Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Well, that was a bust!

I am already totally revising my menu and it is only Tuesday. But it is good to be flexible, right?
The squash and kale pasta=not that great and halfway through the day I realized I was kidding myself thinking that if that's all there was, the kids would eat it. Also, to make it kid friendly I would have to omit the red pepper flakes and the garlic. I decided to make them tuna melts and spice up the pasta (which was a new recipe I tried from Everyday Foods.) Well, as is the risk with trying new recipes, I have a huge batch of less than great leftovers. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't inedible, but the idea of eating the leftovers is highly unappealing. So, do I invest more ingredients and try to make it better? Or cut my losses? I think I will cover it in mozzerella and bake it again for me for lunch.

The second hitch in my get along is that the GIANT bird will probably not really be thawed until tomorrow AND I discovered that our final box of potatoes from last fall is needing my immediate attention. So, in light of the recent discoveries, we will be eating potatoes. I am going to boil and mash them all today. Some will go in potato dumplings for dinner tonight, some will be for mashers and gravy tomorrow, some will go into potato farls for snack, with some I will attempt to make Erica's salmon and potato cakes for Thursday, and whatever is leftover, I will make samosas or potato bread or something with.

Happy Spuds to you all!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Eating from the Pantry and Freezer

A few special menu planning challenges this week: On Monday, we are bringing dinner to a family with a new baby. My BIL Chris is coming for a visit starting Thursday, and we will be celebrating his birthday on Friday evening. If we go crabbing this weekend, we're hoping fresh Dungeness will replace what's on the plan!

I'm still in "using up what's in food storage" mode, because that's the way we roll in February, March, and April (if you still haven't seen Sharon's post about this, check it out.  I think I've linked to it three times). I really want the chest freezer to be close to empty by late spring so I can put what's left in the little freezer and defrost that bad boy to get it ready for filling up again in the summer! This week, I'm trying to use up apple pie filling, delicata squash, some straggly red cabbage and kale from the garden, home-canned pear sauce, canned cherries, frozen bell peppers, and corn meal.

Monday: Bean and bacon soup (made a big batch Saturday), corn muffins, and apple pie!

Tuesday: No-knead artisan bread, hummus, marinated feta and olives, roasted delicata squash

Wednesday: Bibimbap, sesame spinach, rice - I hope to post the recipes for this one later in the week, because I would say this meal is my number one crowd-pleaser, and it's easy, nutritious, and endlessly adaptable.

Thursday: Pork chops, pear sauce, mashed potatoes, German red cabbage, roasted delicata squash

Friday: Salmon patties, oven fries, coleslaw, white chocolate white forest birthday cake (I hope to post this recipe later in the week, too!), chocolate ice cream

Saturday: Crock pot chili, corn muffins

Sunday: BBQ ribs, baked beans (I make 'em like this, except I use cooked dry beans), coleslaw, corn muffins

Have a fantastic week!

This post is linked to Menu plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie 

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

A brand new week

I am hoping to keep this week extra simple because the big one is (and has been for years) really wanting to do more of the cooking. Today we made chocolate pudding together and she was able to do most of it on her own. So, I am going to make a serious effort to get them all in the kitchen more. Partly because they want to and partly because I feel they need to learn some skills and kitchen work is one they are most interested in right now. So, without further ado...here is this weeks menu:

Sunday: Mediterranean fish stew, potato gratin, pickled beets and salad

Monday: Kale and squash baked pasta, sauteed mushrooms

Tuesday: Roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, pickled beets, sauteed chard

Wednesday: Tortilla soup and taco salad with black beans

Thursday: Thai beef stir-fry, asain coleslaw, rice

Friday: Pizza and pie

Saturday: California pork chops, rice, green beans and salad

As a back-up plan, I did manage to get 3 cheese pizzas frozen and an additional 4 crusts.

I, too, am working to use up the canned and frozen goods from last year. The salsa, pickled beets, pickled peppers, tomato sauce and canned tomatoes we have no problem using. It is the canned beans, watermelon rind (???), peach puree, green beans, apple pie filling and pickled carrots/peppers that are a challenge. I was inspired by the Casaubon's Book post that was a link in one of Erica's posts; specifically where she says "...good cooks can transform second choices into first ones." I am determined to make these less than favorite canned goods a bit more fun. Last year, I froze a lot of peaches (whole and sliced), blueberries and pureed squash that I have been rationing, but I feel confident that we can start eating at will.

This post is linked to Meal Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Fast food

Well, no sewing happened. Some kids had homework to be helped with, some kids got sick, some grown-ups rear-ended other grown-ups and had to spend a few days on the phone with insurance agents. This week I thought about homemade fast food. Things that can go from the freezer to the table in 20 minutes or from anywhere to the table in 20 minutes. As I was making a double batch of pizza dough, I remembered that after the middle one was born, I made homemade frozen pizzas. I used to just freeze extra dough, but that still required some planning (get it out in time, roll it and top it, etc...) then I par-baked the crusts and that worked really well. Then I par-baked them and topped them and froze them. Duh, that's what a packaged frozen pizza is?!? There are other things, too, tamales, black bean or lentil burgers, falafel (I have some patties I put in the freezer but I haven't actually tried them yet.) Granted, it generally takes a whole day (or two) in the kitchen to get these to the '20-minutes-to-the-table' point, but once I muster up the motivation, it's worth it. I have been able to tweak these for breakfasts, too: breakfast pizza is a par-baked crust that I take out and top with chevre, frozen berries and cinnamon-sugar. There are, also, pumpkin tamales that can be topped with yogurt and my mom used to make these bran muffins that she would keep the batter for in a 5 gallon ice cream bucket in the fridge and then just bake as needed. It had egg and two kinds of cereal that I sure wouldn't work for our family, but I am contemplating trying to tweak the recipe. It's risky business though, I mean, a lot of potential waste if they turn out truly terrible.

The other thing I do for quick meals is based on the Laughing Planet menu (which can be downloaded here.) In short, there are several sauces that are mixed with different veggies and beans or chicken and/or cheeses that are then put on brown rice, wrapped up in a tortilla or tossed in a salad. I usually plan on doing this and cook up some chicken, a pot of beans and a batch of rice, but I loose my steam when it comes to the sauces and those are really what push the food from ordinary to fantastic.

Lately, the Everyday Foods publication from Martha Stewart has really been full of good, simple and healthful things that are sounding really good and doable for me. The last two months have had things like black bean burgers, other pizza dough recipes that are not pizza i.e. chard pie, fruit turnovers and dessert pizza, and a simple asian dressing that can be used in several different ways. We'll see. I still have a day or so to figure out how I want to approach this week.

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Donburi Saves the Day (Again)

Frazzled. Frayed. Too tired to cook. Too tired even to eat. That's how I've felt the last two Thursday nights. Which probably means I need to look at what is out of balance in my week that is frying me before the week is even out. But more urgently, last night, anyway, was that I needed to feed these children and this similarly-frazzled husband something. And if that something could nourish my body and soul, so much the better.

When we're tired, sick, or down, I always seem to gravitate to broth. I usually have a supply of homemade chicken broth in quart Mason jars in the freezer. I'll try to post more about homemade broth soon, because I've got a good system.  If my supply of broth is getting low, I do also usually have some Pacific brand aseptically packaged broth on hand.  That's what I used last night.

Donburi is basically a simple brothy rice, Japanese style.  It's easy to cook and easy to eat.  It's a good fall-back position when things go awry.  I have made it when we were down with the flu, when we were grieving over bad news, and when the grocery shopping hadn't gotten done and there was next to nothing to eat in the house.  Like most of my best recipes, this one came from Josie.

ingredients for 2 servings:


1 1/2 C broth (I use chicken, but any kind would be good)
1/4 C mirin
3 T soy sauce or liquid aminos

1 boneless chicken breast (I have never actually included this.  I usually make this on an emergency basis, and I don't stock boneless chicken breasts.  I have subbed mushrooms, or just left it out.  It's still yummy.)

6 medium scallions, cut 1/2 in wide (I never seem to have these on hand in an emergency, either, but I do usually have chives from the garden, so I use those.  Yesterday I used green garlic shoots from the garden.)

3 lg eggs, room temperature, beaten

So here's what you do.  Cook your rice.  When it's almost done, take your broth, mirin, and soy sauce, and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, and cook for 3 minutes.  Stir in your chicken and scallions, simmer for another 3 minutes.  Pour the eggs in all at once.  Do not stir.  Cover the pot and gently simmer for three minutes.  Voila.  Serve the brothy soup over rice.  Breathe deeply.  Listen to the sounds of contentment coming from your family.  After dinner, run a nice warm bath and get in with a good book for the rest of the evening.

P. S. - I think "Donburi" sounds like a Pokemon character.  "Donburi Saves the Day!"

This post is linked with Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

My Happy Week

In Novella Carpenter's excellent memoir, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, she quotes an old Portuguese saying that the happiest weeks in a person's life are the week after their wedding and the week after a pig goes to butcher.  S picked up our half a pastured hog on Saturday, so this has all the makings of a very good week! With that in mind, this week’s menu is unabashedly pork heavy. We haven’t been eating much pork for quite some time, so we are ready!* Besides, all that hog happiness just seems to work really well with some of the storage items I want to finish up soon – home canned pickled beets, pear sauce, the last of the frozen cranberries, potatoes that are starting to sprout, and a big 5 pound bag of coarse ground cornmeal that’s been in the freezer for a while.

Monday: Pork chops baked with sauerkraut and pear sauce, mashed potatoes, peas

Fat Tuesday: BBQ country ribs, potato and beet salad, coleslaw, corn muffins, bananas Foster

Wednesday: Salmon patties, oven fries, pickled beet coleslaw

Thursday: Bean and bacon soup, corn muffins

Friday: Tuna melts, oven fries, fruit

Saturday: Ladies Night, Erica doesn’t cook, the family eats leftover goodness

Sunday: Maple-mustard pork roast, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, delicate squash, gingerbread with pear sauce and whipped cream

I am participating in Meal Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie, along with a couple, two, three hundred other bloggers.  If you need inspiration, there is lots to be had! 
I stopped buying industrial pork a while back because of all the scary news about hormones, antibiotics, E. coli, a probable link between pork mega-farms and methicillin-resistant staph, and the incredible amounts of pollution produced by factory pork farms. As if we needed any more reasons to avoid industrial meat, the FDA recently approved a new chemical for industrial meat production, one that is very likely to remain in the meat, because it is given to the animals close to slaughter. We have local sources for local, organic, pastured beef, lamb, chicken, and eggs, but until a couple of weeks ago, our only source for pastured pork was our local food coop, and it was incredibly expensive. Then my lovely friend Josie, who keeps her ear to the ground about such things, found a farmer who raises pastured pigs. Let the happiness begin!

Other random stuff:

S and I just watched “Away We Go” on DVD, and I loved it so much. Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida wrote the screenplay, and I think Dave Eggers is, well, a genius. It is nice to watch a movie that reminds you about what’s important. I like it that the main characters are portrayed as being deeply in love, but realistically. They aren’t perfect people and they sometimes get on each others' nerves, but at the same time, they always have each others' backs. On their journey around the country, the couple gets a foretaste of what sorts of challenges life will throw at their attempts to be true to each other and to create family. Most of the other characters add up to one giant cautionary tale about just exactly what we’re all up against and all the many ways we can lose the path and forget what matters, through bad luck, selfishness, or just plain human weakness. The movie manages to be hilariously funny while still retaining its ring of truthfulness. It is affirming and hopeful – overall the perfect romantic movie for our Valentine’s weekend! Now that I’ve shamelessly built it up to the point where your expectations will be far too high to enjoy it, forget everything I’ve said and go rent it.

One of my favorite poets, Lucille Clifton, died yesterday.  I had the privilege to see her read her poetry in college.  She said that someone once asked her why her poems were so short.  She replied that she had raised six children, and that her poems were limited by the number of lines she could remember as she cared for her family and household and worked throughout the day and waited to write them down in the evening.  This is one of my favorites.  Actually, they are all amazing.  There are links to several of her poems here.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day, Sweetie

I dedicate this song to the jazz-loving gentle giant I had the good sense (for once!) to marry. This video is long, but totally worth your time, so relax and enjoy.

Itchy Fingers

 I have been itching to post about so many things, but I have been down with a nasty virus this week.  I never did make a meal plan, my strategy this week was to get people fed with as little energy expended as possible.

So here's what we did eat:

Monday:  Leftover beans, leftover rice, leftover salsa, and hard-boiled eggs

Tuesday:  Taco soup with pasta, avocado, corn muffins

Wednesday:  Salmon patties, oven fries, roasted broccoli, homemade tartar sauce

Thursday:  Donburi

Friday:  Steak, Colombian salt potatoes, guacamole

Saturday:  Homemade bagels, scrambled eggs, bacon

Sunday:  Valentine's Day breakfast - coffee, gingerbread pancakes, pear sauce, sausage
Potluck party with friends - pasta salad, fruit salad, lemon bars

For this coming week, I intend to post the meal plan on Monday.

Oh, and there's an awesome post on Sharon Astyk's blog about eating locally in February (and March, and April) and how these are the months where you end up "finishing up" the stuff that's not necessarily your favorite.  For instance, next week, I think we will be finishing the pickled beets I made last summer.  Also the pear sauce that no one has touched.  And next summer I will focus my canning efforts on stuff that we really like (and the kids really like); the old standbys like strawberry jam, spaghetti sauce, and applesauce.

Friday, February 12, 2010

My name is Josie and I am a recovering pack rat

I have been in recovery for about 3 months now and it has not been easy. I have managed to resist acquiring more stuff, but I am having a hard time parting with my beloved crap. I am taking it one day at a time, but that makes for slow rewards. My New Year's resolution (well, one of them anyway,) is to streamline this house for minimal stuff and maximum efficiency. We live in a relatively small place (a family of 5 in 1032 sq. ft.) which I believe can work out nicely but I live in a state of controlled chaos. I spend a lot of time fighting my piles. In December and January, I was on a roll. I was taking a laundry basket of stuff to the goodwill every other day. In February, however, I have slowed down. No, I have stopped. Partly because, I had to catch up on housework but mostly because it was easy getting rid of stuff that is obviously crap. It is not easy making choices about things I like, but don't really need or use. AND, it is easy to get rid of the kids stuff, but now it's down to all my stuff. The biggest hold up is the craft closet(s). I save every old t-shirt, sweater and pair of jeans for re-purposing purposes but I can't really sew until I organize the craft closet which I can't really organize because of all the piles of things to be sewn. It is all so overwhelming that instead of doing anything, I play Word Twist. You can see the pickle I am in. So...today I sew. I will ignore laundry and sweeping and dog walking and I will sew! I will finish some old projects and start some new ones. I will make produce and snack bags, pj's for the kids, cloth pads for moi and I am especially inspired by these pot holders and all of her stuff. I love the collage-i-ness of it all and I am DIRE need of aprons. So...here I go....

Monday, February 8, 2010

A pop quiz

Here this blog has just been started and I am getting a pop quiz. R told me yesterday that he will have to work late every night this week. So, how do I feed the fam food a) they can eat and b) I feel good about, and still manage to parent in a way that allows me to sleep easy at night. My instinct is to make 14 dozen tamales, a giant pot of beans, 2 batches of granola, roast a chicken and make stock. I am not going to do that. That would take two solid days of "parenting with my voice" from the kitchen--deal breaker. I could make a run to the store, but the convenience foods my kids allergies (wheat, cow-dairy, nuts and seeds, eggs, soy and garlic. Yes, I know, GARLIC?!?) allow them to have are waaaaaay expensive and I have already spent my budget this week. But finances aside, I have a lot of ingredients in this house. Sure they are ingredients that take a day to thaw, a night to soak or an hour to cook, but there is plenty. This is not a prologue to my big plan. I have no plan as of yet. I have a menu I made on Saturday as a starting point:

Sunday: T-bones, potato gratin, mushrooms and onions and chimichurri sauce.

Monday: Polenta, roasted cauliflower, sauteed chard, marinara with left over steak.

Tuesday: Fish tacos, beans, rice, salad, salsa and avocados.

Wednesday: Black bean burgers, Jojos, salad and broccoli.

Thursday: Leftovers cleverly thrown together in a new and exciting way that the children love.

Friday: California pork chops, rice, broccoli and pickled beets.

Saturday: Pizza and apple pie.

Of course, R won't be here, so I will have to alter things so there won't be a fridge full of leftovers about to go bad. Well, wish me luck.....Josie

p.s. That cheat sheet would have been awesome about now.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Butternuts Won a Book!

We just won a copy of a permaculture book called Gaia's Garden: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture on Crunchy Chicken's blog.  I'm sure we'll be telling you all about it!

Thank you Crunchy Chicken

Breakfast for Dinner

Erica here.  I ran out of patience for the week on about Wednesday. The special needs student that I teach has been unwilling to go outside on these dark, drizzly days, even during the nice sunbreaks we’ve been getting. I miss our hikes to the mudflats, where his nervous system is reliably soothed by the fresh air and fascinating, ever-changing environment, and where we I feel that we can converse and connect in a way that just doesn’t happen as often in the classroom. He misses them, too, but is too overwhelmed by the fear of cold drizzle hitting his skin to get his gear on and go out, no matter how many tricks and tools I use to persuade him. He has been spending more and more time huddled in front of the heater, immersed in his internal world, playing with Legos, and lately I leave work feeling that he finds my presence in that world irrelevant at best, intrusive at worst.

In addition, I have been fighting the raging red monster – PMS. This was one of the worst bouts in recent memory. I have spent large portions of these last few nights lying awake, and I feel brittle and threadbare, like mummified pieces of me are going to start falling off at random moments.

By Thursday, I came home from work feeling mighty low. It was taking every ounce of willpower not to snap at the girls over little things as I pondered dinner. Then my husband called to tell me he would be “a little late.” In my childless days, I would have eaten cold cereal, soaked in a warm bath, and spent the rest of the evening in bed with a pile of books. To make things worse, I had no viable plan. The salmon I had planned on preparing didn’t work out – when I had gone to the store to buy it, it wasn’t on sale for $6.99/lb after all, but was $10.99/lb. Turns out I had looked at the previous week’s sale flyer. I don’t pay that much for salmon, especially when it has been “previously frozen for quality,” so I left the store empty-handed.

The kitchen seemed filled with dirty dishes, which was hard to believe since no one had been home at all that day. However, dishes from last night’s bedtime snack, plus pots, bowls and cups from oatmeal for breakfast and the morning's tea, empty reusable containers from packed lunches, and empty reusable water bottles all added up to a mess. I complained out loud, and my 4-year-old offered to help with the dishes. “Great,” I thought, “what next?” because we all know that an offer of help by a 4-year-old is actually a guarantee of more work. I almost asked her if she wouldn’t really rather watch a movie while I cleaned up, and then I stopped and took a deep breath.

I’m not sure what made it possible for me open my eyes and accept the gift that my sweet girl had offered, but this time, I did. My pattern is usually to keep struggling to make things conform to my vision of okayness, making everyone else miserable in the process. But this time, my daughter helped me with the dishes, and it was delightful. I had to guide her in scrubbing each one with a soapy sponge, and rinse them without splashing water all over, but by the time the dishes were done I found myself saying, “Want to help me make waffles?”

We made these multigrain ones, with blackberry sauce from my frozen berries, and scrambled eggs on the side. I didn’t just pull this idea out of thin air, they were on my plan for Saturday morning breakfast, and as I helped my daughter wash dishes and started to relax, I realized that they would make a lovely supper. Just another reason why it’s so useful to make a weekly plan, even if you deviate from it. They were delicious.

The rest of last week’s meal plan:

Monday: Coconut curry chicken in the crockpot, rice, peas

Tuesday: Homemade tomato soup with frozen garlic-whistle pesto, grilled cheese sandwiches

Wednesday: Stir-fried beef with broccoli and pecans, rice

Thursday: Waffles, blackberry sauce, scrambled eggs

Friday: Refried bean tacos with feta, Mexican rice, caramelized onions, and salsa

Saturday: Leftovers

Sunday: Sole piccata with home canned pickled beets and capers, brown rice, steamed broccoli, blackberry pie

Wasted food disclosure: my lovely packed lunch of coconut chicken curry and rice, left on the kitchen counter Thursday morning in my PMS and sleep-deprived fog.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The other nut....

I am Josie. I am the friend with the food allergy family. I am joining Erica in this quest. Actually we have been working on it together for a few years now. I always know what Erica has eaten, will eat, is wanting to try to eat and will never eat again. And at any moment she could tell you the same about me. I enjoy cooking, eating, reading cookbooks and planning meals, but in moderation. I tend to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. a lot. My least favorite part is from 3:30 until 6 when I don't have a plan. I spend much needed mental energy contemplating what to feed this family. Each hour that passes, crosses undecided upon options off the list. This drives my husband INSANE. "We have a pantry full of food. How is this an issue?" he asks. "We have a pantry full of ingredients," I politely correct.

I have tried many forms of organizing my menu plan to avoid this situation. I have made a very detailed weekly menu, down the specifics for each snack. It was ridgid and confining, but the week or two I was able to do it was great. I knew what to make for 3 meals and 2 snacks everyday without thinking. I have been unable to do this since. I sit down on the couch with my cookbooks and a blank sheet of paper and I simply cannot think of anything I have made for this family in the past 8 years. So I fritter away an hour looking through the cookbooks, asking the kids what they like to eat (cake and candy) and end up playing Word Twist on Facebook. So then I found a few other ideas for looser but still structured menu planning here and here. I just can't commit to them either. My new plan is to make a cheat sheet. Much like this one for recipes, except for meals my family enjoys.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Chocolate Cake...for Breakfast!

Donna's comment a couple of posts back reminded me of one of my very favorite comedy routines EVER. If you can watch the whole thing without laughing until tears are streaming down your face by the end, you may very well be dead inside.

Bill Cosby Himself - Chocolate Cake

Fria | MySpace Video

Packed Lunches

I realized last night that my eldest daughter's lunch habits have changed in the last few weeks.  Not sure what tipped me off, maybe it sunk in as I was writing yesterday's entry that I had just bought TWENTY cans of tuna.  Then I started thinking about where all that tuna was going, and it occurred to me that where it was going was into my dear darling daughter, who I love more than life itself and would die to protect.  Hmm.

Now I'm sure that you've all seen all of the same scary headlines about mercury in tuna that I have, and you have probably also heard that study after study has shown that people who eat more seafood seem to have lower rates of just about every disease you can name.  In fact, some health authorities are now urging people to aim for not two, but four, servings of seafood per week.

But back to my eldest, who I love more than life itself.  She used to eat school lunch sometimes, if she liked what was on the menu.  After the scandal two years ago involving a videotape of sick cattle being prodded inhumanely to slaughter, we banned school lunches involving beef.  We had not eaten any industrially raised beef at home for a few years before that, but it took an actual video of just what kind of meat was being sold to schools for us to decide that taking the next step wasn't extreme.  Beef is often on the menu up to four times a week in our district.  That's how subsidized industrial beef is; red meat is the most economical protein schools can prepare.  So, my girl was eating hot lunch about once a week.  About two months ago, after several gag-inducing experiences with hot lunch, she finally decided that she was totally done with buying hot lunch at school.  I was thrilled by this decision, and more than happy to pack lunch everyday in exchange for peace of mind.

Now, however, we find ourselves in a bit of a rut.  "What would you like for lunch today?"  "Tuna."  How about egg salad."  "No, I don't really like that anymore."  "How about PB&J?"  "No, I really don't like that."  And on and on.  I didn't mind at first, because I recently discovered, via blood test, that my vitamin D is very low (which is, apparently, very common in the Northern US in the wintertime).  I have been concerned about my kids' vitamin D levels and have been giving them supplements, but actually I was taking supplements, and still ended up with not enough vitamin D.  Vitamin D is found naturally in very few foods; the best natural source is fish.  Vitamin D is also found in animal fats, such as lard, liver, natural cheese, butter, and egg yolks.  The vitamin D levels are considerably higher if these foods come from animals which were raised on pasture (because their own exposure to sunlight raised their own stored vitamin D).

But back to my eldest, who I would throw myself in front of a bus to protect.  When she first started craving all this tuna, I remember thinking that maybe her body was trying to supply itself with vitamin D.  Tuna really is nutritious stuff.  Still, I think it's unwise to rely so heavily on one food, especially one that might contain some level of mercury.  We buy chunk light tuna only, which is low in mercury, but still, mercury is best avoided.  It certainly contains BPA, too, since all cans these days are lined with a plastic containing BPA. 

I checked for current recommendations on tuna consumption and found information provided by both the FDA and the National Resources Defense Council.  According to the FDA, my eldest can eat up to 12 ounces of fish including chunk light tuna a week.  That's more than two cans.  Sweet!  We're good!  But wait, the NRDC says that a child of my daughter's weight should eat no more than 5 ounces or so of chunk light tuna.  That's one can.  Maybe we're not so good.  And wait a minute, wasn't it the FDA that said that BPA was nothing to worry about, and then changed their minds?  I think I'm going with the NRDC recommendations.

Which means my eldest and I are going to have to do some brainstorming about alternatives to tuna.  I'll have a head start though, because we went through this same process when we banned school beef.  I've got tools, namely, a handy chart put out by the Laptop Lunchbox people to get your creative lunch-planning juices flowing (you have to scroll down to get to the chart, but there are lots of good ideas on the way down, too).  The only thing I don't like about the chart is that many of the fruits and veggies they recommend are only in season in the summer.  At this time of year, I'm packing a lot of dried fruit, because the fresh ones, other than citrus, are so crummy.  If you have a thermos, you can add soups to your repertoire, too.  My daughter especially likes pea soup (made in about 5 minutes from frozen peas), carrot soup, and black bean soup.  You can also send all kinds of saucy pasta dishes in the thermos.  I like to warm the thermos by pouring some hot water from my teapot into it and letting it sit until I'm ready to put the hot food in.

I also made a list, back in the banned-beef days, of healthy, frugal kids snacks that aren't processed and full of stuff you can't pronounce.  I think I got many of the ideas from Nourishing Traditions, some from the More-With-Less Cookbook, and maybe a few from my own head?  Here goes:

nuts and seeds - sunflower, pumpkin seeds, pecans, peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, macadamia nuts, trail mix made from any/all of these plus dried fruit and maybe a few chocolate chips

popcorn (we like ours with nutritional yeast which tastes good, is loaded with B vitamins, and reminds me of Cinemopolis in Ithaca)

peanut-butter popcorn

veggies and dip (we really like Annie's brand sesame goddess dressing for dipping)

dried fruit, all kinds

yogurt pops - put flavored yogurt into popsicle molds

cottage cheese and crackers

hummus and pitas or crackers

quesadillas, or tortillas with refried beans

baked tortilla chips or pita chips

celery with nut butter

apple slices with dip (I have seen homemade Nutella-type dips but haven't tried making them yet)

jerky (nonindustrial)



hard-boiled eggs, deviled eggs

healthyish cookies - oh, come on, every kid needs a cookie once in a while


chocolate-covered bananas, strawberries, dried apricots, etc.

So, what do you pack for kid lunches?  How about for your lunch?  

Monday, February 1, 2010

Not Wasting Food = Pie for Breakfast

Seriously. Leftover blackberry pie, made with blackberries I froze last summer. Yum! To make things even worse, that's what I fed my eldest child, as well.

Then we went grocery shopping. My daughter had no school today, so she tagged along. I had planned my meals for the week last night, again with the goal of using up some of the stored food so it doesn't get wasted. I also planned where I wanted to shop, so I could get it done for the week without making additional trips. I decided on The Grocery Outlet and our local food coop.

If you have a Grocery Outlet in your area, you probably know already that they are a mixed bag. They specialize in scratched and dented cans, stuff that isn't labeled quite right, food that is close-to-expiration-date or that was overstocked, and other stuff that for whatever reason has proven difficult to sell. They also sell the cheapest Umpqua milk in town.*   And the best part is that sometimes they have inexplicable killer deals on really, really good stuff.  Like Niman ranch nitrate free bacon, Rumiano organic cheddar, or Alter Eco free trade Moka flavor chocolate bars (I'm still kicking myself about not buying the lot that time).  Today I bought milk, a couple bottles of wine, cottage cheese, 3 boxes of organic cereal for $1.99 a box, 20 cans of tuna.  I also did buy 2 bags of Hain rice cakes, a box of organic peanut butter snack bars, and a 4-pack of Hansen's juice boxes for emergency snacks for my youngest.  I'm most proud of what I didn't buy - I passed up the Aidell's chicken and apple sausages for $2.99.  This is a great deal, because the usually go for $5.99.  They don't have a lot of added crap in them, and they are so convenient for days when I don't plan ahead.  But - after last month's experience, I know I can't afford that much for protein, especially when I'm getting a local pastured pig for less that that per pound in a week or so.  I also didn't buy any Kettle brand chips or Thomas Kemper soda (no HFCS).  While I used to justify buying stuff like that if it was a really good deal, the truth is that none of us needs it.  Anyway, total damage, $40.32.

I always feel like a grocery store whore when I drive straight from the Grocery Outlet, cheap motel of food that it is, to our nice, pure, organic, GMO-free coop.  I bought citrus, garlic, onions, carrots, peas, brown basmati rice, yogurt, sesame oil, peanut oil, dried cranberries, parmesan, and 2 bottles of GTs Kombucha (total extravagance, but I'm addicted).  Damage:  $63.98.  Cripes.

Then we headed home, I got dinner in the crock pot because tonight's a dance night, and I made a batch of cookies (I have some hazelnuts to use up ;-)).  When I opened the oven to put in the first batch of cookies, I was dismayed to see that the dish containing the remnants of last nights kabocha squash roasted with cumin salt was still in the oven from last night.  Ugggghhhh!  The first day of the challenge, and I've already wasted food?!  Or maybe it doesn't count, because technically the mistake was made last night when I left it in the oven to keep it warm in case anyone wanted seconds (note to self:  never, ever, leave stuff in the oven to keep it warm in case anyone wants seconds).  I composted it, but still.  Humble pie, anyone?  

*I buy conventional milk, for several reasons. One, two different local organic dairy farmers told me that when they got organic certification, they only changed one thing - organic feed, which is only given to the cows during their daily milking to keep them happy for that short time. The rest of the time they are on pasture, year round. At this point, I'm not willing to pay almost double for organic feed that is really a tiny part of their food intake. Two, I am suspicious of ultrapasteurized milk, which organic usually is. And three, out of all our local varieties (except Strauss, which is organic AND nonhomogenized and way too expensive), Umpqua tastes the best, which I figure has to mean something.  I am prepared to change milk-buying habits if new information becomes available, but for now, this is what we do.

No Grocery Shopping This Week

Crunchy Chicken has a new Food Waste Reduction Challenge up on her blog, and it inspired me to get my blog out of the dustbin of my mind and into the blogosphere, whatever that means. The challenge starts today and runs for the month of February. It struck a chord with me, because we have made a lot of changes over the last year about grocery shopping, meal preparation, and food storage, but I feel like last year was a learning year.

I've gotten pretty good at not wasting food, but we are still spending too much on groceries. We started a new household budgeting system last month, and found that, even though I think I'm being frugal, I still had blown through all but $4 of the money budgeted for household expenses before the last week started (in our defense, we did have a birthday in there). Time for tough love. No money for household expenses (food, clothing, etc) for a week. Here's how it went down:

I went through our substantial food stores to find out what most urgently needed to be eaten. I actually keep a chronological list of what goes in the chest freezer and our dry storage, but there always seems to be too much in the fridge to even worry about anything else. True to form, there was a big old 5-lb block of organic cheddar cheese, bought because the bigger size was such a better deal, that was about to expire. We also had a jar-and-a-half of peanut butter that was about to expire (that stuff can turn rancid, so I try to pay attention to dates), and a kabocha squash still in storage from the summer CSA (winter squash can be good keepers, but acorns and kabochas don't keep as long as delicatas or butternuts). I also had leftover fresh salsa, a package of whole wheat tortillas, cilantro, leftover black bean soup, and leftover mashed potatoes. So I planned meals around these.

Day 1: baked chicken chimichangas, mexican rice (with chicken from the freezer)

Day 2: leftover chimichangas, rice, and black bean soup

Day 3: Southern style mac and cheese, steamed broccoli - I think Southern style is code for really, really, fattening, but it was really, really good. I made it because it was dance day for my girls, and I don't have time or energy to cook anything after spending hours at the dance school. This was made in the Crock Pot. I made a double batch in my 5 qt Crock Pot, and really made a dent in that cheese. I actually bought the broccoli, along with milk and canned tuna. My eldest requested broccoli, which shows you that our veggie consumption has been a bit sub-par since the CSA ended. I also bought the tuna for her, because that's pretty much what she wants to pack for lunches - the rest of us eat leftovers for lunch. Milk we can't live without for a week, or at least my youngest can't.

Day 4: Salmon and potato cakes with honey mustard sauce, steamed broccoli - with canned salmon from the pantry, and those leftover mashed potatoes. These were so yummy!

Day 5: Ground beef quesadillas, leftover mexican rice, frozen peas - we bought 1/2 a grass-fed organic steer from a local rancher last summer, so we have lots of yummy beef in the freezer. However, after this meal, and after eating leftover mac and cheese for our lunches, some of us, including me, were beginning to feel cheesed out. Tummy not digesting all that cheese so well. Then I suddenly remembered something I had read in a magazine and then forgotten - you can freeze cheese! We were off the hook, at least temporarily. I grated up the rest of the cheese and put it in 5 quart size ziplock bags (used and washed ones, cuz that's how we roll) and tossed them in the freezer.

Day 6: Linguine with chicken and peanut sauce, frozen peas - luckily I had some fresh garlic in the garlic-keeper and some fresh ginger that I had stashed in the freezer

Day 7: Kabocha squash roasted with cumin salt, Brazilian cornbread, grilled steak, black beans and rice. And blackberry pie - We have a tradition of a big meal on Sundays, enough for lots of leftovers. I also try to make dessert that one day of the week. The cornbread was to use up some corn flour I bought when cooking for some friends with food allergies, but was not just taking up freezer space.

So, we ate pretty darn well (other than cheese overload), it just took some extra planning. Of course, if I didn't already have a stocked larder, it would have been a different story. The fridge is pretty darn empty now, but I am going grocery shopping today. I did use the same process in meal planning for this week (what do we have that needs to be eaten, how can I use it) but now I am allowing myself to buy some things to go with it. How to eat within our budget while still maintaining substantial food storage (for emergencies, and so that I can stock up when things are on sale) is what I will be focusing on for the next few months, I am sure.