On September 20, 2014 by Kim
Meet Once a Month Meals member Elizabeth, an expat living with her husband in Bogota, Columbia. As newly expectant parents, OAMC has helped them to ditch their fast food habit and survive morning sickness and also provides comfort when they miss home.
How long have you been once a month cooking? How did you discover OAMM?
I had tried to do freezer cooking on my own before, creating my own menus and shopping lists, but it was a mess. Most of the recipes didn’t freeze well, and we lost a lot of food. After my husband and I moved to Bogota, Colombia for his work in the Foreign Service, I decided to give it another go, but this time with OAMM. I’ve been using OAMM for about six months now, and we are complete converts. My husband, who always thought my meal plans and grocery lists were a bit overkill, absolutely loves this new way of cooking. One of us has an unexpected business trip? Dinner’s in the freezer. Long day at the office and too tired to cook? Dinner’s in the freezer. Unexpected dinner guests? Dinner’s in the freezer.
What circumstance pushed you to give once a month cooking a try? How has choosing to OAMC benefited you and your family?
I wanted to try OAMM because we found ourselves eating out a lot after our move. In Colombia, you can have practically anything delivered to your house, and we were getting into a bad habit of ordering take-out several times a week. Once we started freezer cooking, that’s dropped dramatically. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been glad that there’s a healthy meal in the freezer. Once, we ended up with eight hungry guests who unexpectedly stopped by after watching a World Cup match. I opened my freezer, found some homemade peirogies, and ten minutes later I was serving hot, homemade cuisine to a surprised and pleased group of friends. I felt like the ultimate hostess in that moment, and plus it enabled me to relax and enjoy my guests, rather than worrying about food. We also have good friends that live in our neighborhood, and we often decide to do impromptu dinners together. I love that they can call at 6pm, and I can have a full meal on the table by 7pm without batting an eye. Just recently, my husband and I were thrilled to discover that we’re expecting our first baby! I called my sister for advice, and she said, “It’s great that you already do that freezer cooking thing. I was so tired and nauseated in the first trimester that I just ordered take-out all the time.” After hearing this, I immediately decided to bump up my cooking day, and incorporated more veggie-packed soups and healthy, easy-on-the-tummy recipes. I finished just in time for the morning sickness to hit me hard. I could barely get off the couch over the last few weeks, and it’s been a real relief to have something healthy available when my stomach decides it’s okay to eat (I am currently loving the Slow Cooker Tomato Soup!).
What is your favorite OAMM menu?
We really love the Whole Foods and the Vegetarian menus. It is so great to have options with the menus, and we’ve incorporated more meatless meals into our menu as a result. We’re slowly trying to cut back on dairy, so the dairy-free and vegan options are helpful and delicious! And membership is really worth it for us. We end up swapping out quite a bit to meet whatever cravings we have at the time. Some of our favorite recipes include the Cheesy Artichoke Chicken with Basil, Sun-dried Tomatoes and Goat Cheese Rigatoni, and Better than the FreezerAisle: Copycat Mrs. T’s Homemade Pierogies.
Give us a brief introduction to your kitchen.
We were lucky enough to find an apartment with a really beautiful kitchen here in Bogota. We have tons of natural light and lots of counter space. However, our appliances are much smaller than American versions, so sometimes we have to get creative. We have a tiny oven (we can only use cookie sheets that are 1/4 normal American size), so we just have to go slow sometimes. Our freezer is eensy-weensy, so we empty it out and clean it on the morning of each Cooking Day to make room. Sometimes we need to space out the cooking a bit as we wait for things to freeze solid so we can re-arrange them more easily. One great idea my husband discovered was to freeze bags of liquids (soups, sauces, smoothies) in square baking dishes. They take on the shape of the dish and are much easier to stack once solid. We also have hard tiled floors, so I try to wear comfortable shoes on cooking day to save my back. Probably the quirkiest thing I do is tape up every recipe and prep card around my kitchen while I’m cooking. When a recipe is completed and in the freezer, I tear it down and throw it away. It’s a great motivator to see how much progress I’m making.
What is the number one tip that you would give to a first timer?
Don’t necessarily try to do all the cooking in one day, and don’t try to do too much overall. My first month, I tried to make THREE MENUS all at once, because there were so many recipes that looked so delicious! We ran out of freezer space quickly, and it just became a headache to use up all those ingredients before they went bad and I could get them in the freezer. I really look forward to cooking — it’s probably my favorite hobby — and I don’t like to ruin that with getting overtired by cooking too much in one day. When I am ready to do my monthly cooking, I do it in stages. I might prep my menu and print out all my recipe cards and grocery lists on Friday. Saturday, I go grocery shopping and tape the recipe cards up around my kitchen in the order that I plan to cook them. I try to do a little prep that night, like making the rice or pre-washing the veggies. On Sunday, I bring my laptop into the kitchen, turn on my favorite TV show, and just start cooking! If I don’t finish, I just plan to make 1-2 meals a night for the rest of the week until it’s all done.Also, don’t get discouraged if you end up with a recipe or two that just doesn’t do it for you. For example, I’ve learned to skip the recipes that feature eggs, because I’m just not a fan of how they defrost. Each month, I get better and better at identifying recipes that will work for my family. And don’t forget about staples! Having frozen stock and tomato sauce on hand is amazing for those nights when we want to cook “from scratch” without tapping into our freezer stash.
Tell us about a time when you experienced an OAMC or cooking fail.
I tried making Frozen Fruit Smoothie Breakfast Bars my first month, and they were a nightmare. You make a hazelnut-butter crust, then pour smoothie #1 on top, wait for it to freeze, then repeat with smoothie #2. To finish, you sprinkle with coconut. Yum, right? Well, my baking dish didn’t fit easily in the freezer, so every time I took it in or out, it sploshed as it jerked free of the freezer. And it took longer to freeze than I thought, so when I pulled it out to check on the progress, I accidentally dumped half of it out on my floor, not once, not twice, but THREE times.
Do you involve other people when you OAMC?
My husband has really gotten behind the freezer cooking movement since I started using OAMM. We’ve started cooking together on Cooking Day, and it’s actually been a fun way to spend time together. I also like that on the days I work late, he doesn’t have to fuss about making dinner. He can just pull something out of the freezer, throw together a salad or steam some veggies, and we’re good to go. It’s made evenings at our house so relaxed and easy. We also often sponsor new arrivals to the country. I like being able to pull out a labeled freezer meal, with cooking instructions right on there, that I can give to the new arrivals. (Wow, what a great way to show hospitality to other expats! I love this. )
How is OAMC hard? How does it make your life easy?
OAMM takes some up-front planning and time, and it can be a bit annoying to lose our freezer for that first week or two after cooking as we get the inventory down enough to actually add new things to it. Since we live overseas, we have to do some planning ahead for ingredients that aren’t common here (thank goodness for Amazon!). But it has made the evening dinner routine so much smoother. It helps me be ready for guests at any moment, and it’s a huge stress reliever when one of us is feeling sick or extra busy. When we add our new addition to the family, I fully intend to keep freezer cooking to reduce our daily chore burden. One day, I plan to make my own baby and toddler foods, and I know OAMM will be there for me then, too. (Elizabeth, we hope you enjoy our newly updated baby and toddler menu series in the years to come!) The last reason I love this way of cooking is hard to explain. We’ve done four overseas tours now, and I wish I had discovered OAMM sooner. Living overseas for so much of our lives is exciting, but you also get homesick sometimes. Having something familiar and easy to prepare right there can be a big help on those days when I’m missing my family or am just feeling frustrated with the challenges of culture shock. Food is an important part of our culture, our identities, and while it’s fun to try new things, it’s also important to embrace those staples that become emotionally associated with “home.” That’s why having foods like tomato soup, french bread pizzas, and blueberry muffins on hand can have such a big psychological impact on the days when this lifestyle feels a bit harder.
**Do you have a unique membership story or use OAMM in an unusual way? We would love to hear about it! Send it to info @ onceamonthmeals.com with the subject: I am OAMM. Talk to you soon!**