties. Things are a bit, shall we say, out of sorts. That's putting it mildly. My new laundry schedule was working itself out, the meals were planned, my desk was clean and most things were in their place. As in, "A place for everything and everything in it's place." Well, back to the drawing board. Shall we? Of course we shall. First things first: dinner menus.

Since it's already Tuesday, we just returned from camping yesterday, I've planned meals for the rest of this week from what we have on hand in the house, which was purchased last week. But for next week and the week after, a plan of action is in order. Doing this now will save so much time and frustration in the next two weeks. I will have everything on hand for all of my dinners for the next two weeks, minus any perishables that won't keep that long, and produce.

How to plan your meals:

Grab your grocery store ads and coupons for the week, from the Sunday newspaper, or get them online. Circle any deals that interest you. Pay special attention to see if you have coupons for any items that are on sale, try to cash in on the double coupon, plus the sale price, and possibly the special store coupons.

Use a menu planning sheet to write down meals for each day. Below is an example of the one that I have created for myself using Excel. (I am only posting a jpeg of it right now. Let me know if you'd like for me to post a file you can download.) Look at your calendar and write down any activities next to the corresponding days. Days that are really busy, plan an easy meal. Something that you can make ahead the night before, make ahead and put in the freezer, or even a meal you can put in the crock-pot in the morning.

Ask your family for ideas for meals, or even just a list of their favorite meals. We played a little "game" one night at dinner and just went around the table telling what our favorite meals and soups were. I kept a list of everything we came up with, and on those days that I seems to draw a blank as far as what to plan, I just take a look at that list (stored on my computer) and pick something fitting. I try to mix it up a bit so everyone gets their favorite meal sometime. This is also a good time to look at the grocery store ads and plan meals according to what is on sale for the week. If ground beef is on sale for the week, maybe make a meatloaf, or something that contains ground beef. You get the idea!!!

At this point I like to transfer my meals to a grocery list planner. This is a way to jot down all of the ingredients that you will need for each meal. I only write down the items that I don't have in the house and will need to purchase at the store, like ground beef for a meatloaf. Again, you got it!! Real Simple Magazine had a nice tear out page, that was a year, maybe two years ago. Anyways, here is a link to the Real Simple website in order to download the Weekday Meal Plan and Shopping List sheet that they have posted online. I recreated it for myself in Excel to include Sunday and Saturday

Add these items to your regular grocery list....and you are good to go shopping for two weeks of meals. Perishables that won't last until meal day, or produce can be purchased closer to the week you are going to use them. Shop for those items the weekend before, or at the beginning of the week you will need them. Plan ahead so you don't start cooking Sunday and find that you are missing items because you planned to go shopping on Monday. If so, purchase Sunday's items during the prior week's shopping trip.

Sooooo.....here's the weird part. I actually print out a menu for the week and post it to the side of the refrigerator. This frees more time by not having to answer the age-old question, "Mom, what are we having for dinner?", again and again, every day. My family knows where the menu is posted. It only takes a few times of them being instructed to "look at the menu" and your family will also catch on the location of answer to the aforementioned question. As I have not yet printed menus, we just got back yesterday, I will have to post an example later, but I change them often, so they are always different.

Okay, peeps!!! Guess what? Meals are planned for two weeks in advance, my mind is clear of that task. I just have to look at the menu to see what I'm cooking for the day, taking out any frozen items to thaw the night before. Easy. This frees up more time to for me spend outdoors and.......go play in the dirt!!!

A small side note to make my meal planning easier. Tuesday and Wednesday is soup night in our house. Fall, winter, and spring, always. During the summer, it depends, soup in 90 degree weather just doesn't sound good sometimes. Anyways.....I make soup on Tuesday night, but I make a really big pot. Wednesday night we have the leftovers. I always tell my family that soup is usually better the second day. That's one day that cooking is diminished, it's a good night to make a nice dessert or fresh bread to go with the soup. The other side note, Friday is pizza night. Busy Fridays we have Little Caesar's Pizza, it's hard to beat a $5 large pizza. Other Fridays we try our hand at making pizza different ways. Lots of fun. It also depends on the kids, if they aren't around for the evening, TM and I are more spontaneous with our meal. Have fun with it!!!

Now go forth and play in the dirt!!!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Is This Really Camping?

Is this really camping? This is a question that has arisen in my head recently. Again and Again. Is it really camping if you can make microwave popcorn? I tent camped for years, that's how I started. (Not including many a year at summer camps as a child.) Tents, sleeping bags, coolers, a coleman stove, lanterns and flashlights, cooking over a fire, and lots of insect repellant. We even did this as a vacation in the Florida Keys. Awesome!!!! When the boys were about 4 years and 1 year old, my late husband and I switched to a very small 15 ft. travel trailer. It was great to have that hard shell for protection from the elements with 2 little ones. Of course there was also heat, a tv and vcr, a refrigerator and a stove, not to mention water. Luxury when you have small children. Due to unforeseen circumstances that ended, and I didn't go camping for a few years and eventually sold the trailer.

When TM and I started camping together, we went back to the old standard roots, tent camping. It's pretty inexpensive, compact, quick(ish), and we could go to different places. Oh, and the kid's loved the whole tenting idea. We stuck to family-friendly campgrounds, as having 3 kids with us and packing in to a spot deep in the woods to set up camp for the night just sounded...for lack of a better word...exhausting. Both physically and mentally.

2011 Our Tent

The boys big tent. Great for when they bring friends camping. 

Fast forward 8 years and now we are camping with a travel trailer. A nice 33 ft, tiny cabin on wheels. Truly, that's what it is. A queen size bed, two bunks, a twin bed, and a full size bed. Heat, A/C, hot and cold running water, shower and tub, a refrigerator and freezer, range and oven, a place to hook up cable if the service is available, a microwave, audio system with speakers, and of course (drum roll please), a toilet or lou if you prefer. This is not what I had in mind.

Is this really camping? It's landscaped.

The lure of packing into a remote area and making camp for the night has always sounded intriguing. Getting away from it all and just relaxing. Over the past few years I have been down sizing our camping equipment, getting items that are more geared towards packing into the wilderness to camp. Nesting pots and pans, compact wash basins that squish down into a very small size, portable, low tech drip coffee makers. You get the idea. What we are doing now, is just not camping.

This summer we are leaving our trailer on a specific campsite at one of our favorite campgrounds. We've rented the site for the entire season and are now known as, what is called a "Seasonal". Hmmmm. Don't know if I like it. Sounds like an outdoorsy cult. There was even a special weekend, just for the "Seasonals". See what I mean?!!! Don't get me wrong, it's a nice place and the people are very friendly.

The trailer has it's advantages, that I must admit. Once you are set up, it's so much easier to get to the campground and enjoy yourself. Take a few items of clothing and anything that needs to be replenished and you're out the door. You get there, unlock your door and it's a home away from home. But, that's just it......it"s a home away from home, it's not camping. There are people that stay there for the entire season, not just on the weekend, but every day. For about 4 months. These places are nice that they stay in. Most of the travel trailers and fifth wheels make our little trailer look somewhat tacky and a bit, shall we say, not very refined. I actually spent part of weekend while we were "camping"...get this....doing yard work. If you have to do yard work while you are on a camping trip......YOUR"RE NOT REALLY CAMPING!!!

When it was cold outside, TM and I would climb into our tent, get under the blankets and snuggle up to stay warm. If it was pouring rain, we would take the kids and find the nearest bowling alley. Now when it's cold and wet, we'll head into the trailer, turn on the heat, make some microwave popcorn and turn on a movie. Eventually go to bed in a bed that is larger than the one we have at home. Is this really camping?

Go play in the dirt!!!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!!

To all of the Mom's out there, Happy Mother's Day!! Every day is really Mother's Day. To my Mom, specifically, Thank you for being the wonderful, strong, woman that you are. You have taught me so much during my life, and have given so much of yourself to my well-being. I Love You with all of my heart.

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra Spectabilis)

In my own little mind, this should be a day of relaxation and enjoying what it means to be a mother. It's a good thing that I have children, now I can put them to work today purely for my enjoyment. Who's going to cook dinner? Who's going to clean the bathrooms? Which one will do laundry? What about the lawn? Mopping the floors? Pedicure for Mom, any one? Oh, alright! Not that kind of enjoying that I have children. Maybe just looking at their wonderful faces and being so happy that I have been blessed with such wonderful bundles of joy. Two I carried in the womb and rocked as babies, and two that came into my life much later, but all bundles of joy. Who said that? That was when they were sweet and little. If you have teenagers and young adults, then you probably understand my sentiment. On one hand, you want to hold them like the little ones that they were, never to let go and protecting them with every fiber of your being. On the other hand (once the gums start flapping and the sassy attitudes start flying), you want to ever so gently, catapult them out of the nest. Of course only so far as that you can catch them if they fall instead of fly. Ya gotta luv 'em!!!!!!!

Mothers of the very young, enjoy every moment. They grow up so fast, and change in the blink of an eye, it feels. Enjoy their enthusiasm about everything that they see, it's such a great learning experience. It also helps to keep you young by remembering how it felt when everything was so new to you when you were younger. The new and endless possibilities of everything. It's all such a new experience. Cherish the wide-eyed wonder of childhood.

Mothers of older kids, guide them, but let them be their own person. Watch how their personalities grow and help them become good, respectful human beings, and more independent individuals. Intervene, but not too much. Let them grow. Bask in the new found freedoms that you have. You no longer have to carry a bag, the size of a small suitcase, loaded with toys, snacks and something for every possible situation.

Mothers of teenagers, learn to laugh. Not at them or in their face, but remember to laugh. Some of it is just funny, they don't get what you are trying to tell them from an adult point of view. You can't make up some of the stuff that happens with teenagers. The girls are moody, the boys are kind of gross and goofy, but they are fun in their own way. It's a growing experience for both of you. You are still growing as a Mother and woman. Enjoy.

Mothers of young adults, remember, your kid's are adults legally, not necessarily mentally. They still have to get there, on their own, with your help. Oh, guess what? They don't want your help, they know it all!! In their own minds, just like we did when we were their age. What goes around, comes around. Try to remember how you felt and what you thought when you were a young adult. I recently asked my Mother how she managed to make it through those years. You know what? She laughed at me!!!

The only advice I have for Mothers of children well into their adulthood is......go ask my Mom. Heck, for that matter, ask your own Mom. She'll get a kick out of it and you'll learn a lot about your Mother.

Happy Mother's Day!!!!

Go play in the dirt!!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie makes me think of summer. I long for the lengthy, hot days of summer, with the smell of freshly cut grass lingering in the slightly, breezy air. Ummmm. The sunshine, with its golden light, pouring over every inch of the yard and deck, warming everything it touches. Okay, so that leaves out a large portion of our backyard, but it's still wonderful. Anyways, again I have taken off on a tangent that will take me to daydream land. Back to the Key Lime Pie!

Summer isn't quite here yet, but the pie is. Yes!!!!!!! This is possibly one of the simplest recipes. Ever. Pretty close to the infamous glass of ice water recipe. Seriously, who would have thought that so few ingredients could produce such a wonderful taste treat. What you need: a graham cracker crust, sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, and lime juice. That's it!! For the lime juice, I use Nellie & Joe's Famous Key West Lime Juice. Great stuff, that is where I found this particular recipe, on the back of the bottle. I have used a different recipe in the past, a no bake recipe that did not contain eggs. It was good, and probably better (healthier) for you, but this one seems to be a better take on a key lime pie.

Nellie & Joe's Recipes from the Keys
Nellie & Joe's Key Lime Pie
  • 9" graham cracker pie crust
  • 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 egg yolks (whites not used)
  • ½ cup Nellie & Joe's Key West Lime Juice

Combine milk, egg yolks and lime juice. Blend until smooth. Pour filling into pie crust and bake at 350ยบ for 15 minutes. Allow to stand 10 minutes before refrigerating. Just before serving, top with freshly whipped cream, or meringue, and garnish with lime slices.

Key Lime Pie with freshly whipped cream. Yummy!!

Okay, so I don't usually garnish with the lime slices, but it would pretty if I were having people over to dinner, just for a regular night, not taking the time. I also like to use the Keebler Shortbread Crust as opposed to the Graham Cracker Crust. It has a really nice flavor. This time I actually made freshly whipped cream, but that is not my normal procedure. If we have canned whipped cream, or lite cool whip, or whatever we might have in the fridge, but I do always offer it with a topping. Great stuff!! It turned out wonderfully, again. It always does. You really can't mess this recipe up, unless you try really hard. Of course since it's such a simple and quick recipe, that leaves me more time to do what?

Go play in the dirt!!!!!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Individual Worm Bins for Dessert

Earth Day came and went, and I've been a little busy. However, I was nerdy enough to want to make an Earth Day dessert. I did it before and I did again. This year I made Individual Worm Bins. Yea. It sounds gross, but what fun, even for my teenagers! A few years ago I made a cake. Yum, but cake is cake, considering that I always use the boxed variety. One day I will bake a cake from scratch......it just sounds so scary.

Earth Day Cake 2010
Yep. You got it. I am a big chicken. This time I thought, well I've made worms in dirt, a few quick changes and you have individual worm bins. Chocolate pudding, crushed Oreo (type) cookies on top for the dirt, long pieces of red licorice (the laces would work great, but they only had cherry laces) to act as red leaf worms, white sprinkles for "egg shells", some green sprinkles for "vegetation" and there you have it, your own little individual worm bin. That's right, I couldn't think of anything quickly to use for "newspaper". Hey, my family would get the idea. What were they going to do? Not eat it? "Sorry, Mom. I'm not eating this, there's no fake newspaper on it." Right! They ate it, quickly.

Pudding, Twizzlers, Cookies, and Sprinkles
Chocolate Pudding divided into small dishes
Crush Oreo (type) cookies in a bag and sprinkle on top of the pudding.

Add pieces of licorice and sprinkles. Ta Daaaa!!
When Earth Day was approaching, my 16 year old son (GG) and I had a conversation about trying to be as energy conscious as we could for the day (and we do every day). We decided to cook using no electricity. That's not too hard considering how much we go camping. However, living in the city would pose a problem with the whole cooking over the fire pit and not having a Burn Permit for the season, thing. That's right, we would grill chicken. I never said we were vegetarians. However, we would have to break out both grills, this little gas grill that we got for Christmas (yuck) and the trusty, Mr. Big Daddy Weber Charcoal grill that is out year round (I love you, my little, slow things down a bit, and taste the yumminess of it all, black enameled, dome of wonderfulness). Now I'm not biased at all (chuckle, snicker, grin, and snort), I just think the whole process and taste of cooking on a charcoal grill, or over an open wood fire is, for lack of better words.....MIND BLOWING AND DELICIOUS. Okay, as my husband (TM) keeps reminding me, gas grills have some advantages. Yeah, they're quick. I really don't see the fun in that. Strictly my opinion. Not saying that it's correct, but it's all mine.

We would wrap potatoes in foil and cook those on the Weber charcoal grill, and we would soak the corn on the cob, still in the husks, in water and cooked those on the gas grill on low. The chicken, of course, was would have to be cooked on the Weber. Just thought of this, both grills are Weber grills. The chicken would cook on the charcoal Weber grill. We would have loved to eat out on the deck and use no indoor lighting, but it was in the low 50s and really windy. (Stop calling me Wendy.) Slight take-off on Airplane and Leslie Neilsen's, "Stop calling me Shirley". I miss that guy, he was funny!!!!

Anyways, not exactly how it turned out. We did grill the chicken on the charcoal grill, however, the corn and potatoes were cooked inside the house on the electric stove. We got it half right for the day. TM was very busy with his Leg Lamp project, a.k.a. the new shed and dinner was backed up quite a bit. Time was short and we compromised on the use of electricity for the day. But we keep trying to do our part to reduce our eco-footprint. It's a belated greeting, but, I hope your Earth Day was green. How green? Supah Green!

Go play in the dirt!!!