Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Best Bean and Ham Soup

I bought a spiral ham last week on sale. It was about $15. We have enjoyed eating ham several different ways the past few days: first, ham slices served with baby red potatoes and broccoli, then as a pasta bake cubed up with the leftover broccoli and potatoes and peas (to fill in for the rest of the broccoli) baked with alfredo sauce and cheese -- very good!, and yesterday, I decided to try this recipe: The Best Bean and Ham Soup. And let me tell you, it really was the best I've had! I didn't have vegetable juice, so I just added more vegetable broth, but otherwise I made this as written. I didn't cook it as long as it says either, I guess, and it was great. Delicious! I froze 9 servings worth. With all the meals from the ham, I think I got about 20 meals from that ham, plus I chopped up the rest of it and froze it for future use. Most of the other ingredients I used for the dishes I already had on hand. Not bad for a $15 1/2 ham!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Apples galore!

I don't think I've mentioned here that Evan is teething. All four front teeth at the same time, in fact. So last weekend when we went out to Wisconsin to make apple sauce with my cousins, Evan was pretty needy. Despite that, I was able to do quite a bit and contributed to making 61 quarts of apple sauce in one day! Of which our family gets 20 quarts. For basically free -- just the cost of gas to and from Wisconsin and two packages of lids for the jars. Pretty great! We didn't add anything to the apple sauce but a little lemon juice to retain the color. It's a mixture of several different varieties of apples, and it is delicious! Thanks to Amy's food mill attachment to her KitchenAid stand mixer, making the sauce went pretty fast! I left before the rest of the cousins were done. I think the total for the day ended up being about 80 quarts.

I took home some whole apples to slice up and freeze for pie. My cousin Katie gave me a great tip, which I tried today.
  • Peel, core and slice up the apples (8 cups)
  • Mix the pie ingredients in with the apples (flour, sugar, cinnamon, etc)
  • Place into a freezer bag and seal it up
  • Place the sealed freezer bag inside of your pie plate, arranging the apples into the confines of the plate
  • Put the whole thing in the freezer
  • Once frozen, remove pie plate

Then, when you want to make a pie, all you have to do is make a crust and plop the frozen apple pie mixture right into the crust, top it with the top crust and bake frozen. I need to double check how long to bake it. I got enough apples for four pies. I haven't tried baking the frozen apples into a pie yet, but I thought it was a pretty great idea!

Other things I did today:
  • Baked a loaf of bread
  • Prepared an egg bake for breakfast tomorrow
  • Played with my beautiful baby boy!
A day well spent.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Some good deals I found today

You can get a free 11 month subscription to Parenting (early years) magazine here.

And a $1.50 off 2 Ziploc bag packages here. If you purchase 3 packages of Ziplocs total, you can mail in this $5 rebate!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What I've been up to in the last 20 days...

Wow. Has it really been that long since I posted? I guess having good intentions doesn't equal posts magically appearing on my blog...

Well, since I last wrote, I:
  • Roasted my first turkey! The hardest part was thawing it and getting the neck/giblet bag out of the cavity. Gross. After that, I just put it in the roaster, slathered the bird with butter, sprinkled it with salt and pepper and added chicken stock to the roaster (I didn't have turkey stock). It turned out okay. A little flavorless, actually. Not as good as my parents' turkey. But, it was pretty good. We only actually ate a couple slices of it. The rest turned into some other great food.
  • Froze 3 turkey pot pies! And a Ziploc full of cubed turkey. Plus the filling for 1 more pot pie.
  • Made turkey rice soup from the turkey bones/meat! Delicious. I have 5 2-serving bags of soup in the freezer, and we ate another 5 servings throughout that week. That means I made 15 servings of soup.
So, for all of the above food, I think I paid about $8 out of pocket. Most of that was butter and half and half for the soup. Unbelievable to get that much food for so little!
  • I went to an apple orchard with my cousins and picked a huge amount of apples. They have an arrangement with the orchard to pick up any apples that have fallen to the ground, good and bad. We pitched the bad apples into their compost heap and were able to keep all the good apples for free! On Saturday, we are all getting together to make applesauce. We'll likely each come home with at least 25 quarts of sauce! Plus some sliced apples to freeze for pies, crisps, etc. Wow!
  • I pureed a bunch of baby food for Evan. Mixed veggies (corn, peas, beans, carrots and tomato sauce), peaches, sweet potatoes and squash. Making my own baby food has been so much cheaper than buying baby food! The mixed veggies were from a frozen veggie pack, plus the tomato sauce. That cost about $0.75 for a good 12 meals' worth. The peaches were canned peaches in apple juice (not syrup). I bought 3 sweet potatoes from the grocery store for about $2 and got 10 meals' worth from those. I paid $2 for a couple acorn squash, plus a couple butternuts I had in my garden. I pureed the squash for Evan's food and for us. I got about 10 cups of squash.
  • Went to Mikes Discount Foods (thanks MP!) and got the squash mentioned above ($1 each), 4 containers of strawberries ($2.50 TOTAL for all 4), raspberries ($1), celery hearts (2 bags for $1) 1 lb of ground beef ($1.99), pureed sweet potatoes ($1 for a frozen gallon size bag), and a couple other things I'm forgetting right now. Great place to get some great food cheap!
So, that's what I've been up to. I'll try to be better about posting!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dinner tonight

Tonight, I am making Swiss Chicken Casserole, baked potatoes and butternut squash from my garden. I have 2 coupons for $1 off Golden Plump chicken breasts, and they are on sale at Target and Cub this week. I think I'm just going to go to Target, so I'll end up with a package of chicken breasts for $2.99 (x 2 if I decide to get 2 packages and use both coupons)!

I'm saving the beef roast for tomorrow since I'll have more time to get everything in the crock pot.

This weekend, I'm going to figure out some bulk recipes to fill my freezer with cheaply. In the past, I've done Enchiladas, Chicken Pot Pie, Chicken Ala King, Beef Chimichangas, marinaded chicken, Chicken Caccitore, various soups, and other miscellaneous things. Most of the time, the meals I've made have ended up being $.50-$1.00 per serving.

I have a whole turkey in the freezer that I want to thaw and use in several things, but I want to figure out how best to use the bird! I'm thinking turkey tetrazzini, turkey ala king, some sort of turkey soup...does anyone have some great turkey recipes for me to try?? Or other great freezable recipes?

Free night of theater!

Go NOW to get a reservation -- it just opened at noon!

I got tickets for Rebecca, based on the book by Daphne DuMaurier, which I read in college and loved. It's playing at the Theater in the Round. There are several other shows to choose from and it's absolutely free! Maximum reservation of 2 tickets.

This link will take you directly to the Twin Cities listings of plays.

Leave me a comment if you are able to get a reservation -- I want to hear what show you want to see!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The verdict: Granola bars

I finally had a chance to make the granola bar recipe yesterday afternoon. They were fairly easy to make and turned out great! They are somewhere between chewy and crisp, so when I try to break off a piece of the bar it sometimes crumbles a bit, but I'm sure that is because there is no HFCS in them to make them gooey.  One other thing I'll make sure to try is to use regular instead of kosher salt. The kosher salt was too coarse to every now and then I'll get a bit that tastes a little too salty. I think using regular salt in a smaller quantity will distribute better throughout the granola mixture.

I love that these are so much more healthy than store-bought granola bars, I know exactly what is in them , they are fresh and pretty inexpensive to make! I am going to try making these with chocolate and butterscotch chips, too, for a sweeter treat!

I used a dried fruit mixture of berries and raisins, and a friend of mine did hers with cranberry and mango. That's the great thing about these, too -- lots of great fruit combinations!

What else is cookin? Well, tonight I think we'll go to Chipotle for dinner, and tomorrow I'm throwing a beef roast in the crock pot to be served tomorrow night with mashed potatoes, gravy, and carrots from my garden. Yum!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Britax car seat giveaway at jollymom.com!

JollyMom.com, a great resource for moms, posted a review of and is doing a giveaway for the Britax Marathon CS car seat. It looks like a great seat with a lot of awesome features, including the fact that it goes from birth up to 65 lbs! I really like the Crimson color and think Evan would look quite dashing in it. ;) If you're interested in entering or just want to read Jolly Mom's review of the seat, check our her post: http://www.jollymom.com/2009/09/britax-marathon-cs-car-seat-review.html

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Verdict: Crock Pot Oatmeal

Well, I made the crockpot oatmeal I mentioned in yesterday's post. It turned out...okay. I didn't love it but Matt thought it was good. I thought it had kind of a weird flavor that I couldn't put my finger on. It was sweet enough but somehow a little bit bland at the same time. Next time, I think I will try omitting the apples. I think there may have been too many competing flavors going on. I also might try adding a pinch of salt to see if that helps with the flavor.

I have never been a huge fan of old fashioned oatmeal in the first place though either, so maybe it was great but just not to my tastebuds!

I didn't get a chance to make the granola bars yet. Might have to save that for next week after we get back from camping.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What's cookin' at the Larson household

Last Friday, my cousin Mark and his wife Amy came over and spent the night. I had the Hostess bug and decided to make a special meal for them for dinner. I made Chicken Cordon Bleu, Baby Red Potatoes with Garlic, and Sauteed Sugar Snap Peas. And for dessert, Apple Crisp. Everything turned out really well. I've made the Chicken Cordon Bleu before and it is one of my favorite recipes. It is served with a delicious white wine cream sauce that is to die for. You can find the recipe here.

I didn't follow a specific recipe for the potatoes or snap peas. I just boiled the potatoes in salt water, drained them and added butter, minced garlic and parsley. For the sugar snap peas, I sauteed them in butter and olive oil for maybe 4-5 minutes and then salted and peppered them.

The Apple Crisp was a new recipe I tried and it turned out great! It has a bottom crust that is pressed into the pan and then a top crust that is crumbled over the top of the apples. You can find the recipe here.

On Saturday, I made French Toast using thick sliced Panera Cinnamon Raisin Bread. It was so good! I loosely followed this recipe.

And for lunch, we had sandwiches and one of my standby favorite soups, Slow Cooker Taco Soup. It's so easy, so good and makes so much that we had leftovers for a couple days! I just finished the last of it off for lunch today. I substituted black beans for the red kidney beans since that's what I had on hand, and I added the taco seasoning to the browned taco meat. I think it gives the meat more flavor. I cooked it in the crock pot for maybe 4 hours on high and it came out just fine. I topped the soup with sour cream, shredded cheddar and Frito corn chips. Yum!

Tonight I'll be baking a meal some friends of ours brought over for us yesterday -- a chicken broccoli casserole. We should have leftovers for tomorrow night, and then Friday through Sunday we'll be camping at Willow River!

Tonight I am going to try to make these granola bars. They look so good! I hope they turn out. The last time I attempted to make granola, I burnt it. Oops.

And tomorrow, I think I'm going to have this crock pot oatmeal ready for us to eat for breakfast. I like that this recipe has apples, raisins and bananas in it. I think it will give it a nice natural sweetness. Yum! I'll let you know how it turns out.

Monday, September 21, 2009


I confess, I have been quite overwhelmed the last couple weeks and have not felt in a place to write much. Sorry for the lack of blogs. Here's what's been going on:
  1. My 14-year-old sister, Sanay, passed away one month ago today from cancer. The aftermath of her death has been emotionally draining, as you can imagine, and we've just been so busy. I have had an outpouring of love from many of my friends, and lots of get-togethers, which I love. However, sometimes I have needed to just BE and have had a hard time saying no (especially because, even though I want to just be, I also really want to spend time with my friends). I'm having a hard time with balance in this area.
  2. I've been trying to get my business going. Some of you probably know that I have a writing and editing business, Prolific Pen. I have really been pushing to get this going so that someday I can quit my regular job and only work from home. But because I am pushing so hard with this while also working my regular job part time, I'm feeling overwhelmed with work. I dropped down to part time at my regular job when I had Evan so that I could spend more time with him, but lately I've been feeling like between my regular job, my freelance work and trying to get my business going, I'm working the equivalent of a full time job, all while feeling pulled while I'm at home to be attentive to Evan, keep the house clean, cook dinner, and spend time with Matt. Another thing that has been difficult is that I need to meet with potential clients during the day, but I don't have a sitter figured out for Evan for those times. It's just an hour or two here and there, but it adds some more stress because I want to be professional and accommodating to my potential new clients.
So between these two main areas, I am feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and like I don't have any time to relax and be by myself, which is important for me to recharge.

I WANT to do everything I am doing, but I just don't have enough hours in the day I guess. I am trying to figure out ways to organize my life better and live simply. I know the work I'm doing to start my business will be worth it and will contribute to my goal of living simply, but right now, it's just hard and a lot of work.

Do any of you have some tips for me on how I can simplify things and organize my life better so it feels more manageable?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Taking after his Daddy...

Monday night, Evan was "walking" with Matt down the hallway (Evan was holding Matt's fingers while he walked). There was a basket of clean clothes in the hallway with one of Evan's clean socks on the floor by it that must have fallen out. Evan bent in half to reach and pick up the sock, turned, and put the sock in the clothes basket! I was on the phone and missed it the first time, so Matt did the same thing again -- walked him down the hallway. And he did it again! It was sooooo cute! I think he's going to take after his daddy and put everything in its place...at least I hope so! :)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Freezing tomatoes

Do you grow tomatoes in your garden but don't know what to do with them? There's always the option of making tomato sauce or salsa, or of course eating them fresh from the garden. But if you're like me, time and/or energy are sometimes lacking and you just need to do SOMETHING with them before they start to go bad.

I learned a little trick from my dad that has been a great way to use the tomatoes. I give them a quick wash, pat them dry with a towel and then pile them up in freezer bags. I freeze them whole, skins on. Then, when I'm making soup, pasta sauce, or otherwise cooking with tomatoes, I simply go to the freezer and pull out however many tomatoes I need and let them soak for a few minutes in warm water. After soaking, I score the tomatoes with a knife and the skins slide right off. Then I chop the tomatoes up and add them to whatever I'm making. It's so simple and adds a fresh tomato taste to my cooking!

Do you have a helpful kitchen hint? Please share!

Friday, September 4, 2009


Did you know that some retailers accept manufacturer's coupons for up to three months past their expiration date? It's true!

I had a "$5 off your next grocery purchase" coupon at Cub. It was a manufacturer's coupon that printed out after my last grocery visit when I purchased a bunch of Kraft Foods items for a great promotion they ran. It expired August 29. I went to Cub and asked at the register whether I could still use it, thinking it was probably no longer usable. Instead, she told me that they accept manufacturer's coupons for three months beyond the printed expiration date!

So if you have old coupons lying around, don't throw them away! Give it a shot -- you might still be able to use them!

Another cool coupon thing I stumbled upon: Mobile Coupons! There are several websites that offer a service that sends coupons and deals to your mobile phone. I have an iPhone and added an app that does the same thing. The app I have is called mobiQpons. It was free and has a list of coupons available depending on my location. Last night when we were out to dinner at T.G.I. Friday's, I looked and it showed a coupon for T.G.I. Friday's, Best Buy, Michael's, JoAnn Fabrics, and several more. Pretty cool! All you do is show the checkout person the coupon on your phone and they are able to grab an authorization code from it to enter into their system. I've also done this with email coupons I've received from Gap and other retailers.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cloth diapering

A friend of mine posted on Facebook yesterday that she was anxiously awaiting the arrival of a special FedEx package...her first shipment of cloth diapers! I remember 6 months ago feeling the exact same way and feeling silly for being excited about diapers, of all things. I shared with her what I have and my method for doing things and thought I'd share it here for anyone else who could benefit.

First of all, I must say that I absolutely love using cloth diapers. There are many benefits to cloth diapering, including:
  1. Cost savings. This was my biggest reason for deciding to go with cloth. I knew I would be returning to work at just 20 hours per week instead of 40, and I also hated the idea of spending up to $2,000 in 2 years on disposables.
  2. Better for the environment. Yes, I use water and energy to wash and dry my diapers (2-3 extra loads of laundry per week), but I am not contributing thousands of diapers to sit in a landfill for years. I am by no means an environmental "nut" but I do believe it's important to take care of the earth God gave us to live in, and using cloth helps to that end.
  3. Rumored to help potty train faster. This is TBD for us since Evan is only 6 months old! But supposedly, cloth helps babies potty train faster because Baby feels more wet than (s)he does when wearing disposables. Disposables are designed to pull moisture away from Baby's tush, so even when (s)he is wet, they don't feel uncomfortable enough to want to learn to use the potty. Cloth, on the other hand, wicks away a lot of the moisture but still can make Baby notice more easily that (s)he is wet. As I said, TBD.
  4. Contains mess and odors. I didn't believe it until I used them, but it's true: cloth diapers are so good at containing the mess and odors! I think the whole time I've used them, I've only had one minor leak. I used disposables a lot more the first 2 months of Evan's life and still do use disposables on occasion. I remember sometimes having two or more blow outs a day in disposables. Not anymore. LOVE this. It contains the odors so well too! I notice the urine smell almost right away when I'm using disposables, even if Evan has barely wet the diaper. With cloth, I really have to get close and personal with Evan's tush to tell whether he has a dirty diaper.
  5. Softer on skin. They just feel so nice! I like having the nice fleecy feeling fabric on Evan's sensitive bottom. :)
So, those are the benefits I see. Of course, as with anything, there are also drawbacks.
  1. Not as easy. Doing cloth is a lot easier than I imagined it would be, but they are definitely more time consuming than disposables. I have to wash them on 2 cycles, dry them, stuff them and put them away.
  2. Less convenient. When we're gone on vacation or even a day trip, disposables are a lot easier because, obviously, you can just throw them away. With cloth, I have to store the used diapers and bring them home to wash. The clean and dirty diapers both take up more space in the diaper bag as well.
  3. Childcare. Cloth diapers can be daunting, so when we have someone else watching Evan, we understand that not everyone is comfortable using the cloth. The diapers we use go on just like disposables (prestuffed and ready, velcro closure), but some people don't want to deal with the cloth.
  4. The "ick" factor. Let's be honest. Dealing with any diaper is icky. We're dealing with human waste! But cloth diapers are slightly more icky than disposables because of having to wash them. But it really isn't bad.
So now that we have what I see as pros and cons out of the way, I'll share what I do specifically! And I'll also share tips I've learned along the way.

What I use
After much research, I decided to go with Bum Genius 3.0 one size pocket diapers. The reasons I went with BGs were that they seemed the least scary to me (no folding, pinning, etc), I liked that they would "grow" with my child since they are one size, and I read a lot of good reviews about them and heard good things from my cousin who had tried a few different kinds. The only real drawback with these was that I couldn't really start using them right away because they were so bulky. I tried Evan in them, and I'm sure they would have worked to contain the mess, but he looked pretty ridiculous in them. Next time, I think I might get some other kind of cloth diapers that are made for newborns or I'll do what I did this time and just use disposables that first 6 weeks.

Tip: If you decide to go with the BG 3.0s, order them from CottonBabies.com and get them in bulk. You'll save by buying in bulk, get free shipping on orders over $75, and at Cotton Babies, they include a doubler/infant insert with each diaper (when I bought mine, Amazon and other online retailers did not include the doubler with each diaper).

When I ordered my diapers, I also ordered cloth wipes, wipe solution concentrate, diaper liners, wet bags, and a diaper pail liner. In total, I have 17 diapers and 24 wipes. I got a garbage can with a push lid and a spray bottle to use for the wipes at Target. With the diapers, wipes and all accessories, I spent about $370 (I was given 2 diapers as a shower gift also). This should last me until Evan is potty trained and probably for one more child. I think by this point, they've already paid for themselves in what I have saved in not buying disposables.

My Method: Diapers
I do a laundry load of diapers/wipes every Tuesday and Friday, sooner if I need to, but that's my schedule. I follow BG's washing instructions exactly. I have read too many stories about people cutting corners with washing them and ending up with diapers that need to be stripped constantly or even replaced because they hold odors or leak, even after multiple washings. So far, I haven't had any issues with lingering odors or leaking. I've only bleached them once.

I use Charlie's Soap and love it. In fact, I now use Charlie's for all of our laundry, not just the diaper loads. When I wash, I wash ONLY the diapers, wipes and liner. Nothing else. This keeps the velcro tabs from fraying or getting less sticky. I dry them in the dryer. After they're done, I stuff all the diapers and line them up in a basket I keep in Evan's dresser. That way, they're all ready to use when I need to change his diaper. Each night at bedtime, I add a doubler to the diaper for more absorbency overnight. Since adding the doubler, he hasn't soaked through.

Tip: I would really recommend investing in a good laundry detergent if you're using cloth -- protect your investment! Here is a list of detergents and whether or not they are recommended for use with cloth diapers. I got my Charlie's Soap from the Linden Hills Coop Natural Home Store in Minneapolis, but other places sell it too.

As for storing the dirties, I use a flip-lidded garbage can with a pail liner. I close the velcro tabs, shake the insert out and drop them in the pail.

Tip: Make sure when you close the velcro tabs, you are careful about covering the sticky side completely. If you don't, the velcro will start to lose its stickiness and curl.

Up until recently, Evan's poo has been runny enough because I've been breastfeeding that I haven't had to rinse/spray or otherwise remove the poo from the diaper before dropping the diaper into the pail. But now that we've introduced solids, his poo is getting more solid. We have just started using the diaper liners I purchased to keep from having to spray the diapers to get rid of the poo. The concept is great -- I have yet to actually have Evan poo on one though to tell you how well it works! The concept is that the poo sits on top of the liner (it feels like rice paper or like a dryer sheet), while the liquid soaks through it into the diaper. Then you can either flush the liner or shake off the poo and throw the liner in the trash.

Tip: To help keep odor down, I taped a cotton ball with lavender essential oil on it to the inside of the diaper pail lid.

My Method: Wipes
I was really on the fence about whether to get reusable wipes or just use the disposable ones. I decided to try the reusables and I'm glad I did! I have a small basket with dry wipes in it on the changing table and a small spray bottle with wipe solution in it. All I do is grab one of the wipes and spray it with the solution and it's ready to go! The used wipe goes into the pail with the diapers. They wash up really well! They're soft and the solution smells nice. I can also use the wipes for a runny nose or as a washcloth.

What about diaper rash?
The diaper lotion potion I use as a wipe solution also doubles as a diaper rash helper. You just add witch hazel to it. I have yet to use it for this. So far, when Evan has a mild case of diaper rash, I have just put him in a disposable and used diaper rash cream. He doesn't get it too often. If your little one has a diaper rash a lot, I'd recommend trying the diaper lotion potion if you're using cloth. That way, you're not switching him/her back and forth between disposable and cloth, which for some babies can irritate their little bottoms even more.

Cloth diapering away from home
I have and use disposables on occasion. Sometimes, it just makes more sense. I have used cloth away from home and, in fact, did so on a 5-day trip just last week. I used some cloth and some disposables. I just brought both wet bags with me (which, by the way, work great for swimsuits and other wet items as well!). I used the small bag for the poopy diapers and the large one for the wet diapers. Then, when we got home, I just did the laundry. It wasn't too bad! Not as easy as just doing disposables, but money is tight and it was nice not to have used up most of my on-hand disposables. That being said, sometimes I don't use cloth at all if we're on a day trip. I just do what makes sense for each excursion and weigh my sanity level for the day! If I don't feel overwhelmed by the thought of doing cloth while we're away, I do it. If I feel overwhelmed, I don't.

I am by no means an expert, but I have been doing this consistently for 4 1/2 months so far and did a whole lot of research before I started. These are just things I figured out along the way. I hope this helps!