Large family eating: the breakfast edition


You know, routines are against nature for me so telling you over and over again what we ate this week already feels weird. On the other hand, you the readers seem to really enjoy this so let’s try to reach a mutually agreeable agreement: I’ll keep telling you what we ate but I’ll try to give it a new twist every week. Just so no one gets bored.

This week, I decided to share how we do breakfast. The important thing you need to know about breakfast is that there is never anything good to eat in the house. Namely, we do not buy breakfast cereals, yummy spreads or juice. Yeah, you read that right. These things do not exist in our house. They render our children completely psycho and prevents them from eating anything else. I’m sure you know the drill: teen gets up, teen eats cereals and milk. One hour later, teen is still hungry, teen snacks on cereals and milk. At lunch time, teen is not hungry, teen nibbles some lunch food. One hour later, teen is hungry, teen lunches on cereals and milk. Teen comes home from school and snacks on cereals and milk. Half-an-hour later, teen is not-so-hungry for supper anymore. After supper, teen sneaks in the kitchen for a bowl or cereals and milk. Teen watches TV and eats cereals and milk before going to bed. You can imagine the same day and replace “cereals and milk” by “Nutella and toast” and you have my family. It’s not so bad when they are little and you control the means of production (or, in my case, the they keys to the pantry). But it’s a lot harder to enforce a strict snack routine on teenagers. If you don’t believe me, just wait a few years. I’ll be the one laughing at you in my corner saying “Told you so…”

(It always amazes me how easy raising teenagers is to people who don’t have them. I just read through an entire Facebook convo about teens dating where most of the comments and suggestions came from people who were, by their own admission, “years away from that stuff, Thank God!”)

My point in all this is: cheap carbs and my kids don’t go well together. Or rather, it’s like a bad relationship: can’t be together, can’t stay apart.

So we tried saying “just for the weekend”. But that made it worst. As long as the food was in the house, as long as there was even the faintest hope of getting the food, they would just hold off eating until they could eat the food. And they got hangrier and hangrier, and threw bigger and bigger fits, in the hope of wearing us down. Others just got sneaky. Cheap carbs really bring out the best in my kids. Not.

So we just stopped buying the stuff. And they got hungry, and eventually they got over it. So what do we eat for breakfast?

Collage_Bacon

Overnight slow-cooker oatmeal. About once a week I make slow-cooker oatmeal with apples and cinnamon. I know that you would love to have the recipe but I eyeball the whole thing and I can’t tell you. I tried to give the recipe to a friend off the top of my head, she made it and it was a bust. In other words, just go foraging on the Internet for slow-cooker oatmeal and you should come across something that will suit your fancy. A little tip: don’t cook it all night, it makes the clean-up really difficult. It’s much better to grease the slow-cooker generously and cook it for 2-3h on the timer. It will keep warm in the crock-pot until morning.

Bagels and cream cheese. I don’t think too much description is required here, is there? We love Kettleman bagels in Ottawa. That’s about as close to a bagel as Ottawa gets.

Peanut butter toast. Once again, self-explanatory. My family loves PBJ, honestly, I don’t get it. I think that my French genes prevent me from developing any appreciation whatsoever for PBJ. I can’t even use PB in my house for all the J stuck around the rim. These people are animals.

Smoothies. We keep it simple: frozen fruits, a drop of maple syrup and milk. Some people like to add peanut butter too. Some people are weird.

Bacon and eggs. Three times are week — or more if we run out of bagels — we make bacon and eggs for breakfast. The children have much better concentration and sustained energy when they start the day with a good wad of protein.

Yogourt and maple syrup. Just plain yogourt with maple syrup.

Sometimes the children will have all of the above in one breakfast. Often two.

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What’s for supper vol. 5: The generosity of others


This week’s dinner round-up was delegated to the generosity of others. I bring meals to others in their time of need, that’s my shtick, and it has been a singular blessing to have my family fed by others as I recover from last week’s health crisis. Feeding the hungry is at the top of the list of corporal works of mercy in the Catholic Church, it shouldn’t be surprising that a hot meal in a time of need feeds the body as well as the soul. Still it’s one thing to bring a meal to a friend in need and another one to receive it. Words cannot express the gratitude felt when someone takes-on the intimidating task of feeding a family of 11.

The days of the week have all been mixed-up and I can’t really remember what we ate when. I also wasn’t home for 3 days and goodness knows what happened then, food-wise. All I know is that some pizza was ordered and when I came home from the hospital one of my children exclaimed: “We were like orphans! It was AWESOME!”

ON THE FIRST DAY

(Which might have been Monday? Or was it Sunday? Yes it was Sunday because I missed Mass.)

When I came home from the hospital, I could barely put one foot in front of the other. My oldest daughter had been to Mass that morning and asked our parish priest if he would come to our house to give me the anointing of the sick. It was the first time in my life that I was sick enough to receive the anointing of the sick and it deeply moved me. He also brought me Communion and pizza for the kids. Corporal and spiritual works of mercy in one fell swoop, he’s an awesome guy.

ON THE SECOND DAY

My mother came to spend the day with me. Sometimes a girl just needs her mama. My husband made me some liver and onions. Of course, the kids were not too eager to share so we still have leftovers. Anyone? Sadly, 3 meals of liver and some pretty hardcore iron supplements didn’t impress my hemoglobin much. It went down further and I was back in hospital on the third day.

ON THE THIRD DAY

IMG_4205The children ate at the IKEA cafeteria while I went back  to the hospital for a blood transfusion.

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If canned yellow beans don’t pump you back up, what will? *Big Wink*

IMG_4307 I wanted to post a picture of my hand and my IV pump but I thought that the sight of blood and a big needle might make some of you squeamish. Instead, here is the picture of me before the transfusion and after the first unit.  That’s just the difference it made on the outside. I was also given some delicious hospital food. A friend came to pick me up at the hospital and drove me home. I felt like a blood-doped athlete and joked about starting my marathon training that evening.

ON THE FOURTH DAY

A friend who always has a lot of common sense wisdom to share suggested that I eat ice cream 3 meals a day until my heart felt better. I might have done that on the fourth day. I might need to find a way to do that without needing to wear maternity clothes because that ain’t helping much. See “marathon training” above. Training starts with “waking and talking at the same time.” The things we take for granted, I’m telling you…

ON THE FIFTH DAY

Collage_Sue soup

I received a visit from two dear friends who brought me soup, casseroles and chicken broth. In case the first 4 volumes of “What’s for Dinner” have not made that point clear, feeding a family of 11 day after day after day is hard work. It looms really large in my daily horizon. It’s more work than homeschooling, it’s more work than breastfeeding, it’s more work than laundry, it’s probably 50% of my daily effort expenditure, 365 day a year except for that blessed week at Family Camp when we hire a camp cook. If I were to leave for a weekend away (*snort* like that ever happened), I would need to make or plan all the meals in advance. When I give birth, I make sure I have a month’s worth of dinners in the freezer, make that three months for twins (we bought a second deep freeze for the occasion, if you are expecting twins do it, it will be worth every penny and you’ll make it up in savings on pizza and take-out, take my word for it.) When friends bring me meals, it is the single most helpful thing they can do to keep me off my feet. Because even when I’m supposed to be resting — as I am now — the question “What’s for supper?” invariably lands on my desk every day around 4 pm. It’s just the way the world goes round.

ON THE SIXTH DAY

Collage_cake twins bd

It was the twins’ 4th birthday. There’s always a party here to keep your mind off what ails ya.

Collage_Birthday twins

No hair was burned in the making of this collage.

ON THE SEVENTH DAY

My mother will be back to make some meals to get me ready for next week. Because that’s the beautiful thing about feeding your children: IT NEVER ENDS! Not only is my mother still feeding me, she is feeding me times 11! Except that now it’s different. I know because I have children and someday they will still need me. And I will still be there.

What’s for supper? Vol. 4: More muffins and spaghetti sauce


What did we eat this week?

MONDAY


Monday was Labour Day. My husband took the children to visit family but it was David’s turn to process our family’s friendly virus. I took a pass and stayed home with the sick and the underage. We had chips and ice cream for supper. Yes we did.

TUESDAY

Remember the Thai squash soup with coconut and shrimp I made last week? I usually buy a second bag of shrimps to add to the leftover (because there is soup leftovers but never shrimps). Then we have a second round of squash soup.

WEDNESDAY

Collage_Spicy peanut pork

Last weekend I mentioned making Spicy Peanut Chicken (with pork) in the slow cooker. I warmed it up on Wednesday and we ate it with fresh corn. My 9 year-old son announced that he was thirsty so I asked him to go get the water jug for the family. Without missing a beat he told me, very matter-of-factly: “No, I’m just going to get water for myself.” Err, no buddy, please bring back the water jug for the family, said I. “Ok then, I’m not thirsty.” he replied. “You can still get the water jug please. Which led to him saying no, me taking away his plate until he came back with the water jug, and he stomping away to get said water. Friends, if you wonder how we can raise such self-centered children in a family of 11, imagine if we had stopped at 2! Believe me, the world is a better place because we have 9 and it’s not because we are superior human beings. Pride runs strong in that gene line.

THURSDAY

collage_spaghetti sauce

Spaghetti sauce day. My children and I are not fond of chunks in our spaghetti sauce. I like to put all the veggies and herbs in the food processor and give them a whirl. I don’t puree them to soup level but I find that along not having chunks, it mixes-up the flavours nicely. This specimen has red bell pepper, cremini mushrooms, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, fresh herbs from my potted garden (basil, chive and parsley), dried oregano and sage. I saute the veggie mash in olive oil, add an entire Costco pallet of tomato sauce and 3kg of ground beef. I stir until the meat is all separated and let it simmer forever. Add salt and pepper to taste et voila. That day, I also made orange cranberry muffins and oatmeal chocolate chip muffins. Our homeschool had to be on auto-pilot and we didn’t get around to do history and science. Note to self: you can’t cook up a storm and homeschool at the same time. I use this recipe for the cranberry orange muffins. I use frozen cranberries instead of fresh and it works fine. Just a note about the streusel topping: it’s a simple mix of sugar and orange rind. I prefer to put the orange rind in the muffin batter. The streusel falls apart when freezing anyway. On a more positive note, sugar mixed-up with orange rind and left to sit on the counter for a day can be eaten with a spoon or melted over a candle and shot-up your arm, oh my goodness, someone make it stop!!

STILL THURSDAY

Collage_znoodles

When I did a Whole 30 back in January I had to stop eating pasta. I discovered zucchini noodles and I actually prefer them now to pasta. I don’t have a veggie spiralizer so I use my veggie peeler and peel the zucchinis until I am almost peeling the tip of my fingers (sometimes I do.). Lucas enjoys chopping the leftover zucchinis with a big knife. As an aside, I used to pay a whole lot of money so my kids could do just that at a Montessori preschool. Which brings me to homeschooling preschool: stop worrying already!! If I got a dime every time a stressed out mom asks about a preschool curriculum, I could retire happy. Preschools need a curriculum because they are accountable to their clients. Preschool is just life. You need to live with your children and engage with them positively. Read to them, snuggle with them, let them help with cooking if you have the patience to do so. Take them outside and show them the dirt: here’s your preschool curriculum.

Back to the zucchini noodles… I slice an onion or two in very thin slices, smash some garlic and saute everything in olive oil with salt, pepper and dried oregano, then I cover for a while to let it steam a little. Zucchinis lose their water like nothing else so 6 zucchinis is barely enough for two adults. Unless they are the giant ones that neighbours leave on your doorstep.

Collage_znoodles with sauce

 

 

 

 

 

FRIDAY

Collage_crepes

My teenage daughter announced that she would make crepes for supper. I said: “Fine!” She used the recipe from Ricardo but I prefer Josee di Stasio’s recipe. I usually quadruple it — that would be 4 cups of flour and a whole dozen of eggs — add beer to the milk and keep it in the fridge in an air tight container. The kids will make crepes for breakfast, snack or lunch using the batter all week.

Et voila, this is it for this week. I’m sparing you the weekend because it ended-up in take-out pizza.

 

What’s for supper Vol. 3: Pork, fries, and pizza two meals in a row


Last week I posted about all the delicious foods I cook for my family and admittedly, it had been a good week. This week has been less stellar, a combination of not feeling it, having a parade of sick babies and being too hot to cook (summer’s last Hurrah has seen temperatures rise over 30 degrees Celsius in my area.) We’ve also had to shop for fall clothes, go to the clinic (twice) and generally cope with sleepless nights and hectic days. Don’t forget to visit the instigator of the What’s for supper linkup, Simcha Fisher.

In true social media fashion, I neglected to take pictures on our less-than-stellar meals. You can take my word for it though, it really happened!

MONDAY

Edit_What's for supper II Mon

Chicken drumsticks, green beans and leftover red cabbage slaw. Any coleslaw gets better after a few days in the fridge, remember that. I cook the entire Costco pallet of chicken drumsticks regardless of the number of people eating. If we have 11 people around the table, it will barely be enough but this time we had leftovers. You are probably wondering what I use to marinate the chicken to perfection. Nothing, that’s what. I often hear about people who can’t figure out how I fit everything in a day. But the truth is (a) I don’t; and (b) I cut corners everywhere. Who has time to manage marinade? Not me. I have lost pounds of meat to spoilage because I kept forgetting to marinate the wretched thing day after day. If I feel like a master cook, I might remember salt and pepper. And guess what? The kids don’t care: it’s chicken! Remember the simple things like salt, pepper and onion flakes.

TUESDAY

On Tuesday my parents came for a visit and asked me to call-in a pizza pick-up that the children would like. I called the pick-up and they showed-up with the pizza. And some desserts. And some cookies. And lollipops. And juice. After they left, it was too hot to cook but mercifully there was enough pizza, desserts and juice to make a second meal out of it. This is one I forgot to immortalize so you’ll have to believe me. Nobody died, nobody got scurvy and children’s protection did not show-up at my house.

WEDNESDAY

Edit_Costco

On Wednesday, we decided to do an errands run into town. Which in husband-speak meant: shop for clothes at the children’s consignment store, buy groceries, socks and underwear at the Superstore, go to Costco, eat and hit the mall with the teenagers for their clothes shopping. Believe it or not, we made it (with 5 minutes to spare before the mall closed). We have this thing figured out. We can do Costco and supper in under an hour. First we hit the club. Then my husband takes one teen to do the groceries (we need two carts) and I hit the snack bar with the rest of them. We eat fries, chicken fingers and hot dogs, we never buy drinks. My husband comes out the cash line and eats the leftovers and the teenager grabs a poutine for the road. Bam!! No, I don’t have pictures of that one either.

THURSDAY

Collage_Squash soup with shrimps

Thai squash and coconut soup with shrimps. This is hands down my family’s favorite soup. I rarely make it because it involves peeling and cubing a squash, which makes me run for the hills. Thankfully butternut squash keeps forever in the pantry: I had two specimen waiting since the beginning of August and so I decided to be a good mom and make something all my kids enjoyed. A few notes if you are trying this recipe (you should):

  • My children don’t like chunks in their soup so I skip the part where half the squash is boiled and the other half is kept in cubes for the soup. I just boil and process the whole darn thing. Well, the two of them in my case.
  • The recipe instructs you to chop the onion, sweet pepper etc. “finely” or something equally egregious. What you should know now is that everything gets processed in a blender at some point. So don’t obsess over having perfectly square cubes or you’ll cry later. I chop everything coarsely.
  • If you use fish sauce, don’t forget to crank the range hood way up while it evaporates or the stinky fishy smell will not only cling to your clothes and your hair, it will make the kids run upstairs and swear never to taste what smells so awful. Your husband will come home and wonder who’s rotting in the cellar. Just make sure the air is on full blast before you add the fish sauce.
  • I use raw peeled shrimps. They taste way better — less rubbery — if they cook in the soup but who has time to peel whole shrimps? Not me. You don’t need to blast the heat to cook the shrimps and the coconut milk. In fact, both will be better off if you cook them slightly using residual heat (if the shrimps are small) or on a low simmer. I have yet to find raw peeled shrimps anywhere else than Superstore.
  • An immersion blender is your best friend. It makes the clean-up so unbelievably quicker than using the regular blender. This is a staple of the large family kitchen: I make soup, batter, whipped cream using the immersion blender.

FRIDAY

edit_sick twins

Friday was sick day. I spend the day trapped under various feverish children and the children had a sports night at church. I threw together my usual freezer meal: fish and chips. I also served a big bowl of fruits (melon and nectarines). I’m not a meal absolutist: leaving  bowl of fruit out ready to eat counts as vitamins and fibers, who says you have to have some horrible veggie that no one likes on offer?

Edit_What's for supper II Fri

 

 

 

SATURDAY

Today is the Feast of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and we are celebrating by eating pork Vindaloo, rice and naan bread.{***EDIT: a friend asked me on Facebook how I got the children to eat vindaloo since it’s very spicy. I don’t put chili pepper that’s how. We add spice after.} Follow the links to find the recipes I used. I had 3+ kg of pork loin from Costco so I cubed it and separated it in two batches of 3-4 lbs each. I turned the first batch into pork vindaloo. I used the recipe linked above, added a bit of water to the vindaloo spice paste and threw everything in the slow cooker. The smell was heavenly. I turned the other batch into slow-cooker spicy peanut chicken (yeah, yeah, I know it’s pork) from the gluten-free slow-cooker book by Judith Finlayson. I also have her book of Paleo slow-cooker recipes and everything is fantastic. The reviews on GoodReads are low because people can’t cook and expect the slow cooker to do all the work. I like the books because it makes my recipes taste like the Indian restaurant and my house smell good. I highly recommend those two books if you prefer cooking from scratch from recipes that don’t start with a can of Campbell mushroom soup. Now, the last time I posted about these books, someone asked me what a gluten-free slow-cooker was. The recipes are gluten-free, not the machine. If you want a gluten-free slow-cooker just buy a normal slow-cooker and never cook foods containing gluten in it. Ta-daa. As for the slow-cooker that turns normal food into delicious gluten-free foods, the prototype is still in development.

Collage_Pork slow cookers

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have two slow-cookers. The larger one is sold at Costco and often comes on sale for under $40. It works just fine.

At 5:30 pm, the children were hungry as a fresh batch of oatmeal chocolate chip muffins came out of the oven. They had a few each and weren’t hungry for supper. We saw an opportunity and decided to keep the pork vindaloo and naan bread for a late supper with the teenagers. We essentially fed the children chocolate chips muffins with a side of pasta and hot dogs and let them watch a movie. Sadly, I did not get a picture of that either.

Collage_Naan baking

For the naan bread, I used the basic Artisan Bread recipe. It was decent but it didn’t taste the way it was supposed to. Next time, I’ll try making it with a real naan dough recipe. We had a chat with the girls about Blessed Mother Theresa that devolved into the futility of arguing online with Internet atheists and devolved even further into the hilarity of my (French) pronunciation of the word “atheist.”

Collage_Pork vindaloo

 

 

 

 

 

 

SUNDAY

On Sunday, we grabbed fresh fries from the Chip Wagon in Almonte (the one by the Esso Yes So!), butter tarts from the grocery store and celebrated carbs of all shapes and sizes. Supper will be leftovers. Have a great week everyone!

Review of Once a Month Mom freezer cooking


This fall, my husband and I came to the realization that our days needed more hours, our weeks needed more days and our months… Well, you get the idea. We considered hiring a cleaning service but my husband was very reluctant to spend good money on such a futile endeavour. “Might as well just burn your money” he said and I have to say that if our housecleaning is any indication, nothing would feel more like lighting-up a big money cigar than hiring a cleaning service. We also want to avoid raising our kids to be picked-up or cleaned-up after. When people ask us: “8 kids! You must have a cleaning lady?!” we always answer: “No, that’s what the kids are for.” Our children are growing-up in affluence and we are fighting a daily battle against entitlement and ungratefulness. The cleaning service is one bridge too far.

So we went back to the drawing table to cut back some minutes to our hours. We found that the repeated assault of cooking three meals a day for 10 people was punching a hole in our ability to do anything in the evening, including but not limited to go to bed early. I would come home from work, start cooking supper. My husband would drive the children left, right and centre while I took care of the four younger children’s bedtime routine. Then around 9 pm we would meet-up in the kitchen to survey the damage. Around 11 pm, we’d be done with the kitchen clean-up and dishes extravaganza, tired, grumpy and looking forward to the same hellish routine the next day.

My husband suggested looking into catering and batch-cooking services like Supper Works. We had a mild case of sticker shock: catering is closer in price to eating in a restaurant than eating at home. The premium on Supper Works’ ingredients was significant and the concept not at all adapted to cooking for a large family: we would have had to buy two or three meal packages to cover our family’s needs, yet, feeding a family of 10 is not necessarily double the price of feeding a family of 5. Supper Works is a good option for families who would otherwise eat out: compared to the cost of a restaurant entrée, Supper Works figures competitively. But it is double the price of buying the ingredients yourself.

A friend suggested Once a Month Mom (OAMM): “It takes the thinking out of batch cooking, and your older kids can help too: the instructions are very easy to follow.”  I was ready to give it a try and chose one of their free past menus. Because their menus are planned around seasonal ingredients – whatever that means, I live in Canada where nothing is seasonal for 8 out of 12 months – I went with their November 2011 menu and gave it a try at the beginning of last December. In mid-December, I also tried one of their Mini-Menus to plan a batch-cooking party for a friend who had recently adopted twins.

First, you would be well advised to read through the website for instructions on getting off to a right start. The menus are organized around three main documents: the Grocery List, the Recipe Cards and the Instructions. The Grocery List and Recipe Cards are Google Docs spreadsheets based on the quantities needed to feed one person for a month. You enter the number of people you are cooking for and the software does its magic: the finished product is a detailed grocery list and a series of recipes with the exact amount of all the ingredients required by the menu. We spent an inordinate amount of time formatting the documents in Excel to print it. The getting-started instructions state clearly that the documents are optimized for Google Docs, not Excel. The first take-home message is to download the documents in Google Docs… And read through the website before starting for other pivotal tidbits of information.

We chose the Whole Foods menu because it came closest to the way we cook at home: mostly from scratch, using real food. We printed our grocery list and off we went on a big day of shopping. Planning ahead, you can buy your groceries throughout the month to mimic the ebb and flow of meal preparation, freezing the meat as you go. Buying all the ingredients for a month of freezer meals in one afternoon is not for the faint of heart. We came home with a much lighter wallet and a full-size van full of food. We shopped at Costco for the most part, especially the meat part. (Make sure ahead of time that there is room in your fridge for all the food). Now, we were committed!

I got-up early the next morning and started cooking.

Starting bright and early with my crack-of-dawn baby, still in our pajamas!
Starting bright and early with my crack-of-dawn baby, still in our pajamas!

I didn’t appreciate how intense this cooking extravaganza would be and didn’t make arrangements to have my children looked after. Thankfully, my husband had no commitments that weekend and was able to do most of the baby-chasing, adjusted for whoever was on my back at any given time. Take-home message number two is to plan your weekend well in advance, including childcare and whatever your family will eat for the duration. When I did the Mini-Menu for my friend, some members of my local babywearing community came to help. Half the moms were in the kitchen working while the other half was looking after the little ones. It was a good old-fashioned cooking party: this is how it was done during harvest season when harvesting and preserving had to be done in one shot to avoid spoilage. It’s a lot more fun to do it with friends and if I can figure out a way of pricing meal-units, I would like to organize a batch-cooking coop of some kind.

Believe it or not, I went to the grocery store without reading the recipes first. That’s your third take-home message: study the recipes first. I didn’t realize until I was about to start a batch of 30 enchilada that the Whole Food menu was making tortilla and bread from scratch! Of course, homemade panini bread and tortilla are an order of magnitude better than what you buy in the store. But if you are trying to make a month of freezer meals for 10 people in one week-end (that’s 300 individual meals by the way), you may elect to skip the part where you hand-roll 72 tortilla, know what I mean? Thankfully, I received crucial and timely help from my mother and my daughters who were giddy at the thought of making a recipe that started with “Pour 34 cups of flour into a large bowl…”

My two daughters making the tortilla dough.
My two daughters making the tortilla dough.
My long-suffering mother, hand-rolling tortilla for an army
My long-suffering mother, hand-rolling tortilla for an army

Reading recipes will also highlight any differences of culinary vocab and allow you to adjust. I peeled and “cubed” 21 cups of butternut squash – a real pain in the butt if you ever had one – until I realized that by “cubed” they meant “quartered” (and ready to roast in their peel). Duh, there went 2h I’ll never get back.

Is the finish result worth it? Hell yeah, but it's 11 pm on this picture.
Is the finish result worth it? Hell yeah, but it’s 11 pm on this picture.

At the end of the day, I was thoroughly spent. Don’t underestimate the effort involved in making all your meals in one day: it’s a concentration of 30 days of dinners all in a 48h period. If anything, it highlights the cumulative effort of feeding your family every single month: give yourself a vigorous pat in the back family cooks! I crashed on the couch around 9 pm and promptly fell asleep. I was drooling on a couch pillow when my husband gently shook me and told me to go to bed.

I didn’t finish all my freezer meals in one weekend. The limitations of the spreadsheet are that it calculates like a robot without consideration for the size of your cookware. The reasoning behind batch cooking is that you cook in double or triple batches. OAMM doesn’t provide you with 20 different meals: it offers about 8 recipes that are repeated three times over the course of the month. But as any mother of a large family will attest, a single meal for 10 people already doubles or triples most recipes. So if you follow the reasoning behind OAMM batch cooking, I was cooking in sextuple and octuples batches… Well, nobody has a pot large enough to make a octuplet batch of beef Bourguignon : I found myself having to make several meals (like the boeuf Bourguignon and the risotto) in 2 or 3 separate batches…. And while I was making my third double batch of risotto, nothing else was happening. I am blessed that my twins’ caregiver has a past life in catering: I was able to go to work and  leave her with my OAMM recipes and ask her to please, pretty please, do anything to save the meat and as much produce as possible. We did finish with minimal spoilage…. I think I lost the bottom third of my pre-chopped onions. All in all, not a bad average on a $800 grocery.

So what do I think about OAMM? Is it worth it? You will ask yourself that question as you buy all your groceries for the month and slave away in the kitchen for 48 insane hours. But this week, I took out my meals in the morning and we ate without messing-up the kitchen. Our children are going to bed earlier and my husband started reading novels out loud to our son – he’s 6, they are reading Kenneth Oppel’s Airborne at bed time. I have been going to bed at 9 pm on average and it is allowing me to take advantage of my twin boy’s longest sleep stretch: I get 3-4 hours of sleep in a row before he starts waking up every 2 hours, for the first time in almost 18 months. And I learned a few things in this first OAMM experience that I will tweak for next month in order to finish within the Friday night-to-Sunday window. Here they are in no particular order:

–          I will study my recipes beforehand and see which corners I can cut. Tortillas will be store-bought although it will be difficult to go back.

–          I will skip the breakfast menu unless it involves casseroles that are substantial enough to be used as a dinner. Like the Tahoe Brunch Casserole http://www.cabbi.com/recipes/detail/200 We eat toasts and cereals at breakfast, I need to focus my energy on dinner.

–          Pancake recipes, however delicious, take-up too much time and RAM to work in the context of a busy cooking day. I burned 95% of my lemon poppy seed pancakes, which was a damn shame.

–          The Whole Food menu includes a few vegetarian entrees but is still very heavily meat-centered. I bought much more meat in my OAMM trial month that  I usually do, by a factor of 2, possibly 3. Next time, I will probably make one Whole Food Mini-Menu and one Vegan Mini-Menu to even it out.

–          OAMM is American and wow, holy stinkin’ cow they love their dairy fat!! There is an unholy quantity of butter and cheese but mostly butter, and heavy cream too, in their recipes. Their pumpkin risotto recipe was heavenly but wow, with Maple Syrup, it would have been a perfect dessert. A lot of the Whole Food Menu’s vegetarian recipes were heavy on milk fat. A vegetarian diet is not healthier if you replace lean protein by butter. Just sayin’

OAMM is well thought out and does take the thinking out of batch cooking. Their recipes are tasty and varied and so far, none have fallen flat with my family. It is well-worth the intensity of the big cooking day. Try it and persevere: you’ll be glad you did.