19 January, 2015  |   1 Comment

Meal Plan Monday

Prediction: This week will overflow with loving words. #mealplan

Last night, you’ll see we had roast chicken. Sunday’s roast spiced chicken was flavored with a mix of 1/4 cup ghee, 1 tablespoon seasoning salt, 1/4 tsp cayenne, 1 tsp rubbed sage and garlic rubbed under the skin. Since I am Whole 30-ing it this month, I like to frontload the week with foods I can eat for lunch. Last night’s chicken leftovers will go in Monday’s lunch.

Sunday, January 18
On Sunday, I also made Wednesday’s butternut squash soup. The flavors just get better over time. Sunday night I also cut the beef and carrots for Monday’s pot roast.

Tuesday, January 20
Tuesday is taco night. Due to what’s in the fridge, I’ve already changed the taco meat from pork carnitas to old fashioned ground beef tacos. My picky family goes loco over ground beef tacos. I use Penzey’s Taco Seasoning. Ha! Now you can too! Taco night leftovers also do well in breakfast burritos or taco bowls the next day.

Tuesday night I’ll also make the spaghetti and meat sauce for Thursday’s dinner. I doubled up on meal prep on Sunday and Tuesday — one of those things that don’t take as much effort as it looks in writing — just requires a little preplanning!

Wednesday and Thursday, January 21 and 22
I have late night meetings on both Wednesday and Thursday, so I’ll make sure at least half the meal is pre-made. Poor James has things hard enough, juggling tap and drama and ballet and a full time job and people.

Friday, January 23
We’re extending the fun of James’ birthday for another 40th birthday dinner with our friends. We’re really excited about this one.

Saturday, January 24
Wrap the whole week up with a Helpie Selfie. We’ll have a leftover party just in time for next week’s meal plan.
(You know how that is.)

1 January, 2015  |   Comment

Things I did right: Meal Plans

Last night I went on a bender of tallying up all my shortcomings — listing all the times I overindulged and underappreciated. When I finished, I moved on to my general thoughtlessness, selfishness and bad temper.

Oof.

This morning I awoke with a shame hangover with only one cure.
Counting up the things I did right.

In 2014, I planned my meals every gosh dang week.

She likes short ribs

Here’s the post where I outlined the logic behind my meal planning — it is still mostly true. But I have a few more tips that made meal planning work even harder for me this year.

1. Publicity:  Instagram helped. Making it public forced healthier decisions and a regular schedule. Join me, won’t you?

Thai Pork Lettuce Bundles

2. Veggie Box: We are active CSA participants – we signed up for Farm Fresh To You  which delivers veggies to our door every Friday. If you’re in California, you can too – if you’re inclined, use the code HELE4346.

We’d originally cancelled our membership, we just couldn’t justify dumping so many uneaten veggies each week (Despite my attempts, I could get no toddlers to try turnips). But then, they introduced box customization. We can pick nearly exactly what we want in our box. We can also see the prices to compare with our local grocery store. This means that we’re getting healthy fruits and veggies we’re likely to eat, delivered to our door every week. For fruits and veggies in season, it’s cheaper than Safeway.

They are called Shishito Peppers because the bottoms look like little lions! (Shishi in Japanese.) Rawr!

2. Scheduling: I pick a time for weekly grocery shopping and work backward from there. If I have an hour and a half late Saturday morning, I set aside 20 minutes before that to make my meal plan and shopping list. The meal plan and shopping list are two sides of the same piece of paper, so I remind myself what to get. I won’t shop more than once a week, so this saves us time and energy.

August so far

3. Better leftovers: We threw out a lot of food at the first half of the year — so I had to get  better about planning meals with lunches in mind. I front-load the week with dinners that give good lunches and then we taper down the quantity, eating more leftovers as we get to Saturday.

Dorothy is sad at dinner

Things that didn’t work for me
Amazon Subscribe and Save: I couldn’t justify the sinking feeling in my heart when I saw the gas, effort and waste that went into a regular delivery of paper towels and toilet paper.

Couponing: I do my best with the Safeway app — but I just don’t have the time or mental space to keep coupons straight.

Too Adventurous: We have space in our brains for no more than one brand new recipe a week. Pinterest makes this challenging, but for a family at this time in our lives, it’s best to stick with what we know.

I have a few hundred meal plans from over the years collected on Flickr if you want to see what we eat for dinner on the regular, peep and judge freely!

Here was the one meal plan we stuck to in its entirety – pens at the ready we’ll be even better in 2015
Last week was the first in YEARS we ate everything according to meal plan. (I think we can do it again.)

Happy meal planning to you!

 

20 November, 2014  |   1 Comment

Thanksgiving Budget 2014

Thanksgiving 2013Next week is Thanksgiving. One of our guests is a chef, so my competitive side is coming out. I’m like that. With my guests. Stop talking Helen Jane.

Anyway, Thanksgiving Budget. I have a bad habit about prying into money matters so it’s only fair that I share some details with you. We did it back in 2011 and we’re doing it again — $260 — a huge amount of money for Thanksgiving — here’s how we’re spending out and cheaping out on the budget this year.

cranberries

Spend out

Cheap out

Wine

Table settings

$60

Yesterday I outlined how the wine money gets divvied out. I forgot to add that we always have a bottle of sparkling apple cider for the kids. They love joining in the toast. This will sate 5 grownups and one hairy dog.

$0

The kids always make something amazing for the table — plus! We have some leftover gourds from Halloween!

Turkey

Cornbread & Dinner Rolls

$70

As in 2011, I’m spending the most on our bird. This year I bought the bird for a youth group fundraiser, but our local FFA also raises turkeys for sale. Yours might too!

$5

We’ll make less expensive cornbread — and I’m not shy about telling a helpful guest that they could bring the dinner rolls.

Vegetables and fruits

Potatoes

$50

We make an extra big veggie purchase before the big day to accommodate all our sides. I make the cranberry sauce a week in advance and use the toaster oven to roast the sprouts.

$5

Mashed potato supplies will run me a little less than $5 this year. For this, I am thankful.

Cheese & Appetizers

Dessert

$15

I prioritize guests and snacks. This year we’re putting out some Franklin Teleme, spiced pecans and dried cranberries with some Nut Thins. Easy. Done.

$10

Pumpkin pie is another one of those Thanksgiving things that guests are happy to supply. As a host, I want to make sure I have ice cream, whipped cream and coffee on hand.

Day after Thanksgiving meals

Thanksgiving day meals

$35

I include the “day after” budget as well because I’m spending that cash all in one go. We like our sandwiches on bakery bread with the good bacon.

$10

On the actual Thanksgiving day, we eat cheap. Fruit or cereal for breakfast. Snacks for lunch. Save that cash for the big meal

20 November, 2014  |   3 Comments

Wine Wednesday: Thanksgiving Edition

Back in 2011 I set a Thanksgiving budget and we stuck to it. The budget’s a little less this year – about a third less – and for that we’re lucky and three cheers for Thanksgiving! Tomorrow, I’ll go through this year’s budget.

Our wine budget is now around $60 for the big day. I know! I ain’t complaining. We’re making it work with these three bottles of the wine I’ve been drinking lately for work and fun.

2013 Giesen Riesling
Giesen Riesling
I know, I know I should be drinking American to kick off this meal, but with the way things went with Lord of the Rings, it seems like New Zealand could be, like, at least part American. With a low alcohol point (12.5%) this is the perfect wine for kicking off the holidays but maintaining your cool. Good for people who say they don’t like sweet wine but secretly do. Round, floral and delicious, sip it when the kids are wrassling within eyeshot. Costs about $13.

2012 Niner Pinot Noir

niner-pinot

Costs about $30. Pinot Noir makes the millennials happy, it makes your Gen X aunt happy, it makes your snooty brother happy. This one is a great deal, coming from the on point Paso Robles region of California — from a shiny new winery. It’s balanced, it’s got a slight cranberry taste that makes Stove Top sing.

2012 Renwood Zinfandel
renwood-zin
Zinfandel wine powerhouses Renwood make American wine from a truly American grape. Their winemaker is one of Wine Enthusiast’s 40 under 40. Youth is also an American value! Bold and tasty — it works to punctuate your end of meal political “discussions.” Plus, Zinfandel is just fun to say. Costs nearly $20.

20 August, 2014  |   3 Comments

Wine Wednesday: Make This Wine Cake Recipe

Today, today I need some wine cake.
I think you might too.

Nora Lea wants the wine cake, but she can't have the wine cake

This buttery, dense yellow cake is a Napa Valley bake sale staple. It uses a yellow cake mix, but tastes so much more complex.

You don’t need fancy white wine for this — Sutter Home Sauvignon Blanc is my go to wine for this recipe (it was $3.99).  I’d recommend staying away from something with any oakiness — or anything too floral.

Ingredients
Cake ingredients
1 box yellow cake mix
1 three and a half ounce box instant vanilla pudding
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs

Glaze Ingredients
1 stick butter, cut into chunks
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup white wine

Directions
Assemble your ingredients.

Preheat oven to 350° F.
Grease and flour a 10″ Bundt pan.

Combine the yellow cake mix,
box of instant vanilla pudding,
white wine,
vegetable oil and
all four eggs in a large bowl and
beat with a well-muscled arm or an electric mixer.

Pour the batter into your choice of pan.

There is wine cake batter in the bundt pan.

Put the cake pan in the 350 oven for 45-50 minutes.

Check out the side of this wine cake.

About 15 minutes before the cake is done (at the 30 minute mark), make the glaze.
Stir the butter with the water, sugar and white wine over medium heat and let simmer for roughly 10 minutes. Stir frequently.
Pour a buttery, burney glaze over the cake.

Be careful, for it is sugar and it will hurt you badly if it gets on your skin.
Remove from heat. Set aside.

Remove the cake or cupcakes from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

After the cake’s cool, poke holes in the bottom (top) of the cake.

Pour 1/2 of the glaze into and around the holes. Give the cake a little time to fully absorb the glaze.

Invert the cake onto a serving dish and drizzle the rest of the glaze on the top of the cake.

We used unsweetened whipped cream for the topping – because the cake is pretty sweet with that glaze, but we wanted a pretty white top.

Then you can bring it to bocce. Or bowling. Or church. Or to a community center where people might appreciate your expertise. Or that next city council meeting. Or that peaceful protest against the militarization of our police departments. Bring this cake to that.


It’s also handsome husband approved.

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