Sunday, October 30, 2011

Menu Plan Monday.

Monday: PW's Corn & Cheese Chowder in bread bowls
Tuesday: Mexican Lasagna
Wednesday: Ham & {home made} Scalloped Potatoes
Thursday: Penne Pizza Bake with garlic toast
Friday: 15 Minute Vegetarian Chili with corn bread
Saturday: Tortellini Soup with french bread
Sunday: Caribbean Jerk Chicken with Cinnamon Yam Mash

What's your favorite fall food? My comfort dish is my mom's Chicken & Wine Sauce. It's sinfully rich & delicious and loaded with fat & calories (and a pound of swiss cheese makes it spendy, so it's not a dish we make often).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Menu Anniversary.

Yesterday marked my 1 year anniversary of menu planning.
Okay, that's not quite right.
I've menu planned for ages. I just used to be really sporadic and haphazard about it.
One year ago yesterday, I started a new way to menu plan and I've stuck with it.
Some times I menu plan for a week. Some times for a month.
Which ever way I do it, I think it saves us big time money.
I don't wander aimlessly through the stores anymore, stocking up on stuff at random.
Gone are the days of eating spaghetti and burritos every single week.

{I don't take pictures of my food. Here's a picture of Ben eating an apple. You're welcome.}

I menu plan in an Excel spreadsheet and I keep adding to the same sheet.
Planning this way has really diversified our menu.
I pay attention to how many nights a week we eat ground beef and work in more chicken dishes and even better, more meatless dishes.
I pay attention to what we're eating and when we last had those burritos and I don't plan them weekly anymore.
I'm loving Pinterest to keep track of the meals I want to try (rather than my really long list of bookmarks I had before).

Our menu has had some hits (Bacon Wrapped Teriyaki Chicken) and some misses (Orange Chicken in the crock pot). I'm trying loads of new recipes. I try at least one, if not two, new recipes as week.

I'm not strict with when we eat our meals. I shuffle them around and eat them out of order, but I almost always cook the meals I've planned. If we happen to eat out or go to family's for dinner, the meal that would have fallen on that day gets either pushed back a day or added to next weeks menu.

My next goal is to start planning for lunches. See, I grocery shop from my menu plan.
I plan my menu, I type out (under the meal name) every single ingredient that goes into that dish.
When I go to make my list, I compile the ingredients and check to make sure I'm not out of something (like a random spice I only use for one dish).
That list gets copied over to Cozi (where I keep my household calendar and our shopping list).

{feel free to click this guy and make it bigger - the purple fields are meals I've made, so I know where I am. This isn't actually quite accurate - tonight I made the tortellini dish instead of the BBQ Cowboy Beans dish but I haven't marked it off yet.}

Unfortunately, the only grocery items that make the list are those needed to make dinners. And since I only buy what's needed to cook my menu (I don't stockpile - couponers gasp now!) this doesn't leave a lot of options for lunch items, unless we have leftovers.

My friend Susan and I have started a challenge and we invite you to join us.
For 30 days (ours started Monday) we're on a No Dining Out Challenge.
We want to see if we can go one whole month of eating from our own kitchens.
It should save us big bucks + it should be a lot more healthy for us.
So, I'm striving to take my menu planning to the next level (oh yeah, this just got real lol) and plan for lunch.

I know several of you menu plan. What method do you use? Do you plan by the week or the month? Do you batch cook or cook daily? Do you plan for all meals or just dinner?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

22 Months.

Now that Ben is 22 months, I'm seeing more and more of the terrible two's in him. He's been showing some symptoms (ha ha) for several months now, but the tantrums are more frequent. Added to them are genuine sad tears when he doesn't get his way. The other day we took him to the park and he's decided he likes the big roller coaster chair swings (I think they must make him feel more secure) and he wanted to swing. Unfortunately, they were being used. We tried directing his attention some where else and he went into full meltdown complete with slapping (it's so charming to be slapped by your child in front of witnesses...), so I said "okay, let's go" and man oh man did the water works start when he realized we were really leaving.

Ben's gotten tall enough that he can't scoot under the overhang on our island (in the kitchen) anymore. He bashes his head. He forgets and so there are at least one set of tears related to that a day.

I figured out that 24 month clothes and 2T clothes are the same size, which answers my question of "why can't I find hardly anything in 24 month size??". It seems his legs are finally catching up to his torso and is wearing either 24 months or 2T on (most) everything now. He's zoomed up to a size 7 shoe (dang, we just bought 6's in September that were too big!).

Naps have been insane lately. For about the last month, Ben's been rocking a 3 1/2 to 4 hour nap every day. He must be growing. He goes through these periods of eating everything that isn't nailed down and then not eating hardly anything at all.

His vocabulary continues to explode. He's picking up new words non stop and can sing along with many songs now (not all the words, but several words here and there). He loves to play chase, hide & seek and ring around the rosie.

"Walk" is the almost always the word choice non-stop, all day. From the moment he wakes up, to as we're walking back in the door from a walk, he wants to take a walk. And walk. And walk. And I tell ya, you find out just how much patience you really do have when you go for a walk with a toddler. I've heard it over and over from others - he is a busy child. He stops to explore everything - examining rocks, leaves, bugs, dirt, pointing out poop (and then saying "icky"), watching other kids play, pointing at planes, admiring trucks, etc, etc, etc.

All colors are green. All letters are A. But he will say his name and we're working on getting him to respond with "Ben" when we ask him what his name is. He can count to 3 and sing along with the ABC's (he doesn't say all the letters but he has the tune), in fact he can sing along with lots of songs. He may only know a word or two but he gets them in the right spot. It never fails to make me smile when I hear him singing along.

I need advice, if any of you can spring it, about how to handle him when he's feeling mean. If he's not getting his way (or is overly tired), this little boy gets mad and violent. He hits, he pinches, he bites and he pulls hair. I'm doing time outs but it doesn't seem to be getting through to him. I know some of this is simply his age, but I need to encourage him to express his anger in other ways than hurting others. Any help? Any one? Any one? Bueller? Bueller?

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Today we met some friends at Linder Farms to have some fall fun. We got there early, right as the farm opened, so the crowds weren't bad at all and it wasn't too warm out. We played in the hay maze, Ben climbed through the tire tunnels and posed for pictures.

Then all of us loaded up on the hay ride through the corn maze and out to the pumpkin patches. We had a lot of fun walking through the vines to look at all the different pumpkins, gourds and squashes. Finally, we picked our perfect three and loaded back up on the tractor.

After we weighed and paid for our finds, we were off to the petting zoo. Ben wasn't really that interested in feeding any of the animals (kangaroo! zebra! camel!) but he did like waving at them and yelling "hi". :)

Once we were through with the petting zoo, we went over to the pony ride. I wasn't sure how Ben would do - he loves animals but he seemed to get intimidated by them up close (at the zoo when we had him feed the giraffe, he threw the lettuce at the giraffe and refused to touch him), but he was a pro! He had such a good time riding and said "thank you" to the ladies helping out.

Next we did the barrel ride which looked like a lot of fun. Well, okay, I had a good time giggling at Nick stuffed in the barrel but Ben really did look like he was enjoying it. He kept saying "choo choo!"

After the barrel ride it was almost time to go home but we had extra tokens so we let Ben ride the pony again. We had to wait in line this time (it was starting to crowd up when we left) but he did really great at waiting (which is another thing that surprised me - Mr. Attitude was in a spectacular mood and I don't think he had one fit the whole time we were there).

{click to make larger}

We haven't carved our pumpkins yet, probably later in the week. I wanted to do them today but Nick pointed out that it's still 2 weeks til Halloween and they might not last so I agreed we should wait a bit longer.

We've been taking lots of walks around our neighborhood and looking at all the "creepies" as Ben & I call them. I'll have to take pictures next time we're out - those will be fun memories to scrapbook. There's a house a few streets over that has gone all out (big time cemetery in their front yard with a skeleton boy riding a tricycle, skeleton ghoul guys carrying a coffin, etc) that Ben LOVES looking at.

Here's a little movie I took with Nick's phone of the pony ride. Sorry it's sideways - I've changed the orientation on youtube but it's been "processing" for 5 hours now...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Two recipes in one blog post - got yerself a twofer. :)

No pictures because I'm still mourning the loss of my camera lens. Don't shed too many tears, a lovely replacement is en route and should be here tomorrow (hopefully in time for our play date in the afternoon) and consider it a lesson learned to be more careful with my things (and the new case we got for it should help as well).

First up - last night I made pulled pork: yum. Normally when we've made it in the past, we just dump our pork shoulder in the crock pot, smother it in BBQ sauce and call it good til it's done. This time, I followed a recipe I found on Lil Blue Boo:

Southern Style Vinegar-Based Pork BBQ (Slow Cooked)
4 lbs of pork roast
2 white or yellow onions
2 cups of apple cider vinegar
2 cups of apple juice
1 tsp of liquid smoke (I used Stubb's Hickory Liquid Smoke, found with the BBQ sauce)
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 a bottle of regular/classic BBQ sauce (about 9 oz) (I used Stubb's Original BBQ)

  1. Cut up both onions. Place half the onions in the bottom of the slow cooker or crock pot. Place the pork roast in the slow cooker and top with the rest of the onions.
  2. Place half the onions in the bottom of the slow cooker or crock pot. Place the pork roast in the slow cooker and top with the rest of the onions.
  3. Mix together 1 cup apple cider, 1 cup apple juice and 1 tsp of liquid smoke and pour over the roast and onions.
  4. Set the slow cooker to cook on low for approximately 6 hours. The roast should be ready to fall apart when you stick a fork in it. Remove the roast and discard the remaining liquid and onions.
  5. Shred the roast and add it back to the slow cooker.
  6. Mix 1 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 cup apple juice, red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, brown sugar and half a bottle of BBQ sauce in a bowl.
  7. Pour over the shredded pork and cook on low for another 2 hours.
I served mine on Rhode's Dinner Rolls (I would have put it on hamburger buns but I didn't buy any, so the rolls worked) with corn on the cobb & baked beans. YUM. I thought the pork needed more sauce (but I always do) so I poured more BBQ sauce over mine when I served it.

* * *

Next up is a Ham & Lentil Soup I made tonight - this one I found on Cozi's Live Simply Recipes:

1 smoked ham bone (e.g., ham shank) or 2 small smoked ham hocks
1 lb lentils (about 2/12 cups), picked over and rinsed
1/2 lb mushrooms, chopped (about 3 1/2 cups)
2 onions, chopped coarsely
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped celery
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
  1. In a kettle or soup pot, add 8-10 cups water. Add ham bone and lentils and turn burner on high heat.
  2. Chop mushrooms, onions, carrots and celery and add to soup pot. Bring to a boil.
  3. Add cinnamon stick and bay leaf and reduce heat. Simmer for 1 1/2-2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  4. Remove ham bone or ham hock, remove meat and dice or shred the ham. Add meat to soup and stir.
  5. Remove cinnamon and bay leaf, add salt to taste, and serve.
I omitted the cinnamon stick (I didn't have one on hand) and changed the two chopped onions to 4 tablespoons of onion powder (I had a terrible shopping list and didn't have enough onions on hand for this recipe). This was really good, but Ben disagreed. He refused to eat any of it but did chow on the corn bread I served with. I'll make this again but I'll halve the recipe for our family. I have loads of left over pork and now left over lentils.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Well, it seems fall has hit our region quite quickly. We went from upper 80 degree weather to mid 50 degree weather over night. A part of me is totally loving the rain. I miss the rain (but not the chronic headaches that come with it) - the way it makes the earth smell, how fresh and clean it makes everything look, how quickly it greens up everything. As a mother, though... I'm hating the rain. My poor boy wants to go outside all the time. Usually I indulge. These last three days though, I blame it on the rain.... and now I have Milli Vanilli stuck in my head.

In any case, fall is here and this year I'm going to be putting my crock pot to work. It's simply too hard to try to prepare a meal with Ben underfoot. That child... I tell ya. He'll be off doing his own thing, but the moment I attempt to even begin doing anything even remotely related to food preparation, he comes running and insists on me picking him up. If it can't be assembled during nap time or thrown together during the 10-15 minutes Baby Einstein will hold his attention - it ain't getting made in this house lately.

So, the point of this post. I thought I'd share some of my favorite crock pot recipes. And perhaps solicit some of yours? Expand my repertoire perhaps? Share and share alike? And all that jazz...

Without any further ado:

  1. Crock Pot Santa Fe Chicken: this stuff is SO delicious. I serve it over plain white rice. Nick wrapped his in a corn tortilla and said it was equally as delicious.
  2. Taco Soup: one of the yummiest soups I have ever made. Disclaimer: I've never actually made the crock pot version of this - it's pretty simple to throw together and is ready in 20 minutes if you do it stove top
  3. Black Bean Soup: yum. absolutely yum. It looks pretty gross (at least, I think) but it's really delicious.
  4. Chili: I don't really have a recipe for chili. I just throw all my stuff in and do my spices by taste. This is a pretty good one, if you want to follow a recipe.
  5. Crock Pot BBQ Chicken: I actually make the chicken, shred it and serve it with extra sauce on a bun.
  6. Slow Cooker Applesauce Chicken: Okay... to be honest... I didn't much care for this one. Nick really did though, so that's why I'm sharing it. I thought the chicken was way too dry. Probably cooked longer than it should have.
  7. Stew: Again, no recipe. I just buy your standard stew ingredients and eyeball it as I make it.
I'm excited to try a crock pot lasagna next week. Hopefully it turns out well!

So, do share. What sorts of yummies do you cook up in your crock pot?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Oh my, I am in full planning mode. I have a board set up on Pinterest with loads of party ideas, but I've narrowed down and selected our theme (do you Pin? if not, you totally should. best idea in the world ever. no exaggeration. okay maybe a little cuz I think cars are pretty damn terrific, but I heart Pinterest). I wanted to do something this year that Ben was interested in, so I was choosing from trains, trucks/cars and Elmo. I gathered ideas on all of those themes before I decided to do Sesame Street. Not clever or unique at all but I know it's something he'll love. I saved my ideas on the trains and cars/trucks for future parties. :)

I'm having a hard time deciding my guest list this year. Last year I decided to keep it mostly family, low stress and simple. This year I thought it would be fun to invite more friends and have more of a traditional "party" with games, prizes, etc. The problem I'm having is most of the people I know with kids Ben's age aren't what I'd call close friends. I'd love to include them, but how do I do it in a way that isn't making them feel like I'm inviting them for another gift? I want to put the invite out there in a very casual, no stress, please-don't-RSVP-yes-because-you-think-you'll-hurt-my-feelings way. So save me a bit of headache here. If you're reading this and would like to come to Ben's party - please consider yourself invited and let me know that you want to come. Ha ha.

In other related news, this is the first year I've started Christmas shopping early. It started in Chicago where I picked up a few things along the way. It seems every time I go to the store, I find one or two items to toss in my basket. Last year was awful. Between buying/making decorations for Ben's party, I also had to buy presents for his birthday AND Christmas shop. It was a very tight month indeed and would have completely sucked if not for my super generous mama. Note to self: next time you think you want to have a baby, pay attention to what part of the year said baby will be born. NO. MORE. WINTER. BABIES.

I'm very excited for Ben's birthday. Last year he was sort of "uhhh... what?" with the whole thing. He wasn't super excited to rip the paper off of any presents, which totally bummed me out. He did love destroying his cake, so I'm interested to see how it goes this year. My sister in law tells the story of Connor's 2nd birthday where he asked for a napkin. Ha ha.

So there's the gist of my post: who do I invite and how do I tactfully include those acquaintances in a no pressure way? Any tips?