For a Quick Reference

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sherlock Holmes in the kitchen

The crime scene was brutal. On the kitchen counter a murdered plastic horse dripped with 'blood'.

Next to the carcass was a note. It read:

I've killed this horse for dinner! 
There are so many carnivores in this house, you'll never figure who I am! 
Signed, 'L'

From across the kitchen, a Fisher Price toy screeched, "It was terrible! I saw the whole thing! There was a loud roar, then a flash of brown, then the horse was dead! Oh somebody help!"

Sarah, Matthew and Daniel came running in to the kitchen, and with surprised glances at each other took in the entire scene. They read the note and investigated the carcass.

Daniel solemnly proclaimed, "Yup, it's dead alright." Matthew whispered, "How can plastic be dead? It never lived!" Dan replied with finality, "No, no. It's DEAD."

The witness toy sobbed and begged for the criminal to be found. He proclaimed no toys would sleep safely that night with the crimnal on the lose. (By the way, this toy's name is BobJohn.)

The letter was bagged as evidence to use in court, and the children dashed to every room of the house, searching each toy box for brown carnivores and arresting them on suspicion for murder. They did a thourough job of it. Our police lineup included tiger puppets, plastic lions and lion puppets, two T-Rex dinosaurs, stuffed dogs (including a Doberman wearing bunny ears....he's trying too hard to look innocent, I think!), and our cat, who was caught sulking under the couch (isn't that very suspicious behavior?).

The line up of suspects
Saffron topped the list of suspects
The 'policeman' (who was really Matthew), asked BobJohn to recall the crime scene. What exactly did he see?

"He was running on four legs and moving really fast!" (The kids removed the innocent citizens during the monologue, so the T-Rex toys were set free at this point, even though I would never trust a T-Rex.)

"He was all brown...I didn't see black markings anywhere." (The tigers, a pug, and the doberman were shown the door.)

"He was twice the size of me!" (Goodbye teeny plastic lions, huge lion puppet, and the live cat.)

It was narrowed down to a lion puppet, Sir Scruffyneck. Sir Scruffyneck wailed and demanded to call his lawyer.

Amazingly, the court was unscheduled that afternoon, so the trial was set to commence in 5 minutes. (Oh I love the efficiency of imaginary judicial systems!)

The prosecuting attorney scrambled to build his case agianst Sir Scruffyneck, and the list of witnesses was assembled.  While I ran to the kitchen to get dinner into the oven (and think up the arguments that would be presented in court) the children constructed a courtroom out of dollhouse furniture.

Oh this is too much fun! What a fun game to play! I think I'm having as much fun as the kids!

The trial itself will begin in Part 2 of this story.

Gardening Stupidity

Our kids toast to my own foolishness
Lest I be accused of glossing over my life and portraying only the pretty, photogenic moments, let's take a little look at the other side of reality.

I've planted my garden more than once already. Why? Because I'm an idiot. I was so excited to buy plants and get them in the ground that I didn't want to wait for the garden fence to be built. I bought onion starts from our local hardware store (which also happens to be the only place I've ever seen autographed John Wayne photos for sale....honestly, who would buy those things? This establishment is part hardware store, part garage sale.....odd). I could hear them calling my name in little aromatic onion voices as I looked into the box of plant starts. I couldn't resist. I bought a little bunch of 50 baby onion plants. Excitement began to well up inside of me from the moment I held them in my hands and smelled the sweet dirt clinging to their roots.

Onions are the most instantly-gratifying thing to plant in the garden. You just pop them down into the soil and 'presto!' there's pretty green rows of plants smiling at you. I thought I'd use those little plants as a way to motivate me into building our garden fence. You know, because now I had a deadline. I had to get that fence done before the plants could go in the ground. I was so motivated now to get it done, but several things happened that week.

1- It rained for most of the week. Have you ever tried to do ANYTHING in a muddy, overgrazed pasture? Not happening.
2- I had a lot trouble getting the fence supplies over to the garden plot.

Before I could build our fence, first I had to take it down. Seriously. I didn't want to actually BUY fencing materials (you'd know why if you priced fencing- oh baby!- it's not cheap!). So, genius that I am, I decided to reuse the fencing already on our property. There were two goat pens built into our lawn space. It was good fencing material just sitting there. Those goat pens needed to come down for more than one reason.

1- I could reuse the $150 worth of fencing.
2- More importantly, there is a fantastic tree branch just waiting for a swing to grace it....but it hangs right over the fenceline. We must make way for progress, er....swings. Down it comes! (I'm happy to get that swing off the's been sitting there each day, asking me when it will finally be hung up.)

I thought I'd pop into the yard and pull down the goat fencing in one afternoon, then relocate the materials into the new garden plot and install everything in one more afternoon. Two hard days of work and we'd be done! I could just imagine my little seedlings happily growing behind the protection of my fence line.

Um...I had those thoughts 2 weeks ago.....and no, the fence still isn't built.

Ignoramus that I am, I didn't realize how difficult it can be for a weakling like me to wrestle fence posts out of the ground. I spend hours on this darn fence (even spending those most-coveted hours, "baby naptime" on this!). I removed a lot of fencing from the posts, then tried to tackle the posts themselves. I threw my weight against each one, trying to use leverage to loosen it and wriggle it out. After lots of effort, sweat, and panting, all I had were bruised hands to show for my time. Not one fence post had yielded. Erg. This was a job for Mr. Kingsley.

Unfortunately, he gets home after dark (it's surprsing what a hour-long commute does to the family schedule!). This also means it's too late at night to send him tackling a fencing job for me. One day last week he went to work extra early just so he could come home early and work on removing this fence.

Sometimes I tease him that he must have the Jedi force. I feel like he waggles his fingers at a problem, breathes a command, and the offending problem quivers in awe and rushes to obey. At least that's the way it looks to me. Stuck jar lids? Gone. And he only used one hand to do it. Surely it must be the force.

In less than an hour he had a row of posts out of the ground and a roll of fencing ready to be moved to the garden. Thank goodness for the strength of our husbands! (Unfortunately it rained several days right after this, so the fencing materials are still sitting on our lawn, waiting for a sunny day.)

While Mr. Kingsley wrestled fence posts, I had been focusing on building the garden bed. After spending all afternoon digging in the dirt, I could hardly wait to plant something.

Back in the house, the onions were looking wilted...after all, it had been more than a week since I purchased them. They really needed dirt. The fence line wasn't protecting our garden yet.

"Do you think the deer will eat onions? They don't like onions, right? Maybe the chickens won't eat them either. Surely nothing will eat the onions because they taste so bad," I tried to convince myself I wasn't doing something stupid. Sarah tried dubiously to dissuade me as I pushed each onion into the fluffy garden bed.

I was right, nothing ate the onions, but they were still all uprooted in less than 24 hours. Our chicken flock had been irresistably drawn to the freshly-dug soil. It was the perfect place for them to scratch for bugs. They didn't eat a single bite of onions, but flung them all out of the garden in their search for tasty morsels. By the time I discovered them, they were wilted and mostly dead. What would be the use of rounding them up and replanting them? There was no fence yet. The chickens were still irresistibly attracted to the garden bed. Our dog Bella was having a grand time chasing them out of the garden for me, but this was no long-lasting solution.

I learned my lesson the hard way. I have to curb my enthusiasm and sprinkle in some wisdom (I'll even settle for some good ole common sense, since I seem to be lacking that as well) and work. Today it's supposed to be sunny, so I'm heading out to dig fence post holes. Then I'll go buy new onion transplants.

(Editorial update: It's been 2 hours since this entry was posted, and I DID IT! The fence posts are ALL set into the ground and ready for the fencing to be attached. I even reclaimed some more posts from other areas of the property, and uprooted them all by my self (BOO-YA!!) since the heavy rains loosened the soil. Thank you, Rain!)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Capturing childhood

Sarah, age 9

Today I had a little panic moment when I realized something huge. 

My daughter is nine years old. 


That might not sound significant all by itself...but I realized that my daughter's life at home is officially half-over. I only get to have her with me for nine more years until she's eighteen and moves away forever. That's not very long. I feel a mix of sadness (at the thought of missing her wonderful personality) and panic (have I taught her enough to prepare her to face the world on her own? Nope.). 

She was my first baby, my introduction to motherhood. (Does anyone else cringe with regret when they remember their first feeble attempts at parenting?) 

Poor girl. I pushed her too hard to hit milestones she wasn't ready for....I should have just cuddled her more and enjoyed her fleeting stages of babyhood. (I'm really good at enjoying babies fact, I don't accomplish much else around here when Diego is awake. I can't rip myself away from him most of the time.)

I always wanted her to move on to the next development- I'd help her practice sitting, crawling, walking, eating. 

I was obsessed with growth charts and parenting books, worried about how she would compare. I drilled her with daily scripture memorization at the age of three. What kind of parent does that? 

Forget about silly child's board books that teach colors and numbers...I read the books of J. R. Tolkein aloud to her before she was one year old. All of them.

If she ever wanted a fruit snack, I'd make her recite the alphabet to earn it (when she was two). That was for one piece. 

Luckily for my boys, I think I've really learned to lighten up and enjoy life more. I'm a much funner mother now, and I don't care what charts say at all about developmental milestones. I laugh at the numbers that attempt to manage my parenting techniques (who are we kidding, I don't use 'techniques' anymore, I fly by the seat of my pants!).

Today when the boys came home, I said, "Anyone wanting a sugar-high can have a cookie for each hand! Do you pick Snicker doodles or Chocolate Crackle cookies or both?"

Today I felt driven to simply enjoy Sarah's disappearing childhood. We jumped on the trampoline together for recess (I haven't stepped onto our trampoline since I became pregnant with's been a loooong time and boy was it fun!). 

This afternoon we played the Nail Polish Game. I have a very happy daughter today!

This is how it works: we take a bottle of nail polish and spin it on the floor (Done in 'Spin-the-Bottle' style). When it stops spinning, the lid points to the winner of the round. The winner paints one nail with the color. Then we pick a new color and spin it. We keep doing this until our nails are all painted with a rainbow. It's immensely fun. 

I like to add a white dot to each nail to bring a semblance of unity to the manicure. 

Quick note: If you are actually going to try this game, be sure to only use polishes of complementary colors {complementary as in 'look good together', not as in 'opposite the color wheel', although that would also work, I suppose} If the colors don't match intensity, it will look terrible. Deep burgundy might look sophisticated all by itself, but when it's juxtaposed with bright pink....that burgundy looks brown and drab and just...terrible. Don't do it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Museum Madness

We visited the City Museum in St. Louis last month. I can't possibly say enough about this creative playground. This museum is filled with tunnels winding in all directions (they'll start as a large walkway, then shrink smaller and smaller until I had to slide on my belly to get out the other side), slides disappearing into the floor, caves winding up and down through several floors, and crawlspaces that twist smaller and darker until you can barely squeeze through. It's equally fun for adults, teens, and children. 

It's simultaneously terrific and terrifying. 

It's a spelunker's playground, and it's all man-made of recycled materials. There is no map of the building, and the complex spans more than 10 floors of factory space. The biggest slide is a winding 10 stories tall.

We explored and played all day (after I got over the initial panic of believing it to be a kidnapper's paradise, that is.)  Most of the museum space was too dim to accommodate photography, so these pictures are very limited as far as representing the entire museum. If you ever chance to travel through St. Louis, I recommend this place as the one stop you make. It's unlike anywhere I've ever visited before!

Nate inspects a wall of Coke bottles
The human hamster wheel
Daniel climbs in a tunnel 20 feet off the ground
Nathan tops the castle tower in the outdoor  play space
Matthew peers through the floor at me
Looking up the winding stairs leading to the 10-story slide.
I only made it halfway up!
Daniel exploring aerial tunnels
Looking up one of the slides
Kristi disappears in a tunnel leading to the basement
Cousins playing in a tree house
Part of the outdoor playground. This is 50 feet off the ground!
The museum wall is a giant dragon with spikes. 
Matt exploring more dark spaces

Random Thoughts- Monkeys, Perfume and Seeds

A beautiful quiet moment

One of my life dreams has always been to play with a real monkey. Aren't they so captivating? 

I finally had a chance to hold a Capuchin monkey last week at one of my face-painting gigs. It was a circus-themed party and one of the entertainers was a clown with a trained monkey. It was SO interesting to let him climb on me and wrap his tail around my neck. She instructed the monkey to kiss me, so I presented my cheek... but he kissed me on the lips! Yikees! Who knows where those lips have been?! (And he used his tongue.....yuckers. Monkey slobber on my mouth is not appealing) Even with the unexpected 'surprises', I still relished the interaction. It was magical for me.

Remember our recent experience with a cat flea bath? Some product developer wasn't very bright. The flea shampoo we used must be 99% perfume. Poor Saffron smells like old grandma perfume (and his bath was four days ago! He still reeks!). You know....the really nasty kind of overly-floral perfume that stings your nostrils and makes you cough. I can smell him from 10 feet away. We smell his arrival into a room the instant he enters our space. I feel really bad for him. What kind of person loads animal products with perfume? Don't they know how sensitive animal olfactory glands are? I'll be amazed if Saffron has ANY sense of smell after this week. 

I'm planting seeds this week! I have several seed flats lined up and ready to welcome little vegetable seeds. I'm using plastic storage totes (the big flat kind that fit under the bed) for seedling flats. In our city house I used to store seasonal items under every bed. I can't handle having anything under the beds in our country house. I am too paranoid about insects hiding behind the totes. (I'm kind of OCD now about keeping the space under each bed EMPTY, just so I have peace of mind.) 

Instead of throwing those totes away, I now have a ready supply of seedling flats to use all year. This week we're planting peas, lettuce, and spinach. By the way, I discovered Malabar Spinach this year (technically it's not spinach, it's a tropical vine that tastes just like spinach) sounds like a 'miracle' plant for hot humid areas like ours. It's supposed to produce greens ALL SUMMER LONG! (This is virtually unheard of in's too hot for Spinach to grow for 6 months of each year.) And it's a perennial! I can hardly contain my excitement. (Look it up if you are a Texas gardener! You might LOVE it!)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tea Party

Tea Party table decorated with snowflakes
Yesterday Sarah invited over some friends for a tea party with their dolls. I was so excited to take pictures of such a cute occasion. Just my luck, my camera battery died after I took only one picture. Drat. I think I'll just have to arrange another tea party soon so I can snap away and practice my s-l-o-w-l-y evolving photography skills. 

 The girls chattered with excitement as they lovingly dressed each doll in beautiful clothes. They adorned their dolls with crowns which are really silver bracelets my mother-in-law gave me.....I can't handle wearing bracelets because they get in the way. As soon as I saw their true purpose in life (adorning doll heads) I knew they were keepers. 

Sarah and her friends had such fun drinking hot cocoa and eating treats. It was so fun to listen to their chatter while they practiced their manners. They reminded each other often on 'the proper way' to hold a teacup, with pinkies pointing straight up in the air like a radio tower. I hid my giggles so as not to offend them. 

It is so fun to watch my little girl create these fun memories. It's the meaningful moments like this that I feel like I'm being a good mom. 

New enemy for life

It all started with a single insect. 

Some of you may already know how much I detest insects, even benign ones like ladybugs. I can't handle bugs of any kind in my house. I do routine pesticide treatments around my house and have sticky-traps strategically scattered in corners so I will always know the first signs of infiltration. (Even though not a single bug has shown up in the traps for the past several months, I still check them weekly...when they DO start invading, I want to know as soon as possible.)

The particular insect discovered this morning was (horror of horrors!) a flea. Parasitical insects are a whole different ball game. Panicking, I squealed to my sweetheart that my plans for the day were canceled. It was time for all-out war. 

Arming myself with thick gloves, flea killing-shampoo, and fine-tooth combs, I prepared for battle. Poor Saffron (our cat) had no suspicion of what to expect. This cat is pretty wild (which is exactly what we wanted in a farm cat, but he's not friendly by any means....he literally bites to show his's cute, really) so I was quite apprehensive about trying to bathe him. It's funny.....I had seen Youtube videos of determined pet-owners trying to bathe their frantic felines. I used to laugh at the foolishness of these people- what idiot tries to bathe a cat? It's a ball of fangs and claws and desperation. Yeah....there was no laughing this morning as I prepared to make a fool of myself.

I locked myself in the bathroom with this feisty cat, hoping to emerge without too many scratches. Saffron tried to escape every second. He tried to crawl out the window, under the door, in the toilet, even down the drain. Poor thing. I was almost as unhappy as he (I say almost, because can anything be really more unhappy than a cat getting a flea bath?). He gave me such pointed looks of disgust as I continued the unpleasant task. 

When we emerged from the bathroom (which looks like a monsoon stopped by for a chat) I was almost as soaked as him. It's a cold day today (yes, you incredulous ones....Texas does get cold snaps!) and I didn't want to leave our drenched cat to air dry on cold tile floors. So, genius that I am, I decided to gently blow dry him so he wouldn't be cold and wet all day. Bad idea.

Now when he sees me, he drops to the ground and slinks away as quickly as possible to hide in a secure corner out of sight. I think I've lost his affection for ever. I made a new enemy for life, even before doing the breakfast dishes. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Random thoughts- history and bribery

I love history. I'm so excited to teach it to my kids in a way that excites the imagination.

This week I started teaching an Oregon Trail unit to our home school co-op. I'm stoked. This is my favorite unit study for history. We are doing an Oregon Trail simulation where the children all have imaginary wagons and families to travel with. They are keeping 'journals' to record their journey; these will be turned into story books at the end of the semester. This week they all bought supplies from my general store to outfit their wagons and today they will leave Independance, Missouri to begin their journey. Along the trail there are differenct scenarios they encounter and they have to figure out what they will do (for example, the water is contaminated with larvae....what will they do about that? Will they trade with this Native American tribe or not?) Nathan pointed out that  it's basically an RPG like Dungeons and Dragons....except instead of being elves, they are pioneers....and instead of fighting trolls, they're trading with Native Americans. It doesn't sound as gripping somehow.

I wore my historical reenactment dress from our days of volunteering at the Pioneer Farms museum. (Can I just say here that I think corsets were never  intended for breast-feeding mamas? Yikees.) The kids were delighted. (I was happy for an excuse to wear the darn dress. It took forever to make, so by golly, I'm going to wear it any chance I get!)

Earlier this week my house was so cluttered. I get so tired of seems to suck the energy out of my body in a parasitcal way I can't control until the clutter is annihilated. I told the children we were going to clean for 2 hours. I wrote every chore I could think of on slips of paper, then we dividing into teams. Each team drew out 15 slips of paper to tackle, then we raced to see which team could finish first. They did it without any whining! 

Okay, before you hand me the mother-of-the-year award (which I would promptly misplace anyway) I should confess I bribed them. We played for high stakes this week with full sized Snickers bars awarded to the winning team. It was a very close finish after hours of mopping, scrubbing, sweeping, and vacuuming. It actually ended up being a tie, so the consolation prizes were abolished and the kids cut the Snickers bars into equal portions to share. They were delighted (we don't usually have junk food in the house, so it's a big deal to get a candy bar).  I'm just happy my house is clean. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Garden plans

I just ordered our seeds for the garden this year. So exciting. This is the best place to buy seeds, and they have the most unique collection of heirloom seeds from around the planet. (Absolutely NO GMO's allowed, it's not owned by Monsanto or Cargill, and they proactively preserve natural genetic diversity.) I haven't bought seeds anywhere else for years. I love curling up in a blanket each winter and perusing the seed catalogue. I can hardly wait to get the seeds in the mail.

Nathan and I started measuring spots and digging holes for our fruit orchard this week. (Chuckling....) Have you ever tried digging a hole in bedrock? I thought not. Most people have something called common sense and don't even attempt breaking up bedrock. We have about 6 inches of very rocky soil before we hit solid limestone. Erg. I'm trying to re-map our property plans or else figure out a way to coax baby fruit trees to grow in that I was feeling so disappointed after spending what seemed like hours digging and excavating rocks, only to have a beensy little hole to show for my efforts. I was even less excited at the prospect of attempting to grow a vegetable garden in this stuff. In our last house it took several years to build up healthy soil. We'd be starting at square one again (or negative one, if you count all the clearing we'd need to do before we could even work the soil....I was not excited to cut out tree stumps to make way for a vegetable plot.) I was feeling so flustered at this  point.

We walked around the property scouting out our options. Nathan experimentally dug a hole in the pasture so see how bad the rocks are. He dug....and dug.....and dug without even seeing a single rock. Oddly enough, the bedrock wasn't in sight either. How could there be such a drastic difference? I suspect the years of horse manure and oak leaves just naturally composted and created rich soil. There aren't even weeds for me to clear, and the spot seems perfect with morning light and afternoon shade. I'm giddy. 

It's time to get dirty.

Ugly Soup

This soup is uglier than anything I've ever made before, but it's SO yummy I can't eat just one bowl. Ha, isn't this a great introduction to this recipe?! Aren't you excited to try it now? (laughing to myself here) If any of you kitchen-savvy cooks have a suggestion on how I can improve the appearance of this one, please let me know. It's definitely a keeper in my book, but I need to make it look more appetizing to the children. Erg.

It's technically called Mushroom with Tortellini soup. Here is the recipe for one batch of soup:

2 slices bacon, diced 
2 cups onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh mushroom, diced (I make these really small so the kids don't know it's mushroom.)
8 cups beef broth (real broth, none of that bullion garbage. Trust me, it's worth it to use real broth here.)
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, minced
1/2 cups fresh parsley, minced (no cutting corners here- don't use dried parsley.)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 9oz. package cheese tortellini
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped 

For serving day: Fresh Parmesan cheese and garlic croutons for garnish.

In a stockpot, saute the bacon. Remove bacon and saute the onion until golden. (Don't try to cook them together. I did this the first time and the onion juices ended up boiling the bacon, so the bacon didn't get crispy  Disgusto.) Add mushroom (you could substitute cooked Italian sausage if you don't like mushrooms), beef broth, basil, parsley, garlic, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. In a separate stockpot, cook tortellini according to package directions. Drain. Add tortellini and spinach leaves to soup. Simmer until tortellini is heated through (this is what the original recipe says here, but I'm thinking, wouldn't the tortellini still be hot from the boiling water it just came from? I skipped that step, but included it since the book said it.) Remove from heat and cool. Pour soup into a labeled gallon-size freezer bag. Freeze. 

On serving day, cut the plastic off the frozen block of soup. Place soup in a crock pot and set on LOW for 8-10 hours, or until heated through. (You can also thaw the soup and reheat it on the stove if you have an aversion to crock-pots, just be sure not to boil it.) Top with generous amounts of fresh parmesan and croutons. Enjoy.

Okay, okay, I know it takes forever to make this soup. That's precisely why I make a super-huge batch all at once (Think 6 to 10 gallons.....yeah, I have a huge stock pot.) and freeze enough to last for several meals.

My sweet husband set up speakers and his MP3 player in the kitchen so I can listen to audio books or lectures while I work. I detest doing tedious work without something stimulating to occupy my mind (and in my world, chopping 20 pounds of vegies=tedious). Since I was listening to conference talks, it was a beautiful, uplifting day in the kitchen. (Isn't it so rare an occasion that we can say that we loved working in the kitchen?)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Butternut Squash Lasagna recipe

Sarah on a lovely winter afternoon
Nathan and I have very different views on culinary arts. For me, food usually serves the utilitarian purpose of filling hungry's basically a chore to check off my list everyday. For Nathan, it's an art. He's happy to spend hours on a beautiful meal because he enjoys the process. He's a true artist in the kitchen....and his creations nourish not just the body, they feed my soul. You know what I mean? His food is made with so much love and care that it satisfies me in a very deep way. I usually want to get the cooking finished as quickly as possible so I can move onto other activities. I hate cooking.

Some people go to restaurants when they don't want to cook. I would rather not, for two reasons.

Reason #1- I hate feeling like we are a circus sideshow with all of our children squeezed into teeny little restaurant tables, all vying for elbow room or whispering urgently that so-and-so took the wrong straw or stole a crayon that is needed RIGHT NOW or bumped a glass and sent ice water sliding across the table. (Okay, it's really not that chaotic in reality, but this control-freak mama FEELS like it's always a madhouse. If it's like this in my brain, it's almost as bad as the real thing.)

Reason #2- I'm frugal with our food budget..... because  honestly I would rather spend money on something that will last longer than one meal. It kills me to pay $40 for a mediocre restaurant meal when I could make several amazing meals at home for the same price. 

So....we almost never eat out, unless we're on a long road trip or it's a birthday.

This is why I love using freezer meals. I can make a bunch of dinners all at once and stash them away for later when I don't want to cook. I like to make several batches of the same recipe all at once, because it's so much easier to do it that way. I line up several lasagna pans on the counter and just go down the line layering the noodles, cheese, sauce, etc. It usually doesn't take much more time than I would have spent making just one lasagna anyway. I like to make between 3 or 6 meals of each recipe. I bring them out once a month for the next several months when I don't want to cook.

If you have a Costco Membership, this is a really great way to do your cooking. All the food comes in such huge quantities, so it's perfect for this culinary approach. (Honestly, who could REALLY eat a 15 pound bag of carrots before they go bad?)

I like to take one day each month and cook all morning so I have a stocked freezer full of meals waiting for me. This week was my cooking day, and I made 12 gallons of Creamy Vegetable Chowder (imagine it topped with bacon and served in crusty bread bowls- YUM!), 6 gallons of Mushroom and Tortellini Soup (Oh my word, I feel like I can't eat enough of it! It's SO delicious!), 10 pounds of orange-glazed carrots (for a side dish), 3 Butternut Squash lasagnas, and 24 marinated Pineapple/Lemon chicken thighs (It's a sticky sweet and sour dish served over rice).

Can I interject here how much I love soup recipes for the freezer? On serving day, all I do is plop the frozen block of soup/stew/whatever into our crock pot and turn it on Low for the day. Done! No mess, no dishes, no work. I love it. (Unfortunately, Nathan's not a soup fan unless it's below 40 degrees Texas weather this means I don't get to cook soups very often! I have to seize the chance during our cold snaps of winter.)

I've been asked to share some of our favorite recipes for the freezer. Here is my favorite lasagna recipe.

Butternut Squash Lasagna -A delicious vegetarian dish I find myself craving often!-

For one lasagna:
2 lbs butternut squash
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1/8 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated is best!)
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup fresh basil, chopped (In a pinch, use 1/3 cup dried basil instead)
12 lasagna noodles
2 1/2 cups shredded mozerella cheese
1/3 cup grated parmesan (in a pinch use romano cheese, it tastes so similar and costs half as much)

Slice squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out seed. In a 9 x 13 baking dish, place squash facedown in 1 inch of water. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes, or until squash is soft enough to scoop out with a spoon. Scoop squash into bowl; mash with fork or potato masher.

For the Bechemal sauce, warm butter and milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, salt and nutmeg and cook, stirring constantly, until it begins to thicken. Pout sauce into a blender; add basil, and blend until thoroughly combined. 

Cook lasagna noodles until slightly firm, according to package directions. (or avoid this step by using 'oven-ready' noodles that don't require cooking). Drain noodles. In a 9 x13 pan, layer 3/4 cup bechamel sauce, followed by a layer of noodles, squash, and finally mozerella cheese. Repeat three times. Top with parmesan cheese. Cover pan with plastic wrap, excluding as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn. Cover with a layer of foil and freeze. 

On serving day, thaw until slushy and remove plastic wrap. Bake, covered with foil, at 350 degrees for one hour, or until bubbly. (I never can remember to bring it out of the freezer early enough to thaw for I just bake mine at 350 degrees for 90 minutes, or until bubbly) Serve with cheesy breaksticks and green salad.

Okay- here's the deal with this recipe. It looks really bland. How can this be tasty without at least garlic added to it? And who cooks anything without onion? That's exactly what I thought the first time I read this recipe. I decided I'd make it as written ONE TIME so we could at least see what the original authors intended, then we'd modify it with a bunch of flavors to make it savory and flavorful. I was shocked with how much I adored the flavors in the original recipe. The nuttiness of the squash combined with the aromatic nutmeg and salty/savory cheese in an unexpectedly appealing way. I couldn't get enough of it. I actually had visions in my head of hiding the leftovers so I could eat them all alone without sharing with anyone (Okay, I didn't really do this, but I thought about it for a couple seconds).

Friday, January 6, 2012