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Friday Night PIZZA!

It’s Friday! In the McHale house Friday means Pizza night.

I don’t just mean occasionally I mean EVERY. FRIDAY. NIGHT.

It’s an institution.

Seriously, Curtis grew up having pizza on Friday nights, a treat (usually Smarties) and a movie. That was just how his family celebrated the end of the week.

Funny how somethings stick!

We have also had pizza on Friday’s since we got married. It’s just one of those family traditions from his family that stuck. It is earth shattering around here if we don’t have pizza on Friday night.

Really I mean if we’re going out for dinner for some reason on Friday night it had better be somewhere that serves pizza, it’s that important.

Friday night pizza has evolved for us over the years. In the early years we often ordered delivery – the whole point was definitely not to have to do any work! We’d also rent a movie back in the days when Blockbuster Video was still around.

Then we started buying frozen pizza – again still no work. Canflix entered the scene which was a subscription based movie delivery system – the DVD’s were delivered to our door via Canada Post, we would watch them then mail them back for more.

Now as we’ve changed the way we eat and enjoy food I’ve started making the pizza from scratch. It’s SO much yummier that way. I actually created my own dough recipe which fits my small Pampered Chef pizza stone perfectly. I’ve made so much pizza over the last few years that unless I am quadrupling the recipe or something like that I don’t even get the recipe card out.

Oh, and movies, we live in the world of Netflix now. Friday nights are always exciting for the kids because we have a no TV on weekdays rule around here (for both kids and adults) so Fridays are the first night that they get to watch TV. We let the kids sit at their picnic table in the living room with their choice of show or movie and plug in from 5-bedtime (which is around 6:40 so it’s really not that long).

It’s my favourite night of the week.

E especially likes when I make my own sauce. We found a recipe in the Weelicious cookbook that we have for pizza sauce and it’s great – lots of veggies, no sugar or additives, and I can season it however we want. It’s always a big hit!

Friday is one night when Curtis and I can sit at the table together and have dinner uninterrupted. It’s like being on a date. The kids are entertained, and we get one evening a week to ourselves without leaving the house. It’s glorious.

Friday has also become our favourite night to have guests.

I know sounds funny, but pizza is always a winner. I make it often enough that for me it’s a low-stress meal, and it’s fun to sit around and connect with friends over a yummy treat.

It has taken me a long time to feel comfortable having friends visit our home. Not because I don’t think we have a nice home but because our home is fairly small. When you add a couple more adults and a handful of kids it can be overwhelming. It’s taken me a long time to get over it, accept it as it is and love on our friends the way I want to.

As we’ve been more adventurous with hosting friends on Friday nights a dream has grown for future Friday’s.

One day when we have a bit more space I hope to see our pizza night morph into an open invitation for our friends to join us. I would love to see a dozen people sitting around my table laughing, loving, and living life together on Friday night.

A house full of kids, adults, friends and family would be perfect.

Oh, and in case you’re interested, here’s my pizza dough recipe:

Makes 1 thin crust pizza on Small Pampered Chef pizza stone

Cook: 400, for 15-20ish min.

  • 2 1/4 tsp quick rise yeast (1pkg)
  • 3/4 c warm water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 3/4 c whole wheat flour
  • Cornmeal (optional) to keep pizza from sticking to your stone/pan

Instructions:

  • Dissolve Yeast in water, add other ingredients.
  • Knead dough until smooth and elastic (I use my Kitchen Aid mixer and the dough hook)
  • Place dough in greased bowl turning to coat, let rise about 1 hour or until doubled (I rarely let it rise that long, usually I make the dough, and let it rise while I prepare my toppings, shred cheese etc, then put it on the pan)
  • Spread on stone, top, cook asap, or freeze for future use!
  • I cook until the cheese has slightly browned, this usually produces a nice crispy crust, less cook time will make it softer, as will a lower temp.

So if you don’t have plans for dinner tonight maybe give it a try! Good luck!

 

 

Food Foundations – Back to the Basics

A few years ago I was writing about our experiments with “Real Food“. Basically we were working on cutting out processed food and added sugars from our diets.

Why would we do such a thing? Well, E was having digestive problems, I was trying to improve my fitness and when it came right down to it we realized that we were eating a lot of processed junk.

Fast forward a couple years and add another baby and we’re back at square one.

I would say that we made some significant and lasting changes when we made our initial push to clean up our diets. There have been some things that have really stuck – like always buying the whole food – as in the full fat model. Homo milk, full fat yogurts, cheeses, etc. none of this “light” or “fat free” diet foods.

What we found was that by eating the proper amount of the full fat food we were still able to maintain healthy body weights and we stayed full longer.

I’m no dietitian or scientist, and I’m no expert. I am just speaking from our experience, and we have found eating the whole food has been that it takes less food to fill the void so we ultimately end up consuming less.

Now, let me be honest here. We are far less than perfect. In fact that is the whole point of my post. I’m figuring this all out for us again.

Adding another person to our family threw a huge curve ball to my whole meal planning/whole food/make it from scratch philosophy. I got busy, and I got lazy.

I was still making a lot of things from scratch – I always will. I love baking and if there’s any place I’m going to putter in my house it’s my kitchen. But we had also let a lot of convenience foods creep in. I think the biggest thing that I was finding was that we were eating a lot of “treats”.

All of a sudden we found that E was having digestive problems again and we were repeating our visits to Dr’s, paediatricians, & specialists to treat a problem we had already treated and we had hoped we had solved.

So, here I am again, examining our food, and trying to figure out what works for our family now. Making nutritious homemade meals is important to me, and my go-to sites haven’t changed. I still frequent 100 days of real food when I’m looking for great healthy recipes. I also adapt a lot of family recipes to suit our needs, and being an experimenter in the kitchen I often throw things in a pan and hope it turns out – this has varying degrees of success for me.

I have also recently found the Weelicious website and purchased her cookbook Weelicious Lunches which is an amazing resource because E can look through the book and pick what she wants. I have found that a lot of the recipes include items that you would have around the house without getting into too many odd items. This has really helped to get better foods into both kids, but especially E. At this point L will devour anything I put in front of her.

Ultimately everyone will define “real food” differently, so what I deem to be acceptable at my house may not be what you would choose to feed your family.

Here are the things I have learned about us, and how I define “real food” at my house:

 

  • When buying a pre-made item I want the least amount of ingredients possible on the label. I also want to read and recognize all of those items – if I wouldn’t find it in my pantry I may reconsider my choice.
  • I don’t buy any pre-packaged baked goods, and very few snack items, this is largely due to food allergies here but also because I find they have a lot of unnecessary sugars and dyes in them.
  • I am not willing to spend the money to always buy organic produce. I would love to, but I’m not willing to break the bank on my grocery bill. Fruits and vegetables are the bulk of what we eat and I serve them with every meal. I always pick local produce first, and will buy organic if possible but for the most part local is good enough for me.
  • We will never cut out all sugar, or maybe even most sugar. Ok, I get that refined sugars and added sugars (and many sugar additives) are bad. I work hard to minimize them.
  • I don’t necessarily count a homemade baked good as a “treat”. I use sugar alternatives (honey, maple syrup etc.) on occasion, but I am going to continue to use white sugar in most recipe’s (like cookies). I think this is fine in moderation and a heck of a lot better than the store bought alternatives.
  • I use margarine. I would prefer to use butter, and I tried using butter exclusively for a while but honestly I was spending like $70/month on butter alone just for all the baking that I do. CRAZY. So sorry but my baked goods most often have margarine in them. I am not willing to spend that much on butter and if I cut back on the baking that I do I find we spend a lot more at the grocery store.

All that said, this is a journey for us. Sometimes we do better than others. I do plan our meals so that I always know what’s for dinner making it easy to avoid eating out. We are still experimenting. I find that I am constantly tweaking and making changes to the way we eat, or I plan, or prep to accommodate the stage that our family is in NOW. What worked six months ago doesn’t necessarily work now and what’s working now isn’t necessarily going to work in 6  months.

Let me also say that this is something that we have decided as a family is a priority for us. It may not be a priority for you – THAT’S OK! It has taken me a lot of time and energy to figure these things out for us and they may not be things that you’re willing to spend your time and energy on. We all do the best that we can to serve our families and we all value different things.

So how bout you? Have you been changing things up in your diet recently? What worked and what didn’t? Was it easy? Hard? I’d love to know where you’re at and what you’re doing because sharing ideas is one of the best ways to learn!

2014 Goal Recap

Whew, I’m behind. Better late than never I guess.

I thought I’d do a quick review of my 2014 goals before I set my 2015 goals.

2014 brought with it many changes and adjustments as we added L to the family early in the year. It took me a lot longer to get myself organized and out of the new baby fog than I anticipated, and so my goals well, some of them were pipe dreams. But if you aim at nothing you’ll hit it every time (I think that’s a Zig Ziglar quote but not positive).

SO goals how did I do…

After looking at my post from last year I realized I actually did better than I thought. Some areas fell completely to the wayside, but in others I did ok. Here’s the re-cap:

Professional Goals

  • I pretty much bailed on this whole area. I tried to continue working for Curtis a few hours a week, but we ended up deciding that my time was better spent with the kids, so he hired an assistant in his business to take over my responsibilities. She is amazing, and a blessing to us and the business having her as part of the team allows me to focus on the family for now and later we can figure out what role I will play.
  • Read Entreleadership – YES I DID! And I enjoyed it. What a great way to grow a business from the ground up. I would highly recommend this book to anyone operating a business

Personal Goals

  • Run 1/2 Marathon – YES I did, I completed the Run For Water in Abbotsford last May and wrote about it here
  • Run a winter 5K charity race – I registered for the Winter Warriors race here in Chilliwack, unfortunately there was a miscommunication about the event START time – the time they sent out as a starting time was actually the registration time. We had other plans that day beginning soon after the race would have ended. Unfortunately when I showed up and found out that the event started a full hour later than I (and most of the other participants) had been told I was unable to stay. I made my donation to the food bank collected my T-shirt, and ran 5K anyway but was unable to participate in the official event. We’ll count this one as accomplished these things happen!
  • Run 5-10k, 2-3x/week Oct -Dec – YES I accomplished this! Jan/Feb/March were another story, but we’ll save it for another day 🙂
  • I’m just going to say that the rest of my personal goals happened/didn’t happen intermittently. I was a bit over eager in my goals.

Parenting Goals

  • Read two parenting books – I did! I had already read one when I wrote about my 2014 goals. I also read Parenting with Love and Logic which was great and I highly recommend it. I may even have read a couple of others you could check my 2014 Reading List to see. I also added the Podcast “Mom and Dad are Fighting” to my podcast lineup. It’s so nice to read or listen to these things and add tools to your tool box.
  • Responding kindly and being patient – I don’t think that these are things that I will ever be able to STOP working on. There will always be room for improvement here, but I worked on this in earnest, and I will continue to work on this. I think it will always be on my list of Parenting Goals.

Marriage

  • one date/month – this didn’t happen, but we did get out a handful of times. We truthfully didn’t make it enough of a priority, and then we spent the fall/winter months cancelling dates repeatedly because kids were sick. Trying to do better in 2015.
  • I read the book Boundaries which definitely applies to marriage, though it’s not directly targeted at marriage I certainly learned some valuable things.

Finance

  • 6 month emergency fund – we’re almost there, so didn’t accomplish it. We again spent a fair amount of the funds that would have gone into the emergency fund on actual emergencies. I thank God daily that we got out of debt and started piling up cash because some of the things that have hit us over the last couple years have been huge and if we’d still had debt and no savings we would have fallen on some serious hard times.

There you are, a recap of my 2014 goals for you. Hopefully in the next few days I’ll be posting some 2015 goals to follow the rest of this year.

My freezer packed up with tasty meals!

Summer Menu Planning *Sigh*

Well, summer is more than half way through and I’m sad to say that I “fell off the wagon” as far as my summer meny planning went. I think I’m back on track for August now with a freezer full of pre-made slow cooker meals, a new slow cooker (will tell you about that dilemma below) and a few great BBQ options thrown in for some variety.

My freezer packed up with tasty meals!

My freezer packed up with tasty meals!

I’m sure many people experience the same crunch come summer. I’ve certainly read about it on a few other blogs that I follow. For me this summer has been almost a complete failure in the world of meal planning. That said at least I can pinpoint my downfall, and I am going to share it with you now!

It all started in June. I’d been doing the freezer-to-slow cooker thing for a few months at that point and had a bunch of unused meals still frozen in my freezer. Not having a ton of extra space I decided to take a month off of prepping new freezer meals so we could finish up the few that we had left. I planned to fill in the gaps with other simple but made-that-day meals.

As it turns out about half way through June my slow cooker died. Boo. Now I have to say that while you may be surprised I was not. Not. At. All. You see I seem to have a knack for killing small kitchen appliances. While this is the first slow cooker I’ve killed, in the last two years we’ve been through at least 4 immersion blenders, and prior to owning my Kitchen Aid mixer I destroyed about 1 hand mixer every six months to year.

How you ask do I trash small kitchen appliances? I don’t know. I would generally consider myself fairly competent in the kitchen, and I enjoy cooking/baking, so while we often joke around here about “Cynthia’s Char & Serve” and our love of “Cajun” (i.e. burnt) food the truth is that charred or “Cajun” style meals are really a rarity around here. Don’t believe me, ask around it’s ok. I have nothing to hide.

I’m going to venture a guess that my ability to burn out small appliances is just over use. Maybe lack of quality? Sometimes it’s hard to justify spending much on it when the last one only lasted 6 months. The slow cooker I think was a variety of things, over use, under filling, and age. It was only a $20-$30 slow cooker to begin with and was at least 8 years old. Being a 6 quart slow cooker it was also regularly only half full which as I understand isn’t great for them.

All that said, July rolled around and I found myself without a slow cooker. With a number of other extra expenses in July I opted out of the slow cooker plan in favor of make it that day kind of meals. I also started a new job as a fitness coach/personal trainer. That was not a great combination for us.

Butter Chicken cooking in my NEW slow cooker

Butter Chicken cooking in my NEW slow cooker

As we adjusted to my new work schedule which includes a couple early morning, and some evenings in the week I found myself really missing my easy slow cooker meals. I also found myself unmotivated to prepare the meals that I had planned regardless of how little prep-time they took. Out of sheer laziness I often opted to throw the meat on the BBQ, chop some veggies and forget the plan.

July came to a close and August rolled around and I knew I needed to do SOMETHING about our dinner plans. So I ordered an inexpensive Slow Cooker from Amazon.ca (seriously it was like $25, it’s simple but it does what I need it to so what more can I ask). AND it’s literally half the size of the one we had before so now when I fill it it’s actually FULL which is supposed to be better for the cooker. FYI filling this full is STILL way more food than the three of us will eat in one meal.

I also picked up an Epicure Burger Press from my friend Nikki Rekman early this summer and let me tell you I will never buy store bought burgers again (I rarely did anyway but now I really have no excuse). I LOVE it. Homemade burgers are SO simple to make with that thing. I make a bunch and freeze them flat w/ cardboard in between layers of burgers and we just pull out the number we want on cooking day. It makes it JUST as easy as pre-made store bought burgers and WAY healthier because I know exactly what’s in them. I have however found that it doesn’t work great with ground chicken. Ground chicken is much stickier than ground beef and it sticks in the press and to the burger separators really badly so they don’t actually turn out very burger shaped. Still experimenting with that one a little. Maybe if I freeze them in the press and then push them out…

My Epicure Burger Press ready for action

My Epicure Burger Press ready for action

So, how have you done this summer? Has it been hard to stay on-track, or do you find menu planning easier through the summer months than the fall/winter season? Let me know how you succeeded, or where you’ve struggled, I’d love to hear from you!

10 Reasons I make a Dinner Menu

People keep asking me about my menu’s. It seems that menu planning is not the norm and it really wasn’t for us either until I was on Maternity leave 2 years ago. It became highly organized and effective around the time I went back to work. To sum up my reasons for menu planning I’ve put together 10 reasons I make a dinner menu. I’m sure there are more but these are the first 10 that came to mind so here you go:

This month's menu - on the back of last months - fancy I know :)

This month’s menu – on the back of last months – fancy I know 🙂

  1. Eliminates the 6:00 Scramble – When I was working this was especially important. Depending on the season I got home from work anytime between 5:30 and 6:30. Trying to figure out what we were going to eat then prep it, cook it, and serve it seriously cut into family time with a little one that needed to be in bed around 7:30. Having a menu at least made the evening feel a little more liveable.
  2. Saves Time – This kind of goes with the above. It saves time after work but also in shopping, prep, and lunch making. I know what I need at the grocery store so it saves time there. I know what needs to come out of the fridge in prep saving time gawking with the refrigerator open, and leftovers go into containers for lunch saving time there too. All in all I figure it saves me a few hours a week of shopping/prep/lunch making.
  3. Saves Money – We all like to save money and food is often a significant household expense. Having a menu and thus a plan when going to the grocery store allows me to pick up only what I really need and in the right quantity so I’m not overspending on items that we “might” feel like eating. This was the MOST noticeable benefit when I started to get REALLY organized. I figure it saved/saves us about $200/month on our grocery bill.
  4. Reduces Food Waste – Again I’m not buying a bunch of stuff that I think we “might” eat or “might” need. With a well done menu and the resulting grocery list I find I’m throwing out way less food. Leftovers are being eaten up, or I’m planning the portions well enough to be consumed in one meal if we don’t want the leftovers.
  5. Maximizes Space – I have complained often enough about my small kitchen but seriously, we have food stashed in the hall closet, preserves under the stairs, and our few cupboards only reach a reasonable level of emptyness about half way through the month. I really just don’t have space for all those things that we might feel like eating. That extra box of chicken breasts or flat of ground beef may literally not fit in my freezer.
  6. Minimizes Grocery Store Trips – I HATE going to the grocery store. I would rather clean the bathrooms. So I’ll do just about anything to avoid going. Fewer trips to the grocery store also means less impulse buying and more money saving. With a monthly menu plan I do one BIG shopping day a month and the rest are quick trips for milk and produce.
  7. Healthier for you – I find that with a clear plan we eat less quick processed junk. We’re not as tempted to order Pizza, or throw some chicken fingers on a pan because I know what’s on the schedule for the evening and I have everything I need to get it ready.
  8. Easier for others to help – This was a biggie while I was working, and I am lucky enough to have a man that works from home. My hubby would check the menu over lunch, pull out the recipe card and prep the veggies. Often he’d even have it started when I got home from work saving us all time and allowing for us to spend more quality time together as a family.
  9. Involves the whole family – Menu planning night is sometimes painful, however I find that over the month I’ll have the next planning sheets out and as we think of things we want I’ll write them in. Everyone gets a say so we all know that we’ll get to eat some of the things we like. Everyone is happy and it seems to work well.
  10. Makes Dinner More Enjoyable –  When the stress of figuring out what we’re eating and whether or not I have all the ingredients on hand is taken out of the evening then I can actually enjoy the process of making it AND when I sit down to eat I’m much more relaxed.

A few more tips to help you get started:

If you’re really not sure of where to start look into a planning service. When I first got really serious about making an ORGANIZED menu I subscribed to eMeals. This is a Weekly planning service and for a very small fee (about 1.25/week) they email you a menu including the recipe’s and a shopping list. We only used dinner, and I still only plan our dinner meals but if you want to get really crazy you can use them for more meals in the day. They now offer a ton of options that will fit just about any lifestyle and family size.

I now plan a month at a time however when I started I was planning a two week period at once. If that feels like an overwhelming chunk of time then break it down into smaller pieces to make it less daunting. (You could even try 3 days at a time at first if you really aren’t sure).

My dinner recipe box and some cards

My dinner recipe box and some cards

I’ve also created a recipe box that has only dinner cards in it. As I plan my menu I pull all the cards out and list the ingredients I need on my list and the quantity of each item (i.e. 4 tomatoes, 3 green peppers, 1 dozen eggs etc.). Once the menu is done all the cards for the month go in the front of the box. On cooking day I pull out the card that morning to prep from and when we’re done it goes in the back of the box.

When I was working we often did dinner prep the night before if it was a more involved meal. Otherwise my Hubby would do it if he had spare time during the day. A few minutes the night before can save you a ton of time the day of. Even now being home full time I find it valuable to do some prep the night before because for some reason that span between 4 & 7 is usually the hardest time of day for E which can make getting dinner ready especially hard.

So now, what happens when we don’t “feel” like eating what’s on the menu? Truthfully I don’t find that to be much of a problem. Occasionally we switch meals around if we’re really not into the plan and eat something that’s planned for later leaving the intended meal to another day when it may fit our time/mood better. I also plan regular nights for leftovers to make sure that we aren’t throwing food out and we can always add something in then. Ultimately our menu’s are made of things that we like so not feeling like it doesn’t happen all that often.

For a few more tips on monthly planning and to get a good look at how I’ve been doing it lately check out my previous post: Small Freezer Big Plans

 

A true homemade meal!

BBQ season is upon us so as we continue to try and avoid refined sugars and processed foods I’ve been experimenting with more homemade options and getting a little bit more creative with our grilled meals. Even before we started down this road we had started making our own burgers so over the last few summer’s I’ve worked out a chicken/beef burger recipe that we like pretty well.

Burger patties ready for the BBQ

Burger patties ready for the BBQ

I’m a “loose recipe” kind of person so for that reason you’ll never eat the same thing twice at my house. This goes for burgers too. They’re a little different every time because I’m inspired differently depending on my cravings but the principle is the same. They basically consists of ground meat, shredded cheese, chopped veggies, and some spices. I love mixing veggies right into my burger patties because it makes it so much easier for me to get E to eat the meat. She eats fruits and veggies so easily but meat is still a struggle. When I can point out that her favourite veggies are mixed right in she at least tries it no problem and this time around she surprised us by eating most of the meat she was served.

Buns ready for the oven

Buns ready for the oven

When I was making my menu early this month I decided that I wasn’t going to buy hotdog or hamburger buns anymore, they’re so full of fillers and other junk. I was determined to make them myself. I’ve been making our bread off and on for years now and always really enjoy it, but have never had much success with buns. I think I finally found a recipe I can work with. I did a Google search for whole wheat hamburger buns and came up with a number of options but chose this awesome recipe.  I will definitely use this recipe again and will also experiment with it for hot dog buns. I cheated a little and used about 2 cups of unbleached white flour because I ran out of whole wheat but I think they’ll work just fine using only whole wheat flour.

Mmmm fresh buns!

Mmmm fresh buns!

Condiments have been a bit of a challenge as we’ve been striving to eliminate or at least greatly reduce our consumption of refined sugars and processed foods, particularly BBQ sauce.  There are no good BBQ sauce options.  Sad for us because BBQ sauce was probably the most consumed condiment in this house.  So, because my hubby has voiced recently that he really misses BBQ sauce I tried making my own. Again, there is no true recipe here, just the mixing of different ingredients in a bowl until it has the right taste. I basically used crushed tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and liquid honey. It turned out surprisingly well and was a great addition to the burgers tonight.  Now if only I could say that we fared as well with the other condiments…sigh. In the fall I am hoping to make relish, mustard we hardly ever use, and with BBQ sauce around Ketchup becomes obsolete here. For now we’re working with what we’ve got and seriously the condiments are such a tiny portion of the meal that I’m not going to worry too much about them for now.

Dinner served on the patio

Dinner served on the patio

To compliment the burgers I threw together a tossed salad with a smattering of good dressing options and got two thumbs up from the E and the Hubby.  Ah success.  Even after months of dietary changes it’s still not often that I can say we ate a preservative free meal. This was probably as close as it gets at our house. To top it off I now have a stash of buns to put in the freezer so when we decide to repeat, it’ll be half the work. Was it worthwhile absolutely!

E Helping with the cookie making process

Grandpa’s Favourite Cookies

E asked me to make some cookies today, and instead of falling back on the old faithful Chocolate Chip or Ginger cookies I looked through my family cookbook for something a little different. I came across the recipe for “Grandpa’s Favourite Cookies” aka melt in your mouth, brown sugary oatmeal cookie goodness. These are cookies that you will never forget if you had one of the originals made by Grandpa, and I thought I’d at least try to pass that tasty goodness on to E.

E Helping with the cookie making process

E Helping with the cookie making process

My cookies never quite turn out like I remember them, and I’m sure that Grandpa had some secret ingredient that he didn’t share with anyone but they taste just enough like Grandpa’s to remind me of all the great things that I miss about a man that was a huge role model in my life and that is more the point than the cookies themselves. Today however despite using wholewheat flour instead of cake and pastry flour, and steel cut porridge cereal with barley, wheat bran and flax seed instead of just plain old oats my cookies turned out more like Grandpa’s then ever before. Who knew.

Going into the oven

Going into the oven

I LOVE these cookies.  I remember them always being around in my my Grandma and Grandpa Wright’s house growing up.  I seem to also remember that is was often Grandpa that made them.  I think more than the cookies (although when Grandpa used to make them they really were to die for) the memory of Grandpa is the best part of these cookies. He’s been gone for a long time but these cookies remind me of him like he’s standing next to me and up to his regular mischief.

Cookies coming out of the oven

Cookies coming out of the oven

My Grandparents (on both sides) were a huge part of my life growing up, and while both of my Grandfather’s have been gone for a while now my Grandma’s are still alive and well and I am so blessed to have them in my life and to get to see them interact with E now.  I can still see my Grandpa coming out of the back of his van camper with a round blue cookie tin to offer my brother and I a cookie while away on a family camping trip.  I remember the mischeivious twinkle in his eye when he would sneak us cookies on visits to his house after school – particularly right before family dinner on Tuesday nights. And I remember him eating just as many – if not more – cookies than my cousins and I combined while “sneaking” cookies. I remember that he listened – truly listened to your heart when you spoke to him, he cared. I remember him always being up for fun. I remember building huge sand castles with him and swimming at the beach when we would go camping with them.  He told the best stories around the campfire about all the trouble he got himself into growing up on his family’s farm. I wish that those stories were written in a book now so that I could share them with E!

They passed the taste test!

They passed the taste test!

All that said, the cookies turned out great, E loved them, and I hope that when I make these from time to time I can share with her the stories about her Great Grandpa as we enjoy some good cookies!

Small Freezer, Big Plans – An Experiment in Monthly Menu Planning

I’ve been a meal planner for some time now and also a religious bi-weekly shopper. Every-other Friday was payday and also shopping day. Wednesday and Thursday nights are spent making a two week menu and shopping list. I’ve experimented with meal planning services in the past but found that I often ended up subbing in meals that we liked to replace meals that weren’t to our tastes. This month I decided to apply my menu planning skills on a much larger scale and experiment with monthly menu planning AND meal prep.

I follow another blog that has all kinds of tips on “real food” and clean eating, as well as a host of fabulous recipe’s. It’s become my go to site for recipe’s these days when I feel our old faithful’s are getting boring. Recently they had a guest post by mamaandbabylove.com featuring freezer to slow cooker meals and also talking a little about once-a-month planning and meal prep. The recipe’s looked great, so I wandered over to the mamaandbabylove blog and ended up buying the e-cookbook “Slow Cooker Freezer Recipe’s”

So here is how I did it,

Step One: Wed/Thurs, plan ALL MEALS FOR 1 MONTH (by meals I mean dinner only, breakfast and lunch are fend for yourself around here and largely consist of eggs for breakfast and left overs for lunch). Daunting, yup, BUT the cookbook made a lot of it pretty easy as each recipe is actually two meals so it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Add in a few of the old faithful’s that we eat on a regular basis and voila, menu made.

Super Store Shopping Buggy

Super Store Shopping Buggy

Step Two: Friday SHOP – this took a while as I had to hit up Superstore, AND Costco. Not only was I shopping for a month of dinners but we’re in that cycle when you run out of all the basics at once. Yup, flour, oil, toilet paper, laundry soap, we pretty much needed it all. The bill however wasn’t as bad as I anticipated I came out of Superstore having spent $289, and Costco $136. Considering that I should only have to buy milk, dairy (yogurt, eggs, cheese, etc.) and produce for the rest of the month I don’t think that’s too bad.

Costco Shopping Trip - no the dresses were NOT included in my total!

Costco Shopping Trip – no the dresses were NOT included in my total!


Step Three:
It’s the weekend, RELAX – but really I decided to make my own chicken stock for the meals that required it so Sunday night we had slow cooker chicken, and I made the stock overnight in the slow cooker using a recipe I found on-line. It was so ridiculously easy that I doubt I’ll ever buy stock again. AND it made more than I needed so I was also able to freeze a few cups of stock in 1 cup packages.


Step Four:
Monday, CLEAN THE KITCHEN! I don’t know about you but I HATE working in a messy kitchen so I cleaned, and I mean really cleaned. Our kitchen is tiny and has very little counter space so I got rid of ALL the clutter that collects in the corners. I returned items borrowed/accumulated from friends, and freed the counter of all but the essentials to maximize the space for what I thought would be major mess making.

My Kitchen, Spic and Span!

My Kitchen, Spic and Span!

Step Five: Make dinner for that night. Yup, the first thing I did was make that nights dinner and drop it in the slow cooker. I knew that I would NOT want to cook at the end of the day so I started with it first thing.

Step Six: Chop and dice! Time to start chopping and organizing! The recipe’s are intended to be put into 1 gallon ziploc freezer bags so I got out the right number of bags and labeled them. Then with all my recipe cards lined up along the counter I started chopping and dividing the veggies into the appropriate bags. I had chosen 5 recipe’s so 10 meals, and bought veggies according to the cards. To free up space as I worked I divvied up the veggies as I finished with each one into the appropriate bags – ie chop all sweet potatoes, find appropriate bags, place all sweet potatoes into proper bags, chop next veggie. I also only got the items out as needed again to keep my space free. Amazingly enough the veggies didn’t make that much of a mess. I also found it easiest to use the recipe with the most veggies in it as a guide, and chop the veggies for all recipe’s at once but by going down the list on the card with the most veggies then coming around and “tidying up” the rest of them – ie doing any of the veggies that only went into one or two of the recipe’s last. All in all I chopped veggies for about 2 1/2 hours.

My bags all lined up mid-way through the chopping process

My bags all lined up mid-way through the chopping process

Step Seven: Spices – I added all the appropriate spices to the recipe’s in one shot

Step Eight: Meat and liquids. To save money on the meat I bought it all in bulk ie, bone in skin on chicken breasts, to be deboned and skin removed by moi. I’ve never done this before and am not overly excited about working with raw meat but that’s just part of eating it and it saved quite a bit of money. It was also surprisingly easy. I did this with the beef too. Two of the recipe’s called for stewing beef or beef cubes so I bought a roast of the appropriate weight and cubed it myself. I threw the meat into the bags and added the liquid as part of this step. I spent roughly 1 1/2 hours deboning and chopping meat. If you bought the meat ready to go then you would save a lot of this time, but as I mentioned before I chose to do it the cheap way instead of the quick way.

Meals all stacked up and ready for the freezer

Meals all stacked up and ready for the freezer


Step Nine:
FREEZE. This is where the small freezer comes in. We only have one freezer in this house and it’s the one above the fridge. SO thank heavens everything was in bags and will lay flat. It was still a little like Jenga trying to get everything in. BUT I know that I don’t have to put ANYTHING else in there this month, just take it out so it should be manageable!

Small Freezer PACKED FULL

Small Freezer PACKED FULL

Step Ten: CLEAN UP. This was surprisingly not that bad. I managed to use one cutting board, one knife, one measuring cup and a few measuring spoons so I only had a handful of dishes to do after it was all done and most of it went into the dishwasher.

SO was it worth it? Well, we haven’t eaten any of it yet but the recipe’s are tantalizing and it’s really hard for me not to just start pulling them out. Part of my planning included cleaning up the left overs we already had around here (ie roast chicken = chicken fajitas) and we don’t have the freezer space to freeze any of that stuff so we have to use it now. It is really nice to know that other than putting together a few sides there are NO MEALS left to plan or shop for over the next month. When I consider that I spend an hour or so every night making dinner but managed to make dinner for a month in four hours one day that alone makes it worth it to me. In the future I might split chopping the veggies one day and doing the meat/spices/sauces another just to minimize the time spent standing in the kitchen all in one shot. Will I do it again YES.

The Real Food Progression

Well, I’ve been working on the real food thing for a little while now – I think I’ve grocery shopped 3 times (translate it’s been six weeks). We were pretty healthy eaters to begin with but it has been surprising to me how many of our normal food items actually fell within the loose parameters have set (5 or less ingredients, all of which should be a naturally occurring food – if you can’t pronounce it I don’t want it). I have also been surprised by some of the foods that I used to feel good about eating only to discover that they weren’t so awesome because of the sugars and chemicals they contain (yogurt would fall into this category).

Whole wheat Pear Oven Pancake - recipe from 100daysofrealfood.com

Whole wheat Pear Oven Pancake – recipe from 100daysofrealfood.com

As you can imagine, I’ve been reading labels MUCH differently than in the past. I’m actually looking at the ingredients on the label as opposed to just the caloric content. In the past I looked for caloric content per serving and tried to buy “figure friendly” foods. This isn’t the greatest way to go though as these foods may be “low in fat” but they taste like crap because they’re full of chemicals and fillers to reduce the calories. Really if you go by the claims on the nutritional labels a package of Skittles could be considered “healthy” as according to the packaging they are “fat free”. While they may not contain any true fat you’ll fill your sugar quota for a couple days in one serving (1/4c Skittles, 140 calories, more sugar than you want to know).

As far as meals go the appearance hasn’t changed much. I’m still cooking our favourite recipes’ and continually experimenting with new ones I’m just using cleaner ingredients. Truthfully some preservatives are still making their way into our food because I am not willing to just empty my cupboards and start over. I will replace items with cleaner foods as we use them, but I do not believe in throwing perfectly good food out – we have a toddler, there is already more than enough food waste happening here without needlessly emptying the cupboards!

MMM Gumbo! - recipe from 100daysofrealfood.com

MMM Gumbo! – recipe from 100daysofrealfood.com

There have been a few items that I have looked for but so far not been able to buy. I’ve downloaded a few different granola recipe’s that include a number of different seeds (all of which are ok, sunflower, pumpkin, etc.) but I have not been able to find them prepackaged without a nut/peanut warning on the label. The bulk aisle is absolutely out for me as the cross contamination that happens there is scary. I was also semi-surprised to see a nut warning on the label of a tub of Medjool dates I was going to buy, replaced that with some dried dates, not quite the same I’m sure but seems to have served it’s purpose well and we don’t really know what we’re missing.

So have I seen a change, well yes and no if that makes sense. I’ve been able to cut E’s medication in half which is awesome and she hasn’t had any major problems, but she’s definitely not as regular so at this point that still gets a we’ll see. I’m not concerned enough to up the dose again so I would call that some progress. I’d like to be able to eliminate the meds but halving them in a six week period is a pretty big improvement. I find that I am eating less and feeling full longer. I have always been a light eater and fairly portion conscious but would allow myself to cheat a little more by increasing the portion size with the “lighter foods” I often ate. I don’t feel like I need to do that with the whole foods. The scale doesn’t lie and it has stayed the exact same, not budging AT ALL, so that’s a good sign.

Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells - recipe from Today's Parent - I think

Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells – recipe from Today’s Parent – I think

Will I continue down this path? Yes, as much as possible. I am finding it to be a bit of a budget stretch sometimes but am working towards minimizing that as much as possible by doing things like having one or two meat-free meals in a week, and halving recipes that I know make really large portions allowing me to stretch the ingredients farther. There are only three of us here and a lot of the everyday recipe’s I use are meant for a larger crowd so cutting them in half is sometimes a pain but results in cramming fewer left-overs into my tiny above fridge freezer so that’s a good thing! All in all I would say the food that makes it to the table now is not much different than it was before to the extent that when I asked my hubby how he felt about it he said “what’s really changed?” I would count that as a success!

Food Considerations – Clean Eating in the McHale Household

I’m on a quest to improve our family’s eating habits. Most people would say that we are pretty healthy eaters, for the most part I would agree, but I think we can do better. I’m thinking about cutting out all processed foods. I say it like that because I realize that it’s next to impossible to cut them ALL out, but that’s not going to stop me from trying. I think I’m also going to slowly work towards switching us over to organic foods whenever possible, and I’m seriously considering cutting wheat and gluten from our diets but I need to do a bit more reading about that.

As it is we eat mostly “whole” foods if you would. Meaning that I chop steam and serve the vegetables (or we eat them raw) we eat a lot of fruits, and meat is generally served in it’s natural state – meaning we don’t really do prepared meals, we cook pretty much everything from scratch and I generally season it myself with ingredients from my cupboards. There are however some things that we don’t do so well with. Like Friday night Pizza, generally the frozen variety. I always used to make it and actually came up with an awesome whole wheat dough recipe, but I work full time and find it hard to squeeze the Fri night pizza into my week. Oh, then add the junk that we usually eat on Friday nights after E has gone to bed and we’ve generally just had one very unhealthy evening and eaten our fill of processed food for the week. The Hubby will go along with my healthy eating ploy, as long as I don’t mess with the pizza, so this will require that I start making it myself again, but I’m ok with that we all liked it better that way anyway.

So what is my motivation you ask. Well, E has had some ongoing digestive problems for about 14 months now and while I do feel that our family Dr. and the other Dr’s and pediatricians’ that we’ve seen have been helpful and done the best they can to solve my daughters problem, I feel that they have merely treated the symptom (chronic constipation) with meds, and not the problem. I have asked repeatedly if these problems could be related to food allergies and treated with diet modification and am repeatedly reassured that the drug she’s on is perfectly safe for extended use – as in years – and that it may take that long for this problem to resolve itself. I’m getting a little fed up and feeling like it’s time to start experimenting. I’ve had the niggling feeling since the beginning that I should start experimenting with diet but the task has seemed daunting so I haven’t done it. So why now? The medication she’s taking is no longer proving to be effective, and my TWO year old is taking an almost adult sized dose of it twice daily. We are really struggling right now to find the balance of regularity for her without tipping the scales one way or the other and creating further problems.

I’m running into problems figuring out exactly where to go with this though. I’ve been reading a number of very helpful blogs and am starting to gain a bit more understanding of the logistics but what I run into is that I work full time and it seems to me that preparing the even healthier meals that I’m considering will take even more time. I’m not sure that I have it. I’m also a little worried about the $ end of this decision. I already feel that the $600/month that we spend on groceries is exorbitant and going organic will increase the bill even more, not sure where that extra $ will come from. As far as wheat and gluten go, I would really like to cut them out but a lot of products available that are wheat and gluten free have nut/peanut warnings on them. I have also found this with organic products in the past.

You never know until you try though, and the health benefits alone of Clean Eating (specifically some cases of it resolving similar digestive problems to E’s and the child being able to go off the meds) are worth it to me. What’s the worst that can happen? We try it for a few months and find it doesn’t quite cut it, well then we’ll go back to the same old same old and no harm is done. I’ll keep you posted on our progress with food as I learn more about this and start making changes. 2013 is a year of change in the McHale house why not change food too!