Monday, September 29, 2014

A Place at Our Table

Because decorative gourds are cute
I was innocently looking for some dinner inspiration while meal planning last week when I fell down the pinterest rabbit hole and found the blog Living Well Spending Less. The specific post I found intriguing was this one. I know that several friends have taken on the challenge of foregoing non-essential purchases for a month, but I'd never really considered groceries a non-essential. Until I really thought about the incredible amount of food and meal possibilities I have languishing in my freezer(s) and pantry. Starting this last week through the end of October, I'm making an effort to meal plan based on what I already have. (duh, right?) I'm still going to be buying milk, yogurt, some produce and other fresh foods, but the idea is just to start making a dent. Also, I may have felt incredibly guilty after watching A Place at the Table.

Saturday afternoon I went through the bottom drawer of the stand-up freezer, which was where I'd relegated all of the meat that needs to be used first when I was putting away the half-beef. I pulled stew beef, flank steak, chicken breasts and a package of ground beef and put them in the refrigerator to thaw and be used throughout the week.

Yesterday I thought about poaching the chicken to shred and add to a salad, but then I saw a chicken pot pie on the cover of a magazine in the check-out line when I was buying milk (and candy much for non-essentials) and knew that I already had everything to make a stellar one, so I'd be saving those chicken breasts for later in the week.

When I got home, I still didn't have plans for dinner, J had just gotten home from work, and the clock was striking the ominous four o'clock witching hour. I quickly summoned the powers of pinterest and searched for salads with arugula (to avoid the giant tub of it turning into a green slime wasteland) and quinoa and found this goody; an arugula salad with quinoa, chickpeas (which will always be garbanzos to me), feta and some crunch lent from carrots, celery and almonds. I hate when people say, 'I followed the recipe except...' and then list a novel of changes, but I'll do it anyhow. I used the base of arugula, quinoa, feta and chickpeas, but then got the crunch from a bell pepper and omitted the rest. The lemon dressing was simple, and a big ol' plate was filling without being heavy. I had planned to just make pbj for the kids, but then nixed the idea and served the salad to everyone. Charlie was thrilled it wasn't soup, Henry was excited about the garbanzos (I'd forgotten he loved them at the Farm to Table tasting for them earlier in the year) and Jack ate as much as he would have of anything. Boom. Dinner done. And I'd even forced myself to unload and load the dishwasher while the quinoa was cooking, so clean up was a breeze.

Speaking of freezer clean-out. I feel like every time the fall/holiday baking season comes around I stock up on every variety of chip known to man, only to come home to a freezer full of last year's spoils because one simply cannot make enough Oatmeal Scotchies to validate a purchase of 400 packages of butterscotch chips. After seeing Kate Jones' instagram of cookie dough at 6:30am, I felt compelled to make a batch of Our Best Bites Giant Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. I used half semi-sweet and half butterscotch chips, which eliminated another collection of quart freezer bags filled with half-used packages of chips. They were absolutely as good as they claim-that big douse of vanilla (I used my own, and it's so good) and lack of cinnamon make them perfect.

Then, because I felt just so efficient in my clean out efforts, a couple days later I made these Banana chocolate chip muffins. I had four brown bananas to use, so doubled the batch because the recipe said it only made a dozen. It does not. I easily got three dozen plus out of the double batch. I added diced walnuts because it makes them delicious, and it was another freezer bag emptied. The kids have loved having both treats in their lunches. I may have also let them have oatmeal cookies for breakfast on Sunday because, well, it's oatmeal.
I'm starting to see a little light where there may actually be some room in Mr. Freeze to get some dinners prepped and ready before baby girl's arrival, which is now officially scheduled for December 4th. 

Do you stockpile food to a certain extent and then 'forget' to use it? What are some of your tried and true use-what-we-have inspiration starting points? 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Manic Monday

This Monday was similar to all Mondays where you feel just a little bit behind all day long. Armed with coffee, I dropped the kids at school then came home to get ready to host my first 'baby' playdate. It was so quiet. I had forgotten how much noise the younger set doesn't make. It was kind of blissful, actually.

This week, I've decided to get serious about using up some of the older freezer meals that I have stored. Things like soups and meat store for a long time which can be good, but it can also be forgotten.

Last night was book club, so I wanted to have dinner ready and cleared well before it was time for me to leave. At about 3pm, I pulled a bag of Our Best Bites' Black Bean and Sweet Potato Turkey Chili that had been fully cooked when we originally had it for dinner (several months ago) and frozen flat with all air removed in a gallon ziploc bag. I thawed it for about an hour in a sink of lukewarm water and then let what liquid was fully thawed come to a simmer and left it simmering, stirring occasionally until warmed through. It was still just as good as the day it was made, so good! This meal is very filling and with both pumpkin and sweet potatoes, you kind of don't even need a side veggie.

I grated some jack cheese and sliced a couple avocados for topping options and everyone got to serve themselves.  Along with a fresh batch of cornbread, it was a full meal. For whatever reason, if my kids get to top their food themselves, they're much more likely to be excited about eating it.
These stacking mugs from World Market were way too big for anything other than the occasional giant latte, but they're perfect for soup!
While Charlie was showering after dinner and Jack was tucked into bed, H got some much-needed one-on-one time with J for a round of Battleship and I got to finish the ears and weave in ends on my Burton Bear Cowl. I can't wait to see it on the little girl whose mama asked me to make it, it's going to be adorable. Speaking of little girls and the Burton, check out my growing knitting buddy.
A few of the new patterns I have been working up require fun, chunky buttons. I took the chance to finally search for a way to brand my goods and landed on these really fun custom buttons from Remember Wynn on etsy. I used the font from my logo on the tiny ones and the typewriter font from part of the logo for the others. I love the tiny ones for things like the Julia Boot cuff by Pepperberry Knits, which I plan to make a boat load of in the upcoming months, and the bigger one for some of the hats and cowl patterns created by The Velvet Acorn which, along with Shannon Cook are some of my favorite pattern designers right now.

Speaking of colors and fonts and design, I've been working with etsy shop Jojo studios to create a new template via blogger so pretty soon the blog will have a whole new, custom look and I'm so excited to see it completed! Now, I need to get dressed and ready to meet with Leslie 'The Punisher' at the Y so I can feel extra blissful in the chair while I get my unintentional ombre taken care of. I love that our local Y makes having a personal trainer incredibly affordable, because guess who wouldn't be doing walking lunges across the raquetball court on her own? 

What do you have on the menu this week? Are you working on eating from your freezer or pantry? Up tonight is taco soup because it's dead simple and I have leftover sliced avocado. Also, Taco Tuesday.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Day of Rest

This is a drill weekend for J, so I've been flying solo since Friday and can I just reiterate that I'm so pleased my kids are not exceptionally talented in the soccer arena? Being able to adjust our schedules to my current energy level so that I'm the nicest mom possible has been a gift in the last trimester of this pregnancy, both to my kids and to myself.

Laundry folded and put away, clean sheets for everyone, and even time to sit and enjoy the beautiful fall (still summer) sunshine to knit while the kids played outside before a play date that ended in a gushing bloody nose for H, I was ready for an easy day today. Early to bed has made the early to rise of late not quite so punishing. 

Don't mind my fat finger in the corner.
This morning I gave the kids a quick breakfast at quarter to six, noting with a little wistfulness that it was still dark outside, and promised a more hearty, traditional Sunday morning meal for second breakfast. What, doesn't everyone have second breakfast on the regular? 

After two cups of coffee, an almost-nap for Jack and then a second wind, a Bath and Body Works Pumpkin Cinnamon Bun candle brought H wandering out to the kitchen asking if I had already made the treat.

I quickly searched pinterest and found this Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancake recipe on Thriving Home so that our treat could also be a relatively healthy meal. I said relatively. Using whole wheat flour, pumkin puree and coconut oil, they really aren't a terribly unhealthy option for a carb-o-licious sunday breakfast. I omitted the brown sugar because I don't ever add sugar to pancake mix. If you're going to eat them without maple syrup (an abomination if you ask me, and probably against a state law in all of New England) then by all means add the sugar. Also, stevia? Still not a fan. The only other change I made was to add some chopped pecans for a little texture.

Hot off the griddle, the kids gobbled them up and then I shoo'd them away to play with legos while I enjoyed every last bite of my still-warm trio. Slicked with Kerrygold and pure maple syrup, these aren't super pretty to look at in the photo, but they tasted beautiful. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Good Common Horse Sense

The boys have thus far not shown a ton of interest in organized sports. They like them, but haven't found one that they love yet. They both like to do a lot outdoors, but they're not the next Beckham or Brady, and the amount of time and energy spent racing them around to practices and games for something they don't truly enjoy is simply not worth the stress, so the search for a fun activity continues.

H has expressed a ton of interest in horseback riding, but finding a stable that provides lesson horses in an area with a lot of ranches and farms has been challenging as most people have their own horses when it comes time to learn.

I felt like I won the lottery when I found a woman who not only gives great lessons, but prefers to use her own horse. And what a beauty he is. Tall, strong, gentle and a mere twenty-two years old, O will ease my kids into the horsey world with style.

Last night was their first lesson and they both had a great time. At 17.3 hands high, I was worried that Charlie wouldn't want to get on, but he actually did really awesome, following the teacher's commands, learning great posture and how to keep his seat. H was a little bit more reluctant to keep his hands off the horn, but the teacher is adamant about learning how to sit properly and not handicap yourself by relying on the reins or saddle, so it's a great combination of calm reassurance and strict insistence on good form.

I'm looking forward to seeing how they improve and also for the respect and discipline that comes from interacting with an animal (especially one so large in comparison to yourself.) And, of course, the biology lessons that come from being around farm animals are awesome. Why yes, children, horses' penises do get really long when you're brushing them down after unsaddling and they finally relax. And so it begins...

Monday, September 8, 2014

Festivities and Fajitas

This is seconds before the words 'stop being weird' flew out of my mouth.
Yesterday we celebrated H's ninth birthday...a month late. Don't get me wrong, we had a fun day on his actual birthday, but his friend group is kind of small so planning his birthday party this year was a little tricky with summer vacation schedules and J's schedule to work around.

The whole summer I've just felt behind the ball. H requested a red velvet ice cream cake for his birthday, and I'd found the perfect recipe followed by a serendipitous posting by Our Best Bites for cheesecake ice cream. However, it slowly devolved from ice cream cake, to red velvet cupcakes with ice cream on the side to a very first for me; ordering the cake from a bakery for his party, which I felt needlessly guilty about. And you know what? We all enjoyed the cake and nobody will end up in therapy. Phew, glad I finally had that revelation.
Love the cake server? Check out ASpoonful and support a local mama-owned small busines!

My parents and sister came over for the party with my nieces yesterday and joined us for lunch beforehand. As I was putting away the leftover Papa Murphy's I spied the thawed flank steak that should have already been in the crock pot to be our dinner. Shoot! I groaned and debated for a few seconds just saving it for dinner the next night, but knew I'd come home from the party after four o'clock and be very sad that I hadn't taken the time to make a real dinner and we'd have crappy cereal or something. No judgement, but that's just been happening all too often this summer.

I quickly pulled out the crock pot, mixed up the seasonings, patted both sides of the flank steak, drizzled in 2T of soy sauce over the steak, chopped four bell peppers and an onion and added those to the pot and turned it to high for 4.5 hours, thinking it'd at least be ready for J and I to eat with the big boys after putting Jack to bed. 

When we pulled back into the garage after the party, I was so glad I'd taken the time to throw dinner together because it smelled delicious and I didn't have to think about dinner as J and I sat and stared into space nursing cake-overs and H and Charlie happily built the new lego spoils.
I love all the sunlight we get being direct west-facing in the evening, but it makes taking a decent photo a little challenging at the dinner table.

Fresh from the crock pot

I forgot to add the garlic and jalepeno in my rush, but it was all good, because I cracked open a can of last fall's green tomato salsa as one of the toppings. On corn tortillas with salsa, cilantro, avaocado and the meat/pepper mix, these were so good and, again, really filling. This would be a great addition to any week night rotation with busy days abounding now that school is back in session. These are definitely more 'pot roast' in flavor and texture than traditional steak fajitas, but still outstanding.

Slow Cooker Flank Steak Fajitas
100 Days of Real Food

1 ½ lbs flank steak, preferably grass fed 
1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons soy sauce, preferably the low-sodium variety
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 – 5 bell peppers, any color
1 onion

Optional: whole-wheat or corn tortillas, grated cheese (I didn't use any cheese), avocado, cilantro, lime, greens, sour cream, salsa, etc.

Mix together the dry spices with a fork including the chili powder, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. Rub the spice mixture over all sides of the flank steak and place it in the bottom of the slow cooker. Sprinkle the soy sauce on top. Top the flank steak with the diced jalapeno and minced garlic. Slice the bell peppers and onion and throw those on top of the steak as well. Turn the slow cooker onto HIGH and cook for 5 – 6 hours or until the steak can easily be shredded with two forks. Drain the meat and peppers well then serve with the recommended fajita “fixings” (listed above).