Book #21: Lirael

Once again, since this is a series continuation, I’m putting the summary at the end due to some mild spoilers for the first book.

Title: Lirael

Author: Garth Nix

Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy

Length: 720 pages

Read: 7/14-7/23/15

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up?  to continue the series

Rating: 5/5

Would I read it again? Yes

Other notes:
This book is definitely the Empire Strikes Back of the trilogy– by that, I mean the first book can stand alone (like the first of the original Star Wars movies), but the second is much darker and leaves cliffhangers that you have to continue the series to resolve. But, just like Empire Strikes Back, I liked it more than the first book!

Summary: (cut for mild spoilers)

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Book #20: Sabriel

Title: Sabriel
Author: Garth Nix
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Length: 496 pages
Read: 7/9-7/15/15
Summary: From Amazon: Since childhood, Sabriel has lived outside the walls of the Old Kingdom, away from the power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who refuse to stay dead. But now her father, the Abhorsen [the one necromancer who has the authority to send spirits back to Death], is missing, and Sabriel must cross into that world to find him. With Mogget, whose feline form hides a powerful, perhaps malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage, Sabriel travels deep into the Old Kingdom. There she confronts an evil that threatens much more than her life and comes face-to-face with her own hidden destiny. . . .
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? I was listening through one of the college literature classes on The Tolkien Professor‘s podcast  a year or so ago (Faerie and Fantasy), and this was the modern book that was covered at the end. It’s been on my to-read list since.
Rating: 5/5
Would I read it again? Yes
Other notes: Since getting into Brandon Sanderson’s works, I’ve had a much greater interest in the magic systems that fantasy authors create. There’s actually two systems in this world–Charter Magic, which is the good, somewhat regulated magic that gets taught even outside the Old Kingdom, and Free Magic, which seems to be mostly tied to evil and necromancy. There’s also an interesting contrast between the  Old Kingdom, where the Dead have been wreaking havoc since the Kingdom fell apart centuries before, and Ancelstierre, where more modern technology is the norm (early 20th century, I’d guess, since it’s mentioned at one point that the tank was just invented) and magic doesn’t generally work, but is still taught at Sabriel’s school.

Sabriel is an enjoyable heroine–there’s a good balance between her knowledge of what an Abhorsen is supposed to be and do, based on what she’s learned from her father, and being thrown into the deep end as far as what she’s supposed to do about it goes. I also enjoyed Mogget, because a snarky magical sidekick is always fun.

One note for parents, since this book is labeled 12 and up on Amazon, and I can’t help thinking about this angle now: there is one brief sex scene about midway through the book, though it doesn’t involve the main character and is not graphic at all–it’s just pretty obvious what’s going on in the next room. So if that’s a concern, you might want to check that first and use your best judgement.

Anyway, I’m already halfway through the next book in the series, since I went ahead and bought all three of the original trilogy. (A fourth prequel book has been added, but I skipped that one for now in favor of other books I wanted to stock my Kindle with.) Reading time with a baby has been interesting, since it’s mostly 15 minute spurts while feeding him. And I have discovered that trying to follow a plot around 4-5 AM is pointless, so I will admit that playing Candy Crush instead to keep myself awake has been a thing. But at least I’m still reading!

a freezer cooking review

You may recall that several months ago, I undertook a huge freezer cooking project, in order to make things as easy for myself as possible while recovering from childbirth and getting adjusted to being a mom. Now that some time has passed, and I’ve had a chance to use several of the prepped recipes, I figured I’d go back and comment on how things turned out! Mostly for my own future reference.

I never did get to any of the muffin recipes on the original list, though I did adapt a recipe to use up some berries I had at home. Truthfully, I’ve only mostly eaten the dinners so far, since my in-laws brought over this huge pot of goulash that lasted me for lunches for about 2 weeks. So for those, I’ll also be adding my husband’s comments where applicable.

The three recipes I didn’t link to were taco meat, crock pot lasagna, and the chicken nuggets. The taco meat and lasagna tasted just like they always do. The nuggets didn’t work quite as well as my initial freezer experiment, since the chicken got a little dry. In its defense, I may have overestimated how long to cook it for, since I was completely guessing. I did notice that those worked better when I was able to flip them halfway through cooking. D enjoyed them all, of course, and I’ll probably keep doing extra nuggets to keep on hand when I make this recipe. It’s so time-consuming that it just makes sense to do big batches when I have all of the breading set up anyway.

For the taco meatloaf and BBQ turkey meatloaves, the biggest issue was also estimating the cooking time when going from the freezer to the oven. We already knew the taco meatloaf was a keeper recipe. D commented that he still likes that better than the turkey meatloaf, but that he’d still eat the latter again. (Good thing, since we still have a second one in the freezer.)  I was pleased with that one, personally– it was really moist, even after having been frozen, and I felt like it will be a good alternative to beef-based meatloaf when I can get ground turkey at a better price.

We’ve also eaten the bacon ranch chicken pasta before, but this was my first time trying to prep it as a freezer meal. The ranch mix did separate a little in the freezer, but it cooked up fine. Freezing the bacon in a separate bag worked out really well, too! I cooked the pasta at the end and mixed it into the chicken mix, just like I usually do. I thought that overall, this one did adapt to the freezer very nicely, and I would do it the same way again. And we’re in agreement that the flavors are even better on the second day, since they have more time to meld, though I like the extra sauciness of day 1 better and D likes the drier version that it becomes on day 2 better.

The two recipes besides the turkey meatloaf that were new-to-us that we’ve eaten so far were the Hearty Western Casserole and a pasta sauce recipe. We ate the western casserole on hamburger buns. It was very easy to heat and go, since everything was pre-cooked. My only complaint is that the cheese kind of got lost in there, so if I make this again, I’d probably add the cheese fresh at the end of the cook time. D liked it overall, but said there was too much corn for his taste. (And that it needed more meat, but he says that about everything!) I’d used a bag of frozen corn instead of the can that the recipe called for, and I suggested that maybe next time I could cut the corn in half and add some red bell peppers, and he liked that idea. I’m a little undecided about the pasta sauce, tbh–I think I personally would have liked it better if I’d combined the Italian sausage with another ground meat to cut the intensity of that, since I’ve discovered that sausage-heavy meals don’t always sit well in my stomach. I feel like it needed more tomato sauce as well, since the portion I froze was barely enough to cover a regular-sized box of pasta. Overall, I don’t think this will be my go-to from-scratch pasta sauce recipe.

As for other meals, the blueberry baked oatmeal turned out well, and was pretty easy to eat from a bowl with one hand and the baby in the other arm! I’ve also tried the two pizza dough-based recipes so far for my lunches. The chicken alfredo calzones were ok, though I think I would have enjoyed them more with all-white flour pizza dough. (I used some whole wheat flour in the mix to try to make them healthier.) And it needed more bacon. I guess I just felt like they were a little bland, but not so terrible that I can’t stand to eat the rest of what I have. On the other hand, even though they didn’t look pretty at all, the pizza spirals turned out delicious! The carrot and zucchini didn’t affect the flavor in a bad way at all (I left out the onion, because ick), and I’m a big fan of recipes that have extra veggies but don’t taste like they do. And the partially whole-wheat pizza dough mixed with the flavors much, much better than in the calzones. This one is a keeper. Which is good, because now that I’m a stay-at-home mom, I need easy lunches. If I can prep them ahead of time, even better.

Books 18-19: The sequels edition

Well, I’m back.

With a baby.

My plan to load up the Kindle has served me well so far. He’s 16 days old, and I’ve finished 2 books since he was born. Between late-night feedings and his propensity to only nap in the day when he’s being held, it might be awhile before I have two hands again. I’m writing the bulk of this post with one hand on my Kindle, too.

Anyway, on to the book reviews, shall we?

Title: Firefight
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Sci-fi/Young adult
Length: 427 pages
Read: 6/25(?)-7/1/15
Summary:  After the events of Steelheart, David finds himself struggling with his former beliefs about the evil nature of the Epics, even as he’s trying to put together research about how their lives before Calamity tie into their weaknesses. Meanwhile, he, Prof and Tia travel from Newcago to Babilar (formerly NYC) to take out a few dangerous Epics that are threatening to destroy the city. David also hopes to find his former teammate, Megan, also known as Firefight.
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? Because I wanted to continue the Reckoners series. Also, I’m at the point where I will happily read anything Sanderson writes. It’s that good.
Rating: 5/5
Would I read it again? Yes.
Other notes:  This also falls into the category of “books my kid might like when he’s older.” And I’m glad to know that a third book is in the works!

Title:  Prairie Fire
Author: E.K. Johnston
Genre:  Fantasy/Young adult
Length: 304 pages
Read: 7/2-7/8/15
Summary: Siobhan, Owen and Sadie enlist in the Oil Watch, and quickly find that the military has its own ways of punishing dragon slayers that bend the rules. Owen and Siobhan are assigned to Alberta, which is pretty much considered the worst location to be assigned. As the first bard in awhile, and with her burned hands limiting her mobility, Siobhan struggles to find her place. Meanwhile, they make some new friends in the squads assigned to work with them, and face some new and terrible breeds of dragons.
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? To continue the story.
Rating: 5/5
Would I read it again? Yes
Other notes: I wasn’t prepared for the ending. And it made me cry, which isn’t something that happens all that often. It felt like there were some loose ends at the finale, but in this case, I think it fit.

Some quick book reviews

I got a little slowed down on my reading, mostly because non-fiction always takes me longer. I always feel like I have to really take my time and pay attention so I can thoroughly absorb what I’m reading. And frankly, I just have a much harder time getting into them than fiction. But that doesn’t mean it’s not something I should read, so I do give it a go from time to time. I’ve also read 2 more since then, so I didn’t want to fall too far behind. So without further ado, here’s books #15-17 for the year (and wow, I am so far behind compared to last year….oh well.) Title: Teaching Them Young Author: Dr. Chuck Betters Genre: Non-fiction (specifically parenting) Length: 252 pages Read: I forget exactly when I started- 6/9/15 Summary: Biblical principles for raising young children, based on the first 9 chapters of Proverbs New or re-read? New read Why did I pick it up? My husband and I decided to both read this one, since we’re right on the verge of parenthood. Rating: 5/5 Would I read it again? I’m sure I’ll be referencing this one quite a bit. Other notes: This book was actually written by the former senior pastor at my church, based off of a months-long series of sermons he did several years ago. I didn’t listen to those sermons at the time, because a) there were two services happening and I was attending the earlier one with a different preacher giving the sermons, and b) I really wasn’t in a place where I wanted to hear about parenting for weeks on end when I hadn’t even had a boyfriend (or a date) in several years. So I am glad that he turned it into a book so I could revisit this when I was ready. Title: Wraithsong Author: E.J. Squires Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy/Romance Length: 364 pages Read: 6/13/15 Summary: High school senior Sonia is just trying to get through the end of the school year and chafing under her mom’s seemingly unreasonable rules about dating. In the days leading up to her 18th birthday, she learns that the reason is that she, her mom, and several relatives she’s never met are a type of creature from Norse mythology called a Huldra, and that she can control people with just one kiss. At the same time, she’s trying to fight off her attraction to the new boy at school, Anthony. Then her life becomes total chaos when her mom is kidnapped, Anthony seems to know more about what’s going on than he’s willing to share, and she has to decide whether she can trust his offer to help her rescue her mother. New or re-read? New read Why did I pick it up? Because I had some time to kill last Saturday afternoon, and it looked like a pretty quick read. (Which it was, at least for me.) Rating: 4/5 Would I read it again? Probably not, but I’m not sorry that I read it. Other notes: I will admit that Norse mythology is one of the ones I know less about, given that most of my exposure to it has been its influence on Tolkien, American Gods, and the Marvel movies. So I’d never heard of a Huldra, but the premise was interesting–and a nice departure from vampires and werewolves and angels and the like, given that it was paranormal YA. Also, this book was free when I downloaded it. (As of when I’m writing this post, it is still currently listed as free for Kindle.) Book #17: The Mozart Murders by Loucinda McGary http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JAZU5YW/ref=cm_sw_r_pi_dp_FvBHvb1KA2FQX Title: The Mozart Murders Author: Loucinda McGary Genre: Mystery Length:  154 pages Read: 6/17-6/19/15 Summary: (from Amazon) A serial killer is stalking the donors of the San Francisco Philharmonic and it is up to police detective Phillipa ‘Flip’ Morland to stop him. With her partner in the hospital, Flip must team up with classical musician Professor Jeremy Burke to catch the madman they’ve dubbed ‘Amadeus’ for his penchant of playing Mozart while he commits his brutal crimes. New or re-read? New read Why did I pick it up? I needed something to kill time at the doctor’s office, and didn’t want to break into the Kindle books that I’m specifically saving for after this kid finally decides to show up. Rating: 2.5/5 Would I read it again? No Other notes: There were things I appreciated about the book. As a long-time fan of the show Castle, I could appreciate the way the actual “trying to track down the murderer/find proof that he was the guy” portion of the story went. As a classical musician, I could appreciate those particular references–and the professor playing the flute as his primary instrument didn’t hurt, since that’s my instrument as well. Aside from that, though, I found the building relationship between Flip and Jeremy to be predictable, and the physical aspect of that was written a bit graphically for my taste. I did also find that there were several places where the editing could have been better, such as the wrong homophone being used, or the wrong tense, or a word omitted. I have to admit that it’s a little bit of a pet peeve of mine for a published Kindle book, especially when there’s normally a charge involved! Thankfully, I didn’t actually pay for this one, since it was a freebie at the time that I downloaded it.

The “buggy list”, revisited, and other thoughts

Now that I’ve got around 2 weeks left, give or take, I figured it was time for another update.

  1. Finish typing up/printing the keeper recipes. Done, aside from the burger recipe I pin-tested this week. Which I should probably write up.
  2. Get my stupid computer fixed. Check.
  3. Finish the nursery. The shower is this Saturday, so I’m still in waiting mode a little. But I did get those curtains dealt with.
  4. Finish getting my hard drive organized/cleaned out. Forget it.
  5. Wash and put away all the baby clothes. Aside from whatever I’m given on Saturday, and a couple of random things we’ve been given since the last post, done.
  6. Clean ALL the things! D took care of this. (I’ve got a good man!) So now it’s pretty much just attempting maintenance.
  7. Lots of sewing. I’ve reached the point where sitting at the sewing machine is just too physically difficult, between the size of the bump and my back refusing to let me sit comfortably anywhere for too long. But aside from the car seat cover and bath towel, I did finish everything else on the list I gave in the last update.
  8. Stock the freezer with as much food as I can. I’m taking a break, currently. All of the dinners and lunches I wanted to make are done. My mom’s promised me any muffins left over from tomorrow’s shower to take home and freeze, and I did make a double batch of baked oatmeal and a batch of muffins that are safely stored away. Right now, my bigger concern is coming up with dinners that don’t take much effort or many ingredients to make, so I can minimize any chance of wasting food when I do actually go into labor.
  9. Get the hospital bag prepped/stock up on necessary toiletries.  It’s as done as we can for now. We did make a Costco run to stock up on things like dog food, shampoo, toilet paper, my contact lens solution, etc. We’ve also got the bag packed as much as we can, considering that some things that we use on a more daily basis (cell phone charger, my hairbrush and glasses case, etc) will have to be added more at the last minute. But everyone tells me that labor doesn’t happen nearly as quickly as it does on tv, so as long as we stay organized, packing the rest shouldn’t be an issue. Right?
  10. Stock the Kindle!  Done.

So I think I did pretty well with this list, right? Additionally, we did get the car seat installed in our car, we spent a few evenings back in April taking classes offered at the hospital, and I have a birth plan that the hospital provides printed and mostly filled out, minus a couple of questions that I need to contact the parent education team about. So I guess in most ways, I’m ready. (Though everyone keeps asking me if I am, and to be honest, I’m not sure I’ll ever be mentally ready for this.)

Kiddie book reviews: the alphabet edition

My current read is a non-fiction parenting book, which I’d like to finish before the baby arrives. I had a few minutes to kill while waiting for pasta to cook, and my Kindle was already in the kitchen since I’d been using it for another recipe, so I thought I’d use that time to check out a couple more of the free picture books I’d picked up on it. This time, they’re both books designed to help kids with their alphabet skills. (Not that I don’t have any ABC books– I do have the Dr. Seuss one and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. But it doesn’t hurt to have options, especially when they’re free. Right?)

The usual disclaimer: These were free on Amazon when I downloaded them, though the price may have gone back to regular by this time. Also, I am looking at these from the perspective of a soon-to-be boy mom.

Book #1: Brick ABC, by “Brick Pals” (according to Amazon, it’s a collaboration by a Lego-loving family of 4)

Recommended for: It doesn’t specify ages, so I’m assuming kids that are old enough to learn their letters and know better than to try to eat Legos.

My thoughts on the writing:  It’s pretty good for its purpose, IMO. There’s no attempts to rhyme or anything, but it does do a nice job of picking out words that begin with each letter.

My thoughts on the illustrations:  They’re all made from Legos. What’s not to love? They even build the letters out of Legos!

Overall:  The format is pretty cool, actually: it’s primarily an alphabet book, with a scene built from Legos for each letter that contains each item listed. So it’s kind of an ABC meets I Spy thing. It also deals with counting and colors and such, and I could easily see a Lego-loving kid using the pictures as a guide for trying to build new things. There is a paperback version offered as well, and I would actually seriously consider buying this at some point so the pictures could be seen larger than my Kindle Fire can accommodate! So here’s hoping that this family continues making books.

Book #2: The Pirates of the Alphabet, by Tim Whitney

Recommended for: Age 3 and up

My thoughts on the writing:  This one made me laugh out loud at points! And it’s a nice vocabulary lesson as well, since many of the words deal with parts of a ship or other nautical/pirate terms. I suspect that a young boy would especially appreciate some of the chosen words: the “poop deck” explanation, and the reasoning behind picking “underwear” for U.

My thoughts on the illustrations:  Some of the background stuff is a little oddly drawn, but the pirates themselves (who are all rats, incidentally) have a fun, cartoony look to them. There’s also a lot of fun extras in the pictures that amused me, like the Kracken with braces. Also, it’s very colorful, which makes it fun.

Overall: I think I’d enjoy reading it aloud, and this would definitely be a winner for a kid with any interest in pirates. It even has some extra pages at the end to print, with things like a maze and a word search, though I’m not sure how that would work with it being a Kindle book. My only complaint about it is that the formatting goes weird somewhere in the middle, in that if I’m holding the Kindle so more width is horizontal, the illustration from the previous letter is paired with the text for the next letter. Otherwise, if I hold it vertical, I see one page at a time. I wonder if that would frustrate a kid who wanted to find what the text mentioned in the pictures from scrolling back and forth.

So, to sum up, I’ll happily keep both of these books around for when Hobbit is old enough to work on his letters.

Book #14: Children of the Mind

Title: Children of the Mind

Author: Orson Scott Card

Genre: Sci-fi

Length: 

Read: 4/28 – 5/18/15

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up? I’d read the previous three books back in fall/winter 2013, but didn’t have this one at the time. So I decided it would be best to fit it in now, before I forget everything and have to re-read them for this book to make sense. As it was, it was already a re-read for both Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead at that point!

Rating: 4/5

Would I read it again? Most likely, though I would definitely read it in closer proximity to the other 3 books.

Summary: Putting it down here, since it’s necessary to give spoilers for the previous 3 books in order to summarize this one.

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a grocery dilemma

Since I’m in the middle of two books (and other baby prep stuff is taking up reading time, and therefore they’re going slowly), I’m just going to vent a little on something that’s been on my mind for the last day or so.

I’ve been trying to improve on my meal planning/grocery spending pretty much since my husband and I got back from our honeymoon, almost 2 years ago. And I’m really not having an easy time of it. Granted, I’ve been spending a little extra for the massive freezer cooking project I’ve undertaken (which is close to wrapping up now–I’m done with lunches, and just need to come up with some sides and do some breakfast baking). But I feel like it’s a bit tough in the area I live in to shop for food that’s healthy, frugal, and satisfying to both of us. If you’ve ever read any of the food posts I’ve put up here, you know how my husband feels about meat! (Though I can’t fully blame him, to be honest–I’ve experimented with vegetarian meals here and there when I was single, and always got hungry again about 2 hours later.) I was trying to come up with some meals for this week after getting the local grocery circulars in the mail, and failing completely, because nothing was jumping out at me as good enough sales to inspire.

Here’s how it is in my area: I live in a small state, so relatively speaking, it’s not really that far away to get to other grocery stores. I drive up north on an almost daily basis for some kind of teaching and/or doctors’ appointments, and the area there (where we both work and where I used to live) does have several options for grocery stores all close together. One of our long-term goals is to move further north so we can shorten D’s commute in particular and be closer to church and everything else. But that’s not in the cards yet. In the meantime, we live in the townhouse that he already owned when I met him, just over the county line. And while the area we live isn’t bad at all, sometimes it’s a little lacking in shopping options compared to what I grew up with. Basically, we have 4 places nearby to buy groceries, and then we usually end up making a trip every 6 weeks or so to the Costco near where he works, since that’s where we get things like paper towels and dog food. So here’s my options, along with the pros and cons:

Acme

Pros:

  • The most convenient by far–if I wasn’t 8 months pregnant and didn’t have to cross a highway to get there, I could probably walk there if I really wanted to. As a drive, it takes about 5 minutes to get there.
  • The rewards card does occasionally help us save on gas, since this particular location has a pump. We’ve gotten up to $.50 off per gallon before!
  • It doesn’t always have everything I’m looking for–those egg roll wrappers for the last freezer cooking session, for instance–but it’s generally pretty well stocked.
  • Their sale cycle starts on the day that’s most convenient for my grocery shopping (Fridays), which means I can jump on the sales really quickly.

Cons:

  • You know those amazing sales that you see on blogs where they’re talking about saving money on groceries? Yeah, those don’t happen here much. I’ll admit that I’m basically judging the quality of the sales by meat, and I do get some pretty good prices on pantry staples like pasta and tomato sauce and canned beans and the like. But produce and meat tends to be on the pricier end–I hardly ever see ground beef for less than $4.79 a pound, even on sale, and their favorite chicken sale seems to be buy 1 get 1 free, with the price per pound jacked up to around $6.99. Even dividing that in half to account for the free one, I feel like I could do better than $3.50 a pound if I really tried, you know? (You’d think I could, considering that chicken is pretty much the biggest agricultural product in this state!)

Walmart

Pros:

  • Ok, let’s be honest here: the location (about 15 minutes away) is the only pro I see, because I will freely admit that I have a strong, long-standing dislike for Walmart. Every one I’ve been to around here is kind of a dump–even D, who grew up in a family that frequents Walmart, admitted after stopping there last weekend for some needed car stuff that he felt like he needed a shower after being in there.

Cons:

  • It’s Walmart. (See above.)
  • I’m generally unimpressed by their quality in most merchandise. I distinctly remember one day we had to go in there to pick up a few things, walking through the produce section, and being grossed out by the bin of obviously rotten onions with flies crawling all over them. If that’s how they keep their prices low, I want no part of it.

Redner’s:

Pros:

  • The prices on produce and meat in particular are definitely better than Acme’s. They have a lot more off-brands, but I’ve learned to mostly not be too brand-loyal these days.
  • It’s closer to home than I thought–I timed it on a recent drive-by.

Cons:

  • Their sale cycle starts on the worst day for me to go grocery shopping (Sundays, which are way too busy between church activities and music rehearsals). Which means that those cheap meat prices are harder to get–I recently took a trip there specifically to get a pack of ground beef that was nearly half the price per pound of Acme’s average, on a Tuesday. The ground beef had been almost completely wiped out by then, aside from 4 higher-priced, barely-a-pound packs. Which is exactly what prompted the recent Costco Beef Incident.
  • I’m unsure about the quality of some of their stuff. Even though it’s just the two of us right now, we can usually get through a gallon of milk within 6-10 days. Since we were running low and I knew I needed some for the last freezer cooking session, I did buy a gallon of milk while I was there. And ended up throwing out about a third of it, because it soured before its expiration date.

We do also have a largish, local farmstand/natural foods store that’s about a 10-15 minute drive north of here. I don’t stop there often for now, because its focus on more organic/natural foods means that it’s not quite in the budget for pantry staples and especially meat. But the quality of the produce there is definitely the best, especially since they do more locally grown things. I’ll need to check the prices of their organic fruits and veggies vs. Acme’s, but I suspect that I may be frequenting here a little more once it’s getting close to the time when the baby’s ready to start solid foods.

So I guess my somewhat rhetorical question is, how to keep my grocery spending to a reasonable amount? Do I sacrifice the time/gas to drive up north in hopes that I can get some better prices? Do I just keep mainly shopping at the Acme in hopes that the gas savings/the extra time to make things from scratch that I’d sacrifice driving will balance things out? I’m honestly thinking that just cutting back on the meat in recipes won’t work–I’ve done this for the last 2 nights by using less than a pack of chicken per meal, and while I’ll admit that part of it is that the third trimester means I fill up really fast, my husband ended up stealing the extra meat off my plate!

Maybe I just need to work on upping my game for side dishes that will fill us both up more?

Adventures in Freezer Cooking, Episode 3

Or, “Revenge of the Lunch”. I didn’t think this was going to be an accurate subtitle, and only picked it to continue the day. But frankly, today kicked my butt.

Since my last update on this, I’ve actually finished with my dinner prep, as of earlier this week. I ended up deciding to skip the sloppy joes, but added two BBQ turkey meatloaves that are formed and ready to cook, one bag of Jamaican Chicken Stew that will need some extra things added when it goes into the crock pot, 4 bags of pasta sauce, 2 prepped and ready to throw in the crock pot bags of Hearty Western Casserole (which ended up looking basically like a Tex-Mex sloppy joe, which is why I skipped the latter), and 4 bags of lasagna. I’m hoping the portions I divided it into will be large enough for the two of us. The recipe is supposed to make approximately 8 servings, but this is my husband and meat that we’re talking about.

Case in point: I asked him to pick up two packs of beef at Costco on his way home from work earlier this week, so I could make the Western Casserole/lasagna and have some extra on hand. Somehow, this translated in his head to 24 pounds, aka 4 packs! So two packs were divided up into either 1 pound or 2 pound bags, and I’m hoping this will keep me covered for beef in meals we’re actually eating until the baby is born, too.

So, lunches. I had today free from both lessons and doctor’s appointments, so my plan was to try to knock out 4 of my lunch recipes, and take care of the other two later in the week. I’ve also decided to make a swap to my original lunch plan–instead of chicken parmesan meatloaf cupcakes, I’m going to prep a big batch of these chicken taquitos. I tried them out earlier this week for dinner, and not only were they delicious and way easier to assemble than meatloaf, they were actually better when reheated in the toaster oven for the following night’s dinner because they held together better. Also, it fits my theme of “foods I can easily eat with one hand while my husband isn’t home and I’m alone with the baby”. I think I can leave those and the chicken quesadillas for later in the week, which left me with four recipes to make today: Chicken Alfredo Calzones, Cheeseburger Eggrolls, Pizza Spirals, and Mexican Turkey Roll-ups. All four of these recipes are from Once A Month Meals’ website, and all four are recipes that are more or less assembled and ready to eat, once thawed and reheated (aside from the turkey wraps). Since it’s my first time using anything from this website, or doing pre-made freezer lunches at all, I figured I’d blog through this process and see how it goes.

My Freezer Cooking Day:

Last night: I went ahead and poached/shredded the chicken for the calzones, and divided up the raw ground beef for double batches of the cheeseburger eggrolls and pizza spirals. (The rest of the beef was cooked up for last night’s dinner, since I had about half of a Costco-sized pack left over even after double batches of this. So a single batch would be easy to cover with a small pack from the grocery store.)

8:30 AM: Leave for grocery store, because the plan to knock out these lunches formulated after the Costco Beef Incident, and I don’t have all the ingredients I needed for anything but the calzones. Also, Friday is the day I normally go grocery shopping for the week, anyway.

9:35 AM: Back from the grocery store. Which probably would have gone faster if I hadn’t kept dropping things and having to bend down to pick them up. 8th month of pregnancy is hard when you were already clumsy to begin with, people! By the time I get home, get the bulk of the groceries put away, make my second breakfast (aka fruit and yogurt smoothie, which got stuck on the magic bullet so I ended up not being able to drink it. Sadface.), get my laptop booted up so I can listen to music on my Amazon Prime account, and steal my phone back from the naughty golden retriever who stole it while I was in the bathroom, it’s about 10:15, and I’m ready to start actually cooking.

20150508_11100710:15 AM: I decide to start with the pizza dough, since I need it for 2 recipes and it needs time to rise. I’m just using my family’s pizza crust recipe, which my mom perfected over years of making homemade pizzas when I was a kid. (I’m so spoiled.) I am actually making 6 batches of it–it looks like the calzones need 3 and the pizza spirals need 2, plus I’m making a few extra calzones to use up the extra chicken that I had after shredding what I cooked yesterday. I figure that if I have extra, I can always make some breadsticks or something. So I’m doing this half and half. The first batch takes longer than expected, because I’d called customer service for my blender and they called back before I started putting the flour in. (Good news: it was still under warranty, so they’re sending me a new one and a replacement cup. Yay!) But the second batch mixes up much more quickly. So now I just need to let that rise.

20150508_11451411:00 AM: The dough is done, so it’s time to do more prepwork. The calzones need bacon, and I don’t feel like dealing with the microwave, so I decide to try baking it in the oven. I tried this recently with turkey bacon and it was a total fail, but I’m hoping that using actual pork bacon will help. One that’s prepped and in the oven, and I’ve cleaned up the floury mess around my mixer, I start working on the vegetables. The bacon in the oven seems to work much better this time, so I take that out to cool. The vegetable chopping goes fairly quickly, thanks to my food processor, though I can’t use it on the spinach. Even so, the rest of the prepwork takes me about a full hour. I don’t have to worry about cleaning the floor later, though, thanks to these guys–they’re staying very much on top of cleaning up every scrap of food that falls off the counter!

12:00 PM: Time to start some actual cooking. I throw the beef and onions for the cheeseburger eggrolls into the skillet, while I mix up the rest of the filling ingredients, minus the cheese. The recipe calls for adding the onions later, but frankly, I can’t stand raw onions. I have to make one additional change to this recipe–my grocery store didn’t have egg roll wrappers, but a quick internet search says I can use fillo dough instead. Thank you, smartphones. I get the beef mixed up, minus the cheese, and leave that to cool while I take a quick break for food at 12:15. After all, I couldn’t have my second breakfast. And therefore, I’m hungry.

20150508_12514212:35. Back to work. It only takes me about 15 minutes to get the eggrolls wrapped up and into the freezer so they can “flash freeze”, as the directions call it. I only got 8 rolls out of the batch of meat, though. I’m not sure how the size of the fillo dough sheets compare to egg roll wrappers, as I’ve never used those before, but I’m guessing the wrappers are smaller since the single batch was supposed to make 8. Oh well. So I guess I’ll package these up 2 to a bag for meal purposes. I also have 3 entire rolls of dough left, because I really wasn’t sure how much I’d need–I thought the meat would go further. So I guess I’ll have to start looking on Pinterest for meal ideas that take fillo dough.

1:00 pm: Bags are labeled for the eggrolls, so I decide to mix up the alfredo sauce next. (The recipe had a link to that, so I figured I’d get the right amount that way.) It only takes about 15 minutes to mix up, but it kind of looks like a mess. Granted, I did add another half-recipe’s worth of ingredients, more or less, because of the extra chicken. But I decide to just take that off the heat and hope it thickens up. It’s very watery so far, and the cream cheese hasn’t mixed in as well as I’d hoped.

20150508_1354511:20: I consult the two pizza dough recipes, and decide that thankfully, it makes sense to do the pizza spirals next since they bake at a lower temperature. The beef was apparently supposed to be browned beforehand, but I didn’t, so I take care of that as quickly as I can. I get the canned tomato sauce doctored up while I finish that and saute the vegetables, then roll out the dough. I try to make as large a rectangle as I can with the counter space I have available, but it still ends up as a rather thick, misshapen stromboli. This also doesn’t hold together in the spirals very well when I cut them apart, but the good news is that most of these “spirals” are large enough that one will probably be sufficient for my lunch. I cut these up and get them in the oven.

20150508_1437392:00: After cleaning off the countertop, I have just enough time to get the remaining dough divided up and start the dishwasher before I have to switch the pans around. Then I have not quite enough time to mix together the bulk of the filling ingredients, minus the cheese and alfredo sauce (which, thankfully, is thickening some.) The eggrolls seem pretty solid by this point, so I take a few minutes to bag those up and transfer them to the larger freezer downstairs, then get the pizza rolls into the freezer so they can start freezing and I can free up the baking sheets for the calzones. Admittedly, the pizza rolls look pretty messy. Hopefully they’ll be easier to deal with when they’ve cooled down some.

20150508_1555522:45: It’s finally calzone assembly time! And none too soon, since my dough is beginning to dry out. I initially divide the dough into 12 pieces, but the first one ends up huge, so then I re-divide everything into smaller balls. And then end up baking them one sheet at a time, because the prepwork is taking awhile. There is a little leaking out of the sides, despite my best efforts to seal them up with a fork, but aside from that, they look pretty good.

20150508_1555103:40: The last batch has just gone into the oven, and I still have leftover fillings. Particularly the chicken. Oops. I don’t want to waste the meat in particular, so I pull out my muffin tin and the second roll of fillo dough, make some little cups with the dough, and use up the rest of the chicken mix filling them, more or less. Then I top them with a little mozzarella, a dollop of alfredo sauce, and a sprinkling of basil, drop the oven temperature, and bake them for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, I try to clean up the kitchen as best as I can, considering the stuff I filled the dishwasher with earlier is still pretty wet and the sink is completely loaded.

4:00: The baking part is finally done. And some of the calzones have cooled enough that I can start wrapping them for the freezer. Most of them are still too warm, though. So I bag and tag what I can, put those in the freezer, get the fillo cups out of the muffin tin (yay, it looks like my experiment turned out ok), and let the dogs out and feed them. They’ve been more or less patient through this whole process, though it probably helps that they’ve been chowing down on every crumb that’s fallen off my workspace! I still have the turkey wraps to go, but I’m hungry, and my feet and back are pretty sore by this point, considering I’ve had a whopping 15 minute break since I started. So I decide to give myself a little time off while the food cools down, to snack on some popcorn and watch an episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. (It’s adorable. Don’t judge me.)

5:00 Back to work, again. I wrap up the rest of the calzones, the fillo cups, and the pizza spirals. But this takes awhile, and my feet are still really sore, and the kitchen is a disaster. So I decide to save the turkey wraps for tomorrow, and crash on the couch to watch more MLP until D gets home and can help me put away things in the dishwasher that are positioned more awkwardly.

The grand total for today: 15 calzones (though one of them is probably big enough for 2 lunches), 3 bags of fillo cups, 4 bags of cheeseburger egg rolls, and 13 bags of pizza rolls. So that should cover about a month’s worth of lunches, but I’m going to go ahead and do the other recipes anyway–it’ll be good to have extras, since D gets a little paternity leave and is planning on using some vacation days after, and will therefore be around for lunch more than usual for awhile. Not bad at all  for a day’s work, but I think I may have overdone it a little– it’s still hard to move a couple of hours later!

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