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Posts Tagged ‘comfort food’

Yesterday, I parted my hair on the opposite side. It felt and looked very weird and I do not think I will repeat that particular experiment.

 

One of the remarkable things about These Unprecedented Times is that going to the grocery store has now become such a major source of stress. I realize this is not a new topic nor a concern specific to me. But I am Right In It now and it’s so odd. I literally had stress dreams about the grocery store last night – where I discovered at the last minute that the store was open a whole hour before I thought it would be and I was able to dash in and grab some half-and-half. I mean, this is causing Major Anxiety these days which is absolutely ridiculous.

It’s been about twenty days since I last set foot in the grocery store, and a little less than two weeks since I picked up a curbside order (which did NOT contain half-and-half). I was supposed to go to the grocery store yesterday, a plan I’d been working toward for many days. Our store opens at eight and has seniors/immunocompromised shoppers hours until nine. My plan was to arrive right at nine and get in and get out quickly. But my husband actually had patients that morning (which is A Good Thing) and had to go into the office, so I couldn’t go. He has patients this morning, too (also A Good Thing). So yesterday we decided I would go later in the afternoon, once my husband got home.

I ordered a mask, which is supposed to arrive sometime later this week. So I fashioned a mask out of an old baby blanket and hair ties. And I got all dressed — in actual Real Clothes — put my hair in a bun, even put my contacts in, and drove to the grocery store. And then I chickened out. The parking lot was SO FULL. And there was a line of people outside stretching along the entire side of the building. Which I know is a good, smart innovation. And yet it made me feel all panicky and trembly so I turned around and came home.

But we obviously still need groceries. So I filled a virtual cart at the grocery store that offers curbside pickup. Curbside pickup is not ideal – for one thing, I worry that I am taking a spot from someone who has limited mobility or is immunocompromised or for whom going into an actual store is otherwise difficult/impossible. Plus, on a selfish level, it’s so much easier to be able to decide on the fly that the store doesn’t have fresh strawberries so I am going to get frozen berries or blueberries instead, rather than counting on the grocery store shopper to find an appropriate substitution. Curbside pickup is not something I am relying on, is what I’m saying. But it worked fairly well the first time I did it. And I figured it would be good to have a backup if I can’t get to the store myself, or if I do  get to the store but they are out of half-and-half.

The app for curbside pickup allows you to choose a date and time from a selection of five upcoming days. At least, that’s the idea. These days, all the spots are full. This means that the earliest possible date I could hope to pick up my order would be this coming Sunday. And that’s only if I happen to open the app at the exact right time and catch the new pickup times before they fill.

This happened last time, too. I stalked the app for three days at all hours of the day. The timeslots opened up one morning and I was able to grab one. So I tried it at midnight last night… and then woke up at five to try it… and then seven… and then kept checking all through the eight o’clock hour… At nine o’clock, the app added Sunday as an option… But all the timeslots were full.

This is not anything to be Truly Panicked about. We still have plenty of food. But we are down to our last package of ground beef. We have only one remaining can of chickpeas. We have no eggs. And we are going to run out of half-and-half ANY MINUTE NOW which makes me feel very anxious.

This is all SO RIDICULOUS. I know that I am in a very, very privileged situation. I think of the news footage of miles and miles of cars lined up at food banks across the country and I feel ashamed. We can OF COURSE survive just fine without ground beef and without half-and-half. We have PLENTY of food. Obviously, we are FINE. But it turns out that running out of half-and-half is my personal grocery store breaking point.

Can I also say that my husband and I are having… disagreements about grocery shopping? We have always been on opposite ends of the preparedness spectrum. Even in The Time Before, I have always been the type of person who prefers to have a backup ready to go before I even start to run out of something. For instance, Carla eats a lot of frozen pancakes, so I always have two boxes in the freezer. When we get down to the last two or three of the first box, I put pancakes on the list. That kind of thing. (I also grew up in a remote, cold place where it was prudent to never allow your gas tank to be under half full; even today when I have a gas station within walking distance of my house, I still get very nervous if the gas dips below the half-full point. Maybe the food thing is related.)

Yesterday when I went to mix the ingredients for chili powder, I discovered that we are nearly out of paprika (which I use A Lot), and that we are – for me – uncomfortably low on garlic powder, oregano, and cumin. My husband sees that the (admittedly giant) canisters are still about a third full and says we don’t need the spices urgently. But to ME, I don’t WANT to need them urgently. I want to have backups ready to go.

The same goes for tortillas and chickpeas and sour cream and cheddar cheese and pancakes and iceberg lettuce and carrots and ranch dressing and chicken breasts and black beans and taco shells and hot sauce and onions and all the other things that make me feel like I can put together a normal and/or comforting meal. Do we need  cheddar cheese to survive? Of course not. But does it make me feel better to have a backup in the fridge? Yes.

This is how I would feel in Normal Times, too. But I feel it even more acutely now, when a) who knows when I will be a store where I can purchase these things and b) who knows if the store will even HAVE these items when I do manage to get there.

So my husband and I are experiencing a little friction on the groceries/necessities front, I have to say.

Part of it is that he is frugal and doesn’t see the point of spending money on something that you don’t actually NEED. (To which I say, but we WILL need this thing. Or, if not need, WANT.) Part of it is that he is not the designated shopper, neither now nor in Normal Times, and so doesn’t really fully understand the current shopping situation. I would guess he hasn’t set foot in a grocery store since late February, so he just doesn’t get how different it is. And/or he is in denial about how quickly the situation is going to improve. (Possibly never, says my doomsday brain.) He was surprised when I said that our online options for ordering spices (Costco and Penzeys are the ones I checked) were experiencing delays. (Not to mention that Costco’s website reacted as though oregano is a concept I made up out of thin air.) And yet, even when I point these things out – shortages and delays – he still seems to believe that we can just get whatever we want whenever want it. When I told him I was going to order curbside pickup, he said, “Oh great. Are you going to have it ready to pick up tomorrow?” and I had to temper my incredulous tone when I responded, “Of COURSE NOT, it will be Sunday AT THE EARLIEST before I can hope to pick up the things we ordered, and even then it is HIGHLY LIKELY that we will not get all of what we wanted.”

I would think that he would defer to me in this case, WOULDN’T YOU AGREE?

Pant,  pant,  panic, panic!

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Last week was a decent one, I’d say. I mean, one day I lay in bed most of the day. And one day I was filled with despair for most of my waking hours. But SEVERAL days, I felt pretty good. There were two or three days where I felt truly cheerful. Ugh. That should be a good thing, right? But it felt so WRONG. Or not wrong, exactly. But just… unsuited to our current situation.

It’s that gulf between perception and reality that’s getting to me lately, I think. I’ve done a pretty good job of reducing my News Intake, so I am not actively bombarded with horror all day long. But the disjunct between what life FEELS like and what is actually going on is… hard to compute.

Does that make sense? Have you had these instances, too, of feeling like things are one way and then being snapped back to reality?

Saturday, I went out to run some errands (no-contact dropping off of Girl Scout cookies, putting our housecleaner’s check in the mail, going through the drive-through at the pharmacy) and it felt so normal. The streets weren’t anywhere near as busy as they are of a typical Time Before Saturday, but there were plenty of cars out and about. The parking lots of pharmacies and gas stations and grocery stores were full. There were people on the sidewalks, walking their dogs and waiting for the bus. But those people had on masks and BAM the façade of normalcy shattered.

It’s been so nice – So. Nice. – to have my husband home. He has been splitting up the job of helping Carla with her distance learning, which has reduced my frustration DRAMATICALLY. It’s been nice to have him around, to kiss or hug or chat with whenever I feel like. And he and Carla have been having so much fun – their relationship is the biggest joy of my life and sometimes, while I’m supposed to be reading on the couch (which – utter luxury!!!!!), I will instead listen to them chat over a Kiwi crate they are building or smile as Carla shrieks with glee while they wrestle or play air hockey or close my eyes with happiness as they perform a duet in the basement – my husband on the piano, Carla on vocals (and sometimes drums). It is absolutely purely wonderful. But… the reason my husband is home so often is that he’s not working.

I wanted an apple the other day. It sounded so good – crisp and sweet and healthful. But I kept thinking to myself, “No, I shouldn’t.” Why not, self? We have a bunch of apples in the upstairs fridge and a whole other bag of apples in the downstairs fridge. Apples are perishable; they won’t last forever. But I keep feeling like I should SAVE things like that, because I don’t know how/when I’ll be able to get more. (I logicked myself into eating the apple, but it took some coaxing.)

Just in the past two weeks we have branched out into getting occasional takeout. It’s been nice to know that I have an alternative to cooking YET ANOTHER MEAL, plus I feel good about supporting local restaurants. The first time we got pizza, it was so easy: we ordered everything in advance, the pizza place was completely empty except for one worker (and I effusively thanked her for being there), and I was able to no-contact collect my pizza, put it in the car, and bring it home. My husband and I developed a Takeout Plan, wherein I touched all the boxes and containers and he helped me transfer them to our own dishes and then I wiped everything down. It worked great.

This weekend, I went to get barbecue. The place was HOPPING – so many cars, and so many people going in and out even though the restaurant offers curbside “delivery.” As I pulled up, I noticed a man and his tweenage daughter leaving the restaurant with a heavy plastic bag laden with takeout containers – it was notable because he had his daughter with him (although, listen, you have to do what you have to do; I don’t know his situation or whether she was capable of staying at home or in the car or anything about them; I just noted it). I tried calling the curbside delivery line, but it kept disconnecting. So I steeled myself and went inside. I’ve been in the restaurant a million times, and it looked the same – although nearly empty – and there were two dudes jawing away at a high-top table near the entrance. My food wasn’t ready yet, but the bartender said he’d bring it out to my car so I escaped – gladly – and waited. I’d arrived at 6:40 – that’s when I saw the man and his daughter emerge with their takeout and get into their car. At 7:00, they walked back into the restaurant with their takeout package. I immediately had a bad feeling. My husband has a common first name – along the lines of Chris or Steve. I guessed that the father had the same name. When they re-emerged a few minutes later, this time with a big brown paper bag, it was clear what had happened. I even heard the man telling his daughter something about “another Steve” as they trekked back across the parking lot. Then, the bartender came out seconds later with a now-familiar white plastic bag and tried to hand it to me through my window.

Listen, this kind of thing would have made me squicky even in The Time Before: The other Steve and his daughter had clearly LEFT with my food. I don’t know whether they opened it up in the car or at home, or whether they’d started to put the pulled pork on plates or if a three-year-old had had a chance to poke around the fries with his fingers before they realized the error. At the very LEAST upsetting of the Possibility Spectrum (in which they didn’t open the bag but simply looked at the receipt and noticed it didn’t list the food they’d ordered), my food was more than twenty minutes old at that point. In normal times, I would have calmly told the poor bartender that I’d seen the food leave the premises and return, and that I wasn’t comfortable taking it home with me, and could they please make me a new batch. Instead, I burst into tears and blubbered at him about how they had taken the food home and I was FREAKED OUT. He said he’d get me fresh food – which I wanted, but of course then I felt guilty because the restaurant is probably barely squeaking by and I don’t want to contribute to its hastened demise – and I kept sobbing in my car outside the restaurant until he returned AGAIN and assured me they were making me everything fresh (which they did; it was all steaming when he finally returned to my car for a third time). I was able then, at least, to calm down enough to smile at him and apologize for being so hysterical. I certainly wouldn’t have reacted that way in normal times.

But it’s NOT normal times. And I keep going along as though it IS and then being slapped across the face with the fact that it ISN’T.

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Hair

Are you doing your hair as you normally do? I have STOPPED. There is absolutely no point in spending 30 minutes drying my hair and straightening it. Well. I could see how it MIGHT have a point, at some time in the future – if I need to feel Normal, somehow. Or if I have a super-important Zoom meeting (unlikely). This is a time for the least possible exertion, hairwise. My hair is not cooperating, though – instead of settling into beautifully air-dried curls it is still doing what it did in The Time Before, which is drying into drab frizzes that are vaguely curl-adjacent on the right side of my head and straightish on the left side. Very disappointing, hair. We should all be Stepping Up in These Unprecedented Times.

What I have been doing is braiding my hair after I get out of the shower. Usually, I part my hair to the left, but when I separated it into two braids, I parted it down the middle. And immediately remembered that I part my hair left for a reason. Hoo boy do I already have a LOT of grey. Well. It can’t be helped and it isn’t so extreme that I am ready to try an at-home coloring process.

I also remembered why I normally do my hair very simply – braiding is probably one of the easiest hair styles on the planet and yet I can barely do it. I am not talking about French braiding or fishtail braiding or anything fancy. Just a simple three-strand braid. It does not look good, folks.

Clothes

I am not nor have I ever been one of those people who gets fully dressed to work from home. No. Comfort is king. But at least when I had to pick up Carla from school and go to Actual Places like the grocery or Target or Carla’s ballet studio, I would get dressed in real clothes every day. Now… Well, my wardrobe is divided into three primary sections: pajamas (leggings and one of my husband’s old t-shirts), exercise clothes (leggings, a sports bra, and a tank top), and inside clothes, for after I’ve showered (leggings and a sweatshirt or long-sleeved T-shirt). Yes, I have different leggings for each category, and, even though they are all black, I can tell them apart. (The pajama leggings are the softest and loosest.) There’s a seldom-worn forth category: outside clothes (jeans and a shirt which immediately go into the laundry upon returning home). I found A HOLE in one pair of leggings recently, so I may need to expand my attire options at some point. But not now.

Homeschooling

We are on Day 4 of homeschooling – or whatever it is when you are trying to cajole your child into following the lesson plans her teachers have given you – and I am already having to step away and take deep breaths every few minutes. HOW are people doing this with multiple children? And while WORKING? I am ready to walk into the sea.

Shopping

After stalking the online ordering app for four days, I was finally able to get a timeslot for curbside grocery pickup. I haven’t tried this before, and I am expecting that only part of my order will be fulfilled, but I am kind of anxious about it. Will something essential, like milk or taco sauce, be missing? If so, I’ll have to go to the store which I am obviously trying to avoid. Of course, ordering wine is not an option so I will have to go to a store EVENTUALLY anyway.

Passover

In an effort to keep Carla’s Jewish heritage alive and part of her life, I want to observe Passover. But… I feel so out of my element. I am NOT Jewish and a lot of the books we have don’t really explain things in depth. Plus, I don’t really know anything about how to hold a proper Seder and certainly don’t have the right food on hand. Well. I still have a couple of days left to figure things out.

Easter

I found an art supplies kit and a leftover rainbow leopardfrom Carla’s sixth birthday in the gift closet. Plus I have a very small amount of Easter candy I picked up from the grocery store. So I think I can make up a decent Easter basket for Carla. (We have actual baskets, fake grass, and plastic eggs in the basement, because I reuse them year to year.) But I am still FRETTINGabout it. Sure, I could explain that the Easter Bunny is practicing social distancing and so asked me to round up what I could… but on the other hand, I want Easter to be Extra Special because so little is special these days. I have filled my virtual Target cart with candy and books and toys that I can pick up curbside… but I am hesitating. Partly because my husband thinks we have plenty of Easter-y stuff. And partly because I feel really guilty about shopping for non-essentials.

Housecleaning

I think I have come up with a rough housecleaning schedule.

  • Daily: Making beds, unloading/loading the dishwasher, wiping off tables and counters, disinfecting high-tough areas, using the dustbuster to eradicate crumbs, tidying up main living spaces.
  • Near daily: Laundry
  • Monday: Toilets and counters
  • Tuesday: Showers and tubs
  • Wednesday: Break
  • Thursday: Windows and baseboards
  • Friday: Dusting
  • Saturday: Bedding
  • Sunday: Floors

Last week, I taught Carla how to clean the toilets. Yesterday, my husband vacuumed all our carpeted surfaces while I scrubbed the kitchen and bathroom floors. I hate cleaning but it does make me FEEL better. It also makes me feel better to think about my housekeeper returning someday.

Books

I finished all three books I mentioned in this postand have moved on to Jessica Simpson’s memoir. I wish my library had more Agatha Christie books available via ebook – they have a good number, but not all, and so many are already checked out. I want to read them in order and that is nearly impossible to do. I put MANY of your suggestions on hold through my library website, but none of them have come through yet.

Socializing

I have been very pleased by the amount of socializing I’ve been able to do even while quarantined. Two high school friends and I had a happy hour via Zoom the other day that was really enjoyable. And then my husband and I had a FaceTime date with family friends who were supposed to come over for dinner. I was surprised by how satisfying it was to chat with them – it was nearly as good as being with them in person. Not as enjoyable was the family meetup we did with my husband’s family that lasted for WELL OVER AN HOUR. That is too long.

Exercise

Getting “proper” exercise has been a real challenge. My preferred method is walking on the treadmill for an hour, but when I do that, our internet goes out. So no one in the house can do anything requiring an internet connection, which means I can’t even walk on the treadmill while Carla is “at school” because so many of her “assignments” require her to be connected to Google classroom. (This is completely ignoring the fact that, so far, I have to be IN THE ROOM with Carla the entire “school day” or she wanders completely off track ARRRRGGGHHHHHH.) I have done a few Barre3 videos via YouTube, but it’s not the sameas being in the studio with my favorite instructor. I suppose I should resume using exercise videos, but I am resisting for some reason. Carla’s daily schedule has two hour-long blocks set aside for exercise, which mainly consists of us walking over to a nearby school parking lot so she can ride her bike. I walk back and forth a million times across the parking lot, occasionally sprinting. It’s not FUN but it does a mediocre job.

Food

A lot of people seem to be making new and interesting things during this pandemic, especially bread. My own mother has made two types of bread in the past week and my father made a lemon cake. I have made… my typical rotation of dinners. Carla and I are going to make cupcakes for Easter – she wants chocolate cakewith these bunny decorations. We did a Sprinkle Inventory and do not have pink sprinkles – but we do have purple and gold, so I think we’ll be okay. I have flour and yeast, so I COULD make bread. But I am kind of waiting until we NEED to make bread, you know? Right now, we have a loaf of bread in the freezer and I ordered a loaf of bread to be picked up later this week. Maybe if bread doesn’t make it into my actual shopping bags, I will make some. I have been kind of waiting for an opportunity to make focaccia… maybe this is my chance.

Mood

Friday was pretty rough. Saturday, I wanted to drive my family into the woods and leave them there. And I have been waking up at 4:00 or 5:00 every morning, which is unpleasant. However, I had a pretty decent day yesterday, slept without waking all night last night, and am feeling fairly balanced today. I will take the good days as they come.

 

There you have it. Now give me the updates on how YOU are doing.

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My mom used to make this soup for Christmas Eve dinner. It seems like it was something she did every single year of my childhood, and a few years beyond that. So even now that I’ve adapted the recipe and eat it throughout the year, the scent and the flavors still carry a frisson of Christmas.

It’s such a good soup. It’s hearty. It’s adaptable. It’s forgiving. The leftovers are great. And it’s EASY.

Mulligatawny 3

The original recipe comes from Joy of Cooking, which, as you can see from the cover, is a much-loved cookbook in our house.

Mulligatawny 1

My husband and I have tweaked it a bit, over the years, to our liking. I have recently discovered that it works well in the crockpot, but it is also very easy to make on the stove.

Mulligatawny 2

Mulligatawny Soup (adapted from Joy of Cooking)

Servings: 6-8, depending on what you consider a serving

Ingredients:

4 stalks of celery, diced

2 large carrots, diced

1 cup diced onion

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

3 Tbsp flour

1 1/2 Tbsp curry powder

2-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

8 cups low-sodium chicken stock

2 bay leaves

1/4 to 1 cup uncooked or 1/2 to 2 cups cooked long-grain rice, depending on whether you want a more brothy soup or a more stewy soup

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1 cup milk, warmed

1/2 cup diced green apple (optional)

Mulligatawny 4

Directions:

Crockpot Version

  1. In a small saucepan on medium heat, melt butter and vegetable oil together.
  2. Add onion, celery, and carrot; sauté lightly until onion is translucent and veggies are slightly softened.
  3. Add flour and curry to the veggies; stir and cook until fragrant, about one minute.
  4. Spray insert of slow cooker with cooking spray.
  5. Add cooked veggies, raw chicken breasts, stock, bay leaves, salt, pepper, and thyme; stir.
  6. Add uncooked rice.
  7. Cook on low for 6-8 hours, or on high for 4 hours. (Check temperature of chicken before eating.)
  8. Before serving, warm the milk and add it to the slow cooker. Add optional diced apples at this point as well.
  9. Remove chicken and shred; return to pot.
  10. Remove bay leaves.
  11. Add salt and pepper to taste.

 

Stovetop Version

Note: Ingredients are the same, except the rice and chicken should already be cooked.

  1. In a large stockpot on medium heat, melt butter and vegetable oil together.
  2. Add onion, celery, and carrot; sauté lightly until onion is translucent and veggies are slightly softened.
  3. Add flour and curry to the veggies; stir and cook until fragrant, about one minute.
  4. Add stock, bay leaves, salt, pepper, and thyme; stir.
  5. Bring to a boil; simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Add shredded cooked chicken, cooked rice, and optional diced apples.
  7. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  8. Immediately before serving, add warmed milk.
  9. Add salt and pepper to taste.

 

Notes:

  1. This is a very forgiving and adaptable recipe. You can add more or less chicken, more or less rice, more or less milk. Sometimes I have left out the milk altogether.
  2. You can substitute half and half, heavy cream, or coconut milk for the milk.
  3. You can add a squeeze of lemon to the soup before serving, for a little brightness.
  4. It is very simple to cut this recipe in half, but the leftovers freeze well.
  5. I do not think the apples add anything to the recipe, but my husband likes them.

 

Enjoy!

Mulligatawny 5

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How is it January twenty-first? January usually drags along at a meandering pace, completely oblivious to how much longer a grey, frigid day passes than a regular one. But this particular January is going by at a clip I am deeply uncomfortable with. Is this old age? Constant shock and denial of how quickly time is passing? It feels like I was posting last week’s meals just a few seconds ago. And yet… it’s a whole week later and the month is days from closing and, well, I wanted the final year of my thirties to go a bit more slowly is what I’m saying.

In any event, it is yet again time to plan meals for the week.

Dinners for the Week of January 21-27

  • Black Bean Burritos

This is what we’re eating tonight. I just stocked up on my favorite hot sauce and I am READY to pour half a bottle on top of some cheese smothered beans.

This is a new-to-me recipe and I’m pretty excited to try it. As per usual, I will probably throw a bell pepper or two into this to amp-up the veggie quotient.

Follow up: This was not a keeper. The curry flavor was kind of overpowering and it just wasn’t a favorite in our house.

  • Microwave Meals/Leftovers

This is working out pretty well as our Thursday Night Dinner. I am kind of enjoying trying new options. My expectations are so very low, it’s always a pleasant surprise when something is edible.

  • Taco Salad

We haven’t had tacos for a LONG while. It’s time.

  • Date Night!

Technically not really a date night date night. But we are going to a friend’s house and they are cooking us dinner AND date nights are a hot commodity around here so I’m going with it.

 

  • Chicken Paprikas

Another old favorite that we haven’t had in a long while. And the weather is really making me crave hot creamy carb-y foods.

 

What are you eating this week?

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You know what really grills my cheese today, Internet? People who don’t follow the rules. Why? What is it about some people that makes them so confident they are ABOVE the rules? Or that the rules don’t apply to them? See ANY NEWS ITEM ANYMORE for plentiful, deeply disheartening examples.

Today, specifically, I am directing my rule follower rage at the woman who not only brought her cart out into the parking lot – which is strictly forbidden at my grocery store – but then LEFT IT THERE, on the tiny concrete divider between the parking spaces.

I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps there is some physical disability at play. But, honestly, that excuse ain’t gonna cut it, sistah, because our grocery store offers – purely because of the no-carts-in-the-parking-lot rule – courtesy bag loading into your car. It’s totally free! There are even signs everywhere that say NO TIPPING (although I still tip; people tip and I don’t want to be The Woman Who Doesn’t Tip, especially given that I go there every week), so she can’t even blame the lack of cash in her wallet.

Okay, okay. I KNOW there could be other perfectly valid reasons – like maybe she has an emergency that she learned about exactly at the moment she was done checking out and can’t fathom waiting in the bag loading zone for the two extra minutes it takes the cheery bag loader staff to load your bags into your car. Or maybe she just got some terrible news and, completely gobsmacked (why is gobsmacked not a word, Word?) by the terribleness of it, she is floating through the store forgetting her eggs and not really paying attention to her cart.

But my overall experience with people is that there often ISN’T a reason, besides an inexplicable certainty of being the center of the universe and therefore able to flout rules whenever the whim takes hold.

See also the people who go zooming down the shoulder of the freeway when everyone else is stopped, waiting for an accident to clear. Who ARE those people? And why do THEY get to decide THEIR needs take priority over everyone else’s needs and safety?

Well. I am in A Mood, apparently.

It’s the week before my family’s Thanksgiving, so I’m a wee bit anxious about that. Pre-exhausted, still, even though I was pre-exhausted two weeks ago.

And I am yet again faced with planning and making meals for myself and my family. Whatever shall we eat?

Dinners for the Week of November 12-November 18

Note: I went to three different grocery stores to find the haloumi, which is a firm cheese that this recipe recommends pan-frying and turning into croutons. I DID find the haloumi at the third store, but it was $9.99, so I did not buy it. I will do a lot for the sake of an interesting-sounding recipe, but it turns out I will not spend just shy of $10 on a block of cheese. Instead, I bought something called bread cheese, which sounds similar to haloumi, although I guess we’ll never know, and was a much more reasonable $6.35. Sigh. That is STILL too much to spend on cheese, but I did it. I will report back on whether it was worth it.

Note: We did not eat this last week, even though it was on the menu. So I am making sure we eat it THIS week. Also, I do not particularly like roasted carrots but I saw a bag of rainbow carrots at Trader Joe’s and I was powerless to resist it. 

Note: This is an old standby. Good when I have no inspiration.

  • Chicken with Zucchini

Note: Speaking of no inspiration — this is like… just the basics. I have chicken in the freezer, a plethora of marinade possibilities, and a pile of zucchini, so I’m ready for whatever day requires a super easy meal. 

  • Pork Chops with Broccoli

Note: Same as above, but with pork, obvs. And I even splurged and got pre-cut, bagged broccoli this week. Maybe this will help me stick to my menu plan and not make a last-minute decision to go eat Mexican food. 

Note: I made the MOST AMAZING impromptu pizza this weekend, and I am going to make it again for dinner on Friday.

  • Breakfast for Dinner

Note: Breakfast is one of the few foods that Carla eats reliably – and she will even eat scrambled eggs if I bribe her with pancakes. A few commenters suggested this last week, and I never do it, even though it is SO easy, and relatively healthful. Well, now I have bacon in my fridge and I’m stocked up on eggs and freezer pancakes and READY TO GO.

 

 

What are you eating this week, Internet?

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The past two weeks of meal planning were thrown completely off by a major storm that knocked out our power for four days. While a friend who had electricity saved all my chicken and pork by stowing it in her freezer for me, we still ended up throwing out a ton of food. I have not gotten around to replenishing anything but the basics (half and half, sour cream, jarred garlic [I cannot quit it], cheese). We have eaten out a good deal since the storm hit, and boy is it easy to not cook when you have been not cooking for awhile. Anyway, we are getting back to normal this week if it kills us.

We are in this weird liminal space between summer and fall where I cannot for the life of me decide whether I want to force myself to grill chicken and eat salad… or I want to give in the urge to make rich, stewy fall suppers. Let’s try a little of both, shall we?

Dinners the Week of September 24 to September 30

  • Tacos

Note: My family grew weary of Taco Tuesday so we took a little break… but it’s BACK, baby!

Note: The last time we made this, the chicken was weird and put me off chicken for… a long time. I am now firmly back in the Pro-Chicken camp, but I am a little apprehensive. Yet chicken paprikas is one of my favorite foods, so I can’t stay away forever… Well, hopefully this turns out okay.

Note: I saw a similar salad on a menu recently and realized I’ve never tried making something like this. So let’s give it a shot.

Follow up: This was good! Except I… made some alterations. First, I added corn and avocado because that’s how I roll. Second, I made swordfish instead of chicken because it was on a killer sale and I couldn’t resist. Third, I did not love the peanut dressing, so I also made this teriyaki dressing except I didn’t have pineapple juice so I used the juice from the mandarin oranges. My husband used a combination of the dressings and enjoyed it very much. Fourth, I didn’t eat any mandarin oranges. Fifth, I forgot about the cabbage which is likely still in my fridge. I am the kind of person Internet recipe writers HATE.

Note: We haven’t had this in ages and I’m excited for it.

Note: We did not get to make this the last time I planned it due to the power outage, so let’s try it again this week.

Note: This is another one we did not get to make the last time I planned it. Hopefully it isn’t cursed or anything. As I said previously: I honestly have no idea what Gochujang tastes like, so it could be a Very Bad Plan. But it sounds lovely and my idea is to cook it on Sunday while we’re watching football and have a Nice Family Dinner together (not that Carla will eat anything with flavor. But hopefully she’ll eat the components.).

Follow Up: This was good! The flavor of the gochujang was the perfect blend of tangy and spicy. The marinade was very easy to make, and it was simple to just set everything into a pan and let it cook for a couple of hours. The one disappointment, for me, was the garlic. I was really excited about all the slow-roasted garlic, but it didn’t really ADD to the experience. I might do without it, next time.  Did I forget to the do the scallions? Yes, I did. Crap. They are probably languishing in my fridge with the cabbage from the salad. Oh – I have also decided I am Over skin-on chicken. It’s just so flabby and gross and you put the marinade ON it, so you miss out on the marinade flavor. I know that it helped flavor the potatoes or whatever, and helped keep the chicken from drying out, but there has to be SOME WAY to do with this boneless skinless chicken breasts. I think it would be better.

  • Date Night

What are you planning for dinner this week?

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There’s a lot going on these days, Internet. I feel burnt out.

Then, NGS made a comment on my last dinner post that stuck with me: “You’re so much more ambitious in food planning than I ever could be. We seriously only have about six meals in rotation.” That struck me as SO LOVELY. Six meals? No fussing around with food blogs and magazines and a big pile of recipes I’ve emailed myself? Clean, simple, tada. GENIUS.

And then I thought of Nicole, who serves the same five categories of food each week, Monday through Friday. When she posted about her weekly meal plan, it was a revelation. I could make tacos every Tuesday?! And sometimes they could be fish tacos or carnitas or black bean tacos, but it didn’t matter what spin I put them, Tuesday would always be taco day! What a delightful fantasy!

These two wonderful bloggers (and I’m just assuming they are excellent home cooks, as well) got me thinking… and I think I’m making things too complicated.

It seems that I have made an overcorrection in my meal planning navigation. I find that it is so easy to get into a meal rut, when you feel like you’re eating tacos and spaghetti and grilled chicken ad nauseum and so cooking feels boring and eating feels boring and you just hate life. This is just me, of course. But I course corrected so far in the other direction – trying to find New! and Interesting! and Different! meal options – that now I feel like variation is my GOAL. (This is not to say that I don’t end up eating the same things over and over, I’m looking at you, delicious spinach and arugula salad.) And also, it’s become somewhat of a chore. I’ve been looking through my bookmarked meals, searching for something new or different… and nothing seems new enough or different enough. I start looking at super elaborate options that just aren’t practical for a regular Tuesday, and then I get discouraged and BAM!, I’m right back where I was when I started this whole meal planning journey.

So there’s that. But also… sometimes you just want to throw a couple of chicken breasts on the grill and call it a day!

This week, I am doing Tried and True, Easy Does It meals. And it feels super! I love it! I should do this more often. Or, maybe, I should come up with a list of Favorites that I can choose from again and again, things that can be Go-To meals alongside tacos and spaghetti and grilled chicken.

Anyway, here’s the dinner plan for this week.

Dinners for the Week of July 16-July 22

  • Tacos

Note: Taco Tuesday, baby!

  • BBQ Pork Tenderloin with Baked Potato (for me) and Coleslaw(for my husband)

Note: We are supposed to have storms, and it feels like we haven’t eaten this easy crockpot meal in a long while.

  • Grilled Chicken with Quinoa Salad

Note: I will marinate the chicken in Wegman’s Korean barbecue marinade. I also have this idea that I will make a quinoa salad with bell peppers, bean sprouts, maybe some edamame, and scallions, and then dress it with Nagi’s Sesame Peanut Dressing. (When I went to a writer’s conference a couple of years ago, one of the meals was this AMAZING quinoa salad with pad-Thai-style flavors. I have been chasing that flavor ever since, and this sounds like it might get me pretty close.)

Note: I have tried many (MANY) a recipe for homemade pizza dough. But I haven’t found a single one that holds a candle to the Papa Sal’s dough I can get at the supermarket.

  • Grilled Pork Chops or Steak with Roasted Green Beans

Note: I found a couple of filets in the freezer; I think I intended them for Carla (they were DEEPLY on sale), but perhaps I will commandeer them for myself and my husband.

  • Grilled Chicken with Side Salad

Note: Chicken marinated in Wegman’s marinade, salad dressed with leftover French vinaigrette.

  • Out

And you, Internet? What are you eating this week?

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First, I love you. Thank you for your kind responses to yesterday’s crisis of parenting confidence. I read each and every comment yesterday and felt so understood and comforted. Also, Carla’s teacher noted today that a LOT of kids are off lately.  Some combination of recovering from all the illness going around and facing yet another dreary February day.  That helped, too. Today has not started out much better, but I didn’t cry, so we’ll call that progress.

Anyway. *Brisk clap.* No matter what emotional turmoil we’re facing, we still have to eat. So let’s plan some meals, shall we?

Tomorrow is my last day of this infernal challenge. It has been fun, if “fun” is a word you can appropriately apply to persistent headaches and an overwhelming longing for Diet Coke. And I am pretty sure if I tough it out for a week or so more, I’d be able to keep up with it. But I like carbs and I don’t want to cut them out entirely, nor do I want to live a wine-free life at this stage of my development, so I think I am going to stick to good ol’ calorie counting from here on out. But for tomorrow, I am going to make this FINAL sugar free option for dinner:

Note: Is this a complete meal? Shrimp and zucchini? Will my husband feel like there isn’t enough substance? I guess we’ll find out.

Follow Up: I made this version instead: https://damndelicious.net/2015/01/24/zucchini-shrimp-scampi/  It was DELICIOUS. Definitely filling, definitely enough for my husband and me. I will definitely make this again.

Then on Thursday, I am making Spaghetti with Meat Sauce (my own semi-homemade recipe, which is delicious) and we will get cake from our local bakery. Also, wine. And garlic bread.

For the remainder of the week (leaving a night for leftovers or going out):

Note: This is a tried-and-true FAVORITE in our house. I am going to see if this gets me back on the chicken train. (Ugh. The term “chicken train” is enough to make me leave the station again.) If not, I pack it with enough veggies that there’s no need real need for meat.

Note: This is another favorite. I use thyme or dill for the “herb” part of the herb crust. For some reason, Ina’s green beans and shallot dish is almost always the side I pair it with. It’s GOOD. And easy – especially because I don’t blanch the beans first. I just throw ‘em in with the sweaty shallots.

Note: Easy, delicious, healthy.

  • Black Bean Burritos

Note: I have missed eating legumes during this 10 day challenge. And cheese. Burritos are the perfect antidote.

I may also make a big pot of this for lunches next week:

 

What are you eating to combat the February Drears? Are you doing anything fun for Valentine’s Day dinner?

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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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