Monday, May 16, 2016

Menu Planning Monday

One of my very favorite bloggers has a menu planning Monday post series, and I *love* reading it and getting ideas, even if I rarely use the ideas.

As I spent hours this weekend (and every weekend, really), cooking and doing dishes, I decided - maybe I should start posting what I am cooking and eating.  So I can look back on it.  Yesterday, and this weekend, I swear I made no fewer than 8 different things...and kept doing dishes all. day. long.

So here's a little taste of what we are...tasting.

FIRST - what I cooked & prepped this weekend:
Rice.  That I mixed with crockpot pinto beans, and scooped into individual containers (burrito bowls)
Tofu and roasted vegetables
Salad dressing: lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, parsley, garlic
Cheesy rice and vegetables
Roasted beets
Chard, onion, and goat cheese frittata (we got such a huge bunch of chard this weekend)
Cheese quesadillas and tacos

On to the menu plan

- Chocolate banana peanut butter smoothie, coffee (for me).
- Husband: raisin bran.
- Kids: peanut butter toast (big boy), jam on bread (little boy).
- tofu with roasted mixed vegetables (me).
- Husband: beans and rice.
- Big kid: pb&j, carrots.  Little boy: carrots and hummus.
- at a birthday party, some pizza.
Dinner: (potluck in the park):
-I made the rice/ cheese/ veggie casserole: sauteed mushrooms and onions, and added microwaved mixed broccoli/ cauliflower/ carrots.  Made a white sauce and added cheese.  Baked, with cheese on top.  It was good, with plenty of leftovers.  I also took the steamed beets, and a nice bottle of merlot.

- Chocolate cherry smoothie.  Is it terrible that I like this one because I don't have to share?  Boys don't like the cherry version.
- Hubby: raisin bran.
- Kids: strawberries and yogurt.

Lunch: (kids eat at school/daycare)
- Salad with beets, goat cheese, sunflower seeds.  Piece of the chard frittata. Slice of veggie pizza (free from someone else's meeting).
- Husband - bean/rice bowl, frittata

Snack: apple and cottage cheese

- Steamed broccoli, leftover rice, last of the tofu
- Rest of the family gets the same, except they get chicken

Breakfast &Lunch &Snack: see Monday
Dinner: Fish, roasted potatoes, stir-fried green beans

Breakfast &Lunch &Snack: see Monday
Dinner: Sauteed polenta rounds with meatballs and marinara

Breakfast &Lunch &Snack: see Monday. If there is frittata left!!
- Me: dunno. I have a school function
- Husband/ kids: frozen pizza.  They have a playoff baseball game

I don't think I've gotten that far in my planning.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Two New Recipes! Zucchini Fritters and Egg roll in a bowl

I was on fire this week!  Well, we got zucchini in the produce box, and with it came a recipe for 5-ingredient zucchini fritters.  So I decided to give it a try.  I realized that while I planned to make them for dinner Wednesday, I'd forgotten that I had a PTA meeting.

So I made them Weds morning before work and after my workout.  But I made the mistake of getting dressed for work first.  So then, I smelled like fritters (oil) all day.  Hm.

Apparently the kids (big one especially) thought they were delicious!  I did too.  Pretty easy and great.

The other recipe I'd been reading about is "Egg Roll in a Bowl".  I found many versions, and started with this one.  I decided to try it because we got green cabbage from the box. It was a definite hit!

I used sliced steak for the meat, because I had it.  I think the key to this recipe (and a good stir fry), is getting the balance right of the spices - in this case, green onion, garlic, and fresh ginger.

For the Zucchini fritters, I used the recipe that came with the box - they have a newsletter. I don't have a picture of the actual fritters, because we ate them.  But maybe I'll take a picture later this week.

5-Ingredient Zucchini Fritters
4 cups shredded zucchini (the food processor is your friend!!)
2/3 c. flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup sliced scallions (green & white parts) - I will have to sub regular onion this week
Vegetable oil (I used olive oil)

Put shredded zucchini in a colander over a bowl and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Allow to sit for 10 minutes.  Or in my case, the length of a shower + getting dressed.  Using your hands, squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

Put zucchini in a large bowl and mix with flour and eggs and scallions, plus 1/4 tsp and 1/8 tsp pepper (you know I eyeballed that).  Stir until combined.

Line a plate with paper towel.

In a non-stick skillet, heat a generous amount of oil.  Put over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, scoop a 3-Tbsp mound of the mixture into the pan, pressing lightly into rounds and spacing 2 inches apart.

Cook 2-3 minutes and flip, and cook 2 more minutes until golden brown.  Transfer to paper towel lined plate.  Repeat until done.  I think I made 15 of them.

They are delicious with sour cream, or just plain.

Marcia's Famous Salad

Next up!  Not a recipe.  It's not a surprise if you know me, but I eat a lot of salad.  Like every day.  I get a free lunch at work tomorrow (sandwiches) so I get a break from making a salad.

My husband is getting tired of sandwiches.  So I offered to make him one of my salads.  He used to eat sandwiches for lunch (for decades), then he started taking leftovers (and was competing with me for them).  I used to work that into my meal plan - however lately I've been giving him sandwiches. (because if he eats leftovers, then I have to cook dinner more often, KWIM?  And: baseball.  So many nights away from home.)

The risk here, though, is that he wants me to make him salad more often.  Hmm...

Monday, April 4, 2016

On Traveling with Children

So I'm on vacation and I have time to think and relax and think some more.  So I was thinking today about traveling, and about how traveling with children is different than traveling alone.

Now, you will always find people who swear that having kids won't change their travel habits.  Maybe they lie, maybe it really happens.  I dunno. But I do have to say that traveling with kids is different for us.  Let's examine that.

- Air travel

Shortly after we had our first child, we continued with our travel habits.  We were flying to visit family 2x a year (once to each family), and once on a real vacation (like Hawaii, or New Mexico, or DC).  We continued this schedule for a couple of years, so that our older son had flown 5x by the time he was 1.5.

Air travel changed for sure.  Instead of a single bag and a backpack filled with a book, my iPod, a few snacks to eat - it was now filled with many  more snacks, kids books, coloring items, diapers, a change of clothing for the kiddo.  Traveling with a single bag was definitely more of a challenge, but was do-able when he was small.

As time went on and he got bigger, it just got more expensive.  3 trips x 2 plane tickets was now 3 trips x 3 plane tickets.  We started cutting back - our trips to visit family were cut back to every other year, and we combined them together with a rental car in between.  The advantage was two-fold:
1.  cheaper (less airfare)
2.  longer trip (2 weeks).  I realized, for the first time, how much more relaxing long trips are - even with kids.

Plus, traveling with kids kinds of sucks.

- Car travel

The vast majority of our travel these days is by car.  This has additional challenges:
1. My older child gets car sick. While he's never actually barfed in the car, we have to drug him.  (Dramamine.)
2. My younger child has a small bladder.  An 8.5 hour drive can easily take 11 hours.  For this reason, we've set a limit of about 6 hours (with the exception of the trip between families, which is 8).  An 11-12 hour drive is torture!
3.  I'm old.  Sitting is hard.
4.  Driving hours are limited (time of day).

Contrast this to the "old days".  Pre-kid we took a driving tour of the Southwest over 9 days, with stops in Kingman, AZ, Grand Canyon, Sedona, Santa Fe, White Sands NM, Tucson, Joshua Tree National park.  Single day drives of 8-10 were not uncommon, and almost every day was packed with an activity.  Camping was pretty easy - put up the tent, heat up some dinner, explore, go to sleep.

Now, some folks will recommend driving with kids overnight, or early in the morning.  With our sleep schedules, we cannot do that - even if it would work for the kids.  We arrived home by plane after a long bout of weather, with a 2 hour drive, and had to pay $179 for 5 hours in a hotel room to sleep. Because we didn't want to die.  Overnight may work if your kids sleep in the car, and if they are the type to need to run every 1.5 hours.  And if you are a night owl.

Our method is to break up longer trips into multiple days.

- Miscellaneous travel

When we visit family, we have an 8 hour trip between the two places.  We often rent a car and drive.  However, twice we have taken the train.  The advantages:
1.  We aren't driving and can nap
2.  The kids can move around.  They are much happier
3.  It's a shorter trip (6 hours)
4.  It's about the same price as renting a car

1.  The train leaves at 7 am.  So we have to go up the night before and stay in a hotel

Pre-kid days, we would just drive, no question.

- Camping

So, I started getting into camping when my husband was getting over it.  Of course, he bears the brunt of packing it, so I understand.  Pre-kid we would pop up our tent, roll out our pads and sleeping bags.

Now, we are older and have kids.  We have a small car.  So, in order to pack, we use a Thule box on top of the car.  It has to be carefully packed (stuffed).  The kids get the sleeping mats, and we have cots.  Because we are old, and the ground is  hard.

Setting up takes longer. Only one of us can set up (maybe with help from the older kid), and the other one (me) has to chase the toddler.  Cooking is reverse - I can cook while husband chases toddler.  Camping trips have to be at least 2 nights to make it worth it.  But a maximum of 3, because it gets old.  And then you have the difficulty in getting the kids to sleep, and my own insomnia.

- International Travel

We haven't done it with kids.  Enough said

- Timing

Pre-kid, you can go when you want.  This can save buckets!  Spouse and I traveled to Hawaii 4 times.  Maui in October and Feb. Kauai in Jan and April (or thereabouts).  Some of times we just randomly decided to go one month out, and got killer deals! One Kauai trip we traveled with one of our friends - three of us got a 2 bedroom, newly renovated condo overlooking the ocean.  $180 a night.  (Normal price: $450/nt).

Once you are on the school schedule, be prepared to open your wallet.  Hotels, air fare, gas prices - all can easily be double due to increased demand.  (Just ask my aunt how hard it is to get her daughter, SIL, and grand babies over from England in summer.)

Likewise, there is "peak pricing" in places like Disneyland.  Summers, weekends, and spring break simply cost more.  We went to Disney 2 years ago and lucked out - our Spring Break did not coincide with most of So Cal, so the peak pricing did not take effect until the following week.

You also have to be prepared for crowds. (See Disney, above.) We were recently visiting National parks in Utah.  I did my research and found that it was best to get there before 10 in order to find parking.  While Bryce wasn't terribly busy (got there at 10, found parking just fine), Zion was PACKED.  Zion is very close to Springdale and therefore gets more visitors.  We arrived at around 9:30 and found parking pretty easily.  The shuttles were running within the park, but from noon until 4 (when we left), they were standing room only.  We were lucky that someone was always willing to give up a seat to whichever one of us was carrying the 3-year old.

All of the hikes had hordes of people.  If your desire is to be one with nature, and avoid people - spring break is not the time to go.  And spring break is about 6 weeks long, as different school
systems have different schedules.

For the record, I don't mind hordes of people while hiking.

- Activities

I have found that I simply cannot pack our days full like I did pre-kid.  You know, drive 6 hours, see place A.  Stay overnight.  Drive 6 hours, see place B, stay overnight.  You can see SO MUCH this way!  I know people who do this still - they tend to have campers that don't require setup.  Your home is with you!

For one thing - I prefer to cook instead of eat out.  In this case, an endless string of hotels or camping will not work.  See above on how much harder it is to tent camp with kids - one night stays are impractical.  And cooking in a hotel is work.  One night in a hotel is sometimes necessary.  A string of them is a pain.  You are paying $100 to $200 for only 21 hours, really.  If the hotel has amenities like a pool, you probably won't get to enjoy them.  If you check in too late, you cannot go. Then check out can be early morning if you want to get on the road.

For this reason, I like condos/ houses.  I recently had my first experience with Air-BNB, and I really liked it.  Until now, we rented condos that were vacation condos - so sort of "hotel-like".  These are nice too.  The issue with condos or houses is that many have a minimum stay of 2-3 days.  The owner does not want to pay a cleaning fee daily, and they don't have a staff like a larger vacation condo place.

Thus, we try to stay in a particular place at least 2 days, longer if possible.  Our recent Utah trip was 5 nights in Utah (plus one night hotel stay in each direction due to the long drive).  With 5 nights, we could have theoretically seen four things: Bryce, Zion, Lake Powell, Grand Canyon.  And then we could have swung by Death Valley on the way home.

Um, that's too much "on the go" with the kids and us. We need down time.  For our five days, we checked the weather to determine our "big days" and just relaxed at home and "winged it" on the other days.
Day 1: Bryce.  Not ideal after the "should have been 5.5 but was really 8 hours" drive the day before. (It's 1.5 hour drive one way.) But weather dictated it because...
Day 2: Snow.  We hung out at the townhouse, played with snow, ran errands, did a little work, watched TV, hiked behind the house.
Day 3: Zion (45 minute gorgeous nail-biter drive)
Day 4: Hang out near the townhouse, and saw a close-by park (Coral Pink Sand Dunes).  Start packing.
Day 5: Check out and drive to Barstow.  Leave early enough to grab a quick dinner and go see a movie.  Vacation is not a vacation for my husband without a movie.

Have your vacation methods changed with time or with kids?

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Vacation Eats - and What Budget?

A sticking point for me while on vacation, is how to maintain my grocery budget.  Inevitably, it's more expensive to eat on vacation.  Why is that?

- If you are camping, then you generally are purchasing more "shelf stable" foods like canned chili, oatmeal packages, etc.  Or at least, I do.  Because otherwise, you have to pack ALLL your own food, pre-made.  I know some people can do this, but our car + Thule box barely fits our camping gear.

- If you are on a driving vacation, then food planning stems around things that are easy to eat on the run and can be eaten cold. For us, this means sandwiches, veggies and hummus, string cheese, apples, instead of salads or stir-fries.

- If you are flying, then your food choices are limited even more, though my niece over at Mrs. Petri Dish travels with all her food pre-frozen.  That becomes a lot more difficult when you have a family of four.

- If you are staying at hotels, then cooking options are limited to: nothing, or microwave/fridge, or whatever you brought with you (hot pot?)  I have been known to feed my family noodle bowls where we heated the water in the hot pot. With raw veggies.  I have to tell you, while the resort on the Big Island of Hawaii was fabulous, that was the world's smallest refrigerator.  And cooking for three in a hotel room is hard, and expensive.

- If you are staying at a house/ condo/ Air-BnB, then you might lack staples.  Some of them may have coffee filters, cooking oil, ketchup. Some will not.  There's a bit of a start up cost.

I almost always aim to stay at a condo or house for any vacation longer than 2 days.  Eating out is expensive, not healthy, and a PITA with a toddler who cannot sit still.

This means that you will likely be grocery shopping wherever you are staying.  In a resort town, prices are more expensive.  You also cannot take advantage of bulk buying.

Which brings me to the question: do you count grocery stops on vacation as vacation budget or grocery budget??

On our recent/ current vacation to the beautiful state of Utah - here's a sample of our eats for the week:

Day 1: travel.  We ate dinner at home and drove 3 hours to the wonderful town of Victorville, CA.  Sadly, we booked the hotel too fast and didn't realize that it didn't come with breakfast (a must with our family).  The purpose of traveling a bit the first day is to break up the 8.5 hour drive.  Honestly, with a toddler's small bladder, the 8.5 drive would take 11.  That's too long.

Also sadly, there's no place "half way".  Victorville is 3 hours from home and 5.5 from Utah.  Las Vegas is 5.5 hours from home and 3 hours from Utah.

Speaking of small bladders, we stopped at McD's to pee and for fries and burgers.  Because my 10 year old needed a second dinner.

Day 2: travel day from hell.  I mean, just a long day.  This was Easter.  We ate bagels and smoothies in the hotel room (see: no free breakfast).  We headed out at 10 am and probably didn't get in until 5:30 pm.  In lieu of lunch, we snacked in the car - veggies, fruit, cheese, chips.  We stopped at a Walmart and got mac and cheese for that 10 year old with the hollow leg (and some hummus).

Dinner was stuff that we brought, figuring that grocery stores in a small town in Utah would not be open (we were right).  We had Madras lentils, chicken tikka masala with rice (from TJs), and sliced cucumbers.  And chips and guacamole.

Day 3: Bryce Canyon national park:
Breakfast: bagels and eggs
Lunch/snacks: apples, veggies and hummus, string cheese, sandwiches, water, granola bars
Dinner: rotisserie chicken and stir-fried asparagus

Day 4: Errands, hanging our near the townhome:
Breakfast: bagels and eggs and smoothies
Lunch: Sandwiches, hummus and veggies, salami
Dinner: leftover chicken and stir-fried broccoli
- but then the 10 year old kept, eggs, chips...

Day 5: Zion national park
Breakfast: bagels and smoothies
Lunch/snacks: Sandwiches, hummus and veggies, apples, chips, granola bars
Pre-dinner, we hiked a lot snack: yogurt
Dinner: pizza and stir-fried zucchini (Bought 2 "take and bake" pizzas. Had to slice them in half to fit on the baking pans.  Ice cream for dessert!

Day 6: Coral Sand Dunes state park:
Breakfast: scrambled eggs with leftover broccoli and zucchini and cheese, bagels, apple
Snack: yogurt and smoothies

Future plans:

Lunch: Lunch out, veggies and hummus
Dinner: Leftover pizza, leftover broccoli and zucchini

Day 7: Long travel day
Breakfast: cinnamon rolls, smoothies
Lunch: sandwiches, veggies, apples (on the road)
Dinner: In-n-out in Barstow

Day 8: short travel day
Breakfast: at the hotel (free! Didn't make that mistake again)
Lunch: ??
Dinner: HOME!!!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

February's grocery totals

I'm a little late on this, but hey, better late than never!!

We came in Feb a little under January, including a vacation and a guest!  But it was a shorter month.


I think we will be a little higher the next months.  Our produce box will now be $40.00 a week.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Delicious Eats from the Box

Well, here's a sampling of what we ate this week.

Brunch: Mushroom, feta, spinach frittata
Dinner:  Tamales (from Costco) with enchilada sauce, salad

Breakfasts were toast, homemade raisin bread, and cereal
Lunches were a combo of leftovers, sandwiches (dad) and salads (mom).

Monday: Chicken tikka masala ( office had an anniversary catered lunch Friday.  I missed it because I was off running the school jog-a-thon.  There were leftovers in the fridge. I took some home.  It was delish.  The kids had chicken fingers.)  Red cabbage and apple slaw.

Tuesday: Leftover tamales, red cabbage and apple slaw

Wednesday:  Refried bean and chicken tacos (bean recipe from 100 days of real food, done in crockpot on Monday), cabbage slaw.  Chicken is Costco roasted chicken.

Thursday: Bean and chicken burritos, salad (I had the slaw for lunch, by now I'm sick of the cabbage)

Friday: Red cabbage fried rice.  I'd made the fried rice last weekend and froze it, without the cabbage.  I cooked up the last 1/4 head of cabbage with garlic, mixed in the fried rice, and added leftover chopped chicken.

My basic fried rice recipe is from Weight Watchers, and I adjust it based on what I have. The kids LOVED it.  It was great.  I had sriracha of course.

This particular version included white rice, cauliflower rice, peas, carrots, chicken, sesame oil, Bragg's liquid aminos, garlic, and of course the cabbage.  And maybe ginger?  I don't remember.

Funny story, last night was the kiddo's first baseball game of the season.  My husband took him there, then watched him bat (he walked, but then scored!) then went to go get the little one.  After he got the little one, he met me for a free glass of wine at our wine club winery.  It's not exactly free when you buy a $15 bottle while you are there.  Then he took the little one back to the game, and I came home and cooked.

Now it's Saturday morning.  I took the last of the spinach, washed it, and cooked it up with some eggs and some red Leicester cheese (spicy peppers and roasted peppers).

The rest of today is chores...some groceries (it's raining, I'm feeling like split pea soup), swim lessons, and science fair project.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Produce Box

So, we are trying a new thing this year!  Our CSA has been suffering because of the drought. They ended early last year, and haven't started up yet this year.  Our neighbors have been getting a local produce delivery for awhile now.  When they are out of town, they have us go over and put it in their fridge.  Bonus: it's still local (farmer's market, including our CSA farm), AND they deliver it.

The only downside is that it's more expensive.  Oh, and I have to prep and figure out what to do with it.  Our grocery budget is about $100 a week, give or take, and this is $40.

Well, we got our first box yesterday, and here's the haul.
1 bunch carrots
1 bunch celery
3 lbs oranges
1.5 lbs apples
1 head red cabbage (it's huge)
1.5 lbs spinach
1 head lettuce
1 bunch cilantro
2 lemons
1 pound broccoli
1 head garlic

So, what to do, what to do?  I have to tell you, I am NOT feeling the food prep today.  I know it's how we survive the week. But I am super duper tired from lack of sleep.  I've had a chest cold/ bronchitis.  And this week was the school move-a-thon, which I was in charge of running.

And other stresses are that I was at our potluck today, half way through eating, when one of the guys talked about how sick he was with food poisoning 2 days ago.  Ugh, it better be food poisoning.  We've had the stomach flu 3 times this winter already.  I've had contact with too many people with stomach flu!  It's been a gnarly season.

So here's the plan:
Red cabbage slaw with carrots and apples and blue cheese and walnuts (need to buy blue cheese)
Celery and carrots raw with PB or hummus
Lots of salad with lettuce and spinach and diced oranges
Steamed broccoli
Lemon herb salad dressing
Raisin bread

I've already made some fried rice and put it in the freezer.  I will toss the cilantro in there later. I don't have much meat right now - or what I do have is frozen solid.  I really need to plan better, and take stuff out of the freezer on Thursday night.  I have to go get the blue cheese, so I think I'll get some frozen chicken tenders and some sort of sauce from Trader Joe's.  Maybe chicken curry, or BBQ chicken, or something like that.  Tonight might be a good night for salad and nachos.