Strawberry Picking (and Prepping) 101

Strawberry patch

Strawberry Season!

By Mary Ann Filler

Several days ago, my fellow Off The Merry-Go-Round blogger, Karen, and I went strawberry picking. You may have visions of us with our pint-sized baskets tip toeing through the patch picking a pound or so of berries to serve over vanilla ice cream or shortcake. I can assure you, that is not an accurate picture of our process. Between the two of us, we picked nearly 45 pounds of strawberries!

How could we possibly pick that volume of berries? Well, we are definitely not novices at this pick-your-own process. We have been berry picking together for years, and have had our kids in tow during many of these excursions. Our process has evolved over the years.

Berries... as far as the eye can see!

Berries… as far as the eye can see!

We took large flat top coolers along with plastic containers and baggies to store the berries in as we picked. On our outing the other day, we discussed how quart sized bags were perfect for fitting lots of berries in the cooler while keeping them from getting smashed.  Pick-Your-Own berries are sold by weight (our patch charged $1.90 per pound). When we arrived, the attendant weighed our coolers and marked accordingly. When we finished picking, the initial weight of the cooler was subtracted from the weight of our coolers (now full of berries) to determine how many pounds of strawberries we picked.  Note:  Each Pick-Your-Own patch may have a different “picking protocol.”

In addition to storing the picked berries, the cooler also serves as a useful seat while picking as it can be easily slid down the row as you progress.

You may be wondering how we got out of the patch with all of those berries.  Luckily, our patch had a “gator” that was deployed to pick up our berries and take them to the check out!  If this isn’t an option at your patch, you may want to take a wheeled cooler!

Coolers are key to berry-picking!

Coolers are key to berry-picking!

What did I do with my strawberries?

Prepare for a Variety of Uses

I love to pick local strawberries because I know that I don’t have to worry as much about the heavy pesticides that are often used in cultivating the strawberries grown for groceries.  However, the berries still need to be washed.

Wash the berries in batches using a bath of water and vegetable/fruit cleaner.


Strawberries in a water and fruit/veggie cleaner bath

After the bath, rinse well…


Place in a colander to rinse.

…and dry.

Spread Strawberries out on a towel to dry.

Spread Strawberries out on a towel to dry.

Hull or remove the stems.

Hull the Strawberries.

Hull the Strawberries.

Prepare to Eat

Cut the berries to desired size.  Add a sweetener of your choice, if desired, and store in the refrigerator.  After sitting for several hours the berries begin to make a syrup.  Mashing the berries before transferring to the refrigerator will speed up the syrup making process.  These berries are delicious “as is” or spooned over cereal, ice cream, biscuits or shortcake.  This morning, I used my cut berries to make parfaits for breakfast.  Just layer granola, yogurt and strawberries for a nutritious meal or snack.  In celebration of her daughter’s graduation, Karen prepared an angel food cake to top with her berries!

Ready to Eat!

Ready to Eat!

Prepare to Freeze

Place berries that have been washed, dried and hulled on to a cookie sheet lined with wax or parchment paper.  Place in the freezer for several hours.

IMG_0411Remove from the freezer and place in freezer bags.


These berries make delicious smoothies or daiquiris!

Strawberry Smoothie Recipe

Note:  Smoothie recipes are very forgiving.  You truly can just throw in a bit of this and that to taste, but below is a basic recipe I make for my family.

Place the following ingredients in a blender and blend.

1 cup plain Greek yogurt (or plain regular yogurt)

1 cup frozen Strawberries (if you’d like, add a frozen banana and/or

blueberries too;-)

2 or more Tbsp. coconut milk (or any other kind of milk)

1 Tbsp. Ground Flax Meal (optional)

½-3/4 Cup of spinach (optional)

Make Jam

You can find many recipes on the internet for making jam.  Strawberry jam can be made by canning or freezing.  I highly recommend making freezer jam as it is easier and there is really no loss of taste versus the canned variety.  Last year I made an easy Sure Jell Freezer Jam Recipe that uses sugar.  It was easy and delicious!  Since last year, I have cut refined sugar out of my diet.  So, yesterday, I made a Strawberry Jam recipe that is sweetened with honey.  The honey sweetened recipe includes directions for canning, but indicates that freezing is an option as well.  It took me a bit longer to make, but at least I can eat it, and it’s yummy!!



Just recently, I started composting.  I planted a garden this year and hope that by next spring, I will have some rich compost to add to my garden!  I’m dumping the strawberry hulls in the compost pile!

Compost the hulls!

There are many other strawberry recipes, but those I’ll save for a Strawberry “102” post!!  Enjoy!!!


A Unique Party Idea – Pies, pies and more pies!

One of the many pies at a pie party!

One of the many pies at a pie party!

By  Ruth Topper

Are you planning a party for a graduation, milestone birthday, anniversary, house warming, or a “sending off” to a new city or college in the next few months?    You might be looking to do something a little different from the backyard picnic or the cake & ice cream open house.  I’d like to suggest an idea that my mother invented over 30 years ago – a pie party!  She came up with the idea in 1976 when my oldest sister was leaving home to spend the bicentennial summer vacation season working at Mt. Rushmore.  Mom wanted to have a “sending off” party for her, and she came up with the idea to make lots of different kinds of pies for friends and family to sample at this open house event.  She and my sisters made the majority of the 20 different kinds of pies with a few being made by church members, family or friends.  The secret for the guests in attendance is to cut very small pieces so that you can try as many different kinds as possible.  This is an event where no one keeps track of the number of pies sampled – nor the calories that go along with it!  Needless to say, the “pie party” was a huge success!  Guests were soon asking when the next one was going to be!  We continued to hold pie parties as my sister was “sent off” to Zion National Park the next summer and when I was confirmed at church another year.

The “pie party” was retired for awhile since it does require some work to make 15 or 20 different pies in a 24-48 hour time period!  It was brought back, upon the request of my mother, to celebrate her 75th birthday in 1997.  My sisters & I agreed to do it with the promise that she would help make the pies!  She has held up her “end of the bargain” as she has celebrated her 75th, 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays with pie parties held at her church.  (Perhaps this is the secret to her longevity!  Also Happy 91st Birthday to my mom this week on May 29th!)  I introduced the “pie party” to Gettysburg with the celebration of confirmation for my oldest son, Seth in 2010 and just last week with the confirmation of my daughter, Rachel.  And yes, my mom came a few days early to help supervise and make the pies!  Everyone thoroughly enjoyed trying samples of the 15 different kinds of pies we had to offer!  One of our guests told me that this was the BEST kind of party to have!

My mom with her grandchildren at her 90th Birthday Party - May 2012!

My mom with her grandchildren at her 90th Birthday Party – May 2012!

A table filled with lots of pies to sample!

A table filled with lots of pies to sample!

So – what is your favorite kind of pie?  See if you can find it here in the list of pies we had last week at Rachel’s Confirmation Celebration:  apple, blueberry, cheesecake, cherry, chocolate pudding, coconut custard, peach, peanut butter, pecan, pumpkin, rhubarb strawberry, shoofly, strawberry, tollhouse and vanilla pudding.  If you didn’t see your favorite listed – here are a few other pies that we have made in the past for our parties:  banana mallow, butterscotch pudding, carmel, chocolate fudge, coconut crème, date crumb, lemon coconut, lemon meringue, lemon sponge, mandarin orange, mincemeat, out of this world, peach cranberry, pear cranberry and raisin crumb!  Who knew there were so many different kinds of pie to choose from!  Here is the recipe for a popular one in Pennsylvania “Dutch” Country:

Shoofly Pie

Note:  This recipe makes 2 pies!

Need:  2 pie crusts

Filling – 1 cup brown sugar

3 Tablespoons flour

2 cups hot water

½ cup molasses

1 beaten egg

Mix together & bring to a boil.   Add 1 teaspoon baking soda and cool.  Pour cooled mixture into 2 unbaked pie shells.  Add crumbs before baking.

Crumbs – 2 cups unsifted flour

1 cup brown sugar

¼ cup Crisco

¼ cup butter

Mix and form crumbs.

Bake 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes or until done.  Enjoy!

The "Tollhouse" Pie was the first one gone at Rachel's confirmation celebration!

The “Tollhouse” Pie was the first one gone at Rachel’s confirmation celebration!

Mouth watering yet??

Mouth watering yet??

I bet you have an undeniable urge for some pie now – don’t you?!  The problem will be…….which kind do you want?  Share with us what your favorite kind of pie is.  What makes it so special?

St. Patrick’s Day Delights

By Jen Ashenfelter


Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The corned beef and cabbage dinner, washed down with a pint of green beer, just doesn’t seem complete without Irish Potatoes. I do have Irish ancestry in the blood, but unfortunately I can’t claim this recipe as a family favorite passed down through the generations after surviving the Irish Potato Famine of 1845. According to Wikipedia, this confectionery gem covered in cinnamon and shaped like a little potato actually originated in Philadelphia over 100 years ago. Not Ireland! Go figure.

Our St. Patrick’s Day tradition started in 2008 when Christopher was in Kindergarten. The teacher of his after-school program made Irish Potatoes for the class. With no eggs or nuts in this candy, Chris could eat them! An instant hit, he has asked for them every year since that first taste.

Listen up all you St. Patrick’s Day traditionalists, there’s no Irish whiskey in this recipe. This is a family show–but if you stick around for a bit, you won’t be disappointed.

Irish potatoes

Photo Credit:

3 1/2 – 4 cups of confectioner’s sugar

4 oz of shredded coconut

4 tbsp butter, melted

1 tbsp vanilla

3 oz cream cheese, softened

Mix all the ingredients together. If the mixture seems too dry, add a splash of milk or 1/2 & 1/2. If the mixture seems too wet, add more confectioner’s suger. Shape about 1/2 tbsp into irregular ovals or potato shape. Roll into ground cinnamon. This will be a large batch for sharing with your “Irish” family and friends!

Ok, it’s time to get serious about our St. Patrick’s Day dessert. Buy a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream…and pick up some Irish whiskey while you’re there. Really–go now, I’ll wait. This recipe is serious business and comes from my high school friend Sue. I think she’s famous for it…at least pretty darn popular every March.

Baileys Irish Cream Bundt Cake

1 box yellow cake mix

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

4 eggs

1/2 cup cold water

1/2 cup Baileys Irish Cream

1 pkg instant vanilla pudding mix

1/2 cup canola oil


2 oz melted butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/8 cup water

1/4 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream


Mix all the cake ingredients together, blend well. Pour mixture into well-greased and floured 12-cup bundt pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour or until done. Heat glaze ingredients until melted. Poke holes in the baked cake with a fork and brush warm cake with 1/2 the glaze mixture. Cool cake for 15 minutes. Turn out cake onto rack. When cake has cooled, brush with the remaining glaze. Serves 8.

What you do with the remaining Bailey’s Irish Cream is completely up to you.

If that wasn’t serious enough for you, then fly to San Francisco, drop into the Buena Vista, grab a seat at the bar, order an Irish coffee and enjoy! Or better yet, make your own…

Irish Coffee


Photo Credit:

  1. Fill glass with very hot water to pre-heat, then empty.
  2. Pour hot coffee into hot glass until it’s about 3/4 full. Drop in 3 cocktail sugar cubes.
  3. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  4. Add full jigger of Irish whiskey for proper taste and body.
  5. Top with a collar of lightly whipped cream by pouring gently over the back of a spoon.

Enjoy! What you do with the remaining Irish whiskey is completely up to you.

Eat in moderation. Drink responsibly. Designate a driver. Be safe and have fun.

Fun Links:

The Buena Vista Cafe, San Francisco

Recipes using Baileys Irish Cream



Lovin’ in the Lunchbox

By Karen Hendricks

Lunchbox staple--good old PB&J

Lunchbox staple–good old PB&J

Like the middle child, lunch doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. I try to instill a “good start” to the day with a healthy breakfast… and I focus on home-cooked dinners. But in between? Lunch is just as important!

A few months ago, I wrote about the challenges of packing healthy lunches for my kids in Think Outside the (Lunch) Box. Actually, it’s my husband who packs school lunches every day, God bless him. But we all need inspiration from time to time… the kids get tired of the same old sandwich routines, my husband gets tired of slapping PB&J’s together, and we all need to shake up the lunchbox menu. Several friends asked me to write about school lunches again to share more tips and recipes. So here goes…

Stuck in a rut? Shake up the lunchbox with these fun ideas:

  • Pack a chunky, healthy granola bar instead of a sandwich. I promise, the sandwich police will not get you. Who says you must pack a sandwich for lunch?
  • My daughters love packing “big salad” for lunch. It’s always an “everything but the kitchen sink” kind of project. Add a leftover chicken breast, sliced on top for protein. Or add a scoop of tuna salad, a sliced hard-boiled egg or “crab delights.” Plus lots of veggies of course and a little container of salad dressing.
  • Along the same lines, my kids love packing pasta salad for lunch. Pizza pasta salad is fun, with tomatoes, olives, green or red peppers, cheese and pepperoni. Add pasta and Italian dressing and voila!
  • Potato salad is also a great choice to beat the lunch routine blues. It’s a great, substantial choice for tiring gym days. Pair it with an apple and pretzels… yum.
  • Once in a while, treat your kids to a slice of leftover pizza in their lunchbox. But a word of warning: Their friends will be jealous and will ask their parents to do the same thing. You might get in trouble with other parents!
  • Greek yogurt is all the rage and my daughters love it. Packed with protein, it’s just as substantial as a sandwich. Pack one of the larger cup sizes with a container of granola to sprinkle on top, plus a piece of fruit, and they’re good to go.
  • My son, on the other hand, loves a hot lunch from time to time. He especially enjoys leftover mac ‘n cheese, spaghetti, or pasta casseroles. Invest in a small Thermos container and take time once a week or so, to warm up a leftover crock before school. It will stay warm til lunchtime and make your son (or daughter’s) day! Again, this is often a “meal of envy” around the cafeteria table so proceed with caution.
  • If your child likes tuna salad, chicken salad, etc… rather than making a sandwich, pack a container of the salad along with healthy crackers. Either dip the crackers into the salad or pack a plastic knife/spoon for spreading. Fun!
  • Purchase alternatives to bread: Create all-new “sandwiches” with artisan rolls, pita pockets, tortillas for wraps, etc. It gives your ham & cheese a whole new outlook.
  • Like PB&J? Mix it up a bit by trying PB&N (Peanut Butter and Nutella) or PB&M (Peanut Butter and Marshmallow Spread). These are fun for end-of-the week, Friday treats. I wouldn’t recommend this become a habit. 🙂

One of our family’s absolute lunchbox faves: Chicken Salad Sandwiches. This recipe came from a 1st grade cookbook my oldest daughter made as a Mother’s Day project 11 years ago. So I owe a debt of gratitude to her friend Christina’s mom for sharing the recipe–as I have told her several times through the years. It’s a winner! Part of the reason is the creative mix of ingredients–a tangy dressing, crunch of celery, sweetness of grapes, and toasty almonds. My children all know the recipe by heart and it’s a fun family project to mix it up together. It never stays in our frig for long.

All the ingredients come together for one awesome chicken salad

All the ingredients come together for one awesome chicken salad

The Best Chicken Salad Ever:

(*All amounts are to your liking… my apologies to my friend Ruth who likes concrete measurements)

Chicken breast, cooked and cubed (Hint: As a shortcut, I often purchase the chicken at the deli counter. Ask them to cut 2-3 thick (1/4″) slices. They might look at you weird… I get it all the time. But if I explain what I’m using the chicken for, they usually end up saying, “What a great idea!”)


Lowfat yogurt  (use  50/50 mayo to yogurt… usually about 1/3 cup each)

It's a wrap... chicken salad wrap

It’s a wrap… chicken salad wrap

Cut grapes (halves) – we prefer red grapes – or substitute chopped cranberries

Chopped celery, about 2 ribs

Tiny bit of chopped onion, if desired

Sliced almonds (Bake at 325 degrees until light brown for extra toasty flavor), about 1/4 cup

Dill and/or Parsley


Cracked pepper

Mix everything together, tossing lightly. Enjoy!

If you have elementary-aged children, there are so fabulously creative lunchbox ideas flying around Pinterest these days. I’ve started a board on our Off the Merry-Go-Round Pinterest page called “Lunchbox Fun”–check them out!

Edible Muppets? Find this idea on our Pinterest page... Advanced lunchbox packing 301.

Edible Muppets? Find this idea on our Pinterest page… Advanced lunchbox packing 301.

If you enjoyed this post, check out:

Oatmeal: It’s What’s for Breakfast

Everything Goes Better with Peanut Butter

As always, feel free to share your ideas and strategies… how do YOU keep the lunch routine easy, healthy and delicious?

Oatmeal: It’s What’s for Breakfast

By Mary Ann Filler

My Breakfast This Morning!

My breakfast this morning! There’s nothing like the warmth of home-cooked oatmeal to start the day!

If you love oatmeal but for convenience sake find yourself grabbing the pre-made packets with the high amounts of salt, sugar and who knows what else, this post is for you!

If you want to lower your cholesterol, boost your immune system, protect your heart, stabilize your blood sugar, lower your risk of diabetes, prevent cancer, or want a gluten-friendly/free meal this post may also be for you!

One of my highest priorities as a mother of two teens and a tween is to provide them with healthy meals. For several months, my oldest son has been reporting to school daily by 6 a.m. for early morning workouts with the baseball team.  I really wanted him to have a healthy breakfast before heading out the door in the wee hours of the morning.  However, waking up at 5 a.m. to prepare him breakfast was not too appealing.  Oatmeal made the night before in the crock pot was a perfect solution.

Apparently, crock pot oatmeal recipes are quite popular these days, but my recipe is one that I have developed over time.  I just love waking to the aroma of baked apples and cinnamon and a hot, healthy breakfast that takes no time at all to scoop in to individual bowls.   Of course you can add the fruit, cinnamon and nuts or a splash of cold milk after the cooking cycle or not at all.  You may even allow the “kiddos” to top the oatmeal as they wish.

MA’s Crockpot Oatmeal

Place the following ingredients in a slow cooker, stir and cook on low 6-8 hours.  As long as you have enough liquid in the crock pot you may vary the cooking time.  Also, I’ve noticed other crock pot oatmeal recipes recommending that the crock pot be greased prior to adding the ingredients.  I personally have not done that, and have not had issues with clean up.  If you typically prepare the surface of your crock pot to avoid sticking use butter or coconut oil for a healthy “lube  job.”

  1. 2-2.5 Cups of Liquid such as Water, Cow’s Milk, Almond Milk or Coconut Milk (I use Almond Milk)
  2. 2-3 Tbsp. of a sweetener such as Sugar, Brown Sugar, Honey, Maple Sugar (I use either Raw Honey or Maple Sugar)
  3. 1 Tbsp. of Butter…the REAL stuff!
  4. Pinch of Salt
  5. .5 to 1 tsp. Cinnamon (or more)
  6. 1 Cup Oatmeal (I use Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Old Fashioned Rolled Oats)
  7. Fruit such as Apples (1-2), Bananas (1-2), Raisins or Dried Cranberries (a sprinkling to taste)
  8.  Chopped Nuts such as Almonds, Pecans or Walnuts (the amount here is a personal preference…1-2 Tbsp or more is a good start)

Other add-in/topping ideas may include but certainly are not limited to:  nut butters, cocoa powder, coconut, chia seeds, ground flax meal or seeds, blueberries, peaches and chocolate chips!  Isn’t this exciting, folks!  You can top your oatmeal just as you would your ice cream!

IMG_0213Or… Let Your Refrigerator Do the Work:

In the last couple of months I was introduced to a new “make the night before” oatmeal recipe.  Believe it or not, this oatmeal is made in the refrigerator!  The basic premise is to place all ingredients in a jar or bowl, stir and refrigerate overnight.  The next morning, you may eat the oatmeal hot or cold.  If you find yourself unable to eat breakfast prior to leaving the house in the morning, this is a great take along meal idea.

Here is the link to help you begin discovering the world of refrigerator oatmeal!  Who knew?!?

Click here for “Smart Sweet:  Chia, Choco and Banana Overnight Oats.”   Ladies, if you love chocolate…try the recipe!!

For more info on the health benefits of oatmeal, check out this link to Mother Earth Living.

Have you experimented with any of these alternative ways of preparing oatmeal?  We would love feedback!

Roses are Red, Boys Don’t Want Flowers

By Jen Ashenfelter

I think guys have it easy on Valentine’s Day. I will gladly accept a wide variety of gifts–roses, jewelry, stuffed animals, sexy PJs, perfume…. I could go on. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe most gals would agree with me that those are acceptable gift choices. I’m easy to please–it’s the fun things, the simple things that really make this girl happy. (My hubby never disappoints.)

I remember several Valentine’s Days when my father walked through the door at the end of the day with a red foil-wrapped, heart-shaped box filled with chocolates…just for me. (My little sister received her own box.) I couldn’t even tell you what my mother got from Dad because I was just so over-the-moon about my own box of fancy chocolates.

Many years later, along came my sons Nick and Chris. I wasn’t used to thinking of Valentine’s Day gifts for boys. When they were younger it was much easier—stuffed animals were good. As the tween years approached, stuffed animals became unacceptable (and quite honestly, we were overrun by these fuzzy creatures).

Candy is universally accepted, except with one son having allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and eggs. Look at the ingredients on those heart-shaped boxes—a box full of disappointment for my youngest. What’s a mother to do?

With that said, my husband and I didn’t want to set a precedent for giving gifts more appropriate for a birthday or Christmas. However, I wanted to give the boys something special.

Here are a few ideas—which don’t require a holiday spending account—for a fun gift to give your special boy.

Toy sets – Add a train or track set to a Thomas the Train collection. The small LEGO kits include a variety of vehicles and mini figures to go with any larger set. Celebrate your future car enthusiast by adding more Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars to the collection.

Books – It’s a day to celebrate love so why not instill a love of reading with a new book.

Movies – There’s always another Disney or Pixar movie to own, as well as adding to a series collection: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Iron Man, Batman…the list goes on depending on interest and age. If you don’t get out to the movie theaters often, consider a family dinner and movie date…or a gift card to the movie theater.

Music – A tween or teen can never have enough downloaded music and games so iTunes gift cards are perfect.

Art – Crayola, need I say more? Feed their love of art by adding a new piece to their creative supplies—stickers, colored pencils, stencils, finger paints or chalk. For older kids, sign them up for a photography class or spend an afternoon together at a local museum.

Exercise – An afternoon of rock climbing, hiking, biking, skiing, tubing, ice skating, bowling—you get the picture.chocolate covered strawberries

Food – What’s that saying: the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach? With two growing boys in this household, food is never turned away. I’ve never been a fan of going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day, so I’m perfectly happy to make a favorite dinner we all enjoy, set a nice table and sit down together. To top it off, our dessert tradition has always been chocolate-covered strawberries!

I might stray from our tradition this year for something equally scrumptious: Oreo Truffles. I discovered these tasty gems when a coworker brought a batch into the office before Christmas. I can’t wait for Christmas 2013 so I’m making them now. (I could make them at any time but that would be too easy; it’s safer for my waistline if they are only made for special occasions.)

Something tells me I may be the last one in America to discover Oreo truffles but in case I’m not, here’s the recipe. Happy Valentine’s Day and show the little men in your life how much you love them with a special surprise. Enjoy…

Kraft Foods Oreo Truffles


Photo Credit: Kraft Foods

36 OREO Cookies, finely crushed, divided

1 pkg (8 oz) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened

16 oz BAKER’S Semi-Sweet Chocolate, melted

Make It

  • RESERVE 1/4 cup cookie crumbs. Mix cream cheese and remaining cookie crumbs until blended.
  • SHAPE into 48 (1-inch) balls. Dip in melted chocolate; place on waxed paper-covered rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with reserved cookie crumbs.
  • REFRIGERATE 1 hour or until firm.

Kraft Kitchens Tips

How to Melt Chocolate

Place unwrapped chocolate in microwaveable bowl. Microwave on HIGH 2-1/2 min. or until chocolate is completely melted, stirring every 30 sec.

How to Easily Dip Truffles

To easily coat truffles with the melted chocolate, add truffles, in batches, to bowl of melted chocolate. Use 2 forks to roll truffles in chocolate until evenly coated. Remove truffles with forks, letting excess chocolate drip back into bowl. Place truffles on prepared baking sheet; let stand until firm.

How to Store

Store in tightly covered container in refrigerator.

Hate to Cook? Me too!

By Ruth Topper

Does the thought of putting a meal on the table create stress for you?  Well – me too.  Cooking has never been one of my favorite activities.  In fact, I would rate my personal satisfaction of cooking pretty low on a scale of 1 to 10.  I would trade off doing lots of dishes – including pots & pans – every night in lieu of cooking.   In fact, while dating my husband, Gary,  I told him straight up that if he was looking for someone who would put a meal on the table every night for him – then he wasn’t looking at the right girl.  (Fortunately he must have seen other qualities and stuck with me)!

I felt added pressure when I stepped off the full time Merry-Go-Round after the birth of my daughter more than 15 years ago.  Gary was always home from work before me, so for more than 7 years of marriage, he had dinner already started by the time I got home.  Now that I was a “stay at home” mom I felt the pressure to start making dinner every night.  I certainly couldn’t be home all day with the kids and then have him come home & make dinner.   So – I made Gary write down (for the first time) the recipes for some of our favorite meals.  Slowly I started to put together a repertoire of a few dishes I could make on my own.  Although to get to that place – I can’t tell you the number of times I called him at work that first year to clarify instructions to make a particular dish.

So why is cooking such a chore to me (and maybe you)?  Here are some of my theories:

1.  Deciding what to make each day for dinner.  There are so many options to consider and what is an option that everyone, including all the kids, will eat?  Is it relatively healthy?  If your family is anything like mine there are many times that you can’t sit down together for a meal due to sports & activities.  What do you make that won’t seem like a “leftover” three hours later?

2.    Figuring out the timing of all the components (meat, potato, vegetable, etc.) of the meal  so that everything is hot & ready at the same time.    This is truly a science that I have yet to figure out!  All I can say is don’t ever put me in charge of Thanksgiving Dinner!  At my house – I go run the “Turkey Trot” early on Thanksgiving morning while Gary makes the filling & stuffs the turkey!  I’m very good at making the rolls the day before and jumping in at the last minute to help put the various items in serving dishes and/or to stir the gravy – but do not put me in charge of making sure everything is done at the same time!


“Spices to taste?” What does that mean?! Help!

3.   Measurements for ingredients included in a main dish recipe are often not precise.   Let’s take soup as an example.  Gary is a “Soup Nazi.”   I see him pulling spices out of the cupboard & just sprinkling a little of this & a little of that into the pot or adding vegetables, meat, cheese, etc. without even thinking about measuring them out!  How in the green earth does this “mish mash” end up tasting so good?   We recently purchased a quart jar containing “Seven Bean Soup”  from  our church.  The jar contains a variety of dry beans and the recipe to make the soup.  The last “ingredient” on the recipe is “spices to taste.”  How is someone, like me, ever to figure out what these “spices to taste” are!

In spite of my great dislike for cooking I do manage a few times a week to put something edible on the table for my family.  I learned early on that you need to develop a few “go to” recipes that just don’t fail for you.  One of these recipes in our family is meatloaf.  It is a comfort food, something that everyone likes, warms up nicely or is great the next day cold in a sandwich too.

1 ½ lbs. ground beef
1 egg
¾ cup of milk
½ cup bread crumbs
¼ cup onion, chopped
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 ½ Tablespoons parsley
1 teaspoon salt

½ cup catsup
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon mustard

Mix all ingredients together – except  the topping.  Place in a shallow baking pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.  Drain any grease off meatloaf.  Add topping and bake an additional 10 minutes.   Enjoy!

Mmmmm... Meatloaf

Mmmmm… Meatloaf

So – are you challenged in the kitchen (like me) or is cooking something you love to do?  We would love to hear from any of you who have “survival” tips?  Do you have any favorite, easy meals that are your stand-bys?  Please share!