Well, this week has pretty much flown by – BUT! I am right here! I am blogging! I have a whole mish-mash of stuff to show y’all today, but we’ll start with the crazy cooking. Stick with me – there’s a bit of knitting at the end.
With the school year restarting, along with a confluence of a giant harvest of veggies from my garden now that the weather’s cooling off and a giant realization that we got into some really bad eating habits over the summer (mostly of the eating-out variety), I realized it was time to start some meal planning and hard-core cooking.
There’s a thing about cooking – the more you do it, the easier it gets. In my house, cooking often involves large batches of things that freeze well and can be reheated weeks later so that the family will not realize that they are eating leftovers – something they outright refuse to knowingly do. You might be amazed at how creative a lazy and/or frugal mom who wants her family to eat healthy, whole foods can get with hiding things in the freezer and bringing them out on nights when she is too tired or rushed to cook from scratch. So you get on a roll, and you only have to really cook a meal from the ground up a few times a week. Until you start eating out all the time and deplete the stuff you’ve stored in the freezer.
So this week, I’m playing catch-up. I’m making new yummy dinners, and I’m using up some of the awesome vegetables that have been soaking up the sun in the garden all summer. I planted all kinds of stuff this spring, as I have in many springs past, and it’s always a craps shoot what’s actually going to grow. This year, the bunnies ate the lettuces and the peas and most of the beans. For some reason, tomatoes just don’t seem to grow for me the way they grow for other people – maybe it’s because I consign them to the pots that hide the ugly old-growth elm tree stumps we were too cheap to have ground down a couple years ago, and then I go on and forget about watering them more often than not. What I *did* succeed with this year were the potatoes, the carrots and the kale. In plenty. Sure, I got a few lousy peppers and a handful of soup beans, enough cucumbers to keep us satisfied through July and August when they weren’t turning bitter. (Why do they turn bitter? I hate that!) There were even a few zucchini squashes before the plant thankfully did a rot and die thing that kind of made me happy – I mean really – I’ve always hated zucchini. It’s pretty much only good for zucchini bread, which you’d have to be crazy not to love. And now I’ve gone off the deep end of rambling tangents! Welcome to my world.
Pictures sometimes keep me focused. Let’s pull some out. Sunday morning after I cleared away the newspaper and breakfast dishes, out came my binder of favorite recipes, my calendar (to figure out which nights we would actually have time to eat), and another cookbook or two just for good measure. I swear, thinking ahead is not easy for me, but once I get organized and sit down for a bit, I’m not too bad at it. A menu list and grocery list were born, and I raced away to the grocery store while Joe kept the kids busy.
Or maybe they kept him busy…
Sunday afternoon, I made one of my favorite all-time dishes, which Joe also likes and the girls – well, Julie ate it with a pretend gusto just to make Sophie look bad because she flat-out refused to touch it and instead went to bed hungry. It’s this awesome dish of deboned dark-meat chicken, calamata olives, dried apricots and dates and a bunch of spices simmered in chicken broth till it’s practically falling apart, and served on a bed of quinoa. I know, it sounds less than kid-friendly, and a bunch of you are gagging right now, but you have to believe me that I have been training my kids to eat weird food since day one, so they damnwell keep eating it now. And I swore I wasn’t going to pass on my parents’ food issues to my kids – I’m just making new ones up as I go along! Here’s what the chicken dish looked like:
There’s nothing in the picture to show scale – that’s the serving dish. I learned in our early childhood parenting classes that for some reason kids are more likely to eat what you are serving if you put it in a fancy bowl and serve it onto the plates at the table. I don’t know if that’s actually true or not, but we do it just in case it helps.
Oh, and for good measure – here is a picture of Sophie taken just yesterday, which will show you that she is clearly a healthy and generally happy kid who is not being slowly starved to death. And also will show you that she just lost her first tooth, making her even cuter than she was before.
Okay, and then Monday we had a super-easy korean noodle soup that involves boiling noodles from a packet, mixing a salty broth packet with cold water, hard-boiling some eggs and slicing up some cucumbers. So easy it barely even counts as cooking. Just don’t tell my husband that. Also, I baked a chocolate cake from scratch as in there was no boxed mix or frosting tub involved even. You already heard about that.
Tuesday, the girls had their first meeting of swim team, which meant I had an hour to get them off the bus, fed and back out the door to get to the swim facility in time. This is going to happen twice a week for the next several months, and I have *got* to have a plan of action for these nights. This time, I boiled some of those tiny cheese ravioli from the dairy section, tossed them with a bit of olive oil and dried basil (funnily enough at Julie’s request) and called it dinner. Oh, I put out some raw vegetables and gave them apple sauce squeeze tubes on the way home. They were thrilled at the pre-packaged treats!
Wednesday, I got my game on. Once Sophie had hopped the bus to Kindergarten, I headed to the garden with kitchen shears and went to town cutting the giant leaves of kale that had grown back after last month’s harvesting – mostly for the freezer. By the way, kale is this amazing super-vegetable that I choose to believe will help offset a lot of the poorer food choices we make if only we can actually bring ourselves to eat it. I’ve got three good recipes that my family actually loves, and they’re eating them all this week. The biggest drawback is that you have to wash all those giant leaves, carefully making sure there are no spiders hiding under their bumpy fronds, trim the woody stem off, and cut them into bitesized chunks. This is time consuming, but I spent an hour and got a huge pile processed relatively quickly when there were no children pestering me for – well – everything.
Last night we had these awesome turnover things that I forgot to take pictures of. You buy frozen puff pastry (yes, I know, not from scratch and I refuse to read the ingredients list because I know it’s bad and remember! I’m off-setting it with kale!) I brown a pound of ground beef, some onion and garlic, then add in a ginormous pile of kale, which cooks down to a much smaller volume – but ends up being about half the overall mixture, then dump in a bunch of crumbled up feta cheese and some lemon juice once the mix has cooled off a bit. This becomes the filling to the turnovers. I make a giant batch – enough for at least three or four meals – which justifies the time and mess required to make this meal. Some I bake right away, some I put in the freezer unbaked for brand-new meals later. Also, if I have leftover puff pastry, I usually make some kind of dessert thing with fruit filling – last night we had peach ones made with a peach preserve stuff I cooked up earlier in the summer. There you have it – my entire family ate that meal and liked it. yeehaw!
Today, I used up the other half of the kale I’d processed yesterday. I make this awesome soup with chorizo sausage, beans, tomatoes, a ton of carrots turnips and potatoes and of course kale. I know, you’re sick of the K word. me too. Let me show you some of the beautiful carrots I dug up outta the ground…
The red things there really are carrots – they’re just one of those cool heirloom varieties. They’re orange on the inside, and they taste pretty much like regular carrots only maybe a little spicier – or maybe I’m just choosing to believe that. I apparently got a little carried away with the carrot seeds this spring – this is only a tiny portion of the carrot harvest – we’ve been eating them for at least a month, and there are more in the fridge. Soup also takes a lot of time, with all the peeling and chopping, but my kids BEG me for this soup. It is Julie’s favorite. Plus, a pot of it goes for several meals, and it hides well in the freezer. I also baked popovers, and let me tell you on a cold night, you pull that leftover soup out and put a pan of cornbread or popovers with it, and the family is happy.
I could hardly believe how much kale was still left after all that cooking, so I threw it with some olive oil and made kale chips for afternoon snack. My children eat it like candy. Weird, I know. But deliciously so.
Whew! Tomorrow night we’re having crock pot roast beef in an attempt to finally use up some of the last of the side of beef we bought in spring 2010, with garden potatoes and carrots and onions, and Saturday we’re having red beans and rice with the extra kidney beans I cooked up for today’s soup. And that is WAY more than you probably needed to know.
Meanwhile, on Sunday I snapped this picture of my current knitting project sitting on the counter with my smart phone and my ipod – all the fun toys I wished I were playing with instead of dutifully planning healthy meals for my family. Then I realized how incredibly tacky it felt to be carrying my lovely project around the house in a plastic bag when I had all kinds of beautiful project bags and baskets loitering in my office.
I still haven’t spent nearly as much time with my knitting as I would have liked this week, but at least now it’s in a pretty basket.
There are lace and beads involved, but that’s all you get till it’s done and I can spread it out.