Thursday, February 28, 2013

Breaking out of the box: Menu planning excitement

For the last year or so, we have been attempting to cook vegetarian dinners for Mr. Moon's parents with varying degrees of success. The motivation for this in the beginning has to do with hormones in animal products (both the natural ones and the ones that get pumped into them in our food supply system), and how that affects certain cancers. Whatever the reasoning, that has been dropped from Pops' medical recommendations list, and he says he is now free to eat whatever he wants. Mum still wants to keep the meat to a minimum for her own reasons and because she is proud of the weight they've lost in the last year. The fact that they went from eating restaurant food 7 nights a week (and if not 7 the rest were out of a box) to home cooked meals at least 5 nights a week probably had more to do with the weight loss in my opinion, but if it keeps them from eating out or from a box too much then the "why" probably doesn't matter.

On the one hand, it's been frustrating because there were only so many meals that the 'Rents were willing to eat. Mum is a lot more adventurous as long as it's not spicy, but Pops wants his hearty, traditional meals. These of course rely on lots of heavy starches that aren't good for Mum's diabetes, but she's eating tons of junk food and sugar the rest of the day anyway so I don't know that my efforts on dinner even make a difference. Plus, apparently my inspiration for vegetarian foods that wouldn't result in a slow riot from the living room pretty boiled down to serving lots of soups.

On the other hand, having "themes" and some limitations on the food really did help narrow our choices somewhat, which makes meal planning a bit easier. I'll spend some kind going through my Pinterest for meal planning ideas, because I've saved some even if I couldn't use them right now. Our themes might change, but Mum and I are committed to keeping lots of fresh vegetables in our diets.

If nothing else, this is an opportunity to shake things up a bit and be a little more exploratory!
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Does your family have "themes" for meal planning? How about diverging diets and reluctant eaters? How do you make it all work out in your home?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Recipe/Prepping: Homemade Lunchables

Since Mr. Moon and I have SUCH a busy schedule this week, and a VERY strict budget, we knew we'd better do something about snacking and meals on the go. We've found ourselves allowing a splurge now and again of fast food (albeit not the worst choices in fast food) because we're out and about, hungry, and need something fast. Having decided to do something about this, we put a list of snack ideas on our menu plan, but haven't been great at using it. 

Enter the busy week. Now it's imperative that we have solid meal plans! And finger foods. And while staring blankly at the whiteboard, I suddenly blurted out, "Lunchables." Not so much exclaimed it, just blurted. And then I looked at Mr. Moon and said, "I don't mean buy them, I mean make our own." I think I could safely describe the look on his face as "ravenous" or perhaps "crazed," and he informed me that he had no idea what I had in mind but he knew it would be delicious. And so it began.


I don't know that I can call this a recipe, since there wasn't much cooking involved. Let's call this a list of suggestions. 

For 6 containers, we used:
Leftover salami, costing perhaps $2
Peppered salami, about 1/3 of a pound at $5.50/pound
Pepperoni, about a half pound at $4/pound
Cheddar cheese, about an ounce per box ($3/pound)
Mozzarella cheese, about an ounce per box ($3.50/pound)
Hardboiled egg ($1.24/dozen)
Pickle Spear ($3 for a half gallon jar, I'm calling this a dime per spear)
Two packages of crackers at $2.50 per package, each having three servings

Let's break that down:
$14.57 for six adult-sized lunchables, at just $2.42 apiece, each equalling about 3 Oscar Meyer Lunchables apiece (based on weight). We would have to buy 18 OMLs to make these, which would cost $1.87 each at my local Safeway, more than double the register price at $29.92, and the ingredients wouldn't be anywhere near as good. 

What else could we use?
Cold potatoes, seasoned or marinated in vinaigrette dressing
More pickles of various kinds
Olives
Pickled/marinated green beans
Different kinds of cured/stable meats
Different kinds of cheese
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What would you put in your homemade Lunchables?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Latest Dirt: Before the 2013 season

Mr. Moon and I finally got a break, and he had a day off at the same time as we had some decent weather. We got outside under a nice warm sun, got some "before" pictures of this year's garden and yard, and prepped the existing raised beds for spring gardening. 

Before the 2013 season:
To the right of the front door/front walk: blue bulby flowers (no idea what they're called, but currently they're the grassy stuff); irises that really needed splitting last fall; a volunteer rose bush that we keep cutting out; two hydrangea plants; and a yellow dahlia. TO DO: Rake out wood chips, chop back dahlias, rip out rosebush, split and spread the little blue flowers, and split the irises; maybe bring some lilies from elsewhere in the yard over here to be in with the irises.
To the left of the front door: Our container bed. We've had swiss chard in these all winter, there's some geraniums that lasted, and something that we never got the name of in the back. These are typically annuals. TO DO: I'm going to spend some time on them this year, try to fill them completely instead of haphazardly, and also try to get some useful stuff in there as well (like saving some of this swiss chard, perhaps). The ramp and bedframe need some TLC, a little structural support and a paint job. 

To the left of the front walk: A line of scraggly, half-dead, very unhappy roses that like to snag your skirts and sweaters, and some more of those grassy blue flowers (I love these, BTW, they look great most of the year even if we only get flowers for a few weeks). TO DO: Rake out all the wood chips, re-edge the bed on the grass side, dig up and spread the blue flower bulbs; I'm also going to take cuttings from a few of these plants, re-root them, and replace them with new plants so we can start over without having to buy roughly 20-30 new rose bushes. 

 In front of the dining room: More scraggly rose bushes, a Yukka plant, and that tuft of grassy stuff is garlic! There's more garlic between the rose bushes as well that's popping up green leaves. TO DO: Rake out the wood chips, re-edge the grassy side, replace these bushes. 

Along the front walk: More scraggly rose bushes, mint transplants from the back that may or may not grow back, some sort of bulby flowers around the tree and randomly toward the other end. TO DO: Bring more mint up here if the transplants don't take, rake out the wood chips and leaves, replace the plants, fill in between rose bushes with blue grassy flowers and mint. 

MISSING PICTURE: Along the driveway: lilies, dead heather plants, mint, yukka plant, japanese maple. TO DO: rip out yukka and dead plants and random tree that blocks the passenger side of my car (OK I might try pruning that first, but it's in a BAD spot), rake out wood chips, split lilies, maybe put some irises in with the lilies. 

MISSING PICTURE: Along the other side of the garage: Air conditioner, dead heather and azalea plants, random junk. TO DO: rip out dead plants, replace. 

Along the back wall: More rose bushes that snag your clothes and cover the walk; volunteer blackberry bushes and a huge clematis that block access to the faucet; random stack of chairs; obnoxious crab apple tree; a few spots for hanging planters, including one dead fuchsia one. TO DO: Rip everything out. I mean everything! All the removed wood chips from other places are going to go here, after I rake the existing ones out, dig everything out, and cover the entire area in an awful LOT of newspaper to discourage regrowth. Eventually I'm hoping to turn this into a container gardening area, keeping it nice and neat and contained to avoid blocking access to the faucet. 

Along the back shed, across the sidewalk from the previous picture: scraggly rose bushes, broken trellises, random (UNUSED!) toilet, bush stump, volunteer blackberries, and at the extreme left edge is another crab apple tree. TO DO: rake out the wood chips (surprise, surprise), re-edge the beds, replace the rose bushes and trellises, plant stuff in the toilet, build a "tank" to the toilet that's going to have a fairy house and tea patio on it, get a sink to plant stuff in. 

Around to the left of the last picture, along the back fence: aforementioned stump, rose bush?, hanging basket, a lot of empty space, flag pole that needs re-hanging and re-stringing. TO DO: rake out the wood chips, rip all plants out except blackberries, re-edge, fill in, and propagate blackberry bushes.  

MISSING PICTURE, Next frame to the left: Trellis hung with nothing to grow on it, and some random weird plants that we aren't sure if they'll grow back. TO DO: Rake, edge, fill, replant. 

Next frame to the left: blueberries, raspberries, and a whole heck of a lot of pine needles, plus some wood chips. TO DO: rake, edge, fill, nurture the berries. 

Next frame to the left, all the way to the edge of our back yard: This is the mint garden, which also got carrots and cauliflower planted in it, though they never flourished. TO DO: rake, edge, fill the back corner, perhaps add some additional varieties of mint. 

Headed toward the front yard now, one more frame to the left: the compost pile that butts up against a crab apple tree and the neighbor's fence. TO DO: rip out the apple tree, rake out wood chips, build a new compost bin with at least two and perhaps three slots; re-edge this section and the rest of it against the fence. 

And to the left: rhododendrons and plum tree on the right; cherry tree next to the front fence; butterfly bushes on the left by the house. TO DO: rake, edge; plant sunflowers between the bushes and perhaps some climbing vegetable to climb the sunflowers; take out those butterfly bush stakes. This is the area we're building our raised beds, though we've changed our plans for those and that's a discussion for a later date. 

 The veggie garden! From the back: containers full of herbs, dead hanging planters, broken trellis, some shepherd's hooks. The basil, cilantro, dill and tarragon died over the winter, but the thyme, lavender, rosemary, and oregano flourished. The chives had been drowned out early in the rainy season, but apparently Mr. Moon dumped the pond at some point and they're growing back nicely. 

From the front: the left bed has leeks, beet greens, and kale that never really flourished, though the leeks did well enough. Some random bits of garlic. The right bed has the remains of nasturtiums, and was supposed to be radishes and who knows what else? TO DO: rip out the contents, cover with newspaper and cardboard. 

DONE! TO DO: plan out the beds, buy seeds, get seedlings started on top of the fridge.

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I'm pretty excited about our plans for this season. What are your plans outside this year?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Freezer Meals and Batch Cooking tips

A friend on Facebook asked if anyone had ideas for freezer meals. Stuff you can make up and freeze for easy meals later. This is a project I've been working on for the last year, but felt I hadn't gotten as far as I'd have liked with it. Then I started typing... and realized just how much I'd learned!

Well I spent 20 minutes writing up a list for her, and thought it might be a helpful reference for others. If I don't have a recipe for something and I'd like one from me, feel free to comment and I'll write one up.

* Tip: When cooking casseroles from frozen, put them in a cold oven. It decreases the likelihood of your dish shattering. 

Non-Soups:
Broccoli Mac

Sloppy Joes (in this house is usually lentil sloppy joe's because it's one of the vegetarian meals Pops truly LIKES)

Marinara sauce (because I didn't have canning supplies until recently

Sausage gravy! I love making a batch of sausage gravy and then being able to heat it up in the microwave on a whim for breakfasts (usually)

Shepherd's Pie freezes great!

Mashed potatoes heat up from frozen in a 400 degree oven in a couple hours, but are much better if you thaw them first.

I like to cook ground beef or even stew/steak chunks, spread it on a cookie sheet and freeze it, then dump the crumbles into a bag. This makes it easy to add some beef to an otherwise vegetarian soup/stir fry/etc. dish, like chili or mushroom barley soup. Also along this line, buying burger in bulk, seasoning it, and freezing it in patties on cookie sheets so they come out one at a time. Black bean patties are supposed to work great this way, though I haven't tried that myself yet.

* Tip: If you're overwhelmed with the idea of stocking your freezer with easy meals for later, I have one suggestion: Cook more. That's it. Make yourself a list of the things you want in your freezer, map them out over the next few weeks, and make them for dinner (or lunch or whatever). Then, when you're making it, make an extra batch or two. You don't even have to do it every day, a few days a week will get your freezer stocked pretty quickly. Then it's all about maintaining some stock. If you make an extra casserole every time you make one, then plan ahead to have two casserole days each week: One on a busy day to make dinner easy by pulling it straight from the freezer, and one on a lighter day where you can make two. 

Lasagna (don't cook the noodles; I don't anyway, but the longer cooking time would make the super mushy if cooked ahead)

Enchiladas

Jambalaya/gumbo

Baked potatoes (? haven't tried this yet)

Darn near any traditional pasta/rice/potato casserole with cream of crap soup and some sort of meat and veggies (I make my own cream of crap soup from scratch, super easy, and freeze in 12 oz portions, but if I were going to make casseroles to freeze I'd do both at the same time)

I caramelized a HUGE batch of onions into onion goop and froze it in baby food jars, perfect for thawing out the night before I know I want a turkey sandwich or portobella melt (yummmm). You could also caramelize them a little less so the onions are still individual, which would make french onion soup an easy dish later. I don't like french onion soup that's frozen with the onions and brotyh together, YMMV.

* Tip: I have an overabundance of casserole dishes, but some people don't. You could go to your local thrift store and buy some in the best sizes for your family, or you could line the pan with freezer paper before you put the food in; then you fill with food, freeze, remove the paper (from the food too) and freeze in a bag or wrapped up in plastic wrap. When ready to cook, pop the food back into the same casserole dish and bake. This way you have use of your casserole dish when you're not actively freezing something. If you find that the food is not slipping right back into your pan, next time try lining the pan with a layer of cardboard between the pan and the paper, giving yourself a little gap of leeway. 

Soups:
Potato Leek/Baked Potato (only difference is the leeks, because I top with cheese and bacon and sour cream regardless)

Wild Rice and veggie, similar to mushroom barley

Chili (I usually make it too thick and then thin with stock or tomatoes when I reheat, just to save space)

Split pea (great vegetarian, or with ham, bacon, smoked turkey leg, even just chicken)

Chicken stew, reheat with fresh dumplings from Jiffy mix

So. Many. Soups. Nothing with pasta, bad bad plan. Add the pasta when you heat up later. Most of these even reheat well in the crockpot, I just dump the frozen block of soup in and turn it on high, it's usually reheated in a couple hours.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Menu: Feb 25-Mar 3


Five doctor appointments this week, five work shifts at Mr. Moon's new job, and three hours a day of physical therapy... We looked at the schedule for the week on Saturday and realized that this was going to be a DOOZY! Fortunately, I was having a spectacular day on Sunday, and we realized in enough time to do something about it.

We made easy dinner plans, and if we're having soup four days this week, at least they're all drastically different. We made breakfast and lunch plans that are fast, easy, and portable. We even made snack plans! And believe it or not, we even scheduled out the chores so as to not forget them.

Since we got two solid months of having a monthly dinner plan behind us, we were able to evaluate the differences. On the one hand, it was nice to have a short list of options, and a way to focus on rotating through the freezer. On the other hand, we noticed more waste as some days didn't pan out according to the plan, or simply couldn't accommodate leftovers and over-purchasing. So we've decided to forego the monthly plan for now. We may come back to it, that's the nature of flexible systems, but for now it's not working for us.

Instead, we put together a checklist that can go to the whiteboard meeting with us. It looks a little something like this:
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  1. Clean out/inventory fridge
  2. Ask Pops his schedule
  3. Write
  • Dates
  • Weather
  • A/B week (some chores get done every other week)
  • Schedule
  1. Schedule:
  • Date night
  • Laundry day
  • Swimming/Gym time
  • Social events?
  1. To Do list
  2. Meal Plan (see below)

Meal Planning:
  1. Grab freezer inventory list
  2. Dinner plan
  • Use up fridge stuff
  • Use up freezer stuff (inside first!)
  • Re-stock freezer meals too!
    2 On Your Own
      1 Meat
      1 Bird
      1 Fish
      2 Veggie
  1. Breakfast/Lunch/Snack plan
  2. Shopping list
  3. Freezer fetch list (for Mr. Moon to grab everything for the week's meals at once)

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What's on the menu?

Breakfasts: Yogurt with granola and fruit; fruit; cranberry orange muffins; eggs (and toast or as sandwiches).

Lunches: Homemade Lunchables! (That's a post for a different day.); quesadillas; pasta salad (which never got made).

Snacks: Lunchables; fruit; cottage cheese and pineapple; granola.

Dinners:
Monday: Chicken Tortilla soup (uses up enchilada sauce, and we got to make black beans for it in the pressure cooker!) [chicken; brothy soup; crockpot; leftovers; batch]

Tuesday: Split Pea Soup (uses up minced ham from chicken cordon bleu last week) [pork; thick soup; crockpot; leftovers; batch]

Wednesday: On Your Own! Mum is making Pops the pork roast that he asked for. I'm probably having steak and mushrooms. Mr. Moon, who knows? [OYO]

Thursday: Potato Leek Soup [vegetarian; thick soup; crockpot; freezer]

Friday: Rockfish, couscous, random vegetable [fish; pasta; traditional; freezer]

Saturday: "Stuffed Cabbage" soup. (Cabbage, tomato, rice, and I'm sure some carrots and onions) [vegetarian; brothy soup; crockpot; batch?]

Sunday: OYO; no idea what I'm having yet, but I want tacos soooo badly. [OYO]
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What's your meal plan this week? Need more ideas? I'll be linking up with orgjunkie.com, where there are plenty of other menu plans to help jog some ideas for your own family's needs.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Recipe: Broccoli Mac

This recipe came about because Mum wanted homemade Mac & Cheese, and I wanted to feed them something vegetarian and that had some vegetables in it. Voila, Broccoli Mac was born. Bonus, this recipe makes three loaf pans, so you can freeze two for easy meals later.

Ingredients:
2 cups (or one 1lb box) whole wheat noodles (rotini or elbow is best)
2 lbs cheddar cheese, shredded
___ Broccoli florets (I don't know how much! A few handfuls? 2 medium heads?)
3 bread loaf pans
Salt, pepper, granulated garlic to taste
Milk (not much, separated)

Directions:
1). Boil the noodles, and strain, saving the water if at all possible--READ THE NEXT STEP before you drain! [This water is great for your plants once it cools, or to poke some life into your compost pile over the winter when the water is still warm.]

2). Chop your broccoli into small florets. You want these to be able to fit in your mouth with noodles too, so don't go too big! If you can save the water easily, cook these florets separately right after you strain the noodles. If your system isn't set up for that, consider getting a new system, and toss the broccoli in for the last 2-3 minutes of the pasta's cooking time. They don't need to be cooked all the way, just about halfway so they're not too crunchy when they're baked.

3). Spray or butter the loaf pans. Put a THIN layer of noodles on the bottom, just enough to barely cover. Sprinkle with seasonings and a light layer of cheese.

4). Layer in a nice, thick layer of broccoli. Pack that stuff in there. Play Tetris with it. Make it double thick if you like. You don't need to leave much room at the top, especially on any you're going to freeze (I'll explain why later). Season to taste (go nuts with the garlic and pepper, easy on the salt--cheese it pretty salty). Light layer of cheese now!

5). Fill the pan with noodles. Mound it up a bit if you're going to freeze them, because they shrink considerably when that cold air dehydrates them. If cooking right now, go a little easier on the broccoli in the middle so you get a nice layer of pasta without having to squish it, and leaving a little room for cheese.

6). For cooking right now: Sprinkle a nice, thick layer of cheese on top, season (this is the only place I put salt), splash gently with a dash of milk (totally optional at this point) and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 until the cheese starts to brown all across the top.

7). For freezing: Skip that last layer of cheese, it won't cook right from frozen. Cover with foil and freeze. When you're ready to cook, DO NOT PREHEAT THE OVEN especially if you are using a glass dish. Pull off the foil gently (you'll be reusing it), top with cheese, season to taste (this is the only place I put salt), and drizzle in about a shot of milk of some kind. This liquid is necessary to rehydrate the noodles, which get pretty dry in the freezer, so don't skip it. Put the foil back on, put in the oven, and turn your oven to 375. When the cheese under the foil is completely melted (about 45 minutes), take the foil off so the cheese can brown (about another 15 minutes). You want to see bubbles boiling up the sides, that tells you it's heated through.

Total cooking time from frozen is about an hour. This makes 4 average adult servings. Really active adults, probably only three (or two and two kids portions). [vegetarian; pasta; batch]

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Menu: Feb 18-24

We had a lovely fire pit party tonight. A few friends over, some nice woodsmoke action, enough chill in the air to appreciate the fire heat, and delicious stir fry that cleaned out the fridge of some random and leftover and over-purchased produce. Winning all around!

Fortunately, we took 10 minutes before people were invited to show up and made our meal plan for the week. We are still working on burning through some of the older products in the pantry and freezer, while accommodating cravings and requests that aren't on our monthly menu plan. It's a work in progress.

I'd really like to take the time to carve out some room in the freezer, plan ahead, and do a power-prepping session to put some food in the freezer. Things that we can dump into a casserole dish, the dutch oven or a crockpot and make really easily. But for now, I'll make do with focusing on eating what we've got.
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What's on the menu?

Breakfasts: Hash of some kind with gravy and eggs; peppered eggs; smoothies.

Lunches: Pasta salad, shrimp and avocado salad, grilled cheese

Dinners:
Monday: Open-faced turkey sandwiches, mashed potatoes and carrots [turkey; traditional; freezer]

Tuesday: Mushroom Barley Soup (for the 'Rents and Mr. Moon)/Portobella Mushroom melt for me [vegetarian; soup; freezer]

Wednesday: On Your Own ('Rents are OYO, Mr. Moon is dining at a work meeting, I'm having Nachos!) [OYO]

Thursday: Chicken cordon bleu, tri-color potato salad, green beans [chicken; pork; freezer; off-menu]

Friday: Salmon with lemon cream sauce (third attempt is the charm, right?) [fish; freezer]

Saturday: Sloppy Joe's (there's only enough for the 'Rents and maybe one more person, so I may have to find something else for me or Mr. Moon) [vegetarian; freezer]

Sunday: On Your Own (Mr. Moon is having leftovers or lamb curry stew; I'm probably going to have leftover nacho meat, but if not I'll have to think of something else) [OYO]

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole: Pressure Cooking


Last week, the local natural foods store had organic canned beans on sale for a good price. I made a list of what needed stocking up, and realized we were about to spend $100 or more on them. It seems to me like we could make our own for less than 88 cents per can, if only we had the equipment. For starters, we already have the beans in dried form; they're just a pain to cook-to-order, and I like having canned beans around for "Oh Shit!" meals, lunches/snacks like quesadillas and lazy nachos. So having them cooked and not frozen is sort of imperative in my world.

So instead of spending the money to stock up on canned beans, we instead spent the money on a pressure cooker. It was a bit of a whim, especially since I'm normally one to research these purchases to death. But I have been keeping an eye on pressure cookers and canning equipment for a bit now, and had a vague idea what I was looking for price-wise (mostly the question of what we can afford). So when I stumbled upon a link on Amazon for a 10 qt Fagor pressure cooker with canning tools, I sent the link to my brother to see if it was a good deal. Better than just being an excellent deal, he informed me that it's the same pressure cooker he owns and loves, as well as the one most recommended by America's Test Kitchen. Sold. Order placed, expecting delivery in 3-5 days.

It came in Saturday, and I am stoked! Mr. Moon and I watched the included DVD, so we know how to operate the thing. I was reading through the canning manual that came with it, so I think I have a handle on that. I'm going to refrain from making up my own recipes, and just follow some tried-and-true ones for safety's sake.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Getting Active: The Junk Food Paradox

Mr. Moon and I acquired a membership to the local community center. Besides pool tables, ping pong tables, and a cafe, it also has a climbing wall, a pool, a walking track, and the usual exercise equipment. Of course, they also have a full schedule of classes.

As a swimmer all through elementary, middle and high school, that's of course what I was most excited to do. The fact that it's the only thing I'm cleared to do thanks to many years of damage on my joints doesn't dampen the excitement factor. Mr. Moon is most excited for Pickle ball, Volleyball, and the water slide. I foresee many hours at the rec center for a while!

Of course, with all this extra activity from the past week, our bodies are crying out for calories. Fast calories, easy to digest, and high on the "quick energy" meter. That means that combined with my raging PMS this week, much potato chips, peanut M&M's, and ice cream have been consumed. Can you say,

Junk Food Binge!?

I'm letting go what we've already eaten, what's done is done. Now I'm buckling down and focusing on having some good snacks available for those after-workout mow-down sessions. It's doubly important to have nutrient-dense foods for breakfasts and lunches that are easy on the stomach, since we're mostly planning on going swimming right after breakfast, and so far we're coming home ready for lunch. Or at least a good hearty snack.

So far, I've come up with only a few ideas. I've got a gallon lemonade jug of homemade sports drink: Lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit juices with a splash of honey and a pinch of salt. GREAT for replenishing electrolytes without all the processed junk in Gatorade and Powerade.

Nuts are a great snack food, but they hurt my teeth. I keep making veggie snacks and completely forgetting them, or not wanting them when they're in front of me. Less so with fruits, but those too. Everything else that I can think of or find on Pinterest keeps requiring me to make/cook/chop/prepare something when I want to eat it, and that defeats the purpose. I'm still stuck on this, and maybe always will be, if the last 15 years are any indication.

I know that I sound hypocritical when I rail against the junk in sports drinks after I just finished a bag of Doritos. First of all, I've never claimed to be perfect. Perfectly flawed, perhaps, in that I know I am flawed and I recognize the internal inconsistencies with which I struggle. One of them being a perfectionist streak, that quietly whispers in my ear the idea that if you can't do anything 100%, you shouldn't bother doing it at all.

I disagree. Any time you pick a salad over french fries, you are doing an awesome thing for yourself and your body. Every minute you meditate is like picking a salad over fries. Every time you get up and out to the pool even though the blankets are soooo comfy and you really didn't sleep well, when you tell yourself you're not in enough pain to give yourself a break today and you get up and climb in that pool, you are making a choice that's good for you. Better for you than the alternative.

That's my goal. Better. I wanted Doritos, and if my angry uterus had anything to say about it, I was going to eat them. So I picked a small bag instead of a big one. I picked the water over the soda, I picked the pool over staying in bed. I picked the cloth napkin over the paper towel, and the food at home over the fast food burgers that smelled so good. I picked growing my own vegetables over buying them from the store, and I picked the local ones over the produce from far away (when I had the choice). I picked working out at all over staying at home watching a movie, even if I didn't necessarily worry about heart rate and speed and calories burned. Those can some later. For now, I'm proud of just doing Better.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Menu: Feb 11-17; monthly menu planning, and accommodating religious restrictions

Our monthly menu ideas project is working, in the sense that we're sticking to it about 80% of the time. The issue we seem to be running into as of this week is that, because of the way the dates fell at the beginning of the month, we've already used all the "meat" ideas and we're only halfway through the month. Fortunately this month that means that by the end of the week, that leaves us only 10 days to fill, and we can have a little extra fish and chicken.

The only other issue is that for a while we were going grocery shopping earlier in the day, around 10 or 11 am. Recently we had to do it in the evening due to morning appointments, and discovered that it is MUCH easier to go shopping during the late afternoon and evening. That's the time I'm used to the stores being PACKED with people, but apparently not here. Of course, the fact that it's quieter because people are already at home cooking their dinners also means WE should be at home cooking our dinners. So we've had to start thinking about planning dinner ahead and not making it be a day that we cook right at dinner time; things that are already prepped and ready to go, things we throw in the crockpot earlier in the day, something! This week it happens to be going out to dinner, but at least we know for next week.

Lent is upon us now, so the 'Rents need to not eat meat on Fridays. The idea of fish not being meat is a rant for a different day, but more pressing is that it keeps being presented as, "We Must Have Fish On Fridays." I know that phrasing it as such comes from a mindset of eating a Meat, Starch, "Vegetable" meal every day for dinner, but accuracy is important. At least they do seem to understand that is not the case, and I am in fact allowed to feed them vegetarian food that day as well. Still, I've written "NO MEAT" in wet-erase marker on Friday's dinner slot, so we don't accidentally put a meat meal that day. By design we have at least two vegetarian meals per week, plus a fish meal, so 3 of our 5 meals should fit there just fine.
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What's on the Menu?


Breakfasts: Hash; Bagels; Smoothies

Lunches: Turkey Sandwiches; Pasta Salad; Grilled Cheese

Dinners:
Monday: Corned Beef Soup (using up some leftovers) [soup; leftovers; pressure; freezer]

Tuesday: Going Out Tonight!

Wednesday: On Your Own; Mom & Pops are having Tuna Noodle Casserole, Mr. Moon and I are having date night with Shrimp Alfredo. [fish; freezer; OYO]

Thursday: Oven-Fried Chicken (my mom's recipe), green beans, and biscuits [chicken; freezer; traditional]

Friday: Salmon with lemon cream sauce and scallions, broccoli, and wild rice (held over from last week) [fish; freezer]

Saturday: Potato Leek Soup with leeks from our own garden! [vegetarian; soup; crockpot; backstock; garden]


Sunday: On Your Own; Mr. Moon and I are going to have Barbacoa tacos, cooked in the pressure cooker [beef; tex-mex; pressure]




February meal ideas:
Beef/Pork: Hamburger gravy (w/ meatloaf meat)enchiladas (w/ meatloaf meat); corned beef soup

Bird: Chicken fried rice; open-faced turkey sandwiches; Mom's oven-fried chicken; hummus-crusted chicken (or chicken cordon bleu since there is a lot of experimental food here)

Fish: Salmon (scallion & lemon); whitefish (wasabi); krab pasta w/ garlic sauce; whitefish and rice casserole (from last month); tuna noodle casserole

Vegetarian: split pea (from last month)wild rice & mushroom soup; potato leek soup; ravioli w/ peas and alfredo; sloppy joe's; mushroom barley soup; lentil soup (from last month); black bean burgers; mushroom zucchini "lasagna"

OYO ideas: Tortellini w/ pumpkin alfredo; lamb curry stew; chili and hot dogs; portobella & red pepper melts with broccoli pesto; sashimi bowl; thai curry chicken; barbacoa; shrimp tacos

Friday, February 8, 2013

Better late than never: Master Wish List of Projects 2013

Between my vacation and the subsequent recovery, somehow it is February. I never got new "before" pictures of the house and yard, and I never made a new To Do list that I just realized hasn't even been updated since SEPTEMBER!

This is the perfect opportunity for me to make excuses or beat myself up about not meeting my goals. But I'm in a really good place today, so I'm just going to acknowledge both the fact that this is the situation as well as my feelings of surprise at this being where we are now, and move onto accomplishing the goals I set out to begin with.

So without further ado, a fun little list of ideas of what we want to accomplish in the coming year, sorted by area of the homestead.

Everywhere, first step:
  • Get before pictures!
Front Yard:
  • Replant container bed by front door.
  • Remove the rose bush that is creeping into the walkway.
  • Re-edge the existing beds, and refill with wood chips as needed--not buying more though!
  • Prune roses. All the roses. Possibly use the pruned bits to grow roots on new plants, potentially even to replace the existing ones that aren't in the best shape. 
  • Fill the beds with flowers. What we have now leaves most of the yard bare most of the time, I'd like to landscape in such a way as to have something blooming most of the time and not ever have to look at a bunch of rotting yuck. 
Back Yard:
  • Plant the toilet planter or get rid of it. 
  • Prune the roses along the shed, re-trellis them, or get rid of them.
  • Remove the tree by the patio, and the one by the compost.
  • Remove most of the plants (and wood chips) along the back of the house and re-plant that whole area with usefulness and patio parties in mind. 
  • Re-edge the existing beds. 
  • Break down firewood. 
  • Hang eye bolts on the hanging planter rail. 
Vegetable Gardening:
  • Pull out existing plants. Cover beds with newspaper and cardboard. 
  • Build compost bin.
  • Build raised beds. 
  • Plan and execute vegetable gardening plan! It's almost time to think about starting seeds inside. 
  • Install rain barrels. 
Outside House:
  • Power wash siding, concrete, windows.
  • Repaint wheelchair ramp. 
Garage:
  • Clean out garage.
  • Donate tools and such. 
  • Arrange garage as lounge area. 
  • Related: Move to a smaller storage unit if possible. 
Inside House/Hallway:
  • Paint all the things! Every single room needs a paint job.
  • Scrub hardwood in entryway and seal it. 
  • Replace some/all of the flooring (esp. kitchen and bathrooms, also dining room, hallway, living room).
Kitchen:
  • Replace chandelier with globe light. 
  • Bolster the small appliance shelves.
  • Sand and refinish the countertop edges and backsplash.
  • Install a tile backsplash behind stovetop.
Dining Room:
  • Clean, reorganize bookshelves.
  • Sand and refinish the tabletop. 
  • Replace curtains.
Living Room:
  • Replace/Dye curtains.
Office:
  • Sort, scrub, and reorganize. 
  • Set up Mum's computer. 
Master Bedroom:
  • Install more lights.
Small Bedroom:
  • Put DVDs in garage.
  • Unpack records.
  • Unpack books.
  • Dust everything. 
  • Put up my jewelry and hair stuff. 
Laundry Room:
  • Sort cleaning supplies and store properly.
  • Move toilet paper and paper towels inside.
Cooking:
  • Lacto-fermented veggies
  • Kombucha
  • Sourdough and whole grain everything! Pretzels, pancakes/waffles, cookies, who knows what else
  • Yogurt and sour cream
  • Perfect the mozzarella recipe
  • Roasted chickpea snacks
  • Sprouts
  • Mr. Moon wants to get more into baking in general, and I want to get into baking with soaked & sprouted grains
  • CANNING! 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Menu: Feb 4-10

The monthly menu planning is going really well. A couple times in the last two weeks I've reigned us in from other weekly menu items that weren't on the monthly menu plan, just trying to see if the monthly menu list idea is working. So far, it is, and the effort has saved us from picking menu items that sound good (probably because we're hungry) but require a lot of ingredients we don't already have. Doing this in a two-step process is great, because each step can have a different focus:

  • Monthly menu planning is all about ideas to use up what we have already (since we have an overabundance). 
  • Weekly menu planning is all about how each menu item relates to the others, our goals, the schedule, and to a lesser degree what perishables we have. 
That being said, if we have a bunch of perishables to be used I am willing to sub in other menu items, but it also helps with lunch ideas to use those up, so now the breakfast and lunch menus have become more varied and actually easier to plan. Limiting the dinner menu options has also actually made it easier to pick things to eat, because it's picking from a list of roughly 20 items, and even then it's a question of "which is these 3-4 meat items do we want this week? Which of the 4 fish dishes? What vegetarian meals can we make which days?" We aren't looking into the ether of limitless food choices Every Single Week. 
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What's on the menu?

Breakfasts: Peppered eggs, fried egg sandwiches, bagels, leftover pork rib, smoothies

Lunches: Salmon Sandwich w/ avocado, Chicken-Bacon-Ranch pasta salad, avocado shrimp salad, smoothies

Dinners:
Monday: Lentil soup (holdover from last week) [vegetarian; crockpot]

Tuesday: "Enchiladas" using meatloaf meat that's 1/4 beef, 1/4 turkey and 1/2 vegetable matter, though I might be too lazy to roll them, and just make a tex-mex casserole. [meat; casserole; freezer]

Wednesday: Mushroom & Zucchini "Lasagna" (no noodles, though I may make some on the side for the 'Rents). [vegetarian; anti-pasta; casserole]

Thursday: Date night! On Your Own for the 'Rents, lazy sushi AKA sashimi salad for me and the mister. [OYO; fish; rice]

Friday: Split pea soup; I'll be having a portobella mushroom melt. [vegetarian; crockpot; freezer]

Saturday: Salmon w/ lemon cream sauce & scallions, wild rice, and broccoli. [fish; traditional; rice; freezer]

Sunday: On Your Own; chili and hot dogs for me. [OYO; freezer]

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February meal ideas:
Beef/Pork: Hamburger gravy (w/ meatloaf meat); enchiladas (w/ meatloaf meat); corned beef soup

Bird: Chicken fried rice; turkey noodle casserole; open-faced turkey sandwiches; Mom's oven-fried chicken; hummus-crusted chicken (or chicken cordon bleu since there is a lot of experimental food here)

Fish: Salmon (scallion & lemon); whitefish (wasabi); krab pasta w/ garlic sauce; whitefish and rice casserole (from last month)

Vegetarian: split pea (from last month)wild rice & mushroom soup; potato leek soup; ravioli w/ peas and alfredo; sloppy joe's; mushroom barley soup; lentil soup (from last month); black bean burgers; mushroom zucchini "lasagna"

OYO ideas: Tortellini w/ pumpkin alfredo; lamb curry stew; chili and hot dogs; portobella & red pepper melts with broccoli pesto; sashimi bowl; thai curry chicken; barbacoa; shrimp tacos
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