Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Margin through Meal Planning

If there's one thing that is constant in our house, it's the question "What's for dinner?" 

It used to come only from my sweet husband...who sometimes had the tendency to ask several times a day. That fact is a family joke now, and a bit endearing to me. :) But now that they care, our kiddos ask the question too...usually right after breakfast. Especially Hadleigh. She likes to know the plan of the day.

I have to be honest...some mornings I have NO clue what to answer. If I ask them what they want to eat, these are their usual responses:

Hadleigh: "Chicken Enchiladas. They're my favorite."
Nathanael: "Something with Brussels Sprouts. Or we could go to Buffalo Wild Wings."
Madeleine: "Chicken Pot Pie. No Brussels Sprouts."
Brent: "Food."

So the first week of 2013, I was in a slump. Because who wants to go to the grocery store after vacation? Thankfully, I have a husband who enjoys cooking when he can & who knows it's a blessing to me to have a break from the kitchen periodically. So he filled in. Shopped. Cooked. Yum.

After that week, I knew I needed a plan, and so I sat on two different afternoons, surrounded by cookbooks and charted out meals a week at a time. Calendar and grocery lists. Shopping. Done. And so, the last few weeks (if you follow me on instagram, you know this!) I have been cooking up a storm.

There are two things that motivate me to cook: 

1) Having all the ingredients already in my house keeps me sane.   While I love having a Wegmans store within distance, I don't love shopping every day...nor, with homeschooling, do I have the time to do so.  I plan for a week & buy for a week. (This is what's working for me right now. In the past, I've planned for a month and then made one big trip at the beginning, with weekly trips for produce & dairy.)
2) I love trying out new recipes. When I'm in a cooking slump, it's usually because I'm relying on standbys that, while easy, don't excite me. I received several cookbooks for Christmas and really enjoy them so if you need some fresh ideas, pull out an old favorite or new cookbook!

These days, I hear the word "margin" thrown around a lot. I think it's the new popular buzzword in certain circles...and it's a good one.

When I have a plan for our meals, specifically dinner, I have some margin...for the day and the week. I don't have to spend time thinking or running out to the store or deciding what pantry staples can combine to make an edible meal. I can quickly answer the "What's for dinner, Mom?" question and then enjoy the spare moments that follow. 

There are often many times that I don't want to take the fly by the seat of my be more spontaneous (like this week!) But I know that the need to plan dinner won't change anytime soon--or ever--and so committing time to organizing a good plan is one way I can use my time wisely to create a bit more margin in our life.


As it's Wednesday, how about a recipe to add to your list for next week? This is a yummy one! I adapted (ever so slightly) from Smitten Kitchen's new cookbook. I increased the grapes and olives, as my grapes seemed much smaller than hers...and because we love olives in our family.

Harvest Roast Chicken with Grapes, Olives and Rosemary

3 pounds chicken parts (thigh drumsticks and breast with skin and bones)
Salt and pepper 
1 tablespoon olive oil 
2 cup small seedless grapes 
1 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
Two small shallots thinly sliced 
1/2 cup dry white wine 
1/2 cup chicken broth 
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

1. Preheat oven to 450° with the rack in middle. Pat chicken dry with a paper towel and season generously with salt and pepper. 

2.  Heat oil in ovenproof 12 inch heavy skillet (cast-iron if possible) over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Working in two batches, brown the chicken skin side down first, turning over once, about five minutes per batch. Do not move chicken until the skin releases itself and has a nice brown color to it. 

3. Return all chicken to the pan skin side up and pour in the grapes, olives, and shallots.  Roast the chicken in the oven until it has just cooked through and the juices run clear, about 20 minutes. 

4. Transfer the chicken, grapes, and olives to a platter and cover with foil.  Then add wine and chicken broth to the pan juices in the skillet; bring the liquid to a boil, scraping up any brown bits until it has reduced by half, about 2 to 5 minutes.  Strain sauce, if desired, then pour it over the chicken. Garnish with fresh rosemary.  Enjoy!

And in case you're curious if your little ones will enjoy?

I'll let the picture speak for itself:

Today, I'm linking up with Edie over at Life in Grace for her once-a-month series this year on using our Time.

Let me know how you like the recipe & if you have any ideas to share about how you meal plan!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Perfect for an afternoon snack...

...or breakfast. Or both.

This is one of my favorite cookies...because it combines three favorite flavors...and doesn't let raisins come anywhere near the oatmeal.   I've used bittersweet chocolate chips here...which I think is a perfect balance for the sweet peanut butter oatmeal dough...but you can definitely use your favorite type of chocolate chips here.


Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar, not packed
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup oatmeal (not quick-cooking)
3/4 bag Ghiradelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate baking chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugars together until smooth. Beat in the peanut butter, vanilla, and egg until well-blended.

3. In a small mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture, stirring just until moistened. Stir in the oatmeal and chocolate chips until combined.

4. On a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, drop cookie dough by tablespoonfuls. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges of cookies are slightly browned. Cool on cookie sheets for 5 minutes and then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Currently... fifth cup of hot tea today.

wearing...cozy sweater, skirt, & fuzzy socks. the hum of the dryer in a quiet house.

watching lately...old episodes of Alias.

thinking...about a few projects I want to be done with by the weekend. oatmeal, peanut butter, chocolate chip cookie.

reading...Desperate & A Swiftly Tilting Planet

hoping...that my cold would vanish soon.

wondering...where exactly my brother is in the Philippines right now. Miss him.

enjoying...the fact that the bathrooms are all clean & kids laundry is all done. And put away. dear friend Missy an early Happy Birthday!

What are you up to on this Monday?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cold, rainy January days

All that sounds good to me on cold, rainy January days is staying in bed. Reading by the fire. Sipping a cup of tea. Or three. Eating soup. Curling up with blankets and cozy sweaters and fuzzy socks. Watching You've Got Mail or Emma or Pride and Prejudice for the millionth time.

But there are three precious children in my care and items in our schedule that can not be avoided despite cold, rainy January days. And so we brave the rain and venture out, me, wrapped in the coziest sweater I can get away with out of the house, and my children, looking like they are expecting to play in 60 degree weather. (My children do not believe in coats. Unless snow is involved. We're working on that one.)

But then we return to a warm home and soup is definitely a part of the plan. We will have had 3 soups by the end of the workweek this week. Yum.

For Christmas, Brent's parents gave me William Sonoma's Soup of the Day: 365 recipes for every day of the year. I am already thoroughly enjoying it. 

The recipe I'm sharing today is my version of page 72 from this delightful cookbook...I have a feeling you might see some others shared soon. I used chicken stock instead of broth in the recipe...and I have a feeling that made an amazing difference...but if you just have broth on hand, I'm sure it will be yummy too! The whole family loved only complaint? That it only served the 5 of us. No leftovers for lunch. (I will probably double it next time, as I like to be able to freeze half or use the rest for lunches.)

Moroccan Lamb Meatball & Couscous Soup

1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/8 tsp chili powder
pinch of ground cinnamon
salt and pepper 
1 lb. ground lamb
2 Tbsp tomato paste

1 cup Israeli couscous (pearls)
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 shallots, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chicken stock
1 Tbsp chopped mint

1. For the meatballs, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Oil a baking sheet.

2. In a bowl, combine first 8 ingredients (through the cinnamon). Stir in 1/2 tsp salt. Add the lamb and tomato paste to the spices and mix with your hands to combine well.

3. Using a teaspoon, scoop up 1 tsp of lamb mixture at a time, rounding the meat into a ball. Place on the cookie sheet. (I believe this yielded 45-50 bite-sized meatballs for me.) Bake until meatballs are fully cooked, about 10 minutes.

4. In a small saucepan, bring 1 1/4 cups water to a boil over high heat. Add the couscous, reduce heat to low and cover, cooking until all the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, in a large dutch oven, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the shallots and garlic for about 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the meatballs and couscous. Allow to simmer 10 minutes, until warmed. Removed from heat. Stir in the mint, season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Do you have a favorite recipe for cold days? I'd love to know!

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

What I Said, What I Did, What I'm Reading

2012 was not a banner year for me, as far as reading is concerned. 

I posted this picture here last year, with my "reading plan," also known as 

What I Said.

And this picture, is to the best of my memory,

What I Did (read).

So, the picture's a bit deceiving. The stack of books laying flat (and which is missing Anne of Green Gables) are the books read in their entirety.  I am 1/5 of the way through Anna Karenina, and getting close to finishing the three books to the left of Anna. The two on the left I am reading (and writing through) slowly. And I'm okay with that.

Apparently, I didn't pursue the more challenging reads on my list.

So here is my start for this year, also known as

What I'm Reading (this year).

I really want to get through Anna Karenina, and I also want to keep the Letters of John Newton & Leaving Cold Sassy on my list. I have some gifts I want to read: Green Dolphin Street and Cranford. I will continue with my writing books. Adding Andree Seu's three-volume collection of essays this year.

And I will probably finish Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time series before I begin any other fiction. I don't know how I couldn't get into these books growing up. I have enjoyed it so very much...reading by booklight until I can't keep my eyes open anymore.

And my first non-fiction book to read this year? The one on top: Desperate by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson. I've been looking forward to this since I first heard about it when I learned there might be a MomHeart conference coming to NC. I'm really looking forward to the conference in February...and I think this book arrived at the perfect time for me. (And there are some great giveaways going on for the release of the book this week...just click on the link in the book title!)

I know there will be other books...there always are...that grab my interest and distract me from my plan. But that's okay too.

Tell me what you are looking forward to reading this year?

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

twenty thirteen

I've been slow to return to this space this year. Forgive me.

The dawning of a new year is for me like the dawning of a new day. 

A quiet time. A reflective time.

I captured the picture above on our first morning in Asheville before Christmas. I'm not sure why I woke up. I was tired, the room was empty, and it was before seven (the time when our children can leave their rooms.)

But when I looked out my childhood window, this beautiful sky greeted me. The forest was ablaze.

And I sat, soaking it in.

That's kind of how I still I'm soaking in this new year...wondering what it will hold for us. It will be another year of change, for we know a move awaits us with the coming of summer.

This may be the first year that I don't have a written list of some sort of goals/resolutions/dreams. Not that I don't have any...but I'm still pondering what it is this year that I want to focus on...

What it is that I want this space to be.

And so, I'm still soaking in this new year and the beauty that I already see in it.

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