Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Where am I?

Have you wondered where I've been? Ya me too.

I don't know why, but I can't seem to get back into my routines in the last few weeks and this includes blogging.

I don't even remember the last time I went through my reader and READ blogs. I blame pinterest for that because all the good stuff ends up there. And it's all pictures, so it's easier to find the good stuff.

But I've been working on a party for my nephew that is happening in a couple of weeks, so don't worry you'll be getting pictures (Pictures! Can you believe it? I feel like it's been months since I used my camera. Probably because that's basically true).

I've also been doing some Christmas crafty stuff, but the problem with that is a lot of it is for gifts and the recipients read my blog, so you don't get to see that stuff until AFTER Christmas. Lame. Because it takes up so much of my time in terms of making stuff to show you.

But I have started the Christmas baking and if there's anything new that I think you should all see then I will post pictures of that to help us all get in the Christmas mood. And we need to get in the Christmas mood because in 5 short days the Christmas season will have officially started no ifs ands or buts. And by the way, this is part of the reason I think Canadians planned when our thanksgiving happens SO much better than Americans. Ha!





Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What's for Dinner? Menu Planning Tips

I'm hardly a menu-planning expert, but I've had a few friends and family ask me for tips, so I thought I'd put it all right here.
This is from our farmers market meal. And yes, I like my steak that rare.
Let's start at the beginning. When Mark and I first got married, we tried to menu plan. It was a huge flop. We ended up with too much food and way too much money spent.

Then last year when I started my second maternity leave I knew it would be the ticket to my sanity. I didn't want (nor had time) to spend all day figuring out what we were having for supper. I have kept it up for 14 months except for one 2 week stint which only reconfirmed that I needed to stick to it. I will never go back.



So how did I go from total flop the first time to successfully doing it the next time I attempted?

Well it was my approach. Menu planning should make your life easier and it should be cheaper. If it's not, you've got to change your approach.

The first time, I made a list of all my favourite foods and then I made a list of all the ingredients, bought them and that was our food. Except I didn't consider that all of our favourite things are expensive. Nor did I think about uses for left-overs so then we had lots of wasted food.

Now I take a different approach. First, I plan 2 weeks at a time (for me a month is overwhelming). I do a big grocery shop 2x a month and then go back just for fresh stuff on the weeks in between.


I also plan my meals BEFORE I go grocery shopping (I know that seems like a no-brainer to some, but not everyone does this).


Now this is what I do:

To start I take inventory of what is in my freezer and cupboards. Often I'll buy a big pack of meat because it's cheaper and split it up, but I only have planned two meals and it gave me four so there are 2 packs of meat buried in the bottom of my freezer (I recently started a list (ha!) of what is in my freezer so I don't lose anything in the bottom). I also take a look through my pantry and figure out if I'm almost out of basic ingredients (to save last minute trips to the store). Then I look through my fridge and see if there is something that needs to be used up.

I start with what I have and I plug in the types of meat (and I do some non-meat days too!) into the plan. I don't worry too much about recipes, this is more just to make sure that we have variety. Because as much as I like chicken, I don't want to eat it 5 days in a row.

If I know there is something fresh that can be used in a recipe, I put it into the slots right then.

I also plan a "leftover day or two." This will help me plan what types of foods to make the meat into. Casseroles yield leftovers at our house, but steaks on the BBQ do not, so if I want to have leftovers, I make sure I plan one of my meats into a casserole.

I will fill in the blanks based on what is on sale (check the flyers!).

I like to try new recipes, but I find with menu planning it's best to reuse recipes. I keep a list of the typical recipes I use. I find it's easier to plug them into the plan when I can see them in front of me and then I don't keep acquiring random ingredients that I use once and am stuck with the bottle. I had a bottle of hoisen sauce in my fridge for years that I finally chucked because I couldn't figure out what I made with it and it obviously wasn't good enough that I didn't forget.

I'll add 1-2 new meals for each 2 weeks plan just to find new things to add to the mix, but my rule is that it has to have mainly ingredients that I have on hand or use all the time. If we love the recipe I add it to the list, but otherwise it's just a one-time thing. If it was good, but more expensive, then I put it on a list for times when company comes over or nicer meals.


After I plug all my meals into my plan (I do mine right on my on-line calendar) then I go through the recipes and make sure that I have all the ingredients either in my pantry or on my grocery list. And I make sure that I have ENOUGH of each ingredient because it's nice to have potatoes in the cupboard, but if you only have 4 and you need them for 3 different meals, it's not going to help you if you don't pick some up.

You also have to be flexible with the plan. Maybe you planned to eat something one day and it ended up making way more than you planned. Throw in another left-over night to use it up (and move the meal you had planned for that day onto the next menu planning list - it saves you a day to think of). Or maybe you need a quick dinner because something came up. Swap nights around to accommodate.  Just be aware of meals that use fresh foods that you bought this week instead of next week so they don't go to waste.

I tried for a while to use a day of the week system to help me narrow down the options. So I had a day for mexican, one for italian, one for slow cooked meals, one for casseroles etc. This can be good if you can't narrow things down. I still go back to it if I'm feeling stuck.

Does this take time? Yes. But you get faster at it the more you do it. And it still takes way less time than searching for hours each day to figure out only one meal. I also like that no matter how jam-packed my day is, when I get up in the morning I have a plan and can just pull whatever I need to out of the freezer and I'm ready to go at dinner time. I love being free of the stress of what's for dinner.

Some other tips:

-I plan right in my calendar so that I know what is going on that day. On days I'm teaching I have to plan meals that either Mark can make on his own or that I can make up before I go. It's not going to work to plan a meal that takes an hour to prepare for the day you're running your kids to all their activities and are only in the house for 15 minutes.


-Sometimes you just have to pick a meal and move on as opposed to pouring through cookbooks and online. They don't all have to be gourmet.

-Ask your family for suggestions, because then you know they'll eat it.

-Until you get into the habit, when you plan your meals, mark into your calendar (a few days before the end of your current plan) to menu plan the next few weeks. That way you won't get to your first unplanned day and be stuck again. Make sure you can go grocery shopping in there too.

-If you have meals that you can make 2 of and freeze one, do it. This will save you time on a busy night. Add it to your list so you remember what is in your freezer.

-For freezer meals or meat that I've bought in bulk packs, I use freezer ziplock bags and lay them flat. Ground beef thaws much faster when it's spread out in the bag instead of a lump which is handy on days when you forget to pull something out. And it's easier to stack (or stand on it's side like a meat library), which means you can actually find things.


Do you meal plan? What are your tips?


 

*If you're a regular reader you'll realize that all the pictures in this post are recycled. That's because tonight's dinner was nothing spectacular. Mark and I are both sick so I made the kids KD. I wasn't going to take a picture of THAT for my blog!

Monday, October 17, 2011

My Little Composer

This kid needs a bigger stage. And maybe some singing lessons to work on pitch...She just cracks me up! 

Sorry that she decided to start singing right when the sun started pouring onto her "stage" and thus in order to actually see her face I had to close the curtains leading to wonky lighting. And I promise she has never seen Adam Lambert, though you wouldn't know if from that tongue.

Really hoping Blogger videos decided they like me so you can see this...
video

Friday, October 14, 2011

Why I Love The Middle

There are very few TV shows that can make me laugh out loud. So when I find one, I watch it religiously. Have you seen The Middle? I've watched it from the beginning and last year got Mark hooked too. It is by far my favourite sit-com!

So I have compiled a top 10 list of why I love it so much.


10. I love that the family is poor. And not like when Rachel on Friends was just a waitress but still had fabulous hair and clothes and went out to fancy places with her friends all the time. Nope, they eat non-brand food (with totally fun non-brand food names), wear boring clothes and can't afford to fix anything so they duct tape their dishwashes seals and hold it closed with a broom handle. I love that.

9. They named their second child Sue Sue Heck. Yup her middle name is the same as her first name. That's funny!

8. Axl makes me so glad I don't have a teenage son. Nor will I ever.

7. Frankie's boss. He's so ick and so sexist. And I love that she's stuck with him.

6. I love the quirky look to the show. Look at their clothes, they don't coordinate at all and all the walls are bright colours. It just gives it such a fun vibe. And Axl is always in his shorts. Classic.

5. I love the way Frankie and Mike fight. Because it's really just Frankie fighting and Mike hardly saying anything (or even better the episode when Frankie fought both sides. Classic!).

4. Brick is basically the kid you find so annoying you love him. And I love how literally he takes things. And when they have parent-teacher interviews I die! And his whisper. Ha!

3. Their house is a disaster, they eat crap food and Frankie is never on top of anything. Which pretty much means no matter how bad I'm doing at life, when I watch the show I can always feel good about myself.

2. I love the dynamic of Mike's thinking and Frankie's thinking. Mark and I relate on so many levels.

1. Sue Heck. She's my favourite character by far. Mostly because she is everything awesome about the awkward nerdy years so many of us endured. And she's so positive about it. I heart her.


Have you seen this show? What do you love about it? If you haven't, you need to watch it. Wednesdays!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Some Letters...

 Dear Pumpkin Pie,


I love you.




Dear Costco,


Thank you for making very large pumpkin pies that take more than one sitting to devour. Now if you could do something about the calorie counts...


Dear people who have never given birth,

Please never suggest to your over-due pregnant friends that they just go get a shot of pitocin to speed things along. You have obviously never had that evil drug injected into your veins and dealt with the ramifications of such an act. If you had, you would never in a million years suggest such a tramatizing thing to your friend, especially in the name of impatiences to meet their child.


Dear choir music,

I wish you would stick in my head better.




Dear Shaw,


I wish you would tell me when you're going to move my channels in order to make more HD channels. I get that it needs to be done, but the PVR you sold me isn't smart enough to move the scheduled recording to the new channel. And then I miss an entire month of a show before I notice. And now I have no idea what is going on this season! But, uh, thanks for the employee discounts. Definitely not complaining about that!



Dear Fondant,

I'm coming for you...


Dear Mady and Kate,

Thank you for playing together. Now it would be great if you could learn to like different toys.


Dear Tailbone,

I know you're mad at me for sitting on you so long during yesterday's car ride. I don't think you understand the importance of "if the kids are sleeping you just keep driving." I promise I will make it up to you today by barely sitting on you at all.


Dear Bulk Barn,

No one actually likes Halloween candy so I think it would be perfectly appropriate to trade it all out for the Christmas stock this week.


Dear Christmas,

I'm excited that the season has officially started. Please send snow on November 1st so we can get to decorating in a timely manner. Until then, lets get to the Christmas shopping, shall we?




Monday, October 10, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Things I'm Thankful For:


Pumpkin Pie
My mother-in-law's cran/raspberry salad
My mom's stuffing (that I will miss this year!)
A warm house
Two healthy beautiful girls
Having 2 vehicles so I'm not stuck at home
My wonderful husband who is a fabulous daddy and happens to make the world's best apple pie
Crunchy leaves in the fall
That Christmas is less than 3 months away
That after this weekend I can finally dive full into Christmas mode since I don't acknowledge halloween to be worthy of holiday status.
New friends
Old friends
Getting to sing with such a great group of musicians every week. What a treat!
Getting to help train the next generation of musicians. And aw shucks they are cute!
Rooms of 3 and 4 year olds trying to be ballerinas
nap time
Electricity. What a fabulous find that was!
Dance parties in my living room
Ice cream
Birthday parties
Sunrises in the fall


What are you thankful for?











Saturday, October 8, 2011

Fill in the Blanks

Today I'm _____________ all the way to _____________. So that means I'm __________ and not doing a _________ blog post.

Don't bother _____________ my house. Because besides there being nothing worth _____________, we have ___________ in place.






Thursday, October 6, 2011

Attempt at Family Pictures part 1

Last night, though it was cloudy, which then turned to rain, we attempted outdoor family pictures.

My friend Carlin took them for us. We're going to do it in two shifts because the rain and a strong-willed three year old don't always cooperate.

I can't wait to show you some of the pictures when I get them! I love Carlin's work. You can check out her site at crjphoto.ca

Here is basically how the hour that we did manage to be outside went.

-Kate sat on a chair, and was kind of intrigued to be the centre of attention.

-Mady then sat on the chair, much more shy. But when she told Mr. Stephen how old she was and held out 3 fingers a little bird came and landed on her hand. Realizing it was sitting on a 3 year old it quickly flew away. But Mady thought it was the coolest thing ever.

-Kate drooled a lot

-Mady got to hold a yellow umbrella and she loved it

-The girls played with pumpkins

-We put on and took off our sweaters no less than 15 times. Or so it felt.



Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It's All Starting To Catch Up

I would probably choose a slighty different pose, but I totally feel like doing this:


Maybe I can use the long weekend to catch up??

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Wilton Cake Class 2 - Final Cake

 Last night was my final cake class. We were to bring an iced cake to finish with some flowers (also pre-made) that we learned to make in the class. I decided that daffodils were probably my best flower and went with that.

Here's a close-up of the sides


Of course everyone made a cake. Here are the rest of the cakes from the class. You'll notice that I didn't do the basket weave on my cake. It think I will make another cake with all my practice flowers and use the basket weave at that point. Which is really my way of saying that I need more practice!



I wish I had taken a before picture of this one. She had trouble with it and it was the sorriest looking cake when she brought it in. I've now learned that basket weave can cover a multitude of cake issues!


I love this one!



Here's a close up of the lilies from my favourite one. She used edible markers and luster dust. Gorgeous.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Makenna's 4th Birthday

If there is one thing I'm thankful for, it's great friends for my kids. I think this is one of the best things you can give your child and sadly it's not always up to you.

Makenna is what Mady would consider her best friend, if 3 year olds even understand a term like that. I love how they play together and just love each other. They've known each other their whole lives (well, since Mady came into the picture when Makenna was 9 months old).

On the weekend Makenna celebrated her 4th birthday. It was filled with lots of bouncing, painting, food and princess fun! All her favourite things.

Below are some highlights of the evening.

Katie asked me to make some purple flowers for the princess cake. They even perfectly matched the accessories sight unseen. Amazing

Bouncing!


"Look! There's Mady!" (note the doll in hand. She ALWAYS has a doll. She can find them anywhere)

Eating


Katie is so much braver than I. She gives preschoolers paint. And rocks. And glitter.

Kate played instead of painted.

Pet rocks by Mady and Aralynn

Ezra's (and I think my favourite)

Claire's

Makenna's

Jude's (this was a train!)

Ethan's

Ana's (my other favourite)

"Happy Birthday To You!"

I love the look of satisfaction after blowing out the candle
Chilling, sucking on a ring pop while presents are opened

Nothing is more attractive than your friend's princess tiara!
Opening the gift from Mady. Notice all the kids' blue lips. Ha!
Thanks for a great party, Makenna! We are so glad to have you as such a special friend!