Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dressing up for All Saint's Day!

Obviously, the real way to celebrate All Saint's Day (November 1, don't forget!) is to go to Mass.  And to offer thanks and praise for the "cloud of witnesses" bestowed upon us and the universal church.  And to recommit ourselves to delving deeper into the lives of the Saints for our own edification and sanctification. And to strive to follow their examples thereby personally drawing closer to Christ.  I *try* to do these personally and for my family.  But, couldn't I get even more out of it?? I mean, what about dressing up and partying and candy - those typically-done-at-the-end-of-October activities??  To really benefit from all that All Saint's Day has to offer, you really must combine all aforementioned activities.  Then you will truly be celebrating the Church Triumphant in grand style.  (and it's fun for kids too!)  

My kids chose their Saints a few weeks ago. (The party is tonight!!) When Ruth decided to dress the same as last year, my first thought was, "Oh, come on, choose something different, for fun!"  Then a little voice inside me said, "Why are you encouraging her to choose something that will require extra work on the part of the wardrobe department??" Since I am Mom and Costume Mistress, I agreed to let her be Our Lady of Guadalupe, again.

costume tips - I drew gold flower-y decorations on her "dress" with gold fabric pen,
and stenciled sparkly gold stars (fabric puffy paint, I think) on the veil.  Roses from the Dollar Store!
Aaron chose St. Michael the Archangel, presumably because the allure of armor and sword was too overpowering to do otherwise.

costume tips: chest plate and shield are from the Dollar Store.  The sword is made from wooden paint
stirrers that were spray painted and bound together with string.  The wings are a single piece of
poster board that I pinned onto the back of his shirts with two large safety pins.
Dominic chose St. Wenceslas - a repeat from three years ago.  I'm not entirely sure why he feels devoted to this particular first century Bohemian martyr.  But, we all enjoy the song of Good King Wenceslas, so that probably has something to do with it.  (Did you know that he was only considered a king after his death? It's true!)

costume tips: crown is metallic poster board with "jewels" glued on.  The cape I made three
years ago and I think I just cut a piece of purple fabric and sewed the faux fur with a
long  top stitch on my machine.  It's held together at the top with a large sew-on snap and again, I
glued the jewel on.
Clare?  Well, no big surprises there... we kept it obvious.  She is St. Clare.  Know how you get a previously-hysterical-when-approached-with-a-costume toddler to let you put a costume on her? Licorice.  

costume tips: I glued the host to the monstrance but then quickly sewed the entire thing onto her
habit.  Her veil is held on by a snap in the back - it probably won't stay on through
the whole party though, right?!  I tried to incorporate a white wimple, but she screamed bloody
murder and I backed down :)
And now, revealed here for the first time, exclusively for the readers of my blog, I bring you My Super Secret Tip for Saint Costumes...
I LOVE Saints that wore long robes or habits.  Every year, every Saint that I've ever dressed has required a long robe or religious habit.  My secret???  Men's T-shirts from Target. They are my inexpensive, no work required, go-to item for Saintly garb. Obviously, I save them from year to year, so Clare is naturally wearing St. Francis's habit from a few years ago.  But I needed to get a few new colors this year - the yellow for St. Michael and the BIG red one for St. Wenceslas.  I just love that a men's XXL shirt is the perfect royal robe for a pint-size king, long billowy sleeves and all! And because the warm weather is OVER, many of the T-shirts were marked down to $4.  Not bad when that's all you have to spend to pull together a perfect costume! Happy happy happy :)  Want to play spot the Target T-shirt???

And in case you're browsing for other easy Saint costume ideas, here are a few pictures of last year's costumes - St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and St. Zita...

Happy All Saint's Day... a day early!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

"Every Leaf is a Flower"

"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower."
-Albert Camus


the kids found chives on our walk and brought them home to add to our soup at lunch :)

Dominic takes the camera so I can be in a picture!

"Delicious autumn!  My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns."
-George Eliot

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fall Soup Party 2013

in case you're interested - the soup stars of the evening were the Cheddar Ale Cauliflower and the Spaghetti Ring and Meatball

It's always easier to get pictures of an event before it happens. 

The during photos of the Fall Soup Party were mostly shots of us eating messy soup.  Pictures of people eating are almost never attractive.  So there are relatively few photos of the Soup Party actually underway :(  

All the soups were in the kitchen.  Everything was defrosted but not hot, so each person had to microwave his bowl after making his selection.  This isn't ideal but I don't have a way to keep everything hot for the whole evening.  We use small bowls to encourage small servings of a variety of soups.  I keep all of the condiments (toppings?) at the table - salt and pepper, sliced bread, oyster crackers, tortilla chips for the black bean soup, three varieties of croutons, and two kinds of shredded cheese.  I used mason jars for a lot of these this year because it looked nice and they take up less space than bowls.  

Dessert was cake because not only was it the Fall Soup Party, it was also Russ' birthday!  The kids helped me finally use the carrots from our garden for a tasty homemade carrot cake!

Look at this guy...  Only a real dad isn't taken aback by the fact that someone's been dipping into the frosting even before he gets to blow out the candles...

* * * * * *

Here's a link to my post on the planning and prep (including the recipes for the ten soups pictured above!) that goes into the soup party.

And here's a link to last year's Fall Soup Party.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Fall Soup Party - Planning and Prep

May I humbly present to you one of my favorite Fall traditions? Our Fall Soup Party. It's the (legitimate!) child of my love of hot soup served in my large blue mug from the Dollar Store...

... and my love of having a freezer stocked with meals for the winter months.  

I probably spend the equivalent of seven days each Fall making meals to freeze for the simple reason that making a dinner each afternoon is simply too much for this (busy? lazy?) mom to manage during the Winter months.  (It's bad enough I have to do this during the Summer.  Ugh.)  I cook in categories, and I kick it off with "soups" and the Fall Soup Party.

I love the Fall Soup Party so much that I wanted to share a little about how it's done - maybe you'll be inspired to try something similar.  If you're hoping to find inspiration for sophisticated Fall parties like this...

... this is not the post for you.  

If you are hoping to find a simple menu and a family-friendly party, more like this...

... and this...

... you've come to the right place!  (because those are my pix from last year!  They come up when you Google Fall Soup Party!! I'm sort of Google famous!  Sort of...)

Thursday is the big day so I'll be sure to get a photos up from the party itself.  (Prepare to be underwhelmed - it's just my immediate family and my parents.  We started calling it a "party" a few years ago simply to get my then-picky eaters excited about soup.) For now, here's a little on how I plan, prepare, and cook.  

* I pull out all my soup recipes from my recipe box and decide which ones I'll use this year.  These are usually the tried and true recipes that make an appearance every year.  The kids usually get one request each. 

* I peruse and Pinterest for new ideas.  I search by what sounds good to me.  For instance, this year I knew I wanted to try a sweet potato soup and I've never made a meatball soup, so that's what I searched for.

Once all the recipes are gathered, I divide them into repeat-recipes and the new ones.  I first take the soups I'm familiar with and create my shopping list.  I plan for multiple batches of everything - usually double batches, but there are two soups that I usually quadruple - Chicken and Wild Rice and Winter Veggie Bisque.  I account for all of that on the shopping list. 

my ghetto shopping list - I use tally marks to keep track of how much I need of each ingredient.
I'm sure there's a better way, but I'm sticking with what I know :)
Yep - I REGULARLY spell carrots wrong.   Regularly.  (ps.  I bought 10 lbs of carrots for this endeavor and they're almost gone!)  
* I did my grocery shopping for this first list early on Saturday morning and started cooking when I got home.  I got a soup in the Crock Pot and started two on the stove top that I knew would be done within an hour and a half.  Then those pots would be free for the afternoon round.  While those were cooking I chopped the veggies and cooked the meat for the afternoon soups. I made a very simple soup in the evening.  I also chopped the veggies and meat for one of the soups I'd make the next day.

* I finished the "familiar" soups on Sunday and took stock of what ingredients were left.  

* I got the "new" recipes together and formed my next shopping list (which was considerably smaller) and did that shopping early Monday morning.  I typically only make one batch of a "new" soup to test it out, unless it sounds really good.  Monday I made one new soup, today I made one, and tonight/tomorrow I'll make the last one.  And I'm done!!!

*  I have one more small shop to do before the party to pick up the soup toppings and "extras" - croutons, crusty bread, oyster crackers, tortilla chips, cheese, wine and beer.  I'm treating myself to some pumpkin ale that night :)

Here are some extra tips:

- Russ takes the kids for most of the day Saturday and Sunday when I'm cooking!  I couldn't do it without his help - so it's definitely a team effort.  (He even runs to the store for me when I realize I forgot stuff!)

- It helps to have these things: two big soup pots, two crock pots, an immersion blender, a big freezer.  (And an apron.  I get messy.)  

- I have tons of heavy duty freezer bags on hand for storing the finished meals.  A typical soup gets divided up into two full bags (for meals this winter) and one bag that's 1/3 full for the Fall Soup Party.

- I know I'll be washing pots and pans all weekend, so I try to have the sink and counter tops cleared off.  But... that hardly ever happens, even when it's not Fall soup time.  I also know that the kitchen floor will be a mess and I'm fine with it - the kids can sweep up all the onion skins and carrot bits when I'm done!  Really, I'm just prepared for the house to be a wreck while I'm doing my Fall cooking.

- I leave all the groceries out all weekend (except fridge stuff, of course!), so nothing gets put away in the pantry - it's all right there on the kitchen floor for when I need it.  

- I use post-it notes to help me keep track of what time each pot or Crock Pot is "done" or needs to have something added, etc... 

- I know that getting ready for the Fall Soup Party keeps me busy and wears me out by the end of the day, so I take it easy on myself in terms of preparing dinner for my family that week.  We eat leftovers, pasta and sauce, frozen pizza, and scrambled eggs on the days when I'm cooking like a crazy lady.  

- Sometimes I try to include the kids in helping prepare the soups, but usually I'm more interested in efficiency and speed than offering them kitchen-experience time.  There are other times for that. School lessons also get a little sketchy when I'm working in the kitchen many hours a day.  So today, for instance, both of the boys did some lessons on the floor in there while chopped and simmered and spiced things.  

- You've probably already figured out that this method of purchasing and making mass quantities of food is wacky on the grocery budget.  We are blessed that we don't live paycheck to paycheck, so the big grocery bills for my various Fall cooking sprees are covered by "savings" and then we decrease our weekly grocery budget significantly through the Winter months. 

The 2013 Fall Soup Party Menu

(the repeat favorite soups)

* some of these recipes show up on my "Recipes" page up top and include notes on how I "change them."  They are marked with an asterisk. *

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup *
Slow Cooker Beef Barley Soup *
Lentil and Sausage Soup *
Sausage Barley Soup (I add a little pasta to this)
Lemony Lentil Butternut Soup  (I use this recipe but add butternut squash and additional seasoning.)

(the new soups this year)

Cheddar Ale Cauliflower Soup (I followed this recipe but made the following changes - I added 8 oz. of beer, 16 oz. of shredded white cheddar cheese, 2 tsp. of dijon mustard as well as salt and Adobo seasoning.)

all the soups (except for two)  ready for Thursday!
(you should see my freezer!!!)
* * * * * *

Here's the post with the pictures from the party!

Something to ponder...

Christ said, "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God."  Ludwig van Beethoven said, "Only the pure in heart can make a good soup." 
Good soup here on Earth and the promise of Heaven??  
Keep your heart pure and it sounds like you can't lose ;)
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