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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

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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We are all sick. My poor husband has gone back to work and Carla and I are draping ourselves pathetically across various pieces of furniture. I have given up trying to ban Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse from our home, and it plays endlessly in the background, rotting my child’s brain and fueling my nightmares.

I have managed to drag myself off the couch long enough to write 80% of the thank-you notes for our Christmas gifts. Carla needs to write three separate thank-yous to her teachers, who got her a book for Christmas, one to her babysitter for an unexpected gift of Play-Doh, and one to her grandparents for whom thank-you notes are Super Important. (I have taken their Supreme Importance to heart, as you see, writing them from my deathbed and all when I haven’t even been able to make Carla a breakfast heartier than “dry Wheat Chex in a bowl.”) She is signing the other cards, which I think is plenty. Getting her to write all the notes she needs to will be… a lengthy process. Please fill in the ellipsis with your own of all the other words I considered and rejected.

Even before this illness – which began Sunday as a scratchy throat and has snowballed to its present state of misery – felled us, my plans for dinners this week were… relaxed. It’s hard to get back into the dinner swing, post elaborate holiday meal planning. Plus, I am back on the calorie counting wagon, which makes me feel spiteful about dinners anyway.

Here we go. Perhaps in a few days I will feel well enough to plan meals for an entire week.

Dinners for the Partial Week of January 2 – January 7

Note: I am making this tonight because it is so easy. Nearly no effort, which is the most I can muster right about now. My husband and I pair this with basmati rice  (which I made last night) and caramelized onions (also a low effort item), and he also adds sundried tomatoes and feta cheese to his plate. Nothing green with this meal, but you could add a quick side salad if you were so inclined.

Note: I think this was on my meal schedule a couple of weeks ago and we ended up not eating it. Such flexibility is the benefit of having lots of chicken breasts in the freezer.

  • Mulligatawny Soup

Note: WordPress spell check is claiming that “soup” is not a word. It is, right? A word? And a food? Have I stumbled into some weird delirium? In any event, this mixture of meat and broth and other things is another super easy meal. Although I don’t think I have any pre-cooked shredded chicken in the freezer, which means I need to roast some before I make this. The recipe we use is adapted from Joy of Cooking, and it requires sauteeing mire poix (which I have pre-portioned in the freezer; you can buy mire poix from Trader Joe’s and just portion it out into freezer bags, or you can do a big batch on a day when you have time) with a couple tablespoons of flour and curry powder, adding chicken stock, shredded chicken, some thyme, salt, pepper, and bay leaves, and rice, and then cooking for awhile. You can add warm milk at the end if you so choose. Very simple but hearty and delicious.

That’s it. On Saturday, we’re going out to dinner with friends. Sunday, we may have some friends over – if that happens it will be last minute and very casual and I am trying VERY HARD not to freak out about that, because I am neither a last minute nor a casual kind of person. Monday… well, we’ll figure it out when it gets here I guess.

What are you eating this first week of 2019?

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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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One of the little things I find so pleasing about Thanksgiving is learning what everybody likes to eat on Thanksgiving. (This applies to all holidays, honestly.) Because I can’t stand ANYTHING besides the mashed potatoes and gravy, I am so charmed to hear people wax poetic about the dressing or express deep-seated passion for corn casserole.

It’s so fun and delightful to learn about how other people do the Very Same Things you do, isn’t it? I just love that.

That delight extends to everyday food, too. I am so curious to know what other people make for themselves/their families. There are so many different things to make! Just for dinner! And I find it rather marvelous that my husband and I have our Old Standbys and preferred flavor/ingredient combinations… while you might – probably, in fact! – have totally different things that you turn to every week.

To make what may seem like a change of subject but is closely linked in my brain: I felt so heartened by the suggestions on my most recent meal planning postthat I have soldiered on for many months. I downloaded a recipe/shopping list app that I still haven’t really gotten the hang of, but aside from that, I’ve just been going on as before: long lists of recipes on my phone and on my computer; an unwieldy email chain chronicling my week-over-week meal plans; not infrequent despair that my family’s desire to eat regular meals – much like dishwashing and laundry – never ends.

Well, now I am going to try something new: posting my meal plans on this here blog. New to me, that is; I enjoy many blogs that regularly post their weekly meal plans and have been reading them and getting inspiration from them for years.

Perhaps you will find this wildly boring; in which case, perhaps ignore Tuesday posts (I go shopping on Tuesdays). Or you could probably just wait a few weeks until I grow weary of this particular project.

But perhaps you will find inspiration among my meals. Or at the very least, a little frisson of delight that we are so similar or so very different.

Meals for the Week of November 27 through December 3

  • Pre-packaged marinated pork chops with broccoli

Follow Up: We have another package of these pork chops, so I will have to eat them again. They weren’t bad, just a bit bland.

Follow Up: This continues to be delicious. I think next time I will do an extra onion.

Follow Up: A good, easy dish. I roasted everything at the same time for about 30 minutes, and then broiled the pork for another five. I added garlic cloves to the root vegetables and my husband did not like them — he said they overpower the subtle flavor of the parsnips.

Follow Up: I did in fact serve these with black beans on the side. These turned out to be pretty tasty, although the chunky nature of the canned chiles is not appealing to me. Also, this was WAY more complicated than it should have been: I needed three separate pots to cook everything, plus the roasting dish, plus the bowl in which I blended the second can of chiles — and that doesn’t even count the sheet pan on which I baked the chicken. If I can find a way to modify it so that it’s not so multi-steppy, maybe I’ll do it again… I wonder if it would be good if I simply mixed the chicken and white beans together in a bowl and used that alone as a filling? If I only had to make the sauce, I might do this again.

Follow Up: Delicious. I used some zucchini noodles instead of bean sprouts, which was pretty good.

Follow Up: This continues to be easy and delicious. The worst part is trying to time the beans to be done at the same time as the salmon.

Follow Up: Somehow I totally screwed up the spice level. This time, I used three tablespoons of each spice (except salt — 1 tsp, and cardamon — scant 1 tbsp) and it was WAY too overpowering. My husband and I couldn’t even finish it. And it was really salty. Maybe do 1 to 2 tablespoons of each spice next time, a half tablespoon of cardamom, and a half teaspoon of salt?

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Halloween is not even a week in the rear-view and I’m already dashing headlong into Thanksgiving preparations! It’s coming up in two weeks, people! This is not a drill!

This morning in a fit of… something, probably lack of desire to exercise… I took down and put away all the Halloween decorations and replaced them with my meager Thanksgiving decorations.

I love decorating for the season, and I really enjoy Fall Décor specifically, but I have a very hard time paying $25 for a wooden pumpkin, even if it’s handpainted, and even if I really like the pumpkin and pine for it each year at this time. Oh well. I keep it in my Etsy shopping cart for annual admiration, hoping each year that the shop will have a massive sale and I’ll be able to get it for $10.

You know who has surprisingly good seasonal décor? Michael’s, that’s who. I usually spend a morning in early fall, or, as seasonal buying seems to begin earlier and earlier each year, in early summer, wandering through Michael’s, admiring the stuffed scarecrows and fabric owls and tabletop gourds. Would my life be vastly improved by tabletops gourds? Probably not, but I imagine them in my life just the same.

(photos from Michaels.com; although they are all on DRASTIC sale they are not available online and very possibly not available in store either; cute nonetheless)

I don’t really know what more I NEED, by way of fall decorations. I have a plain orange pumpkin that I use to bridge the decorating gap between Halloween and fall. I have a table runner with leaves. I have a small wooden pumpkin. I have a small wooden “gratitude tree” from which Carla hangs little paper leaves on which she’s written things she is thankful for. I have a wooden welcome sign for my front door in the shape of a leaf. I removed the jack-o-lantern faces from the pumpkins, so they are sitting on the front stoop, pretending like they were meant to be fall pumpkins and not Halloween pumpkins. I have two or three ceramic leaf bowls that I can never really figure out how to incorporate; they are not quite deep enough to be candy dishes, so I think I generally use them to hold cashews or pistachios when we have Thanksgiving guests. I have a plastic Thanksgiving plate and bowl for Carla, although she may be too big for them. I saved the fall window clings from last year. I have some small wooden leaves that I don’t know how to use – but I’ll find a way, mark my words; I used small wooden pumpkins on all the windows for Halloween and they are fall-ish enough to stay through Thanksgiving.  I have a couple of fall hand towels.

It sounds like more than it is.

Oh! I also have a handful of colorful cloth leaves that I usually toss onto the Thanksgiving table. But this year, I used putty to stick them to my kitchen walls.

I don’t know if I love it; give me a day or so to think about it. (Who am I kidding? Now that they are up they aren’t coming down unless the putty gives up and they fall off themselves.)

What else could I possibly want, right? Especially because I am picky about decorations. I don’t like anything that’s made out of that scratchy material – what is it, sisal? I don’t like anything with words (my “welcome” door sign notwithstanding). I don’t generally like turkeys or pilgrims. Really, I’m a leaf and pumpkin girl, and I tend toward wood. And there are only so many wooden leaves and pumpkins a person can scatter about her house without feeling like they’re closing in.

It’s not just the decor that has me in a frenzy; it’s the food. Thanksgiving is so early this year! My parents arrive a week from Friday, which is very exciting but also makes me feel a little panicked. I need to come up a meal plan for while they’re here. The one thing I know for sure is that we’ll have this chicken, mushroom, and wild rice soup for dinner the night before The Big Day. At least I have already ordered my turkey – which reminds me, I need to call and request that my turkey arrive a day earlier; DONE. – and I have dusted off my Thanksgiving Timeline. That helps a teeny little bit. I can’t really do much more until my first round of Thanksgiving shopping.

I am feeling a little bit devil-may-care this year about the food. If you know me at all, you know that I am a Huge Kitchen Control Freak and do not like anyone else in the kitchen with me. But I am also realizing that I don’t actually like any of the food on Thanksgiving – except for the garlic goat cheese mashed potatoes and gravy, which I make by the bucketful – so why should I care so much about working myself to exhaustion while insisting on making the entire meal without ANY help from my family lovingly preparing it all on my own? My mother and father both like to help. Why not let them? Such a novel idea! However, jury’s still out on whether I will actually be able to turn over the reins.

While I am throwing Thanksgiving caution to the wind, I am also contemplating doing things differently. Perhaps if I made a pie I actually like – apple, maybe! or a fall version of this plum torte that I have been dreaming about since I made it this summer – I would enjoy pie! Maybe if I made some sort of wonderful Brussels sprout recipe or a delicious mushroomy mac and cheese, I would be able to fill my plate with more than my traditional pile of mashed potatoes and a slim slice of turkey!

This is not new; I have contemplated doing things differently in the past and then stuck with our family traditions. Therein lies the problem, of course: our traditions are so ingrained beloved that we’re not going to change them. Which means that I wouldn’t be lessening the cooking load at all. I am still going to have to make dressing, because it’s my husband’s favorite. I am still going to have to make pumpkin bars, because people want something pumpkin-y at Thanksgiving. And I don’t know that I have enough bandwidth – not to mention enough oven space – to add something else to the mix.

So probably all this wild and reckless and altogether deviant thinking won’t go anywhere, and I’ll do what I’ve always done. It’s fun to think about, though.

The one shake-up I am contemplating that stands the best chance of actually happening is the gravy. I love gravy so very much. And the last time I made it, it was amazing. It was this deep mahogany elixir of the gods that I would have been happy to drink by itself. But it’s finite, you know. And you have to share it with the other people at your Thanksgiving table.

So I’m wondering if I might try to make some gravy in advance. I keep seeing suggestions for doing this, and it doesn’t look terribly hard. I mean, you have to procure chicken or turkey parts/carcass in advance, which troubles me a little. But I could probably buy some chicken wings or legs for not too much money and roast them for the gravy. And I would still make gravy on Thanksgiving Day, don’t you worry. This plan is designed to produce EXTRA gravy, not less work. I want to be eating mashed potatoes and gravy well into December, is what I’m telling you.

Well, I have a little time left to fit it into my Thanksgiving Timeline. If it works out, I’ll let you know.

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