11. March 2013 · Comments Off on Our New Soda Stream — And Alternatives to the Soda Stream Mixes · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,
Our new toy. Thanks to GeekMom's Amazon Associates credit.

Our new toy. Thanks to GeekMom’s Amazon Associates credit.

In February I got my Amazon.com credit for all of the product referrals I did over the holidays for GeekMom. It was a very generous payout and we bought some goodies such as a pressure cooker, a hangar for our family’s running medals, and a Soda Stream.

We got a very basic Soda Stream model, which included the carbonator with CO2 tank, one 1L bottle and a sampler pack of flavor syrups.

The system is very straightforward, and doesn’t even require electricity: screw a water-filled bottle to the carbonator and depress a button on top to carbonate to the level you desire (they recommend depressing the button three times, we’re still trying to figure out how much carbonation we actually like).

We all tasted several of the sample syrups that came with the system and they’re pretty good. Dave noticed that all the syrups were surprisingly low-calorie and upon further investigation, we noticed that they ALL had sucralose (otherwise known as Splenda).

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05. January 2013 · Comments Off on Major Mom’s Back to Basics Campaign: Crazy Easy Applesauce · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,
When life gives you apples, make APPLESAUCE!

When life gives you apples, make APPLESAUCE!

In this next installment of “Back to Basics”, I’m going to share how crazy easy it is to make applesauce for your family.

Before I found “Natural” applesauce for my family, I tended to avoid buying applesauce because of the added sugars. Mott’s and White House both now make “natural” applesauce that comes in nice containers for lunchboxes. I feel a little better about it.

Nonetheless, I came into a huge bag of red delicious apples when some of us spouses were setting up Christmas stockings for Dave’s squadron’s Christmas party. I had this bowl with a pile of apples throughout the holidays, and only Timmy was eating them. The rest of us hate red delicious apples, other types taste so much better.

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02. January 2013 · Comments Off on Major Mom’s Back to Basics Campaign: Getting Control Back! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,
This isn't my house. But this is how I feel like my life becomes at times. Messy, chaotic, out of control. I resolve to do better this year.

This isn’t my house. But this is how I feel like my life becomes at times. Messy, chaotic, out of control. I resolve to do better this year.

It’s 2013 and resolve to get my life back under control.

Since when do I actually abide by those resolutions? “Lose 20 pounds.” “Save more money.” “Eat out less”. “Bake my own bread.” “Run a half marathon every season.”

Have you ever had “training” on how to set goals? I remember getting some training on it in AFROTC many years ago, back when we had an ENTIRE SEMESTER on Quality Air Force, which was the Air Force’s adaptation of Total Quality Management in the mid-1990s. Part of the training was about how to set meaningful, reasonable goals.

Feel free to Google “Goal setting” or “how to set reasonable goals” and you’ll see all sorts of tips. What I remember is  the following:

  • Goals should be realistic.
  • Goals should be achievable in a timely manner.
  • Goals should be achievable with resources available.
  • Goals’ successes should be measurable.

As you can see from the title, simply declaring “Getting control back!” is not really measurable, is it? After all, how do I know whether my life is in control or not? To a fly on the wall, it might seem like my life is in control: my kids are clothed, fed, they’re taken to piano, Scouts, sports and school at the proper times. Bills are paid, I meet my AF Reserve obligations, and I remembered everyones’ birthdays in 2012 (I think).

I need help with meal planning and keeping up with housework. Every once in a while I’ll fuss about these two things on Facebook or Twitter…or here on this blog. These are the two items that will fall by the wayside FIRST when our lives get busy. I’ll get into scenarios where I don’t have time to cook, the laundry and dishes will pile up, and my poor floors get filthy, and the dust tumbleweed starts to roll.

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A favorite family breakfast!

I’d like to share a new favorite product in our house: Immaculate Baking Co.

No, this isn’t a “Back to Basics” type of thing, but I started by trying out the cinnamon rolls, like the ones pictured above.  I’ve been trying to migrate my kids away from the super-processed Pillsbury refrigerated dough products, and was just going to try to make cinnamon rolls with my bread machine.  But that still takes a while — I’d make up the dough the night before, assemble the rolls before bedtime and let them rise in the fridge.

But I had two problems with this: (a) I’m so tired at night I rarely do much food prep the night before and (b) such recipes tend to make too many cinnamon rolls.  And if I bake them, they will all be eaten.  We don’t need that.

At my local Wal-mart, I spied these Immaculate Baking cinnamon rolls positioned high above the Pillsbury products that are at eye level.  (Tangent: Check out this blog post about the psychology of product placement in grocery stores, at every store I’ve seen these cinnamon rolls, they’re on the top shelf).

I liked the non-GMO corn products and unprocessed ingredients.  I thought I’ve give them a shot.  The flour is unbleached and unbromated, the salt is sea salt and the baking powder is aluminum-free.

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Today I made blueberry syrup.  This was a request from Jacob, who loves the taste of blueberries but doesn’t care for the texture of the skins or the seeds.

It looks strange in a jar, I know, but I can keep it in the pantry this way. I have a Good Seasons dressing cruet that can hold the current syrup in the fridge for day-to-day use.

The recipe I used was mainly from the Ball Blue Book canning guide and I chose it because it called for two quarts of blueberries, which was exactly how much I had in the freezer. Just ignore the part of boiling the sugar water to 260 degrees, that doesn’t seem right to me…that’s “hard ball” candy stage so I only boiled to 225F, which is syrup stage.

In terms of the technique, this blog post from Simple Bites fits the bill for describing the steps.

While canning foods is old hat for me — I’d been doing it since canning homemade pasta sauce from homegrown Ohio tomatoes in 2001 —  boiling sugar and double-straining berry juice, such as what you might do for making jelly, were new techniques for me.  I didn’t realize how SLOW straining berry juice would be, nor did I realize how long it would take to boil down the sugar water to syrup stage.  Allow 2 hours for straining the berries and about 30 minutes for boiling down the sugar enough to make the syrup.

Now that I know this, I can be sure to multi-task during those stages 🙂

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This is what I love cooking...but I shouldn't be cooking this...

I find myself in a little conundrum: I want to bake bake bake.

When I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I wanted to go “back” to the cooking I used to do for the family, much of that involved baking cookies, cakes, cobblers, breads, cornbread, etc. I love baking.

I need to change my mindset.

My adventures with granola and popcorn are a start, but I need to keep moving forward with fun cooking tasks that don’t break the calorie bank and fill my family with empty starchy calories.

In the meantime, I’m really enjoying making a small loaf of whole wheat bread about every 3-4 days for the family. The recipe that came out the winner uses only whole wheat flour with one cup of prepared mashed potatoes. You can throw a medium potato in the microwave, bake it and smash it straight into the bread machine! We enjoy making sandwiches, toast and even just having slices of bread and butter as a side dish with dinner. The kids are asking for plain slices of bread as a snack! I’m not making this up!!!

In the meantime, I’m also trying to clear out some of the less-than-ideal ingredients in my pantry. I feel a little guilty doing this also. I made a key lime pie a couple weeks ago to clear out graham crackers and condensed milk…and I made a chicken noodle casserole that used up some cream of chicken soup and egg noodles.

I’m doing some research on the interwebs myself, but if anyone has ideas of great homemade snacks for the family that I can keep on hand for snacking…leave me a comment!

Topped with our just-picked blueberries, this has been my breakfast every morning this week!

I was picking up cereal at the grocery store last week and noticed the commercially available granola. For $3-5 per box, you could get granola with a variety of flavors, with varied ingredients and perhaps even some preservatives thrown in.

Such as Kellogg’s low-fat granola:

Here’s the ingredients list from the Amazon.com entry: “Whole Oats, Brown Sugar, Whole Grain Wheat, Corn Syrup, Rice, Almonds, Modified Corn Starch, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed and/or Soybean Oil, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Cinnamon, Salt, Nonfat Dry Milk, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Polyglycerol Esters of Mono- and Diglycerides, Malt Flavor, Niacinamide, Zinc Oxide, Guar Gum, Sodium Ascorbate and Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Reduced Iron, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin A Palmitate, Folic Acid, Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Bht (Preservative), Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D.”

High fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils?  If one is considering granola, one would think they’d be aware of such ingredients and not choose this particular brand.  There are so many others out there…if you had to purchase it.

Even Kashi’s yummy “Cocoa Beach” chocolate granola has “mixed tocopherols” in its ingredients, but at least I could recognize everything else.

It wasn’t too difficult to take a look at what I had available in my pantry and figured I could do this myself without high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated-anything. I had plenty of Quaker’s “Old Fashioned” oats, honey, brown sugar, nuts and raisins that I could use to make granola. Plus a complement of spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon.

I browsed numerous online granola recipes, looking for one that fit the volume I wanted to make, plus the ingredients I had available.

A recipe from Amy at A Little Nosh blog was the winner [link to recipe has since gone dark].  She adapted it from the 100 Days of Real Food blog, which is a wonderful blog about a North Carolina family who succeeded in 100 days of non-processed foods, making everything from scratch.  They then tried an additional 100 days of the same thing on a tight food budget and found out it’s harder than it ought to be.

As for Amy’s recipe, being 2nd on the Google search for “homemade granola” helped her case for being my choice.  All the sweetness came from the honey, and the fat that gives it the richness came from butter instead of oil.  We here prefer the flavor that comes with butter, so this was the recipe we tried out.

I had to make a couple of changes to adapt to the ingredients I had on hand and deal with some of my kids’ tastes:

  1. I used raisins instead of dried cranberries, since I had plenty of raisins on hand already
  2. I omitted the sunflower kernels and pumpkin seeds, my youngest son doesn’t care for seeds
  3. I also omitted the coconut.  None of us care for it too much.

Otherwise, this recipe worked out like a charm and the kids enjoyed snacking on it.  We love the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg aroma in the house while it’s baking up, as Jacob told me last week, “It smelled like Christmas!”

While Amy claims that she makes a batch and it disappears quickly, we here find granola very filling and we’re still snacking on it and having it for breakfast 5 days later.  After all, the recipe makes 3 pounds or 48 ounces, the equivalent of 3-4 boxes of what’s commercially available.

Cost-wise, I probably used about $1 worth of ingredients (a non-scientific estimate) to produce the same amount you’d have to pay about $15 for in a store.

“Back to Basics” for the win!  Once again!

These past two months have been a blur to me.  I was busy with both boys in baseball, and my responsibilities with the Hurlburt Spouses’ Club ramped up, as I was in charge of organizing the elections of next year’s officers and a biennal review of the Constitution and other legal documents.

Pardon the blurriness. I was recognized by Hurlburt Field earlier this month as a nominee for the annual "Angel Award". I didn't win (I didn't hold a candle to most of my fellow nominees!) but I was incredibly flattered to be among such amazing volunteers.

But now it has all wound down, with the new Hurlburt Spouses’ Club officers installed a couple weeks ago, the boys’ baseball and Cub Scouts having come to a close and I have a summer season that I can dedicate to my family.

One of the things that really came to a screeching halt in April and May was normal cooking for the family.  Our dinnertimes became dominated by the “quick and easy”, from chicken nuggets to Firehouse Subs.

With the help of some inspiration from several friends who have embarked on similar cooking/eating journeys, I am going to try to go “back to basics” with our eating.  Not a “fad diet”, per se, but just trying to reset my cooking and eating habits a little.

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06. May 2012 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

I don’t use mine enough. My sister exclusively makes her bread in her machine. I always say I’m going to do that, but then real life gets in the way.

Sent from my iPhone…pardon the typos!

06. May 2012 · Comments Off on “New Orleans Style” Red Beans and Rice — Another Major Mom Staple · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags:

No points for presentation -- but maximum points for flavor!

I’m a huge fan of beans.  All kinds of beans.  Unfortunately, I married a man who doesn’t like beans.  So I didn’t have them very often until Jacob was old enough and he loves them as much as I do.

This recipe I’m about to share came from an apron that my Mom bought as a souvenir on a family trip to New Orleans in 1987 or so.  My Dad was there while ship spent some time near New Orleans for some work in a shipyard.

Here is the apron, which I now own.

This is a very old apron, and it's my favorite. I don't need another one.

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