I’ve finally started my new blog called Soar Cloud-High at www.soarcloudhigh.com, I hope you will join me there!

A Grand Success!




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As I rushed around Hope Chapel in Sterling, MA on Saturday morning, I was still a little apprehensive about the day. As I spread tablecloths, set out coffee and tea service, hung fun vintage print fabric buntings and arranged materials on the registration table, I could feel a few butterflies wildly dancing within me and a twinge of panic welling up just beneath the surface. What if my workshop didn’t go well? What if registrants didn’t show up after all? What if we had sound system glitches? (Note my total lack of concern as to whether or not Sarah would be brilliant, because I already considered that to be inevitable!!)

And then a dear friend who has lived much of her life in England whooshed in through the entry doors and put a colorful gift bag into my hands. “Open it now, you’ll see why,” she said, her eyes sparkling with a secret delight. I dug through the tissue paper and drew out this darling fire-engine-red tea tin delightfully imprinted with the now-familiar expression “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Yes, this!

Then the conference team gathered for prayer together in a quiet back room, and as we lifted up the day to the One who flung the stars, who gave us words and language and beauty and books, I knew that all would be well. We walked out from that room ready to encourage and inspire those in attendance to mold and shape the souls and minds of children with grand Story, cultivating the landscape of imagination through books and Beauty.
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Isn’t this a delightful scene? I commissioned this picture from an artist friend to use for our conference programs, and I just love the color and imagery and artistry.




These are the stunning flowers that graced the tables of the sanctuary, wonderfully and artfully arranged by my talented sister-friend Becky. I have a few of these arrangements now scattered through my home and their beauty is still nourishing my soul. We put out a survey for the conference attendees to fill out, and over and over the flowers were mentioned as a favorite part of the day (along with the enchanting live violin music, the quality coffee and teas, and of course the washi tape!)


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You would think that for preparation’s sake, Friday afternoon would find Sarah and myself pouring over notes in a frenzy to review points and precepts. Instead, we whisked away together to Newport, RI to “play”…spending the day immersing ourselves in such delights as lunch in a small mansion set right on the sea, a hearty stroll along the water on the Cliff Walk (where we took this picture), tea and treats at a darling bakery, popping into shops run by local artisans and clothiers, and of course the very best of conversation betwixt kindred spirits. I felt that this soul-filling day of delights was the best preparation possible for pouring out into the hearts and minds of those who would join us the next day for a grand celebration of Story.


And pour out we did. Oh, friends…it was such a grand day of beauty and delight! Every detail came together to create an environment rich in color, sound, taste and fellowship. The church was transformed into a bit of a fairy land, thanks to the heroic and tireless efforts of Jane Rattray from cherished-child.blogspot.com, and as registrants began to arrive you could tell they were tickled by the fun and enchantment that we had worked so hard to provide for them. The welcome packets contained such delightful surprises as a brightly colored pen, a chalkboard-style name tag, a glassine pack of hand-stamped water bottle tickets sealed with fun washi tape, and a paper bookmark with baker’s twine tassel that served as a boxed lunch voucher.

“Sweet” Pastry and Dessert Bar in Worcester did their part, providing the guests with a delicious lunch and decadent cupcakes. Thanks to Manna Recording & Duplication we have recordings of each session and all the workshops, and soon they shall take up permanent residence at storyformed.com, Sarah’s online home for literary resources for parents and children. The book table was a huge hit, laden with Sarah’s books as well as favorite selections from Whole Heart Ministries and a few offerings from local authors. Violin music swelled in the background, filling the room with gorgeous music. The fragrant flowers, delicious coffee, tin pots brimming over with gourmet chocolates, informative workshops, and general camaraderie of like-minded souls all blended together to create this magical atmosphere of expectation and anticipation.




And then there was Sarah, incandescent in beauty, expressive and articulate, she took the stage with quiet grace. At times we strained to hear her soft and lilting voice, but make no mistake, her message rang loud and clear. Story, imagination, books and beauty are gifts of God, tools used by the Master Creator to shape the souls of His children and to create heroes and heroines that live out the stories of their lives and reflect the goodness of God, that bring light to a dark world and healing to the broken places. We sat listening, greatly heartened and encouraged to press on, to cultivate a life rich with words and wonder, to READ to the children in our lives. We wrapped up the day with a rousing question and answer session that addressed the finer points and practicalities of shaping the storyformed life. We closed the doors on the conference with confidence, assured that the message had gone forth and been received with great joy. Were there glitches and little imperfections? Did some details fall through the cracks? Sure, of course they did. But all in all, the day was a grand success.


But the day wasn’t over quite yet. My sweet husband had given up his birthday so I could host this event, and now it was time to collect him on our way in to Boston, join up with Sarah’s charming brother Joel, and head to The Beehive, a fun jazz-club-slash-art-gallery in a trendy Tremont Street neighborhood serving up decadently delicious food and amazing music in a quirky-fun environment, along with some of the best people watching opportunities to be found in the city. I am quite certain I had the best meal of my life, from the baby back ribs with sweet Asian glaze to my first encounter with poutine (fries with gravy and cheese, but really it’s just deliciousness on a plate!), the Moroccan lamb and chicken couscous and the sage frites, and capping it all off with the incomparable chocolate mousse and maple bread pudding with salted caramel ice cream…we ordered up several dishes and shared each and every one, reveling in each burst of flavor and each dance of taste experience on our tongues. Such a perfect end to this day that had been such a focus for me and my family and for Sarah for weeks if not months. Preparations, details, questions, lots of time on the computer working on websites and promoting on social media, some weariness and frustration along the way, all resulting in the success of the day and capped off with a grand feast of tastes and music and conversation and camaraderie. Will I do it all again? Hmmmm…jury is still out on that. Would I change a thing about the last few months of pulling this together (and pulling it off?). Absolutely not!






Yesterday, I had the great honor and privilege of giving the devotional at the bridal shower of a dear young friend of mine. She will not only be very soon married, but will be living on the opposite coast with her new husband, so it’s a bittersweet event for our family.

The morning of the shower, I felt a bit panicked. I had polished off what I wanted to say very late the night before, and as I scanned it over in the rush of trying to get out the door, I felt that it perhaps was a little too edgy…a bit vehement in spots. It was my sincere desire to encourage my young friend, but also to very strongly exhort her with solid, biblical counsel and to share some wisdom gleaned from my own experience as a married woman.

Oh no! What if that roomful of ladies, there to wish her well and share in her happy day and expecting to hear a sweet, nice little devotional with a verse or two about marriage, what if I make them uncomfortable with this at-times-strongly-worded speech?

I should have given them more credit. There was no cause for concern. Those lovely, godly ladies were touched by this very honest and deeply personal little talk. Several mentioned that they wished they had known these things as they embarked on their own marriage, and many asked for copies of it or encouraged me to share it with others. So I share it with you! I have had to change the names…her name isn’t Jane Smith, nor is his John Green, but you’ll get the general idea.

Here goes (deep breath! I still feel like this is a little more soul-baring than my usual post!):

I brought with me today a little visual aid. This picture hangs up in my living room, at the request of my husband…this is a copy of our wedding vows, and of course I had to make it all fancy and special with a handwriting font, and a scrapbook style picture…apparently, this makes it hard to read, or so he tells me. When I made this, I opted to change the wording slightly to take out our individual names, replacing that section with “I take you to be mine”…

When my husband and I got married, we wanted our marriage vows to have a great depth of meaning, to be both personally meaningful as a reflection of who we were, and also to have deep spiritual meaning and to be as biblically accurate as possible, all while not straying too far from a traditional wedding service. We went to the library and pulled out old, dusty books of words that have been spoken over couples for centuries, and we also looked over glossy new books with more modern phraseology…and it wouldn’t take you long to figure out which we favored.

But we didn’t end up with this particular set of words because they were old, or traditional, or sounded nice. We chose these words to say to one another, standing there that day facing each other, promising to one another…because they are TRUE, and a reflection of the Gospel.

Jane, today I want to share with you, and with everyone here, my wedding vows, and a little bit of the “why” behind the choosing of these particular words, these specific truths, as the foundation of my own marriage, and I say them to you as a benediction for your marriage with John.

These are the words I said that day:

Before God and these witnesses, and in reliance upon the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, I take you to be mine. To have and to hold, to love and to cherish, to speak and to listen, to repent and to forgive, to respect and honor, until God shall separate us by death. I promise to be faithful to you in all circumstances of our life together so that we may join to serve God and others as long as we both shall live. This is my solemn vow.

Now, let’s back up to the beginning. “Before God and these witnesses.” Standard wedding stuff, yes. But there is meaning here! The fact that the state will legally recognize you as married to John Green really matters very little. What matters most is that you will stand together before God, entering together into the covenant of marriage. You will be surrounded by your family and friends, the people in your life who love you the most, who will witness the vows you make to each other.

“In reliance upon the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, I take you to be mine.” I’ll tell you right now, you don’t want to take anyone to be “yours” unless you do so fully relying upon the grace of Christ! And I say that coming from the position of a happy, solid marriage between two people wholly committed to Jesus…it still requires loads of grace! Grace to bite your tongue. Grace to love and serve when you’re tired or cranky. Grace to weather the storms of life together, when trouble comes and there’s fear, or loss, or illness.

“To have, and to hold.” You will belong to each other, body and soul. Give yourself wholeheartedly! That sounds easy now, but it might not always be. There may come days or even seasons when you feel less inclined to be physically or emotionally intimate, perhaps days when young children have been tugging at you and clinging to you, and you feel like you want to draw a ten-foot circle around yourself and defend your perimeter with sharp weapons! Days when you are weary and even a hug seems like a lot to give. Remember the promise— to have…to hold. Keep close to one another, in every way, and draw upon the strength of the Lord on those tough days. We have all had them. I’m pretty certain you will, too.

“To love and to cherish.” In our ceremony, these were my husband’s words to me, and I pray that you will be deeply loved and tenderly cherished by your husband. My promise was to love and obey, and the specific word “obey” was very important to us to include for my portion of our vows. This is imperative! Ephesians 5 tells us: “Wives, submit to your husbands” and “Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” He is to love you…you are to obey him. This is a picture of Christ and the church, and a glorious testimony to those around you, who have the opportunity to see Christ in you, to see the Gospel play out in your marriage. I find it interesting that “love” isn’t part of the command to wives in this particular section of scripture. I think it just comes a little more naturally to us, while the “obey” doesn’t always. Fight for it in your marriage, this preservation of biblical roles, this beautiful picture of the Gospel!

“To speak and to listen.” This line has special meaning for me. This was a phrase that my husband insisted on, and I remember the look in his eyes…speaking volumes to me how very important this was to him. We would commit to each other to communicate. To speak. To listen. To really hear what the other person is saying and to respond. Once again, this probably sounds really easy right now. You love talking to each other. You find John endlessly fascinating! As you should. But look ahead…over the years, as your household falls into a rhythm of days…John comes home from work, you greet each other, the conversation takes on familiarity. Often the same words exchanged, day to day. And though pleasant, and nothing wrong with this routine of family life, it can lead to a disruption of real and true communication, because you know the script! You don’t really have to stop and listen, or think of a unique and meaningful response, because you already know what to say. Now, this is you we are talking about, and I know that you will keep fun and witty banter as a part of communication in your marriage…but even so, a fair warning. Commit to speak. Commit to listen.

“To repent and to forgive.” A sister promise of to “speak and listen”. But these words, this communication, goes even deeper and is often difficult to execute. This is gritty, gutsy, courageous stuff in a marriage. It’s so very much easier to follow that script we talked about, and to sweep offenses and grievances under the rug, allowing them to be concealed and forgotten in the busyness of days. But these little weeds in your garden tend to grow, and to spread quickly…and over time, nagging and accusation and sinful attitudes toward one another can take root and become a threat to your marriage. Repent! Ask for forgiveness! If you have been wronged, extend that grace, give that forgiveness freely! As a believer in Christ, as a child of God, you have been forgiven so. very. much! One of the primary reasons God places us in marriage is so that we can be a reflection of this aspect of his character, this lavish grace and mercy that he bestows. So in your marriage, determine now…you will repent. You will forgive.

“To respect and honor.” Respect your husband, always! Your marriage will flourish as you honor him as the head of your household, as the authority in your home. Don’t ever let this hierarchy that God has established be turned upside down. And in return, it is my hope that John will honor you as his bride, the wife of his youth, and respect you as created in the image of God, redeemed as a child of God. Yet determine in your heart to always regard your husband with the utmost honor and respect, second only to God in your life.

“Until God shall separate us by death.” We chose this phrase over “until death do us part,” for one thing because the latter sounds a little too archaic (and we like old words!), but mostly in order to acknowledge that God has sovereign authority over our lives, over our days. Psalm 139:16 says “in your book were written, every one of them,the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” You will spend your life with John, as one, together, until your are separated by God, through death. That could be mere days, or many decades. Only God knows!

“I promise to be faithful to you in all circumstances of our life together.” This is more than just physical, sexual fidelity. That’s why the “in all circumstances” is there. This means that you don’t run your husband down or disparage him to your friends. You don’t contradict him in front of other people, or make fun of him to the point of making him look like a fool. You don’t complain about him. You may sit here today, a lovely bride-to-be full of love and devotion for your groom and say, “Well, of course not!” But this will be a point of testing for you! No one is perfect, we are all sinners, and even the most loving and attentive of husbands will at some point do something to annoy and irritate his wife. Does she immediately text her best friend and start complaining? Does she bring up his faults in front of other people, or tell stories about him that, while true, might embarrass him? We all struggle with this. James 3:8 tells us that “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” The temptation to sin against your husband in this way will at times be strong. Be vigilant and prayerful. Be faithful to your husband, in all circumstances!

“That we may join to serve God and others as long as we both shall live.” You will be more together than you are apart. No longer John Green and Jane Smith. Now you will be Mr. and Mrs. Green….you’ll become “The Greens”! And I pray that you will settle in to your local church as a flourishing, young married couple committed to serve the body together, to impact your neighborhood and your community for the gospel…that you will be a shining beacon, that your home will radiate the love of Christ, and that you may truly join together to serve– To serve each other. To serve your church. To serve one day as a family, as you, I hope, raise children together for the glory of God. May the giftings and talents that God has graced you with complement one another. May you strengthen each other and spur one another on to love and good deeds.

“This is my solemn vow.” This is serious. This is more than just a ceremony, more than a big party. Aside from choices regarding salvation and following Christ (and that’s really not a choice we make, anyway, it’s God’s!), this is the most important decision of your life. Your vows are your covenant, together, before a holy God. April 5th, 2014 is a solemn day for you. A happy day, yes. A grand occasion, one to be celebrated with great joy! But this is for real. The Gospel is at stake.

I pray you will be blissfully happy as Mrs. John Green. I pray you will be a godly, faithful wife, one that young women look up to as a shining example, all your days as a wife. I pray that you will become the happy mother of children, and that your home will be full of joy…that you will throw open your doors in gracious hospitality, that words of grace and love will be spoken there, that your days will be infused with prayer and thanksgiving, and that Christ would be the center of your lives together, always. I love you as a friend, and as a sister in Christ. My family adores you and we will miss you tremendously. You will always be welcome in our home, from whatever corner of the world you hail from. May God richly bless you, my friend.


I am so. very. EXCITED!

It’s time to open up Registration for The Storyformed Child New England Conference!

The date is set for April 12, 2014 in Sterling, MA from 9 am to 5 pm and will feature three main sessions by the lovely and talented Sarah Clarkson from Storyformed.com as well as a choice of four workshops led by local homeschooling mothers with a passion for Story & Imagination. An optional boxed lunch will be catered by a local bakery with simply delectable food and the whole day is set up as a relaxing, fun, restorative and inspirational retreat for mothers who desire to shape their children with grand stories and creative experience. It’s going to be a wonderful day full of encouragement and fellowship!

I have a ginormous favor to ask. Will you, pretty please with a cherry on top, share these links with your friends who might live in the New England area, including New York and New Jersey?

Conference website: www.storyformedchild.com

Facebook page: www.facebook.com/StoryformedChildNewEngland

Simply visit the website or the Facebook page and share from there, you will find links galore!

Thanks ever so!


Highly Resolved!



Vintage Chalk Style Serving Plate at zazzle.com

Happy New Year!

I love a fresh start, don’t you? Though I must admit, I’m starting to understand all the naysayers with regards to making New Year’s Resolutions. Well, at least the muscles in my legs understand!

Okay, I confess. I blasted out of the starting gate a little too fast this morning. To say the least.

I wanted to do it all! I wanted to make my vision for 2014 happen all at once! So I woke up early (6 am after a late night with friends is very early indeed!), had a lengthy and enjoyable quiet time, complete with journaling and prayer, and I dove right into my day with an intense 60 minute workout. I gave my all.

Then I laminated a new chore chart for the kids and walked each of them through their responsibilities, ate a healthy breakfast, took care of the dishes, got a laundry load started, and went to take a hot shower. By the time I was dressed in my painting clothes to continue work on the kids’ bedrooms, I was zapped!

It was 10 am.

My legs were sore, I felt a little lightheaded and very hungry, and all I seemed to be able to see in every corner was all the stuff lying around undone, begging for my attention.

It was overwhelming!

What happened to all the bright, hopeful plans I had listed out in my journal just yesterday? What happened to taking the New Year by storm?

Well, what happened is just this: I stayed up until 11 pm last night. I ate frightening amounts of greasy food and sugary treats. I haven’t worked out since a couple weeks before Christmas. The kids have been out of their routine basically since Thanksgiving. The house is in disarray from a busy holiday season. And there is no. possible. way it could all be corrected in one day! 

Yet I love Resolutions. And I refuse to be discouraged! Because I have 364 more days to work on this. At the end of this year, when I look back on all that I so highly resolved to tackle and accomplish and work towards this year, I fully intend to be able to smile with satisfaction that progress was indeed made. Every year I’m surprised by how many of my Resolutions are either fully realized or at the very least partially fulfilled. I’ve never regretted taking the time to either formulate new goals or reflect upon the old ones.

So what did I do with the rest of my day? Did I surge ahead with my painting project and continue on from there with more tasks from my list?


I made an early lunch and savored the aroma and flavor of warm quiche and a mixed green salad. I cozied up in a big, fluffy robe and soft slippers and took a nap. I made a cup of tea and lingered by the fireside. I promised the kids a movie and popcorn tonight after dinner.

Depending on how you look at it, perhaps I accomplished more with the second half of my day than I did in the first?

A Blessed New Year to you! May you walk closely with the One who gave you Life and Breath. May each day be a gift that brings joy and delight. May you live life to the full, love fiercely, give generously, hope tenaciously, dance with wild abandon…may you taste and see that the Lord is good, and make your highest aim in 2014 to bring glory to his name, now and forevermore.


We set up our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving.

Within 24 hours, Anna’s “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament was in two pieces, and I had a heartbroken three-year-old to console.

Usually, that would bother me. When something special breaks, or is ruined, when Beauty is marred and my perfectly-perfect vision for an event or a meal or a holiday season goes awry, a wrenching feeling twists through me, all the way up to the muscles in my neck, ending up somewhere in my mind, taking up residence as dark thoughts and crushed hopes, casting a shadow on Celebration.

But not this time. And not just because superglue exists.

Something strange and wonderful happened to me this Advent season, slowly yet surely. I decided that moment, holding the pieces, kissing away the little-girl tears, that this year I would have a Perfectly Imperfect Christmas. I determined not to cringe when the ornaments on the bottom third of the tree are rearranged. Not to worry about not getting to All The Things.

Cookies that didn’t get baked. Crafts that didn’t get made. Presents that were shoved into gift bags instead of fashionably wrapped. Pinned yet unrealized ideas like the trendy-cool Advent wreath, or that delightful Advent calendar that the kids would have so very much enjoyed. The devotional that didn’t get printed off. A few of the traditional stories not read aloud by the fireside. Just as counting gifts can fill our hearts with joy and gratitude, counting unmet expectations can steal our peace.

My big gift to my sweet children this Christmas was to redecorate their bedrooms. I had such grand plans for The Project, and I spent hours on Pinterest pulling together bedding and paint colors and ideas for wall decor. Most of it became a reality, and their rooms have been transformed into cozy, updated, colorful havens. But I didn’t get all the white trim painted. And I didn’t install the curtain rods or finish framing all the pictures. Several pieces of furniture are still begging for a fresh coat of paint and polish. The overhead light fixtures, both fun and functional, were never installed. You would think that such a failure to meet a deadline would have me reeling with disappointment and regret. But I’m okay with it.

It’s Christmas Day, and not every corner of my house is tidy and clean. I still have a homemade gift to finish off for my mother-in-law. I’m hoping to crank out a batch of cookies to put on pretty plates to be delivered to the neighbors. But the stress and pressure that would usually be suffocating me is gone. Because it’s okay.

If we are honest with ourselves, it happens every year. Some things fall through the cracks. We don’t cross off every item on our list. We go to sleep each night with something left undone.

But there was one Christmas where every objective was realized. That first Christmas, every aspect of a Perfect Plan was carried out to completion. There was a Perfectly Perfect Christmas…and because Christ was born of a Virgin, lived a sinless life, died as a payment for sin, satisfied the wrath of a holy God, was buried and raised to life again, and ascended to heaven…because of that Reality, because of the Gospel, I don’t have to worry anymore about failure and imperfection, brokenness and disappointment, fear and regret and stress and worry.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”  Isaiah 9:6



I love salad. Whether I’m dieting or not, I could eat salad more than once a day, every day, for quite some time before tiring of it. When people discover that Chef’s Salad is a regular meal that I serve to my family, I am always asked the question “and your children will eat that?” Yes! They do! They love it. It’s one of the meals that everyone in our home agrees on. Sure I have one that picks out the nuts and another that doesn’t like the hardboiled egg, but they are gracious about it, and it’s a fantastic way to pack in nutrition! I tend to serve this meal with a basket of rolls or baguette slices.

Chef’s Salad

1 package of 3 romaine hearts (I use organic), chopped

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cubed (I use grilled chicken)

1/2 to 1 lb. of bacon (preferably uncured), crumbled

3 hardboiled eggs, chopped

1 to 2 cups grape tomatoes

1 cucumber, sliced (I take slices and cut up further into quarters to make small chunks)

1 or 2 avocados (ripe but not squishy), sliced or cubed

3 scallions, chopped

1/3 cup bleu or gorgonzola cheese

1/3 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup pecan pieces

Other suggestions: chopped deli ham or turkey, herbed croutons, chopped apple, different varieties of cheeses or nuts, shaved red onion instead of scallions, or any salad vegetables that you might like to add.

I arrange all the toppings over the chopped lettuce in rows, similar to the picture above. You can also make your chef’s salad restaurant style by cutting the meat and veggies into matchsticks. Also, if you don’t mind washing a few extra dishes, you could put some or all of the toppings out in pretty bowls with spoons for serving and make a “salad bar”, which works well for picky children and makes for a fun meal for company as well.

“French Cooking Class” Salad Dressing

My oldest daughter went to a French cooking camp last summer and brought home this delicious salad dressing recipe. It has become my go-to dressing, thanks to my Ninja Pulse that makes whipping up dressing right before dinner a snap!

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 shallot

1 T dijon mustard

3 sprigs thyme, leaves removed from stem

1 t. sugar or honey

salt and pepper to taste

Blend all ingredients in a blender until shallot is very finely minced.


Bacon, Brie & Leek Quiche

2 pie crusts, 9″, homemade or not
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1/2 to 1 pound of bacon, cooked and crumbled
6 large eggs
2 bunches of leeks* rinsed and chopped
1 T olive oil
1/2 of one medium wedge of Brie
Fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (I’ve done convection 350 when in a hurry). If you are making the quiche from scratch, sauté your leeks in the olive oil and cook the bacon first, then turn your oven on. If you have done your Micro Session Freezer Cooking, then of course you already removed the bags of leeks and cooked/crumbled bacon from the freezer with a few hours to spare for defrosting, as well as your pie crusts. I use only half a pound of bacon in order to economize (because I use natural, uncured bacon and it tends to be expensive), but a full pound certainly works if you prefer it.

Cut up the Brie into small chunks. Line two 9″ pie plates with the crusts. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and cream with the salt and pepper (depending on the saltiness of the bacon, you might not need more than a pinch of salt). Place leeks, bacon and Brie into the pie crusts, dividing out and spreading ingredients evenly. Use your fingers to slide fresh thyme off the stalk and onto the mixture, using as much or as little of the herb as you like. I buy the little plastic pod-like packages from the grocery store and use about 3 stalks per quiche. Next, pour half of the egg mixture into each filled pie crust. Bake for 40 minutes or until firm and beginning to brown. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Two quiches serve a large family or a gathering, but leftovers will keep nicely in the fridge for a few days, and it’s also great to take on a picnic and serve at room temperature. It works for any meal of the day, truly a versatile yet simple meal!

Freezer cooking notes: I freeze pints of heavy cream in quart size freezer bags (because I use organic cream and with a very short “use by” date window and we don’t live close to a store that offers it, so I buy several at a time and freeze them). I purchase many bunches of leeks at a time and sauté them all together, then freeze 3-4 cup portions in quart size freezer bags. The bacon is cooked ahead, packaged and labeled, and I stock up on store bought pie crusts and freeze them as well.

*By a “bunch” of leeks I don’t mean the grouping of two or three bunches tied together and sold as a unit by the grocery store. That “cluster”, if large enough, would be double what you need for this recipe. When I buy leeks, I get three “clusters” and process them to have enough for up to six recipes of quiche. Also, leeks tend to be really dirty and gritty between the leaves, so slice lengthwise before rinsing and watch carefully to make sure it’s clean!

Chicken Tikka Masala

5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
1 1/2 jars of Patak’s brand Tikka Masala Sauce
2 cups of dry rice, rinsed and cooked
1 package naan (I far and away prefer the naan from the freezer section at Trader Joe’s)
3 T butter, melted


1 6oz individual size Chobani plain yogurt (or plain yogurt of your choice)
1 tomato, diced
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400 (convection 350). Simmer chicken with sauce. Serve over cooked rice. Coat naan with butter and sprinkle with salt. Warm in the oven for 5 minutes. Mix ingredients for raita together in a small serving bowl. We also eat oven roasted broccoli spears with this, which I prepare in a large metal baking dish, tossed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt and roasted for about 20 minutes.

The Twelve Meals


Bacon, Brie & Leek Quiche

As comments and feedback on the Micro Session Freezer Cooking post trickled in, a common question was “so just what are these Twelve Meals? And where are the recipes?”

Actually, if you glance back over the previous two posts, you’ll find reference to most of those meals, but to make things super easy I’ll list them out and then begin to post the recipes as well, a few per post.

Before I do that, let me just back up a bit.

Over a decade ago, when my husband and I were first married and living with minimal expenses, renting a charming apartment in an old Victorian house for just $450 per month and eating well on a grocery allowance of $70 a week for just the two of us, I never would have dreamed that an income over twice what we brought in then would be so difficult to stretch now. But five children, a dog, a mortgage and two vehicles, together with all the costs of being a responsible grown up (insurance, medical expenses, retirement savings, etc.) add up quickly and keep me on my toes to find creative means of keeping our family budget in check.

I went through all the usual steps of listing out income and expenses, cutting and slashing, and we were already saving money on clothing and housewares through thrift shopping, tag sales, craigslist and the like.

In the end, there were only a couple categories of monthly expenditures with any “wiggle room.” And the most significant of those? Ah, yes. The grocery budget. So easily sent into a tailspin. And with food costs skyrocketing, the slightest lack of planning and a few extra grocery runs to “pick up a few things,” and the difference between “the budget” and reality can quickly rack up to hundreds of dollars per month. Ask me how I know.

So I came up with a firm number for our monthly grocery budget. Not to be exceeded. And from that number I subtracted an allotment for cooking and baking staples (condiments, flour, oil, sugar, butter, etc.), snacks, coffee, fruit and milk (basically, items not featured as a key ingredient in a meal). Then I came up with a template for meal costs. For our family of two adults and five children, this worked out to be 50 cents per person for breakfast, $1 each for lunch (my husband’s lunches at work are a separate budget item), and $2 per person for dinner. That’s how I arrived at the target of a $14 average cost for dinner every night.

Even before I discovered Micro Session Freezer Cooking, I had decided on a Twelve Meal plan. A rotating list of meals, repeating twice each month and allowing for occasional dining out, dinner at the homes of friends or family, takeout, holidays, or trying a new recipe. Sometimes a meal is repeated more frequently, but for the most part, no meal shows up on our table more than twice per month. I selected the meals carefully, knowing they needed to be simple to prepare because of our busy schedule, made with mostly fresh and healthy ingredients, economical, and a good blend of beef, chicken, and vegetarian options for reasons of variety, health and cost.

The Twelve Meals

Chicken Tikka Masala over Rice with Roasted Broccoli, Naan and Raita

Bacon, Brie and Leek Quiche with Fruit or Garden Salad

Chef Salad with Crusty Rolls

Penne with Meat Sauce, Steamed Broccoli and Artisan Baguette

Club Sandwiches with Kettle Chips

Tuscan Soup with Crusty Rolls

Tacos with Fresh Homemade Mango Jalepeño Salsa

Crock Pot Chili with Cornbread Muffins

Pizza (one 19″ XL pizza from a local pizza parlor for $12)

Marinated Grilled Chicken with Baked Potatoes (Sweet and/or Russet) and Steamed Green Beans

Pancakes or Waffles with Bacon

Gourmet Burgers and Waffle Fries



The following contains some duplicate information from my most recent post, but I promised my mom that I would pinch hit for her Saturday Pantry Lifestyle post, as many of her readers wanted more details about micro session freezer cooking. So I’ll start from the beginning!

How It All Started

Just recently, my weekly meal preparation routine was revolutionized. Determining that I wasn’t going to waste the many downloads on my computer from the Ultimate Homemaking eBook Bundle, I sat down with a few spare moments toward the end of the summer to peruse a chapter or two of Crystal Paine’s ebook on Freezer Cooking. Right off the bat, I was inspired with a number of practical ideas that I could immediately incorporate into my own rhythm of meal preparation, but what stood out the most was the idea of “micro sessions” of freezer cooking.

Knowing that I’ll never be a once-a-month freezer cooking kind of gal (I just love the daily rhythm of the dinnertime hour, the chopping and the stirring, the bubbling pot and the aroma of dinner as it simmers or roasts), I thought that I was left to “cooking from scratch” for each. and. every. meal. Sure, I had a baggie or two of cooked chicken or ground beef floating around in my freezer. And “floating” they were, lost amidst the frozen vegetables and unmarked tupperware containers of mystery leftovers. But a system of every possible fresh ingredient that could be prepped and then frozen for the meals I most regularly fix was certainly not something I’d thought of doing before! But once I got started, the micro sessions quickly snowballed into a well-stocked freezer of ready-to-go meal ingredients, and my dinnertime prep became nearly effortless.

Freezing Tips

Flash Freezing: This might sound fancy, but flash freezing is simply freezing separate pieces of food for a short time so that they harden enough to freeze all together without sticking or clumping. For instance, if you spread berries out on a cookie sheet in your freezer and freeze for two hours, you can then bag them in a freezer bag and they should separate easily for you when you go to use them.

Clear Labeling: One of the biggest mistakes I made in the past when placing food in my freezer was not labeling it clearly. I now find freezer bags more convenient to use over tupperware or other containers because they are so easy to write on. Labeling the bag with the quantity (pound, cup, batch) and what meal it’s intended for is extremely helpful. A date is helpful as well, so that you don’t keep pulling out the freshest bags of diced chicken breast and leaving behind one you bagged four months ago.

Identify the Meals: The true key to success with this style of freezer cooking is to narrow down your core list of meals, the ones you use in regular rotation whether you plan your meals out on a calendar or not. For me, that meant making a list of twelve moderately healthy and economical meals that are generally liked by my family. I then listed out any perishable ingredients that could be prepped ahead and frozen. Another trick is to make sure you buy enough of a particular grocery item to make your micro session a profitable use of your time, which for me was a bit of a learning curve.

Freeze Core Ingredients

As I said, the idea of grilling extra chicken or browning extra beef is not new. What’s new is the idea that I do so, separate the cooked and seasoned meat into appropriate amounts, and freeze in a plastic bag (or preferred container) clearly labeled for the intended meal and stored in the freezer with or near the meal’s other ingredients, if applicable.

For instance, I have 1 lb of cooked and crumbled bacon packed up and frozen next to leeks sautéed in olive oil and salt, a pint of heavy cream (yes it can be frozen, but only for recipes, it will not whip up after defrosting), two pie crusts and sprigs of fresh thyme. The day I plan to make Bacon, Brie & Leek Quiche, I take out these ingredients and just simply add eggs and cubed brie…dinner comes together literally in a few minutes and soon those luscious quiches will fill the house with a tantalizing aroma as they bake in the oven.

How about Tuscan Soup? That’s a recipe where I use both ingredients from my pantry and the freezer. So one day, when I have about 20 minutes to spare, I might take three or four packages of Italian Style chicken sausage, slice it all up on a diagonal (to make it fancier, don’t you know), and sauté all of it in one big pan. Separate into one pound portions, bag it up, label and freeze. On another day I will wash a few bundles of kale, tear it into bite size pieces, and sauté in batches with olive oil, garlic and salt. The kale does especially well in this recipe after defrosting, because it’s going into a soup. Come dinner time, when Tuscan Soup is on the menu, out comes the box of chicken broth, 2 cans of diced tomatoes, the sausage and kale (straight from the freezer if you like!), two cans of rinsed cannellini beans, and a package of dry cheese tortellini (added 20 minutes before serving). If you like to add herbs or diced onion to such a recipe, just freeze them right in with the kale.

What about Chef Salad? That’s all produce, right? All that rinsing and chopping? But if I have diced grilled chicken, cooked and crumbled bacon, crumbled hard boiled egg yolks, pecans, craisins, chopped deli ham, herbed croutons, and crumbled bleu cheese all portioned out and frozen together, all I have to do is defrost them and arrange them neatly over a package of salad greens. Add some rinsed grape tomatoes, chop a cucumber and drizzle on some salad dressing and you just pulled together a fresh, nutrient-dense entree salad in a few minutes flat!

For Chili, Tacos, and Pasta with Meat Sauce, all I need is the one or two pounds of ground beef cooked and labeled. I was seasoning my taco meat before I froze it, but then I realized I need to reheat the meat anyway, and my taco seasoning is at hand right near the stove, so now I eliminate that extra step. For Tacos, you can even portion out your shredded cheese and yes, even the sour cream and freeze all of it together. Sour cream will alter in texture slightly after spending time in the freezer, and it also has a pretty good shelf life in the refrigerator, as does cheese, so I freeze only the meat.

Freeze a Main Course

This would be more traditional freezer cooking as we know it, but don’t be deceived, it can still fit into a micro session of freezer cooking! For example, if you have several pounds of fresh (not previously frozen) ground beef on hand, think how quickly you could whip up four or five meatloaves? Take an extra large mixing bowl, grab some eggs, breadcrumbs, milk and seasonings and within minutes you could have foil-lined loaf pans filled with a future main course! Flash freeze and then wrap up tightly in parchment paper and an outer layer of foil. You can also do this with mini-meatloaves in standard or jumbo muffin tins, but the flash freezing might be a little trickier, requiring plentiful greasing or sturdy foil baking cups.

Also consider prepping a crockpot meal or roast in this fashion. Again, beginning with fresh meat, you can get all the prep stages of rinsing, stuffing and seasoning out of the way and then freeze the chicken or roast in a freezer bag complete with oil, butter, or sauce. Allow an hour or so on the counter or overnight in the fridge for defrosting before loading your crockpot, or fully defrost for an oven roast. This takes the headache out of a citrus chicken, an herbed pork roast, or a garlic and pepper beef roast with onions and carrots. Freeze fresh chicken breasts in a bag with a jar of marinade and the meat will absorb the flavor as it both freezes and defrosts. Having your main course essentially done ahead leaves you more time for preparing side dishes, making this method a perfect fit for entertaining or for the end of a busy day out of the house.


How is this different than “Make-a-Mix”, you ask? Well…not that much, really, but it does open up some new possibilities. For one, I don’t care to mix salt and baking soda up with other ingredients and then store them at room temperature. I think it takes some of the “POW!” out of the chemical reaction when wet ingredients are introduced.

However…mix up six batches of cornbread by measuring the ingredients into propped-open freezer bags, label the outside of the bags with the required wet ingredients (milk, eggs and oil), and then freeze, and Chili Night seems that much more effortless because I served up a basket of piping-hot corn muffins, whipped up in minutes flat and baked on a convection setting for a mere 10 minutes.

Let’s take it a step further…how about Blueberry Muffins or Apple Cinnamon Bread? Or any muffin or sweet bread for that matter. Mix up your dry ingredients, down to citrus zest or chocolate chips. Flash freeze your berries on a cookie sheet and bag them up. Sauté those apples in a little butter, sugar and cinnamon. Does your recipe use sour cream, cream cheese or heavy cream? You can freeze those right alongside, if you think the expiration date might roll around on the calendar before your next baking day does. You can also freeze a basic muffin or cupcake base in a baggie and keep your add-ins flexible, choosing berries or raisins or chocolate chips as inspiration directs! Store all these (the base baking mix, dairy, and add-ins) in separate bags near one another in the freezer or grouped together in a larger freezer bag.

I recently saw an idea on Pinterest for freezing your pancake batter in large cake decorating bags, the 16 inch disposable plastic kind. FIll the bag, and secure at the top with a Twixit Clip. Defrost in the fridge overnight and when your griddle is sizzling hot, just clip the bottom of the bag and squeeze out perfect circles of batter! (I would recommend moving the twixit clip up an inch before defrosting to allow for bubbling and expansion!).

The sky is the limit with baked goods. Bread products freeze beautifully, whether in batter form or already baked. So if you have room, fill that freezer up with little loaves of quick bread, homemade pancake mix (dry mix or batter), dinner rolls, or cookies all mixed up and scooped out on parchment, then flash frozen into individual balls for an after school snack of cookies and milk. You can flash freeze cinnamon rolls before they are cut and pressed down. You can freeze individual homemade crescent rolls and bake up two or two dozen on a whim, simply by flash freezing first and then popping into a freezer bag. Homemade pie crusts, pizza dough and mini pizzas work the same way. All can be made in large batches with spare time in the kitchen and later yield savings of both time and energy when the time rolls around to get dinner on the table!

Freeze Odds and Ends

I also use the freezer to help me save money on perishable ingredients that I use in my regular meal rotation. For instance, I realized I only need a jar and a half of sauce each time I make Chicken Tikka Masala for my family. In the past, I would simply use two and have a rather unsuable portion of leftovers (having not added extra chicken) and the extra sauce was virtually wasted. Now, I take the half jar and pop it right in the freezer, as is! Next time I make that meal, I not only pull two pounds of cubed, cooked chicken out of the freezer (clearly labeled for Tikka Masala, of course), but I also pull out the half-full jar of sauce. They are stored near one another in the freezer. I use this same method for jars of tomato sauce, packages of bread products, tortillas, etc. Once I realized my family only needed half of a long Artisan Baguette to compliment a pasta meal, I bought a few of them and froze them, sliced in half on a pretty diagonal, in gallon size freezer bags. Tortillas come in packages of 8 but we consistently use 10? That’s right! Purchase 5 packages, rip open and divide into four freezer bags, clearly labeled for Taco meals, and the item needn’t appear on my grocery list for at least a month if not two! I like to warm my breads and tortillas in the oven before serving, slicing up the bread or piling rolls up into a pretty basket lined with a colorful cloth napkin.

And so, one can achieve the ease and time-saving benefits of freezer cooking without the grueling all-day cooking session. And I’ve cut my grocery budget by around 30%! Keep checking back, I plan to post many of my recipes in detail, with notes about what is stored in the pantry and freezer.