Freezer Cooking Plan-Dinners, and a Confession

Now that I am 9 months pregnant, I can definitely feel my energy starting to wane.  Actually, not starting to wane, more like, I am coming to grips with the reality that my energy has been fading for the past few weeks.  For the most part, I’ve felt pretty energetic during this pregnancy, but in the last two weeks, I feel like it has taken all my energy just to muster up some energy.

I find this feeling incredibly frustrating because my mind is constantly humming with things to do, places to go, and projects to start.  If I try to lay down to take a nap, my mind immediately begins listing out all the other things I could be doing.  Truthfully, I’ve been convicted that I make an idol out of my “to-do” list, and obsessing about getting more and more done.  I desperately want to be one of those ladies who seems like they do it all…they have 5 kids, they homeschool, they run a business, and they still have time for DIY projects.   I guess to me, women like that just seem to be so together, they have boundless energy, they are fun and interesting, they are organized, and they just…seem to be able to do anything.  I know that if I was to sit down with one of these ladies that I would find out that they have their struggles, but it’s hard to remember that when all you see is the nicely done makeup, the freshly washed hair, the cute outfit, and the calm kids, while I’m in my work-out outfit with stringy-not-freshly-washed hair and a cranky toddler.

As I’ve felt less and less energetic, I’ve felt more and more frustrated with myself for not getting everything on my to-do list completed.  I was really hoping to have my baby gift sets completed at least two weeks ago and have an Etsy shop up and running, but I’m afraid that I haven’t gotten much further than when I last blogged about my project.  I was hoping to…well, it doesn’t really matter what all I was hoping to have done, the point is, that I don’t have it all done, and I am trying to accept the fact that it’s okay, and that it is also okay that these things probably won’t be getting done in the near future.  Perhaps I could be more organized, perhaps I could be more disciplined, but the truth is, I’m doing the best that I know how right now, and being frustrated with myself for not getting more done doesn’t magically give me more energy to get those things done!

As I’ve felt convicted about my to-do list obsession, I’ve also felt convicted to confess to you, my dear readers, that sometimes I think I put up a show that I’m more together than I really am.  I think because I have a hard time accepting myself for who I am, not the perfectly put together woman, I try to make myself appear more on top of things than I really am.  I don’t know if I ever come across that way in my blog or not, but in case I do, I just want you to know that I am not the wonder woman I wish I was or that I try to appear to be.  I’m just Laura, with a really long to-do list and not much checked off, and I really do have stringy-not-freshly-washed hair.  Hopefully that will be remedied tomorrow (the hair part, I mean).

That being said, here is my Freezer Cooking Plan from last week.  I’m not posting this to say “I don’t have much energy, but here are all the things that I got done.”  But I figured since I did get this done last week, I may as well post it.  In my last post, I said I was going to be giving you a four week cooking plan, and I kicked it off with breakfasts.  So here is how it went last week, I hope that my little plan can be helpful to you, and if you are looking for more, then there are is a whole internet world of blogs filled with women more together than I.

If you are interested in my Freezer Cooking Plan for Breakfasts, you can read it here.

Just as a quick recap, my series was supposed to be how to get a whole bunch of freezer cooking done in just an hour a day for a month.  My series comes to an end here, at the second week.  But if you are interested in freezer cooking, just let me say, it’s way easier than it looks and it’s pretty easy to get a little extra put away in an hour or less each day.

Here was last week’s plan:

Monday: Sit and think about cooking (the easiest thing I’ve ever checked off my to-do list!).

Tuesday: Continue to think about cooking, finally feel ambitious enough to write out a cooking to-do list.

I love the book "Don't Panic, Dinner's in the Freezer." The recipes are so yummy, and each recipe is written out for a normal batch, and for more multiple batches. You can see here that I listed out the recipes that looked good to me, and then I starred the ones that I decided on making. On the side of my page is my grocery list.

Wednesday: Made two pizza crusts

I have spaghetti sauce on the shelf and cheese in the freezer for easy assembly when I go to use the crusts.

Thursday: Made BBQ beef in the crock pot and hamburgers.  Crock pots are so amazing.  I found some ideas on Pinterest for freezer meals for your crock pot, where you assemble all the ingredients put don’t actually cook anything.  Then on the day you decide to use the meal, you just pull the ingredients out of the freezer and throw in your crock pot.  Looks amazing!  I don’t have a plan for accomplishing this right now though…

BBQ Beef. A lot yummier than it looks here!

Hamburgers. I shaped them, and then froze the uncooked patties on a cookie sheet, then put them in a ziplock for future use.

Friday: Made meatloaf.  Most people have an aversion to meatloaf, and I can’t say it’s my favorite either, but this particular recipe looked really good (it has cheese in the middle!), and it was really easy.

So I got about ten meals made.  Not quite as much as I had hoped, but it’s something!  These meals were really easy and most of them took less than an hour to put together.  If you haven’t freezer cooked before, I totally recommend it, it’s not as hard or an overwhelming as it seems!  Happy Cooking.

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Freezer Cooking Plan-Breakfast Foods

As my baby’s due date creeps closer and closer, I am reminded how after a baby is born, I don’t feel like doing anything except sleeping!  So I have been trying to work on getting some extra food in the freezer to prepare for baby’s arrival.  When I think of freezer cooking, I think of a whole day of cooking and washing dishes and being completely exhausted.  But I found a method on a blog, Money Saving Mom, that this mom does, she does one hour of freezer cooking a week.  Of course she doesn’t get a ton put away in one hour, but one hour a week over a few weeks will start to add up.  I don’t have that much time between now and when baby comes to get very much put away if I only do one hour a week, so I decided to adapt that idea to doing one hour a day for the next couple of weeks.

Perhaps you also have a due date in the near future, or maybe you would like to get some extra food put in the freezer for time crunched days.  Here is my plan, and I hope it will help you out too!

Week 1: Breakfast Foods

Week 2: Dinner Foods

Week 3: Finish Dinner Foods

Week 4 (if energy allows!): Rolls, Muffins, and Desserts

Last week was my week for Breakfast Foods, and this week I will get started on dinner foods. For breakfast foods I made granola bars to accompany smoothies, granola, bread, and breakfast burritos.  Of course, everything was put into the freezer, minus a little snacking along the way (you can’t just put homemade bread in the freezer, you have to cut into at least one loaf and enjoy fresh bread!).

Monday: I went grocery shopping and made a trial batch of granola bars.  I have always loved granola bars, but the ones in the store are too expensive and not very filling to be eaten for breakfast, and many of them tend to be more like candy bars than a healthy breakfast food.  I made a trial batch since my other attempts at granola bars had not been successful (crumbly or too sugary), but I found a recipe that promised to fulfill all my hopes and dreams for granola bars, and upon testing it, I found it to work out quite well! These bars were filling and yummy without being like candy bars.

Tuesday: Made a double batch of granola bars.  These bars were pretty easy, except that I made the mistake of buying dried fruits and nuts that needed to be chopped up.  For ease, I would recommend just buying raisins or cranberries, and sunflower seeds.

A triple batch (one single batch from yesterday and a double batch today) made 30 granola bars

Wednesday: Made bread.  If you don’t make your own bread, you could use this day to make another favorite breakfast food such as muffins or banana bread.

My Bosch makes 5 loaves of bread at once. Oh how I love my Bosch...it's the reason I married Brandon;-) I always wanted a Bosch mixer growing up (my mom had one), and my mom would tell me (since they are an expensive machine) that she would give me one when I got married. So I tease Brandon that the only reason I married him was so I could get my Bosch.

Thursday: Made granola.  The beauty of granola is that it is highly adaptable.  You can add more or less of pretty much anything you want.  If you don’t want nuts, then skip the nuts, if you want more nuts, then add more nuts!  You can add in any desired variety of nuts and fruits, even dried coconut if you like.  The sky is the limit!  Here is the recipe I used (compliments of my mom):

10 cups oats

1 1/4 cup honey

1/2 cup molasses, brown sugar, or maple syrup, or more honey.  This is a flexible recipe, so whatever you have on hand!

3/4 cup peanut butter (optional)

1 Tb cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 Tb vanilla

3 cups chopped nuts

3 cups dried fruits

Measure oats and nuts into a bowl and mix.  In a saucepan combine honey, peanut butter, molasses or other sugar, salt, cinnamon and vanilla.  I also like to add a container of juice concentrate to give the granola a more fruity taste.  If you want, you can skip the 1/2 cup of molasses (or other sugar) and just add the juice concentrate to the honey as the juice concentrate is a natural sweetener, but it doesn’t give the granola the same “level” of sweetness as the molasses will, and so you will have a less sweet granola.  So basically, it just depends on how sweet you like your granola!   Anyway, put those ingredients in a saucepan and heat over medium heat until all ingredients combine.  Pour the syrup over the oat and nut mixture and mix well.

Spread mixture over two or three cookie sheets or jelly roll pans and bake in a 300 degree oven for 1 hour or until lightly browned and crunchy.  Stir mixture every 15 minutes.  When finished baking, allow the granola to cool, then mix in the dried fruits and store in an air tight container.

From this recipe, I was able to fill two gallon size ziplocks.

Friday: Made breakfast burritos.

These were really super easy, but only made 15 burritos, not 20 (the recipe says 20).

Hope this was helpful!  Stay tuned to next week for my plan on freezer cooking for dinners.  In the mean time, if you plan on cooking some extra freezer meals, watch the store ads for deals on meats.  After haunting the meat clearance bin at Safeway for the last month, I finally snagged some deals on ground meat ( I probably could have gotten the same thing during a weekly sale, but I  was hoping to get an even better deal by watching the clearance bin).

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And We Have a Winner!

I know this announcement is very late…but at least it is still Monday!  Today was one of those days where I was reminded that as much as I try/wish/want to be SuperMom, I am not.

Thank you so much to everyone who submitted a name for my business!  I really appreciate all of you who took the time to think up names.

The winner actually goes to my dear and wonderful husband who thought up the name (drum roll please!) “Little X’s and O’s”.  What do you think?  I love it, it feels original, fresh, and cuddly.  However, since my husband doesn’t have much use for burp cloths, he said that I could give the cloths away to someone who submitted a name on my blog or through Facebook.  So we put names in a hat, and the burp cloth winner is: Ginger.  Thanks Ginger for taking the time to submit names.  And thank you everyone else for your encouragement and enthusiasm!

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Business Naming Contest!

Here it is!  I’m ready to accept name ideas for my business project!

Also, here is my first finished set of burp cloths, receiving blanket, and security blanket!

Each set includes three super absorbant, extra large burp cloths, one large double sided receiving blanket, and one double sided security blanket. I'll be selling them as a set and indiviudally.

The burp cloths are large and thick, 4x6x4 ply and measure 14x19.5.

An extra large, double sided receiving blanket, measuring 40x40

A soft and cozy double sided security blanket made from flannel and minky fabric, measures 34x24, a perfect size for cuddling with and tucking around baby in the car seat.

I have a boy set in the works, another girl set, and a gender neutral set that I’m finishing up.  I have so many ideas for how to dress these blankets up and embellish them, hopefully these will be just a start.  I hope to get an Etsy shop set up soon, though with a new baby right around the corner, I’m not sure if I will be able to keep up with an Etsy shop, I haven’t quite decided what I am going to do with that yet.  I hope to be able to sell these locally for now.

But I need a name for my business project!  I’m really looking forward to reading your name ideas.  If I choose your name you can win this set of burp cloths:

Super cute, gender neutral burp cloths for your baby or to give as a gift! Approximately an $18 value!

If you have a name idea, you can post it in the comments section, or message me through Facebook.  If I choose one of the names submitted, I will announce it on Monday.  For more information on my business project, you can check out this post.  Thank you so much for your help!

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My Little Business Project

Well here it is!  I post this with a little bit of fear and trepidation, but I have to make the step sometime if I am going to move forward.  Since I quit my job a few weeks ago, I’ve been working on a little home business enterprise, and I’d like to show you what I’ve been working on.  Also, I need help coming up with a name, so on Friday, I will be taking business name suggestions, and if I choose your idea, I have a prize for you!

Since I quit my job the first time last year, I have been wanting to make some money at home.  I’ve thought and thought about what to do, I worked on some samples, and I even started purchasing some fabric.  But somehow, I just didn’t feel like God was opening the door for me to move forward on my projects.

About three weeks ago I felt like God said, “Okay, time to quite your job (I went back to work last fall) and get started on your projects.”  I was very excited to feel the go-ahead, but also very nervous, as I find it so much easier to dream about ideas than to carry them out.  But I feel like God has really encouraged me step by step, and so I’ve felt more excitement than fear as I’ve moved forward.

My project plan is to make baby gift sets of three burp cloths, a receiving blanket, and a security blanket.  Here are some pictures:

Some of the fabrics I'm using

Some of the fabrics I'm using

A large, double sided receiving blanket. I'm working on another receiving blanket which will have ric rac around the edges and applique. My eventual goal is to applique all of the items in the baby gift set.

I dyed burp cloths to coordinate with my fabric. I love the dyed burp cloths because the colors will hide stains and spit up better than white burp cloths, and they are so colorful and happy!

The burp cloths aren't finished yet, but this is a sample of what it will look like! The color of the burp cloth here looks kind of dull, but it's actually a nice bright green. I couldn't get the color to show up very well, I need to refine my photography skills.

A double sided minky blanket. I made these for the purpose of becoming a security blanket or lovey and I also tried to make it a nice size to tuck around baby in the car seat.

Right now I have almost all the receiving and security blankets finished, and I have to get the burp cloths finished off.  I also need a name for my little business!  I thought of “BlanketsToGrowBy” but it doesn’t really have a nice ring to it.  I’ve had the word “joy” in my head, but I can’t think of anything past the term “bundle of joy” and “bundle of joy” just doesn’t feel very original.  I’m not taking name ideas now, but I will on Friday, so be thinking and if I choose your name you can win a prize (which I will also announce on Friday).  I’d love to hear your ideas!

Mama's LIttle Helper

As I’ve been working on the project, I’ve also been learning how to better manage my time and time with a little one, soon to be two little ones.  A few things I’ve learned are: 1)pray, I’m not going to get anything done without God’s help, 2)make my sewing room as toddler proof as possible so that Job can play in there with minimal interruptions (as in: “Aaahhh no Job, not the pins!”), 3) work in small stages taking breaks to play with Job, and 4) set a goal for the day, such as “finish two receiving blankets.”  BUT, if you have any more suggestions on how to work around two little kids, I’d love to hear them!  You can post them in the comments section, I’m taking those ideas TODAY!

Thanks for looking and reading!

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Yogurt in a Crockpot plus Ways to Use Yogurt

I was so excited to find out that I could make yogurt in my crockpot!  It’s the little things in life, isn’t it?  Our family eats a ton of yogurt, and I confess to being a bit of a yogurt snob.  I refuse to buy just the general brands of yogurt like Great Value or Yoplait because to me they just taste like sugared plastic.  And I like to buy a whole milk yogurt, not low fat, since the fat in milk is a healthy fat.  Besides, low fat usually just means they added extra sugar to compensate for the taste.  So I buy expensive yogurt that is really probably too hard on the budget, which is why I was so excited to discover how to make it myself.

All you need is a crockpot, milk, and some all ready made yogurt.  Also, if you want your yogurt to be a little bit thicker, you may want to add some dry milk powder to thicken it up.

This is what I did:

Pour 1/2 gallon of milk into your crock pot and turn on high.  Allow the milk to come up to about 180 degrees.  All I have is a meat thermometer, and I used that to test the warmth.  You need to bring the milk up to this temperature to kill off any bacteria that may compete with theyogurt bacteria as well as get the milk nice and warm to create a happy habitat for the yogurt bacteria to grow.  This process will probably take about 1-2 hours.

Once your milk is warm enough, turn off your crockpot, take off the lid and allow the milk to cool to about 110 degrees.  You must cool it off a bit so that when you add the bacteria it won’t get killed off.  This process will probably take about 1/2 an hour to an hour.  Stir occasionally to help it cool off.

Once your milk has cooled off to the proper temperature, add 1/2 cup of store bought yogurt.  Make sure the yogurt has bacteria listed in the ingredients.  This is your yogurt starter.  It contains the bacteria needed to get your milk turned into yogurt.  Stir.  If you want your yogurt a little thicker, add 1/2 cup dry milk powder now as well.  Apparently most yogurts you buy in the store are also thickened this way, so I don’t know how the yogurt will turn out if you don’t add the milk powder, but I imagine it will be quite soupy. Stir thoroughly.

Then wrap your crockpot up in a towel and put it in your oven for the next 8 hours.  You want your milk to cool very slowly, so that’s the purpose of the towel and oven.  This is perfect to do overnight, just put your crockpot in the oven when you go to bed, and when you get up the next morning, voila, you will have yogurt!

Now, I should probably not be too hasty, I have only done this once so far, so possibly I just got lucky the first time around, but it really seems like it’s not possibly to mess this process up.  I will update you if I have any trial and error experiences.

From about $2 worth of milk, I got about $9 worth of yogurt!

I sweetened and flavored 32 ounces of yogurt with 3 TB of sugar and 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla.  Sweeten and flavor your own according to your own taste!

Since I’ve already been so hard on the budget with the amount of expensive yogurt we eat, I haven’t been making smoothies so as to make our yogurt stretch a little further.  But I really love smoothies, especially for breakfast in the morning.  Now that I have lots of yogurt to enjoy, I made some smoothies this morning.

The first smoothie I made was a Raspberry Orange Smoothie which I put into Job’s sippy cup for him to enjoy.  It kept him nice and busy during breakfast this morning!

Raspberry Orange Smoothie:

1 cup Orange Juice

1 cup frozen raspberries

1 cup ice

1/2 cup yogurt

Blend and enjoy.  If you use your plain yogurt, you might want to add a little sugar to sweeten.

Triple Berry Smoothie-I made this smoothie because Brandon loves the Triple Berry Smoothie from Orange Julius.  This recipe came out pretty good, maybe not quite as good as Orange Julius but a stiff contender!

1 1/2 cups of a berry mix, such as raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries

1 cup yogurt

1 cup ice

1/4 cup of frozen berry juice concentrate (I used a cranberry blend, it added a nice tartness as well as helped to sweeten the smoothie)

sugar to taste or extra juice concentrate

Blend and enjoy!

I took the extra smoothie and put it in ice cube trays to freeze.  Then I can just pop out a smoothie cube and give it to Job to enjoy for a snack.  Note: sadly the cubes didn’t pop out quite as easily as I had hoped, I think if I lined an 8×8 pan with wax paper, poured the smoothie in, froze it, and then used the wax paper to lift out the frozen smoothie from the pan and then cut the large hunk into smaller cubes, this would work better. 

I had to dig the frozen smoothie cube out of the tray so it broke into pieces. Job didn't seem to mind though!

Another fun way to use yogurt is to make a yogurt cheese.  Simply put a cheese cloth over a plastic container and secure.  Make sure there is some give in the cheese cloth so that you can pour yogurt onto it.  Pour desired amount of yogurt onto the cheese cloth and allow to strain for a few hours to overnight.  Stir occasionally.  This is one way to make your yogurt a little thicker, or if you strain it longer, the yogurt will get really dry and stiff, almost like cream cheese.  This is really yummy smeared over crackers!

Straining the yogurt. It still has a ways to go to become more of a cheese consistency. The leftover product is called Whey and can be used for all kinds of purposes.

Hope this inspires you to try making your own yogurt!  Happy Yogurting!

Since I didn’t figure this out on my own, I should probably give credit where credit is due.  Here is the site where I learned to make my own yogurt in a crockpot.

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Activity Plan Week 4

I’m sorry this post is so late…it’s not very helpful to have an activity plan for the week come half way through the week.  But here it is, the fourth and final plan in my series!  If you have missed the other weeks, you can check them out here:

Activity Plan Week 1, Activity Plan Week 2, Activity Plan Week 3

Now that I have a four week rotation of activities, I plan to work on collecting more activities to go with each activity category.  As you know, children at this stage are developing so fast, and so I’m sure that I will need to have some new activities to replace “outdated” activities in the next few months.  Hopefully though, many of these activities will last for at least a little while.   As I collect activities, I will post and share them with you!  You can also find me on Pinterest and view all the toddler activities I’ve been pinning.

Here are some pictures from last week:

Playing with edible finger paint. Job had fun, but it definitely wasn't a "free time" activity, as he was finished in about 10 minutes, and then crawling around the floor with goopy hands. One day I'll learn that toddlers have very short attention spans!

This was the mail box drop activity. Job is too young to understand how to slide a piece of paper through a small space, so I cut a larger hole for him to just drop toys through. He liked that!

Working on a Valentine's Day project. I gave him a paintbrush because I've found that this helps the activity last longer, rather with finger painting, they are done in just a few minutes.

Dad and Job watching monkey videos on YouTube. Job was so fascinated!

And here are this week’s activities (underlined activities have a link attached to them).  Happy Activiting!

Songs:

Here is a whole PDF of active songs for young toddlers.  There were so many fun ones, I couldn’t choose just two, so take your pick!

Kitchen Time:

Paper Fun: This activity looks like it will definitely need some supervision, but will hopefully keep a little one entertained long enough to get some cooking done!

Baked Cotton Balls: I must be feeling brave this week because it seems like I keep choosing some “questionable” activities.  This activity looks like a lot of fun for a toddler, though maybe a bit messy for mom.  I plan to give him one of his play hammers and have at it on the kitchen floor

Art:

Truck Painting: This activity looks like it could either be a lot of fun, or a big mistake.  Have your toddler roll toy trucks through a plate of paint, and then roll it on a big piece of paper.

Berry Painting: I plan to blend some frozen fruit I have and then see what Job does with it.  He may end up just eating it, either way, hopefully it will keep him busy for a little bit!

Structured Time:

Duplexes-build towers together

Barn Yard-Job loves the little barn and animals that Gramma gave him for Christmas

Trike Push-trying to encourage Job to walk with me last week didn’t go so well, he just let go of my hands and took off crawling.  I guess crawling works for him so he doesn’t see a reason to improve!  But the little trike that he showed relatively little interest in a few weeks ago, he suddenly loves to push around.  So we can go downstairs in our basement and push it around in a big open space to work out some energy and get some practice walking.

Unloading the Dishwasher: Last week when I was unloading the dishwasher Job began handing me the utensils.  He helped me unload all the silverware, and then I handed him the dirty silverware to put back in.  He loved it!  So I’m going to try encouraging him to continue to help me unload the dishwasher and see how it goes.  Maybe we can get some structured time in and a chore at the same time!

Free Play Activities (these are activities that will hopefully require very little supervision from you but keep your little one occupied for a little while):

Cotton Ball Play: Fill a bowl up with cotton balls and let your toddler throw them, pull them apart, mush them into a cup etc.

Painting with Water: Fill one or two tupperware containers with a little bit of a water, add some food coloring, and set them on a linoleum or tile floor with a paintbrush.  Let your toddler paint the floor.

Rice Sensory Tub: Job loves to let the sand at the park sift through his fingers, so hopefully this activity will be a fun replacement.

Stay tuned for a post on Thursday on how to make your own yogurt.  This was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done!

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