How To Set Up Your Campsite

As you might know, @essieburns from The Mommy Diaries and I have taken our families and our blogs on the road to the beautiful Harbor town of Grand Marais, MN.

Essie and I have not been together face to face in a very long (too long) time. We used to live 27 miles from each other and now we live three states away from each other. Such is the deal with pastor’s families.

So, yesterday we both arrived at our adjoining campsites, screamed like schoolgirls, then sized up the nine children. But, after 15 minutes of silliness, it was time to get to work. We had three tents, a screen tent and a dining fly to set up.

This is not my first camping trip, and not our first trip camping with our two families. So, we had worked out some of the kinks. Let me share my camp set up tips with you!

  • Make reservations. Seriously, camping is more popular than ever and don’t expect that you can just roll into a campground, especially on a holiday weekend. We made our reservations a few months ago, and were lucky enough to get two adjoining sites.
  • Scope out your site(s). There are good spots and bad spots within your campsite to pitch your tent. If the previous camper just left, you can see where they left their tent. While that might be a good spot for you to pitch your tent, it is poor camping etiquette. It is better to give grass a chance to recover. Dakotapastor has become very good at picking out tent spots. I tend to pick out “pretty” tent spots that end up flooded. . .or worse. Also, pick a spot to put your table (you can move it) and, if you have a moveable grill (we do) pick out a fire spot.
  • Give everyone a job. We’ve been camping enough that the kids all know what their jobs are. First we set up the tents (we use two for our crew), then the dining fly (we got a replacement for our beloved but discontinued Gander Mountain dining fly), and then the chairs around the fire.
  • Keep little people busy. The twins are cute, and so is Essie’s Emma (she’s my Goddaughter!), but they are less than helpful around camp when we are pitching tents. I bought them an insanely huge box of brand new, pretty, sharp crayons, and some coloring pages. I had trouble finding my skillfully packed coloring pages, but we did get a campground map. This is not our first , or even our second time at this campground, so I handed the girls our map. . . happiness prevailed.
  • Don’t forget to put garbage bags within reach. You would think that camping is a clean vacation. However, nine children and their parents can create a lot, a lot of trash. keep your park beautiful. Pick it up. Toss it out. Our park has recycling and I have several kids that can take care of sorting things out!
  • Have an easy first night meal planned. You are going to be tired. You may have driven many hours to reach your destination. Your first night meal needs to be easy peasy. We had canned corn, brats and canned baked beans. Exciting, no, but quick, yes. Our fancy meals may or may not follow. Want to see how Essie plans her camping meals? (she is way more organized in that department!)
Keep posted for more camping tips, tricks and hints! @Essieburns and I (@dakotapam) are tweeting our vacation with the hashtag #campingtrip2012.



Dive, and Food and Waste and What About Me?

I found myself with a few idle hours this afternoon. A true Sabbath rest, or as close as a mom to 6 gets. So I settled into my favorite recliner and decided to watch a movie.

Documentaries are my guilty pleasure. Dakotapastor and the Dakotakids don’t care for them. I’m a closet anthropologist, so I am drawn to them. I’ve watched too many food related docs lately, and they usually make me fear food…so I decided to try another topic. And then Dive caught my eye. It was a food doc, but it was primarily about food waste.

My curiosity was peaked as I had just listened to a presentation from the Great Plains Food Bank just last week about the astounding amount of food that is wasted in America before it even gets to our dining table. I KNEW that we wasted a lot of food once it gets to our table, one look at the food scrapings of the Dakotakids makes that abundantly clear.

The film opens with scenes of some bearded, slightly dirty men “dumpster diving” behind a grocery store. My first feeling was pity, that these men could not afford to buy food. But the next scene was of these same men grilling steaks and serving a lavish spread at a baby shower. All with food procured from a dumpster behind a high end grocery store.

These people could afford food…yet they had freezers full of food that they “rescued” and paid nothing for.

Dive! Trailer from Compeller Pictures on Vimeo.

My feelings were mostly that of annoyance with a system that would throw out food rather than feed the hungry in our country. Dakotapastor pointed out, and rightly so, that part of the blame falls on us, the consumer. We are demanding of our retailers. If we go to the store and expect to buy a steak, potatoes and the makings of a garden salad, we complain loudly if the grocer is out of any of the items we desire. Can you imagine the uproar if you were to attend a catered event and the caterer were to run out of food? These very attitudes lead grocery stores to over purchase food and our caterers to over plan for events.

Dakotapastor also pointed out that our own overprotective government is to blame. Do you think, for instance that the sell by dates on our food are, perhaps, a bit too conservative? I often purchase meat that is perfectly fresh a few days within the sell by date at a significant discount. I freeze it, and feed it to my beloved family with no ill effects.

I think some of the problem can lie in man power. While there are local organizations (Great Plains Food Bank is a local one here) that can accept and redistribute close dated, overstocks and cosmetically flawed food items, it takes work to get these items from the retailer to the food bank. And many retailers may find it easier to simply toss the un-sellable items in a dumpster rather than take the time to contact the right people to get the goods from point a to point b.

Now, I do think there were some faulty claims in the movie. At one point the jump was made that our wastefulness contributes to the hunger we see in places like Haiti and the continent of Africa. However, our cleaning our plates here in America will not make food magically appear on the plates of our precious brothers and sisters in Haiti.

I also don’t think that our government plays a role in reducing our food waste. I think our reducing waste actually has to be a bottom up movement. I’m not sure that bullying our grocers and putting cameras in their faces is going to make them magically desire to help the needy. I do think that if most business owners are approached about the opportunity to donate their food destined for the dumpster without fear of litigation in case of food poisoning etc. (Good Samaritan Law) they will respond favorably, as long as it does not require extra work on their part.

I am pleased to know that both Cashwise foods and Dan’s Supermarket here in Bismarck donate their surplus to the Great Plains Food Bank.

As for myself, the documentary made me a little more aware of the waste that goes on in our own home. I plan on being more mindful about what I purchase for our consumption, use what I buy and not overcook which leads to leftovers that get thrown away. I do think that reducing our food waste begins at home.

It is embarrassing that here, in the land of milk and honey, where we have so much and produce so much, so many still go hungry. Sadly, much as in the case of Haiti and Africa, I think the cause of American hunger is a result of bad choices and politics. You and I…we have the power to be the change.

Follow the simple rules my father had at his dinner table: “Take all you can eat, and eat all you take.”

Let’s stop being food hoarders. I think some of our extreme couponing measures lead to a lot of food stored, and not a lot eaten.

Volunteer with your local food banks, offer to help transport food from supermarkets and restaurants to places where the food can be used.

Grow your own food when you can, and donate the surplus.

Don’t fuss if your supermarket runs out of food. This is actually a sign of good waste management.

Don’t be afraid of close dated items if you can use food quickly. It makes no sense for our family of eight to pass over a gallon of milk that is dated within a week…we can go through a gallon in a day!

Do you want to watch Dive! The Film? It is available on Netflix streaming, or you can download it from iTunes.  I can guarantee you that you will take something from the film. I may not have agreed with everything shown, and yet, it did challenge me to change some of our habits.

Chime in! Have you seen Dive? What are your thoughts? Do you have solutions or ideas on how to deal with our food management issues?

How To Cook a Stress Free Thanksgiving Meal

I know how it is. You picture the Thanksgiving meal worthy of a spread in a magazine, but when Thanksgiving Thursday comes around, you are desperately thawing a frozen turkey and sending your husband out to the store for more butter. Meanwhile, your toddler is eating the fake fruit in your cornucopia centerpiece and  the dog just ran away with a pickle. . .which means a mess to clean up now and later.

I know, because I’ve been there. After so many years of graduate school, and living closer to relatives, Thanksgiving was always a holiday spent at other people’s houses. That was great, except I longed to make our own traditions.I couldn’t wait. I just knew that my Thanksgiving dinner was going to be picture perfect, calm, and a foodie’s dream.

The first year that I cooked our very own Thanksgiving dinner went pretty well. The Rev. kept the boys occupied at the church or elsewhere and I cooked and simmered and served up several new, untested dishes. They were beautiful. And. . .nobody ate them. Since then I learned a Thanksgiving dinner truth:

Stick to Traditions

I learned the hard way. While I can experiment with food much of the year, Thanksgiving needs to be predictable. If I want to put something wild and different in the stuffing, I need to do it on some average Monday night when I roast a chicken. That turkey? Just sprinkle some salt and pepper on the top and slide it into the oven, thank you very much. Dakotateen has come to look forward to my super simple and family tradition cranberry relish. Were I to substitute in some cooked, or gelled or frozen concoction I would have a teenage mutiny on my hands. The good news is, mine is super easy, and Dakotateen prepares it! (Scroll down for the recipe!)

Plan Ahead

If you stick to your family’s traditional dishes for Thanksgiving dinner, planning should be easy. Simply list your menu on a piece of paper and then a list of ingredients needed. I no longer need a list! A frozen turkey needs a few days to thaw in the refrigerator. A fresh turkey cost a bit more, but tastes much better and can be picked up the day before Thanksgiving, freeing up fridge space. Me, I roast a large, bone in, turkey breast. It takes up less space in my oven, roasts faster, and we mostly prefer white meat turkey. I also splurge a spiral sliced ham. It warms up quickly and is great left over as well.

Have a Plan of Attack

I do most of my food prep on Thanksgiving day. I have a small (really) kitchen. To do too much work ahead would take up space that I don’t have. So that means cooking day needs to be organized. Now, anyone who knows me in person just giggled a little. I’m not organized. BUT, I can fake it when I need to.

My plan of attack goes something like this:

  • Clear the counters (because I’m not organized).
  • Get the turkey breast in the oven.
  • Begin chopping onions and celery for stuffing.
  • Have a glass of wine
  • Cut up cheese and sausage for the grazing children who will come into the kitchen whining for food. (Your best offense is a good defense)
  • Set our coloring pages and craft supplies for the same children. They can make the centerpiece. Martha won’t approve, but she’s probably not invited.
  • Start preparing the stuffing. Put it in the oven.
  • When the turkey is 45 minutes from done, pop the ham in the oven.
  • Begin peeling potatoes.
  • Put the potatoes on to boil.
  • Call the teen in to make the cranberry relish and cut up pickles.
  • Prepare the green bean casserole.
  • take stuffing out of oven, check on meat and put beans in the oven.
  • Mash the potatoes.
  • Take meat out of the oven and set on the counter to rest.
  • put bread in the oven (We use canned crescent rolls and I have the kids shape them)
  • Make the gravy.
  • Have the kids set the table.
  • Slice the turkey
  • take beans and bread out of the oven
  • Set serving utensils in the serving bowls.
  • Gather the family.
  • Give thanks.
  • Dig in.
As you can see, I serve a fairly simple meal. I serve what we eat. The table is rarely picture perfect. When I was on bed rest with the twins we used paper plates and plastic cutlery. On normal years I DO pull out the china. My point is, we don’t have to fall over ourselves to make the perfect meal. We need only cook with love, and let others help us.

Cranberry Relish

  • 1 bag fresh whole cranberries
  • I navel orange, peel on, washed and quartered
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
Pulse the berries and the orange with peel in a food processor until it is fairly coarse. Put in a bowl, stir in sugar, refrigerate for one hour. Enjoy.
Chime in! What are your tips for a simply enjoyable Thanksgiving? You know I’d love to hear from you!

The Once a Week Lunchbox

Once aweek lunchbox


Once  aweek lunchbox

Once upon a time, when I had just one or two children, I was a big fan of Once a Month Cooking. Now that I have six kids, I should be a bigger fan, but to be honest, it is the daily and weekly meal planning that helps keep me sane. I love to cook dinner, so I actually did not enjoy having that task removed.

What I hate making is lunches! I don’t like feeding lunch for my kids during the summer. I’m not a huge fan of coming up with lunch ideas for the babies. I’m glad that the Rev. likes to pack leftovers for his lunch. (That is, when we have leftovers).

So, after the girls were born, I took a vacation from lunches. I had the boys all buy hot lunch from school. Our mornings were happy, the kids were happy. However, hot lunch expenses add up.

When I saw these great lunch ideas on 5Dinners in One Hour. (She also sells a lunch plan). I knew that this would be what would work for our family! I bought two restaurant quality bins to set on a shelf in our refrigerator, and I have one dishpan that I keep in the pantry for dry goods.

I sat the little boys down and asked them what kind of things they would want to pack in their lunches. Then I set out on Sunday night and made the food! (It took a while, probably two hours, but the kids prefer large carrot sticks to baby carrots, so that took time).

I made 18 ham and turkey subs. (I bought 18 Bollilo buns from the Bakery section of Sam’s Club for under $4. . .they are delicious!). I cut up an entire two pound bag of carrots. (I packed them in snack sized bags, one cut up carrot per bag.) I sliced apples and dipped in lemon juice. Half an apple per bag. I also have small portion cups with caramel sauce for dipping. (about a teaspoon). In the pantry bin there are pretzels (with peanut butter for dipping), Cheerios with raisins (one of Ethan’s favorite snacks), granola bars, and dried fruit strips.

In the morning the boys pick out what they want in their lunch and pack it themselves and top it off with a water bottle!

They are happy, I am happy, and we are saving money!


Chime in! What are some of your time saving lunch tips? What are your kids’ healthy favorites? You know I’d love to hear from you!

No Whine With Dinner Review and Raspberry Breakfast Cake Recipe

Raspberry cake
Raspberry cake
Used Under Creative Commons License.

This past Sunday I was scheduled to bring treats to church. I usually end up bringing donuts when it is my turn. However, I am also the Sunday School teacher and I see firsthand what effects donuts have on my students. (I also do a lot of the post-church clean up, and donuts can be messy!)

Saturday brought us what I hope is our last blizzard of this season, so I was not even able to run to the store for easy snacks. I had to turn to baking. In my kitchen. By myself.

Thankfully I have a tried and true resource to turn to when baking–The Meal Makeover Moms! I was introduced to Janice Newell Bissex and Liz Weiss several years ago shortly after their first book, The Moms’ Guide to Meal Makeoverswas released. I was looking for ways to improve our family’s nutritional bottom line without having to go to extremes or hiding food in brownie batter. I became a very regular listener to their podcast and I was super excited when they announced that they were working on a second cookbook, in which every recipe would be tested by moms, like me. The new cookbook, No Whine with Dinner was released late last year, and I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve cooked so far. The ingredients are easy to find, are healthful, and most of all, very kid friendly. There is also a list of 50 moms’ secrets to getting picky eaters to try new foods. (I’m tip number 19!)

Since I hate to bake, it is surprising that I enjoy baking many of the recipes found in No Whine with Dinner. The trick for me is the fact that the recipes are easy! As a matter of fact, I don’t even have to pull my mixer out. . .which makes dishwashing a snap!

So, back to Sunday. I made a big pan of Chocolaty Pumpkin Bars and two Raspberry Breakfast Cakes. I knew that the raspberry cakes would be tasty, as I’ve made them before. However, the pumpkin bars were a new recipe for me, and some of my Sunday School students can smell health food a mile away. . .

I should never have feared. The bars were gone in a snap, and I even caught one of my own sons piling three at a time on his plate. The breakfast cake was a hit with the women. When I told them that it was not only tasty but really quite healthy as well, they demanded the recipe. So here you go!

Raspberry Breakfast Cake

A moist, delicious addition to your breakfast table!

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup flax seed meal
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (divided)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries (I used frozen!)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil or coat a 9 inch round baking pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

Whisk together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, wheat germ, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg, 1/2 cup of the sugar and oil until well blended. Whisk in the milk, lemon juice and vanilla.

Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Arrange the raspberries over the top and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar.

Bake 20-22 minutes or until the cake is golden and toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Try and share this cake!


I think this would be a great cake to make for a Mother’s Day breakfast. I’m guessing that if I can bake it, most older children can as well!

Chime in! What is your go-to treat to bring to events? Is it easy, quick, or healthy? You know I’d love to hear from you!