Friday, March 19, 2010

Three Decades

I've been alive three whole decades now...and it sounds so weird to say that I'm thirty. It just doesn't roll off my tongue as well as twenty "something" did. :) My birthday was last Sunday (the 14th, for those who don't want to do the math) and I spent it resting and attending A.R.'s cousin's baby shower. We didn't get the invitation until the weekend before, so our planned dinner to celebrate my birthday was post poned until last night. Being 9 months pregnant and losing an hour due to daylight savings pretty much guaranteed that I'd manage only enough energy to attend the baby shower.
On Wednesday, A.R. surprised me at my mother-in-law's with a delishous cake from a local bakery that was a copy of our wedding cake. Yummy! It was white cake with rasberry cream filling- my favorite. Then, last night we went out to dinner together at Wood 'n Tap which is a local restaurant we both love and happens to be where we went on our very first date four years ago. :)

I'll look back fondly on my twenties as it was the decade I feel I grew and learned the most about myself and I became the woman I am today. It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows in my twenties, but I have a lot of memories and moments that make me, me. I had my heart broken, I laughed, I cried, I made friends for life, I lost close friends, my grandmother passed away (the 1st death in my family close to my heart), I made a career for myself, I earned a BS and an MBA degree, I bought my first condo, I sold that condo, I got pregnant, I bought a house, I lost my childhood cat to cancer, I adopted two great dogs, and I met and married my soul mate. Boy have I come a long, long way...

and with this post, I celebrate my 100th post to my blog!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mom Inspired Give-A-Way: Make Your Own Baby Food

I really hope to make my own baby for our little girl just like my mom did for my siblings and I. I know it isn't that difficult and it will save a ton of money. Plus, have you ever tried canned baby food? Not tastey. At our baby shower we had a game where four couples had to eat a jar of baby food and all four of us that participated were completely disgusted! One woman even almost threw it up.

Check out this blog. She has been making her own baby food and is now hosting a give-a-way for a make your own baby food cookbook that she used.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Once-A-Month Cooking: Installment 3

Cooking time!

I was too impatient to wait for the weekend to begin my cooking adventures, so I decided to cook in the evenings after work (YES! I'm insane) by meat type which was how the cooking schedule was broken up for the meal plan I chose anyway. Day 1 was beef dishes, day 2 was fish and miscellaneous dishes, day 3 was pork dishes, and the last day were the chicken dishes.
Meals ready for the freezer

Day 1 of cooking I was able to finish 9 meals with the help of A.R. before I couldn't stand any longer and my swollen tree trunk calves and cankles needed a break. After night one of cooking, it was VERY clear that this was an adventure I shouldn't have waited for my 9th month of pregnancy to undertake!! A.R. got home from school and jumped right in to save me...I think he was a little scared of my nesting :). Day 1 of cooking took 3 1/2 hours and I made the following meals: Green Chile Enchiladas, Baked Beans & Hamburgers, Grandma's Chili, French Dip, Marinated Flank Steak, Shish Kabobs, Rosie's Meat Loaf, Jack Burgers, and a Sicilian Meat Roll. There was actually two additional beef meals, but I just didn't have the stamina to finish all the meals.
Meals labeled & ready for the freezer

On Day 2 of cooking I had hoped to cook for only 2 hours so I could put up my feet for a little while before bed time. Day 1 had thoroughly exhausted me and made me a little sore from being on my feet so long, so going to work the next day was a real struggle. I finished the beef dishes on Day 2 and cooked the miscellaneous and fish dishes in 2 1/2 hours. Once again after his class got out, A.R. came home and rescued me by helping out. I made the Mexican Stroganoff and Three-Bean Taco Chili first, then I made the Crustless Spinach Quiche, marinated and froze the Grilled Salmon, and a recipe called Dawn's Lasagna. To make things easier on Day 3, A.R. browned the sausage for me that would be required for some of the pork dishes and I refridgerated it in ziplock bags in the fridge over night.

One thing I was pleasantly surprised by at this point was that some of the dishes really didn't require much prep work before freezing. Some of the steaks just needed a marinade made which we poured in the freezer bags with them and then froze. Also, the lasagna was really easy to prep for freezing as I didn't have to boil the noodles in advance. Those dishes that did require some prep work and cooking (chilis, enchiladas, beef stew, stroganoff, etc.) all smelled absolutely delishous!

Day 3 was the pork dishes and I made all dishes in the plan except for the Ham dishes which I eliminated as A.R. isn't a fan of cooked ham. I made Cranberry Pork (marinated it and it froze it so it is now crock pot ready), Split Pea Soup from scratch (my first homemade soup ever!!), Italian Shepherd's Pie, and Bird's Nest Pie. Cooking time on Day 3 took 1 1/2 hours.

After Day 3 of cooking during the week I gave up and decided to wait for the weekend to finish the last of the meals and make the chicken dishes. A.R. was on board again as my sous chef and we were able to finish up the meals in 2 hours. We made Chicken Tetrazinni, Sweet & Sour Chicken (I tasted it and it was DELISH!), Chicken a la King, Southwestern Chicken Soup, Lemon Chicken, Chicken and Rice Pilaf, and Oriental Chicken.

Our total cooking time: 9 1/2 hours- the book said it would take 6-8 hours if you followed the prep schedule which we did not. I think if we had cooked the meats in advance (like we did with the sausage) along with pre-chopped all the veggies our cooking time would've been decreased. I was also slowed down being 9 months pregnant, swollen, and tired!

I must say our freezer smells AMAZING when you open it now and I feel so much better having so many meals ready to cook. We've already eaten a couple of the meals which I will review in later blog posts. If the meals taste as good as they smell in our freezer we'll definitely try Once-A-Month cooking again, but not until AFTER I have this baby!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Once-A-Month Cooking: Installment 2

Grocery Shopping Trip(s):

On Saturday, A.R. and I ventured out to buy the groceries needed on the list provided in the Once-A-Month Cooking book for Meal Plan E. We hit up Sam's Club to buy items needed in bulk especially the meat, produce, and frozen foods needed. I was going to purchase all the canned goods there as well, but the cans actually were too large and I worried about my ability to safely store any leftover food in a can that has already been opened. Our second stop was a local grocery store we frequent for smaller quantities of items including canned goods, frozen foods, and fresh produce.
Our Sam's shopping cart...not too bad, right?

The total shopping trip took us about 3 hours total both in-store and driving times and I was exhausted afterwards. I definitely have to consider the fact I'm in my 9th month of pregnancy this time around. I'm planning on figuring out if this new way of cooking will actually save us money or not. I'm thinking it will, but only if we actually eat the meals that I've pre-made and do not go out to eat or order take-out!! :) Here is the break down of costs so far (I've eliminated any household items like toilet paper, paper towels, etc. that we bought at the same time):

Sam's Club: $256.88
Local Grocery Store: 141.51 (includes spices I was missing & freezer storage containers)
Total Cost of food: $398.39

If you divide the total $398.39 by 30 meals in a month the total would be $13.28/meal, but since most of the recipes I have are for a family of 4 I think that I'll be able to make more like 40 meals which would be $9.96/meal. Not too shabby considering we'll probably even have leftovers that can be eaten as lunches, too. If we stick to the meal plan and don't eat out as much, there definitely will be some great cost savings to us each month.

Local Grocery Store Shopping Cart...

On the shopping trip I actually ended up eliminating two of the meals on the menu because A.R. informed me he hated ham. I thought I could trick him into trying it in a recipe, but he caught me red-handed. DOH! On those two nights we can heat up something else like a frozen pizza or a Bertolli's pre-made pasta dinner instead. I have already cooked one of the recipes in the book using my crock pot over night on Saturday. I made the French's Stew recipe and it's labeled and frozen in our freezer ready to go! It smelled DELICIOUS!
My counter with the canned goods ready for cooking

Next Installment: The cooking begins!

Laughing is the Best Medicine

A.R. is a fan of the ventriloquist/comedian Jeff Dunham and I found out that he was bringing his show to Hartford this year, so for Christmas I hooked up my loving husband with two tickets to the show. He was supposed to go with his brother, who is also a fan, but something came up and I got to go along to the show instead.
Walter- the grumpy old man with Jeff Dunham
I was a bit leery about going considering I'm now in my 9th month of pregnancy and rather uncomfortable (read: "the size of a whale"), but the show turned out to be HILARIOUS and the Civic Center wasn't completely horrible. The line for the ladies room was my first annoyance and then climbing the stairs to our seat was pretty crappy. The stairs were made worse by the fact that I waited so long in the bathroom line that by the time I made it into the arena, the opening act was on and the lights were out so seeing the seat rows and numbers was nearly impossible. We found what we thought was our row and seats, but they were occupied. The lady in my seat actually got annoyed with me and told me I was blocking her view of the stage. I just stared at her and we went back down the stairs to check with the security guard that we were indeed in the right place. We were. I huffed and puffed up the stairs AGAIN and the lady wouldn't budge. Fortunately, a gentlemen in the next section noticed the hoopla and came over to tell us the two seats next to him were empty so we just sat there. Well, intermission time came and low and behold the people whose seats we had sat in came.
Achmed- everyone's favorite terrorist with Jeff Dunham
A.R. and I then had the immense pleasure of reconfronting the lady in our seats and showing her our tickets. The obnoxious lady then had the gall to act all sweet and innocent (after telling me previously I was blocking her view of the stage standing in the aisle huffing and puffing as she tried to watch the opening act from my seat!) and say, "Oh, we're sorry. We don't know where our seats are. We just sat down here." Yes, I'm hormonal..and it took every ounce of my resolve to not push her down the stairs as she left and I had yet another semi-painful Braxton Hicks contraction from having exerted too much energy walking the stairs twice.
Peanut with Jeff Dunham
Anyway, we got our seats and then the show began...and it was hilarious. Jeff Dunham is a very talented man! He even sang (really well) with his puppet called Peanut. All of his skits were hilarious. During his skit with the puppet called, Achmed- Everyone's favorite terrorist, he had me in tears it was so funny. We also got to see Walter (his grumpy old man puppet) and Bubba J came out as the finale. It is really amazing how Jeff really makes you feel like two people are on the stage instead of just a puppet and some weird guy who calls himself a ventriloquist. He shared with the audience that this was his 2nd trip to Hartford. A mere two years ago he had a show at the Bushnell with only 2,400 in the audience. My how far he has come when two years later he's performing for 10,500 audience members in a sold out arena!
Bubb J with Jeff Dunham