Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Back from Vacation

If you haven't ever taken a whole week of your vacation time off from work at once, you really don't know what you're missing...For the past eight or so years, I've taken off a day here or a couple of days there, often combining them with a weekend to increase the impact of the time off. But this year, I really needed a longer break.

I love my work, but I was getting tired, especially after having used nearly all of the vacation time I took earlier this year to catch up on work around the home. But last week, my husband and I took five days off from work (including the Labor Day holiday), and we actually managed to be away from our home for nearly nine consecutive days. It was so refreshing!

First, we went up north to visit my father and to do some projects at his house. My husband painted the back deck, and I went to work in the kitchen. I did several make-ahead-and-freeze meals using two wonderful cookbooks I ordered earlier this year from Amazon--Don't Panic Dinner's in the Freezer, and Once-A-Month Cooking. I'll try to post some of the recipes that worked out the best in the coming week or so. In the meantime, I'll just take a minute to give a small testimony about the difference this type of cooking method is making in my life.

As I've mentioned before, I work full time outside of the home and I have a long commute to and from work most days of the week. (I'm blessed to have an employer who allows me to work from home a day or two most weeks.) So I don't have a lot of time during your average weekday to do very much cooking or housework. I try to fit in a few tasks very early in the morning before I leave for work at 7 a.m. Later, after the drive home in the evening and some time spent either swimming or walking for exercise, it's often 8 or 8:30 p.m. when we're sitting down to dinner. Then, because the alarm goes off at 5:30 each weekday, I need to be slowing down so that I can get enough sleep for the next day.

All that to say, I make the most of my weekends for housework and cooking, and I try really hard to do things in an efficient way...As an aside, I'm always looking for good ideas for streamlining housework. My husband is a great help in this area, but I think we can all learn from each other's experiences. If I find a great tip, I'll add it to this blog. But if you have one to share, please let me know.

Anyway, in terms of cooking, I've grown accustomed to spending a good portion of my afternoon on either Saturday or Sunday (usually Sunday) in the kitchen preparing meals for the week ahead. Before I found these cookbooks, though, my efforts were generally focused on just that week ahead. Now, I'm doing things a little better. I'm also thinking in terms of making food that can easily be frozen for future use, and these two cookbooks I've found have helped me a great deal.

Now, when I make a shepherd's pie, for example, I make two shepherd's pies and add one to my freezer. I've always done that with meatloaf, and I have a great barbecued beef recipe that I used as well, but with these cookbooks (and their wonderful authors who have put so much time into testing every recipe), I've been able to expand my frozen meal repertoire. Up at Dad's house now, for example, I have waiting in his freezer not only a shepherd's pie and a meatloaf, but also honey baked pork chops, a hash brown casserole, and a basic meatball recipe. The next time we visit, I'll thaw one or two of these frozen entrees for us to use, thereby saving me time.

And when we came home on Sunday night from our nine days away, I pulled out basil stuffed chicken breasts to thaw in the refrigerator for dinner after work on Monday, plus a container of beef stew that we'll have for dinner tonight. Then I'll plan this weekend to make a couple more entrees to freeze for future use.

If you haven't tried this method of pre-cooking and freezing, I'd highly recommend it. And I think that this would also work well for single people who want to maximize their kitchen time. I could envision breaking down a single recipe into individual portions to freeze and later thaw for use. And I've also found that it enabled me to share a meal with a friend recovering from major surgery.

Normally, after a long trip, we'd be eating soup and sandwiches this week, plus maybe scrambled eggs and whatever else I could throw together without a trip to the grocery store...Oh, and that's another thing about my schedule. I really don't have time to shop during the week. So if we can live on what we have in the freezer and pantry until this coming Saturday, that's another benefit to make-ahead meals.

Before I forget to mention it, we went up to the North Shore area of Minnesota for the latter half of our vacation last week. Though the fall colors weren't at their peak this early, it was still beautiful, and we enjoyed hiking the state parks, seeing waterfalls and enjoying the harbor in Duluth. We are so blessed here in Minnesota to have a major inland shore area so close. It's almost like seeing the ocean when you can look across Lake Superior and see nothing but water for a few hundred miles.


USAincognito said...

Long vacations are fabulous!! I have not had one in years and am really hoping to take one this coming year. Been awhile since I have seen some college friends - and I miss the ocean in Charleston, SC!!
Sounds like you had quite the busy vacation, though. Hope you were able to take some time for yourself and relax!! :)
That is a great idea for how to prepare food for the week! I may end up of having to try that here soon as I sometimes run out of time to do any cooking before I head into work.

Karen said...

Hi, Shorty! I hope that you are able to take a long vacation, too! Are you from the South? I've never been to South Carolina, but I've heard that there are places there that are absolutely gorgeous. I'll try to get some of my make-ahead-and-freeze recipes posted in the next few days. Right now, I'm working on a couple of posts on pickling...It's kind of late in the season for that, but I found two great recipes that I want to capture before I lose them myself since they are both adaptations of the originals. Thanks for the greeting today! God's blessings!

USAincognito said...

I used to live in SC and TN. Most of my relatives on both sides are originally from the SC/TN area. I was raised by a Southern mama, too, so the South runs in my blood. :)

Karen said...

How fun, Shorty! Have you ever read the Mitford series by Jan Karon? It's set in North Carolina with characters from Mississippi other places south of her. That book series made me really appreciate the whole idea of southern hospitality. What a neat family heritage you have! :-)