Sunday, September 30, 2012

Meal Plan

We have a birthday to celebrate this week but will otherwise be working on testing out a few new budget friendly meals.  Hopefully everyone will like the new ones as much as they did the ones we tried last week.

M: peanut butter and jelly muffins (B), sandwiches/leftovers (L), bean and cheese enchiladas (D)
T: oatmeal (B), sandwiches/leftovers (L), pulled pork sandwiches (D)
W: cereal (B), sandwiches/leftovers (L), South of the Border skillet (D)
T: eggs and yogurt smoothies (B), sandwiches/leftovers (L), birthday dinner out (D)
F: yogurt and granola (B), sandwiches/leftovers (L), potato soup (D)
S: monkey bread (B), sandwiches/leftovers (L), pizza (D)

We are also working on getting a few more meals into the freezer this weekend. By the end of today, I hope to have 11 freezer meals prepared.  Alan took the middle kids apple picking on Saturday so we also need to work on processing the apples this week, making more grape jelly, and possibly turning some of the blueberries in the freezer into syrup.  And, of course, making sure the leftovers all get eaten and don't languish in the fridge turning into something weird.

Friday, September 28, 2012

New Meal Success

This week we had three new dinner items on the menu.  I'm attempting to try a few new budget friendly ideas to help bring a bit of variety back to things.  Vegetarian options are also being tried so we can have some new ideas to use during Lent.  This week we tried 3 new soups. They were all successful.  All of the kids went back for seconds on the spinach tortellini soup other than the youngest.  This one will be great during Lent.  Super easy to make and the leftovers were delicious for lunches.  The hamburger vegetable soup was ok but the cheddar muffins we made with it were even better. Next time I make this soup I will cut the amount of meat in half.  I also do not use canned vegetables in soups.  Ok,  I don't buy many canned vegetables anymore but the texture would be rather off I'd think.  Tonight we had the spicy chicken soup.  We were out of cumin so I put in cayenne pepper instead.  The would have been perfect if I hadn't added quite so much. So it was a tad on the spicy side but still delicious.  The kids ended up adding sour cream to theirs to cool it a bit but again, I'm positive we'll be making that one again.  Probably with a tad less meat since I don't think it will alter the taste any.

Next week we have a birthday on Thursday but we'll still be testing out two new dinner meals during the week.  I'm hoping they will be just as successful because they are both affordable meat-free options.  I'm also going to spend some time debating the relative merits of investing in a tortilla press. I wonder if I could find one used instead.  We now use quite a few tortillas per meal and they aren't exactly the cheapest thing at the store.  They are easy to make but rolling by hand leaves you with a rather time consuming process.  I'm well aware this would qualify as a not so needed gadget and yet I'm debating anyway.

Tomorrow night we try a new recipe for calzones (taking a small break from pizza night while still keeping the kids happy) so I'm hoping it will be just as successful as our other new recipes.  Here's hoping all of your latest kitchen adventures have been just as successful.

Field Trip Friday

We spent a slightly chilly, kind of wet day out at a Civil War field trip today.  I really wish they had put on an actually reenactment at least on a small scale but the kids enjoyed what they did have available.  All of the kids enlisted in the Union Army and most of them spent some time drilling for battle.  I'm not sure exactly what they actually learned but everyone says they had a great time.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Spaghetti Wars

As I was throwing together a large pot of spaghetti sauce the other day, I started thinking about an aspect of marriage that no one warns you about: the food wars.  Trying to combine the food habits and traditions of two different families into one is often less than fun.

For years we battled over spaghetti sauce. I know, that seems silly.  I grew up on jarred sauce. Alan grew up thinking jarred sauce was a pathetic imitation and an insult.  I would buy jarred sauce and he would complain.  He would attempt to make sauce from scratch (and honestly not realize if you add water, you then have to let it simmer for a while rather than just serving it) and I would complain about the red water sitting on my spaghetti.  So over the first few years we continued to do battle.  I tried doctoring up jarred sauce and that was tolerable.  We started to learn to let the homemade stuff cook longer or add other things to naturally thicken it up (or leave out the water).  We've both adapted.  I'll readily admit that homemade sauce wins hands down taste wise.  I can't believe how long I went without the real stuff. And Alan will now eat jarred sauce without complaining in a pinch (or when the kids are cooking).

Just makes me wonder what other little things do we forget to warn newlyweds about.  Or should we even bother to warn them?  Perhaps there is something to be learned from the spaghetti wars other than we were both a lot pickier than we like to admit although I'm not quite sure what it is yet.  If I figure it out, I'll be sure to let you know.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Meal Plan

I am hoping to start working on putting a few meals into the freezer this week for after the munchkin is born and we have some canning that really must be done this week so I'm hoping to keep dinner plans as simple as possible this week.

M: eggs in toast (B), spinach and tortellini soup (D)
T: baked oatmeal (B), spaghetti (D)
W: cereal (B), hamburger vegetable soup (D)
T: blueberry bread (B), quiche (D)
F: yogurt and granola (B), spicy chicken soup (D)
S: breakfast burritos (B), calzones and wings (D)

Lunches will be various sandwiches and leftovers.  Snacks for the week will be fruit, carrots, banana bread, brownies, whatever we feel like digging up.

Calling All Soup Lovers

I'm working on my meal plan for next week at the moment.  The cooler weather has me thinking about making lots of soup.  For many reasons.  It is super easy to stretch or adapt to what you have in your kitchen without truly altering the recipe.  It is incredibly affordable when done properly.  Homemade soup is so incredibly better than the stuff that comes in cans (true story-my older 2 boys did not realize chicken noodle soup came in a can until right before Katie was born). It warms you up and can easily be made in the crock pot. 

With the the new munchkin arriving in a few months, I'm starting to work on stocking the freezer a bit so we will have ready to go meals for a while afterwards.  We also have some canning that really must be done this week (grape jelly, apple sauce, salsa) so I'm going to be kind of busy.  This means I need dinner plans that involve as little work as possible for a while. 

I'm also thinking ahead to the next few months and being realistic about the need to stretch our food budget further than usual.  So I'm hoping maybe you can toss a few budget friendly soup ideas my way.  Emphasis on the budget friendly.  I have 3 new ones I plan to try this week but I am always open for new suggestions and ideas.  So please toss them my way.  Crock pot friendly recipes earn bonus points because, well, I have a slight obsession with the crock pot.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Farm Trip

Bryan got his first paying job this year working at a local farm turned tourist attraction.  I have mixed feelings about these sort of places. On the one hand, it's great to see family run farms find a way to keep their farms profitable and in their family.  On the other hand, it's incredibly sad that government regulation of farming has made it so hard for family farms to be profitable on their own.  It makes no sense to either pay farms to NOT plant crops or to pay them to leave a certain amount of their crops in the fields, unharvested until they are no longer usable.  I know in some warped Washington-ese way this is a sensible way of controlling food costs but I just can't get behind not producing and bringing to market as much food as possible and donating the hopeful excess to those in need. But I imagine this shows that I am too soft on those who struggle to make ends meet on their own or something (or so I've been told).

Anyway, this weekend the farm held military appreciation weekend. The weekend started with a 5K run/2 mile walk to support Troops for Trees which is an organization which helps provide Christmas trees to military members overseas.  For the rest of the weekend, military families received free admission. These are the kinds of offers I look for when planning activities for the kids.  Free and discounted admission make things much easier on the budget and keep the family from feeling the pinch of a tight budget. The weather was kind of iffy which kept crowds away and we only had to deal with a few random sprinkles here and there.  The kids had a wonderful time enjoying all of the rides and activities and we used Bryan's employee discount to cut our lunch costs in half (as I told Bryan: you know me, I always ask for any discount possible so of course I asked if they'd give us a discount since you worked here).  So here are a few pictures.  Ellie was able to enjoy her first train ride and go down the giant slide with her big brother.  Even with the cooler weather, everyone had a blast.

The giant human hamster wheels.

Corn Mazes are not that much fun when your kids like to run way ahead of you.

Maybe you can't see Ellie's face but she has the biggest smile in this picture.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Beautiful Ellie

Sleeping in her sister's bed, of course.

Busy Bag Swap

Have you heard of preschool busy bags or activity bags?  These bags are designed to give you a ready to go activity to hand your young child for those times when you need to have them quietly occupied.  In a perfect world, they are also designed to be somewhat educational.
I organized a busy bag swap with a few local moms because it is often easier and cheaper to make multiples of a single activity than to try to make lots of different activities.  The power of bulk buying works in many different areas.  We met today to swap our bags and everyone came home with 12 bags full of fun for their little ones.  I plan to add a few extra bags to our set at home but I'm looking forward to having these to work with over the next few months.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Short Term Goal

Here's a small short term goal.  I aim to try to keep my political opinions to myself for the next few weeks.  I don't think there is any real question about what I believe.  Yes, I think our current president is an idiot who is ruining our country and catering to our enemies and putting our military members (and us as well) in serious danger.  Yes, I think when gas is $4.07 a gallon, there are problems.  Yes, I believe the country is now currently being ripped apart by racial and social class warfare in a way that for some idiotic reason our current administration believes will serve their cause.  I believe anyone who supports abortion in the broad manner in which our current administration does must have been dropped on their head as an infant (or they've been drinking some toxic Kool-Aid).  I'll be praying seriously for this next election because I do believe our country's future hangs in the balance and I fear what will be left for my children if the incumbent wins.  But with all that set aside, I'm going to try not to share my opinion beyond these statements.  Not because I don't share others' beliefs or because I think someone is not entitled to an opinion. But rather because getting hit with it every where you turn is getting depressing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fall Cupcakes

I know that fall does not technically start until next week but the leaves are already changing around here and apples and pumpkins are out in the markets.  Slightly cooler weather lately as well.  We haven't made our yearly batch of caramel apples yet or bought a few jugs of cider but it was still time to celebrate the passing of summer.
We celebrate in a simple manner.  Appropriately decorated cupcakes.  The child tasked with making the cupcakes this year decided it would be awesome to put faces on each one.  He did a rather great job.  Have I mentioned how much I enjoy having kids who can cook and bake?  Yup, makes things so much easier some days.

Seven Sorrows of Mary Craft

September 15 was the feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows.  I found a rather neat art project a few weeks ahead of time at Catholic Icing.  Even though I printed it out well ahead of time, it still ended up being put together late because that seems to be how we run around here. It turned out fairly well until one of my children decided to jump up to try to smack it while walking through the hall like his brother had just done and managed to rip it down.  Sigh.  At least I tried, right?

Dot Art

Have you seen these Do-A-Dot Markers yet?  I love using them with younger children.  They are perfect for preschoolers working on hand/eye coordination and a great way to allow your kids to paint in a relatively neat manner.  Ok, a determined child can still make a mess with them and any child can use them to paint on themselves but you are less likely to end up with paint on the floor or the walls.
 I love to look for printable activities designed specifically to be used with these markers.  I have a set of print-outs that Gabe is working his way through for kindergarten that help introduce all of the letters and numbers (yes, we go a little slower here now than we used to so kindergarten is more like it was when we were in school rather than an academic thing).  While searching for those, I also stumbled upon a few options for just fun pictures.
I printed out some fall dot pictures from this website.  Wonderful fall themed shapes.  I was able to print both pictures with just a few dots for Robert and Ellie and pictures with a ton of them for Gabe and Abby.  Ellie still has no real clue about putting the dots in the circles on the paper but she did a great job painting her arms.  Robert got the idea behind filling in the circles but wanted nothing to do with using the suggested colors. He went for a more abstract look.  Apparently apples are meant to be blue.  The older two both did a great job of following the directions.  I'm hoping I will stay on the ball and continue to print out activities of this sort this year for the younger ones because the 10 minutes of quiet concentration helps the older ones have a bit more quiet time to do their work.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Meal Plan

Trying to do our best to use up the produce in a timely manner this week.  We haven't been able to go apple picking yet because most of the orchards were hit very hard by the late frost but I did pick up a peck of our favorite Autumn Crisp apples at the market on Saturday.  I used to think I did not at all care for apples.  Now I realize that what I don't care for are apples that have been in cold storage for months or most of the ones you can buy at the grocery store.  Farm fresh apples are simply amazing.

Alan and most of the boys put in some time working at our CSA on Saturday so they brought home 2 regular shares of produce this week so I must make sure it gets used up or frozen.  Of course, I personally don't care for squash or eggplant and we have quite a lot of both of those.  Alan made oatmeal zucchini muffins on Sunday which were rather yummy and the kids seem to love squash so I'm sure it will get eaten.  We also introduced the kids to cucumber sandwiches last week to make sure we used up the massive amounts of cucumbers we had laying around.  I imagine we'll continue to get creative this week and think of something.

Monday: eggs, toast, bacon (B), cheese steak sandwiches (D)
Tuesday: french toast casserole (B), spaghetti (D)
Wednesday: cereal (B), vegetable beef soup (D)
Thursday: baked oatmeal (B), eggplant parm (D)
Friday: eggs and biscuits (B), fish and potatoes (D)

Lunches will be sandwiches or leftovers.  For snacks this week we'll have cupcakes, apples, other fruit, maybe cookies and popcorn.

On Sunday our priest talked about how it's important to be generous and not be attached to your worldly goods.  He also said he loves the look of a mostly empty fridge.  I will admit that I usually love most of what he has to say in his homilies but I found myself thinking when he said that "Well, Father, that is all well and good when you are a single adult but the idea falls flat on it's head when you have 10 kids relying on you to feed them."  Anyone else praying for cheaper gas and grocery prices lately?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

More Pictures From the Village

We spent all of Friday walking around the village.  The camp presentations are always at the end of the afternoon but rather than come back home, we like to spend the day walking around with the younger kids.
 No trip with the little ones is complete without a stop in the hands-on house.  And just a reminder to all of the adults out there: when something like this is available, let your kids use it and back off.  I've walked into this house with another adult only to have them immediately start yelling at the kids for touching things.  Seriously, some things are meant to be touched and experienced.

The Village now has a permanent Civil War exhibit.  This exhibit showcases a replica of the Intrepid balloon which was used during the war to keep track of enemy troops.  On days when the wind is favorable, rides are even available in the balloon.
When small children need to be occupied, there are two things that are suggested. One is a stop at the grand meadow to run off some energy and another is a stop at the general store to sample a cookie. Yes, it is bigger than her head.  Ellie fell asleep after eating half of it and immediately started looking for the other half when she woke up.

This is my favorite place to visit in the village.  This church used to be St. Feehan's parish in Chili.  I love the old statues.  I love the look of the altar and the communion rail.  The stations of the cross are beautiful.  The entire place just makes you think this is what a church is supposed to look like.  I did have a hard time explaining to the little ones that Jesus was not actually present in the church when they asked if they could say good-bye to Jesus before we left. They knew to look for the tabernacle (which you can't exactly miss) but I guess I have forgotten to explain that when the sanctuary lamp is not lit, Jesus is not in the tabernacle.
We also spent some time in the school houses take drawing lessons and learning the alphabet.

This little guy was the big attraction at the beginning of the day.
And a few of our favorite people caught enjoying village life.