Thursday, October 24, 2013

Gold Star Moments

When I was in elementary school I had a teacher who gave out little gold star stickers for excellent work. At one point, one of my classmates decided to exhibit her gold star on the outside of her Lisa Frank folder, which immediately began a trend and soon all of our folders glittered and shined with our second grade achievements.  

Back then, there was nothing more rewarding than a tiny gold star, proudly displayed as a symbol of all my hard work.

Sometimes I miss those gold stars.

The other day I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when I saw this photo posted by my amazingly crafty friend Courtney:

Yes. YES. It is an adorable homemade, magnetized, colorfully illustrated chore chart. For her 4-year-old.

And the first words out of my mouth were, Well, crap.

Not only does my 4-year-old NOT have a chore chart, her 4-year-old is totally kicking my 4-year-old’s butt in the areas of cleanliness, studiousness and responsibility.

I mean, her 4-year-old wipes the table AND the floor! He MEMORIZES A WEEKLY BIBLE VERSE. He does "HOMEWORK" in a WORKBOOK!!

I can just see it now: her little Berkley perched in a miniature chair in his spotless, organized playroom, munching tiny crudité and solving for x in his math workbook. I bet she's even taught him to write his FULL NAME.

Well, crap. My 4-year-old can dress himself. Although he usually ends up looking something like this:
"What do you mean it's too hot to wear four shirts??"

And, just like that, if I’m not careful, my thoughts will slowly wind themselves down a dark and dangerous path called Comparison.

She’s more creative than you. Her child is smarter than yours. She is a better mother than you.

We all do it. We see posts from our friends or pictures on Pinterest and we compare ourselves to something that was never meant to act as a unit of measurement for our own self-worth.

Just last week I posted this photo of some Colorful “C” Cookies my son and I made to bring to “C” day at preschool. 

After I posted the picture I remembered Courtney’s chore chart and I wondered if others would think similar thoughts about my photo. Were there other mothers feeling a pang of jealousy at that very moment grumbling, "I can't believe she’s BAKING HOMEMADE COOKIES with her child while the most impressive thing to go in my oven lately are store-bought crescent rolls!"

I didn’t post my photo to show that I am a superior mother, just as Courtney didn’t post hers for that reason.

I posted the photo because in the midst of poopy diapers and toddler tantrums, in between a morning of hurried errands and an evening of sibling spats, I created this moment with my son.

As his siblings napped we mixed the dough and discussed his favorite part of preschool (lunchtime). While rolling it out, we debated the very bestest superhero (verdict: Superman). And, as we cut out cookies and sprinkled sugar, he confided in me his future ambition (to be a toy salesman). We weren't just making cookies, we were making memories

He was so proud to pack up his cookies and tote them off to school in the morning. I felt proud that in the midst of a crazy day, I was able to create a memory with him through tiny, sprinkled treats.

Those cookies were my gold star moment. However, as mothers, there are no teachers looking over our shoulders waiting to approve and applaud our best work. We have no folders on which to line up our tiny gold accolades. But sometimes we still need those gold stars.

Perhaps that’s why we snap a picture of our gold star moments and send them out into the universe.  Maybe we’re still looking for a little bit of approval. Maybe we’re declaring to the world, “Look! Look at what I did today! Look at my happy babies! See, I AM a good mother!”

There will always be someone, somewhere out there to envy. And there will always be someone who is envious of you.

So instead of rolling our eyes at a seemingly perfect family photo or feeling a twinge of resentment over someone else's superior design skills, maybe we should look outward rather than focusing inward.

I say, Mamas, show me your naptime projects, your kitchen masterpieces, your Elves on Shelves, your elaborately-themed birthdays, your single-cupcake celebrations, your late-night sick baby snuggle sessions, that new haircut or even your chore chart that puts all other chore charts to shame.

When we see our friend proudly displaying her daily accomplishment, let’s promise to say to each other,

Good job, Mama.

You are a great mother.

Here’s your gold star.

And the moment is over.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Beef and Broccoli {Freezer Meal}

While in college, I waited tables at a local P.F. Chang's where my preference for Chinese food may have escalated into a full-blown addiction. I ate a TON of Chinese food. The only reason I did not graduate college weighing 400 pounds is because I also spent every shift RUNNING around the entire restaurant since my tables were always packed with patrons and there was consistently a line out the door. Apparently, a lot of people really love Americanized-Asian food too.

Truly, I love Chinese food. Others may crave chocolate cake or peanut butter cookies, but I dream of crunchy crab wontons, tangy sesame chicken and mountains upon mountains of pork fried rice. Mmmmmm...potsickers.

What was I saying?

Oh yes, freezer meal cooking.

When I saw this recipe from Rainy Day Gal pop up on Pinterest, I knew I had to give it a try.

Um, wow. This Beef and Broccoli dish is, dare I say, even more delicious than the restaurant version.

AND I've adapted it for the freezer! It's a little more work on the front end, but walking in the door after a long day and having this on your table in 15 minutes makes it TOTALLY worth it!


First, the most important step in this recipe is selecting the right cut of meat and slicing it correctly.

Skirt steak, sliced against the grain. 
Skirt steak is long, flat and prized for it's flavor.
Slicing against the grain ensures the beef will practically melt in your mouth.
Slice the beef into strips, then cut those strips into bite-sized pieces.
Then, marinate the beef. Mix 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tbsp cornstarch, 1 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce, 1 tbsp water, 2 tbsp vegetable oil in a ziptop bag. Add the beef and toss to coat. 

The sauce is next! In a separate baggie, mix 1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce (NOT regular or the dish will be too salty), 2 tbsp brown sugar, 2 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp sherry (can be omitted, but it rounds out the flavors nicely), and 4 cloves minced garlic. 

Add a package of frozen broccoli....
...combine them in a gallon-sized baggie and you have an Asian-inspired meal kit ready to go in your freezer! (You could even throw in a baggie of rice to make it complete!)


Ok. I really was planning on photographing the process of cooking this freezer meal. However, after one child was "accidentally" kicked in the head and the other child "accidentally" locked himself in the bathroom to escape the wrath of Mommy, it was all I could do to throw the whole mess in a hot pan and be done with it. Luckily, this dish is perfectly suited for crazy evenings.

To see photos, click over to Rainy Day Gal's version of this recipe.

Jack declared, "This is the juiciest chicken I ever ate!"
Sweet, tender beef and crisp, garlicky broccoli. You won't believe that this came out of your kitchen.

Here's how it comes together. 


First, marinate the meat in a gallon-sized ziptop bag. Toss to coat.
  • 1.5 lbs skirt steak, sliced against the grain and cut into bit-sized pieces
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil

Next, mix the sauce in a separate baggie.
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp sherry 
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Make sure you have a package of frozen broccoli on hand!

Add baggie of beef, baggie of sauce and package of broccoli to a gallon-sized ziptop bag. Label and freeze.

When ready to cook, thaw the beef and the sauce, but leave the broccoli in the freezer until time to cook. 

In a large wok or saute pan, heat 1 tbsp of oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add the marinated meat and half of the sauce mixture and saute for 3-4 minutes, stirring often, until no more pink is visible on the outside of the beef. Stir in the frozen broccoli and remaining sauce. Saute until the broccoli is cooked through (about 2-3 minutes) minutes. (If your broccoli is packaged in a self-steam bag, you can also heat it in the microwave, then add it to the dish). Serve over hot rice!

**If you liked the Beef and Broccoli, try Asian Flank Steak!

Apricot Chicken {Freezer Meal}

Apricot Chicken is a classic recipe, sure to be found in many old church cookbooks. It was one of my mom's "go-to" recipes when I was growing up, probably because it was one meal that my picky sisters and I would actually eat. That, and because it takes, like, 5 minutes to throw together.

Variations of this recipe, sometimes called Russian Chicken, are floating all over the internet. Some say use thighs, some go the boneless, skinless route. Some throw theirs in the crockpot, others do the oven.

Here is my take, adapted for the freezer.


With only 4 ingredients, this dish is a cinch to throw together!

Mix 1 packet of onion soup mix, a jar of apricot preserves and a bottle of Russian dressing in a zip top bag. Then add 3-4 bone-in chicken breasts with the skin removed.

Yeah. That's IT.

 Why bone-in chicken? In this dish, the sauce needs time in the oven to reduce and come together. Boneless chicken breasts cook quickly and will end up dry before the sauce is finished. Using bone-in chicken (look for "split chicken breasts" at the grocery store) will allow the meat to stay juicy and tender while the sauce reduces to a thick, tangy glaze. 

BUT! Make sure you to REMOVE the skin from your chicken breasts. In this recipe, since the chicken is baking in a pool of glorious sauce, the skin will become a hot, soggy mess. And nobody wants that. Plus, it saves calories!  
Ta da! This baby is ready for the freezer!


Pour your thawed bag of Apricot Chicken into a 9x13 baking dish. Line it with foil to save on cooking time.
 After about 55 minutes in a 350 degree oven, dinner is done!


Sweet, juicy, tender. Your family's gonna love it.

This recipe is also very forgiving; you can substitute any citrus-y jam or any red-based dressing. What's hanging out in your pantry? Orange marmalade and French dressing? Throw 'em together, it'll be delicious!

So what have we learned today?
4 ingredients + 5 minutes = 1 great meal ready to go in your freezer


  • 3 to 4 bone-in chicken breasts, skin removed
  • 1 (16 oz) bottle of Russian dressing (Catalina or any red-based French style dressing can be substituted)
  • 1 (10 oz) jar of apricot preserves (peach, orange or your favorite jelly can be substituted)
  • 1 packet of dry onion soup mix

Mix the dressing, preserves and onion soup mix in a zip top bag. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Freeze!

Thaw chicken completely. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking pan with aluminum foil for easier clean-up. Place chicken into the baking dish, bone side down. Bake uncovered for 50-60 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Serve the chicken over rice or couscous and spoon sauce over the top. Add a green veggie or salad on the side!

Freezer Meals You'll WANT to Eat!

Oh, dinnertime. That 5:00 witching hour when all the stresses of the day seem to catch up with everyone all at once. You're tired and your children, who only an hour earlier were running and playing happily in the yard, are now fighting and demanding all of your attention.

Their transformation is often so well-timed I sometimes swear they plot ways to make me lose it in the evening.

I can just imagine Jack doling out the tasks, "Ok, Baby, you start screaming until Mommy is forced to pick you up and cook with one hand. Henry, you pull out all the pots and pans and place them exactly where she needs to be standing. And when she takes a pan away because she actually needs to cook with it, that's your cue to have a giant tantrum on the floor! And me? I'll stand by the pantry and whine for a cookie. And I'll make sure and tell her that I don't like whatever it is that she is making. Got it? Aaaaand go!"
Dinnertime = Mischief + Mayhem
I actually enjoy cooking, but I've come to dread this event called dinnertime. In an effort to minimize chaos, I've gotten into the routine of freezer meal cooking for our family. However, I don't just throw any old meal into the freezer. I have some stipulations.

First, I HATE the crock pot. Everything I throw into the crock pot seems to come out tasting like, well, crock pot. It is a giant vat of disappointment. I don't even know why people name recipes for the slow cooker. They should all just be called "Wet Meat Over Rice." Anybody with me on this?? AM I DOING SOMETHING WRONG?? I mean, the expression "That's a crock!" isn't exactly complimentary. (Exceptions: Velveeta cheese dip and BBQ meatballs.)

Secondly, I'm not crazy about casseroles. There are a few that I make on a consistent basis, but my kids have a thing about their food "not touching", so when a casserole is served, they usually spend 20 minutes dissecting it before telling me they don't like it.

Finally, I try and cook meals that are a least a tiny bit healthy. I haven't jumped on the all-organic bandwagon yet and I couldn't even tell you what gluten-free means, but I attempt to prepare dishes that resemble real food. In my freezer you will find Beef and Broccoli or Apricot Chicken, not crescent rolls wrapped around cheese wrapped around pepperoni wrapped around butter (though I'm sure those are delicious) (I'm serious, I would probably eat, like, 20 in one sitting. Which is why I don't make them). Basically, I try to find a happy medium between uber healthy and total crap.

I usually plan my meals and grocery shop (online!) in one day. The next day I  spend a few hours assembling meals. I normally end up with about 10 meals that last us around 2 weeks. 

Yes, I will need 20 pounds of chicken and a toddler-sized straight-jacket.
I still do weekly grocery shopping for the basics, plus fresh produce. However, if I happen to notice a great deal on chicken breasts, for example, I will buy a couple packs and quickly assemble them into freezer meals when I get home. That way I always have a few meals going in to my freezer as some are coming out. 

This makes me SO happy.
I hardly ever meal plan on a daily basis anymore. I just keep a running list of the main dishes that are in my freezer. I also make sure to have starches on hand like pasta, rice or those "instant" mixes like rice pilaf, couscous, etc. I keep some frozen veggies around too. I prefer fresh veggies and salads, but when you're short on time and energy you can really put together a decent meal with some thawed, marinated chicken, rice pilaf in a box and frozen broccoli!

These are not fancy-schmancy gourmet creations. These are throw-it-together-to-make-it-til-bedtime dinners. And that's ok. There's a season for that kind of cooking. 

That being said, over the past few years I've compiled a collection of tasty, simple "throw-together-and-freeze" meals. Here are a few freezer-friendly recipes that have proved to be hits with my family again and again.

I'd love to hear how these dishes turn out for you!

Pasta Florentine Soup {Freezer Meal}

Do you love a simmering, creamy soup on a chilly evening?

Do you dread spending hours in the kitchen preparing said soup? 

Well, have I got a recipe for you.

A few years ago my mother-in-law served this dish for dinner one evening. It was absolutely delicious and when she revealed the recipe I could not believe how quick and simple it was to prepare! 

Seriously, the hardest thing about this recipe is removing the meat from the rotisserie chicken. My version comes together in 10 minutes.


In a ziptop bag, combine the following ingredients: 1 (32 oz) carton chicken broth, 1 (14 oz) jar alfredo sauce, 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken, 1/2 cup diced sun-dried tomatoes, and 3 cups fresh baby spinach.

6 ingredients. 1 amazing soup.
 Freeze the bagged soup in a baking dish to avoid possible spills. Freeze a (9 oz) package of fresh stuffed pasta separately. The original recipe calls for tortellini, but I've found that ravioletti works best with small children since it doesn't have to be cut into smaller bites. (After the soup is frozen, you can reclaim your baking dish!)


I have been known to pull this frozen block of soup out of the freezer, pound it against the counter until it breaks into chunks and dump the whole mess into a pot when I've found myself in a mealtime pinch. I don't recommend it, but it still turns out delicious. 

If you actually happen to plan a few hours ahead, thaw your soup before bringing it to a low boil on the stove top. Add your pasta (frozen or thawed) and cook through. Ta-da! Dinner is served!
Just make sure your pot is big enough to keep the soup from boiling over.
The creamy broth is a PAIN to scrub off your cook top. Or so I've heard. 


This scrumptious soup is perfect for a chilly night. It's also very versatile and can be customized to your family's taste. Try Italian sausage instead of chicken for a spicy kick! Add mushrooms or peas, experiment with different fillings in the stuffed pasta. The possibilities are endless!

Scoop. Slurp. Swoon.
(Serves 6)

  • 1 (9 oz) package refrigerated 3-cheese stuffed pasta (I prefer ravioletti for the little ones!)
  • 1 (32 oz) carton chicken broth
  • 1 (14 oz) jar alfredo sauce
  • 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
  • 1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomato strips, drained and diced
  • 3 cups lightly packed fresh baby spinach
Combine all ingredients except pasta in a gallon-sized ziptop bag. Freeze soup and package of pasta. Thaw soup (or not) and bring to a low boil. Add pasta (frozen or thawed) and cook through. Serve with crusty bread!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Ducks & Firetrucks: The Story of a Lazy Friday

Today the sun came up on on this cool, crisp October Friday and we had nothing to do and nowhere to be.  The day was ours for the taking.

Naturally, we began with some cuddly cartoon watching in the big bed.

As a stay-at-home mom I have no deadlines to meet, no bosses to please, no clients to manage. I do have time. Lots and lots of time. Not time to myself, mind you, but time that is often filled with the monotony of diaper changing, grilled cheese making and face wiping, among other things.

I generally like to plan different activities to break up the tedium and keep the kids busy. Lately, though, as I see Kindergarten looming on the horizon, I realize our long, slow days are numbered and these lazy, wide-open hours are gradually becoming my favorite way to spend time with them. 

What should we do today? Play outside? Bake cookies? 
How about a trip to the fire station?

We packed up some cookies...
...grabbed some friends...
...a few more friends...
...and hit the road!

(sorry, Sweetie. in a few years we'll force the boys to go to the ballet)

Aren't firemen the BEST? I find it difficult to think of any other profession that not only welcomes small children unannounced, but will encourage them to climb all over their workspace and give them free stickers and treats!

(Then again, other professions aren't nearly as popular to the preschool crowd. I highly doubt many law firms find groups of little children at their door dressed as tiny attorneys and wanting a tour of the cubicles.)

Later, after lunch and rest time, we squeezed in a visit to the duck pond behind our house. 

Jack threw corn...
...Henry threw rocks. Or so I thought. Upon further inspection I discovered it was actually poop.

Elise enjoyed the excursion from my back.
She is literally along for the ride.

Storybook Ending: Then we all sat by the pond and watched the sunset, after which my children (who somehow managed to remain perfectly neat and clean) headed back home and happily scampered off to bed. 


Real-Life Ending: On our walk back home, Jack gathered quite a collection of feathers which he secretly stashed in his shirt pocket. He then locked himself in the bathroom, stopped up the sink and began an assembly line of feather-washing, making sure to use my scented handsoap and guest towels. "But Mommy, I'm making a surprise for you!" Yes, thank-you, Honey, I was quite surprised.

Real-life Mommy. 
There is a trail of green goose poop across the family room carpet and my bathroom is covered in disease-infested duck feathers, but I have 2 giggling little boys, now in their jammies, reenacting today's adventures. "Henry, you get on top of the couch and pretend it's your house on fire. I'm going to drive in my fire truck to come rescue you. Now say 'Help! Help!"

It's bedtime and Mommy is exhausted and the kids are clearly NOT, but we all must get some sleep. 

Who knows what adventures we may find tomorrow?