End of August: What’s in the Garden?

​This morning I picked more plum tomatoes. The Red Zebras are almost ready and the Salsa Hybrids are almost done. Still tons of cherry tomatoes despite the plants dying of early from disease, glad it doesn’t affect the fruit! The pumpkins are almost all orange, the butternut squashes are starting to turn too, and I still have tons and tons of Cupcake Squash.

I’m thinking I will try Zucchini bread with the Cupcake Squash. I could see peppers, but Hubby is sleeping so I didn’t want to leave the Munchkins inside to long! I’ll check more a bit later. Gotta take a look at the fall leafy greens I planted and see what needs thinning. 

I’ve started some canning, but I’m sure there is more to come in the weeks ahead.

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Winter Glove & Hat Decorative Drying Sign

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Making a play off all those cute “Free Dobby” lost sock laundry signs, this glove and hat drying sign was born. We have no where in our house to hang the snow covered, wet gloves and hats. I looked around last year on Pinterest for ideas and found a few, but nothing that screamed make me!

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What you need:
Wooden Sign
Wooden Pegs
Staple Gun (and Staples!)
Paint or Adhesive Vinyl and a Cutting Machine (Cricut etc)
Tracing Items, if using (tracing paper, pencils)

I had two signs left over from another project I did. They were pre-strung for hanging and already finished, so they did not need to be painted.

I took five large, wooden pegs from my laundry room and took one side off, allowing me to staple the pegs to the sign.

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I did not want to use glue because of the drying time and also I was concerned about longevity.

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Then I slid the removed part of the peg back in to reassemble it.

Once they were all stapled and reassembled, I started to transfer snowflakes and “Let it Snow” onto the sign in preparation for painting over it. To make an easy transfer, find the image you want or write/draw it yourself.

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If printing an image from the computer, you will have to first trace the image onto tracing paper (or wax baking paper), then flip the paper over and retrace the lines to transfer the image.

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If drawing directly into the tracing paper, you can skip that step. When transferring writing you do need to flip the paper over, retrace the lines on the back, and then flip it back over to transfer or your words will be backwards!

Once transferred, you can paint over the lines (which as you can see are very faint).

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I really like this technique as it gives the appearance of free hand painting, but a safety net for those that need/want it.

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Then get to painting. You could also use adhesive vinyl and cut out the words/decorations. I decided not to go this way due to the gaps between the pieces of wood. I did multiple layers of the white craft paint as it soaked into the wood. I then used another color to accent the white. Wanted to keep it simple, for once!

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Container Gardening: Building A Raised Vegetable Garden

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At the end of last year I decided that my 8×8 Vegetable patch needed some work. It was floor level and although we added a fence to keep the dogs out, it was hard to manage due to the size and layout. So I drew up some crude plans, researched lumber, and handed the project over to Hubby for him to determine the details.

I decided to go with something that was a bit more interesting to the eye verses two 4×8 beds with a path down the middle. I decided on two 3×6 beds with a 3×3 in the corner so I was able to work on both sides of the bed easily and also create some levels to give the structure something to catch the eye. I added a 3×3 in front with a path between to frame the space. Ultimately, I did not change the footprint of the space too drastically as I moved everything back toward the fence and closer to the shed.

After some research, I decided on cedar because of it’s durability without needing chemicals. It is more expensive, but it should last fifteen years.

Our local Menards had everything we needed and was able to cut the 12ft timber into more manageable 9ft and 3ft sections  (they then fit in my car). Hubby cut and assembled the frames over a couple of weekends. Prior to filling, we cleared the area of weeds with a strimmer and put a weed barrier down inside the containers and also along the path. Then we filled the beds with a nutrient rich dirt from a local garden center. I had them deliver it out front of the house and then we filled the containers. When I say we, I mean Hubby, Granna, and Grumpy as Bear decided she needed to nurse all day and only allowed me to supervise. We then soaked the dirt to settle it down and to add moisture before planting.

Granna a great idea and put down mulch for the path area instead of grass. It is holding up quite nicely. I do want to add a lip around the top to finish off the planters, but otherwise I am really happy with how it has turned out.

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Now everything has grown in and it’s a bit of a jungle, but the veggies are doing well. We have green beans galore right now!

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…and hopefully we will have tons of winter squash too. Had an attack of squash borer earlier in the season, so my vines are recovering and I had to reseed my summer squash.

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Recycled Shoebox Seed Storage

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A friend of mine posted this Seed Storage idea on Facebook, like a good and slightly obsessed pinner (aren’t we all?) I pinned the link for future use. This year my veggie garden received a facelift in the form of a complete rebuild (thanks Hubby!) and I was able to plant more veggies. I’m also starting more plants from seeds and at the end of this planting season I had three medium sized Tupperwares full of various seeds (with a few doubles…). It only took me two weeks to complete this project. A project that would likely take someone without a nursing-obsessed five month-old and a attention-starved three year-old (both perfectly normal, but no less frustrating at times) about an hour to complete.

But it is finished!

I now know I have every type of squash on the planet and need to buy parsnip seeds.

I did have to make mine slightly differently as my shoebox was not wide enough, so I did mine horizontally. Luckily, the Cheerios boxes from Costco and Sam’s Club were long enough to make the dividers. Since it was more tricky to make the dividers due to my box options, I opted to not cut the dividers tops into tab shapes. Instead I used paper cut into strips and taped to the tops of the dividers for labels.

Now I can’t wait for Spring so I can use my seeds!

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After Bump Bum: What’s on the Bum?

We are now in full swing cloth diapering #2. Monkey and Baby Bear are shaped differently and, therefore, the diapers fit differently.

Monkey’s chicken legs kinda, sorta filled out by the time she was three/four months.  At that point she was also starting to play with table foods (closer to the four month point and play is certainly the word) so her poop started to change. Baby Bear is chunkier than Monkey was, but still not a chunk (no baby rolls) and is three months tomorrow (how time flies). As for food, this kiddo will likely stay EBF (exclusively breast fed) until six months. She’s getting everything she needs right now.

With Monkey, at four months, gone were the days of EBF poop…

If you don’t EBF then you probably do not understand why this change was so important.  EBF poop looks like mustard seeds, has no real smell, and can just be tossed into the washer without washing the diaper.  Once food is introduced (or formula for that matter) poop becomes more solid and is no longer able to just go through the washer as part of the wash cycle (more about diaper washing another day!).

So what’s on the bum at this point? 

Flip Cover and Prefold

Flip Cover and Prefold on Monkey

With Monkey we relied on prefolds and covers. From newborn to young toddler we just upgraded to the larger sizes for the prefolds and moved to Flip covers and also some Econobum.  Personally, I prefer the Flip as I like the two tab snap option as I feel like it keeps the “wings” of the diaper from dropping better (the “wings” refers to the other snap and fabric area that sits on the hips that can make the diaper fit on a chunkier monkey). Monkey remained a skinny-mini all through her diapering years and did not fit into pocket diapers until she was around four months. Her legs were just too thin get a good, tight fit. I bought the Flip covers (mostly) as certified seconds.  They are perfectly fine, maybe a pen mark or two or a snag on the fabric… certainly worth it to me.  Cloth diapering does not need to be expensive, in fact it should save you money! Do I have a few that are not seconds or used? Of course, but the majority of my purchases are sale, clearance, or seconds.  Just keep your eyes out for deals!

For Baby Bear things a bit different. I still like prefolds, but as she is bigger pocket diapers fit her much better. It is also three years later and there are so many more options! Unlike Monkey, Baby Bear is a heavy wetter and pees through inserts that would lasted Monkey overnight. She has out grown her newborn prefolds I now use them to stuff her pocket diapers; which are a collection of Happy Flute, Sunbaby, Rump-a-rooz, Apple Cheeks, Bumgenius, Blueberry, and Diper Rite. We also use hemp and bamboo inserts from various companies. They all work about the same. Most diapers come with micro fiber (MF) inserts. I do not use them. Why you ask.

Compression leaks.

These are bad. MF is a very thirsty material. It soaks up the pee. Great right? Wrong. The material is also easy to wring out. We baby wear. This puts compression on the diaper… see where this is going? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want pee soaking into my clothing. Now paired with a slow to soak hemp insert MF is great. Allows your heavy, fast wetter to soak the MF and the slowly transfer to the hemp. Who knew this was such a science!

Snaps vs Velcro/Hook and Loop
I prefer snaps for older children, but for newborns I think you get a better fit with hook and loop.  The reason I prefer snaps is longevity.  Hook and loop can get caught on things in the wash, get fuzz in it, and the loops start to lose their ability to attach correctly.  Even using laundry tabs, I found hook and loop just does not last as well over time.  I prefer the snaps since I am doing this to not only do something better for the earth, but also to save money! Also, hook and loop is easier to take off. This makes unscheduled toddler naked time even more likely…

What about Daycare? 

Sunbaby on Monkey

Sunbaby on Monkey

We CD exclusively, meaning even at daycare. When Monkey first went to daycare using cloth was one of the requirements for the daycare we used. I did not want to use cloth at home and buy disposals for daycare, defeated the purpose of buying them. I ordered a couple different cheaper pocket diapers; often referred to as “China cheapies” because, they are from China and are cheap! Many people balk at this because they are worried about the lower regulations, poor conditions for the workers, not buying American made, and likely other things. I understand this, I also do not want to spend a ton on diapers for daycare when they could get damaged at daycare. There are many companies – Sunbaby, Alva, THX, Happy Flute, and Kawaii. I prefer Sunbaby for daycare as they, in my opinion, fit well (on my kiddos) and are simple to use. I like my Happy Flute diapers, but they are mine for at home… they have a different tummy panel and look less like disposals. I decided I wanted to get diapers that looked the most like disposals to help convince daycare that they could do this!

Note: You may have noticed there are no links to Happy Flute or THX. I purchased these diapers through co-ops on Facebook and could not find direct links to the companies. You can get them on Amazon or through co-ops.

Curious about newborn cloth diapering? Here is what we did.

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Toddler Crafts (Mother’s Day Edition): Terracotta Pot Butterfly Footprint

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Because I am that parent. You know the one, Pinterest full of ideas and actually tries to make them; and, as a result, my friends and family are constantly finding projects for me! I’m not kidding when I say that five different people sent/tagged/posted/told me about a post they saw about making butterflies from the kiddos feet on pots for the garden. Find the original post here (Footprint Butterfly Flower Pot). The writer does note she took inspiration from elsewhere and there are tons on Pinterest that are very similar.

Before starting this project I wanted to make sure it would last. We are a gardening family and a pot needs to be used as a pot. I find this site which gave me a starting point How to Paint a Pot. With that said, I did not paint the inside of the pot.

Two reasons:

1. I’m not painting the entire outside of the pot either so any moisture going out the bottom through the drainage hole would seep up the sides anyway.
2. I have an infant and threenager… ‘nough said!

I have done many footprint/handprint crafts, I feel pretty confident on the logistics. This was more tricky. The terracotta is not forgiving. With canvas you screw up and up wipe it clean. The paint sinks into the terracotta’s pores as soon as it touches, so beware!

Project: Terracotta Pot Footprint Butterfly
Difficulty: Moderate
Time: Varies (took me multiple days, because – infant and threenager)
Supplies:
IMAG0087Terracotta Pot (found all over, even in the Dollar Store)
Patio Paint (colors of your choice, found mine at Hobby Lobby)
Foam and Regular Paint Brushes
Willing Child(ren) (If doing with an infant, enlist help from an adult or older child)
Wipes (clean up)

Paint one foot at a time. I decided to do multiple colors, but would could just do one. The paint dries quickly so beware, the clock is ticking. After pressing the foot to the pot, clean up with a wipe and do the next foot. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, you can fix it by painting in missing toes or filling in a heal. Or just leave it as is, up to you.

2015-05-09 21.51.00Once both feet are done let dry until touch dry. Does not take long, maybe a few minutes. Go over the footprint with a second coat of the paint, filling in any areas you want to. Also paint in the butterfly’s body in your choice of color. Some people used a permanent marker, I was concerned about fading so opted for paint. This should also have two coats.

2015-05-10 09.16.51Add your kiddos names and the date (mine is in the bottom) and voila!

Happy Mother’s Day Granna!

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Kitchen Sink Cooking: Jerk Chicken & Spinach Bake

During a recent trip to Costco I purchased a small ton of spinach with the intention of adding it to smoothies (which I have). It seemed the box was not decreasing quickly and I hate to waste food… So I went in search of a chicken spinach meal for dinner.

It also gave me something to use my RockCrok for!

Jerk Chicken & Spinach Bake
Adapted from Chicken and Spinach Bake

Ingredients
8 to 12 ounces fresh chopped or baby spinach, cleaned
salt and pepper
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 chicken breasts, butterflied
Jamaican Jerk Seasoning
1/2 cup diced onion
1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
1Tbsp Grape Seed Oil

Directions:
Heat oil in RockCrok (if you don’t own one, you can use a fry pan and transfer to an over safe fish or use some other multi purpose cooking product) and cook onion and garlic until aromatic.

Butterfly the chicken breasts. Season with salt, pepper, and jerk seasoning.

Add broth and spinach to the RockCrok and lay the chicken breasts on top. Cover and bake for 25 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes until juices run clear and the internal temp is 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Serve with couscous.

I’m not a Pampered Chef consultant and I purchased my RockCrok with my own money.

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Rainy Day Crafts: Pinecone Bird Feeders

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Spring is pretending to arrive around here. Our family of three is slowly becoming comfortable with being a family of four. I’m still home with Monkey and Bear for a little bit longer.

Monkey is loving it. She still goes to daycare once a week, spends time with Granna, but mostly she wants to be home with me.

So, what to do with this rainy day?

Monkey had picked up some pinecones on a walk we took the other night. Pinecone Bird Feeders!

What you need:

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Pinecones
Nut butter
Bird seed
String
Paint brushes (we used foam)
Scissors

Cut a piece of string and tie it around the base of each pinecone. Make it secure or the squirrels will run off with them!

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“Paint” the nut butter onto the pinecones. Find a willing toddler to assist with this (and yes, the nut butter will be eaten…).

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Place the pinecone into a bowl with bird seed and pour more over the top to coat, again toddler assistance recommended (yes, bird seed will go everywhere).

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Admire your work and then hang outside (once the rain has stopped).

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Snowy Day Freezer Meals: Stews and Soups

I’m breaking out of the December holiday coma with some hearty, winter freezer meals. The slow cooker is great year round, but winter is where I think it shines. Nothing like coming home from work to a hot cooked meal when it’s snowing outside (or just plain cold!).

Four out of the five meals are stews/soups and then there is a jerk pork slider dish thrown in to mix things up.

Beef Stew
Ingredients:
2-3 carrots, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2-3 med potatoes, chopped (not frozen in the bag, added day of cooking)
1/2 med onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1.5 pounds stew meat, cubed
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
8 ounces beef broth
salt to taste

Directions:
Place all ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on high 4-5 hours or low 8-10 hours. Remove bay leaf. Serve.

Review:
This was a decent stew. Nothing to right home about, but also nothing wrong with it. Alas, I couldn’t make dumplings to go with it because those just don’t work right in a slow cooker.

Winter Minestrone
Adapted from: Once a Month Meals
Ingredients:
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 medium carrots, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1.5 teaspoon black pepper
1.25 cups wild rice, uncooked (not frozen add day of)
16 oz can diced tomatoes
6 cups vegetable broth
2 teaspoon oregano
1.5 cups cannellini beans (rinsed)

Directions:
Place all ingredients into slow cooker and stir to combine.  Cook on low for 4-6 hours.

Review:
Two issues. DO NOT out the rice in at the start of the cooking process. This turned the soup into a stodgy mess. A tasty one favors wise, but not appetizing. If adding the rice in at the end, either add the rice into the slow cooker a couple hours before serving or take out some liquid to cook the rice and then add it back into the pot. I just cooked rice in a rice cooker and added in and there was too much liquid. The flavors are great, but the rice is tricky.

Jerk Pork Sliders
Adapted from: Once a Month Meals
Ingredients:
1.5 pounds boneless pork loin
3 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 1/2 Tablespoons Jerk Seasoning
1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 cup lime juice
1/4 cup orange juice
1 med onion, sliced
1 Tablespoons cilantro
8 ounces pineapple chunks

Directions:
Place all ingredients in crock pot and cook on low for 8 hours. Serve on buns or over coconut rice

Review: These turned out really good. We left out the cilantro as hubby hates it.

Chicken Enchilada Soup
Ingredients:
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound)
2 cups good-quality chicken stock
1 1/4 cup (or 1 10-ounce can) red enchilada sauce*, homemade or store-bought
2 (14-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, with juice
1 (15-ounce) can whole-kernel corn**, drained
1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 white onion, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt, or more/less to taste
optional garnishes: chopped fresh cilantro, diced avocado, diced red onion, shredded cheese, sour cream, tortilla strips/chips

Directions:
Add all ingredients to a slow cooker, and stir to combine. Cook for 3-4 hours on high heat or 6-8 hours on low heat, until the chicken is cooked through and shreds easily. Use two forks to shred the chicken.

Review: Very good. Will totally make again.

Pizza Soup – Serves 8-10 (freeze remaining soup, not doubled for freezer meals)
Adapted from: Once a Month Meals
Ingredients:
28 ounces pizza sauce
7 1/2 cups of water (add day of if you need to save on freezer space)
2 green peppers, diced
1 med onion red onion, diced
15.5 ounces diced tomatoes
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
6 ounces Smoked Sausage, already cooked, sliced and halved
1 cup sliced pepperoni, quartered
1/2 Tablespoons basil, dry
1 Tablespoon oregano, dry
1 1/2 cups uncooked pasta (not frozen, added day of)

Toppings (not frozen in bag):
French or Sourdough Bread
Butter
Garlic Powder
Parmesan Cheese
Mozzarella Cheese

Directions:
Wash and prepare veggies and place in 6 quart slow cooker. Add the sausage, pepperoni, basil, and oregano to veggies. Pour in pizza sauce and then water. Cover and cook on low 6 hours.

Thirty minutes before end of time, add pasta and turn to high. Allow pasta to soften. Serve topped with croutons and Mozzarella cheese.

To prepare croutons: slice bread. Butter one side and sprinkle with garlic powder and Parmesan cheese. Broil for several minutes or until golden brown. Be careful not to burn. Remove from oven, cut into squares. Serve on top of soup.

Review: OMG this was amazing! Monkey even ate it! I served it with homemade garlic bread (melt butter and add crushed garlic; brush onto any bread and broil to toast) instead of making croutons. This is 100% on my list of meals to make again.

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Into the New Year: What on earth to do with all that ham…

We had Christmas at our house this year, which meant left overs attacked my refrigerator! The roast beef was mostly gone, but the spiral ham was never going to be eaten in sandwiches alone.

What is a girl to do? Oh yes, Split Pea Soup and Ham Scalloped Potatoes freezer meal. You could also use the diced ham in an omelet, a breakfast casserole, a version of corned beef hash, or a risotto. The possibilities are really quite endless, and so it seems is my left over ham!

Split Pea Soup
This hearty, veggie packed soup is great for cold days/nights and since it cooks all day in the slow cooker it is perfect for the end of a busy day or to serve to guests (the recipe serves 8).

Adapted from: Whole Foods Market

Ingredients:
Serves 8

1 (16 ounce) package dried green split peas, rinsed
1 meaty ham bone, 2 ham hocks or 2 cups diced ham
2-3 diced carrots
1 med yellow onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp dried parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
6 cups chicken broth

Rinse the peas and the place them on the bottom of your slow cooker. Then layer the remaining ingredients over the peas. Because I was using the ham bones from my spiral ham, layering was not really possible. I placed the onion, celery, and carrots around the ham bone(s) and then added some diced ham on top along with the parsley. I decided not to season with salt and pepper until the end, so I could taste it first. Then just pour the broth on top and cover up. Just leave it, I know it’s tempting to stir, but don’t. Plus the bones make it hard to stir.

At the end of cooking, remove the bones, and now you can stir. I prefer a pureed split pea soup, so I used my immersion blender to get the consistency I wanted. I cracked the top a bit to allow the soup to thicken a bit more. All personal choices🙂 I did add salt and pepper at this point and it turned out amazing. My family came over for dinner and we are this with a nice side of fresh bread. Simple, delish meal.

Ham and Scalloped Potatoes

Adapted from: Six-Cents

Ingredients
Serves approx 4

Cream of Soup Substitute
1 1/4 cup of water
2 cups of diced ham
2 cups chopped broccoli
Salt and pepper to taste
4oz shredded cheese
Approx 6 med potatoes*

*used the day of and not frozen

This recipe originally called for a can of whatever-you-wanted cream soup. I decided to go with a homemade version for two reasons: I’m due with number two in about a month and with Monkey she was dairy sensitive, so I’m just getting dairy out of my life for a bit incase this one is too. The other reason is have you ever looked at what is in those? The sodium alone should give someone pause.

So I made a simple chicken cream of soup using the following version:

3tbsp coconut oil
3tbsp flour
1 1/4 cup of chicken stock
Pepper to taste (I left out the salt because the meal will get salted anyway)

Melt the coconut oil over med heat, once melted combine with the flour. Stir until combined. Then add in the stock, whisking to avoid clumps. Bring to a boil to thicken and season with pepper. Done! I let it cool before combining with the rest of the ingredients.

Combine everything (I left out the cheese because dairy and Hubby is still anti-cheese) in a ziptop bag, label with the month and year along with the following:

Cook low 6-8hrs
The night before, slice your potatoes into 1/4 slices and soak in water. (This prevents the “my potatoes turned black” issue. Toss the water and layer then at the bottom of the slow cooker.)

This is one of Hubby’s fav slow cooker meals. So whenever we have left over ham, this is a go to. I also usually double this so that I have two meals in the freezer. Which will likely be a good thing in the coming months!

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