Archive for July, 2016


Ridiculously enough, the Super Target in Duluth (Minnesota, about 40 minutes North of us) has already cleared out their summer seasonal section and is in the process of building their back to school displays and stock. Last week’s ad already had back to college/school deals, even. It’s July for crying out loud! As cringe inducing as it may be, it’s almost time for a new school year to start. Not only does that mean buying school supplies and clothes but it also means, hopefully, coming up with ideas for lunches for your kids. With the new school lunch guidelines (unrealistic demands) firmly in place and making lunch miserable for the majority of schoolkids, it’s often better to feed kids a home lunch anyway. The school my kids go to is extremely small (only about 300 kids total and it’s PreK-12 in one building), so the lunch team makes a lot of their foods from scratch. Their hearts are certainly in the right place but, thanks to the aforementioned dictates, their food still isn’t my kids’ preference a lot of the time. To say the least, it’s a challenge to come up with interesting ideas sometimes; sending lunch 5 times a week can seem an impossible task. Thankfully, there are SO many easy, tasty ideas that can be packed into a lunchbox! One of the simplest lunchbox items out there are the infamous-yet-wildly-popular Uncrustables; the little round, crustless PB&J sandwiches that can be found lurking in the freezer section. These tiny sandwiches are chock full of unpronounceable ingredients- including high fructose corn syrup- and are insanely overpriced. With one simple gadget, your own ingredients, and about a minute and a half you can make your own homemade uncrustables! And they are every bit as tasty as the ones from the store- even more so because you can fill them with anything you want. PB&J or honey? Of course! But how about ham and cheese, turkey and guacamole, or even Nutella and strawberries? When you make your own you can get creative and end up with something WAY more interesting than what you can get pre-made and the price tag is far more manageable.

To get started, you’ll have to make a small investment: at least one pocket sandwich cutter (as opposed to cutters that just cut shapes). You’ve probably seen them at the store, jumping out at you from hangers in the condiment or bread aisles. Or perhaps you’ve seen them on bento or home chef sites. Here are the two I have:

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The metal cutter is a gift from my BFF and will run anywhere from $4.00 (on EBay) to about $20 (from Pampered Chef on Amazon). This has lasted me about 3 years so far and I expect to be using this for years to come. The plastic square cutter was $1.00 from Dollar Tree. It works well, but is starting to curl along the edges from being pushed down to cut the crusts off of sandwiches. I use fairly sturdy wheat bread instead of mostly air white bread, so the cutter has some work to do. It will probably only last another year or two. It’s up to you which you use, but I would recommend getting the best quality cutter you can manage.

Let’s make some sandwiches! Zachariah is still staunchly against cold meat sandwiches, so he gets PB&J or PB&H. **This is important: if you’re going to make a PB&J or PB&H sandwich that’s going to have to sit for more than about 20 minutes, you need to put a protective layer on both slices of bread or the jelly or honey will seep through. That’s terribly unappetizing! You can use either a thin layer of peanut butter on the top slice or, even tastier, a thin layer of softened butter. (Trust me on this: try the butter!)

The classic Uncrustable combination:

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Liliana & Gloriana love them some ham sammiches, but Liliana has to have cheese but no mayonnaise and Gloriana has to have hers with mayonnaise but no cheese. They’re twins but definitely their own people 🙂

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To make pocket sandwiches of any kind you’ll have to be careful that you put all of the ingredients within the shape that will be made after you’ve used the cutter. If it helps, you can press the cutter very lightly into the bottom slice of bread to get a faint outline to use as a guide. Also, make sure you don’t over fill the sandwich or the top slice of bread will burst open when you press down on the cutter. As you can see, these sandwiches didn’t turn out perfect like they usually do. I tried a different brand of bread and it obviously isn’t going to work for these because it isn’t quite as soft as it needs to be. But that’s ok; you live and learn. I’ll go back to the bread I was using 🙂 Once you’ve made a few pocket sandwiches you’ll have a feeling for where things need to be placed and in what amounts.

These are just the super basic models; use whatever your kids love or get creative and have some fun. And happy new school year, ready or not!

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I haven’t published since November. That is just astonishing to me. On one hand, it really doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. But on the other hand, some pretty huge things have happened since then and it feels like an eternity. My husband was furloughed from the railroad (temporarily laid off and waiting to be called to return) which nearly cost us our house and came very close to ruining us financially. The kids started going to public school again, which was a very good thing but was also a blow to deal with because we had wanted to homeschool for SO long and it just didn’t work for us. In early February I was hospitalized for 3 days with what was thought to be Multiple Sclerosis. I had been having problems for 2 weeks before that and for a month after coming home I had to deal with issues. Ultimately it was decided I don’t have MS yet but we’ll watch it and my symptoms eventually went away on their own. Those are just the big things that have happened since my last post. That’s not even mentioning all of the smaller things that piled up. I wanted to blog, but the give a damn just wasn’t there. That, and I just wasn’t properly cooking as much. Life was kindof in this awful limbo where we all wandered around, waiting to see what would happen.

Then in April my husband was called back to work after 4 months of furlough and it was like the world became light again. We were able to start living again and planning again and looking forward to getting up in the morning again. We all had purpose once again. But blogging still just wasn’t happening. I suppose I felt like there wasn’t really any point because I wasn’t a “famous” blogger. I felt like I didn’t make any difference in the blogoshpere at all and no one really cared about or noticed my little space. But recently I’ve had a few people ask me when I was going to start up again because they missed me. They missed me! Me- the small time hack! That’s when I remembered that I always said I would keep doing this even if it helped just one person feel better about themselves in the kitchen. So here I am, back in the saddle. But I’m starting with a trail ride instead of a fox hunt 🙂

I’m sure that, despite my extended absence, most of you will recall my preference for homemade pudding over the boxed stuff (like here and here). But I found this little gem a few years back in one magazine or another while waiting for the kids at the dentist’s office (it might have been the family mag that Disney puts out) and knew I had to try it. It’s insanely easy and who doesn’t seem to always have a box of pudding or two hanging out in their pantry? Here is the very basic group of ingredients:

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That’s it! This recipe can be as simple as just 4 ingredients. I like to add kiwis, grapes, and apple, but I had none of those on hand when the kids asked me to make this last week. The bananas were also about 1-2 days too ripe, but it still worked out fine.

I don’t have step by step photo directions for this one because there’s only three steps: chop anything that needs chopped into 1/2 inch cubes, drain the mandarin oranges (but NOT the pineapple!!), and then mix all the ingredients. That’s all there is to it! I do have some tips that the original recipe didn’t include though:

  1. To be able to eat this salad at it’s best, make sure you give it at least 2 hours to sit in the fridge because the pudding mix needs time to soak up the pineapple juice and get smooth. It will be grainy for awhile and tastes fine, but the texture isn’t great. So give yourself plenty of time.
  2. Mix the pineapple and pudding mix together before adding the rest of the fruit. For some reason if you try to just stir everything together the pudding mix will get lumpy.
  3. If you want to eat this the same day and have it be cold like it’s supposed to be, make sure the pineapple and the oranges are cold before you mix everything.

Once you’ve got everything mixed up and chilled this is what you get:

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Is that a cheerful looking bowl of fruit?! It’s a little on the saucy side because I didn’t have the kiwis, grapes, and apples to add, but the kids didn’t mind a bit 😉 This is also a great fruit salad to make during the winter when the majority of fruits aren’t in season and you can only get your hands on canned fruit.

So there it is: my first post in half a year. It feels good! I may not be famous, and I may not have thousands of followers across the world, but I do have those that like what I do and enjoy stopping by my little corner of the internet. To those who fit that description, thank you- from the bottom of my heart.

The Recipe:

1 Small (3.4 ounce) Box Vanilla Pudding (Lemon works nicely too)

1 Can (20 ounces) Pineapple Tidbits WITH the juice

1 Can (15 ounces) Mandarin Oranges, drained

2 Medium-Large Bananas, Ripe (but with only a few spots of brown), Peeled and Diced to 1/2 Inch Dice

Optional Fruits, all diced to about 1/2 inch and in a quantity to match the bananas:

Apples

Kiwis

Grapes

Strawberries

The Method:

*Chill the canned fruits.

*In a bowl big enough to hold all the fruits, combine the pudding mix and the undrained pineapple tidbits until no lumps remain.

*Add in the rest of the diced fruits and stir to coat.

*Cover the salad with plastic wrap actually touching the surface to prevent the bananas from browning too much.

*Chill at least 2 hours.

*Eat within 2-3 days.