Sunday, December 30, 2012

Chicken Tortilla Soup - and taking care of myself

Every once in awhile, I sit and think about my life.  I say every once in awhile, because with two kids (one a baby), a husband and a job, I don't have much time to sit and think.  (Hey, last night I came home early from a 7 year old's birthday party, put the baby to bed, and had time to READ.  First book I cracked since 2 days before the baby was born.  I'm a voracious reader, so it was a long dry spell.)

I was thinking about how my life's approach to health has changed with this second baby.  With my first, I worked out a lot more.  I was going to do it all.  Sure, I wanted to lose weight (but it took 2 years, so I wasn't going nuts at it), but most of the exercise I was doing was for my sanity.  I was working full time, nursing, pumping, exercising 5 days a week.  And I was exhausted.  From November through March, I was sick with one cold or flu after another.  I was healthy for about 30 days out of the 5 months, only a few days at a stretch.

This time around, I was smarter...or I'd like to think so.  I mean, I'm over 40 this time, so that's a factor.  For one thing, I made it clear to my workplace that I was going back part time (80%).  They were remarkably fine with it.  Although truth be told, they responded by increasing my workload when I got back from maternity leave.  This means...that I'm not getting everything done (80% of the time, 120% of the THAT math.)  I have also not been so into the exercise this time.  I still do it - it keeps me sane - but it's on the order of 2-4 days a week, for 30 minutes at a time.  Yes, at this rate, it will take a LOT longer to lose the weight.  I was going hardcore on the Fit Yummy Mummy program (that sucker WORKS), but as soon as I went back to work, I got sick (week one!).  So I've continued with the exercise part of the program (weights and intervals), but have not been counting calories since then.  So I haven't lost any more weight.

I am also VERY MUCH prioritizing sleep.  Americans, on the whole, do not get enough sleep.  I was incredibly sleep deprived during my pregnancy.  I had insomnia for a couple of hours every night, and got about 6 hours of broken sleep each night.  Only when I started going to acupuncture was I able to get better sleep at least a few days a week.  Sure, it was great practice for the newborn phase.  But I cannot tell you how nice it has been that baby #2 started sleeping 9-11 hours at a stretch at 12 weeks.  (Except for last night. He was up a lot.  I was hurting.)  I generally get 7 hours straight these days.

The baby caught a cold just before Christmas and has had a runny nose and cough.  His cough last night had me up three times between 9 and 1.  Added to that - he has a new skill - he is learning to "talk" (babble), and he was talking too.  In his SLEEP.  (It's so freaking adorable I can't STAND it!!)  I have been trying to avoid catching his cold - but babies, they sneeze in your face.  My "regimen" for preventing colds - lots of fluids, Emergen-C, Zicam tablets a few times a day, hot tea, soup, and lots of sleep.  Things that I avoid - any kind of hard exercise (heavy weights, any cardio harder than walking), and alcohol.  These, along with sleep deprivation, weaken my immune system and make it much more likely that I will get sick.  This is a big reason why I haven't gotten back into running yet, and probably won't until I stop nursing.  Or at least until after cold and flu season ends.

So today, I made soup for dinner.  With the sick baby, I've been home a lot and hadn't planned a dinner. I know it's weird - I'm home, so I tend to not plan as much and "wing it".  This stresses me out and makes it hard to fall asleep, my brain is constantly running.  When I got up this morning, I decided on crockpot chicken tortilla soup.  I found about three recipes on the internet and used them all as a jumping off point because I wasn't going to go shopping.  The best thing is that you can use a bunch of frozen stuff in the soup.  We also had kale chips - greens are probably really good for fighting off illness.

Crockpot chicken tortilla soup
1 lb 4 oz chicken (this happened to be the size of the 2 breasts I had): $2.49
1 onion, diced (Biz, you can leave that out): 0.20
1/4 of a 1-lb bag of frozen tri-color peppers, diced: 0.50
3 cloves garlic: 0.15
4 cups chicken stock: free (I make my own from carcasses)
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes: 0.60 (I am going to puree these next time so 6yo doesn't complain)
1/2 bag frozen corn: 0.60
1 pint home canned salsa: 0.60
1 tsp cumin: 0.10
1/2 tsp chili powder: 0.05
2 Tbsp diced hot pepper (from my freezer stash): 0.15
1 to 2 cups cooked beans: 0.50
1 cup water
a few Tbsp commercial salsa
1 tsp salt

Cheddar cheese and broken tortilla chips for serving.

Cook everything on high for several hours.  I think I had it in there for 7 hours.  I threw the chicken in frozen.  The chicken stock was frozen too - that didn't work too well, so I had to heat that on the stove eventually.  If I start with frozen meat, I prefer to start it on high so that the meat doesn't sit in any temperature "danger zone".  Shred the chicken with a fork before you serve it.

Total: $5.94 for...12 cups maybe? enough soup for probably four meals for the 3 of us.  Less than 50 cents a cup, not counting the cheese and tortilla chips (we used the crumbs).

I was going to leave out the beans, because I didn't have any cooked or canned beans.  But then I saw this bag of little green shelled beans from the CSA.  Man, it took 20 mins to clean them...they were DIRTY, not to mention the bug or two I had to get out of there.  But they cooked up in about 40 min.

We ate this with store bought taquitos and homemade guacamole...and the kale chips, of course.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas...enjoying the season

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas!  I sit here on Christmas morning enjoying my family.  Boy how times have changed.  Before we had kids (and even for a  year after), we would always be flying to the northeast to spend holidays with family.  This was a mixed blessing, because traveling over the holidays really sucks, someone is usually sick (or gets sick), and the weather is the big unknown.  But family is awesome.

Most of the time these days, we stick to our little corner of So. Cal. for Christmas.  We had many years of inviting friends over for the holiday dinner.  But now our kids are in school, and all of our vacations are on the school schedule, so our friends tend to be traveling.  And that's okay.  Now with the two kiddos, I have to say that it's nice to just chill out.  Especially today when the baby has a cold...sounds like a barking seal ... poor guy.  He's still sleeping and his big brother is working on the first of many Star Wars Legos.

The advantage to keeping it small is that I can decide which day to do the big dinner (or to do none at all).  This year, the big dinner (ham this year) is today on Christmas day.  We often do it on Christmas eve.  Last night, we kept it simple with leftover crockpot lasagna, roasted butternut squash, and crackers with spinach and artichoke dip.

Santa was good to me this year.  Aside from time with my wonderful family, I got great kitchen items... a salad dressing bottle (with recipes), a new nonstick skillet (mine seem to wear out every 6 months), a new cast iron skillet, and a new rice cooker.  I also got a magazine subscription and four new shirts/sweaters (the pre pregnancy shirts do not fit over the nursing-mother and post pregnancy body).

For my family, I sewed a bag for my husband's tablet computer (from the bottoms of my son's holey-jeans-turned-shorts), and I sewed a Star Wars blanket and pillowcase for my son.  For the baby we wrapped some hand me down toys. :)  I feel very blessed.  I have friends who are out of work and have to scrounge and sell items in order to buy gifts for their kids.

I'm sure the day is going to be full of building the pile of Star Wars legos that my older son got. I've already started on the Zicam and Vitamin C (babies...they cough and sneeze ALL OVER YOU).

Monday, December 17, 2012

Good Winter Foods and Frugal Foods

So, tonight I had a dinner that takes me back to the good old days.  We had black bean soup leftover from last night, roasted potatoes, and kale chips.

It almost didn't make it onto the table.  And I didn't get pictures.

The black bean soup is something I made yesterday.  It almost didn't get made.  I had an afternoon cookie swap with some friends, and didn't get home until late.  Luckily, I had done a lot of preparation.  I had soaked and cooked a pound of black beans in the pressure cooker in the morning.  I'd made a big batch of chicken stock on Saturday.  I chopped the carrots and onions before I left.  And I had blanched frozen broccoli in the freezer.  On the way home I was THIS CLOSE to stopping at The Habit burger grill for burgers.  What stopped me?  A few things:
1.  Dinner for 3 would have been close to 30 bucks
2.  Burgers and fries...not very healthy
3.  I had a FOOD PLAN

It did take awhile to make the soup.  We ended up bathing and feeding the baby first and eating at 7 pm (our normal is between 6 and 6:30).  I was very proud to get dinner on the table for a few bucks.

This was a "put whatever you  have in the pot" black bean soup.  Black beans, chicken stock, onion, celery, carrot, frozen peppers, cumin, garlic, oregano.  I pureed it with the immersion blender when done, and tossed in some homemade crockpot refried beans too.

I have been working on getting back into Frugality mode for my dinners.  I've been shopping the sales a bit more.  This weekend I bought a ham for Christmas for 49 cents a pound at Fresh and Easy.  I also got 10 lbs of potatoes for $2.  Now, that's a lot of potatoes for us.  They are hard to store (though this time of year, I could probably figure out how to store them in the laundry room, which is always cold, except when we are drying clothes).  Anyway, we will be eating a lot of potatoes. 

The potatoes almost didn't make it onto the table.  Or at least, the baby has been very fussy earlier.  Which means he wants to go to sleep earlier. It makes it difficult to get dinner on the table when dealing with a baby who wants to go to bed at 5:45 pm (husband doesn't come home until 6 or later).  In any event, our son and I ate first, then my husband ate while I fed the baby.

The biggest way to save money on food is to not waste food.  We have not been that great the last month.  I ended up tossing 1/2 lb of swiss cheese and 1/2 lb of havarti that just went bad.  My husband only eats the havarti on homemade bread, but we 've been eating cereal for breakfast instead. The swiss?  I've been eating it for lunch pretty often (we buy it at Costco in the 2 lb package), but it was moldy today, and I'm not sure why.  I think it's time to stop buying so much cheese.  Or at least when I do, immediately freeze half.  In my normal cooking mode it's not a problem to go through these things in a timely manner.  But in my "I have a stressful job, a first grader, and I'm nursing a baby" mode, things go bad.  Normal cooking mode: I cook what will go bad first, and if I don't think I'll get to it, then I will cook and freeze it.

For example, things I'll have to prep/cook/eat so they don't go bad: (this week)
fresh parsley
green onions
refried beans

I also have carrots and butternut squash, but those last forever.

Anyway, this is the last week of the CSA until February, so I get a good 6 or 7 week break.  During the winter, I tend to buy the same 6 things at the farmer's market, which is MUCH easier to prep and cook (broccoli, kale, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, cauliflower)

I hope to have more time to post our eats and pictures in the next few weeks.  I admit that we eat about four things every week.  Two different dinners, one lunch (we eat it every day), and one night of chicken fingers and broccoli.  So, it's not terribly exciting.  I have been getting better at the crockpot, and crockpot lasagna is so laughably easy and tasty it will become a regular meal (if only I could make it with those potatoes...)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Hello again

So the blog has been a bit inactive lately.  I apologize.  The family and I have been on an extended vacation in Tahiti.

Obviously, I jest.  Would be nice, no?  Sadly, the month of November has been work work work, with a short long-weekend of Legoland.  I should write a post about how we did Legoland San Diego on the cheap!  Oh, who am I kidding.  We bled money.  On top of that, I had to fork out big money for a crown on a tooth.  November = expensive, and not even related to Christmas.

By the way, if you want to know how to do Legoland on the cheap:
1.  Buy tickets ahead of time and find a discount.  We get discounts with our Axxess card, but there are other options.
2.  Get a cheap hotel, or extended stay room (with a kitchen), or camp.  We stayed at a fancy resort right across the road from a great looking beachfront campground.  Campground: $35 a night.  Resort?  $230 a night.  Ah, the price you pay for last minute bookings on Thanksgiving weekend.
3.  Cook.  Our room had a microwave and fridge.  We didn't use the microwave.  We did have breakfast included.  One big way to save?  Eat lunch before you head into the park, or take sandwiches with you.  Lunch for 3 in the park will set you back 40 or 50 bucks.
4.  Stay away from the Lego store, unless you are using it to buy gifts for holidays, etc.  That stuff is expensive.  But they do have sales.
5.  Stay away from the Carnival games.  They will bleed you dry.  However, if you insist on playing one, just fork out 10 bucks for 4 tries.  You are basically guaranteed a prize.  If you fork out 3 bucks a try at 3 different places, you may get nothing.
6.  A few rides are extra.  Avoid these.
7.  Enjoy the scenery while you are there.  Go for a hike.  Walk on the beach.  Free entertainment!
8.  Don't forget your reusable water bottles at home.  D'oh!
9.  Don't be lured in by the photo takers at the entrance. Bring your own camera.
10.  If you get wet on one of the rides, use your shivering child to get sympathy points.  One of the families will likely let you join them in the "family dryers" which, incidentally, are five bucks.

Even with 1-10, it's not going to be cheap.  Just a warning!  Personally, I'm generally not a fan of amusement parks. I'd rather go camping. But it's a nice trip for the kiddo.

And for your food photos:
I can't post them.  Apparently, I'm out of space.  I have to pay extra if I want more storage.  I have to think about if I want to do that first.  Hmmm...

Anyway, I roasted a chicken on vegetables (Ina Garten!) and made crockpot lasagna.