Cooking for the Freezer: Part I

by Kim on May 3, 2012

One of the perks of maternity leave: you can ditch town for a few days whenever you get the urge. (As long as you’re willing to haul a newborn and his four kajillion baby items with you.) So this past week, I took Mason on a road trip to visit my mom for a few days. Not only was it nice to have a change of scenery and some adults to talk to during the day, but I think the hubby also appreciated the bachelor time.

I was a little nervous about the 3.5 hour drive I had to take alone with the little guy to get there. On past trips, he’s done great, but we’ve also always had at least one non-driver in the car to pop in the Golden Paci (seriously–with this kid, the paci cures all) when he started to melt down. This time, it was just me in the driver seat and the baby right behind me, just out of paci-popping range. So I made sure he had a solid feeding that ended seconds before we left, took a deep breath, and peeled out like the desperate maniac I was left.

The first three hours of the trip were shockingly smooth: he slept while I sang along with the hits on my Summer 08 Jams CD (an embarrassing playlist strictly reserved for solo driving…Carpenters’ Top of the World may or may not be on there…). But then we hit that last half hour, which happens to coincide with the last exit you see before reaching my parents’ house (sort of an exaggeration, but there is seriously NOTHING by way of a McDonalds or a gas station right next to the highway in that last painful stretch of road). And Mase chose that moment to wake up and let the dogs out. As in, he started to SCREAM.

At first, I was calm. There was no way this would last 30 whole minutes. He’d be passed out again in 3.

When he breezed past that milestone (and let me tell you, minutes feel like hours when a baby is screaming), I started to feel bad. He probably was legitimately hungry and I was a legitimately crappy mom. How would you feel if you were starving and sweaty, strapped into some plastic shell going backwards to God knows where, with nothing in your line of sight but a headrest and the blinding rays of sunlight streaming in the window (because your mom was too cheap to invest in a stupid little window shade for you)?

First, I tried to get the pacifier in his mouth from the driver’s seat while driving. We have a mirror attached to the headrest over his carseat so we can see his face from the rearview mirror, so I tried to use that to guide my hand around the side of the carseat to his mouth. Unfortunately, not only was everything backwards, which was making my brain hurt, but I just couldn’t quiiiiite reach. How frustrating, to have the Power of the Paci right there in your hand, literally inches from your kid’s mouth, and you just can’t connect the two without clipping a semi on the highway (actually, I have a Toyota Corolla, so I’d probably just roll right under like they do in the movies and come out unscathed on the other side). After some admittedly pretty scary swerving moments (did I mention I’m a crappy mom?), I gave up. And the screaming continued.

Finally, about 10 years hours minutes into the screamfest, I caved and took the next “exit,” which was really just a turn onto a gravel road to Nowhere. There on the side of that gravel road, I took my poor sweaty baby out of his carseat and fed him in the front seat, letting the girls hang out for all to see (and by all, I mean absolutely no one). I felt like I was in the intro to a horror movie, where the car breaks down in a sketchy, deserted field and a creepy overalled man of alarmingly few words offers to “take a look.”

Of course, to add insult to injury, as I’m sitting there feeding Mase, I hear disturbing little explosion sounds coming from the diaper region. And upon laying him out in the backseat to change him, I find that it’s literally the nastiest, runniest mess I’ve seen to date. We’re talking up-to-the-neck diarrhea (no exaggeration needed).

On top of it all, I’d drank a huge coffee and water so far on the trip and was desperate for a bathroom. I honestly considered just ducking next to the car, since we were surrounded by desolate fields on all sides and not a single car had gone by in the 20+ minutes of feeding/poop-swabbing, but I was feeling Scene 2 of the horror movie setting in…and plus, gross. So I decided to try and gun it home.

Well, I didn’t make it. First, Mason wasn’t too pumped about being squashed right back into his carseat after getting the sweet taste of freedom, so he picked up right where he’d left off with the screaming. And then, when the bathroom urge suddenly shot up from pressing to ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL, I grabbed the next exit with SOMEthing on its sign (in this case, a gas station 2 miles in from the highway) and held my breath.

I made it to the gas station, unloaded the car seat, and waddled up to the front door, only to find that IT WAS CLOSED. As in, the stupid station was pumps-only. On the verge of tears, I started envisioning awkward horrible scenarios that involved me either peeing my pants in public or borrowing one of Mason’s diapers (“ultra dry” eh Pampers?). “Silly small towns,” I thought, where silly was a very different word.

Finally, I caught a break two miles away from that, in the form of a real live Kwik Trip, complete with restrooms. I smiled and cooed at Mason while I went, having gained a new respect for the word relief.

He gave me a quizzical look and spit his pacifier onto the sickest possible surface on earth: a gas station bathroom floor.

(SCENE)

So, drama and horrors aside, we did eventually make it to my parents’ house, and the rest of the trip was smooth sailing. My mom and I had planned to do some cooking–specifically, to cook some meals we could pop into the freezer for easy meal prep later. We’d done a few once-a-month-cooking marathons in the past, but it had been awhile. Which was probably why we were so excited to do it again–we’d forgotten the pain.

Don’t get me wrong, once-a-month-cooking is a great idea. It’s so nice to be able to grab something from the freezer and pop it in the oven, especially if you just don’t have time to cook around dinnertime. But there are a few important factors to keep in mind:

  • The meals take the same amount of prep time, you just do it at a different time. And you do all of it at once, which tends to compound the pain factor. So you’re not really saving any time, just redistributing it.
  • Some meals are so quick to throw together that it doesn’t really pay to freeze them. If assembly time is 15 minutes or less, you might as well just do that on serving day with fresh ingredients, saving yourself freezer space and cooking time. Cooking for the freezer is best reserved for the big dogs like lasagnas and casseroles, which take a lot of prep work.
  • Cooking time is longer when going from a frozen state, so you still need to allow enough time to cook the meals on the days you want to serve them (for your average casserole, it can take up to an hour). This reality doesn’t always serve you well. For example, if it takes 30 minutes to assemble a meal and 30 minutes to cook it fresh but an hour to cook it frozen, you ultimately lose 30 minutes total by going the frozen route (although you still have the benefit of doing no actual cooking on serving day).
  • You end up with A LOT of dirty dishes. And many of them are giant pots and skillets that aren’t good about sharing dishwasher space with each other.
  • You will have one giant grocery bill, rather than several smaller ones. So prepare yourself for this reality and make sure you have a small nest egg ready. If you’re like me and have small anxiety attacks standing at the register in grocery stores, have a plan of attack (such as asking the clerk to keep the number to himself and fold the receipt so you can only see the signature line? Haha).
  • Not everything freezes well, so you have to be careful about which recipes you use.
  • Freezing isn’t 100% foolproof–if you wrap the food poorly or wait too long to eat it, you’ll end up with freezer burn. And tears.
  • You probably don’t have unlimited space in your freezer, especially when you account for your cookie dough ice cream stash.
  • Fresh is always better, tastewise and nutritionwise (many foods lose some nutritional value during the freezing process). I try to cook mostly with fresh foods and to think of frozen meals as emergency backups when I’m short on time, energy, or general cooking gusto.

I realize that’s a lot of potential cons, but the payoff is still huge! Frozen meals can be lifesavers on those desperate days when you’re tempted to just break down and order pizza, if only you hadn’t done that last night (and Chinese the night before).

So without further ado (and sorry, that was a LOT of ado), here’s the menu for my mom’s and my cooking day (taken from a frozen food cookbook she bought on her Kindle):

  • South of the Border Lasagna (which involves tortillas instead of lasagna noodles)
  • Spinach and Cheese Quiche
  • Shepherd’s Pie
  • Chicken and Mashed Potato Pie
  • Taquitos
  • Ham and Pineapple Pizza Casserole (a simple combo of cooked, cubed ham, bowtie pasta, pineapple chunks, pizza sauce, and mozzarella cheese)

Chicken scratch planning sheet. Some of this didn’t end up happening for various reasons (i.e. laziness, over-commitment…).

 The results:

Fooooood.

Don’t forget to attach cooking instructions!  This is my mom’s handwriting–we make fun of her for slanting her words the wrong way. :)

I’ll be back later with some lessons learned from the experience and tips for planning your own frozen food cooking day!

In (un)related news, Mason’s starting to smile socially! For some reason, it’s impossible to capture on camera, but here are some of my best attempts so far:

Shot #1: The Blurry/Not Facing Camera

Shot #2: The Just Barely Missed a Huge Smile and Ended Up with this Quirky Half-Grin Instead

Of possible interest:

Have you heard of laughing yoga? This is wild! Go read about it!

Basically, you get in a circle and just get your chuckles on. Apparently laughter is the highest form of meditation. Which is perfect because I suck at downward dog but I’m an excellent laugher. (Laughor? Laughee? Spell check’s not impressed with any of those…)

 ~Kim

 

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