Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Picture This

   When the stockings were finally un-hung and the decorations had been tucked away for next year I was left with a stack of Christmas cards on the hearth.  They sat there for a few days as I deftly ignored their presence until I gave them to my little one.   I gave her a freebie photo album and she carefully cut out the "people" cards.  Now she has her own photo album of friends and cousins.  She was happily busy with her craft project and it kept me from feeling guilty about throwing out the cards. 

   I started this tradition when my son was small.  At the time he was too young to use scissors so I trimmed up the pictures for him and placed them in a baby drool-proof album.  At a time when his speech was still developing, he would point to the pictures and I would tell him who was in each one.  He learned to say the name of his cousins and friends and enjoyed showing his pictures to people.

  Anyone who knows me can tell you I am not good with scrapbooking and keeping up with my photo albums.  Our Christmas card albums are a nice way to let the kids have their own photos without me having to say, "Don't get fingerprints on the pictures."  When friends send photos in birthday invitations or thank you notes, the kids can add them to their album.  It's a nice way to recycle cards and continue to enjoy every one's pictures.  What do you do with leftover Christmas cards?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cooking Ahead for the Chaos

Sheperd's Pie...Mmmm comfort food
   I used to wait until dinner time to see what I was in the mood to eat.  Then began the process of searching the cupboards, fridge and freezer to see if anything on hand matched what I wanted.  If it had been a busy day it was easy to give up and just call for take out or have a nice dinner out.  Three years ago, I was introduced to Debi Taylor Hough's book Frozen Assets where she has a detailed plan for freezer cooking an entire month's meals in one day.  While I have to admit I don't do the 8 hour stretch of cooking all at once, I have incorporated batch cooking into my routine.

   Batch cooking is when you make duplicate meals, one for now, one for the freezer.  It's great to have a meal tucked away for a busy day.  If there is a sale on hamburger, I can make a batch of meatballs, meatloaf and tacos all at once.  I used to just make enormous meals and have leftovers for days until we had meatballs coming out of our ears.  After reading Debi's book, I learned to freeze leftovers.  Then when you pull them out two weeks from now, it is a new meal to us instead of leftovers for a week. It is good for the food budget since you can cook up whatever is on sale this week without it withering away in your refrigerator. I'm saving energy by using the oven once to cook many things at once and I'm saving my time and energy, a very precious resource indeed.  

  I don't always plan ahead so well, but when hamburger was on sale this is what I did.  I started by making two batches of meatballs.  One set of meatballs went to a friend and the other was for our dinner the next night.  While the oven was still hot I made two meatloaves.  I had made extra mashed potatoes with our roast chicken dinner the previous night.  I topped the second meatloaf with corn, mashed potatoes and shredded cheese to create Sheperd's pie.  The other meatloaf was set aside in the freezer for a future meal.  Now I had 3 nights of dinner with only one messy clean up. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Queen of Quinoa

   When I was first introduced to quinoa, about ten years ago, I didn't even know how to say it, let alone cook it. I thought it was pronounced qwin-o-ah instead of keen-wa.  Since then I have learned to appreciate this tiny grain that looks like cous-cous.

      Quinoa comes in bags, boxes or in the bulk bins.  Unfortunately, my bulk bag, "sprung a leak" when I punctured a hole in it and I spilled tiny quinoa pellets from the kitchen door to the pantry.  I looked like one of the Stooges trying to not to slip on the marbles cleaning up that mess. 

   Once you have your quinoa contained, it is a versatile addition to your pantry.  Quinoa is a great addition to a vegetarian diet since it is a complete protein.  It also makes a great side dish for a meat- based meal.  I've served it like rice, as a breakfast cereal, in soup and even made quinoa stuffed cabbage. I boiled up this batch to serve under a simple shrimp and vegetable stir fry. 

Cooked Quinoa

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Year of Somedays...

   It is easy to get caught up in what needs to be done everyday and put your dreams on hold.  It isn't always a huge dream that you keep postponing.  It could be a small project such as cleaning out your closet so you can get rid of things you never use.   Maybe you have a desire to re-connect with a good friend on a deeper level than "liking" her facebook posts.

    I am terrific procrastinator.  If I can't get something completed today, then I may as well not even start it.  I keep telling myself, "I will get to that someday." However in 2011 I decided that it would be my year of somedays.  Instead of putting off what I wanted to accomplish, I set a timer for 20 minutes and I had to concentrate on only my goal during that time.  I found out that my mind wanders a lot! I would get 5 minutes into a project and leave the room and have to drag myself back to what I was supposed to be doing.  The good thing is if I was frustrated or not really in the mood I knew I could stop when the timer beeped.  At least then I had made a dent in the work and attempted to get something done rather than making excuses.  I was often surprised that the job at hand that seemed like it would take forever was either done or that I had gathered enough momentum to keep working.

    I have always wanted to be a writer.  Somewhere, in the back of my mind it was always there.  Yet the only thing I had written in years were "to do" lists.  I'd also been promising myself for several years that I would experiment more with my cooking.  It was always, next month I will make a new recipe every week or once a month or soon I'll try a new recipe. I am very fortunate to know a fellow writer that has helped me start my blog combining these two goals and encouraged me to keep writing.  At first, I didn't think I could find the time necessary to write.  Then, I was afraid I would run out of things to share.  I am very glad that I have made the time to follow my goal.  Not only have I been able to carve out time for my writing, but I have had the joy of reaching others and hearing their reactions.

  Of course the new year is a time when many people set goals and then don't follow through.  The important thing is to try anything.  Chances are you will be happy that you made the effort.  Really, wouldn't it be selfish if you didn't let us know what you can really do?  Tell me, what are your "someday projects"?