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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Where has the summer gone?

So I first read about this FABULOUS idea for a summer list from Amy's Notebook (momadvice) and her subsequent post showing her family's summer list. I keep a running list of things I'd like to do with my daughter in my planner, but wasn't satisfied that I was doing a good job of working through our activities. I thought this was a great idea, so of course I started mine right away!

Since Sweetpea is still too young to actively participate in creating the list, ours started as a full page in my planner and was transferred to PowerPoint and subsequently printed. It hangs on our refrigerator as a reminder to get out and have fun!

You can check out Amy's summer list here: http://www.momadvice.com/blog/2008/06/summertime-planning.htm/

This idea was my first introduction to the fabulously creative Megan Duerksen. You can check out her summer list here: http://megduerksen.typepad.com/whatever/2008/06/the-summer-list.html
and an update she did recently here: http://megduerksen.typepad.com/whatever/2008/07/catching-up.html

What do you do to help plan your summer adventures? Have you tried a summer list? What activities have you most enjoyed? I'd love to hear your ideas!

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

Truly wordless: Sweetpea signing to Mommy!
For other Wordless Wednesday posts, check out http://www.5minutesformom.com/3893/wordless-wednesday-23/

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

If you grow tomatoes and you're like me, you will wait impatiently, even longingly for the first ripe tomatoes of the season. By the end of the season, I'm trying desperately to pick as many as possible and wondering what to do with them. For full sized tomatoes, I like to core and freeze as many as possible for use during the winter in gallon freezer bags. When you pull them out of the freezer, simply run them under hot water and the peel comes right off!

With cherry tomatoes, there are two options I love to employ. One requires a food dehydrator, which many people don't have. (if you're interested and do have one, however, half them and dry overnight at a medium setting for something resembling a sun dried tomato) The other option is roasting - deliciousness intensified!

Roasting cherry tomatoes is easy and not overly time consuming. I'm surprised that most people I talk to don't realize how easy it can be. I love all roasted vegetables, but tomatoes are particularly delicious this way.

In order to roast cherry tomatoes, slice a bunch of them in half longways. Spray a roasting pan with cooking spray, or for easier clean up use aluminum foil. Place sliced tomatoes in a large bowl and add a few teaspoons of olive oil. Toss the bunch to coat and place them skin side down in your roasting pan. Bake them for 1-2 hours at 400 in your oven or until the juices are nearly evaporated (the time will depend on the thickness of your tomato, the grape variety is particularly well suited for this). They are wonderful alone, in soups and pastas, stir fries, sandwiches, etc.

These will keep for quite a while in the refrigerator, and I like to put them in freezer bags to keep even longer over the winter.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Menu Plan Monday

Monday: Salad topped with grilled chicken, tomatoes and cottage cheese
Tuesday: Spaghetti with 93% lean turkey and tomato sauce
Wednesday: Grilled chicken pasta with fresh garden vegetables
Thursday: Pasta bake with turkey and tomato sauce (and pepperoni in half for EmDee)
Friday: Breakfast for dinner! Banana pancakes and eggs
Lunches: Tabouli
Breakfast: Fiber One peanut butter bar, 3/4C old fashioned oats with cranberries, blueberries, and walnuts

Last week’s menu was for the most part a success! This week is going to be a bit more hectic because we didn't get our weekend prep done due to EmDee’s work schedule. So, if it’s possible to make things even more straightforward than last week (??) then that’s my goal for this week. I’m making meat sauce for our pasta with 93% fat free ground turkey to go on our spaghetti one night and in the pasta bake later in the week. The pasta bake will have pepperoni added in part of it for the rest of the family, as well as extra cheese added to that section. We always have overripe bananas left at the end of the week, so I thought some banana pancakes would be a perfect solution! If your interested in my lunch, it’s the recipe I posted Sunday.

One thing I’m working toward for next week is specifically considering my weight loss goals when planning our dinners and my breakfast/lunch. EmDee is not a fan of my dieting if it affects his meals, so my goal is always to make the reduced fat and calories transparent to him. This is much easier in the summer in my opinion because of the variety of fresh produce available in our garden and the farmers markets in the area—more to follow next week on this topic.

For more great menu plans, check out http://orgjunkie.com/2008/07/menu-plan-monday-july-28th.html

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

5 time and money saving tips for party planning

This is the first in a series of posts about party planning. I love a good party, and I LOVE it even more if it's one I'm hosting! In college, I held all of the party planning chairs at one time or another, rush chair, social chair, sisterhood chair, etc...once out of college I moved to planning bridal showers and then baby showers...now that my friends are all married and having kids, the focus of our parties is shifting but the planning method remains much the same.

Here are 5 tips for saving time and/or money (usually you have to choose one or the other, right?!) In future posts I will elaborate on each one and provide pictures to help illustrate.

1. Pick a theme
Themes can help you save on time and money in the long run, because it will help direct your decorating and menu plan.

2. Scope out deals on party ware as soon as you choose the color scheme.
Advanced scouting for deals can greatly reduce your budget for glasses, plates, and plastic ware should you choose to go the disposable route. Depending on where you are hosting the party, it may be easy to use your own plates and silverware, and if so, this is a good way to save money. Using disposable will save you time in preparation and clean up, so you just have to decide which is more important for each individual event.

3. Plan the food you will serve around your budget and shop in advance when possible for food.
Want to save money on your food budget? Throw your party in the early afternoon and serve drinks and snacks, or plan a brunch which is a cost effective way to feed a crowd a sit down meal.

4. Decorate effectively.
Use what you have as much as possible: candles, flowers, stuffed animals, toys, gifts you are giving at the party, and the food you are serving all can be used to decorate. Balloons make nice centerpieces and are relatively cost effective. Make the gift table a focal point if there is going to be one.

5. Location, Location, Location…
This one can vary all over the map depending on what type of party you’re having, but here are some things to keep in mind: Hosting a party at your house or a friend’s house is likely the most cost effective option, but consider what you could save if you chose a different location. Is time your biggest constraint? If so, renting a location or going to a park may be the lower cost solution because it will save you time cleaning ahead of time. Would you have to rent anything or would there be a lot of added expense decorating if you threw this party in someone’s home? If so, it may also make sense to rent. The condo my mother lives in has an elegant clubhouse that can be rented for a nominal fee and we have used it more often than not to save time on decorating and prep time…for us it is almost always worth the rental fee.

What are some of the ways you save money when you're hosting a party? What are some of the favorite things you've seen done or have done yourself? I'd love to hear your tips!!

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A simple summer salad

I like to cook lighter foods with fresh from the garden, vibrant flavors in the summer. This Tabbouleh (sometimes spelled Tabouli) salad fits the bill. I enjoy the traditional Lebanese version of this salad, but this recipe has been modified to include more vegetables. Replacing the olive oil with chicken broth retains the great flavor and eliminates much of the fat that was in the original. I often include shredded chicken or diced turkey if I'm going to serve this for dinner. If you prefer a vegetarian version, replace the chicken broth with vegetable broth. The vegetable quantities are suggestions that I often adapt to match what I have available and what my particular craving is on the day I prepare this. I hope you enjoy!

3/4C cracked Bulgar wheat
1.5 chicken broth (can substitute vegetable if desired)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 or 2 diced tomatoes
1/2C shredded carrot
1/2C finely chopped green onion
1/3C shredded or matchstick cut cucumber
1/3C diced bell pepper
1/3C chopped parsley

Bring broth to a boil. Place Bulgar in a large bowl and pour the boiling broth over the Bulgar. Stir and let stand 1 hour. The Bulgar will absorb most of the liquid. Discard any remaining liquid. Add lemon juice, salt, pepper and mix well. Add vegetables and any meat if desired. Stir until blended, cover and chill.

Any of the vegetables I've included can be omitted or substituted to your taste. This salad is best made the night before as it gives the flavors time to mix and meld. I like this salad even better as the week progresses.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Attack of the Squash!

Are you having as much success with your squash as Sarah is?


If so, here are 2 great recipes for either summer squash or zucchini (or a mix of both!).

Squash Casserole

4 medium squash, diced
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2C instant rice
1/2C bread crumbs or cheese cracker crumbs
1/4C grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350, coat 9x13 casserole dish with cooking spray. Combine crumbs with grated cheese and set aside. Mix cubed squash with soup and instant rice. Place mixture in casserole dish and cover with crumb mixture. Heat for approximately 25 minutes, until rice is cooked through. Sometimes to mix things up I substitute cream of mushroom soup for the cream of chicken and add pre-cooked ground turkey to the mix.

Creamy Squash Saute (Low fat version-find alternatives below)
Slice 4 medium squash
1 medium onion, quartered and sliced
salt and pepper to taste

spray a large saute pan with cooking spray and add squash and onion.

Cook over medium high heat. As squash begins to soften, add 1/2C of chicken stock or wine to the mixture. This allows you to use less oil in your dish, and adds a nice flavor. Simmer until squash and onion are "done" to your liking. Add 8oz of cream cheese (I like the low fat veggie variety) and mix into the vegetables in until the cheese is completely melted. Serve!

You can also use olive oil exclusively without adding broth or wine if you prefer, and of course to make the dish vegetarian you can use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.

My brother claims he doesn't like squash, but even he likes my creamy squash saute!
For more great squash recipes, check out the carnival going on at Real Life: http://www.reallifeblog.net/2008/07/super-summer-squad-recipe-carnival.html

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Ah, Nature

I was gazing out a window this morning, enjoying the early morning light and my first cup of coffee when I noticed a huge doe standing in my backyard. What a gorgeous creature, I thought, as I took a sip of joe...hey, wait a minute. Honey, did you just take a bite of my tomato?!? As much trouble as we've had getting our plants to grow in the crazy weather this year, I hurried out to shoo away the beautiful deer. Hey, go find something else to eat, Honey! Shoo!! She looked at me like, Lady, are you crazy? This is fine quality produce I'm helping myself to here. So at this point I have to go in and wake up my dog (some guard dog!) from the porch. Upon pointing him in the right direction (okay, I guess I had just woken him up, but sheesh) he proceeded to do his little deer dance, running around from one side of the fence to the other with his fur standing up, jumping in the corners and barking. That did the trick, our sweet friend finally high tailed it out of here, I assume to find someplace a bit quieter to have breakfast!

Have a wonderful Friday, and a great start to the weekend!

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

At least I had the shoes going for me!

So today was one of those days...I had some byopsies done on Tuesday as outpatient surgery, and was off work yesterday as well. I three spots taken off my head and one from my bellybutton, making my hair a real work of art and restricting me to lifting less than 20lbs for a week. Sweetpea weighs in at 22lbs, which is causing a real problem for the both of us! She just doesn't understand why Mommy can't pick her up, and I am not feeling well and am getting frustrated at my inability to handle this well-UGH! To make things even more interesting, EmDee is scheduled for nights and overtime this week, so we will literally not be in the house at the same time until Monday. My stomach is sore, and I don't want anything touching my bellybutton, so I'm wearing maternity pants...not a real morale booster there since I'm not pregnant! Before I start annoying even myself with this whining, I'll finish with this--at least I was wearing cute shoes!!

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Problem Solvin' Blogroll - A list of my favorites!

This is a list of blogs I enjoy and highly recommend, in no particular order. Want to see yours here? Email me and let me know!

Adventures in Babywearing
Confessions of a Diet Coke Addict
Me n Him n Them
Make n Takes
Mom Advice
Sorta Crunchy
Fried Okra
Simple Mom
Small Notebook
Jessica Knows
Crazy Adventures in Parenting
One Crafty Mumma
Frugal Upstate
Mommy's Wish List
Millionaire Mommy Next Door

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Works for Me Wednesday

I was blessed with a pretty plentiful milk supply, but there were still some times I felt I needed a little boost. I have friends who constantly struggle to supply enough milk for their nursing babies. If you fall into either of these categories, you might be interested in what worked for me! I tried Mother's Milk Tea but wasn't really satisfied with the results, and it is pretty expensive.

One day I was searching the Internet looking for something natural to help with a stubborn head cold. I noticed that Fenugreek tea was listed as a remedy for congestion and coughing. It was also listed as an herb commonly used to increase milk supply!

Fenugreek tea can be made by steeping 1 teaspoon of fenugreek seeds in hot water for about 15 minutes. It is an ingredient in artificial maple syrup, so it actually tastes pretty good, especially over ice. I drank the tea 2-3 times a day until my cold was gone, and once a day when I just needed a little extra milk.
I found fenugreek seed at my local health food store. It was available in the bulk herb section and I purchased a medium sized bag for less than $3! It was more than I could use, so when I wasn't nursing exclusively anymore, I gave the remaining seeds to a friend.

Fenugreek tea shouldn't be taken during pregnancy. For more information and additional resources on the subject, check out http://www.kellymom.com/herbal/milksupply/fenugreek.html

It works for me!

For more Works for Me Wednesday posts, check out Rocks in My Dryer http://rocksinmydryer.typepad.com/shannon/2008/07/works-for-me-fl.html

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Mom's Work is Never Done!

I'm here to tell you, I have a wonderful mother. I'm 32, she still takes wonderful care of me. I had outpatient surgery today, and she was right there, taking the day off, ferrying Sweetpea to daycare and waiting at the hospital for me until I woke up and was able to head home...then she picked up my prescription painkillers and made my lunch! At four we picked up Sweetpea and, since EmDee is working last twelve hours this week, she brought us back to her house to spend the night. Normally, an overnight would be a nice enjoyable visit. My anesthesia this morning means I can't nurse tonight, and Sweetpea is putting on a marathon protest session. The poor little thing knows what she wants, and doesn't understand why all of a sudden mommy can't give it to her. Milk in a sippy cup just won't do, from either me or her Gram. It's breaking my heart!
It truly is a blessing though, to live near to my wonderful family!

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Menu Plan Monday!

This is my first time on Menu Plan Monday. Thanks for stopping by! I don’t have links this week because our menu is pretty basic. I’ve explained a bit about my method for planning/cooking below. Hope to see you again next week!

Monday—BBQ chicken
Tuesday—Chicken pasta with vegetables
Wednesday—Sloppy Joes
Thursday—Spaghetti and meatballs
Friday—Meatball sandwiches

Since Emdee and I both work, we try and do most of our cooking or at least the bulk of the prep work for our menus over the weekend. Planning meals that use similar main ingredients is a big help. This week we will be cooking a lot of chicken in the oven, one casserole dish of BBQ chicken and another of “plain” for the pasta dish. We will cook extra pasta and make cold pasta salad to pack as lunch for the week. I will make a double batch of meatballs so there are leftovers from the first night’s spaghetti to make sandwiches. Sloppy Joes is an easy go to filler meal. Over the weekend we tend to finish up any leftovers or cook a meal that we might have skipped for the week. Breakfasts will be fresh fruit, cold cereal and yogurt. (likely with lots of coffee!!)

Have a great week!

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Spaghetti Casserole

This recipe is a family classic - made for birthdays, taken to new mommies, sick relatives and potluck dinners. When I need a go to comfort food I can count on, this is my dish. Make a double batch and freeze some, because there is no doubt you'll be wanting more!!

Million $ Spaghetti Casserole

1lb ground beef (I often use ground turkey)
1 jar spaghetti sauce
1 8oz pkg cream cheese (I use 1/3 less fat)
4oz sour cream (I use fat free)
8oz cottage cheese (I use low fat)
1 box spaghetti, cooked

Brown ground beef and drain grease. Add spaghetti sauce and set aside.
Mix cheeses and sour cream together, set aside. In a 9x13 casserole dish, place enough spaghetti to cover the bottom (approximately half of the cooked spaghetti). Cover spaghetti with all of the cheese mixture. Add another layer of pasta, then top with the meat and spaghetti sauce. Depending on how deep your casserole dish is, you may have some spaghetti and sauce left over. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. This casserole is even better the second day, after the cheese has set up and the flavors have blended, so I usually make it ahead of time. This dish freezes very well, and it is one of my go to batch cooking recipes.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

In the Garden

Do you have a garden? If so, how is it doing so far this year? We had an unusually cool and wet June here in Ohio, which has set our plants back somewhat from where they should be this time of year. We are about to get our first ripe tomato:

And our first couple grape tomatoes:

These should be growing like weeds. I'm hoping the tide is about to turn our way. I love to eat these, let me count the ways: sliced with cottage cheese, on pizza, roasted in pasta, fresh in pasta, in a salad. I'm sure I've forgotten something, that seems like a short list.

We are also growing bell peppers, hot peppers and onions. We scaled back a lot this year knowing we were going to be busy and out of town a few times. I would love to hear some of your favorite ways to eat fresh vegetables, especially tomatoes, peppers and onions since we will have quite a few in the next two months!

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Healthy Competition

Health and fitness have long been interests of mine. Growing up as a gymnast running around in a leotard half of the time, it was very apparent if I gained any weight. At times I had coaches that bullied me and my team mates into losing weight through whatever means necessary. Luckily this sparked my desire to learn more about nutrition, as opposed to some of my friends who became anorexic or bulimic. I know what I need to do in order to lose the rest of my "baby weight", but so far I have been more interested in playing with the adorable Sweetpea than in taking her to the YMCA daycare and running myself through the paces. Since I work outside the home, I want to spend my evenings with my family. Sweetpea has been struggling with sleep lately due to a few pesky molars. Her return to night waking has temporarily halted what had become my routine of working out after she went to bed. I'm not nursing as often now that she is drinking whole milk at daycare. My waistband has started to shrink...or my mommy belly to pooch...sigh.

What we all need when we want to start a new habit, or return to an old one, is incentive. I found mine in a friendly weight loss competition with my coworkers - I hate to lose...except in this case, (the weight) right? In order to further amp up the incentive factor, I thought I would mention my goal here so I have some added accountability. I will be checking in with updates on how I'm doing and I'll include some tips that work for me. Do you have weight loss or improved nutritional goals this summer? I think the summer is the best time to lose weight and improve my diet because of all the wonderful local produce that is available and the excessive heat that tempers my appetite.

The competition is based on average % of body weight lost, and we are on teams of 2. My goal is 10% weight loss, which luckily appears to be the general consensus. At the moment I am most focused on increasing my activity level and improving my food choices. I am going to start a food diary in hopes of finding something easy that I can eliminate to reduce calories. After that, I'll focus on portion control...saving the best for last-HA!

Have a great weekend!

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Ask the problem solving mom - Romance

One of the things I would like to do on this blog is bring up questions my friends have posed to me along with my comments. I would love it if you would add your feedback and suggestions as well! Here goes with the first question...from one of my coworkers:

Q: My wife is (always) complaining lately that I'm not as romantic as I used to be. We both work full time, and our lives are hectic between work and taking care of our house and baby daughter. I am thinking of planning something big for our upcoming 5th wedding anniversary in order to make her happy and bring back the romance she's missing in her life lately. I can arrange babysitting for our daughter, but we don't really have the money for an extended romantic vacation (such as a second honeymoon). What else would you suggest that might do the trick?

A: It's so easy with little ones at home to get caught up in the daily role of Mommy and Daddy and overlook the loving bond you have as Husband and Wife. I can understand your desire to plan something big for your anniversary, and I'm sure your wife would love that! Chances are, though, that she will still feel the desire for more regular romance in her life. Here are some things that could add more romance to your daily lives:

  • Bring back dating - this can be as elaborate or as simple as you want, as time allows. Before we had Sweetpea, date nights with my husband were usually a weekly event and generally included dinner at a restaurant or a picnic at a nearby park. Now it's more challenging to schedule time alone, so instead we have drinks in the living room after Sweetpea is in bed or a popsicle on the porch swing during nap time. The most important thing is that we plan for it and consciously schedule time for ourselves as a couple.
  • Slip a note into her purse or lunch bag, or send her an unexpected email or text message. I love getting emails or texts from my husband during the day - a quick reminder that he is thinking of me, regardless of whether he's being romantic or telling me a funny story about his day.
  • Make her coffee or do some other mundane task that she usually does for herself in the mornings - Emdee makes my coffee for me every night, and each morning I am so grateful for not having to muddle through the process before my first dose of caffeine. I am especially grateful for these small gestures when we are grumpy with one another, as it reminds me that even though we disagree we still love each other dearly.
  • Come up with a code word for "I love you" that only the two of you (or the immediate family members) know. This sounds corny, but somehow we came up with a codeword and I love it...we leave notes for each other with our code word around the house. We hide them for each other when one of us is going out of town.
  • Always kiss goodbye

What suggestions do you have for my friend? Do you think a big anniversary celebration will rekindle the romance my friend is missing, or would smaller more routine gestures do the trick?

Thanks for your suggestions,

The Problem Solvin' Mom

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Under Construction...

Please bear with me as I get my posts loaded. I was so excited to join all of you in the land of mommy bloggers, that I got a bit ahead of myself. I should have everything situated by the end of the weekend. I'm looking forward to chatting with all of you!

Take care,

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Meet and Greet

A (maybe not so) quick intro to the family:

I'm Stephanie, resident social coordinator, maid, short order cook, handi-chic...problem solver. I'm logical, creative and solution oriented, which paired with a love of math, science and learning led me to a career in engineering. I'm currently a working mom, trying to balance my career with my desire to spend as much time as possible with my family. My interests include parenting topics, home/life balance, travel, frugal living, fitness, healthy living, gardening, cooking, crafting, knitting, and reading. I'm looking forward to "meeting" you!

My husband is Emdee. We have been married going on eight years as I write this. His interests include hanging out with me and his daughter and son (my stepson), sports of most sorts, (particularly high school football) officiating high school baseball, fishing, Nascar, and gardening.

My big girl is Sweetpea. She is three and a half as I write this. Her interests these days include hanging out with her parents, running after her little sister, drawing, crafting, cooking with mama and playing outside. She loves the beach, playing with water and will jump into the pool with reckless abandon. That makes mom a bit nervous...

Big T is my stepson. He is starting his senior year of high school this year. He is focused on finding a college, particularly one where he can play football. He likes to lift weights, play football, hang out with his friends, follow high school football and basketball (especially at tournament time), play with Sweetpea (what a great big brother!) and fish. He is a very sweet young man, and I'm glad to have been able to watch him grow up from the little boy he was when I met his father.

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Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Tabouli Salad (A great summer salad!)

Squash Recipes

Million $ Spaghetti


Cheesecake Dip

Pumpkin Spiced Latte

Breakfast Casserole

Slow cooker pulled pork


Mexican rice skillet

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