Saturday, September 19, 2009

Day 5 - Paper

The Slow Cooker White Chili turned out great. I do need to note that I added a little salt to the pot that the recipe didn't include. I crushed a couple of hearty tortilla chips into the bottom of each bowl, added a bit of shredded Jack cheese and then ladled in the chili. We nixed the salsa and sour cream. Yum. This is a repeater. Will be really great in cooler weather.

Work day at the school park was productive. I got to shovel pea gravel and sweat a while. David helped build a bridge. Andrew got filthy playing in the sand. It was all good. The hot dogs were cooked on the grill and served in wheat buns. Of course, we had Cheetos, Doritos and Ruffles too. Someone brought home-baked chocolate chip cookies, so I'm afraid that whatever benefit I gained in working hard for a couple of hours I lost in cookies.

Tomorrow I'm going to try to make pancakes before church so that we don't run into opposition about going straight home instead of the usual Sunday brunch place. Then chili for lunch. We'll see. The main thing is we have options ready at home and do not need to go out.

I've been thinking about paper products today. We used paper plates today at the park that looked like the old classic white ones, but these were thick, sturdy plates. I was surprised that I could stand and eat while holding it with one hand. We haven't used paper plates in a while and we tend to use plastic for large parties, but since these are compost-able, I'll be sure to look for them next time.

The problem: I've stopped the daily use of paper napkins and paper towels at home for a couple of reasons. One is environment, and the other is expense. We were going through a pack of 100 napkins and a roll of paper towels in no time. I felt like I was buying them on every other grocery shop. Cha-ching. I tried using the least expensive napkins, but they disintegrated with little use and left a grainy residue on our hands. So I bought the top of the line inexpensive ones (if that makes sense), but we still went through them quickly, it just cost more. We tended to use them for everything: wipe up spills, blow noses, pick up dead bugs, shred them for fun. I'll not point fingers, but let's just say each member of our household had their own way of wasting napkins. I have been buying really good soft paper towels for a while because I couldn't stand using lots of cheaper paper towels just to clean up a small mess, plus there's a texture thing. I'm very tactile. But even so, I realized that we were using these products constantly, thoughtlessly. Bad for the budget, bad for the environment.

The solution: I have collected cotton dinner napkins for years. It's a thing. I'm tactile, remember, and I'm also textile. But, I had them stashed in a linen drawer and only broke them out once in a while for special dinner nights or for small dinner parties. It was silly to have a huge stash of good napkins and not use them. So now every meal is special. Then, a few weeks ago, I found packs of 12 plain white wash cloths at Target for $3 and bought 2 packs. Now, when we would normally reach for a paper towel, we reach for a wash cloth instead. They're absorbent and white, so I don't care what we need to clean up, I can bleach them and voila, clean again. I have already paid for them by not buying more paper towels. These habits have changed fairly easily. Of course, it helped that I took away the napkin holder and the paper towel holder is now empty. I still have paper napkins and towels because sometimes they're great tools (think lunch boxes and microwaving bacon), but we just don't keep them in plain sight. As a side effect, I've cleared off a little more counter space. Bonus!

Day 5 and counting...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fishes and Loaves and the Lessons Therein

Thursday dinner
The first real cooking in this journey was successful but not without issues. I was interrupted when I was about to load the bread machine and then completely forgot about it until I was away from the house a couple of hours later. By the time I returned home, it was too late to start it. Fortunately the bread was not critical to the plan, and I keep various crackers on hand. Not a big deal.

The soup was OK. David and I enjoyed it, but Andrew wasn't so sure.

As for the Fish en Papillote, it was delish. I used halibut filets with carrots, broccoli, Yukon gold potatoes, summer squash, and capers. The recipe used foil to make the packets, so I followed the instructions. I have used parchment paper previously with good results, and if preparing it for company, I'll use parchment again. It presents better. For everyday cooking, the foil worked great and presented fine. I'm not trying to be too foo-foo about the presentation, but food has to look appetizing.

Fish en Papillote (or feuille d'aluminium in this case)

David loves fish and was very complimentary of this preparation. We don't eat fish often enough, and I was concerned that Andrew would balk and ask for PB&J, but he cleaned his plate with no prompting, veggies, fish and all! We deemed it a definite repeater.

We have a rating system here using "repeater" as our highest designation, and we've rated many a dish with that term, but the problem is, I often forget it later. Then when I come across recipes that sound familiar, I can't remember if we liked it or how closely I followed the recipe. So, I've decided to keep a notebook of recipes that we like so that I can peruse them when working up menus and avoid reinventing the wheel. Yah, the notebook is a no-brainer, but sometimes I'm a little slow on the uptake.

What a busy day. Breakfast of eggs and tortillas. Simple, easy.

Andrew went to school, David worked from home, and I had appointments and dates all day. David happily munched on leftovers, Andrew ate with Mimi and Granddad, and I lunched with a great group of women I am fortunate enough to call my friends. For dinner, David went to football and ate with the crew, and Andrew and I ate with Mimi and Graddad since we were there and were having a great visit.

The day brought a range of emotions, many related back to food somehow.

I am a member of a volunteer organization that is involved in the local Partners in Education program (PIE - fittingly sounds food-related), and we have adopted a couple of elementary schools. I met with Sheri (not her real name), the Assistant Principal of one of the schools, which is in a very low-income neighborhood school. 85% of its student population is on free or reduced cost ($.40/day) lunch. We met to discuss some of the school's needs that our organization could assist in meeting through volunteer hours, monetary donation, and organizational skills. The information she provided was encouraging - they had a 90% pass rate last year, uplifting - the teachers are dedicated and give of themselves above and beyond the call, concerning - many children are chronically hungry (meaning they don't have food at home), and heart-wrenching - a couple of children each lost a parent recently.

I left this meeting to go to my lunch date at a lovely restaurant with some fabulous women who work very hard to make a difference in our community. They are all a joy to be with and the food was great. We talked business, family, friends, events, and food.

I went to Mimi and Granddad's and spent the rest of the day with three of my favorite people. We talked about Andrew's school, "my" school, preserving family pictures, house repairs, family events, and food.

What I gained from the day was a reminder that I have much and take too much for granted. I am blessed to be a full-time mom with a wonderful husband, a loving family, and a safe home. I know where our next meal is coming from. I know my child won't go to bed hungry. I know there are many people who would love to have just the portion about which I have been careless. That is shameful, and I must be more mindful of the blessings I am given.

On an uplifting note, our group is packing food to send home with the students who are identified to be chronically hungry in "my" school. This food goes home with them in an unmarked bag in their own backpacks every Friday. It is enough to get them through the weekend. Our local food bank organizes and provides the food for this terrific program.

Suddenly, the daily count seems less important, but Day 4 and counting...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Menus for September 17-20

While I plan typically to set my menu and grocery list early in the week, I must get through this weekend first.
My son Andrew is with Mimi and Granddad today, so he's eating there. I have leftovers in the fridge for me today. My husband David returns home from business travel tonight in time for dinner. This means I need to have dinner. So, just need to plan one meal today.

-Tomato Corn Soup (recipe below)
-Crusty bread (from the bread machine - love fresh, warm bread!)
-Fish en Papillote (fish cooked in a bag in the oven) - depends on what the market has that looks good today; Thursdays are usually good -
Steamed broccoli

Tomato Corn Soup - American Heart Association Cookbook p52
Serves 5
1 t. Olive oil
1/2 C. chopped onion
14.5 oz. can whole tomatoes, crushed
17 oz. can cream-style corn
2 C. milk
1/2 t. bouquet garni, optional
1/2 t. salt-free all purpose seasoning
1/4 t. salt, optional

Heat oil in large heavy sauce pan over medium heat. Sauté' onion for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In food processor or blender, puree onion and tomatoes. Return mixture to saucepan.
Puree corn and add to tomato mixture.
Increase heat to med-high and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.
Sitr in remaining ingredients. Increase heat to med-high again and bring just to boiling. Serve.

Including this recipe brings a few things to mind:
1. I will include links to recipes instead of typing whenever I can.

2. I have amassed a cookbook collection that covers the top of a large section of my upper kitchen cabinets. I love reading cookbooks and looking at the pictures. I will read them like a novel and usually try a recipe or two, but then it goes into the collection and I return to using my standards: Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (the red/white check covered one - a classic), Now Serving (the most recent from the Junior League of Wichita Falls), American Heart Association Cookbook (AHAC - a gift after David had a heart attack several years ago), Landmark Entertaining (from the Junior League of Abilene), and The Complete Vegan Cookbook (a newer tool, but I have found it so much easier to try to cook healthier by starting with this book).

3. When using canned vegetables like tomatoes, I tend to use no-salt added or low-salt when I can. Milk is 2%. I usually try to pick up the products with the least additives, and I prefer to cook from scratch when I can. I'm working my way up to using tofu and soy products. Have tried a few and it's been hit and miss.

4. is a great recipe resource. I included a link for the fish.

Breakfast is usually oatmeal or eggs and toast both options with fruit. I rarely ate breakfast before Andrew came along, but he's here and he's hungry, so we eat breakfast together. I rather enjoy it, but don't tell my mother.

Lunch is a planned lunch date with my some of my favorite women. I'll send pot pie leftovers or a sandwich with David, and Andrew is with Mimi and Granddad again.

Dinner is an easy one. David referees high school football on Friday nights, so he's not home until late, and he doesn't like to eat before. Andrew would eat ramen noodles just about anytime of the day or night, and David loves them post-game with an egg drop broth. So, Ramen noodles it is.

Snacks with Andrew in between meals usually consist of the following options in whatever combo he comes up with: yogurt, apples, bananas, grapes, pears, oranges, kiwi, goldfish, cheerios, raisins, craisins, crackers, cheddar cheese, tortillas, peanut butter, peanuts, pitacchios, you get the picture. I am fortunate that he will generally eat whatever we eat, and I pray that it continues to be so.

Dessert after dinner is frequently a scoop of ice cream in a bowl or in a miniature cone. I try to buy the purest version with the fewest additives. Breyers is the brand of choice lately. No HFCS.

Breakfast as usual.

Lunch - We have a workday in the park at Andrew's school, and they are feeding us hotdogs.

Dinner - Before we head to the park, I will beak out the slow cooker and start supper.
-Slow-Cooker White Chili (recipe below)
-Tortilla Chips
-Cheese and Salsa
I like to crush the chips into the bottom of the soup bowl, then add a little cheese before ladling in the chili.

Slow-Cooker White Chili AHAC p224
Serves 6
1 lb. skinless chicken thighs
1 lb. dried navy or Great Northern beans, sorted and rinsed (about 2 1/4 cups)
6 C. chicken broth
8 oz. chopped green chiles
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 fresh jalapeno, seeded & minced (I'll be using poblano)
2 t. ground cumin
2 t. dried oregano
1/8 - 1/4 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. cayenne
Garnish with: Salsa, Light Sour Cream

Rinse and pat chicken dry.
Put beans in the slow cooker and add chicken and remaining ingredients. Cook on high for 10 hours, or until beans and chicken are tender.
Remove and discard bones from chicken; return meat to chili. Serve in bowls topped with salsa and sour cream.

~ Sunday ~
Breakfast as usual.


We have a standing ritual of going to Pioneeer, a great local diner, for brunch right after church on Sunday mornings. Andrew loves this place, and he almost always has their pancakes or waffles. I've been rtying to convince him that we can make those at home, but he hasn't caught on yet. So, when I made the Bisquick pot pie, he saw the Bisquick box that has a picture of pancakes. He said, "Oooh, Mommy! Pancakes! You have pancakes in that box!" So, this Sunday, I'm breaking out the waffle iron and really surprising him.

Sunday nights are easy days at our house. We eat sandwiches and/or leftovers. If David gets a taste for something he'll heat up the grill. So, leftovers and sandwiches it is!

This gets me through the weekend. Just need to hit the market to make sure I have the needed items. Here's to eating at home this weekend.

Day 3 and counting...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Day 2 and Counting

OK. I have joined the masses of bloggers in the universe. Didn't think I would ever do it, but here I am. I need a focus to keep me on track.

I recently looked at our checking and charge card statements and realized that we are spending WAY too much on eating out. Not really earth-shattering news, but since I am trying to formulate and maintain some semblance of a budget, it was shocking to my bottom line. The high calorie foods are also not too helpful to my physical bottom line either.

For centuries families fed themselves every day with very little, if any, outside help, and for most of those years they also had rudimentary equipment to use. So here I am, a college-educated woman in the 21st century, with great equipment and convenient food sources at my disposal, and I find it easier to pick up a phone and dial take out than open my full fridge and prepare something to eat. Mom cooked 99% of our meals at home when I was growing up. Dining out was a rare treat. And she was cooking for Dad and at least two of my four big brothers, all of whom had big appetites. I am a full-time mom with a three year old son and a husband. I can do this.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy cooking, but it's really been for the sake of cooking as an art or as an expression of love, not so much cooking to make supper. Early on in our marriage, my husband commented, "Honey, every meal doesn't have to be gourmet. Meatloaf is always good." I was just learning to cook, so every meal had to be an event. I found a recipe, made a list, did the shopping, and labored over the preparations. It seemed (and still does seem a bit) anti-climatic just to make a quick meal. Tonight, for example, I made a Bisquick quick pot pie using leftovers. Mom happened to be here, and she loved it. I felt good using up leftovers, but it felt odd somehow that I didn't produce a "beauty plate.", although the finished casserole dish looked pretty darned good, now that I think about it. I tend to equate cooking with entertaining, even when it's just my husband, son and me.

I also enjoy dining out, but I've started to burn out on restaurant food. When you add my ongoing food knowledge quest, it gets a little dicey. It's not a conscious quest really, more of a chain reaction. Several years ago I started reading nutritional information on recipes in Cooking Light magazine to help control a high cholesterol count, which led to reading food labels to watch the trans fat counts, hydrogenated oils, sodium, and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and that led to reading investigative information regarding pesticides, hormone/ antibiotic injections of animals, and genetic modification of foods. Then, to top it off, my tastes are leaning, if not full-on vegan, at least vegetarian, because of the thought of eating flesh, the whole unsavory aspects of the corporate farming, slaughter and meat packing industries, and the safety questions regarding food products, including fish with high levels of mercury, chicken with salmonella, and beef with mad cow. Let me tell you if you haven't tried it yourself, looking for substantial vegetarian, let alone vegan, menu options at most restaurants is daunting. You may be lucky to get a dinner salad and tomato soup (hold the bacon, please).

Wow. And this doesn't even take into account the whole locavore/ carbon footprint concern. Not to mention that I grew up in Texas where just about everything I know how to cook has bacon, butter, and/or chicken broth in it. I’m just saying that while I am learning to make some new dishes, vegan cooking does not come naturally to me. At times, I get so overwhelmed by it all that I either do not want to eat anything, or I do not want to think about it and just order out.

So, having said all that, I am starting this blog to make myself be more thoughtful and productive. My goals are:
1) To reduce food expenses by eating out less and wasting fewer groceries at home,
2) To lose about 10 pounds, and
3) To become what Mom calls a “real cook”, which is someone who can walk into the kitchen at any time and use the food on hand to create a meal that feeds the family.

Dining out is not the problem. Unplanned dining is. I do love a fun luncheon with my girlfriends, a productive lunch meeting for a volunteer project, and, of course, the always lovely date night with my husband. With that disclaimer in mind, onward to the rules:
1) Do plan menus, and thus grocery lists, for about a week at a time,
2) Don’t call in an order or go to a restaurant at the last minute, and
3) Do plan to dine out on occasion. Hey, we all like a treat and I’d really miss Atlanta Bread.

A special note: A shout out to my friend Sharry, whose family recently went at least a month with no dining out. She posted it on Facebook, and it got me to thinking. So, thank you, Sharry!

By the way, I'm on Day 2 with no unplanned dining out. Here we go...