Friday, August 31, 2012

The week in pictures

We had salad:

I made split pea soup and tabouli (I don't have a pictures for those).

I made zucchini risotto (in the pressure cooker!) and topped it with shrimp:

We had TJ's chicken tenders, with celery and PB, apples, and steamed broccoli:

And the day the baby got his shots (lots of crying): homemade bread (bread machine), spaghetti with marinara and meatballs, steamed yellow string beans with goat cheese, olive oil, vinegar, garlic powder.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Simplicity in the kitchen

So, as my complicated life with a husband, 6 year old, and infant is about to get more complicated (returning back to work in two weeks), I started googling to find some suggestions on how to achieve simplicity in the kitchen.

That may seem silly coming from a woman who has got a simple cooking blog, and has had one for years.  But hear me out: as life becomes more complicated, you need new strategies, new tips.

I couldn't really find what I was looking for.  I found tips on simplifying your kitchen gadgets.  While that is helpful, I don't really need that.  In fact, there are some kitchen gadgets that aren't necessary, but make cooking MUCH simpler.  Think: bread machines, food processors, and rice cookers.

I also found tips on how to prepare your food more simply.  Clean as you go (a very good tip!) but also how to do prep work.  Meh...not what I'm looking for.

I also found tips on how to do meal planning.  Again, somewhat helpful, but just not it.

But nothing was really what I was looking for, so I decided to write my own so that I could refer back to it later.

I like to consider myself pretty efficient and a multi-tasker.  Parenthood has only strengthened those traits.  You really learn to get things done in 15 minute chunks.  I know it seems NICE to have a solid 3-4 hours to finish a project, or an hour to cook dinner, etc.  But reality with an infant is that you may get a 2 hour nap, you may get a 20 minute nap.  And that doesn't improve much when your kid gets older, unless you are REALLY willing to use the TV or video games.  Which I admit, I have been the last week.

So here are my tips for simplicity in the kitchen:
1.  Learn to break things up into 15 minute chunks.  Whatever you are making for dinner, how can you do this?  For me, it's always clean and chop the vegetables first, put them in the fridge.  Marinate meat.  Cook pasta if you are making a baked pasta dish.  Cook up the soup if it's one that needs to go into the blender (and reheat's better then anyway).  Toast nuts.  Cook rice.  Steam greens.  Wash lettuce.

2.  Simplify your preparation.  I like making complicated dishes just like the next person, but those have little to no place in my life right now.  As in: once a week, tops.  Examples:
- vegetables: eat raw (wash/peel), steam (wash/peel/chop/micro), roast (wash/peel/chop/toss with olive oil S&P/roast/stir/roast), stir fry (wash/peel/chop/stir fry), or make a soup (wash/peel/chop/cook into soup)

- fruits: prep ahead when possible: washing berries, cutting melons, etc.

- rice: rice cooker instead of a pilaf

- beans: cook in a pressure cooker

3. Limit your diet.  I know we all like to have a varied diet, but it makes it more complicated.  Consider this: vegans eat grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts.  No meat or dairy to consider.  Paleo/primal folks have kitchens devoid of grains, beans, bread.  Your diet will be simpler this way, and there will be fewer foods to choose from/ go bad in your fridge and pantry.

But for those of  us who are omnivores that don't eschew carbs, it can be more difficult.  Or can it?  My meals growing up were pretty simple.  They were always cooked at home, and tended to be meat and potatoes or meat and pasta.  But usually potatoes.  We almost never had rice.  It was standard old American food.  And it worked.

In contrast, my meals today are quite varied.  I love ethnic food and enjoy cooking Indian, Thai, Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Chinese foods.  These all come with their own spices and ingredients.  A far cry from my mom's pantry of garlic powder, salt, pepper, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, and pickling spices.  There are so many options.  It's cheaper to make these foods yourself instead of ordering in. But you may end up with a pantry full of bits and pieces.

grains: bread, bulgur, brown rice, white rice, oats, arborio rice, quinoa, pasta, etc.
beans: black, pinto, garbanzo, split peas, lentils...
meats: chicken, beef, pork, shellfish, fish...
cheese: goat, feta, blue, American, cheddar, parm, swiss, havarti...
yogurt: sweetened or not, large tub or individual...
nuts: almonds, peanuts, cashews, walnuts, and don't even get me started on the nut butters.  And nuts go rancid if left at room temp for long.  You can keep them in the freezer.  But then you have a freezer full of frozen nuts.
vinegars: I make my own dressings.  Just saying.  My mom had apple cider and plain white.  I have at least 7 different vinegars.

So if you like ethnic foods, one way to keep a varied diet and a simple kitchen is to choose one ethnic food or type of food and stick to that until you are out.  You know, buy a bag of almonds.  When it's gone, switch to cashews.  Buy cheddar cheese, then switch to swiss.  Buy a bag of brown rice.  When it's gone, you can buy rice for risotto.  Buy the ingredients for Thai food.  Eat until it's gone.  But don't keep coconut milk in your pantry "just because".  If you have marinara, eat the marinara.  When it's gone, THEN go get more coconut milk.  Wait until you finish your tortillas to buy more pasta.  And choose only one kind of pasta.  Noodles or penne.  Not both.

4.  Consider frozen.  I have been eating a lot of frozen meals lately.  Truth be told, while it is more frugal, preparing your own from fresh is not as simple.  You have to clean and chop the vegetables, where as you can buy fresh or frozen already prepared.  The same goes for meats: if you buy in bulk, you either have to remember to defrost before you cook or buy fresh and shop more often.  Or buy in bulk, cook ahead and freeze, and try to remember what you have in your freezer.  Sometimes heat and serve is easier.  Having frozen vegetables is "simpler" than having to prepare fresh.  Having already cooked meatballs or chicken in the freezer is "simpler" than fresh.  It's generally not as frugal or as healthy, so you will have to choose which is more important.

5.  Set up  a regular meal plan: Chicken on Monday, soup on Tuesday, Pasta on Wednesday, etc.  This takes the thinking out of it.  Less planning when you go on autopilot.

6.  Keep a minimal pantry.  I have, at times, wanted to have 3 months food on hand for emergency.  I planned meals a month in advance, and didn't have children back then.  Keeping a stocked pantry makes it easy to "whip something together", but it's not so simple if it is so packed that the food expires or goes stale.  If it's effort to keep on top of it, it's not simple.  For some people, the pantry principle is THE way to save money.  Stock up when things are at their absolute rock bottom, and only then.  That does, however, take effort and planning.  For others, it's more money saving to only shop weekly for exactly what you need, and eat staples and foods on sale.

7.  Use up foods.  I have a problem with celery.  A few of my recipes call for a few stalks (soups and stews mostly).  But I have to buy the whole head.  And I have a lot of leftover.  I generally steam it and freeze if for later.  So.  I have a couple of bags of celery in the freezer.  That get buried because I forget about them the next time I make soup.  It's probably better for me to just cut it up and eat it with peanut butter or dip, rather than fill up the freezer.

8 . Use your gadgets: crockpot meals.  One pot meals.  Rice in the cooker with vegetables and a meat.

9.  Make a double (or triple) batch: if you are cooking anyway, leftovers are easier to reheat, if they even need to be reheated.  Something like a tabouli does not need reheating.  But soups, stews, chilis...double it.

10.  Cook ahead (and possibly freeze):  I know above I said to finish stuff off instead of cooking and freezing, as in the celery.  But that's ingredients.  I make an exception for meals/ completed dishes, assuming you will remember to eat them.  Sometimes it's nice to look into the freezer and realize that you have one meal's worth of soup or beans and rice just waiting for the microwave.  If it keeps you from ordering a pizza, then score!

Okay, what tips does everyone else have?  Because I implemented one tonight - I made risotto, and used up the rest of the arborio.  I won't be buying more until I finish off the brown rice and white rice.  I have two weeks to get back in the zone.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Triathlon! And exercise

Today was the Santa Barbara sprint triathlon.  If you've been reading long, you know that I've done the last 2 years.  I decided when I turned 40 it was a good time to learn to really swim and be comfortable in the ocean, being that I live here.  I went to college, joined the Navy, honeymooned and vacationed on beautiful islands with lots of snorkeling...and was terrified of the water.  I credit my mom-friend Whitney for finally getting me to do it.

Sadly, I missed this year.  While I swam, biked, and walked right up to delivery, there was no way I'd be able to do the tri just 7 weeks later.

However, I took the boys down to cheer on some of my buddies.  I didn't get to cheer on very many (see: I had the two boys).  We got there right about when the fast people were coming in off  the bike.

It was fun, but a bit depressing.  It was encouraging to see all these people complete the course. For some, it's just another tri.  For others, it's exciting and scary because it's their first.  For another set, it's an attempt to get a personal best.  But the depressing part is that I'm in no shape to be doing a triathlon.

There was one group together wearing orange at the finish line.  Women in teeny bikinis and men in orange shorts.  I saw a familiar pink hat on one of the bikinis.  Trim body, tight abs, and I realized she's the women who I did the tri with two years ago...when she 8 months pregnant.  At least I hope it was 2010 and not 2011.  And it's her fourth baby.  Wow.  2 years later and she looks like that?  Now, I have to be honest.  I do not have that kind of body.  Trim legs, long and lean.  I. Am. Not. Built. That. Way.  I have big hips and thighs and always will.  Pre-baby, never looked like that.  Certainly after having two babies (the second at 42), the only way my abs will look like that is after some serious skin tightening surgery.  And...I'm not really into that.

So, you go girl!  I can dream about looking like that, right?

I also saw one of the coaches that I had in 2010, and she's pretty pregnant.  She asked me if I'd join her next year and I said "of course".  But really, she'll finish the sprint probably 15 minutes ahead of me, at least.  I'm an hour and five minutes person.  She'll be out of the water before I go around the first buoy.

On a positive note...the only exercise I've been doing and have had the energy for lately is short walks.  But I've been doing them. Some with the baby in the sling, bjorn, or moby wrap (but I have to go's hot and sweaty for that.)  Sometimes with the baby in the stroller.  Today, I knew parking was totally going to suck at the beach, so I had to look at the map and figure out where to park.

My first option was the courts where my husband was playing tennis.  But that was 1.8 miles away, we got a late start, and I was walking with my 6 year old.  I continued to look and found a spot about 0.7 miles away where I figured there would be plenty of parking.  It's in a depressed area of town, and I'm pretty sure I saw someone buying marijuana on the walk back to the car, but we were fine.

And that's the good part.  We were easily able to park and walk 0.7 miles to the finish line.  And back.  Many many people aren't able to do that, and would never consider doing it.  If they can't park very close to where they are going, forget it, we're going home. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Alton Brown's Sardine Toast

I've got these sardines in the pantry, that I keep for emergency rations.  And I eat them occasionally too (don't want to toss them).  I did just toss a can of tuna that expired in 2011.  I mean, how long do you have to keep a can of tuna before it expires?  A really long time.  I have another can of sardines about to expire.

Why sardines?  Well, I grew up eating them.  When it comes to fish, there are certain fishes that are sustainable, healthy (low mercury/PCB's), and frugal.  Sardines and canned salmon fit that bill.  Which is probably why I grew up eating them, being from a poor landlocked family.

I remember seeing an episode of Good Eats Alton Brown discussed how he lost a bunch of weight, and this was one of his recipes.  So I made it today.  I've made it before.  Now, I don't have sherry vinegar, so I just used lemon juice.  I have a butt load of avocados from the farm and my boss/coworker.  I personally ate an entire avocado on this toast.  Now, every healthy eating and diet book I've read discusses how the proper serving of an avocado is 1/8 or 1/4 of an avocado.  Uh, no.  First of all, they don't keep. Second of all, I'd rather just eat less of something else and not waste the avocado.

I try to incorporate fish into my diet for its health benefits.  Just about everything you read discusses the health benefits of fish, and any studies of the healthiest people in the world has to include the Mediterraneans and the Japanese, both of which eat fish in abundance.  In fact, I was sitting the other day watching Forks Over Knives (I've seen it before), and hearing about the benefits of a "plant based diet".  Then I went to Denise Minger's website where she discusses many of the results in the movie (despite the fact that she has a lot of respect for most of the doctors). She reminded me that people like to skew the results their own way.  This movie is no different.  Sure, a lot of health improvements can be had by going vegan (let's call it what it is), but many of the health improvements that come with it also come with removing processed food.

Anyway, when she mentioned fish, that reminded me of the avocados and sardines.  So that was my lunch on Friday.

So, on a family note, yay husband is back.  So much easier.  Now we are in cleanup mode before cleaning lady comes tomorrow, and I have to figure out what to do with the kitchen produce.  I did so little cooking when he was gone.  I know there will be roast potatoes and some sort of zucchini dish in my future for dinner. I want to cook up a ton of food today when I have spouse at home to help with the boys.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Make ahead meals

So, I'm solo for a few days.  With two boys.  And tonight, the infant boy decided that his awake time "witching hour" was going to be 3 hours, from 5 pm to 8 pm.  Try eating dinner, watching a movie with a 6 year old, and getting chores done with that.  Uh, not.  Thank god the swing finally settled him down so that I could get the 6 year old off to bed.  Next up was to look up "Go The Fuck to Sleep" on You Tube.  Since saying that to him did nothing.

Needless to say, without someone to, say, hold the baby while I eat, I have to plan ahead here.  Sure, he naps for a couple of hours at a time, but you never know when it's going to be.  Best to eat when you get a chance.  I actually have to set the alarm to get the kiddo off to camp tomorrow too.  Yuck.  So, here's what I've got.

Overnight oats (for breakfast).  Vanilla yogurt, banana, oats, cinnamon, milk, pinch of salt, which I think I forgot.  Or not.  I also like chia seeds, but mine were so old and had been in the cupboard that they got little buggy friends. So no chia.  I made up two jars.  I ate one today and made up another, so I'm set for 2 days.  I mix in peanut butter in the morning.

Today's lunch: snap peas, fruit, ham sandwich.

Tonight's dinner and lunches for the foreseeable future: pasta salad with cooked veggies (whatever I had): onion, peppers, squash, sun dried tomatoes, feta, fennel, olives, and homemade pesto.

Roasted veg: more squash, butternut squash, onions, peppers.

Well, off to brush my teeth and try to pass out.  The baby's asleep in the swing, so I suppose I should wait a bit and then move him to the cosleeper.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


So, here's a secret about me: I like exercise.  It helps keep me sane.

When I gave birth to my older son, the delivery doctor said "no exercise except walking for 6 weeks".  I listened.  I walked 45 min to an hour every day with the baby in the sling or bjorn up and down a lot of hills, but I technically listed.  This did wonders for helping my uterus/ abs recover.  Not so much for other areas.

This time around, the delivery doctor (different one), said nothing.  Admittedly, I didn't see him for long.  We only talked in the delivery room for about 30 mins and about 5 mins the next morning.  My plan this time around was to do the same: walk 45 min to an hour.  However, I neglected to consider a few things:

1.  I'm 6 years older. 42.  It's harder.  I'm heavier.
2.  It's not March.  It's freaking July and August.  It's HOT.  Carrying around a 10-lb baby on your chest is HOT.  I've walked my son the 0.45 miles to camp this week (hubby is traveling, no way I'm doing 24 hrs a day solo with 2 kids) with the baby in the sling.  So, 0.9 miles total each way.  And I'm SWEATING when I get home.
3.  For the most part, I have a 6 year old with me.  Not this week, but on other days getting an hour walk out of him is going to be hard, without some incentive.  My MIL and I did get a 45 min walk out of him, but there was a treat at the grocery store.

So my workout records have had a lot of  "1 mile" days.

I've decided to try and work in other exercise, even though I'm not cleared by the doc yet.  I pulled out my trusty Bikini Bootcamp book and decided to do some circuits.  These can be done in about 20 mins in your home.  Each exercise is to be done for 1 min, then you repeat the circuit.  The numbers listed next to the exercise are either the number I can do in one minute, or the number I can do total, if I can't make it a minute. 

Here's an example of circuit A.
Plie squats (30)
Bent elbow raises - 5 lb (20)
Slow bicycle crunches (50)
Lateral lunges (30)
Tricep dips (25)
Crunches (50) (these are supposed to be bent knee rollups, but my abs aren't strong enough yet)
Standing leg raises (25 each side)
Shoulder bicep curls - 5 lb (30)
Dead bug (20 each side)
Knee pushups (10) - this was my addition, pathetic.

Now, the actual workout also includes cardio for 2 min between each mini 3-exercise group.  You'll see a lower body/upper body/abs trend there.  The cardio is jumping rope, but you could do jumping jacks or jog in place.  I do none of the above, not while I'm nursing.  Maybe at some point I'll try layering 2 sports bras and give it a shot.  But probably not.

I feel incredibly out of shape, but you know, I have to start slow.  Any kind of exercise makes me feel better.  Soon I should be cleared for exercise and swimming, and I can work in 2-3 days per week at the gym.  The advantage to home workouts and walking is you avoid the commute time. And the gas.  Score!

Time to run and whip up a sandwich for lunch before the baby wakes up again...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Shopping and Closet Cleaning

It may (or may not) come as a surprise, but I hate shopping.  Absolutely hate it.  I'm not terribly into fashion, and  I shop like a guy.  I go, knowing that I need this one thing, and I do NOT want to search high and low to find it.

Shopping is torture.  Which is why I was happy to find CAbi.  Now, the first time I was invited to a CAbi party (like a Pampered Chef party for clothing), I thought "Who are they kidding? Do they think I'm into fashion?"  Then I realized, maybe they thought I should be.  But CAbi is great because of a few reasons:

1.  Limited selection.  There are two seasons/ two shows per year.  Several different styles of clothing and "lines".  But really, not very many pieces to look at, and when you factor in/out the colors and styles that do not flatter you, even fewer.

2.  Enough variety in styles to flatter different bodies.  This includes shirts great for the tiny-waisted (like me, usually), and shirts for those who have a tummy.  And "skinny jeans" vs. looser fit for those of us fuller in the hip.

3.  Good quality clothing.  It's not cheap (to me anyway), but it lasts.  And I love how it fits.

4.  No shopping.  The sales person shows you the clothing.  You try it on in the comfort of your friends' home with other women to critique.

After a few years, it's getting to be where 50% of my work clothing is CAbi.  But sadly, none of it fits.

If you want to be frugal and simple when it comes to your wardrobe, do NOT have a baby.  Not only do you have to buy maternity clothing, but shortly after giving birth, the mat wear doesn't work anymore.  The pants start falling down.  The Tshirts may fit now.  They cover the loose belly, but may not be large enough to cover the "girls" if you are nursing (and if, like me, you balloon from an A/B to a D cup.  Ugh.)

So in summary, after you have a baby, what of your pre-pregnancy clothing actually fits?  The answer: underwear, and socks.  That's it.

Alas, this means that I needed to shop today.  My frugal side really would prefer to go to thrift stores.  But thrift stores are for people with more time than I have and the desire for the "hunt", which I would have if I weren't so busy.

Instead, we headed off to Sears with a gift card given to the baby (who got nothing out of this deal, though hubby and son got clothing too.)  And it was torture.  Because it was so disorganized.  Most of the clothing was mixed on discount racks, not organized by size, style or color.  I hate digging through racks to look for clothing.  What I really wanted was a sundress to get me through the summer.  But it can't have spaghetti straps or be strapless (see the above comment about the girls), and I don't much care for empire waists, because they make me look pregnant.  And I'm not anymore.  For some reason, most of the patterns in the fabrics this year are also totally Fugly.

So I struck out on the dress.  I did, eventually, find about 6 shirts and two stretchy pairs of  knee length shorts.  But not without pain and suffering.  I found a nice flowy skirt that would be great in lieu of a dress, but it's orange, so I left it.

This meant I had to clean out my dresser and closet when I got home.  For some reason, all 3 of my drawers were stuffed full, even though I have only 10 items that fit.  So I dug through the bras, sports bras, exercise clothing, t-shirts, and capris, and tossed them in a pile to go into a bucket in the shed.  The "come check on me when you have lost about 25 lbs" bucket.  Aka, in a year or two.  I also went through the closet and chose a few items that I really don't like anymore anyway (after 8 years or so), and probably won't want to wear when I get to my goal weight, to donate to charity.

So, does anyone out there have several sets of clothing based on different weights?  I try to avoid it, but here, it's simply unavoidable.  And the bummer is, there is no guarantee that after I lose the baby weight that much of it will fit.  It all kind of shifts.

Monday, August 6, 2012

I'm still here!

My husband is half way through his business trip (outdoors, in Arizona, in August, and on his birthday no less.  Sucks to be him.)  So, I'm here, but I've been trying to hold down the fort of two kids and my MIL, and a head cold.  She's awesome and a huge help.  If only the baby would sleep for longer than 3-3.5 hrs at a stretch.

So mostly we've been eating leftovers.  Sandwiches for lunch and enchiladas for dinner...a friend sold a family dinner to raise money for her daughter's school.  A lasagna pan of chicken enchiladas, a lasagna pan of rice, a half pan of beans, and cookies.  So, we still have a ton left.  After 3 meals, I put the rest in the freezer.

The only interesting thing I've added to my repertoire is yogurt - the local store had Choibani yogurt for sale (I got the 2% 32 oz tub), so I've added blueberries, strawberries, and toasted almonds.  Yum.  I'm channeling biz here.  I am finding that I need much more protein now that I'm nursing (which I remember from last time around too).  And when I eat the protein, I don't spend the entire day starving.  Now that I remembered that and have added it back in, I've lost a couple of pounds.  Yay!