Posts Tagged life

The “Big Cook” is a Mommy Lifesaver

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We have all been there before.  Whether you’re eight months pregnant or have your hands full with extracurricular activities and busy kids at home, we can all benefit from a “Big Cook!”  Not only is a Big Cook a great excuse to get friends together, but by the end of the day you have a fully stocked freezer of ready to pop in the oven meals.  Personally, I know there are several days where I get busy during the day and realize around 3 o’clock that I forgot to pull something out of the freezer for dinner.  Then I’m stuck quickly de-frosting something in the microwave or calling my husband and suggesting it’s a good night to eat out.

I had the opportunity to join some girlfriends yesterday for  a Big Cook.  It was my first experience doing one, but some of the girls were well seasoned in this area.  One of the girls emailed us a grocery list a couple of weeks in advance and we were all assigned items to bring the day of the Big Cook.  We met at 10a.m. and had successfully prepared 80 meals by 4p.m.!  BBQ Pork, Tricolor Chicken and Pasta, Taco Toss, and Zippy Pork Chops were just a few among our menu.  Our day began by organizing all of our ingredients into one area.  Then we came up with a game plan as to what we were each going to be doing.  I browned 15 pounds of hamburger, while some were mixing the sauces for the burger meals and others labeling the bags the meals were being placed into with the meal title and cooking instructions.  We continued this system through the pork and chicken dishes as well.  Throughout the day, we took turns washing dishes and dividing the meals among everyone.  At the end of the day, we each had 10 different dishes and 20 meals for four people (two of each dish)!  When it was all complete and clean up was over, we sat down with our receipts and added all the expenses together and divided by how many people were taking food home.  The average cost came out to about $9 per meal.  Not too bad when you consider the fact that each meal is for four people.  That’s about $2.25 per person per meal!

The idea for The Big Cook came from three busy mom’s named Joanne Smith, Lorelei Thomas and Deanna Siemens.  They decided one day to get together and cook in mass in order to prepare meals to freeze for future evenings.  They developed fast and healthy meals that could easily be frozen for future use.  The idea took off and in 1997 they published the cookbook titled The Big Cook.  This is one of those products I saw and said to myself, “Why didn’t I think of that!?”  It’s such a great idea and there is an enormous market of mothers and fathers that would benefit from this style of cooking.

My husband and I are pretty adventurous with cooking and I wouldn’t go as far to say that we will rely on this method completely, but for those days you really just don’t feel like cooking or don’t know WHAT to cook, it’s great to know you have meals ready to go in the freezer!  Another great thing about this style of cooking is it allows us to focus more time and energy on the side dishes that surround the entrée.  For me, I usually spend most of my time preparing the entrée and then add simple vegis and rice or potato with it.  With The Big Cook in my life now, I can focus more on some new side dishes.

Overall, The Big Cook is a great concept for any family.  I am already looking forward to the next event and I hope that you adopt the idea among your friends and family and give it a try.  So fun and so easy!  Happy cooking!

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Beach Picnics on the Mind

Is it too early to pull out the picnic basket?  I think not.

I find it so refreshing to go to the stores in our area this time of year and be able to shop for sand toys, picnic supplies, swimwear, etc.  Even though it’s -10F outside and feels like we’re never going to see the grass peek through the frozen ground, it IS just around the corner!  Why not lift those winter blues and go buy yourself something for summer?  I did.

A quick visit to Walmart for milk today turned into a shopping cart of sand toys, bubbles, and summer sandals for our daughter.  We plan to make several trips down to Sylvan Lake this summer and enjoy picnics on the beach, so it was hard not to take advantage of the clearance racks.  Many retailers offer clearance sales on summer products at this time leftover from the year prior.  Along with many other great deals, we came home with three pairs of summer shoes for her, all for less than $20!

Last year our little girl was barely walking, whereas this year she will be turning two in July and running!  Needless to say, appropriate footwear is a must this summer.  And since we mostly picnic at the lake, we picked up a pair of water shoes for her that will be great for this occasion.  Family picnics can be a blast if you are well prepared and a disaster waiting to happen if you’re not.  From proper apparel to ‘picnic friendly’ food, there is a lot for a parent to consider.  Here are some picnic ideas to think about now, while there are great deals at your local stores:

1. Apparel for your toddler – If you plan to picnic near water and expect your kids to want to play on the beach, there are a few apparel options to consider.  Water shoes are perfect for your active toddler.  There’s no telling what they’ll be stepping on under the sand and these shoes will protect their little feet from any sharp objects.  In addition, these shoes are great to have for traction while swimming at the local pool.  SPF Swimwear is another great piece of apparel to consider investing in for this summer.  Not only do these suits provide extra protection from harmful UV rays, they also help to keep your child warm after jumping in the water.  Headwear is another must.  If your child will allow you to put a hat on them, it’s great to keep their heads covered.  Sunburn on the scalp is not a fun consequence to deal with.  If they refuse to keep a hat on, lather their little heads with sunblock of course.

2. Supplies – You’ll need the obvious necessities such as plates, utensils (consider paper and plastic as not to lose any of your valuable kitchenware from home), and napkins for your picnic.  One thing that I couldn’t live without when picnicking, is a good thermal tote or soft cooler.  I have a couple, but the one I really enjoy for picnicking and even grocery shopping or carrying a dish to a potluck, is from Rachael Ray.  You can find her products all over the internet and I believe mine came from QVC.com, but check out all the food totes she has available on her website www.rachaelraystore.com.  One last important supply you DON’T want to forget is a blanket to sit on.

3. Activities and Toys – You will also want to consider activities for the kiddos.  Think about the area that you will be picnicking; will there be a playground?  Will there be a beach? If you’ll be near water, Buckets and Sand Toys are great and super cheap!  You can find great deals in Sylvan Lake at the Dollarama and Walmart, just to name a few.  Water Toys and Floats are fun for the beach too.  You may consider some arm floats or a suit with floats built in for your child, should you plan on swimming.

4. Food of course! So many options here.  If you have a busy toddler like myself, you’ll want to consider foods that can be mobile while being consumed.  Without being in the comfort of their home, buckled into a booster seat at the table, they may be anxious to get back to playing in the sand or maybe they just want to stand next to the blanket and snack.  Either way, you want finger foods that they can eat on the go.  You don’t want to be cleaning noodles from a pasta dish off the grass and blanket for example.  Here are a few kid-friendly foods that are great for picnics:

– Peanut butter and jelly sandwich (use a cookie cutter and make them a fun shape for the fun occasion!)

– Hot Dogs (with or without the bun)

– Lunch meat sandwich

– Pizza (super easy to pre-make at home and always popular with kids — use a hoagie roll cut in half, a sliced pita bread or english muffin for the base)

– Grapes, sliced apples, pineapple, banana slices

– Yogurt

– String cheese or sliced cheese

– Muffins, cookies, or granola bar for dessert

5. And last, but not least…Always remember SUNBLOCK!

Well if you’re like me, you’ll read this and start craving sunshine immediately!  When there’s no sun, it’s nice to know you can at least go to a warm store or mall somewhere now and find summer products to give you some hope and reassurance that Spring is just around the corner.  Why wait?  Start planning for your spring picnic now.

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Adjusting to Life in Canada

Canada has been treating us well and we are finally feeling ‘settled in’ after a long drawn out transition from Alaska.  The Canadians have welcomed us with open arms and as a result we have already met so many wonderful people and made some great friends.

We’ve been here for almost 4 months now and it has been an eventful time so far.  We try and get out and see something new as much as possible.  One thing we love about the area is how you can drive an hour any direction and see some completely different terrain. Jeremy and I both agree, this move was a great decision and we are looking forward to making Alberta our home for at least the next three years.

While relocating to a new area can bring many changes to your life, we have had our share of change while adjusting to the ways of Canada.  Read on to learn bits and pieces of our ‘Adjusting to Life in Canada’:

Adjustments There have been many things we have had to adjust to while living in here.  From the different variety of groceries to socialized healthcare, there is much to learn.

Food – Lucky for us, we LOVE international cuisine and there is a galore of Thai, Japanese, and Vietnamese restaurants to choose from.  In addition, the grocers have a pretty good selection of international ingredients.  I’ve come to love Canada’s Superstore for the price and the variety!  They have a whole aisle devoted to international ingredients. We have definitely had to make some sacrifices when it comes to food though.  If you love Mexican food as much as I do, this is NOT the place for you.  There is one Mexican restaurant that I know of in the entire Red Deer area.  We decided to try it out a couple of weeks ago and spent about $20 a plate for enchiladas!  Not worth the money.  We like to make tacos or enchiladas at home every now and again.  Prepare to pay $3 for a small can of green chillies!  The variety of Mexican ingredients in the stores is terrible.  We may not enjoy margaritas and fajitas as much as we did in Alaska, but we are enjoying the other local and chain restaurants that the area has to offer.

Residency and Healthcare – I knew when we crossed the border from Idaho to B.C. we had our work cut out for us in order to gain residency and find ourselves ‘settled’ in Canada. 1.  Retain work permit to live in Canada for three years 2.Apply for Social Insurance Number 3. Apply for Alberta Health Care 4. Find a family doctor…that is good and also taking new patients 5. Get Alberta Driver’s License 6. Get Out of Province Vehicle Inspection completed for new plates — have 10 days to complete all necessary repairs to meet requirements of Alberta law and pass inspection (my car was provided an estimate today of $1100 to complete the required changes…I have a 2005 Ford Escape)

…AND THE LIST GOES ON

Healthcare — Interesting topic of discussion.  Canadians are VERY proud of their healthcare system and everyone I have talked to loves their family doctor and appreciates the benefits the system provides them.  Everyone is floored what we pay for medical services in the states…insured or not. Our biggest challenge when we moved here was not finding a doctor, but finding a doctor that’s taking new patients.  The availability is terrible and I haven’t yet figured out what people do if they can’t find a doctor they like?  I even asked one office if there was  a waiting list I could get on and she acted like I was the first person to ask that question! 

After a couple tries and one really bad experience, I think we finally found a doctor.  Dr. Kathy Unger in Lacombe, which is about 25 minutes from our house.  She’s personable and thorough.  She does it all too…from regular check-ups to pregnancies and deliveries.  Apparently it can be somewhat cumbersome to find a family doc that can do pregnancies as well.  So, IF we enter that stage while in Canada, at least I know we have a doctor we can trust.

Needless to say, our experience with healthcare in Alberta has been slow starting, but I feel like we are on the right track now.  More details to come…

This is just a quick update from our new home in Canada.  Hope all is well in the states!  Love to all, Tina

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