December 2014: When a Meal Plan is Not a Meal Plan

When is a meal plan not a meal plan?

When you’re flying by the seat of your pants. When you’re planning NOT to plan. When you’re NOT SHOPPING. That’s when.

I mentioned last month that our usual week or two of pantry challenges, which we generally undertake in the run-up to the holidays to help offset our spending, would not be happening this year in quite the same way we’ve become accustomed to. Now it’s time to unveil the NEW RULES of the RRG Pantry Challenge….the mother of all pantry challenges.

For the month of December, we are not planning to do much grocery shopping. No, we will not allow ourselves to starve. Yes, we will buy staples, like milk and flour and some fruits and vegetables. However, instead of me deciding what we would like to eat and then buying the necessary ingredients, we’ll be looking at our freezer, refrigerator, and pantry each week, and deciding HOW LITTLE we can buy to supplement what’s already on hand without sacrificing our good health and nutrition unduly. In other words, I won’t be making any pot roasts unless the meat’s already in the freezer, and if I can either make alfredo sauce with what’s on hand or marinara with new items from the store, we’ll be eating alfredo.

It’s an odd, brave new world for me, since I’m a planner – I’m accustomed to waking up in the morning knowing exactly what’s for dinner not only that night, but for many nights to come.  Pantry challenges in the past have been both fun and exhausting for me because they force me to live day-to-day in the kitchen much more than I usually do. But now, doing it for a whole MONTH (okay…not quite, given holiday travel and all that), I’m both anxious and excited. Already I had a moment of panic this morning which has now largely dissipated in the wake of the realization that we have PLENTY of food on hand. It’s just a matter of me putting it all together in a way that makes sense.

I’ll be updating you all on our progress – what we eat, what we buy, how we manage – throughout the month, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I’m off to prep for tonight’s dinner. Wish me luck.

Please pardon the lighting...this is a hastily grabbed dining room shot!

Please pardon the lighting…this is a hastily grabbed dining room shot!

First Night:

DIY Salad Platter, baguette

Salad greens: Leftover from dinner with friends
Apples: Leftover from dinner with friends
Grape tomatoes: Leftover from picture pizzas
Pickled red cabbage: Leftover from schnitzel last week
Olives: Leftover from picture pizzas
Chopped scallions: Leftover from bibimbap
Dried cranberries: Leftover from dinner with friends
Carrots: Hanging out in the crisper
Goat cheese: Leftover from dinner with friends
Mozzarella: Leftover from picture pizzas
Pepperoni/prosciutto: Leftover from picture pizzas
Hardboiled eggs: On hand
Baguette and butter: On hand

 

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Once Again, You Should Always Listen to Your Mother

Listen To Your Mother logoSqueee!

Longtime readers may remember that back in 2013, I was a member of the cast of the inaugural Providence “Listen to Your Mother” show – an amazing experience. Food writing isn’t the only writing I do, so it was a precious and validating moment for me to have the opportunity to share my words on a stage with a group of phenomenal fellow writers, especially knowing that we were all a part of something much bigger than what was happening in that auditorium. I wanted to do it again, but — quite rightly — the rules of the production discourage cast members from auditioning for subsequent shows, so that newcomers can have their chance. So I tucked it away as a special memory, enjoyed keeping up with the friends I made through the experience, and left it alone.

Until now.

I am beyond honored to officially announce that I’ll be co-directing this year’s Listen to Your Mother Providence show, along with an absolutely killer team that I am SO not worthy to be a part of:

Co-director Lauren Jordan, of the blog Don’t Lick the Trash Can
Co-producer Kirsten DiChiappari, The Queen of the Earth
and Co-producer Chelley Martinka, A is for Adelaide

All three are also LTYM alumnae – Lauren and Kirsten were cast members with me, in 2013, and Chelley followed us in the cast of the 2014 production. When we heard that the original director/producers were not able to continue helming the show in Providence for 2015, I think we all knew instantly that we couldn’t let it fade away. Other cities have applied and been turned down for this incredible opportunity; we needed to make sure that we honored Providence’s hosting rights and kept the show going for all the other writers who needed a place to share their stories. So we banded together, closed our eyes, and took a leap of faith.

As it turns out, our production will be part of the largest collection of Listen to Your Mother shows in the history of the project – 39 cities will host shows this year, 10 of them new. I am humbled to be a part of such a rapidly growing, incredibly rewarding national movement, and I encourage each of you to find the LTYM show that’s nearest to your hometown this spring so you can see what it’s all about, firsthand. You can also view all past LTYM shows on YouTube, including my reading of my 2013 piece, “Normal.”

 

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November 2014 Meal Plan: Getting Cozy

As my 8-year-old son L. would say, “I cannot…not…NOT…believe” that it is November already.

There is something so special about this time of year. I know that sounds trite and a bit like I’m stating the obvious, but really – the second Halloween is over, it’s as if we head into a whole new mode for the rest of the year. It’s a time when the cozy feelings of the upcoming holidays permeate everything; even everyday family dinners, with the darkness closed in around the windows and the warmth of the stove lending its heat to the whole house, are a little more snug and peaceful feeling than usual. Yes, there’s a lot to do when November hits, lots of holiday preparations to complete and plans to be made, but it’s all pleasant busy-ness.

Those of you who are longtime readers may be expecting to see at least one “pantry challenge” week on the meal plan for November, but that’s not the case this year. I’m gearing up for a different kind of pantry challenge this year, which I’m planning for December – one that lasts longer and allows for a few replenishments of staple items, but still relies almost exclusively on what we have in the pantry and freezer to get us all fed. So for this month, it’s still business as usual. It’s a meal plan I’m excited about – lots of warming, filling, comforting foods to help us through these first truly cold and dark weeks of the winter ahead.

WEEK ONE:

Goulash

Saturday, 11/1: J. and I will be away on an anniversary trip!
Sunday, 11/2: We’re still away. My folks are dealing with the care and feeding of the kids.
Monday, 11/3: Pasta “poulet” and salad
Make it GF: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta
Tuesday, 11/4: Slow cooker: Corned beef, roasted brussels sprouts, scalloped potatoes11.14tip1
Wednesday, 11/5: Everything-crusted chicken on root vegetable salad
Thursday, 11/6: Mom’s Old-School Goulash and rye bread (The recipe for my mom’s old-school goulash can be found in the “More Joy, Less Stress” holiday guide!)
Make it GF: Omit the bread and use gluten-free pasta for the goulash
Friday, 11/7: Fend/kids cook

WEEK TWO:

potato soup

Saturday, 11/8: Roasted chicken wings, salad, smashed potatoes
11.14tip2Sunday, 11/9: Beer-braised beef and vegetables
Monday, 11/10: Loaded potato soup
Tuesday, 11/11: Slow cooker – chicken stroganoff, buttered egg noodles, roasted vegetables (This is another recipe found in “More Joy, Less Stress!”)
Make it GF: serve the stroganoff over rice
Wednesday, 11/12: Dinner nachos
Thursday, 11/13: Croque Madame, salad
Make it GF: Instead of a croque madame, serve slices of fried ham topped with fried egg and bechemel
Friday, 11/14: Fend/kids cook

WEEK THREE:

Bibimbap

Saturday, 11/15: Out to dinner with friends
Sunday, 11/16: Sunday roast chicken dinner11.14tip3
Monday, 11/17: Bibimbap
Tuesday, 11/18: Slow cooker – classic pot roast and mashed potatoes (Yet ANOTHER recipe that’s in “More Joy, Less Stress.” I think I’m seeing a pattern in my cooking at this time of year!)
Wednesday, 11/19: Pumpkin carbonara
Make it GF: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta
Thursday, 11/20: Pizza burgers and salad
Friday, 11/21: Fend/kids cook

Pumpkin Carbonara

WEEK FOUR:

Pasta all'amatriciana

Saturday, 11/22: Lenti and sausage bake, sourdough bread
Make it GF: Omit the sourdough; you could serve this with almond-flour biscuits or cornbread made with masa harina
11.14tip4Sunday, 11/23: Pork schnitzel, braised red cabbage, dill potatoes
Make it GF: Use almond meal or a mixture of ground pure oats and puffed rice cereal for coating
Monday, 11/24: Pasta all’amatriciana
Make it GF: Use your favorite GF pasta
Tuesday, 11/25: Slow cooker – turkey chili
Wednesday, 11/26: Breakfast for dinner
Thursday, 11/27: Thanksgiving!
Friday, 11/28: Fend night

WEEK FIVE:

Saturday. 11/29: “Picture” pizzas
Make it GF: If you don’t have a preferred gluten-free pizza crust, try using corn tortillas as a base for open-faced picture quesadilla pizzas!
Sunday. 11/30: Clam chowder and salad

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Can You Juice Without a Juicer?

Carrot cake juice shotsWhy am I asking this question? It’s the night before Halloween. Surely there are more important things for me to be thinking about – especially since I have very little interest, generally, in “juicing.” I’ve tried it once or twice, and it’s not necessarily something that has amazed me to the point of wanting an actual juicer so I can do it all the time. So what’s got me thinking about juice tonight?

Well….when the people at Williams-Sonoma ask you to juice something, you juice.

I got an email a few days ago from the team over at Williams-Sonoma, which — by the way — is one of my favorite unattainable guilty pleasure stores in the culinary universe. I drool over their catalogs, especially during the holiday season. I sometimes take a leisurely, wistful stroll through their beautiful store, which is very close to my house….and yet, for my budget, so far away. So an email from the Williams-Sonoma people was a delightful little thrill for me. While OBVIOUSLY I was hoping they’d be offering me an all-expenses paid trip to Tuscany for cooking classes, or a shopping spree in their store, this is reality. Instead, they were asking me to participate in a challenge. A juice challenge.

The concept was to draw inspiration from a favorite dessert, then turn that into a sweet but healthy juice recipe. I worked up the nerve to ask whether I needed a juicer to, um, juice something….but fortunately, the answer was no. Figuring that it couldn’t be a total disaster, I thought that if I could come up with an idea, then why not go for it?

An idea, as it turns out, was not the hard part. Hence, this recipe for Carrot Cake Juice Shots, which I topped with a thickened cinnamon yogurt in order to represent what we all know to be the very best part of a carrot cake: the icing.

You know, it’s not ACTUALLY carrot cake, but it’s a pretty good little drink if you want to toss back something on the sweet side. If you’re up for a juicer-less juice project, give it a shot (pun totally intended).

Get the recipe:
“Carrot Cake” Juice Shots

Check out the selection of blenders and juicers Williams-Sonoma has to offer, in case you’d like to make your own (or get started on an early holiday shopping list!):
Juicers
Blenders

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Help for the Holidays: More Joy, Less Stress is Back!

morejoylessstressGood morning!

It’s a Friday in October and it’s not even Halloween. Heck, right now it’s not even cold in New England – we’re at the end of a four-day heat wave that has me opening windows and donning T-shirts when I should be wearing slippers and cozying up to a hot cocoa. But still, despite the fickle weather and the date on the calendar, I’m thinking about the holidays!

I know it seems early….and believe me, I’m just as annoyed as the next person at retailers who have decked their halls already. The thing is, though, as J. said the other day: “The reason I think I love Halloween so much is that once it’s over, all the good stuff starts!” He’s right. Halloween rushes into Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving rushes into the winter holidays, and before you know it, it’s hello, New Year. That’s why it’s so important to be organized and to plan well for every aspect of what’s coming, from easy entertaining menus to keeping decorations organized, figuring out practical homemade gifts, and preparing for out of town guests (or your own travel) without losing your mind.

Last year, I teamed up with my friend Bonnie from The Joyful Organizer to create a 12-week newsletter series with online support for all of these holiday prep issues, and more. We got wonderful feedback from the participants and are excited to announce that this year, we’re offering “More Joy, Less Stress: A Holiday Survival Guide” as a single, downloadable e-guide. You’ll still get the same great tips, tricks, recipes, and gift guides we offered with our personal support last year, but in a streamlined single-volume format.

The chapters in “More Joy, Less Stress” include:
Holiday Budgeting
Preparing Your Home
Party Planning
Time Management
Holiday Cards
A Clutter-Free Gift Guide
Cookie Swaps
Holiday Houseguests
Decoration Organization
Dealing with Holiday Stress
Holiday Travel
DIY Gifts

The guide also includes a full menu that’s perfect for Christmas Day, from a crowd-pleasing brunch to a simple but elegant dinner, with tips to help you take advantage of advance prep so you spend less of the day in the kitchen and more of it enjoying family and friends.

This year, the single-download version of the guide is available at the Early Bird rate of $5. Enjoy!



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Monday Menus: Sunday Dinner on an Anyday Budget

Budget-Friendly Sunday DinnerSunday dinner is sort of a thing in our house.

It’s not a tablecloth-and-wedding-china kind of thing, though years ago when J. and I were first married, I did make an effort to bring out the nicer stuff once a week just so all those pretty wedding gifts could see the light of day for a change. Having kids sort of changed that particular rhythm, but still, I try to stick to the principle that a Sunday dinner is a slightly different animal than its six siblings. Gathering for a meal on the last night of the precious weekend is my chance to transition us all well from the fun (and often hectic) “days off” we’ve had, back into the weekday routines of school and work. It’s the meal I have usually had the most time to prepare, the one where I can offer myself the luxury of a lengthy braise or a multi-step recipe. It’s the one that sets the tone for the week ahead.

For us, it’s generally a positive experience – this gathering around the worn oak table with the prospect of early wake-up times and homework folders and work deadlines looming in the back of our minds while we try to ignore all those realities and cling to the last precious moments of the weekend. But it may not be so for every family. For some people I know, the mere words “Sunday dinner” conjure sweaty palms. Sunday dinner feels, to them, like a lot of PRESSURE. Dinner that just happens to be on Sunday? No big thing. SUNDAY DINNER? Panic. The images that come to mind are often elaborate, multi-course meals, lots of family, starched tablecloths, big roasts. It can all seem so unattainable, so hard.

And yet Sunday dinner doesn’t have to be that way. It can just be a re-settling, a moment of calm before the storm of the week. It doesn’t have to be fancy; any old thing your family likes to eat is fine. But if, like me, you want to serve something a little more “traditionally” Sunday-ish, it also doesn’t have to be incredibly gourmet or incredibly expensive. As much as I loved my grandmother’s crown roast of pork when I was a kid at her Sunday table, I’m not serving crown roast on the average day to my family!

Fortunately, it’s easier than you might think to make a budget-friendly Sunday dinner with those special, homey touches that help it to stand out from the regular weekday fare. The extra time many of us have on the weekends means we can roast meats on the bone, tenderize cheaper cuts with long cooking times, give casseroles and baked dishes their lingering due in the oven, or devote some patience and attention to layering flavors step-by-step in a proper stew. You can even, on a Sunday, use a typically “weeknight” ingredient like cost-effective ground meat to make something with a little extra flair.

That’s what this menu is all about: Taking ground meat and the most humble of basic vegetables – potatoes and carrots – and making them into a dinner that’s worthy of a special place in the meal rotation. This riff on the classic Salisbury steak and potatoes is a homey throwback to the old idyllic family dinner, with just a few updates to keep it from feeling full-on 1950s. The concept is family-friendly, while the flavors have just enough pizazz to be appropriate for guests, too. And since the whole meal is naturally gluten-and-nut-free, it’s a safe choice for many with food allergies, too.

The menu:
“Salisbury” Lamb Patties with Balsamic Gravy
Crispy Parmesan Smashed Potatoes
Glazed Carrots

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October 2014 Meal Plan: The Heat is On

No, really, the heat is on. Or it could have been, but I restrained myself from touching the dial. It is COLD today in Rhode Island.

Funny how this happens almost every year, and yet I’m never really quite prepared for it — we’ll have some crazy couple of days where the temperature spikes up into the 80′s, a last gasp of summer, and then all of a sudden the whole thing comes plummeting down into a wet, chilly, windy, shivery mess. Fall has arrived in New England with a vengeance. There are still those last tomatoes on the farmstands, sharing space with the pumpkins. Apples and peaches and raspberries enjoy a brief few weeks of cohabitation before it’s all cider and MacIntoshes and farmers talking about “wintering over.” Soon every vegetable on our table will be white, dark orange, or dark and leafy green. The next time I write a meal plan, we’ll all be thinking about our Thanksgiving tables. Too fast. It’s all too fast.

So as I sit here with my cold hands, fuzzy slippers on, resisting the urge to touch the thermostat, the meal plan is taking its own decidedly fall-ish turn. I would love to still be thinking of salads and cold suppers and things we can eat with our hands while we’re still wrapped in towels from the beach, but This Is Not That Meal Plan. It’s the one where I admit it’s time for soup and comfort food, and I get on with it already.

WEEK ONE:

10/1: Lemon-butter chicken cutlets, mashed potatoes, carrots
10/2: Spaghetti with peas and pancetta
Make it GF :Use your favorite gluten-free pasta
10/3: Fend night/Kids Cook
10/4: Apple cider braised chicken with greens
Basic meatballs10/5: Spaghetti and meatballs
Make it GF :Use your favorite gluten-free pasta or serve the meatballs in sauce alongside roasted vegetables
10/6: Slow cooker: Chicken and lentil soup, apple soda bread
Make it GF: Omit the bread and serve with sliced apples and cheese instead
10/7: Fajitas
Make it GF: Use corn tortillas or make fajita salads

WEEK TWO:

10/8: Sesame chicken skillet with root vegetables, rice
10/9: Breakfast for dinner
10/10: Fend night/Kids cook
10/11: Chicken nuggets and vegetables
10/12: Roast lamb, pita and vegetables
Make it GF: Omit the pita and serve with crisp potatoes instead
10/13: Butternut squash soup and grilled cheese sandwichesButternut Squash Soup
Make it GF: Serve cheese quesadillas on corn tortillas, or serve salads or deli meat roll-ups
10/14: Autumn stir-fry with “cheater” scallion pancakes
Make it GF: Toss the stir-fry with rice or rice noodles instead of using the scallion pancakes

WEEK THREE:

10/15: Chicken nugget parmigiana and pasta
Make it GF: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta or omit the pasta and serve with roasted broccoli
10/16: Baked rice with sausage and eggplant, salad
10/17: We’ll be enjoying a dinner with friends!
10/18: Steak and potatoes, salad
10/19: Sunday roast chicken dinner
10/20: Meatball subs
Make it GF: Serve the meatballs over spaghetti squash, or make stuffed baked potatoes
10/21: Spaghetti with beets and goat cheese
Make it GF: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta

spaghetti with beets

WEEK FOUR:

10/22: Chicken pot pie with pumpkin biscuits
Make it GF: Omit the biscuits and serve the pot pie filling over rice
10/23: Slow cooker – Maple turkey breast
10/24: Fend night/kids cook
10/25: Chicken enchiladas
10/26: Pappardelle with classic bolognese ragu
Make it GF: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta
10/27: Tortellini and vegetable soup and garlic bread
Make it GF: Omit the tortellini from the soup and add lentils or beans instead; serve cheese fricos instead of garlic bread
cheeseburger10/28: Cheeseburgers, sweet potato fries, and fruit
Make it GF: Serve the burgers without buns

WEEK FIVE:

10/29: Balsamic chicken and rice
10/30: Slow cooker — ribs and cornbread
Make it GF: Use masa harina in place of any flour in the cornbread recipe
10/31: Halloween! The boys have requested their usual pre-trick-or-treat dinner: “Mummy dogs” and pumpkin soup.

 

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What Matters

First day of school photoToday I had ample opportunity to think about the things that matter.

Yesterday felt like The Day of Crap News About Feeding Families. There was the ongoing internet dust-up over whether home cooking and family dinner really are soul-sucking drudgery that serve little purpose other than to oppress women. There was the news that Annie’s Organics has sold out to General Mills. Food people everywhere were grouchy. I was grouchy along with them.

This morning I woke up and I thought, well, today we’ll continue discussing how feminism and cooking don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and how sometimes things are hard but you do them anyway. Then we’ll move on to gnaw the bones of the old “Big Food Organics” carcass and lament how snacktime salvation in the guise of bunny-shaped everything will no longer be an option for many families who prefer to vote with their food dollars. Some opposing viewpoints will be raised. We’ll debate and discuss. The sun will shine. It will all feel very weighty and important and it will matter.

I carried that impression of how today would go, while I was pouring waffle batter into the hot iron, rousing sleepy kids, pre-heating thermos containers, packing lunches. I slipped soup and muffins and classroom snacks into soft-sided lunchboxes emblazoned with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Rabbids from “Rabbids Invasion.” I filled the new water bottles I had to hastily pick up at CVS last night, after the boys had lost their old stainless ones, and I inwardly gnashed my teeth over the fact that CVS only had plastic ones and was BPA-free really reassurance enough for me? I slipped backpack straps over little shoulders clad in matching navy-blue cotton gym T-shirts. I walked my boys to school.

We met a neighbor at the crosswalk down the street, walking her kindergartener, too. She waited for us before she pressed the button for the light. While our three little boys ran ahead, she asked if I’d seen the email. I’m not tech-functional before 8 a.m., so no, I hadn’t. When she passed me her phone I saw the word “police.”

They were at the school. Our school. Someone had threatened something terrible, and our kids would be kept safe today by a police presence. At our school. Somebody had made a list of all the people he wanted to shoot and kill. At our school.

“It’s probably just a disgruntled teenager playing a prank,” I said, or something like it. My neighbor nodded. We made reassuring noises to each other as we called ahead to the sprinting five-year-olds whose big, big backpacks rattled against their little pumping legs. Slow down, we said. Wait for us, we said. Watch for cars, we said. Safety first.

The eight-year-old bounced along beside us, too cool to run with the little boys, not too cool to occasionally and quietly reach for my hand. We talked about his teacher and how much he likes second grade. Walking our boys to school.

When we dropped them off in the schoolyard we couldn’t see the cops at the front of the building. The kids had no idea that anything was different. They didn’t understand why we hugged them a little more tightly than usual, why we called them back for one more, why we showered their faces with kisses and kept them next to us for just a few extra seconds while they squirmed, eager to get back in line with their friends. I watched them walk away from me, shouldering their backpacks, and I had a moment where I thought about the things inside those bags and what if today was the last day that I would sign their homework folders, slip their water bottles into the side carry pouches, and pack those carefully chosen lunches? If today’s lunches were the last ones I’d ever pack, were they good enough?

It’s a stupid thought. I packed the lunches; that’s good enough. Of course. But something about thinking that this might be the last one, and you went about your business blissfully unaware, something about that thought makes the lunch far more important. I think it’s because the lunch is the thing that you can control.

When L. was in Pre-K, he did a Valentine’s Day project that required him to talk about the ways he knew that various people in his life loved him. He said, “My Mommy really loves me because she always packs me a healthy lunch.” It’s not that in our house Food Is Love, per se, as in “I love you so much, here’s another cookie.” But is food – lunch, dinner, whatever – a tool in my love kit? Sure it is. I put a lot of thought and sometimes a decent amount of effort into feeding my family, not because I want to be THAT MOM or because I feel morally superior to anybody else or because, as someone once intimated, I enjoy putting photos on the internet so that I can feel good about myself. No, I think about these things because I love my family and feeding them well so they can stay healthy is one of the ways that I show that love.

In those backpacks there were thermoses of homemade soup, muffins in the shape of Mickey Mouse, crackers with sunbutter and jam. There were homework assignments I’d supervised and water bottles I’d worried over. There was love, tangible and intangible, stuffed into folders and containers and strapped to the backs of my two hearts walking around outside of my body.

Going to school.

I am not cranky about Annie’s Organics or about home cooking and feminism anymore.

These things matter, yes. They matter because our love for our families is shown through the care that we take, and sometimes our best efforts to buy the “right” cheese crackers or pack the “best” lunch are the only way that we have to send our loved ones out into the world with a mark of our feelings for them, as if bento containers of Mickey Mouse muffins are like ashes on the forehead or lipstick kisses on the cheek – a mark of something sacred and protective to watch over them when we can’t be there. Sometimes welcoming them home with a warm dinner on the old chipped plates they’ll remember when they’re grown is the only way to tell them that we are here for them when their ears aren’t ready to receive the affectionate words of tiresome grown-ups. So, because sometimes food is part of the vocabulary of our love languages, we assign it import and we let it matter. And it does.
But it matters only, and properly, in context.

Tomorrow I will wake up and have the privilege of packing another day’s worth of lunches, and deciding what items I will pack and which companies I will support with my dollars. I will end the day with a meal around the table with my children, who may very well complain that they don’t like what I’ve served, and I may be tired and annoyed by the whole process of cooking and serving and child-wrangling and cleaning up. I will have those experiences. I will be honored with another day, more meals to prepare, to do with as I choose.

Which matters. And it’s really the only thing.

 

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Monday Menus: Fake-Out Fried Chicken

Oven fried chickenFried chicken is a quintessential picnic food, isn’t it?

And yet….picnics make me think of summer (though a nice autumn picnic is nothing to sneeze at). Summer makes me think of heat, at least on a day like today, when the mercury was well into the upper 80s here in Rhode Island and the humidity was about as oppressive as having a huge wet sheepdog lying across your back. And the last thing I want to be doing, when it’s hot outside, is standing over a vat of oil frying ANYTHING.

Of course, it’s not just the frying and the heat that are issues when it comes to fried chicken; it’s the fussiness of it all. Most recipes call for dipping in egg washes, rolling in flours, sometimes doing two or three different coatings…by the end of it I usually feel like there isn’t a piece of chicken in the world that’s worth the aggravation. Yes, fried chicken is good, but somehow it’s never quite good enough, if you know what I mean. I hate to be left with piles of dishes and an oil-splattered kitchen for something that doesn’t completely knock my socks off. So if I could come up with a way to re-make fried chicken that would be less of a hassle, more appealing to make on a hot day, and still deliver some crunchy tastiness to the table, I was determined to find it.

This method isn’t technically “frying,” but J. and the boys agreed that if I hadn’t told them I was baking the chicken, they wouldn’t have known the difference. Using a well-oiled baking sheet in a hot oven still gives you that nice crunchy crust to sink your teeth into, without the fuss of standing over a hot stove and dealing with spatters of oil careening all over the place. It’s also a much easier way to deal with the question of breading, since the marinade that tenderizes the chicken doubles as the “glue” to hold the coating onto the drumsticks. I added the tiny special touch of rosemary lemon salt at the end just to give the chicken a little more personality; for me, fried chicken always needs a little something to boost the flavor. You could leave it off, but it’s an easy flourish that makes a big difference.

The end result is chicken that’s easy enough to make even on a weeknight, but still delivers the same tender, crispy experience you expect out of fried chicken. I’m sure for some people, nothing but the “real” thing will do, but for us, this is a fake-out that works just as well as the original concept. Try it and see what you think; if you’ve never oven-fried chicken before, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Get the Recipe: Oven-Fried Chicken with Rosemary Lemon Salt

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September 2014 Meal Plan: We Now Return to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Seriously. You guys. It’s September. (Well, ALMOST.) And I never even posted the meal plan for August!

I had one. You know I had one. I can’t function without a meal plan. But, well, AUGUST. It was a month of constant revisions. Plans cropping up at the last minute. Things changing from day to day. Getting one camp schedule nailed and conquered by Wednesday, only to have it change with a new camp and a new routine the next Monday. Comings and goings and bonfires and beach trips and fairs and picnics and parties and….!

But now it’s September (almost), and the boys are back in school — have been for three days now. Aside from the unusual exhaustion that comes with those first few days back, when their little bodies and brains are adjusting to long days filled with rules and expectations and academics again, they’re thriving in Kindergarten and 2nd grade. I’m getting used to the school-year schedule again, and thriving on that, too — the predictability of knowing that this is how things will be for quite some time now, and being able to plot things out on the calendar weeks or months ahead with relative certainty. Phew. Routine.

Which, of course, brings us to the meal plan! It’s done. It’s firm, as much as any meal plan ever can be. And it’s just what I needed after a whirlwind of a summer!

WEEK ONE:
9/1: Labor Day! Oven-fried chicken, tahini coleslaw, and whatever delights come in our CSA basket.
Make it GF: Crust chicken with almond, cashew, or pistachio meal, or use crushed organic cornflakes!
9/2: First night back to choral rehearsals for the upcoming season. Slow cooker — Mom’s Meat Sauce over pasta, salad
Make it GF: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta brand (we like Jovial and Tinkyada)
9/3: Dinner crepes with a variety of fillings
Make it GF: Use my gluten-free crepe recipe!
Grilled Citrus Chicken
9/4: Grilled citrus chicken, vegetables
9/5: Fend night/Kids cook
9/6: Fresh seafood from the farmer’s market
9/7: Sunday roast chicken dinner

 

 

 

WEEK TWO:
9/8: Roasted tomato and pepper soupRoasted red pepper soup
9/9: Buffalo-style lettuce wraps
9/10: Open House night at the kids’ school! I’ll have chicken spring rolls made ahead of time so we can stay on schedule.
Make it GF: If you can’t get your hands on gluten-free wrappers, use rice paper wraps instead and make summer rolls
9/11: Having dinner with family!
9/12: Fend night/Kids cook
9/13: Dinner out!
9/14: Italian Wedding Soup

WEEK THREE:

9/15: Spaghetti with pesto, salad
Make it GF: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta brand
9/16: Slow cooker — Sticky chicken, rice and vegetables
Pepperoni-Spinach Calzones9/17: Pepperoni and spinach calzones
Make it GF: If you don’t have a favorite gluten-free pizza dough substitute, use the filling to stuff portobello mushroom caps or zucchini, cover with sauce, and bake
9/18: Cobb Casserole
9/19: Fend night/Kids cook
9/20: No-Fuss Chicken, vegetables
9/21: Lasagna
Make it GF: Use gluten-free lasagna noodles, or substitute slices of eggplant or zucchini

WEEK FOUR:

9/22: Vegetable fried rice and miso soup
9/23: Monte Cristo sandwiches, fruit
Make it GF:
Use the same ingredients, but make them into an omelet or egg scramble instead!
9/24: Skillet honey-mustard chicken, vegetables
9/25: School fundraiser night, catered by a local restaurant
9/26: Fend night/Kids cook
9/27: Local seafood from the farmer’s market
9/28: Baked spaghetti with chicken and peppersbaked spaghetti with chicken
Make it GF: You could either use GF pasta, or omit the pasta and bake the chicken with peppers, capers, and marinara sauce

WEEK FIVE:

9/29: Baked eggs with tomato and cheese, zucchini-rye biscuits
Make it GF: Use almond flour and cornmeal in a 50-50 blend in place of rye flour
9/30: Slow cooker — Sloppy joes, sweet potato fries, fruit
Make it GF: Ladle the sloppy joe filling over the sweet potato fries for a fun twist on chili fries (cheese optional!)

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