Sunday, August 31, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - Back to School Edition

(This post was written on my husband's computer because of my daughter waiting until the last three days of summer to do her summer reading assignments for her honors English class on my computer, hence I don't have access to any of my images or pictures. It's boring, sorry.)

For more menu ideas visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.

Summer will officially be over on Wednesday when my kids go back to school. I know, we are much later than most areas of the country but all the public schools in Oregon start after Labor Day and our district starts on the Wednesday after Labor Day.

I started my new job (at my children's elementary school in the library) last week and I LOVE IT! I really love the people at the school and I'm really enjoying the job itself. I have worked at the school off and on in temporary jobs for 4 years and it feels good to be back. It is only 4 hours a day which gives me a life outside of work, too. However, I have the feeling that I'm going to be adjusting this week and feel like I'm working full-time!

With this "adjustment" period in mind, I've planned some easy meals this week.

  • Cereal, fruit
  • Oatmeal with berries
  • French Toast on the first day of school
  • Chicken salad sandwiches on croissants (special for the first week of school, I don't normally send croissant sandwiches in the lunch boxes!)
  • turkey sandwiches, fruit,
  • yogurt with granola, homemade granola bars, fruit
  • string cheese, lunch meat, crackers, fruit (or carrot sticks and ranch)
  • Thai noodles (for Hubby and I, the kids won't eat these but we LOVE them!)
  • Cottage Cheese Casserole, veggies with ranch
  • Soup and Bread
  • Chicken Crockpot thing (chicken breasts, Cream of Broccoli and Cheese soup, milk, cook in crockpot til meat falls apart. Shred chicken, serve with sauce over rice)
  • Pasta bake , breadsticks
  • Pancakes, hashbrowns, fruit
  • Friday First Week of School Celebration! Navajo Tacos (Indian fry bread, refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream, salsa, etc), Spanish rice, chips, fruit salad, hot fudge cake for dessert! We will probably invite friends over to help us celebrate.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

News of the Wierd

Kid, that potato is as big as your head! Don't try to eat that all at once now, ya hear?

What? It's for your whole family?

That I believe.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wish Me Luck

In my ongoing quest to bring my chickens home, I am speaking to half of our city council members Thursday. I will be speaking to the full city council on September 2.

I will be explaining how ecologically smart owning chickens can be.

I will tell them how much it helps financially to have this versatile, cheap, healthy protein source available.

I will show them pictures of my children enjoying their pet chickens.

I will explain how allowing chickens will bring them into line with all the other cities in our area.

I will try not to blabber.

I will try not to appear like the "crazy chicken lady."

Mostly I will try not to faint.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Quinoa Caprisi Salad

I have an abundance of tomatoes in my garden right now. Most of them are cherry tomatoes - I planted yellow, orange, red, and a pear variety of cherry tomatoes. Right now the yellow and oranges are going crazy - the orange ones are my new favorite! They are very sweet and the perfect size to cut in half for a salad.

I was trying to figure out a way to use them that would have some substance to it.

You know, tomatoes that would fill us up.

I started thinking about my favorite way to use fresh garden tomatoes - a tomato and basil salad. Usually I just chop tomatoes, chop basil, toss them with some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Sometimes I add mozzarella cheese, sometimes not. How could I add some heft to this salad but still maintain the same flavors?

Quinoa! This is my family's new favorite grain. I've been experimenting with putting it in soups and stews. It doesn't have much flavor on its own, making it perfect to add heft without changing the flavor.

I made some quinoa but all I had left was about 3/4 cup - not enough to fill us all up, so I added some couscous. When the quinoa and couscous were cooked I rinsed them cool water so it wouldn't cook the tomatoes. Then I tossed in a lot of halved cherry tomatoes. You could use chopped big tomatoes but seed them so the juice doesn't drown the salad. I also added half of a thinly sliced zucchini - I have lots of those in my garden right now, too.

Then I added a few tablespoons of chopped fresh basil - I have a lot of that in my garden, too. Then I added a tablespoon or two of olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, a generous sprinkle of salt and some pepper. Toss it all together and serve.

You could add mozzarella cheese to this and it would be fabulous. You could also add chickpeas or cannelli beans. I added a Boca chicken patty (a vegetarian chicken patty that we keep on hand for veggie girl) and had it for lunch today and it was fabulous. I've also wrapped it in a tortilla, added a Boca patty and hit it with a drizzle of ranch and it was to die for!

This salad would travel well in a container or in a wrap. With the quinoa, you get plenty of protein and all you would need to round out the meal was some fruit or a homemade chewy granola bar and you'd be set.

The most amazing thing about this salad is that everyone liked it - except my youngest. Kaden hates tomatoes so it wasn't even going to be tried. Well, he did try the quinoa part and was ok with that but he didn't love it.

This I could send for my 6th grader's lunch (she loves tomatoes), and Hubby and I would certainly take it for lunches. I keeps well in the fridge so I could just make extra to take the next day.

For more portable nutritious ideas, visit Nourishing Gourmet this week. She's having a Nourishing Portable Food Challenge, I hoping to get lots of great ideas.



One of My Last Firsts

Do you see that boy up there? That is my baby.

Do you see that gap in his teeth? Those are his first lost teeth.

Why does that make me so sad?

I'll tell you why, because he is my baby and this is the last time I will have a child lose their first tooth. It's the last time I'll watch a child ride their bike for the first time, or go to school for the first time, or ride the bus for the first time.

Each of my baby's firsts have been lasts for me and while that in no way dimmed my joy over his first steps or first words, it has been bittersweet for me. Knowing that I'll never experience those firsts ever again has made me a little sad. I am content with my family and the decisions we have made regarding the size of it. I definitely don't want to be pregnant again! But still, my oldest leaves for college in two years with her sister just two years behind that. And my baby is starting 1st grade this year.

But time marches on. The only constant in life is change, right? I'm thrilled with how grown-up, mature, smart, friendly, kind and good my kids are becoming. But what about all those firsts?

There's always grandkids.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Menu Plan for August 24 -30 (A Big Bag of Potatoes!)

When I plan my menus, a lot of though goes into it. I decide what the weather will be like (ie, should we have salads and BBQ or casseroles and soup?), what my schedule will like (quick easy meals because we will be away a lot or more time intensive because I'm home and not so busy?), I factor in the budget that week (cheap meals?), and lot of other things.

Sometimes, however, my choices are made for me, at least in part. My husband brought this home from work the other day:That is 15 lbs of taters, my friends. We be having taters this week.

So with that in mind, and keeping in mind that I start my new job this week, this is what we will be having to eat this week:

  • baked oatmeal (with leftovers for snacks and other breakfasts)
  • leftover whole-wheat pan rolls with butter and honey
  • French toast (we have tons of eggs right now so I'll make extra and freeze for first day of school breakfast next week)
  • cereal (Safeway is having an AMAZING sale on cereal and I'm buying it for $1 a box so I'm stocking up!)
  • leftover dinners
  • one-eyed egyptians
  • Ramen noodles (one last time before school starts and they get brown-bag lunches)
  • Soup
  • Mashed Potato Patties, fruit
  • Baked potato soup with homemade whole-wheat pan rolls
  • Vegetable Pie (no potatoes but it uses up zucchini from the garden!)
  • Baked Potatoes with broccoli and cheese, tomato and basil salad (from the garden)
  • Spanish Tortilla, stuffed tomatoes (from the garden!)
  • Meatballs and mashed potatoes, veggies from the garden (make extra mashed potatoes for mashed potato patties)
Hopefully the family won't scream "NO MORE POTATOES!" at me on Thursday.

For more menu ideas, visit Organizing Junkie for Menu Plan Monday.


Friday, August 22, 2008

My New Favorite Recipe

This is my new favorite recipe (but check back tomorrow because I'll probably have a new one then!). I have been looking for a chewy granola recipe that was something like the stuff you can buy in the stores but had a lot more nutrition to it. The chewy granola bars in the store are basically puffed rice, high fructose corn syrup, a little bit of oatmeal, and a ton of sugar calories. I knew that I should be able to make something better but how?

I was looking for a no-bake cookie recipe the other day. It was 103 degrees out and I was NOT going to turn on the oven but we really needed a treat. I searched on google and found some great recipes (one of which we tried and liked, but it wasn't fabulous).

While I was looking I found a recipe for "Rice Cereal Energy Bars." Hmmm . . . looked kind of interesting. I tried them a few days later and WOW! We love them. I made some changes - I'm just that kind of cook. Here is how I made them:

Chewy Granola Bars ala Jill

Toast in a dry skillet until golden and fragrant:

1/2 c. sunflower seeds
1/2 c. sesame seeds

Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
Place in the bowl of a food processor:

2 c. dried fruit (I used a mix of golden raisins, apricots, and dried cranberries)
1/2 c. chocolate chips
the toasted, cooled seeds

Pulse until the fruit is chopped and fairly small but not pureed! Pour into a large bowl (a REALLY large bowl!) and add:

2 c. rolled oats (I pulsed mine in the food processor for a second so they were a little smaller)
6 c. puffed rice cereal (this keeps it from being heavy and dense)
1 c. dry powdered milk
1/2 - 1 c. flax meal

Mix all the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl combine:

1 c. corn syrup
3/4 c. honey
1/4 c. white sugar
1 1/2 c. peanut butter

Heat in the microwave until hot and thin (so you can pour it on the dry stuff and mix it). When it is hot, add:

1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract (I was out of this, but I would add it next time as I really like the taste)

Mix all the wet ingredients and pour over the dry, mix until well combined then press into a 10x15 jellyroll pan. Press it in really good. It will seem like there is way too much and it will never fit, just keep going!!

Cut into bar shapes before it cools then let it cool 'til firm. We couldn't wait to try them so we had the first few when they were still warm.

This sounds like a lot of ingredients (a CUP of corn syrup?? A Cup and a half of peanut butter??) but it makes a ton of bars - we got 33 bars out of this recipe. Half went into the freezer and half in the snack box.

This would be a great lunch box addition or a quick breakfast for my 16 yo who never takes time to eat in the morning. I'll be making this one again!

  • You could add other "healthy stuff" like rolled wheat flakes, oat bran, wheat bran or whatever. Just keep the total to the 8 cups. I think I would keep the rice cereal amount high or it would be really heavy.
  • I added my dry milk to the dry ingredients because I have non-instant milk and it doesn't dissolve easily - you could add instant dry milk to the wet ingredients after you have heated it.
  • We will leave out the chocolate chips next time and add more fruit. You can't taste the chocolate anyway and it just adds more sugar. Another 1/2 c. of cranberries would be fabulous.
  • I used "natural" peanut butter and it worked fabulous. You could use crunchy (as the original recipe calls for) and then you'd have little nuts in the bars. I only had creamy.
  • The toasting the seeds sounds like a step you could skip, but don't - it really adds to the flavor.

Check out Nourishing Gourmet for more nutritious portable ideas!


Thursday, August 21, 2008


How long does it take to put 50 lbs of peaches into jars? A LONG time! However, much less time than if I was doing it myself. Carina and Kaden (my two youngest) offered to help me, and help they did. They peeled, pitted, sliced and packed over 80% of the peaches. This freed me up to blanch the peaches, make the syrup, fill the jars with syrup, attach lids, and put the whole thing in the water-bath canner. We took a long break in the middle to pick up my oldest from work and eat lunch, but we were done by 3:30. Not too bad.

We did 28 quarts and two stuffed gallon bags of frozen slices to use for smoothies later.

As a reward for their help, the younger ones got to go to Dairy Queen for ice cream. Nothing says success like a Butterfinger Blizzard!


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Life is Peachy

Guess what I'm doing today? You guessed it - canning peaches! That box has 25 lbs in it, so does the other box. So, 50 lbs of peaches to can. I've done as many as 100 lbs in a day so I'm hoping that 50 won't take too long.

Thankfully it is raining and about 69 degrees here - I hate canning in hot weather! But I love eating home-canned peaches in the dead of winter. So, I'm off - I've got my supportive shoes on, some music in the CD player and a big ol' Diet Coke in the fridge! Wish me luck.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Family Picnic

This weekend, despite the triple-digit weather (a rarity here in Oregon), Hubby and I and Hubby's whole family gathered in a local park for a family birthday party. I have to admit I wasn't excited to go. The temperature had been over 100 for the past three days and the thought of going and sitting in a park did not excite me. I'm not going to lie, I like my air conditioning. I know it's bad for the planet, but it is good for my psyche!

Once we got there I was glad I had come. Our picnic area was mostly in the shade. The food was good and the company was even better.

There was basketball playing, present opening, lots of food and a couple of the cutest kids not given birth to by me. My niece and nephew:

Don't let that cute adorable face fool you! He's in constant motion and not always the direction you want him to go! But he's sweet and good natured and interested in everything. And mostly comes back when you call him. Mostly.
Does that girl not look like Betty Boop? When you see her in person, you think to yourself - "Where have I seen that face before?" And then it hits you - "She's Betty Boop!" I guess actually she is a Baby Betty Boop (say that three times fast!). She is as sweet as she is cute, too.

The two of them are great friends. He knows how to push her buttons and she stands her ground. That is kind of what family is all about, isn't it? In families we know how to push each other's buttons. Sometimes we get far too much pleasure in pushing those buttons. But having our buttons pushed, our boundaries tested, and our patience tried, helps us learn how to stand our ground. It is where we learn to deal with that grumpy boss or that neighbor who drives us nuts. So, really, we should be very thankful that our families know exactly which thing drives us nuts, and then proceed to do just that!!

Nobody got driven nuts this weekend (well, no one over the age of three!). We had a fabulous time catching up and visiting.

Families are so important. And I'm so thankful for mine.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Menu Plan Monday and How I Organize Recipes

Visit Organizing Junkie for more Menu Planning Ideas!!

An important part of menu planning (and cooking in itself) is to have some way to organize your recipes. If you are like me, someone who enjoys cooking and is always looking for the "perfect recipe," you probably cut recipes out of magazines, bookmark recipes on the internet, and collect cookbooks that you only use for one or two recipes.

So how do you organize those recipes? I'll tell you how I do it, if you tell me how you do. Sound fair?

The first thing is cookbooks. I have lots of cookbooks. Too many cookbooks. Well, too many for some people (my husband, for instance), but not too many for me! I collect cookbooks the way some people collect shoes. Having that many can cause problems, though. Some books get over looked, some get lost in the shuffle, and sometimes I know I have seen a recipe for that rice cheese casserole somewhere - but with that many books how can I find it?! What I try to do is keep the books in topical order - baking books together, vegetarian books together, dessert books together, all purpose books together, etc.

Here is what one of my cookbook shelves looks like:You can see part of my not-so-organized pantry above it (try to ignore that part). This isn't the whole shelf, it continues for another 6-8 inches to the right. There is another shelf but it is way too messy to take pictures of!! The other shelf has much less cookbooks on it, trust me on this.

The other part to organize is the recipes that are not in books. I've tried lots of different systems but they all failed. The most notable failure was the "shove the recipes in a drawer and hope you can find them" system. Can't figure out why that one failed!

What I have finally settled on is a binder system. I used to have one really big one but I split it up recently into three smaller ones. They are three-ring binders that I have filled with tab dividers (titled "appetizers," "main dishes," "breads," "desserts," etc). Here's what they look like:If I was rich, or cared about those things, I'd have matching binders. How ever I'm not and I don't. I just used whatever was hanging out in the house, hence the mix-match.

In between the dividers I have plastic sleeves - some are full sheet protectors, some are baseball card size and some are 4x6 size. I got them at Office Depot or Staples or where ever. I put pages I ripped out of magazines in the full sheet protectors:You can tell this page didn't get put into a page protector soon enough!!

I put the recipes on recipe cards in the baseball pages or 4x6's.

Those weird sized ones (one recipe cut out of a magazine, the recipe Aunt Linda gave me written on a piece of scrap paper, etc) go where ever they fit best. These plastic sheet protectors can be taken out and carried to the counter where I'm cooking (they are protected with plastic) or I can leave them in the book.

I talked about my master list of meals and noted that if I was more organized I would put on my master list where each recipe came from, but I'm not that organized.

I do print recipes out from the internet but only after I've tried them and know they are keepers. I have a laptop with wireless internet so I just bookmark the ones I think I'd like (in a folder in my bookmarks labels "recipes", go figure!), when I want to try one, I just pull it up and take the whole laptop into the kitchen. If it's a keeper, I print it out and put it in the recipe binder.

Recipes that I pull out of magazines, or whatever, that I want to try, I put in page protectors and put them in the front of my binder. When I'm in the mood for something new, I know right where to go.

So, having said all that, here is my menu for this week - and where I'd find each recipe.

  • Baked oatmeal - recipe binder under "Breads"
  • toast with jam - in my head!
  • One-eyed egyptians - in my head

  • Wagon Wheel Chili - recipe binder under "main dishes"
  • Ham and Noodle Toss - recipe binder under "main dishes"
  • Easy Bean and Cheese Rounds - cookbook "Homebaking"
  • Hoppin' John with Ham - recipe binder under "main dishes"
  • Fondue with bread and fruit and veggies - cookbook "Good Housekeeping"
  • Meatloaf (a vegetarian version) - a recipe from a friend in the "try" section
  • Green Chili-Rice Casserole - cookbook "Spoonful of Love"
  • Chinese Chicken Salad - recipe binder under "main dishes"
So that's how I organize my recipes. How do you do yours? Please tell all!


Friday, August 15, 2008

My Master List of Meals

Earlier this week I posted about my "food book," the little book that keeps my food life and menu planning organized. In that post I mentioned that in the front of my food book I have a "master list of meals." These are the meals that I know my family likes and I cook on a regular basis.

Because I enjoy cooking, enjoy trying new things, and because my family is pretty easy to please (ie, they enjoy lots of different meals), this master list is pretty long. Not everyone will have 86 meals on their master list! Some will only have 30 (one for every day of the month), some will only have 14 (a two week rotation that gets repeated). My family (and I) really enjoy variety so we have a lot of different meals on here. Plus, I cook differently in the summer than I do in the winter.

Due to overwhelming demand (ok, one request), I thought I'd post my master list of meals. It is grouped by meat so if you are looking for a certain thing you can look in that section.

Vegetarian Meals
  • Quesadillas
  • Lentil Rice Casserole
  • Crepes with berries
  • Dutch Babies (German Pancakes)
  • Torts and Brodo (An Italian recipe for tortellini soup)
  • Toasted Cheese Sandwiches and Tomato Soup
  • Our Favorite Potato Dish (a scalloped potato sort of thing)
  • Cheese Beer Soup (using non-alcoholic beer)
  • Vegetable Pie
  • Fondue
  • Spanish Tortilla
  • Baked beans and rice
  • Waffles
  • Pancakes
  • Good Ol' Beans and Rice
  • Baked Lentils with Cheese
  • Cottage Cheese Casserole
Chicken Meals
  • Stir fry
  • Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup
  • Chicken and Rice-a-Roni (a skillet meal of chicken added to rice-a-roni)
  • Chinese Chicken Salad
  • Mar Far Chicken or Sweet and Sour Chicken
  • Chicken Broccoli Oriental
  • Creamy Baked Chicken Breasts
  • Parmesan Chicken
  • BBQ Chicken on the grill
  • Hawaiian Haystacks
  • Chicken Enchiladas
  • Chicken Tetrazini
  • Chicken ala King
  • Fajitas
  • Chicken Crockpot thing
  • King Ranch Chicken
  • Chicken Packets
Sausage Meals (using Polska Kielbasa)
Ham Meals
  • Scalloped Potatoes with Ham
  • Black-Eyed Pea Soup with Ham
  • Croquettes (and Italian version with rice and mozzarella cheese and ham)
  • Ham-fried Rice
  • Ham and Noodle Toss
  • Ham and Cheese Baked Potatoes
  • Ham and Potato fry with eggs
Beef Meal
  • Impossible Taco Pie
  • Beef-Topped Bean Enchiladas
  • Sloppy Joes
  • Tacos
  • Braid Bread
  • Taco Soup
  • Meatballs with variations:
    • meatballs with gravy over rice or mashed potatoes
    • Sweet and Sour meatballs
    • BBQ meatballs (or BBQ meatball sandwiches)
    • Meatball stew
  • Meatloaf
  • Pot Roast
  • French Dip Sandwiches (using leftover pot roast)
  • Vegetable Beef Soup (using leftover pot roast)
  • Corned Beef hash
Pasta Meals (ok, I know this isn't actually a meat, but whatever . . . )
  • Pasta with Red Sauce
  • Pasta Bake
  • Polenta with Sauce (and I know this isn't actually pasta, but whatever . . . )
  • Spaghetti Carbonara
  • Stuffed Pasta Shells (stuffed with a mozzarella/ricotta cheese mixture)
  • Taco Stuffed Shells (stuffed with taco meat and cream cheese and topped with salsa)
  • Homemade Mac and Cheese
  • Spaghetti Pie
  • Pesto Pasta
  • Wagon Wheel Chili
  • Homemade Egg Noodles with Butter Sauce
  • Pasta Salad
Tuna Meals
  • Tuna Loaf
  • Tuna Salad
  • Tuna Noodle Casserole
  • Creamed Tuna on Toast
Other Miscellaneous Meals (that I couldn't figure out where to put)
  • Breakfast Burritos
  • Homemade Pizza
  • Baked Potatoes with Chili and Cheese
  • Bacon and Swiss Cheese Quiche
  • Homemade Chili
  • Frito Salad
  • Broccoli Salad
  • Navajo Tacos
  • Soup and Rolls
  • One-Eyed Egyptians
Whew! That took a long time! I cook a lot of things. If there are specific meals that you would like a recipe for, tell me and I'll try to post them in the coming weeks.



Thursday, August 14, 2008

Blackberry Cobbler!

One of my favorite things about living in the Northwest is the blackberries! And one of my favorite things about blackberries is blackberry cobbler.

I mentioned in a previous post that my grandparents house was surrounded by blackberry bushes. This meant that my sister and I went down (were driven, dragged, forcibly carried) to my grandparents every summer to pick blackberries.

We didn't love it. It was hot. The bushes are full of thorns. The blackberries stained your fingers. They stained your brand new San Francisco Riding Gear jeans! Being there meant you weren't watching Gilligan's Island. Or talking on the phone with your friends. When you are 15, anywhere is better than your grandparent's house picking blackberries.

There was one payoff, though. My grandma made the world's best blackberry cobbler! I don't know where she got the recipe (later in life I asked her and she didn't remember where she got it either), but it is unlike any blackberry cobbler I've ever had, or ever seen a recipe for. The difference is the crust. Unlike most cobbler recipes, the dough isn't dropped on top of the fruit. It is pressed on to the fruit almost like a pie crust. But the dough is tender almost like a biscuit.

My only complaint about my Grandma's recipe is that it is a little too sweet for me. My family loves it but for me it needs less sugar. Shhhh . . . don't tell but I've been surreptitiously lowering the sugar content over the years and no one has noticed. I'm posting the recipe as originally written and you can decide for yourself.

Blackberry Cobbler

Place appropriate number of berries in pan.

Yeah, ok, I know that is very vague and not very helpful. I use a 2.5 quart Pyrex oval casserole dish and I fill it approximately half full of berries. I'm guessing about 5-6 cups of berries? It would work in a 9 inch square pan also but you would probably need less berries and the crust would be slightly thicker. It would still be wonderful.

So, but the berries in the pan then sprinkle on top a mixture of:

1 cup sugar (I use less)
2 Tbs. cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt

Don't mix the sugar and berries, they will combine while they bake. In a separate bowl, mix together:

1 1/2 c. flour (I use 1 c. all purpose flour and 1/2 c. whole wheat)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp baking powder
3 Tbs sugar

Then cut in:

1/2 c. margarine or butter

You want to cut it in like you would if you were making a pie crust. I use my KitchenAid stand mixer with the beater attachment, but you could use a pastry blender or a couple of knives. Cut it in until the mixture looks like really course cornmeal. Then sprinkle the dough on top of the berry/sugar pile. Then press the dough flat. Really use force - not so much that you crush the berries but enough that the dough is compacted. There will probably be a berry or two that don't get completely covered, that is fine.

Then bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. When it is done it will look something like this:
Doesn't that look good? The yummy, thick purple goodness bubbling up on the sides, the golden buttery top. Heaven!

  • This is wonderful served with ice cream. The warm cobbler and cold ice cream really compliment each other.
  • You can supplement with other berries if you don't have enough blackberries. We often do "Black and Blue Cobbler" with blackberries and blueberries. We have even made it with the triple berrie mix you can buy at Costco. It has marionberries, blueberries, and raspberries. It was great.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I Love Living Here

It is blackberry season in the Northwest. Oh, I'm in heaven! When I was growing up, my grandmother lived in a house which was surrounded by blackberry bushes. In fact two whole sides of her house didn't have fences - just really big, giant blackberry bushes. I'm positive that those blackberry hedges kept out far more people than any fence in the world. Maybe they should plant blackberry bushes along the border in Texas?

Unless you live here in the Northwest, you really don't understand the magnitude of the blackberry "problem." They are everywhere! Along roads, along bike paths, in abandoned lots, in parking lots, in everyone's backyard, in everyone's front yards - seriously, they are everywhere!! We don't plant them, they just grow. And grow. And grow. Cities have a budget to deal with the blackberry growth. We live next to a green space and the city comes and mows the blackberries back every year. If they didn't we wouldn't have a yard, we would just have blackberries.

Now, while this is a problem in the sense that they are prickly and invasive and will take over, the upside is that they produce blackberries! For free! Everywhere! Happy day, happy day!

The city doesn't completely mow down the bushes in back of us, they just trim them back severely. The blackberry bushes don't mind, they still produce tons of beautiful shiny blackberries.

Then, they call to us. "Come and pick us! We are yummy! We would taste good in cobbler! We make great jam! Eat us with crepes! Put us in milkshakes! Come. Come. Come to me!"

So, we come. We pick and pick and pick. This year we have picked lots and we still have a month of blackberry season left. I've made jam, I've frozen some, we've had milkshakes, we had them with crepes, we've had them in smoothies, we ate them on cereal. And we still aren't sick of them.

You need lots of pickers, and I have the best right here in my family. Hubby is the best 'cause he's tall. The others are wily, though and have come up with strategies. The best and most useful is the "reaching stick" strategy. You find a stick with a crook at the end and you hook it on the bunches that are just out of reach and pull them down to where you can get them. Didn't I raise smart kids?

Oh, wait! I think I hear something. Is it . . ? Yes, it is! I'm sorry, I'm going to have to go. The blackberries are calling me!


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Whoa! Did you just paint in here?

Big changes here at Jill's Crazy Life. I was getting tired of the old look (the dark background with the black type was driving my eyes crazy - anyone else?). I decided to change it up a little.

Since I'm married to a web designer, I enlisted his help. I'm still using the Blogger templates but don't you like that fancy picture collage up there behind the words "Jill's Crazy Life?" My hubby made that - took him about 30 seconds and he wasn't going to keep it but I said, "Hey, I like it!" That is my backyard on the left, my waffles in the middle, and my lentil stew on the right. It's like my life, right there on the internet! (My six year old loves that him and his siblings are "right there on the internet!")

I will probably be tweaking the colors, layout and such for the next few days - I'm never truly satisfied, and it is so much fun to play! Be patient and no, you're not going crazy!


Sunday, August 10, 2008

How I Plan My Menus

I thought it would be interesting to show you how I go about planning my menus. I have tried a lot of systems for how to go about meal planning but this one works the best and I have been using it for about three years. For my Menu Plan Monday post (go check out other people's menus at Organizing Junkie to get lots of ideas), I'm going to explain how I came up with this weeks menu.

I think the most important part of my system, and the part that makes it work so well for me is having everything all in one place. I have a small (6 x 9.5 inch) notebook that I call my "food book." The first few pages of my book have my master list of meals. These are the meals I know my family will eat, and that I make on a regular basis. This isn't everything I ever make, just most of them.
Above is my first page - this page, obviously, starts with vegetarian meals and then half way down is the beginning of the chicken meals. I group them this way for a reason - if I have a lot of chicken because there was a killer sale, I might want to make a few chicken meals.
This next page shows more groupings - like ham meals, for instance. If I buy ham, I usually buy a fairly big chunk of Black Forest Ham. I know I will get at least three meals, if not four, out of it so when I do a "ham week" all the ham recipes are right here.

The notebook hangs out on my counter (or desk) all week and I jot things down that I run out of. Each page has a grocery list and the list of menus for that week. It ends up looking something like this:
This is not this weeks list it is just an example. The list of meals for the week are on the top (chinese chicken salad, fajitas, etc). The grocery list goes down the right hand side (hairspray, chapstick, conditioner, shampoo, etc.). If I need to go to Costco that week I'll add the Costco list on the left. This week I only planned main dishes and not sides - sometimes I'm just lazy like that but at least I know what we are having as a main dish!

So how do I decide what those main dishes will be? First I sit down and take out my "food book." I think about my week and what we have going on. Will it be a busy week? Will we be going out for dinner for a birthday or a social at church? Will we have visitors for dinner or overnight? For this week I knew that we would have my niece and nephew staying with us, they are 10 and 6. I wanted easy "kid friendly" meals. Also, my vegetarian daughter would be staying at her aunt and uncles (a kid swap - my two oldest for her two youngest so the cousins can spend some time together), so I could make meat meals and not have to fix an alternate for her.

Then I think about my food situation - how is the garden doing, anything we need to use this week? How about the freezer - lots of chicken? polska kielbasa? Do we have leftovers that need to be used up or extra something that didn't get used last week? How about the sales - good sales on certain items that we could add to the menus without breaking the budget? We have tons of lettuce in the garden and the tomatoes are starting, meaning we need to do salads this week. The blackberries are ripe and there are millions of them on the Butte behind our house.

Then, with all of that in mind, I look at my master list of meals and pick what to make. As I decide on a meal, I add the ingredients I will need to the shopping list. Since there are blackberries, we will have crepes with blackberries. Hamburgers are a kid-friendly meal that we don't usually have because of my veggie girl. We should do ham this week since the veggie girl is gone and ham-fried rice, ham and baked beans, and ham and noodle toss are all very kid-friendly. Red beans and rice is cheap and uses polska kielbasa we have in the freezer and kids usually like it - plus it goes well with a big tossed salad.

So, with all that in mind, this is what this weeks page looks like:I have the dinner meals on top, breakfasts on the left, and grocery list on the right.

  • crepes with blackberries, bacon
  • red beans and rice, tortillas, salad
  • hamburgers, homemade rice a roni, fruit
  • ham, baked beans, cornbread, fruit
  • ham-fried rice, salad
  • ham and noodle toss, fruit
  • baked oatmeal
  • granola with blackberries
  • toast with jam
  • waffles
  • whatever I think of at the moment!
  • blackberry, granola, yogurt parfaits
  • toast
  • leftover baked oatmeal

Sounds pretty good, huh? And it took me about 5 minutes. Since I will have my list of menus with me when I am shopping (the food book goes shopping with me), I can decide to add something if it is on sale by deciding if it would work with those menus.

The other nice think about my food book is that it is a great record keeper. Because I write everything food related in here, it remembers lot of things. For example:
This is the menu and food assignments for Thanksgiving 2007. When I get ready to plan Thanksgiving 2008, I will know exactly who brought what. This way the same person doesn't get stuck always making pie or never getting to make pie! Plus we know what we had (and we even know what time we had it - 2 pm!). I do this for birthday parties (who brought the cake last time?) and other dinner parties here at my house. I also keep track of my mega-cooking sessions in this book so I can go back and see what I did last time I did freezer cooking. I even keep the old books when I start a new one so I can go back and check stuff out. (Yes, I'm a little compulsive about it, but it is what keeps we organized!)

This book system works really well for me. I'm glad you came for a tour of my menu-planning ways!



Saturday, August 9, 2008

Excuse me, Your Bed is Racing!

Last night our family, my sister and her family, and my Dad went to the downtown in our little corner of the world for the "Historic Bed Races."

We all met at my Dad's house and piled in two vans to head downtown. All the kids went in Grandpa's van - my Dad has a full size conversion van that has leather seats, paneling on the walls, and plush carpeting. The kids all love to ride in Grandpa's van 'cause "it's cool." All the rest of the adults rode in our car. We aren't cool.

The first stop was pizza! The pizza place is on the same street as the bed races and we figured it would be easy to find a spot after we had dinner - wrong! The street filled up with people while we were waiting for our pizza (the restaurant was pretty full, too. Lots of people must have had the same idea!). The pizza was really good and we managed to find a spot down a block or so.
Here is the whole gang (we start with the cute kid in the yellow shirt and end with the beautiful girl in the purple sweatshirt - the adults are in the back). This was on Main Avenue and it was packed with people (well, "packed" is relative - there isn't usually very many people in Main so this is pretty packed!)
That is one of the beds doing their introduction lap. After the races started they were going to fast for me to get good pictures (believe me I tried - I'm just not a very good photographer, yet.)

The beds didn't look much like beds in some instances - more like large carts.
And all of them were decorated - this one followed the theme of the event "Rocking Around the Block." There were teams for political candidates, local restaurants, local churches, charitable organizations, and more.

Unfortunately, they ran in heats. The heats lasted about 30 seconds. The wait in between heats was about 10 minutes. The kids got bored fast. The adults got bored even faster. We lasted about 10 heats and then we left to get ice cream.

But now we can say we went to the bed races. Not sure we can say we'll go back.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I'm So Proud of Me!

Ok, today I did two things I didn't think I would be able to do. The first was to stay within my budget. I talked about how hard it has been for me to resist the bargains and the splurges when I have been grocery shopping. I planned my menu using things from my Crazyville Food Shoppe so that I would only need to buy milk and fresh fruit (we have tons of veggies in the garden right now). I also had a few "we're outta's" - deodorant for instance! I set a budget and kept to it! Yeah me!

The other thing I did was add a RSS feed to my blog. I am not ashamed to admit I am technically challenged (and fairly new to blogging) and I had absolutely no idea how to add a feed. But I walked myself through the steps at Feedburner and magically I have a feed! So please make my hard work worth it and subscribe to my blog.

I also met with the head of the Planning and Development department for our city. I dropped off a packet with chicken information and talked to him about changing the law. The first step in my quest to bring my chickens home.

Don't you love it when you have one of those days that makes you proud to be you?


The Joys of Silicone Bakeware

A recent post over at Cheap, Healthy, Good got me thinking. The author was talking about the things she couldn't live without. I agreed with the article except for the part about silicone baking sheet liners. The author seemed to think they were a luxury that anyone could live without. I disagree, I can't live without them.

I too once scoffed at the idea of lining my pans with rubber! HA! What in the world would I need to do that for? Wasn't a squirt of cooking spray just as good - and many times cheaper? Then I got invited to a Demarle party - sort of like a Tupperware party but better. Demarle is the company who originally made and marketed the silicone bakeware. They have many things besides liners: there are cake pans, muffin pans, loaf pans and "casserole"type dishes (sadly when last I looked, they didn't have a 9x13 pan). It was amazing at that party when the saleslady tipped the pan and the muffins all fell out. Or when she tipped the silpat (the pan liner) and all the cookies slid the to rack. Oh I was mesmerized!

So I bought a bunch. I have never been sorry. I LOVE these things. I have the muffin pan (mini and regular), a round casserole-type pan, and of course, two silpats! They really do work as promised and they have saved me so much clean-up time it is amazing!

There are now lots of "knock-off" brands of silicone bakeware. Not all work as well as the Demarle brand, but most work really well. One of my favorite things to give as a wedding shower gift is a silicone muffin pan and several boxes of muffin mix.

There are disadvantages to the silicone bakeware. Obviously they are flexible and so you must bake the muffin pans on a baking sheet to keep it stable. You should always put it on the baking sheet before you fill it - for obvious reasons! But the cleanup is so easy (my husband turns the muffin cups inside out to clean them - can't do that with an ordinary pan!), any inconvenience is minimal in comparison!

Really, I'm not selling them. I just really, really like them. Try them, you'll see.


(photo from Demarle website - check it out)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Menu Plan Monday Aug. 4 - Aug. 9

(check out Organizing Junkie for more great menu ideas!)
I have been saying for weeks now that "this week I'm trying to spend less on groceries." Every week except one I have failed miserably. Partly this is because I'm weak and when I see a sale I am driven to stock up - we have canned black, white and chili beans coming out our ears, we have spaghetti sauce to feed an army, and I found a killer deal on cereal and had to stock up. The other reason I have spent so much is that prices are going up! Last week I really did just buy what we needed and I spent $81.00! Ouch!

This week, I really am going to go cheap. I have planned menus that can be made almost exclusively out of my Crazyville Food Shoppe. I will need milk and some fresh fruit, period. The only glitch in my plan is that it is supposed to be really, really hot here. I hate baking when it is hot and I had planned baked stuffed for snacks/breakfasts. I'm not sure if I'll switch my plan or not. I figure for breakfast it won't be hot yet (but the oven will heat up my house, sigh). I'll just see how it goes, but for now, this is my menu.

  • wagon wheel chili (boil wagon wheel pasta, drain, add one can of your favorite chili and one can of tomato sauce, mix well and top with shredded cheese)
  • Easy Bean and Cheese Rounds (double the recipe)
  • Peanut butter and jelly
  • Mac and cheese
  • leftovers
  • Frito Salad (regular tossed salad with a can of "Ranch Style Beans" added, some shredded cheese and some Fritos, Toss with Catalina dressing)
  • Chicken Crockpot Thing (we never know what to call this but it is boneless skinless chicken breasts, can of cheddar broccoli soup, a soup can of milk - cook in crockpot until chicken is cooked and starts to fall apart. Shred the chicken, return to crockpot, add some cooked broccoli if desired and serve over rice.)
  • Spanish Tortilla (this link is for a recipe which is similar to the one I make except we leave out the sausage)
  • Spaghetti Carbonara (the link is for a recipe which is similar to the one I make except we of course make much, much more! We also use bacon instead of pancetta - I'm sure the pancetta is much more authentic but it is also much more expensive! And I have bacon in my freezer!)
  • Quesadillas/Burritos - set out tortillas, refried beans (homemade probably, cause it's cheaper), shredded cheese, salsa, rice, sour cream and let everyone make their own.
Like I said, hopefully, I'll just have to buy milk and fruit. Wish me luck. I'll need it!