OAMC May Menu Critique

My sis and I have been able to almost gobble up all of the Once A Month Mom Cooking items in our freezer since completing our first OAMC big cooking day almost one month ago. I was going to offer up a critique of all the menu items we tried - however, I loved just about everything we cooked! So, instead, I'm going to include in this post the recipes that weren't a huge hit in our household and why.

- Chicken Taco Wraps: I believe there was an error in the recipe instructions and too much rice was cooked for these - this led to the rice not fully cooking before it was placed in the wraps and frozen. The kids refused to eat them just because the rice was too "crunchy."

- Low-Calorie Strawberry Shake: I personally loved these, but my daughter thought otherwise. She didn't care for the maple syrup that was included in the recipe and I honestly thought about omitting it.. and I probably should have. If you are thinking about making this recipe for your kids I would suggest adding honey or apple juice instead of the maple syrup it calls for. However, my sister's kids LOVED the shakes and couldn't get enough of them - so it's your call! :)

- Pioneer Woman's Flank Steak: the marinade for this steak recipe was so soaked into in the steak that it was almost too marinaded by the time we cooked it on the grill a couple weeks ago. The marinade recipe had called for a lot of soy sauce and this resulted in the steak being extremely salty... I could feel my health-o-meter dipping with every bite! :) I would suggest cutting the marinade ingredients in 1/2 when preparing these steaks to be frozen.

That's about it really! All of the other recipes were gobbled up by all four of us, hubby and kiddos included which is pretty amazing considering I have a couple picky eaters in the family to impress :)

Click here to see the recipes above and the rest of the May Once A Month Mom cooking menu.


The Big Surprise!

Many people are waiting with baited breath to view this little clip that Jeromy was able to catch when he and Alan picked Jake up at the airport... so here ya go! Alan is in the white shirt / red hat heading over to the left side of the screen toward Jake. Surprises are great, aren't they? :)


Al's Been 'a Travelin...

...to San Diego that is! Alan recently took an exciting weekend trip out to San Diego to surprise his best friend, Jake at his bachelor party. Yes, that's right, his loving wife told him that she would cancel her plans to go to Chicago so that he could travel 2,300 miles away from her to see and do Lord knows what! Man... I must looooove him :) It was the first leisurely trip he had gone on without me since we had begun dating - so it was a little difficult for both of us to say the least. There was a lot of worry on both sides, but in the end he had a fantastic time, got to spend a weekend with his "long-lost brothers" who left him for California (hehe), and came back to me and the kiddos safe and sound... and of course with lots of stories and pictures to share!

Alan and I learned a lot from this trip - and you can read about how we grew in our marriage because of it in a different post on EverythingMom here.

And, because I know you love 'em - here are a few more pics.


50 Picture Books Everyone Should Know

Much to my excitement, my daughter completed her pre-kindergarten screening this past spring. We are very fortunate to be living in an excellent school district - our children will be attending one of the best public elementary schools in the area and for that we are extremely thankful. During Marissa's kindergarten screening, we (parents) met with the principal and went over school year and logistical info, etc. Also during this time, he passed out a sheet listing "50 Picture Books Everyone Should Know." Mr. G. stressed the importance of our kids knowing (or at least listening to once) these particular books before they begin kindergarten. They assist in helping children learn to read, teach morals, values, and many are classics! I've had multiple friends ask for a copy of the list and so I thought I would share online as well!

Here they are:

1. Abuela - by Arthur Dorros
2. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day - by Judith Viorst
3. Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing - by Judi Barrett
4. Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock - by Eric A. Kimmel
5. Andy and the Lion - by James Daugherty
6. Ben's Trumpet - Rachel Isadora
7. Blueberries for Sal - by Robert McCloskey
8. The Bossy Gallito: A Traditional Cuban Folk Tale - retold by Lucia M. Gonzalez
9. Bread and Jam for Frances - by Russell Hoban
10. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? - by Bill Martin, Jr.
11. Caps for Sale; A Tale of a Peddler, Some Mondays and their Monkey Business - by Esphyr Sloboclkina
12. The Carrot Seed - by Ruth Krauss
13. A Chair for My Mother - by Vera B. Williams
14. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom - by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault
15. Corduroy - by Don Freeman
16. Curious George - by H.A. Rey
17. The Day JimmyU's Boa Ate the Wash - by Trinka H. Noble
18. Dear Zoo - by Rod Campbell
19. Doctor De Soto - by William Steig
20. Farmer Duck - by Martin Waddell
21. The Fortune - Tellers - by Lloyd Alexander
22. Freight Train - by Donald Crews
23. George and Martha - by James Marshall
24. Go Away - Big Green Monster - by Ed Emberly
25. Goodnight, Gorilla - by Peggy Rathmann
26. Goodnight Moon - by Margaret W. Brown
27. Grandfather's Journey - by Allen Say
28. Happy Birthday, Moon - by Frank Asch
29. Harold and the Purple Crayon - by Crockett Johnson
30. Harry the Dirty Dog - by Gene Zion
31. Henny Penny - by Clarion
32. Horton Hatches the Egg - by Dr. Seuss
33. I Know an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly - Illustrated by Glen Rounds
34. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie - by Laura J. Numeroff
35. Is it Red? Is it Yellow? Is it Blue? An Adventure in Color - by Tana Hoban
36. It Could Always Be Worse. A Yiddish Folktale - retold by Margot Zemarch
37. John Henry - by Julius Lester
38. The Judge: An Untrue Tale - by Harve Zemach
39. Julius - by Angela Johnson
40. Komodo! - by Peter Sis
41. Leo the Late Bloomer - by Robert Kraus
42. Little Blue and Little Yellow - by Leo Lionni
43. The Little Dog Laughed and Other Nursery Rhymes - by Lucy Cousins
44. The Little Old Lady who was not Afraid of Anything - by Linda Williams
45. Little Red Riding Hood - retold by Paul Galdone
46. Lunch - by Denise Fleming
47. Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile - by Bernard Waber
48. Madeline - by Ludwig Bemelmans
49. Maisie Goes Swimming - by Lucy Cousing
50. Make Way for Ducklings - by Robert McCloskey

Suggestions for gathering all of these books:
- buy used at a bookstore, library, or on amazon.com
- hunt for books at garage sales
- trade or swap books with friends and family members

thank you to Tipp City Broadway Elementary school for the book list!


May OAMC Big Day Re-cap

May Big Cooking Day Highlights & Tips:

Oh, if I only knew what I was getting myself into... My friend Tricia hosts a website called "Once a Month Mom" in which she documents her once a month cooking adventures for her readers... and she also goes a step - okay a leap forward by providing everyone with monthly menus, grocery lists, instructions, recipes, labels, and even an instructional podcast! This makes it insanely easy for those who are interested in doing once a month cooking but are extremely intimidated by the amount of time and brain power that goes into organizing the Big Cooking Day. Tricia has been wanting me to participate in this for awhile (I secretly think she wants to prove to the world that a working mom can survive one day of cooking an entire month's worth of food...) and she had finally won me over when she sent a OAMC meal home with me one day and I was able to experience the ease of just popping a meal in the oven. So, I called up my sister - who by the way is a much better cook than I am - and asked if she would be willing to try out this new hobby with me... and she was very excited. I'll take a minute to explain why two working moms would want to spend an entire day cooking food for the month: 1) it saves a lot of time and energy not having to make dinner after coming home from work every night of the week and it gives us more time to spend with our family because of that and 2) we will save at least $400 a piece per month on our grocery expenses!

Here is a re-cap of how our Big Cooking Day went this month as well as lots of tips and suggestions:

We decided to have our Big Cooking Day on a Monday (June 1st) - this worked best for Hollie's (sis) schedule as she works third shift in a sleep lab and has Sunday and Monday nights off. After reflecting on taking a vacation day off from work for our Big Cooking Day, I think I wish I would have given myself another day off to recover! Anyway, we did all of our grocery shopping for the ingredients we needed the day before (so on Sunday) and went together in order to split the cost effectively. We had an issue with the flank steaks at the store - there wasn't enough in stock! Thankfully, a worker came to my rescue and offered to cut us the amount we needed right then and there. 10.5 lbs of steak is a LOT OF STEAK! In the end, we spent approximately $186.00 on groceries per person. I believe the cost was a little high due to: 1) myself forgetting ALL of my coupons - Doh! and 2) the expensive meats on this month's menu. No matter what, we will still SAVE on our monthly grocery budget, so no worries there!

On Monday morning at 8:30 sharp, I headed to Hollie's with my crock pot full of cooked chicken from the night before and kitchen odds and ends that we needed extras of. I also brought an extra table for the crock pots (thank you Misty for the hint!) We took all of the groceries that we had purchased straight to her house the night before, and that really helped lighten my load on Monday morning. When I arrived, Hollie had already organized most of the food items on one table and had placed cutting boards and appliances on the countertop. I cannot stress enough the importance of having everything already laid out before beginning your cooking endeavor.

Hollie decided the night before that she would be "Person A" in the instructional list and I would be "Person B" - thank you, Hollie for letting me know this ahead of time :P - her reasoning: she cannot bake and person B was assigned all of the baking. So, I got started chopping and dicing a million and one ingredients and she got started on well, whatever she was supposed to be working on at the time - I'm not joking when I say that you end up in your own little "cooking world" oblivious to whatever the other person is doing... Anyway, I chose to hand chop all of the ingredients because I thought it would save time over using a food processor and having to clean it out constantly, etc.... let me tell you that I highly do not recommend this! It took me almost two and a half hours just to chop everything and I developed a few nasty blisters because of it! This seriously ate up my time and I fell way behind Hollie during our morning tasks... I do recommend having a sink full of soapy water at all times for cleaning dishes and utensils, this really helped keep the kitchen somewhat-tidy.

Without going into too much detail about the rest of our day - here is a list of other tips and suggestions when participating in once a month cooking:

- Be sure to double check ALL of the ingredients and match the amounts from the menus to the grocery list. Hollie and I put all of our faith into Tricia's organizational handy-work and did not do this = big FAIL on the amounts that we had (or didn't have) of some of our ingredients. This was totally our fault and we should have taken the time to double check for typos. Tricia may be uber-organized but she is after all, human... I think. ;)

- DO wear comfortable clothes and shoes! Tricia (always my angel) talked me into Crocs while we were in Baltimore - so so glad I wore these shoes while cooking yesterday! And no, they're not ugly at all! Take a look for yourselves here. I was surprised at how affordable they were too. I wore a comfy pair of my Old Navy walking shorts and I brought Alan's (hubby) apron over but never used it - it probably would have come in handy when I was trying to portion out the meatballs = mess!

- Chop the ingredients the night before OR use a food processor the day of to chop, mince, and dice veggies and fruits. Another option is to have a third person there just to chop and wash dishes. A husband would be great for this LOL.

- Be sure to cook in a large, open kitchen if you are able. I am so glad that we decided to cook at Hollie's house - even though her appliances are little more dated than mine, her kitchen is much more spacious and it eliminated a lot of unecessary run-ins with eachother! Plus we were able to pick out our own cooking spaces and stay there for the majority of the day.

- DO clean out your freezer and refrigerator. Hollie did this the day before and it was a HUGE help - we ended up needing to utilize BOTH on our Big Cooking Day.

- Wear plastic disposable gloves if you are going to be chopping ingredients or working with most of the raw meat. I should have listened to my wise, intuitive hubby and taken his advice on this one. Even though I trimmed my fingernails, I'm still finding yucky pieces of food under them and my hands smell like they will forever be tainted with the stench of onions!

- Be sure to use VERY LARGE mixing bowls, pans, stockpots, etc. We underestimated just how big our mixing bowls needed to be and thus had to halve some of the recipes and make them one at a time. This put us a little behind schedule - we will definitely invest in larger bowls next time, or hunt some down to borrow!

- Keep any ingredients that you have left over that are already cooked. I'm not sure how it happened, but we ended up with an entire extra box of spaghetti, two bowls of extra cooked chicken, and two bowls full of various extra "stuffing" for some of the recipes. Instead of wasting all of that energy and $, we threw the extras into freezer bags and divided it between the two of us. We plan on making shredded chicken sandwiches out of the chicken at least.

- Make sure the kids are with the daddies and not in your work area. My niece Hope wanted to sample I think, well, pretty much everything we were working on and when we weren't looking she decided to stir all of the spices and herbs for the BBQ sauce together = big mess all over the stovetop! Of course, if we would have been able to finish at a decent time this wouldn't have happened as I would have been gone before she arrived home. :P

- Have a bottle of wine handy, but if you're going to partake in that kind of refreshment, make yourself eat something during the course of the day. Which brings me to....

- EAT SOMETHING! I'm very finicky about eating while I'm cooking. If I have been around food for most of the day I usually do not have much of an appetite to speak of. And so during our big cooking day I hardly ate anything - this led to feeling like a Mac Truck had run me over by the end of the night. Even if you have to force yourself, make sure you are eating and drinking all day long to keep your energy up.

- Keep the music playing! This helped us get through our sluggish time, around 4-5:00pm when we knew we weren't going to finish by 6pm and we still had so much left to do!

- Start SUPER EARLY if you are participating in your first Big Cooking Day - or be prepared to work from sun up to sun down. We totally underestimated how long it would take us to cook. I had a target end time set for 6pm and that was allowing for extra time because we were "newbies." However, before we "new" it, it was time for the hubbies to pick up the kiddos from the sitter and then it was dinnertime.... and then it was bedtime! Yes, we did not finish until almost 10:00pm. Talk about a major time management malfunction, and I'm not sure how that happened either. Neither one of us took a break that was longer than 5 minutes and we may have only taken two of those during the entire course of the day! I'm going to chalk it up to inexperience.... at least that's what I'm hoping!

All in all, I truly do feel that all 13 hrs of hard work, smelly hands, sore feet, back aches, and mental drain was worth it... we will be able to come home at night, pop some food in the oven or microwave and just relax. The pocketbook savings won't hurt either. :)

Us hard at work.

About 1/3 of the food we made. Don't let that empty space in the freezer fool you! I was too tired to think of taking a picture after we made everything....

If you would like more information on Once A Month Cooking, stop by Tricia's blog to see the new June menu which just premiered yesterday. Or, check out the May menu to see the recipes that Hollie and I made to eat throughout the month of June. I am looking sooooo forward to chowing down on the homeade granola bars and fresh strawberry muffins.... and the chipotle chicken corn chowder... and the shakes....I could go on.....!

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