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Archive for the ‘day to day ridiculousness’ Category

My friend and I are doing ten days of no sugar/sweeteners, carbs, wine, or dairy because I enjoy self-torture. (Standard disclaimer, I am not a doctor and in any event I do not advocate cutting entire categories of food from one’s diet as a regular part of your longterm eating plan.) Basically, this means that I am trying as well as I can to eat only veggies, meat, nuts, and water for the next ten days. The lack of soda is so far the thing I miss the most, although I’m sure I will start pining for cheese any second now.  Seriously though, I am always up for a challenge, especially if said challenge will help me reset my over-reliance on cheese and chips. It’s just temporary, and I’m only on Day 2 and I hate life already, so we’ll see if I can even make it a week. (Although I made it a whole month without sugar, so I hope I can do this!) (Also, why do I do these things to myself????) Also, we have a date night this weekend and I can’t stand spending money on food I don’t like, so let’s call that a Planned Cheat Day.

Anyway, here is what I’m making for dinner this week (without any sugar/honey/agave, should those appear as ingredients):

Note: This cold weather has me craving two things: pasta and summer food. Let’s go with summer food this time since pasta is a no-go. This recipe sounds delicious. I might spice it up by adding in some bell peppers and throw in an avocado as well.

Follow Up: I don’t know why, but I didn’t follow this recipe AT ALL. Instead, I used this Chipotle Lime Vinaigrette for the salad and this spice rub recipe to flavor the shrimp. Then I followed these instructions for roasting shrimp in the oven. It turned out GREAT. Super delicious. And I didn’t even miss the honey.

Note: I always cut WAY back on the Chinese five spice powder because I find it easily overpowers the flavors. I will use some water chestnuts and leftover bell pepper to add some color to the lettuce wraps. If water chestnuts are a carb, I don’t want to know.

Follow Up: These are delicious but super messy. By the way, I use two whole packages of mushrooms because I love mushrooms. Also, keep in mind that this makes for a killer stir fry sauce after the fact. Usually, we eat all the pork… and then I make a veggie stir fry with the mushroomy sauce for lunch. There is a LOT of sauce left once the pork is gone.

Note: I will probably marinate the steak in the Italian marinade or the garlic and herb option from the link above. This Ten Day Challenge calls for no fruit, but I am making an exception for citrus juice used in marinades/dressings/this spinach recipe because I feel like it.

Follow Up: I used the garlic and herb marinade and it was super yummy. I used top sirloin steaks, which I prefer to flank steak. And I followed the instructions for oven roasting steak from this site to cook it. (I can’t stand searing meat first — yes, I admit it tastes better when you do that. But it makes such a huge splattery mess and my kitchen smells like Cooked Meat for days afterward.) The sautéed spinach was a huge disappointment. This is the second time I made it. The first time, I only made a little because I don’t typically like spinach and I was afraid I’d hate it and waste it. But I LOVED it. Then the next time… it was not good. My husband and I discussed it, and we think the first time success was a combination of low expectations and novelty. Too bad. Well, I can keep this on the back burner for if I’m REALLY sick of our standard broccoli, green beans, zucchini rotation.

Note: This is a new-to-me recipe but it sounds simple and tasty.

Follow Up: It WAS simple and tasty! Man, I love cod. It is pricey though. I got just over a pound of it for $16.95. (I got to the store so early, the fishmonger was just setting up his display of fish and didn’t yet have the prices up. And the last time I got there that early and asked him what the price of cod was, he got snippy about how he hadn’t had a chance yet to put up the prices. So this time I guess I would have spent WHATEVER IT COST just to not annoy him.) (I failed, by the way. I asked for a pound of cod; he put a piece that was a pound and a third on the scale and asked if it was okay that it was “a little over.” I said, no, I’d really rather it be closer to a pound. So he tried again. This time, it was a pound and a quarter. Still too much, I said. A) That’s an extra $4 and B) My husband and I can’t eat more than a pound of fish, even though we cut off a small piece and cook it for Carla who ignores it completely. Third time, it was 1.17 pounds and he didn’t even ask me, he just wrapped it up for me. SIGH.) (I know it was early and he was probably doing the very best that he can.) ANYWAY, this dish was delicious and easy. And it looked very pretty, with the little pile of asparagus on top of the fish, decorated with scallions and basil. The only thing that could have possibly made it better is if the “sauce” (literally just soy sauce) were a little thicker. I added a big blurp of sriracha to mine and that thickened it a little, but my husband is less interested in spice and he found it too thin to properly flavor the fish. Not quite sure how to fix that issue, though.

Note: I will be omitting the honey from the recipe above, but otherwise this sounds yumster. Or maybe I will marinate it in the chipotle marinade from my “steak marinades” link above. Hmmm… This is gonna have to be a game time decision.

Follow Up: I did end up using the chipotle marinade and it was DELICIOUS. Also, since my husband was on call and his arrival time was unpredictable, I sliced the zucchini lengthwise, cut up some red onions, put them all on a baking sheet, and drizzled them with olive oil and salt and pepper. Then I baked them at the same time that I baked the pork chops. The pork chops may have been a little overcooked by the time my husband got home, but everything was still very tasty. I doubled the chipotle in the marinade so that there was a little extra “pan sauce” to drizzle over the cooked pork. I love me a pan sauce.

  • Note: This week, I will skip the brown sugar in the sauce. Crud. I just looked and there is also sugar in the oyster sauce. Perhaps I need to rethink this meal…

    You know what? I can’t do this. It won’t taste good. I am going to swap this out with good old Taco Salad.

 

I am also doing a Valentine’s baking project with Carla and one of her friends. You know, because I like torturing myself so much.

Follow up: These did NOT turn out well. I will NOT be making these again. Carla and I made a test cookie, and THAT worked fine. But the batch that Carla and her friend so lovingly made burned, so I had to real-quick make all their cookies again and shove them in the oven so they wouldn’t notice. And half of THOSE stuck to the cookie sheet or fell apart. Then I made a third batch and the cookie expanded into the “stained glass” part so that you couldn’t even see it was a heart. Also, I couldn’t taste them because of my stupid challenge. FAIL.

SG cookies 1

Pre-cooked

SG cookies 2

Baked, second batch because the first batch failed. And they are so messy and definitely are going to stick to that cooling rack.

SG cookies 3

The girls frosted them and made them look 1000 times better than they did straight out of the oven. Still sticky though.

SG cookies 5

I tried to make some plain round cookies with small hearts cut out of the center and they STILL looked bad. The bake was better, though. I am nowhere near as good a froster as the girls.

Look for a repeat of these meals next week because it is REALLY hard to find recipes that fit my overly rigid and ridiculous ten-day challenge. No YOU eat eggs — I refuse.

Anyway: please tell me all the decadent, cheese-and-sugar filled foods you are eating this week, Internet. So that I may live vicariously through you.

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We have a security system in our house and two of the sensors have low batteries. Which I know because the keypad at which we control the alarm beeps to alert me of the danger. And living with low batteries is really dangerous, according to the keypad, because even though I key in a code that should let it know, “I hear you, I get it, I will call the security company right away,” it feels the need to remind me every two hours on the button. Irritating during the day, but MUCH WORSE in the middle of the night.

And of course the security company can’t send someone out right away. I mean, I GET IT. It’s just low batteries! But they can’t come until THURSDAY and that means THREE NIGHTS of getting up every two hours to key in my code and reassure the system that I AM AWARE OF THE BATTERY SITUATION AND MY IMMINENT DEMISE.

The keypad is in our bedroom. Of course, it does not bother my husband one little bit; he doesn’t even stir when it beeps.

Anyway, I am here to update you on one of my goals/aspirations for the New Year. I have ALREADY had friends over for dinner!

This is a big deal to me. You see, I like having people over to our house. I mean, in theory. I enjoy cooking, I enjoy being friendly. But man, in practiceI find it SUPER difficult.

First, even though I KNOW that it really doesn’t matter, I get all panicky about the state of my house. Is it clean enough? Is it tidy enough? Does our house smell funny? These worries send me into a cleaning frenzy prior to having someone over, which stresses me out. And I start thinking about all the projects that I want to complete – what about our horrible, mostly-destroyed ottoman? and our not-painted baseboards? and the missing kick panels on our kitchen cabinets? – and wondering if I should try to paint the fireplace before people come over and it’s ridiculous and makes me feel out of breath and frazzled.

And then there’s the food. I dither over the meal plan for weeks. (In this most recent case, we only invited people over a few days in advance, so I didn’t have to dither long.) Have I considered all their food restrictions/likes/dislikes? Have I come up with a balanced meal? No one ever seems to EAT salad if I make one, but does it need to be there to give the impression that I care about vegetables? Am I making enoughfood? (This is probably one of my biggest concerns.) Do I have a good variety of drink options?

It’s all ridiculous. When I go to someone else’s house for dinner, all I think about is whether there will be a tomato-free option. I don’t care whether they have Diet Coke or gin or a freaking salad. But for some reason, I am incapable of applying the same standards to myself. I am incapable of seeing my guests (whom I probably like! and likely think are good, easy-going, non-judgmental people!) as people who are more interested in hanging out with me and my husband than in eating a gourmet meal in an immaculate, newly-updated home.

I KNOW it is ridiculous.

And yet.

So we had this family over to dinner. We have wanted to invite them over for a long time; they’ve had us over twice, once for a playdate, once for a meal slash playdate, and it’s high time we reciprocated. And this past weekend, we were all free. I dithered only slightly over even inviting them, but I pressed forward.

I decided I would make chili, which is an easy, make-ahead type of meal (I don’t like having to cook while guests are here; it detracts from the socializing, plus people [nicely! thoughtfully!] want to help and I do not like that). But then almost immediately, I decided to make twokinds of chili – a spicy ground beef chili with a tomato base and a mild white chicken chili– both for sake of variety and in case our guests had differing spice tolerances and meat preferences. I cajoled my husband into making chocolate chip cookies. And then, to make life even more difficult on myself, I made guacamole and salsa, so we could have them (with chips) as appetizers. Before our guests arrives, I prepared a bunch of toppings for the chili (diced onions, diced tomatoes, cilantro, sour cream, shredded cheese, sliced jalapeno). The white chili was a crockpot option, so I started that early in the day. And the red chili tastes better the longer it cooks, so I started that a couple of hours before our guests arrived.

One of my biggest detractions from having people over is that my husband does not share my same level of preparation anxiety. You might think this would be a good thing, but so far in our marriage, it is not. This is not only because he does not understand how I feel in the days/hours leading up to having people over. It is because we clash on executing the actual preparations, and I end up doing (or at least feeling like I am doing) the bulk of the prep. And that makes me feel overwhelmed, overworked, misunderstood, frazzled, stressed, and put-upon. And frustrated and grouchy with my husband. Which is not really the mindset you want to have a fun, effervescent evening with friends.

I feel like I am being unfair, here, because my husband does not get a say on this blog. He cannot represent for you his own feelings, or catalog for you all the things he does to prepare. So please understand that you are getting a one-sided view of things.

On this particular day, I made a list of the things we needed to do before our guests arrived at four. We’d gone out the night before, and ended up sleeping in until NINE. Which put me immediately into a panic. My husband started out by saying that we had PLENTY of time, and so I tried to adopt that mindset and chill out a little. I gave him two projects: making the cookies (he’d made the dough the day before, so he just needed to bake the cookies) and making the white chili. And he had to get himself showered/dressed. He also wanted, separately, to go to a store and get something; I forget what, but it was on sale or something and he had to get it that day.

I unloaded the dishwasher while he made himself coffee. I made Carla’s breakfast while he made himself breakfast. I tidied up the kitchen table, which had become cluttered with Stuff. I asked him if he wanted me to dice the vegetables for the white chili and he said yes. I did that. I rinsed Carla’s breakfast dishes and put them in the dishwasher. I looked at the clock. The chili was supposed to be cooking for 6 hours, and we were nearing 11:00, so I just made the white chili myself. My husband went upstairs to do… I don’t know. Probably something very important and useful, like paying bills. (This sounds snarky but it is not meant to be; I am honestly trying very hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.)I got Carla dressed. I had made the guacamole and salsa the previous day, so I started dicing and chopping the toppings for the chili while my husband made lunch. I made lunch for Carla and coaxed her into eating it. I cleaned up lunch. I went and took a shower. I came downstairs and noted that I was supposed to make a roux for the white chili, to thicken it. My husband said it wasn’t necessary. I looked at the clock and told my husband he needed to get going. (He and I have VERY different understandings of time.) He went and took a shower. I made the red chili. He left for his errand, which I extended because I wanted him to grab me some flowers for the dinner table. It was an hour and a half until four, when our guests were to arrive. I encouraged Carla to move her toys from the living room to her bedroom. I chopped more things. I realized that we didn’t have enough spoons for dinner, so I ran the dishwasher through a quick cycle. I dried my hair and put on makeup. I cleaned up the kitchen. I ran a load of dish towels. The white chili was very watery. My husband was still gone, so I texted him asking if I should do the roux. Carla was running around asking, every five minutes, when her friend would arrive. I worried about drinks; I didn’t know if this couple drinks alcohol, so I had brought home a six-pack of unobjectionable beer and I had a bottle of wine in the fridge just in case. I worried about the kids – Carla won’t eat chili, but my friend said her kids eat anything… but what if they don’t? I washed some berries and some cherry tomatoes. I texted my husband to also grab some La Croix and a box of macaroni and cheese at the store. I unloaded the dishwasher. My husband texted me pictures of flowers and I picked a bouquet for him to bring home. I put out the salsa, chips, and guacamole. I cleaned out the sink. I fretted over whether I needed to cut some vegetables to put out with the chips. I decided against it. My husband got home with about fifteen minutes to spare. I asked him to choose some music for people to listen to. He said he wanted to put the football game on. I asked him to put music on the Amazon Echo while the game was on mute. I cut and arranged the flowers. I asked about the roux again. My husband looked at the chili and agreed it was watery. He started the roux. I cleaned off the counter. This is the most boring catalog of menial tasks ever. I realized I had failed to brush my teeth at all that day, so I ran upstairs to brush them. Carla shrieked that her friend was here. I snapped at my husband to put some music on like I’d already asked him to. He whisked the roux while Carla and I opened the door and invited our friends in.

I felt like I was busy every single second. (Is this a NORMAL level of busy? Are other people this busy in the day leading up to their dinner for guests?) (I don’t think so. Sometimes we go to dinner at the house of friends who were out at the zoo all day or had a birthday party just prior to having us over or who just said goodbye to week-long houseguests the night before. I COULD NEVER DO THOSE THINGS. I need to have plenty of space between guests, first of all. And then I also need the WHOLE DAY to complete my anxious preparations.)

These most recent dinner guests are newish friends, so we don’t know them super well. So while I was chatting with them and munching on chips, I was worrying about whether they’d like the food, and whether it was weird that I’d planned for us to all sit down at the table together. And I was fretting about timing – I’d planned for the kids to play for an hour or two, and then we’d sit down to eat; but was that making them wait too long? How long would they want to stay? Should we set up Guitar Hero for them to play? Should I try to herd everyone into the living room?

Carla was at Excitement Level 8 Billion, which translated into lots of running and shrieking and leaping off furniture. So I was also fretting about whether I was being too restrictive of the kids or not restrictive enough. Was it okay that we kind of shuttled the kids into the basement and all the grown ups stayed upstairs? Would they have preferred if we interacted with the kids more?

They left fairly early (seven thirty?), which of course made me worry that they weren’t having fun. But… it also seems like a reasonable amount of time for people to stay? I don’t know.

And the wife helped me clean everything up which makes me very uncomfortable. But she was very swift and practiced at it, so I didn’t even really have a chance to protest.

I think the dinner went okay? We had plenty to talk about, people ate the food, the kids had a raucous time which I think likely translates into fun. But man.

I really need to find some way to make it less stressful.

Some people think the way to make it less stressful is to not stress about it  but that is really terrible advice coming, I suspect, from people like my husband who are naturally low-stress people. I cannot help it. My mind begins whirring and if I don’t address the whirring it grows louder until it drowns out all other functions.

Some people might think I should just do it more often. But the anxiety around hosting happens even with people who come over ALL THE TIME – like my parents and in-laws, who come over several times a year between them, and with family friends that we have over for dinner four or five times a year or so (we swap houses every couple of months, so they are hosting us just as often). I am telling you, IT DOES NOT GET EASIER WITH PRACTICE. (The only thing that gets easier is that I worry less about the state of my home with frequent guests, because they have already seen it.)

The techniques I’ve tried, with, as you see, little success are:

  • Make things as simple as possible. (I need to work on keepingthem as simple as possible.)
  • Do as many things in advance as possible.
  • Enlist family members to help – and assign them specific tasks. (Possibly I need to also assign specific times, too.)
  • Try to only address things that are reasonable to address (i.e. NOT painting my fireplace).
  • Remind myself over and over that as a guest at other people’s homes, I don’t care about half the things I worry about people caring about.

We met a new couple a few weeks ago and I promptly asked the wife for her number so I could ask them to dinner and then actually followed up. They are coming for dinner in a few weeks. Which gives me AMPLE TIME to stress…. Or to come up with some real techniques for NOT stressing.

What do you do, to ensure that you are low-stress when you have guests over? What are your techniques for keeping things simple and fun? Should I just never invite people over again? That last one seems good, except for the dinner that’s already on the books. And I might as well TRY to overcome this Preparation Anxiety, because I inevitably start wishing I could throw a dinner party or something. WHY DOES MY BRAIN HAVE TO BE THE WAY THAT IT IS?

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Man, I haven’t done one of these small-takes type posts in a long time! However, I would really like to blog more often (I was thinking the other day that maybe I should just change my blog title to “Dinners This Week” because that’s about all I can manage most weeks) and maybe this is the key. As you well know, if you’ve been reading for more than five minutes, I tend to be overly wordyand I think that’s holding me back. Also, I am boring. I’ll be writing along, 3,000 words in, and I’ll realize, my GOD this is TEDIOUS. Takes the joy out of posting something, when you know it’s dull as a bowl of marbles. Sometimes I go back and read old posts and I think, boy, I used to be moderately entertaining! Well. Sometimes people change for the good, sometimes they change for the snoozefest.

Anyway. Random blurbs ahoy.

  • Last night I went out to dinner with a friend who was visiting from out of town. It was a lovely, lovely time and we talked about books – specifically The Friend, which had been a gift from this particular friend, and for whom I bought a second copy of the book because my friend MUST read it but also I need to keep a copy for myself – and work and family and travel. It’s been a very friendly week, which has been good: I had two nice hour+-long conversations with two separate long distance friends. I had a coffee with a friend who lives here in town, but who has been MIA for a good many months. I have another coffee planned for February with another friend I haven’t seen in a good while. And a lunch date planned for the last day in January with an old work friend. And then last night’s dinner. I am feeling very full and grateful right now. Perhaps if I record this feeling I can return to it on those inevitable days when I feel lonely and friendless. Friends: I highly recommend them.

 

  • The only bad thing about dinner last night was that I had too much to drink, which made the drive home ridiculously uncomfortable. No, not alcohol. I wasn’t drunk, or even tipsy. I mean I had literally put too much liquid into my body. Seems that I am constitutionally incapable of leaving a glass of water full. And the servers at this particular establishment were prompt in discharging their glass-filling duty, no matter how repetitive. The restaurant we went to was a good thirty minutes’ drive from my house, so as I poured my aching bladder into my car, I was feeling legitimately concerned about making it home in a dry state. If you are wondering, like my husband was, why I simply didn’t go to the bathroom during dinner like a normal human, well, I will tell you: We were having such a nice conversation! And I didn’t want to interrupt – not just the conversation, but the flow of the evening, you know? I was sure I would go when the server came to take our credit cards, but when the time came, it just didn’t seem like the right time. And then I needed to give my friend a ride to his car, and I felt weird about making him wait in the lobby while I went to the ladies’ (Side note: one of the things that drives me NUTS about my otherwise lovely husband is that he often waits until everyone has their coats on, all ready to go, before he heads to the bathroom. PLAN AHEAD.). So I just suffered instead. Perhaps you are also wondering why I just didn’t stop somewhere on my way home. Well, I will tell you. The city is… scary, okay? And the drive home takes me through some pretty undesirable neighborhoods that make me very nervous and edgy. And it was late and I didn’t want to be murdered. Peeing oneself is preferable to murder, right? Probably. I drove SO CAREFULLY the whole way home. Because I was sure that if I slipped through a yellow light or went even a tiny bit over the speed limit, I’d get pulled over and there’s no way a police officer is notgoing to arrest a woman who is sobbing and soaked in urine. I made it home. I know you were worried. My pelvic floor muscles performed admirably. Thank goodness for all those Kegels I did while pregnant, amirite? I mean. PHEW.

 

  • Speaking of pregnant, which I am not, I almost stopped on my drive home at a very grimy gas station for the sole reason that I stopped there before when I had similarly misjudged the elasticity of my bladder. Only that first time, I was somewhere around eleven months pregnant and I literally could not wait. Pregnancy is really one indignity after another, isn’t it? Take, for example, this poor woman I saw last weekend, in a similar state of Birth Could Happen Any Time. I was parked in a Whole Foods parking lot, waiting for my husband, and this woman came out of an all-day breakfast restaurant and started swaying toward her car – you know that walk that pregnant women sometimes have, where their belly has forcibly commandeered everything, including balance and momentum and even gravity? She was parked directly behind me, across an aisle, and so I could see her in my rearview mirror as she abruptly threw up on the pavement. I averted my eyes and pawed through the crap in my car to see if I had water or anything to offer her by way of help. Alas; nothing besides my undying sympathy and solidarity. Several minutes later, I noticed a man and two small children hustling out of the all-day breakfast restaurant. The man hefted the kids into the car, next to which the poor woman was still standing, occasionally retching onto the ground. I should have given her some privacy, I know, but I was so overcome by a sense of pity and empathy and helplessness that I just kept staring at her in my rearview. She kept climbing into the car and then hopping back out to throw up again. My god. Why is pregnancy so miserable? I’d sometimes drive to work with a plastic bag open on my lap, so sure I wouldn’t be able to get to the office without vomiting. Pregnancy is gross and humiliating and uncomfortable, and, yes, I guess you get a human out of it at the end, but sheesh. What a process. Eventually the pregnant woman stayed in her car long enough for her husband to spirit her away. I wish her well.

 

  • In Trying to Be a Good Wife news, I am trying out a new kitchen cleanser. I have a well-documented love affair with bleach. If I could, I would use it with abandon on everything all the time. Alas, it’s not so compatible with granite countertops, so I typically use Lysol for my kitchen cleaning needs. But my husband HATES the smell. So much so that he refuses to wipe down the counters. Fortunately for him I enjoy both wiping down the counters and rolling my eyes at his aversion to faux lemon scented chemicals, so we’ve managed to forge a solid compromise between us. But today Method cleanser was on sale at Target. I already love the smell of the Method Daily Granite, so I got two bottles of the antibacterial cleanser, one in citron scent, the other in bamboo. A little full of themselves with those scents, if you ask me, but I am hopeful that my husband will not be quite so sensitive to at least one of them.

 

  • We are supposed to get a good walloping this weekend, snow-wise. So while I was at Target, I kind of did a little panic buying. When you hear that potentially your city is going to be snowed under, what do YOU panic-buy? I bought some normal things, like meat and vegetables and plenty of tortillas. But I also bought a sled. A LOT of construction paper. And eggs. Believe it or not, the eggs was the weirdest thing. None of us really eats eggs in this household, and, sure, I use eggs in baking, but I don’t have any baking projects planned. But now we have two dozen eggs to… not eat during the impending snowpocalypse. Or, more likely, to not eat during the perfectly normal wintery weekend we will inevitably have, because weather is impossible to predict.

 

And that’s all I have for now. What are you up to this weekend, Internet?

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Just as a general note, if you or anyone you know need a Girl Scout Cookies hook up, Carla is selling cookies between now and February 2. If you don’t know any Girl Scouts and you want cookies, want to donate cookies to U.S. troops, or want to support an Internet child you don’t know, let me know and I will send you a link to her online order form.

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Last week reminded me that I enjoy shrimp. In small quantities. So I am going to try not to lean on it too much while I am avoiding chicken. Hence the Zero Shrimp Recipes below.

Also, we didn’t eat all the meals I’d planned (one night, my husband had a surprise – to me, not to him – meeting, so we ate leftovers, and another night we spent all day Going Going Going, so we went out to eat instead), so I’m recycling two:

Note: I think one of the reasons this is a leftover item from last week is that I am scared of the spinach. I don’t particularly like spinach, and I have never cooked it before. But I am getting sick of green beans, zucchini, and broccoli, which we rotate practically every three days.

Follow Up: This was SO GOOD. The cod was lemony and delicious, and super easy to make. I think next time I might even skip the flour, just sprinkle the fish with a little paprika, salt, and pepper, and drizzle it with butter and lemon juice. Very simple but really yummy. I also had a few baby potatoes and a red onion and some mushrooms lying around, so I chopped those up and roasted them with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and some fresh thyme. I was afraid the spinach would be gross, so I wanted to have a backup vegetable. But the spinach was AWESOME. I used this Ina Garten recipe (I love you Ina) and it was so simple and really delicious. All in all, an excellent meal! Definitely will do this again.

Note:  I am also planning to do a homemade tartar sauce for my husband. (I prefer a bit of mayo mixed with sriracha, myself.)

Another thing is that I think maybe I need to be more… honest? is that the word? about how many days per week I am willing/able to cook. Especially when it’s a new-to-me meal.

This week, I am going out one night with my dear friend/mentor. And I think I’m going to give us a second night for leftovers/going out/what have you.

Here’s what’s on the meal plan for the remaining three days:

Note: I don’t think I have ever cooked flank steak. And my husband isn’t a huge fan of asparagus. So this meal could be a big loser, we’ll see. (But it’s NOT CHICKEN.)

Follow Up: This was pretty good! The marinade was easy and tasty and overall this was very simple to make. I was a little wary of using boiled asparagus in the quinoa, so I roasted it, Ina Garten style (a little splash of good olive oil, some salt and pepper, roasted for 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven). It also turns out that we were out of quinoa, so I used couscous instead. Honestly, I prefer couscous so it worked out nicely. I think the biggest objection to this meal was the cut of meat, which was a bit fatty. Next time I could try a different cut of meat.

Note: This is a recipe I’ve made before, so I feel fairly comfortable fooling around with it. I am going to swap the chicken for pork tenderloin, and the carrots for parsnips andcarrots andred onions because I don’t really like carrots. Cooked carrots. Raw carrots are A-okay.

Follow Up: This ended up being good… if I scraped the mustard sauce off of the pork. I think in terms of mustardy pork tenderloin, I much prefer this mustard balsamic version from Jo Cooks.

My husband admitted that he does not care for cooked carrots either (a revelation), and Carla tried one — and one parsnip — and agrees that she does not like either. So we will be foregoing the cooked carrots in future

Note: I have some tilapia in the freezer from the last time I made this. So all I have to buy is broccoli and some shallots! Woot! Also, don’t let the “en papillote” thing deter you. This is SO EASY. And very delicious.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoy it when you tell me what YOU are eating this week, so please. Spill the beans. (Or chicken. Or spaghetti. Or whatever it is you’re planning for dinner.)

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Merry Christmas to all who celebrate!

This is the first year that we’ll have Christmas just the three of us. I am rather enjoying the quiet coziness of it all. We are all still in pajamas. There is lots of lounging going on. I tried to win Carla over to the joys of Home Alone, but it turns out it’s a bit old for her yet. Elf is on the agenda for later. My only job today – aside from copious cuddling, and perhaps finishing my book – is to make some rolls for dinner Friday; I will freeze them after I make them.

Family arrives on the 26th. We are not doing a special dinner because we will all have already had a big Christmas supper the night before. Thursday we go out to celebrate a birthday. And Saturday half of the family leaves, so the rest of us will either get take out or munch on leftovers. Sunday, the rest of the family leaves, which means that I will probably head to the store or scrape together some sort of Franken-meal from what we have on hand.

Still! There are meals to plan and make, so the post will go up!

Dinners (and Assorted Other Meals) for the Week of December 24-December 29

Christmas Eve: Avgolemono from America’s Test Kitchen (paywall)

Note: We have never eaten this before, much less tried to make it. I admit that I am deeply suspicious of a soup with egg in it, as I am no fan of eggs. But neither of us much wanted to make Mulligatawny soup, which was my Christmas Eve tradition growing up, and it would be fun to have our own soup tradition. We’ll see. It may end up that my husband eats it and Carla and I eat bagels or chicken nuggets. I mean, Carla has never once eaten soup as it is, so I’m not holding out much hope that tonight will be the night.

Follow up: This was NOT good. I can’t pinpoint why; maybe because it tasted heavily of chicken? Maybe because the lemony egg mixture you add to the soup gave the whole thing an unpleasant lemon-curd-with-chicken taste? In any case, I am not a fan. Even my husband, who eats pretty much anything, could not give this a thumbs up. I made a few of the rolls I prepared and ended up turning one into an impromptu pepperoni sandwich for my Christmas Eve meal.

Christmas Day:

Note: Neither of us has ever made a frittata. And, let’s be honest, it’s really for my breakfast-loving husband’s benefit. I don’t really like breakfast food, so I tend to defer to him. Usually for Christmas Day breakfast we make the Pioneer Woman’s overnight French toast. Last year we also made a savory strata. But that’s when there are more people at the breakfast table than the three of us. Carla will eat the sweet stuff, but nothing savory. So probably we’ll end up making her pancakes as per usual and my husband will end up eating most of the frittata and we’ll come up with something else for next year.

Follow up: This was delicious! I don’t normally like eggs, but this was very egg-light, with plenty of other tasty things. Our only complaint was that it seemed very salty. My husband and I agreed that next time we make it, we’ll add an extra potato, reduce the salt by at least 2/3s, and decrease the amount of bacon.

Note: Carla sometimes eats steak, so we are hoping that she’ll at least have a few bites of this Christmas dinner. When I grew up, our family tradition for Christmas dinner was a porterhouse spice roast, homemade Caesar salad, and lemony steamed broccoli. I LOVE that dinner. But a porterhouse roast seems overly ambitious for a group of three. Also, no one makes Caesar dressing like my dad, so I don’t really even want to try. Instead, we got a baby tenderloin and some mushrooms and we’ll be trying a new recipe. Who knows? Maybe it will become a family favorite!

Follow up: The beef tenderloin was wonderful — and super easy! You just smear it with some mustard and herbs and throw it in the oven. It cooks low and slow for a long time and then it is perfectly cooked and butter tender. We will definitely do this again. My mom’s mashed potatoes were, of course, amazing. And we ended up skipping anything green because we couldn’t agree on how to cook the beans.

Note: My husband loves dessert, and he is always super interested in the desserts featured on the Great British Baking Show. So we are trying a British-style dessert this year, just for fun.

Follow up: THIS WAS SO GOOD.

Wednesday:

  • Brunch: Bagels & Lox

Note: With cream cheese, capers, lemons, and onions. And fruit for the kiddos.

Note: Someone at my husband’s office has brought in this cranberry salsa a few times, and my husband is in love with it. I am deeply suspicious but I’m willing to try it.

Follow up: This was actually quite delicious! It’s super weird — a combo of flavors that don’t seem like they would work. But they DO and I found myself unable to stop. We ate this with Stacy’s pita chips, which are delicious in and of themselves.

  • Dinner: Tacos

Note: Easy and delicious. So what if it’s not typical Christmas fare? (For us. I don’t know your magical taco-eating life.) If my mother-in-law and husband hadn’t insisted on simplicity over fanciness, I would have made this pork roast from Food & Wine and possibly Ina Garten’s chocolate creme brûlée. Well, there’s always next time.

Thursday:

  • Breakfast: Pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, leftover frittata – whatever we can scrape together.
  • Lunch: Cold cuts and leftover smoked salmon
  • Dinner: Out

Friday:

Note: The BBQ pork is one of my all-time favorite SUPER EASY recipes. I throw a pork tenderloin, a roughly chopped white onion, and a minced garlic clove or two in the crockpot, then douse with my favorite BBQ sauce and a few healthy squeezes of Sriracha. Cook for 4 hours, shred, and eat. I eat my pork with a potato (which I liberally drench in sauce), but my husband prefers making little sandwiches, hence the rolls and coleslaw.

Follow up: The dinner rolls were easy to make and froze nicely. But they are NOT Parker House rolls, which is kind of what I was expecting. They are denser and… squishier than I anticipated. Still good though. Would definitely make these again.

Saturday:

  • This is where I completely give up on the pretense of cooking, not that I’ve been doing much of it. I can promise I’ll have been doing a lot of dishes anyway.

Follow up: Three loads of dishes EVERY DAY our guests were here. How is that even possible…?

Sunday:

  • Takeout????

If you’re bored this Christmas week, let me know what your traditional Holiday Meals include.

It’s beginning to snow – hooray! Happiest Christmas, Internet!

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Last week included one night during which Carla had a bout of stomach virus (why must barfing inevitably happen at night?) and I slept a total of 2 hours and 20 minutes, one night during which I spent NO JOKE $9 (NINE) American dollars on mangoes because three of them were rotten on the inside and yet it was my anniversary and I had a beautiful piece of fish and I REFUSED to make something different than the recipe I’d planned (yes, I know it’s probably my own fault for buying non-local, not-in-season produce but I need my fresh fruits and veg, people!), and a night where a (tiny, non-threatening, and probably very cold) caterpillar crawled out of a green pepper and made my dinner very one-sided, pepper wise (I like to have an equal amount of red and green peppers).

So I think you will empathize with me when I say that I feel really crabby about making dinner (and just in general). Despite the crabbiness, dinner doesn’t make itself.

One day this week we are going out to dinner with friends, and another day we are going to an afternoon football game so I’m not sure if we will eat at the stadium or not. Either way, I’m not going to want to make a Real Dinner when we get home, so I am planning something that will easily meld into future weeks if we decide not to cook it.

Oh and look at that: this takes us right up to Christmas Eve, so I will need to figure out what I am serving for dinner on the 24th, 25th, and 26th. Sounds like a separate shopping trip, if you ask me!

Meals for the week of December 18 to December 24

  • Tacos

Note: I think tacos are my favorite food.

 

Note: I may end up swapping the zucchini noodles with the side for a different meal… the flavor profiles might be way too different for this to be a good pairing.

Follow up: Indeed, I swapped out the Asian zucchini noodles for the roasted green beans.  Also, this meal is good but it is REALLY oil-spitty. My whole stove and counters and floor and microwave were covered in oil splatter and the whole house stank of salmon for two entire days. Yuck. Maybe if there were a way to oven roast this… Also, the salmon took WAY longer to cook than the recipe suggested. All in all, this made me very cranky to make even though it tasted good, and even though my husband really liked it.

Note: This is one of my three favorite stir fry recipes. SO GOOD. As with literally all stir fries, I make it with red and green bell peppers. I also throw in some broccoli and some zucchini if I’m feeling fancy.  I also like to throw in some peas, but my husband is not crazy about them so I usually leave them out. By the way, you can make this without kaffir lime leaves — just squeeze some lime in at the end. I can get them at a local Asian supermarket, and I love the subtle citrusy essence they add to this meal.

 

Note: Over time, I have HEAVILY adapted this recipe. I use boneless skinless chicken breasts. I put in a whole head of garlic, and I sauté the garlic and onion before adding them to slow cooker. For the liquid, I use 1/2 cup lemon juice, 1/2 cup wine, and I also deglaze the onion/garlic sauté pan with an additional 1/4 cup of wine and 1/2 cup chicken stock. The sauce is pretty yummy and I usually like to sop it up with some couscous, per the Martha Stewart recipe linked above (although all that link says about the couscous is to “prepare it per the package instructions.” Gee, thanks.).

Follow up: Man I enjoy this. Mainly I like the garlic cloves (which I halve before cooking), which get soft and sweet and I’m sure make me a real pleasure to be around for weeks afterward. We used leftover rice instead of couscous, which was DEEPLY inferior. And the chicken sure gets dry. Although that could be because I cooked this for six hours when really it would be ready in three or four. My bad. Thankfully the sauce helps counteract the dryness.

We will also be making zimtsterne over the weekend, which are delicious almond-y (and gluten free, if that matters to you!) cookies that my husband discovered last year. Santa gets hungry, yo.

Follow up: These cookies are GREAT. For future, I need to put more of the remainder egg/powdered sugar mixture on top of each cookie than I think. I was stingy with the first batch and had more than enough leftover. The last batch had a nice thick layer and it is by far the best. Also, you can’t really tell when these are done. I kept peeking at them after 15 minutes for the first batch, and ended up keeping them in for 20 minutes, and they are CRISP. The last batch I did for a scant 17 minutes and they are chewy and marvelous. Also, I could not achieve pure white glaze, like the example picture in the recipe link. Even the cookies I baked the least amount of time have a brownish tinge to them. So that’s kind of disappointing. Still delicious though. Oh! Last year, I bought bleached almond meal even though the recipe specifically says non-bleached almond meal. They were good then, and very good now with the non-bleached almond meal. The non-bleached just gives them a little bit more of a texture… like… you are chewing on a cookie that has pieces of almond skin in it (which it does). That doesn’t sound pleasant but it IS. But both ways are good.

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Aha! My favorite/least favorite day of the week: Meal planning day! Let’s get to it.

A couple of commenters kindly mentioned recently being impressed with the variety of recipes I post and cook for my family each week. First of all, *blush*. Secondly, these first couple of weeks are giving you a false impression of my typical cooking style. Well, maybe not TRULY false. But I promise there will come a day when my meal plan looks like “tacos, spaghetti, soup, chicken paprikas, stir fry” for several weeks in a row.

For now, this “posting about my dinners” is novel and it’s inspiring me to be a bit more creative in my meal planning. Also, my husband and I are trying to watch what we eat in a way we hadn’t been for a few months, and that forces me to be more thoughtful and creative in what I cook. (I could – and probably will, at some point when the novelty wears off – just do some variation on “chicken + vegetable” every day. But that gets tiresome quickly.) Also also, I get SO BORED of Our Regular Fare that sometimes the boredom alone is enough to spur me to choose more varied options.

I totally get that meal planning doesn’t work for everyone. For me, it is purely an efficiency thing: going to the grocery store is a huge time suck and I hate it. But I do admit, there are days when NONE of the meals on my list sound appetizing and I have to come up with something else on the fly. Last week, there was a day I didn’t feel like cooking, so I scrounged around for something in the fridge and my husband got Panera.

That means that I have a meal from last week to carry over to this week. Also this week are a) my husband’s work holiday party and b) our TENTH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY, for which we are going out to dinner, so I have fewer meals to plan for. Woo hoo!

Meals for the Week of December 11-17

Note: This is the holdover from last week, which means I still have all the ingredients at home. I hope the parmesan is holding up okay (it is… many weeks old).

Note: My husband and I pair this with basmati rice and caramelized onions, and he also adds sundried tomatoes and feta cheese to his plate. Nothing green on this plate, but you could add a quick side salad if you were so inclined.

My notes from the last time we ate this said to use lettuce instead of cabbage. I am also going to omit the avocado from the salad and the half and half from the crèma; I found it was liquidy enough with just the addition of the lime juice.

Also, I will tell you a secret: Using chipotles in adobo sauce is one of my favorite ways to add kick to meals. But I hate the texture of the chipotle chiles. So I puree a can or two of in the blender and then spoon a tablespoon of the puree into ice cube trays. Then I have a plastic baggie of chipotle ice cubes I can add to ANYTHING – chile or crema or chicken marinade. Super easy and delicious.

Follow Up: My husband says this is too spicy. I don’t know what to do with that information.

Note: This recipe is new to me. I am a little wary of the big chunks of celery (outside of tomatoes in all forms, there is almost nothing worse than slimy cooked celery) but otherwise it sounds good.

Note: This is a Regular Stand By. My husband and I also add one each of a red and green pepper, and I chop up a jalapeno on mine.

Note: My notes from the last time we made this say, “This was pretty good. Husband liked it more than I did.” So. Hmm. I am not sure what to do with that. Maybe I will use regular paprika instead of smoked? I can tell you one thing, and that’s that I will definitely be omitting the parsley, which I hate. I also have baby Brussels sprouts leftover from last week, so I will be roasting those little guys with a couple of shallots.

Follow Up: I did indeed replace the smoked paprika with regular, and liked this much better. It was quite salty, made saltier because I think I over salted the Brussels sprouts as well (and burnt the everloving souls out of the poor things). Also, the whole meal desperately needed acid. Next time, I should make this with lemon broccoli, and/or maybe just squeeze a lemon over the chicken when it comes out of the oven. Oh, I also used thyme instead of oregano because I went to three grocery stores and there was NO OREGANO and it worked just fine with the thyme.

All right, off to the grocery store! Hope your dinner plans this week are tasty!

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