Technique 101: How to Make the Best Gravy

How to make the best gravy, for any meal, including Thanksgiving!

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Thanksgiving is approaching (at least for my American readers – sorry this is late for you, Canada!), and that means it’s time to talk about how to make the best gravy. I know gravy scares a lot of people, but it’s really not so bad – I promise! And once you know how to make amazing gravy, nothing can stop you. Muhahaha. Not to mention it gives you lots of cold-weather dinner options.

Gravy is also budget-friendly, because it lets you stretch pan drippings and stock – both things that are otherwise thrown away (or not made at all). If you read my post about rotisserie chickens, you’ll know that I love making stock from those – and it’s so simple and so flavorful. You won’t need to buy canned or boxed broth again! But if you haven’t gotten around to making your own stock yet, there’s nothing wrong with broth from the store. I also use and recommend Better than Bouillon (it’s cheaper at Costco); it’s less expensive and takes less space to store than fully liquid broth or stock. Speaking of which:

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Thrifty Thursday: Rotisserie Chickens from the Grocery Store

Trim your grocery budget and save time with rotisserie chicken from the grocery store or warehouse club.

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Heyo! It’s Thursday again, and time for another thrifty tip. If you have even a passing interest in being frugal, I’m sure you’ve read hundreds of times about buying rotisserie chickens from the grocery store. They’re an amazing bargain, and frequently cost less than buying a raw chicken to roast yourself! Here are some tips that I hope will help you save even more by making the most of your rotisserie chicken. Also, if you’re a busy mom, they save time – I always, always pick one up when I’m doing a big grocery shop so I don’t have to cook dinner that night!

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Thrifty Thursday: Saving with Amazon Warehouse Deals

How to find Amazon Warehouse Deals

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Happy Thursday! Welcome to a new series of articles intended to help you budget and save money. While most will be about food and cooking, I know from personal experience that making a budget work means figuring out how to save in every area, so we’ll take adventures into other territories, too. Today is one of those adventures: I’m going to talk about Amazon Warehouse Deals, which can be a great way to save money without much work!

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10 Easy, Kid-Friendly Recipes

10 Easy, Kid-Friendly Meals to make even picky eaters happy (and get you out of the kitchen fast)!

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Those of us with young children know all too well the need for easy, kid-friendly recipes. Easy because nobody wants to be rolling out from-scratch puff pastry while the three-year-old is screaming about his dire need for a snack; kid-friendly because picky eaters happen. I’ve put together a list of recipes that are both. When I asked my own preschooler which he would like the most today, he said mini pizza bites. That said, he usually scarfs the sausage and egg breakfast rolls down so fast that I just make a double batch. So, as is typical of life with small children, nothing ever stays the same from one day to another. That’s why this list is a pretty wide cross-section of flavors and meals. I know how it is. Without further ado:

10 Easy, Kid-Friendly Meals to make even picky eaters happy (and get you out of the kitchen fast)!

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Bulk Cooking Basics (Guest Post)

Bulk Cooking Basics - freezer meals, meal trains, weekly prep. These strategies work for everything!

Note from Jennie: I’m thrilled to have a guest post from my friend Katie McGinley this week! Katie does amazing things with bulk cooking — I know, having been the recipient of her cooking kindness via meal trains and just sitting at her table for lunch. Check out her tips and then come talk about them in our MPWD Facebook group! This post may contain affiliate links.

Bulk Cooking Basics - Freezer meals, meal trains, and more
Bulk Cooking Basics - freezer meals, meal trains, weekly prep. These strategies work for everything!
Bulk Cooking Basics - freezer meals, meal trains, weekly prep. These strategies work for everything!

At some point in your life, it’s likely you’ll need to cook large quantities of food at one time.

Perhaps you’re hosting a large get-together and need to feed multitudes. Perhaps you want to take meals to friends who tend to have babies and/or surgeries with some frequency. Perhaps you enjoy being able to pull a delicious home-cooked meal out of the freezer on days when your family is particularly busy. Perhaps you’re becoming a doomsday prepper! Whatever your motivations, I’m glad you’ve joined me today to discuss the all-important topic of bulk cooking.

First, let’s talk about what “bulk cooking” is. It can mean doubling a recipe to serve a few more people, or making an extra casserole to share with a friend, or prepping eight or twelve or twenty gallon bags of frozen crock-pot meals to save yourself time in the coming weeks or months – really, anything that calls for making more food than you can use at one time.

Bulk cooking can be a delightfully useful skill, but it also has the potential to make you insane if you do it in a haphazard way and don’t plan wisely. Let’s take a look at some tips to make the process go smoothly.

Bulk Cooking Basics: Freezer meals, meal trains, and more!

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Sometimes It’s OK to Use Paper Plates – Really

I don't know about your sink setup, but mine isn't nearly this picturesque.
Dear Tired Mom - It really is OK to take shortcuts sometimes - including using paper plates.

There are times in life when keeping up with the dishes just isn’t going to happen – even with a dishwasher. (We just got one and, to my disappointment, it doesn’t load itself.) Maybe you just had a baby. Maybe you way overbooked your calendar. Maybe it’s so hot your sweat has sweat and you just cannot possibly stand there and wash another plate. And maybe you just don’t feel like it. This is why God invented paper plates and plastic forks. I know they’re not environmentally friendly and that we’d all rather eat from our perfectly good Fiestaware or what have you, but sometimes something has to give. Better the place settings than your sanity, right?

rustic sink
I don’t know about your sink, but mine isn’t nearly this picturesque.

There was a time in my life when I would never even have considered using disposable tableware. It probably also coincided with my firmly-held belief that I was going to become a United States Senator and change the world by being really, really good at arguing with people. So when I was like 17. I held on to some pretty obnoxious personal standards until my mid-twenties, when a chain of personal crises ended with a broken foot and me in a cast, on crutches, alone in a three-story apartment. In the hospital, a very wise nurse told me it would probably be a good idea to use paper plates for a while. “Ha,” I thought. “Not me. I am not a paper plate kind of person.”

Since you’re reading this post you’ve probably gathered that, actually, I am very much a paper plate kind of person.

(I did, actually, descend to the point of trying to eat food directly out of the packaging. That ended poorly when I tried to carry a can of tuna from kitchen to living room with a hungry cat circling my crutches. I faceplanted; tuna went everywhere; the cat refused to eat any, because it was now sullied. I’m not altogether sure how a plate would have helped in this situation, but I theorize that it could have.)

I will admit that I feel residual guilt about this sometimes. I do. I know we live in a nation of profligate waste. I try to use reusable produce bags at the grocery store, and reusable bag-bags at checkout. I have microfiber cloths for cleaning, and I prefer eco-conscious soaps and shampoos and all-purpose cleaners (although I am not into Dr. Bronner’s for everything – I did try). So I try not to use paper plates and plastic forks very often, but when I do choose to do so, I take a break from the work of dishes and from the guilt of disposable stuff. Or I try to. I was always destined to become Catholic. I’m really good at hanging on to guilt.

Anyway, there are lots of reasons you might need to ditch a chore, whether it’s washing the dishes or something else entirely. And truly, you don’t actually need a reason to take a pass occasionally. We all need a break sometimes, and alas, a trip to Fiji sans kids isn’t often possible. It’s OK to take shortcuts like using paper plates. This is your permission slip.

The modern world being what it is, you can even find very trendy versions of disposable tableware. I mean, Target. So do that. If this week is just really really hard and you cannot figure out any way to make it easier, go buy a pack of paper plates. Serve dinner on them, whether it’s something you just cooked, leftovers, or delivery Chinese food. Throw them away. Use the time you saved to take half a shower, after the kids are in bed and before one of them wakes up. Call it a picnic. Enjoy it.

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8 Zero-Cooking-Involved Meal Ideas

8 Zero-Cook Meal Ideas - not even using the microwave!

8 meal ideas you don't even need to heat up

8 Meal Ideas You Don't Even Need to Heat Up - for days when you really cannot even think about making dinner

8 Zero-Cook Meal Ideas - not even using the microwave!
8-zero-cook-meal-ideas8 Zero-Cook Meal Ideas - not even using the microwave!

This post may contain affiliate links.

We all have days where any effort is too much effort when it comes to dinner (or breakfast, or lunch). If you’re dealing with chronic illness, sometimes those days happen several times a week. Here are 8 zero-cooking-involved meal ideas that don’t even require reheating. I’m not sure about you, but for me, even coordinating the microwave can be a little much on the very worst days.

These ideas are for those days. They don’t rely on previous prep much, unless you happen to have things around. This list will focus more on things you can buy and have ready to go when you need them. The specific items are suggestions – pick things you like and use what you have on hand!

Feel free to ask questions in my Facebook group, too – I’m happy to help.

8 Meal Ideas You Don't Even Have to Heat Up
No need to be this fancy, but it’s nice to look at!
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On Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month

I will always wonder who you might have been. October is national Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.

I will always wonder who you might have been. October is national Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.

You may or may not know that October is national Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. I didn’t, until a few years ago, when I realized how many moms have gone through a miscarriage, stillbirth, or loss of an infant. I think in face to face conversation, it’s still something that doesn’t get talked about very much. But the internet, it turns out, has done a lot to make this type of loss less isolating. I hope it can continue to do that, and to that end I wanted to share my story, even though it’s only tangentially related to food and cooking.

It took us a really long time to have our first child, my now-3-year-old son. Five years of waiting around on message boards meant I saw all the things that could happen – the long wait to conceive in the first place, the early losses, the later ones. Before I ever got pregnant I understood that nothing was guaranteed to go the way we had hoped. I spent that whole pregnancy so anxious about the baby, and, once he was born, struggled with anxiety pretty badly. Several friends and acquaintances went through stillbirths and neonatal loss during the months surrounding his birth and I was acutely aware of how fragile life can be. I felt fortunate but also a bit guilty. I still think of those babies and of their parents pretty regularly, although, failing to heed my own most-given advice, I rarely contact them to say so.

I was surprised when my second pregnancy happened quickly and easily, and had a feeling it might be twins. Weird, I know, but many Facebook PMs will attest. I had an early ultrasound and, it turns out, I was right – two babies! Several weeks and several ultrasounds passed, with both babies growing right on target, until one day one baby wasn’t. Our baby B, whom we named Francis, had passed sometime between scans.

I doubt I’ll ever forget finding out. I had an OB appointment and I had to take my son, who wasn’t quite 2 at the time. He hated doctors’ offices and was really upset the whole time – and they were almost an hour late. I was holding him, lying down, and the OB said “Well, I can’t find a heartbeat for baby B. I mean, it could just be the probe. So you should go for a more detailed ultrasound.” She didn’t even help me sit up, and I wrestled a screaming toddler back to the car and started bawling.

I had to wait until the next day to get the ultrasound with better equipment, sitting in the waiting room with excited parents-to-be, trying not to cry. After over an hour of waiting there, I finally went back, and of course the tech confirmed what I already knew; I had to wait for ages for her to finish the full scan and then for a doctor to officially sign off on the ruling. The doctor said I seemed “very upset.” I should think so. I had to go upstairs and see my OB (a different one from the day before), who said that these things happen and the other baby might or might not be fine.

It was hard to get through the rest of the pregnancy without being scared constantly that I’d lose baby A, too. Ultimately she was born safely and she turns one year old this month. I wonder what her twin would have been like all the time. I got tired of looking at “demise of one fetus” on my paperwork visit after visit. And since the pregnancy continued, I didn’t have what most women experience with a miscarriage, the physical loss. It’s like Francis was wholly theoretical – seen on a screen and then vanished slowly to nothing. (They had to continue scanning both twins until there was no longer any evidence that Francis had existed at all.)

I had hyperemesis with the pregnancy, which was physically debilitating. Combined with the grief of losing one of the babies, I really wasn’t able to do much at all. So you see I know what I’m talking about when I talk about days when you cannot get up the will to even decide what kind of pizza to order to feed the family. With B’s first birthday approaching, I feel it more strongly again; I feel like I should be more present for her, but I also just want to be sad in bed for a few days. With two young kids at home, that will happen approximately never, so I go through the motions and feel bad that I’m not more engaged this month. That I wasn’t last year when we lost Francis in the first place.

I’m sharing this story in the hopes that it might help another mom feel less alone sometime, and as a reminder for those of us who have had losses to be gentle with ourselves.

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