Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

this is not a flashy, fun tip.  but the beginning of the school year always beckons me to greater organization and efficiency as i end up pulled in multiple directions.  and, as much as fall is my favorite time to be in the kitchen baking, i don't like to feel trapped at meal time.  here are a few tips to make dinner time a little easier on you.

buy in bulk but freeze in smaller quantities.  a big package of 24 chicken thighs is a great idea until they are all frozen into a solid chunk and you only need 6 of them.  divide up your meat into family sized portions when you return from the grocery store, so that when it's time to prepare your meals, you don't have to thaw out large quantities of meat.  this works especially well with ground meat.

before you freeze, marinate.  this takes the above tip one step further.  as you divide up your chicken into freezer bags, pour in some marinade.  not only will your meat be divided in appropriate portions, it will also be pre-seasoned and ready to go.

cook meat, then freeze.  if you have the time and inclination, the next time you buy 5 lbs of ground beef, brown it all (even mix it with onions / garlic / peppers, etc) and then divide it up into however large a portion you would usually use for your family's meals (think chili, spaghetti sauce, tacos, etc).  once the meat is thawed, you won't need to worry about cooking or seasoning it - just add it to the recipe at hand.

cook meat, then freeze.  part 2.  for a while, i found myself avoiding recipes that required cooked, cut up chicken because i never had any on hand... and i never had the time to prepare the chicken and the meal.  of course, leftover chicken works for this.  but my favorite thing to do is to buy a chicken, cook it in the crock pot, bone it, and portion and freeze the boned / shredded chicken in freezer bags.  a small chicken will yield several cups of chicken - usually enough for 2 casseroles / meals.  you can take it one step further and save the broth that is left in the crock pot.  put it in a large bowl in the fridge until the fat congeals on top (sorry... that sounds so gross).  then carefully scrape the fat off and you'll be left with virtually fat-free chicken broth.  again - dump it in a freezer bag and you've got one more common ingredient waiting for you in the freezer.

prepare and freeze veggies.  of course, i've mentioned this before.  but beyond tomatoes and peppers, you can shred carrots and zucchini and squash and freeze them for baking purposes.  you could also chop and saute onions and garlic so that they are instantly ready to be added to your meals.

make and freeze meals.  this is the most obvious tip... one that many people already do.  but there are days when the knowledge of a casserole in the freezer can rescue you from the brink of insanity... or make your weekend just a bit more relaxing.

do you have any tips to add to this list?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

somewhere between valium and a scented candle

i begin writing this knowing that there is a very good chance i won't get to finish.  that's why i haven't gotten much further than my weekly Tuesday's Tip.  regrettably, life doesn't slow down for my need to write about it.  neither do my kids.

blogging went from being a mystery to a guilty pleasure, but now it is an illusive luxury - something i wonder if i'll ever get to enjoy again.  when i actually take the time to sit and write, i don't often finish my thoughts because my "audience" has simply broadened too much.  venting isn't an option when too many people may read with the ever-popular "is she talking about me?" question lurking in the back of their minds.  (the answer, btw, is no, i'm not.  i never am.)  of course, what began as a sahm's ramblings is now open to male readers, which i'm fine with... but it occurs to me that men don't want to know about pms and other such stuff that i wouldn't mind getting off my chest.  (see,... "chest" - maybe i shouldn't have written that).  honesty isn't always the best policy.

but, i've never been one for writing fiction... and my life doesn't always play out as a self-help piece, either.  whining isn't an option, because, as you may know, whining-blogs top my list of pet-peeves.  so, here i am.

i spoke with my doctor last year about that feeling of insanity that hits me once a month (sorry, guys...).  i'm sure she meant to be helpful, but she wasn't.
"maybe you could light a candle and try to relax?" she offered.  really?  are you kidding me?  on some days, i'd be more likely to light the house on fire...
"well, some women take valium."  ok, clearly we're not connecting here.  

so, here i stay.  somewhere between valium and a scented candle.  i need to write about it but am not sure i can put it out there without feeling like i shouldn't have.  really, i have nothing to hide.  but, in real life, people find out what they want by getting to know me.  what they don't know about me remains a mystery because they've chosen to keep their distance.

blogging has changed that world, though...
now we can lurk without a trail.
read without commenting.
collect information to disclose without the guilt of gossip.
it's amazing how technology has fully opened up lines of communication all while allowing us the comfort of our firmly built walls.  i never thought i'd mind.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

this summer has not been my garden's finest hour.  last year, i was up to my eyeballs in tomatoes and zucchini.  this year, not so much.  we have been blessed by the abundance of others' produce, though, and i'm grateful.

one of the biggest food challenges of summertime is using up all the fresh foods before they go bad.  here's what i do with my peppers when they start to look a little "iffy."

as you can see, these bell peppers have seen better days.  i could either throw them away or find a way to incorporate them into that day's dinner...

instead, i cut out the bad parts...

then i chop everything up to "recipe size"

and place it all in a freezer bag.

not only does this prevent me from having to throw away the veggies that i forgot to use, but it also helps me keep a recipe necessity ready and on-hand in my freezer.

this also works with tomatoes (i believe...)  and just yesterday i chopped up several jalapenos for the same purpose (although i should have worn gloves because my fingers are still tingling).

give it a try - store a bit of summer in your freezer :)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

i'm still enjoying my sand / shell art.  this week's tip continues the sea shell theme.

part of the fun of going to the beach, i think, is all the stuff on display there.  this year, we saw tons of jelly fish as well as lots of crabs, fish, horseshoe crabs... we even found a blowfish.  the dolphin swim by in large groups and the pelicans are always fun to watch.

this year, as i mentioned last week, was also great for shells.  it just seemed that the tides brought in an abundant variety of shapes and sizes.  of course, the kids and i had fun collecting buckets full.  but this year, i decided to snap photos of them, as well.

now, seriously, i'm no photographer.  i don't even aspire to become one.  i wouldn't even go so far as to say that it's my hobby.  i don't have multiple lenses.  i couldn't tell you which camera i own unless i quickly glanced at the front of mine.  that being said, my camera is always close by, always charged, and always emptied of recent pics to make room for more.  i have a digital that i love and i've taken the time to really figure out what it can do and how to best use it (admittedly, i have lots left to learn).

so, when i saw all that the beach had to offer this summer, i quickly switched to the "macro" setting on my trusty digital and went to town.

just changing the angle of the camera can create some interesting shots, too...

and the water, itself, is interesting enough...

i'm not sure that i'll do anything with these pictures...  but i could!  printed in large sizes, they would look nice framed.  they would also serve well when making fun photo gifts (think calendars, mugs, etc.) for the beach lover.  i could go on... i could show you more photos.  but i'll stop.

my final "use" for shells this year is a little outside the box, but one that works just as well.  year after year, inevitably, the treasures my kids collect get pitched at some point because, as you may guess, i can only fill so many vases.  this year, i gave my kids the assigment of collecting shells that we could send to some friends in the midwest whose kids have not yet seen the ocean.  my friend amanda lives in arkansas, has 3 young children (and is expecting 2 more!), and a beach vacation is not on her horizon.  we are sending a package to her kids filled with shells, rocks, and sand, along with notes and pictures from my kids explaining what the beach is like.  we are hoping they have fun with the stuff we found... and can enjoy something we are "finished" with.  

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

i feel like it's been forever.  two weeks off from anything can do that to you.  we enjoyed our beach vacation, but even while away, my mind was working.  and one day, while walking along the surf collecting shells, a friend asked, "so, do you have any tuesday's tips for what to do with sea shells?"  funny you should ask.  this one's for you, bethany...

depending on which beach you visit, shells can be a rarity.  this year, they absolutely littered the coastline.

last year, i made it a point to only collect shells with a bit of purple on them.  this year, my goal was to find perfect shells - unbroken and classic. 

i brought home 2 large ziploc bags filled with treasures.  then, as an afterthought, i had my sister bring back a few bags filled with sand.  

i rinsed my shells...

i also cleaned them.  (call me compulsive, but i don't want the odor of decomposing sea creatures emanating from my center piece.  i'm just sayin...)

they dried completely...

and then i got to work.  
chances are, you have lots of decorative glass containers around your house.  most people have vases or even mason jars that will gladly serve double duty for decorative purposes.  if you don't, however, check out the dollar store.  or, if you're fortunate enough to live near an Ikea, stop by.  seriously,  you haven't lived, if you haven't browsed that store at least once.  this project gave me a great excuse to visit my nearby Ikea (thank the good Lord for placing one a mere ten minutes away).  

now, i realize there are a ton of artistic ways to use sea shells.  i mentioned last year's collection of purple shells.  this picture doesn't justify their color, but i like the idea of a color theme when using shells.  it works.

because this year's shells were more about their shape and form, i wanted to showcase them a little bit differently.  here's what i came up with...

with the exception of my trip to Ikea (which was really an unnecessary indulgence for me), this was free art.  i love taking full advantage of what nature has to offer... without bordering on overkill.  using sea shells, subtly, adds a neutral touch of class to your home while reminding you of your fun on the beach.  

i love the idea of using all of what the beach has to offer so much that this tuesday's tip will continue next week...