Friday, August 18, 2017

Freezer Cooking

One of the ways I am able to serve food from scratch every day AND keep my sanity in spite of my large-and-growing family is precooking and freezing meals. 

Originally, I did this only in preparation for another baby, aiming to have about 4 to 6 weeks worth of breakfasts and dinners prepared and ready to go by about 36 weeks of pregnancy. Which, honestly, is pushing it because my already low energy levels during pregnancy go to virtually zero sometime by week 32. And my belly gets too large to stand in front of the kitchen counter comfortably, and turning sideways is only feasible for so long each day - ha! So this time around, I will be aiming to have all meals done and stashed by 7 months of pregnancy. 

As our family keeps growing (and growing), there are ever more opportunities for unexpected events to crop up that could throw dinner for a loop. I also like to precook meals for the times my husband and I go on little getaways, so that my awesome mother-in-law doesn't have to worry about cooking when she comes over and keeps the family circus running in my absence. Finally, I run several produce, meat, and other food-based co-ops that land me with huge loads of food at one time, typically about every other Saturday. Needing to process lots of food at once naturally led me into batch cooking and freezing.

Every family is different. What works best for us is to make enough of any one meal to last us for dinner one night, as well as lunch the next day. By planning on serving leftovers for lunch every single day, I never have to stress about making lunch during our busy mornings (homeschooling or otherwise). In addition, I try not to serve cold cereal more than once per week for breakfast, usually less often, which means that every day I cook breakfast and dinner. 

Since most recipes for our family already need to be quadrupled to be enough for two meals (dinner one night plus lunch the next day), freezer cooking for me looks different from most. Rather than making 20 or 30 meals in one day to last all month, I can on an average Saturday only make about 4 entrees, 4 breakfasts, as well as do the usual prep work for the week ahead. Since my family still wants to eat even on marathon cooking days, I can count on stashing 2 or 3 each of those breakfasts and dinners in the freezer, and leave the rest for immediate consumption that weekend, further freeing up our busy Sundays. Consequently, freezer cooking is not a monthly, but typically weekly event around here, usually on Saturdays as that is a day us homeschoolers like to stay home anyway and let the rest of the world enjoy the crowds at stores and everywhere else. :) 

In addition to these big cooking days, I cook dinner every night except most Sundays and those days when life is crazy and I have to pull a frozen meal out to save dinner. This is how slowly, over time, I can build up a freezer stash for those extended times like vacations or baby breaks.

I got ALL this organic produce, plus a 22 lb box of dried dates, for just $10!! I don't think there is another place in the country where healthy produce is this inexpensive!

The pictures above are from Saturday two weeks ago. In one day, with the help of some of the older kids, we made:

16 lbs pork carnitas (enough for 8 meals - I froze half)
10 pints pesto (enough for 10 meal - I froze all) 
6 pans of jalapeƱo poppers (enough for one meal and one snack - bwahaha! - I froze none)
2 quarts pico de gallo (enough to last for various meals that week - I froze none)

1 gallon of cooked pudding (enough for 1 breakfast and one snack - I froze none)
10 quarts of tomato soup (enough for 2 meals - I froze none)
32 strawberry scones (enough for 2 breakfasts - I froze half)
3 quarts tomato sauce (enough for 2 meals - I froze all)

 Miriam made all the jalapeno poppers by herself!

While there are free resources for freezer cooking available online, these do not work well for our family. Most focus on making small (for us) amounts of many different foods. Quadrupling a batch means that all the grocery and prep lists will no longer work for us, not to mention it would be impossible to make that much food in one day.

For years, my favorite resource for freezer cooking has been Once a Month Meals. For a membership fee of $16/month, members get access to ALL their menus for all menu types. These include traditional, real food, paleo, vegetarian, slow cooker, allergen, diet (with several THM-compliant menus!), gluten free dairy free, baby, mini, and Instant Pot. 

The last two menu types are my favorite! Mini menus save me the work of having to put together my own menus with fewer meals. I just simply up the serving size to our needs. With the recent gift of an instant pot, my batch cooking has been made even faster and easier, and the Once a Month Meals menus even more helpful! 

 This is a very helpful infographic breaking down the various menu types

Members can use any new menu or any menu in the archives (they have over 600!), and do not have to choose a specific menu type. Additionally, members can fully customize any menu to fit their individual needs and preferences, or even design their own menus from the thousands of recipes on the website. The program then generates the necessary grocery and prep lists. This is great for someone like me who would rather make mass amounts of fewer meals.

In addition, one really helpful resource is the Once a Month Meals Community, which all members have access to. You can search for tips and advice, connect with other freezer cooks, and share your story and experience.

Last but not least, I love how beautiful the Once a Month Meals website is, how easy it is to navigate, and how thoroughly everything is explained. They even have a YouTube channel! 

If you would like to give Once a Month Meals a try, you can sign up for their newsletter and receive a dietary specific mini menu. (Note: These menus come in a PDF format and are set for four servings and cannot be customized. But they give you a good idea of what the printed resources look like and how to set up a freezer cooking day.)

Homemade fajita bowls with the pork carnitas. They were incredible!!!

I have recently become a Once a Month Meals affiliate, which means that if you sign up for membership through any of the above links or the ad in the side bar, I get a small referral bonus at no additional cost to you. And if lots and lots (and lots) of you sign up, I can replace my old counter tops and finally bring you food photos without 30-year old tile - ha! :)

Please note: This post contains affiliate links.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Look Who's Walking!

Chloe takes the prize for being our latest walker! She will be 15 months old tomorrow. Just in the last few days, she has taken to toddling across open spaces. 


Yeah, this was totally filmed during church... it was a moment not to be missed!

I have suspected that Chloe has long been able to walk, but being a girl, she was far too cautious to let go, choosing instead to 'cruise' for the last several months. It was kind of convenient as she was tired of crawling, so only being willing to cruise kept her 'tethered' to wherever I would put her. Lately, that has been the coffee table as I am spending more time than my non-pregnant self resting. I'd put her down next to me as I lay on the sofa, and she'd contentedly do lap after lap around the coffee table, emptying it of all its contents, and just generally being pleasant and contained. 

Looks like my easy days are coming to and end... ;)

Side note: John was our earliest walker at 10 months. He actually started walking the DAY he turned 10 months old - one day earlier and I could have said he walked at 9 months. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Pastor's Wives Retreat

I had mentioned some time ago about the retreat I am hosting next week for some of my fellow pastor's wives, and the gift baskets I am putting together for them to present them with on this occasion. 

A number of ladies have asked me this past week to share the details again, so I figured I will post it here for anyone else who is interested. 

The ladies who will be attending are:

Leslie Berzins of Word of Truth BC in Prescott Valley, AZ

Joann Jimenez of Verity BC in Sacramento, CA

Heather Major of Faith BC in Violet, LA

Cassandra McMurtry of Liberty BC in Rock Falls, IL

Crystal Perry of Old Path BC in San Antonio, TX

Leslye Romero of Stedfast BC in Fort Worth, TX

If you would like to send a note of encouragement or anything else to include in the baskets for any of them, please get it to me by next Wednesday, August 9th. The mailing address is:

Faithful Word Baptist Church
c/o Mrs. Anderson
2741 W Southern Ave, Suite 14
Tempe, AZ 85282

or my personal home address if you know it, or you can give it to me in person at church. If you are sending a gift for anyone, please bear in mind that the ladies will be traveling to Arizona by plane, so please do not send anything bulky, liquids over 3.4 oz in size, and no knives, guns, or anything of the kind - ha!

I love being married to a pastor and helping him in the ministry. I consider it a blessing. The greatest blessings often come with the greatest, and often unseen, sacrifices - just think of having children as a great example of this. I know in my life, having those reminders that those we serve love and appreciate what we do can make the rougher patches a lot more joyful. Many times, I will get a text message, email, or other note of encouragement in the middle of a sticky day - they never fail to cheer me and give me a much-needed boost, especially since we are inundated by a flood of negative comments on a daily basis. Many times, listeners send us gift cards to various local restaurants. These are a blessing anytime, but with the recent pregnancy scare, they were also a sanity saver - because come hell or high water, at the end of the day, kids' stomachs care little about what else is going on in our life, they just want to EAT. Last month, some sweet ladies in a FB group of those who listen to our sermons online gifted me with an Instant Pot. I love it! It has been a tremendous sanity saver! Often, I am unexpectedly called away during the day to help someone or with something. Having an appliance that can get dinner on the table in a half hour with minimal input from me is truly a treasure. Please don't send six Instant Pots to my house for these ladies though - that would definitely fall into the 'too bulky to travel' category! :) These are just some examples of how tangible gestures can make a big difference.

Some of the ladies in the above list are new to our 'movement'. As a result, they have recently lost the support of their extended families, many of their friends, and been cut off from fellowship in their former Baptist circles. I am hoping this retreat will be a much-needed encouragement to them as they keep on the front lines.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A pregnancy scare, and relief

Scare is an understatement. It was more like a nightmare. But all's well that ends well, so in hindsight is was only a scare. 

I had my first prenatal appointment one week ago today, at 15 weeks pregnancy. Everything was picture perfect - strong heart beat, baby kicked the Doppler a few times, lab work all came back perfect, my own health was excellent. Today's world makes a big deal about a) moms of many, and b) 'older' moms (over age 35). In medical terms, I am a 'geriatric grand multigravida' because at the ripe old age of 38, I am pregnant with my 10th child.

Personally, I think that moms in general live healthier lives than teens and single young people. Consequently, my health and finances with our first were not anywhere near as ideal as they are now, after 17 years of marriage and the health and stability that brings. God has marvelously designed it in such a way that women stop being able to get pregnant well in time to see even their youngest into adulthood. Of course, catastrophe can strike anyone at any time, but that has nothing to do with age. 

Anyhow, on Sunday afternoon I was alarmed to notice I had some spotting (brown, which means old, blood). I know this is very common for many moms. In fact, I had a full-on period this pregnancy around the time I was 4 weeks pregnant. Still, anytime I had seen blood in past pregnancies, they had ended in miscarriage. I have had five miscarriages, all around week 5/6, and the 20-week loss of Boaz' twin brother, Jachin. But I had never had a miscarriage this late into a pregnancy. Seeing blood was highly alarming, no matter how common or normal it is considered for others. 

My midwife was 2 hours away, and sent one of the midwives she works with (who has been to my previous births) to check on baby. After ten minutes of listening all over my easily palpable uterus, she had not been able to find heart tones. She hung around for a little bit, giving baby a chance to move into a different position, and checked for several minutes more. Still nothing. We heard what we thought was blood pumping through the placenta (it sounds distinctly different from the cord, mom, or the baby), but it was in time to my own pulse and not the baby's (which would be about twice as fast), indicating the worst - baby had died and was no longer showing a heartbeat.

No matter how many kids a mom has, losing one is a devastating tragedy. My husband was at church, preaching the evening service during this time. He had not stayed home with me because we figured chances were everything was fine. Now I had nobody to share the heartbreaking news with. 

The midwife spoke to me about what to expect. Due to the size and age of the baby, I would actually have to go through labor and delivery. There might be excessive blood loss. I was remembering back to all the steps necessary to obtain a burial permit and make arrangements with the cemetery.

It was a nightmare indeed. I hardly slept that first night, expecting labor to start. Hoping, actually, that it would be soon. My husband had a trip planned for Mon/Tue which he canceled, and another to Canada later this week that he could not back out of without major financial losses for tickets that had been purchased months earlier. I myself have a pastor's wives retreat later next week for which PW's are flying in for from out of state. There's never a good time to lose a baby, but this certainly was about the worst timing possible. 

I got up yesterday determined to spend the day doing something other than sitting at home with everyone all day, tending to their unending needs, and waiting for the inevitable. I packed up Anna, Stephen, and Boaz and took them to a kiddie pool to play and have fun while I sat watching and just resting. My husband and older kids stayed home taking care of the baby and household. 

As I sat there, I noticed I still 'felt' pregnant. And by 'felt pregnant', I mean I was still starving hungry 24/7 and craving nothing but fry bread, Mexican food, steak, and pizza - the themes this pregnancy. Normally, my pregnancy symptoms and appetite subside immediately after a loss. In fact, sometimes that is my first indication that something is wrong. Here I was sitting pool-side, stuffing my face with disgusting chili cheese fries and wanting more yet. 

I started texting with my midwife and she said there was a chance baby might be alive after all. She had slept on it and woken up doubting the results from the previous day. She didn't think a full ultrasound was a good idea because though not very invasive, it might aggravate whatever issue had caused the spotting. But she did want to check me herself with a stronger Doppler than the other midwife had used. I did not want to go in and listen to a dead womb again. I thought she was just overly hopeful and I would be setting myself up to relive the previous day's nightmare. But my husband really wanted to make sure because of his trip later this week so I agreed to go.

I took the kids home in the early afternoon and laid them down to naps, then my husband, Chloe, and I went to see the midwife. 

 15 weeks pregnant

No joke, not five seconds in, we heard the familiar little clop-clop-clop of the baby's heart beat. You can imagine our relief! I wanted to keep listening to it just because it was such a beautiful sound after 24 hours of agony. We were so happy and relieved we all went out to dinner afterward to celebrate. 

And yes, I'm still starving hungry today. I just had a second breakfast of steak after my usual oatmeal this morning, and am already planning on hitting up a super-good local taco truck during nap time. I suddenly have a whole new appreciation for my ravenous appetite! 

Praise the Lord for what I consider nothing short of a miracle! Please do pray for the little one if you think of it. The spotting was minimal and had stopped by Monday, but we don't know what caused it. I will go in for a full medical ultrasound in a couple of weeks to give everything a chance to settle down and stabilize, and see what's going on, if anything. Chances are, it was nothing. 

Now please excuse me while I chase down the Taco Truck...