Monday, October 26, 2015

Meal Plan • 10/26/15

Monday: Black bean chilaquiles
Tuesday: Brown Rice Bowl with miso, poached egg, & kale-radish salad
Wednesday: Slow-cooker spinach & ricotta lasagna
Thursday: Penne with Roasted Cauliflower
Friday: Creamy Kale & Garbanzo Soup (family favorite)
Saturday: The kitchen will be closed for Halloween
Sunday: The kitchen will still be closed.  I mean it.

This week is shaping up to be a doozy.  Quarterly payroll tax returns are due on Friday, I have a client knee-deep in the midst of a crisis, Book Character Costume Day is this Wednesday at the kids' homeschool academy, and I HAVE LESS THAN A WEEK LEFT TO WORK OUT THE DETAILS OF OUR FAMILY COSTUME FOR THE WILD RUMPUS.

{I will not freak out, I will not freak out, I will not freak out...}

Last year's costume is going to be hard to top, but coming up with family costume themes and participating in the bizarro community parade is waayyyyyy more our speed than trick-or-treating.  Besides, having The Great Pumpkin visit the house and leave a few favorite treats on All Hallow's Eve means that I can control the amount of sugar and the quality of the candy that we have around.

But all that is going to take a backseat for the next couple days while I knuckle down at my desk and Get. Things. Done.

It's going to take a lot of juggling to keep all these balls in the air for the rest of the month, and the meal plan is where I'm turning for warmth and nourishment - at a faster pace than usual.  Quick comfort foods for the win.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Meal Plan • 10/19/15

Monday: Screw it.  I'm not cooking.
Tuesday: Kale & White Bean Risotto (family favorite / super easy)
Wednesday: Little Caesar's ($5 hot & ready to the rescue)
Thursday: Orecchiette with Onions, Almonds, & Olives (new to us)
Friday: Vegetable Pot Pies (another new to us recipe)
Saturday: Braised cabbage, Wild Rice & Mushroom Pilaf
Sunday: Every Man for Himself

The Musician and I returned late yesterday afternoon from a restorative four-day escape to Charleston, where we ate our way across the city, caught some excellent live music, spent longer than we should have in a fascinating used bookstore, and just generally enjoyed the view.  I love that city so much, and am still shocked that we haven't chosen to live there (yet).

So much of Charleston is walkable, which is always a boon in any destination with great food.  It is forever my goal to return from a vacation at the same weight in which I left, and this trip did not disappoint despite a (totally necessary) afternoon sojourn at Jeni's where I fell in love with a scoop of Bourbon Salted Pecan.  As for restaurant favorites, Magnolia's on Easy Bay was an upscale dinner to write home about, and the hipster Butcher & Bee on Upper King knocked our socks off for lunch, but there were another fifteen or so places on my list to try that we never made it to (see also: reasons to return soon).

I'm keeping the standards pretty low for much of this week.  So low, in fact, that even though I made the menu on the drive home yesterday, I already knew there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell that I was going to either cook dinner or link the recipes until today (luckily, there were some leftovers in the fridge that fed the hungry members of our family fed last night while I was on strike) .

I know my limits, friends, and I am comfortable with them.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Quick Lit • October 2015

I had to abandon a book recently (not the book shown above in the photo), and it devastated me.  In theory, it makes sense that life is short and that we should not feel obligated to finish a book that is either boring, awful, or frustrating beyond belief, but in practice, it's hard to walk away from a book.

I feel like I am insulting the author, or worse, in the case of this most recent abandoned book, I feel like I am admitting I'm not smart enough to handle it.  

I waited for months for The Country of Ice Cream Star to come in at the library, and I was so excited when I opened it (on Reading Day, no less), but all my hopes were quickly dashed to the curb.  The entire book - every single last word of it - is told in a form of (how can I put this without coming off as a complete jackfruit?) uneducated slang.

The author pulled off an amazing feat by writing an entire book in that form, but her artistry, her ability and her stunning premise just weren't enough for me to overcome my horror at trying to "hear" the book in my head.

Every evening for a week or more, I would steel myself to open it back up and try again, but each time, I would grow agitated within a paragraph and my horror only grew with each page.  Finally, I had no choice but to give myself a pep talk and put the book down for good.  I felt something like relief when I put it in the drop at the library and walked away.

Today I am linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share short & casual snippet-like reviews of the books I have read over the past month.

The Sweet Life in Paris is the hilarious account of an American pastry chef living in Paris, and all of the quirky, absurd idiosyncrasies of, as he says, "the world's most glorious - and perplexing - city." The book is presented as a series of vignettes with recipes. The author is an award-winning blogger and cookbook author, and so each chapter is told in the familiar tone and stand-alone style of a blog post. Highly entertaining and (literally) laugh-out-loud funny.

Pastrix is the spiritual memoir of a fascinating, irreverent, highly intelligent, heavily-tattooed female Lutheran pastor (fair warning: profanities make this an R-rated religious book). Nadia Bolz-Weber manages to show the truth of grace at the same time that she herself requires a dose of it from the reader. I was made uncomfortable while I read, which is precisely what I expected and hoped for, and, I suspect, is what the author also hoped for in the writing. Whatever you think of her, Nadia Bolz-Weber is doing important work and she just might be the shot in the arm that complacent religiosity needs.

I had to to jump ship on The Country of Ice Cream Star. Generally, I love post-apocalyptic novels, but this one has stressed me out for the first 100 pages, and life is too short. The issue at hand is that the book is told in slang, a heavy, nearly-impenetrable slang, and it's too distracting. I'm impressed by the author's ability to perform a linguistic trick of this magnitude, but I read books for the beauty of the language, for sentences that grab me and don't let me go, for turns-of-phrases that blow my mind, and sometimes, just for the way they take me to another (easier) place. This one is difficult to read and hard to understand, and my love of grammar is being stomped upon, and I'm frustrated beyond belief. Walking away.

The Gracekeepers is an ethereal, darkly fanciful story of a haunting, post-apocalyptic future in which the vast majority of the planet is covered with water, and only the elite live on land. One of the characters lives alone in a tiny house in a "graceyard" where she performs restings (sea burials of the boat people), and the rest of the main characters are part of a rag-tag traveling circus that floats from island to island. The ending is a little weak and rushed, but the rest of the story is absolutely lovely.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Meal Plan • 10/12/15

Last week's little slow-cooker experiment kind of blew my mind.  I had my doubts (so many doubts), and thought the best-case scenario would be that the dinner would be edible, but it turned out to be absolutely delicious.  I made this Spinach & Ricotta Lasagna from Real Simple and set the borrowed Crockpot to cook on high for four hours when I left the house at 8:30 am.

I had a list of concerns: whether crockpot lasagna would be worth eating in the first place, what would happen after the four-hour cooking cycle was over (would another four hours on the 'Keep Warm' setting totally kill the lasagna?), and would it matter that the Crockpot was a little less than half full (most of the online articles I read suggested filling it to about 2/3 full for best results).

When we arrived home at 4:30, I opened the door expecting to either smell the mouth-watering aroma of cooking lasagna or the horrifying smell of burned tomato sauce.  Instead, I smelled nothing.

That was disconcerting.

But then I opened the Crockpot, dipped in a wooden spoon, and hesitantly, suspiciously, fearfully eased a lilliputian bite into my mouth.

It was splendid.  The noodles (I used the no-boil kind) were perfectly cooked, the top cheese layer had cooked into a nice crust, and the edges of the casserole were crispy and the tiniest bit charred.  I was amazed at how well it worked, but what knocked me flat was that the whole family loved it.

Princess Hazelnut, who claims to not like any tomato-based sauce, ate two helpings for dinner, another for a pre-bedtime snack, and then finished it off for breakfast.


So now I'm on the hunt for more vegetarian slow-cooker recipes.  It was genius to have a hot dinner waiting on me after being gone all day and before needing to leave the house again for another few hours in the evening.  Prep was minimal, cleanup was easy-peasy, and it was far more nutritious and tasty than take-out pizza.  Most of the recipes I have found so far, alas, have resembled bean mush though, so the jury is still out on whether it would be worth it for us to buy one of these contraptions.  I just can't bring myself to devote real estate to a gadget unless it will be used consistently.

Do you have any favorite vegetarian crockpot recipes?  Please, please share if you do...

Monday, October 05, 2015

Meal Plan • 10/5/15

(recipes linked below)

The framework for our menu plan has been working very well, but I felt like we didn't have quite enough options for our super-stinking-busy Wednesday 'emergency dinner' theme night.  After all, switching between pre-packaged egg rolls and carry-out pizza was going to get old pretty quick.  Also see: extra, unnecessary calories and feeling crappy afterwards.

And then, eureka.  Crockpot meals finally occurred to me.  Granted, I've never used a crockpot before, and it seems like the vegetarian options are a little limited, but a little digging and a bit of pinteresting has yielded at least a handful of promising options.  

I am not a big fan of unitaskers, so I own very few kitchen gadgets.  The crockpot has always struck me as one of those giant counter hogs that wouldn't get much use, and I have a perfectly good set of pans already, but...

Did you know crockpots are relatively inexpensive?  Even if this little experiment doesn't work, I wouldn't be out that much money (especially if I make use of one of those ubiquitous 20% off coupons that come in the mail every few days from a certain Big Box store), but...

I don't enjoy spending money on things that take up space.  I can spend money on a vacation like no one's business, and I have no qualms about spending money on an evening out with The Musician or The Girlfriends, but...

My mother has a crockpot.  To quell my qualms, I shall borrow hers for a couple weeks and try a recipe or two, and then, if I think slow-cookers are really all they're cracked up to be, I'll shell out the whopping $20 it'll take to buy one.  

I can't wait to report back on this little experiment.

There are a couple of new-to-us recipes on the menu for this week.  The slow-cooker recipe for Wednesday is obviously one of them, as is Tuesday's chickpea curry.  The mushroom-gruyere toast for Friday is new as well (it looks sooooo yummy, and since the hooligans don't like mushrooms, there'll be more for me).

Thursday's pasta torte is an old family favorite, and it disappears so quickly, I'll probably double the recipe so that we will have leftovers available for lunches.  Friday's French Onion Soup is one that always makes The Musician happy.

As always, Sunday will be Every Man for Himself due to the long-standing labor laws in our household.