He fills the longing soul with good things. Ps. 107:9

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Durgan Family Portraits

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Bungee Cooking

I realized it as I was mentally preparing for another marathon cooking day.

Once-A-Month Cooking is like Bungee Jumping!!

First Similarity: I think the absolute toughest parts of bungee jumping are:
  • making the decision to take the plunge,
  • forking out the money, and
  • actually jumping off

It's like that with Once-A-Month-Cooking (henceforth referred to as OAMC). This is only my second time to do it, but it seems like it's just tough to actually take the plunge and commit to doing it. It's a lot of work. And frankly...it's kindof scary to "jump off" and commit by buying a kitchen full of food that will go to tragic waste if I don't move my franny quick and get it cooked. Which brings me to another pre-challenge: the money. The first time that was a challenge too, saving up enough grocery money to buy all of the grocerys at one time. (One idea: Dave Ramsey's envelope system can get you a month ahead so you can just take next month's grocery money and purchase the grocery list for OAMC.)

Second similarity: There are times during the bungee jumping experience that are absolutely miserable. As you bounce wildly from earth to heavens, and your innerds threaten to shoot out your nose......You wonder what in the world you were thinking and what in the world possessed you to do such a foolish thing and if the money you spent was worth it. Think: about 6 hours into cooking day when every pan in the house is dirty and the kids won't stay out of the kitchen.

Third similarity: During the experience, there are moments of happy joy and self-satisfaction that you're being so brave. As Kayla says in dangerous situations like standing on a tall ledge: "I'm so scared it's fun!" As the cooled, packaged meals start stacking up in the freezer, it is not entirely unlike the feeling following the initial utter and complete misery of jumping from that tall tower attached only by a large rubber band. It's sort of like the feeling of swinging.....on steroids.

Forth similarity: The BEST part is after you're done! As you close the freezer door on that last meal, you realize that you can forever say that you DID it and survived. With bungee jumping, the elevated memory and the stories are all you have to show. But OAMC is the gift that keeps on giving!

In fact, that's why I decided to take the plunge again and plan to continue as time and energy and resources allow. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to be able to answer the incessant "what's for dinner" question with a yummy meal, ready to stick in the oven.

Now I'll tell you, this is not something I ever plan to do every month. One main reason is that the 30 meals last us far longer than 30 days. There are many days we don't use a meal. For example: We don't use them on Sundays (although many of the meals would be fantastic Sunday dinners, in my opinion.) And this week we went out of town for ACE convention. And another day we might have pizza. Life just happens.

It definately helps to rescue my poor bones from the frozen pizza and mac-n-cheese rut. Which brings me to yet another point:

It really makes me uncomfortable when people act like this is some kind of superwoman thing. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. It is a tried-and-true method that works for people like me who have been known to forget their children's names and who occasionally feel like a dumptruck full of life has backed onto their heads. The misery of those two cooking days is worth 30 days of having one less thing to think about and pull together. So please, please PLEASE! Don't have a single moment of guilt for not doing something so entirely insane as cooking 30 meals within 9 hours. Superwomen don't need tricks like that. They have their meals planned and laid out at 5:45 in the morning - right after their hour of devotions and meditation.

So....how does it work, many of you have asked? What do you cook? How do you do it? Here's the answer. Are you ready?

A book called "Once-a-Month Cooking" by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg. Click the book title for a link to Amazon link if you're really curious. I think I heard it featured on Focus on the Family before I bought the book. If you searched the online program archives you may be able to hear the authors talk about it themselves. There are actually lots of books out there. Another thing I really love is the Dinner Diva, Leanne Ely. Her website, http://www.savingdinner.com/, and her book offer long term menus, detailed shopping lists, freezer meals, you name it.

I like the book because it tells me exactly what to do, right down to how many gallon freezer baggies I'll need. I love that. My amazing Mom, on the other hand, could whip together a bunch of freezer meals off the top of her head using what she already has on hand. In fact, she likes to double up recipes she makes on purpose to freeze the second batch for later. The pressure of having to put that many brain cells together in one place makes me nervous. I like the security and brain-crutch of a detailed plan, then I modify it to fit me.

Okay. So instead of answering everyone's questions one at a time (or not answering any of them at all and deleting my facebook account) I'll do a FAQ.

What method/recipes do you use? Book mentioned above. The book has three two-week entree plans and two one-month entree plans. The recipes are for the main course. Some of them stand alone, but simple suggestions are given for salads, fresh veggies and desserts to compliment the meal. You shop one day and cook the next. On cooking day, you do all of your chopping/browning/grating processes first. Then you assemble the meals. She gives you the order. All of your chicken meals, then your beef, etc. I actually switch the order around some, but it really doesn't matter. It's all there in detail.

How do you fit it all in your freezer? This is cool. I actually did this before we had a deep freeze. All the meals will fit in a small side-by-side type freezer. You freeze most of the meals flat in labeled gallon freezer bags. Some are in Glad-lock-type containers that stack (I get mine at Aldis). You don't have room for gallons of icecream and last year's frozen jam at first, but the space empties out as you use up meals. Last time I think I put a few of the extra items I didn't want to get rid of in my mother-in-law's extra freezer.

Your husband is such a picky eater. Does he like the meals? So far? Yep. I think there was only one meal that really got a thumbs down from the family. Well. And then there's that - one - container of frozen green split pea soup still in the freezer. From my last OAMC -was it last summer? I think it smelled really good when I cooked it, but I just can't get myself to pull it out and thaw it. I tried the other one-month menu this time, so we'll see how these recipes rate. Rather than cook things exactly as the recipes say and have my family pick at it politely, I just change it. I use onion powder instead of onions (or use the onion whole and remove it after cooking.) If I absolutely cannot stand leaving out the yummy stuff that's yucky to them, I chop the celery and peppers, for instance, really big. So I can just serve the dish and leave the peppers out or whatever.

How long does it take? When I read 9 hours of actual cooking (not counting prep and clean up and the day before), I thought they were joking. That's for amateur cooks, I thought. I've catered weddings and cooked all my life and have my mom as a mom. It won't take me 9 hours. Well, you might be faster than me. But they weren't joking.

What about the shopping? The grocery list is awesome. It is categorized well so it's easy to work around the grocery store. They say you need to do the shopping the day before your cooking. That is a tough one for me. I like to spread the shopping out. First, I go through and mark off everything I already have. Then....Do my staples at Aldis the week before, then try to do a meat, etc. trip as close to the day before cooking day as possible. The meat is the reason for this. If you bring you meat home and freeze it all, you have the whole thawing and preparing and refreezing problem to deal with. The good part: Having 40 tons of raw meat in your fridge threatening to grow green fuzzys is a whale of a lot of inspiration to actually do your cooking day. (I absolutely DO NOT recommend taking any children with you for shopping day.) Leave them at home alone with a Dora video and a cell phone if you have to. But don't take them. (Kidding...about the home alone thing.)

Is it like eating frozen leftovers for a month? No! In fact, some of the recipes are simply sticking a piece of meat in a yummy marinade and freezing it together. Others are more pre-cooked. But you thaw the recipe and stick it in the oven or stove to heat till bubbly. So when you cook the recipes, you get that same home-cooked smell and flavor. If the recipe needs cheese added later or buns for serving, you freeze those items in a bag too. So everything you need is right there, ready to pull out and use.

Does your husband help? Uh. No.

Well......He does keep the kids while I shop. But I wouldn't even want him in there in the midst of the day trying to help me with the meals. The thought makes me laugh out loud. But the kids LOVE to help. Sometimes I just want them to go far far away, but they keep asking. "Mom, where are the ingredients?" Even Caiden (2) got in on the action.

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Wow. I went a little bonkers here with my description. You could have just bought the book, I guess. I remembered another main reason I love this. It forces me to serve a new variety of things to my kids. We have our favorite-rotating-meals that we fall into. But these recipes use lots of herbs and spices and even types of meats that we usually don't have. But they're not weird. So I feel like maybe I'm helping them a tiny bit to avoid being overly picky and to develop a more rounded pallette. whatever.

Like I said, it's not a super woman thing. I let my house and laundry and kids "go" for the day and have to do some catching up later. I'm not particularly good at cleaning-up and doing all the dishes as I go. And I have an eensy amount of counter space. I actually move my kitchen table over to the counters so I have extra work space. So it's quite a deal. But I think it's worth it so far. But it's not for everyone. And that's ok.

Here's the list of meals from the plan I used this time, in case you're curious or hungry:

Mrs. Ringle's Brisket

Easy Stroganoff

Spaghetti Sauce (UnbeLIEVEably yummy-smelling! Smells like our favorite pizza place downtown Chicago. This sauce is so yummy I could eat it alone with bread for a meal. Not kidding. And it makes a massive batch. You use the sauce for at least 3 of the meals.)

Veal Scallopini (I used chicken 'cause the Meijer meet department needs to hire new help.)

French-Bread Pizza

Ham-and-Swiss Pastry Bake

Ham Dinner Slices

Stove-Top Barbecued Chicken

Wild Rice Chicken

Teriyaki Burgers

Chicken Packets

Heavenly Chicken

Chicken Chili

Asian Chicken

Mimi's Chicken Soup

Meal-in-One Potatoes

Fruity Curried Chicken

Bacon-Wrapped Meat Loaf

Joes to Go

Ravioli Soup

Taco Pie

Baked Herb Fish Fillets

Aztec Quiche

Mustard Barbecued Chicken

Brined Salmon Fillet

Slow Cooker Fall Pork Roast

London Broil in Marinade

Slow Cooker Beer Corned Beef

Slow Cooker Beef Goulash

I want to show you a picture of my meals, all stacked up neatly in baggies in my freezer. But then I'd have to act like a maniac, straightening and cleaning my freezer and standing there with the cold steaming out while I take 10 pictures of my frozen food to get the right angle. Yes, I would sink that low to show you my happy frozen meals but I'm too tired. I also can't find my bungee jumping pictures. I'll have to leave that thought to your lovely imagination.

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