cowboy grub

the humblest of meals

 

My dad dropped in unexpectedly this week. And what I mean by that is that he lives in Idaho, and I live in Southern California–and he called me at 1 pm to say that he would be there by dinner. That’s the way my dad rolls. I was so happy he was coming–I don’t see him as much as I’d like. My first thought went to what we were having for dinner. A quick check of my menu plan confirmed one of my deepest fears about hospitality: that what we were having for dinner wasn’t “company worthy”.

I cook nearly every weeknight (I have cleverly worked it out that my husband and kids cook on the weekend). I am not a bad cook–I know what I’m doing in the kitchen, even if I’m not as creative as I wish I was. But I often don’t think that what we eat day in and day out at home is anything special. In fact, I have several friends who basically don’t cook anything more complicated than boiling pasta and heating up a jar of sauce, but they each have these fabulous, signature dishes that they regularly pull out when they need to entertain or bring a dish to a potluck. I have no such dishes. I just cook decent, humble food on a daily basis.

This particular day, when my dad was on his way, revealed my deepest insecurity. This was an especially busy week, with some activity or another–mostly music performances almost every evening. So the meal plan was fleshed out with the quick and easiest of meals. A quick look at the calendar revealed that on tonight’s menu was Cowboy Grub (worst name ever). I never would have even tried this recipe if I hadn’t seen so many rave reviews online about it. In fact, I’m feeling bad because I was going to share the recipe with you, but I just realized that it s from the Trim Healthy Mama cookbook (again, with the terrible names!) and I can’t share it here. But it basically ground beef, brown rice, pinto beans, corn, diced tomatoes with chili powder, and cumin. It’s chili with rice and corn added in. The simplest of ingredients, thrown together and simmered for a few minutes–it is fast, easy, nutritious, and actually quite tasty. I was skeptical the first time I made it, but we all commented during dinner that it didn’t look like much, but it was tasty!

I asked my husband, who was home for lunch, if he thought I should make something else for dinner. He wanted to know why. “It’s just not really company food, is it?” Now this is my dad–I don’t need to impress him or anything, but still. He looked at me like he had no idea what I was talking about, so I made Cowboy Grub (cringe–please can someone come up with a better name than that?!) for dinner.

And you know what? It was tasty and my dad was appreciative, especially after several days of eating in restaurants. The dinner was fine, the conversation was good and I need to learn to let my perfectionism go.

In fact, it made me think of visiting my dad years ago. I was there in Idaho with the kids and we were heading home in a couple of days. We decided over morning coffee to invite all the local relatives to come over for a barbecue that night–totally last minute. If it had been my house, I would have been freaking out–madly cleaning and rifling through cookbooks to make something “special”. But not dad. He got up and went to the grocery store and came home with a package of frozen hamburgers, a couple of tubs of pasta salad and potato salad from the deli, and a few bags of chips. He didn’t clean the house. He didn’t make anything from scratch. And you know what? That get together was my best memory of that trip–friends and family and food. There is a lesson that I need to remember.

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meal plan monday

17 stirfry

When I sat down with the calendar on Sunday to create a meal plan for the week, I realized that this is a very busy week: soccer, music, play rehearsals and performances. Still, we need to get dinner on the table every night, busy or not. Here is what I came up with for the week, which is built around a single theme: EASY

Monday: Rotisserie chicken (Costco), roasted vegetables (peppers, onions, mushrooms, sweet potatoes), Harvest Grain Blend (Trader Joe’s)

Tuesday: Crockpot chicken tacos, rice, beans, corn

Wednesday: Tri tip, baked potatoes, green beans

Thursday: Chicken Tortilla Soup (from the leftover taco chicken) , quesadillas

Friday: Stirfry (flank steak, veggies, and rice)

I love that crockpot chicken taco recipe–mostly because it makes absolutely delicious chicken tortilla soup later in the week. Total win in my book. I also bought the rotisserie chicken on Sunday and will just reheat it on Monday.

I also spent a bit of time in the kitchen on Sunday and made up a batch of chai concentrate, hard boiled eggs, and chocolate chip cookies. That should give us a good headstart on the week. I’d like to experiment with a big Meal Prep Sunday, but so far I’m a bit intimidated. I just discovered a YouTube channel called Mind Over Munch, and she does a big meal prep. I need to do a little more research.

What are you cooking this week?

Linking up with I’m an Organizing Junkie.

Using a bullet journal to track habits

meal plan monday

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I’m not sure how everyone else gets dinner on the table every night, but for me it wouldn’t happen without meal planning. I would be a wreck at 4pm every day if I didn’t know in advance what we were eating and that we had the ingredients to make it.

To make this happen every week, I sit down for an hour (or less) on Saturday or Sunday and make a plan. I get down the binder of recipes , maybe a cookbook or two for inspiration and the calendar. Some weeks are built on easy favorites because our schedule is full. Other weeks have a bit more space and time to try something new, or something that takes a bit more prep. But having the calendar in front of me to make sure that the ambition of the meal matches the activity level for the day is key.

I don’t have formula for the week, as I’ve heard others do: Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, etc. But I do sketch out a rough idea this way:

  • beef
  • chicken
  • main dish salad /soup (depending on the season)
  • pasta
  • vegetarian

Then I feel like I have some kind of framework to build on. I also call out to anyone who is around and ask, “Give me one thing you’d to have for dinner this week.” That usually gets me started. It’s important to me that at least one day a week no one is unhappy about dinner, so I aim to please on Friday. One other consideration is to not have too many meals in a row that one child doesn’t like. I’ve got one kid who hates rice and anything Asian (the rest of us love it) and another who despises anything involving cheese. So, dinner can be somewhat of a diplomatic endeavor.

I also only need to plan out five dinners because the Husband cooks on Saturday and the kids cook on Sunday–and they don’t plan ahead. And though I plan and shop for them, the Husband actually cooks dinner on Monday and Wednesday as well, since Boy #2 and I don’t get back from soccer practice until 6:45 pm. I’m sounding a little spoiled, don’t you think? Still, the plan is key to making it all happen.

I thought I’d start to share some of our meal plans here, since I love getting a glimpse into other people’s ordinary days.

Monday: Panko-crusted pork chops, rice with gravy, green beans and salad. We don’t have a “recipe” for this, but here is a similar one.

Tuesday: Apple chicken sausages with rolls, tater tots, broccoli

Wednesday: Heuvos Rancheros

Thursday: We will be at a school performance, so dinner will be from a Taco Truck

Friday: Spaghetti Carbonara and salad

In addition to those dinners I’ve got apple crisp and some pumpkin muffins on the list to make as well.

What are you making for dinner this week? Check out I’m an Organizing Junkie for some more inspiration.

Using a bullet journal to track habits

a whole food kickstart

Whole Food Kitchen

 

I am enjoying Heather’s Whole Food Kitchen again this year. I’ve participated in many of her workshops over the years, and many of her recipes have been added to my personal repertoire. Almond milk, granola, wheatberry salad, and chai lattes, just to name a few.

I cook everyday, but it is so easy to fall into a rut with our meals, especially in this busy season with two teenagers and a preteen. So, I find that doing these self-paced workshops get the inspiration flowing again. I whipped up a batch of almond milk yesterday, and definitely been putting together some more plant-based meals for the family.

Now, to clean up my recipes (again) to make some room for the new ones coming my way in the next couple of weeks.

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chai lattes in the morning

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I have been absolutely addicted to Heather’s chai lattes lately. I’ve been simmering up a batch of concentrate at the beginning of the week and enjoying them almost every day, as a midmorning break. I love to make it with black tea, but the wonderful thing is that you can use herbal tea too. I think I might try that this week.

Some of those spices, especially cardamom, can be pretty pricey at the supermarket. I just placed an order at Mountain Rose Herbs, where the prices are much more reasonable. I added some Jasmine Green Tea to the order too.

It doesn’t take long to whip up a batch of the chai concentrate, give it a try!

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playing catch up

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Working part-time and writing a book has taken a toll on my homemaking routine. I work a marketing job three days a week and loved having my Tuesdays and Thursdays available to really do the business of running my home. Cleaning, shopping, errands, making and keeping appointments, all that stuff that often falls to us moms. Well, my hat is off to those of you that work full-time. Now that my Tuesdays and Thursdays are full of sewing and writing, things were starting to fall apart a bit.

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What I needed were some new routines in place. First up, I switched my grocery shopping day back to the weekend. I sort of hate to do that, since it is so much busier, but I love having it out of the way during the busy week. I’m trying be a bit better about spending some time in the kitchen prepping food for the week. Just this morning, I made chicken stock, chicken noodle soup, hard boiled eggs, almond milk, chai concentrate, and a container of cut-up veggies. I know it will make eating healthy meals and snacks a lot easier.

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Two days a week I’ve got a blissful two hours to myself while my youngest son has soccer practice. This team is too far away to drop him off and go home, so I’ve got two hours to fill. I thought it was inconvenient at first, but now I realize that it’s a gift. I’ve fallen into a routine of going for a 30 minute walk on some nice trails at the park, then I sit in the minivan with the laptop and have time to write! It is time that I know that I wouldn’t be taking if I were at home, so it feels special. I’m starting to blog more regularly, I’ve written a few magazine submissions, and edited some work for the book. It is a peaceful time that I look forward to. And to top it all off, the drive gives me an hour twice a week to be able to chat and connect with my son. So, what looked like another to-do item to add to an already busy schedule has actually created a little space. Win-win.

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banana muffins

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I always feel like a good mom when my kids come home to a homemade, freshly baked and (reasonably healthy) treat after school.

These banana muffins from an old Cooking Light recipe fit the bill perfectly. I’ve adapted the recipe over the years, moving away from “light” butter and egg whites, and substituting white whole wheat for half of the white flour (they don’t even know).

Here’s the recipe Give it a try. And if you make them into muffins instead of loaves, they are done in 20 minutes. Just in time for an after school treat.

Banana Bread

(adapted from Cooking Light)

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 2/3 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 bananas)
1/4 cup skim milk
1/4 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cooking spray

Directions:

Combine sugar and butter in a bowl; beat at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended. Add banana, milk, sour cream, and egg whites; beat well, and set aside.

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt; stir well. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture, beating until blended.

Spoon batter into a loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for  1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Let cool completely on wire rack.

For muffins, set the oven to 400° and cook for 18-20 minutes.

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this week in my kitchen

Not too many pictures this week, but here is what I was able to capture.

Pulled Pork in the crockpot, which was nice because I was able to keep the oven off and the house cool. I’m not a big crockpot fan, but this one was a winner. The recipe was from 100 Days of Real Food and was quite good.IMG_2570 IMG_2569Before Boy #2 went of to camp, we made his favorite dinner of BLTs.IMG_2599And while the boys were away, the Girl got a few days of her favorite dinners, which I mostly forgot to photograph, but the first night was a simple pasta with red sauce. salad, and garlic bread. That was probably my my favorite dinner at her age too. She is so my child.IMG_2656 IMG_2658I am absolutely enjoying summer fruits right now, especially cherries. It makes me sad that they are so expensive, so I never really get my fill before they’re gone. And we are all still enjoying the homemade strawberry jam on toast almost every morning. IMG_2666I never took a picture of it, but in place of my morning latte, the last few mornings I’ve been enjoying a London Fog. Here is how you make it:

  • Brew up a half a cup of Earl Grey Tea
  • Warm up a cup of milk with a splash of vanilla and a little honey
  • Froth it up with a milk frother (optional)
  • Pour it into the tea
  • Enjoy!

Linking up with Heather over at Beauty that Moves.

 

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this week in my kitchen

Summer is in full swing here and we’ve been keeping dinner simple. We call this dinner the  “funny dinner”. When the kids were little, one of them said that it was a funny thing to have for dinner, and well, the name stuck. I posted this pic on Instagram and it seems fairly common for people to call it “snacks” for dinner. This meal makes me feel very French, and obviously red wine goes perfectly with this and was enjoyed as well.
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Fish tacos went over well this week. I basically used this recipe for the sauce and it was delicious. I’ll use a fresh jalapeno next time to kick up the spice a bit and we were out of capers, but I think that would be a nice addition.IMG_2526 IMG_2529

Of course, you must have margaritas with fish tacos, right?

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Another easy dinner was just when we needed when two of the three kids were out doing their own thing for dinner. When you have a family of five, it just doesn’t seem worth it to do a whole dinner for just three people. So we whipped up some quick nachos, and had a fun time eating them while rewatching Episode 1 of Sherlock (Season 3). That was a treat in an of itself, since we don’t usually eat and watch TV, but, hey, that’s what happens when only one kid’s at home.IMG_2543

I love an easy summertime breakfast. And when strawberries and blueberries are in season, what is better than yogurt, berries, and a sprinkling of granola?IMG_2537Isn’t this the most beautiful tea? Those are little roasted grains of rice and they pop like popcorn. It is Genmaicha Green loose leaf tea. It has a very different flavor, and I love it. I drink it all morning long while I’m working on the computer at home. I must have a hot beverage in my hands at all times until noon.

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OK, I don’t actually drink it all morning long since sometimes I make myself a latte with my handy-dandy Aeropress coffee maker. To make the whole latte, beginning to end takes about 3 minutes and I can have it exactly the way I like it for a fraction of the cost of heading out the door to Starbucks.IMG_2443 IMG_2445Linking up with Heather at Beauty That Moves. So many ways to be inspired!

 

Using a bullet journal to track habits

this week in my kitchen

A busy week for us, winding up the school year. But there is always something happening in the kitchen.

Once a week, the kids have to cook dinner, we call it Kids Cook Night. The Girl is perfecting her Pasta with Red Sauce technique, and is quite good! Here’s what she looks like while she tends the pot.

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Baked Chicken Parmesan from Skinnytaste is another people-pleaser in our house. Everyone else had pasta as a side dish, but I skipped it this time.IMG_1976-001

My favorite way to eat the rainbow, chicken stirfry.

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IMG_1800And caramel brownies to celebrate 8th grade promotion (which is what the call graduation now, apparently).IMG_2085

Linking up with Heather at Beauty That Moves. Click over to be inspired!