Friday, January 25, 2013

Keeping it Simple and Being Thankful

Well, it happened again.  The husband had a business trip.  It was a short one...Tuesday afternoon to Wednesday evening. wasn't.  The work there was delayed.  He had to stay an extra day.  The flights back were booked, so he ended up doing a lot of driving (2 hours in Arizona to get to the airport, 2 hours in California to get home).

Now, I always freak out a little bit, at least, when my spouse travels.  Being a single parent is hard work.  It's stressful to handle - especially now there are two of them.  And I still have a job.  And I don't have much in the way of a "village" (we live far from our families).  So I need to have strategies for making it through - pre-cooked meals, entertainment options. Even still...I am never happy and I dread it.  And lately, the baby has started waking frequently (teething?) and being hard to settle back down.  This after 3 months of sleeping 10 hours.

One wake-up call came the morning my husband was leaving, in the form of a facebook post from a friend.  He was asking for prayers for friends of his (nobody I know) whose < 1 month old baby daughter died of SIDS.  Healthy little baby, just didn't wake up one day.

That shut down the whining really fast.  There are worse things than lack of sleep.  It really helped me let go and ENJOY the time with my boys instead of seeing the time alone with them as a burden and "when can I get my me time?" (Hint: I never did get the me time.)

I kept it simple and organized.  Dinners were:
Tuesday: leftover enchiladas with frozen green beans (microwaved)
Wednesday: leftover moroccan lentil soup (from Saturday that I'd frozen) with bread
Thursday: repeat of Wednesday
Friday (husband home): ordered pizza

Lunches were also leftovers.  I didn't have to do any cooking beyond making toast, heating soup, or microwaving.  There were minimal dishes.  I was able to nurse the baby 2-3 times after coming home, feed him cereal, work on homework with my 1st grader, have  him do his daily reading, and read to him also.  On top of that, he got a little extra TV time.

Before going to bed, I had our three lunch bags lined up on the counter: baby food, paci, and bottle in the baby's (just add the milk bottles in the morning).  Nuts, orange, banana in mine (just add the refrigerated items), and same for my older son.  It was very laid back and relaxing.  Why?  Well, one reason is that I left later. I had to stay at home until my son got picked up for school, so I had an extra 20-30 minutes (bonus is there is less traffic later also, bad part is I am too late to work for the morning meeting). Also, I just didn't bother pumping in the morning.  That's another 20 minutes I gained.  I won't be able to continue that though.  And of course, no workouts (but I only work out Tues/Thurs during the week as it is.)  These extra minutes in the morning meant most items were picked up from the floor and we were able to play games together - Uno, Connect Four, etc.

Now I'm thinking that it was so relaxing that I need to try and capture some of those habits now that my husband is back.  I always pre-prepare meals, but generally at least do some cooking the night of (usually a vegetable).  Can I do that ahead of time too?  I will try that.  Can I have the lunch bags lined up every night?

The only really big negative for the whole week was the lack of sleep.  The baby was awake a lot Tuesday.  The rain came on Wednesday and kept me awake.  And by Thursday the baby had a cold and spent a lot of time coughing.  I was awake with insomnia all three nights for at least a couple of hours.  So, I'm dragging.  On that note on this Friday evening, I am headed to bed.  I hope to catch up on my sleep this weekend.  I tried to spend some time this evening planning the week's meals.  However, I found that I had enthusiasm, but not the brain power.  It will have to wait until morning before the big grocery shop.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Flavors of Winter

I happened to be shopping at the Farmer's market on Saturday, looking for avocados.  I only had twenty bucks.  I happened to spend all $20 on other things that took my fancy (including avocados).

The first thing I got a gander at was kabocha squash, marked down to $1/lb.  Man, this stuff is so good.  The same stall had these beautiful heads of delicate lettuce, so I snagged one of those.  And some pistachios made their way into my bag too.  But they were up a buck from last week.  Ouch.

I've really been trying to up the produce intake lately.  I generally eat a lot already.  But it's cold and flu season, so I figure that more veggies will help with keeping the immune system strong.  Alas, I caught the cold my husband had, so it's my third of the season.  There are several folks out at work with the flu, so here's to hoping I don't get that.  The whole family has gotten the flu shot, but the baby only got his less than a week ago, and it takes 2 weeks to take effect.  I'm a little bit paranoid about the flu, mostly because some people are stupid and they go to work sick.  But I digress...

A taste of what we've been eating this week:

Kabocha squash, roasted

Sauteed green beans (originally frozen) and mushrooms in a garlic-soy glaze.

Here's the squash alongside chicken, potato, and pea curry.  So I discovered this red curry sauce from Trader Joe's...yum!

Roasted red potatoes.

I also roasted the red potatoes last night with broccoli and carrots.  Today I was home sick (but working).  My husband came home early to take a nap.  Because he was home, I was able to cook dinner (or we'd have been SOL!)  I made skillet pasta (except I don't have the right kind of skillet anymore, so I use my dutch oven) and a salad.  We now have enough pasta for dinner for the next two nights - score!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Crockpot Vegetable Barley Soup

I continued on this new trend of "Crockpot Wednesday", aka "I don't have time to cook after I get home with two kids and I'm out of leftovers Wednesday".  This week I looked in the fridge and pantry and decided "how about a soup with barley and vegetables."

I googled and found this recipe and just used the veggies that I had, which were:
frozen tri color peppers
canned tomatoes
frozen mixed vegetables (corn, peas, green beans, carrots, lima beans)
tiny bit of butternut squash

I also added the spices and homemade chicken stock, water, and a bouillon cube.  As usual, I forgot the salt and it needed it badly.

Night 2 was better (I salted it).  And I topped it with crackers and a little feta.  We ate the soup for three nights with toasted rye bread and bruschetta topping.

The soup was good, but not awesome.  The carrots were crunchy the first night.  I think the key to awesome soup is really to saute the onions and garlic first.  I didn't do that.  If I make it again, I will pre-cook the onions, garlic, and carrots.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Week's Meal Plan...and how-to details

My meals have been less-than-inspired lately.  Mostly, I'm just trying to keep everyone fed, somewhat frugally, mostly healthfully, and as simply as possible.  I'm going to go over my meal plan for the week and how I accomplish it, in case anyone out there needs some serious "how-to's".  Like "how to avoid the drive through when you have a job and two kids".

One of the best things I ever read about how to cook frugally is to cook one thing a day (but make a lot of it.)  This is very close to how I cook these days.  I cook more than one thing on the weekend.

So here goes: (I've underlined what I cooked that day)
Friday night: I made pasta with pesto, leftover meatballs, and diced tomatoes.  And I made broccoli on the side.  I cooked a few things that night, mainly the pasta and the broccoli.  We had leftovers.

Saturday night: We had friends over for dinner.  This was a big meal.  I made a pork roast in the crockpot, mexican rice in the rice cooker, steamed broccoli, and roasted butternut squash.  There were leftovers.  We made some of the pork into BBQ, but kept most of it plain.

Sunday lunch: leftover pasta with leftover broccoli and roasted squash, and leftover BBQ pork.

Sunday night: Burritos with the leftover pork and rice.  I had to shred cheese and my husband made kale chips.

Monday night:  Burritos with leftover pork and rice.  I made extra shredded cheese on Sunday.  I made salad.

Tuesday night: chicken fingers from TJ's, steamed broccoli.

Wednesday night: Vegetable barley soup in the crockpot (with whatever I have, including canned tomatoes, stock, peppers, onions, carrots, beans, and barley), with toast.  I will prep everything on Tuesday night (like chop the vegetables), so that Wednesday morning I just turn the crockpot on low all day.

Thursday night: leftover soup, bread

Friday night: leftover soup, bread

turkey sandwiches (I make each night after dinner) for the adults, with whatever veggies we have leftover (like salads, broccoli, carrot sticks) on the side. 
Carrots, hummus, crackers, cheese and applesauce for the 1st grader. 
Milk and avocado for the baby (solid foods yeah!)

At first glance, it doesn't look too complicated.  There are no more than two things to prep on any given night, and they are pretty simple.  But never underestimate the difficulty of a hungry, tired, teething baby and tired first grader also.  Tonight, all I needed to do was wash and spin lettuce.  It was very difficult.  From the time I got home at 4:45 until 7 pm bedtime, I nursed the baby 3 times and gave him some rice cereal.  And he woke up again at 8 pm and I nursed him again.  I think it's that first tooth that just broke through.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Healthy Soft Serve

Well, if you've been reading around the food blog-o-sphere over the last several years, you've read about banana soft serve.  If you haven't heard of it...have you been living under a rock?  Or have you been busy having a life and not reading food blogs?

Anyway, today, there was banana soft serve on the menu.  We were thinking about taking the 1st grader out for frozen yogurt after picking him up at his kids' care.  He wasn't particularly interested and when we got home, we got busy with other things.  I had, however, been thinking about banana soft serve also, mostly because I saw a post on it in The Kitchn today (they have variations!).  I liked reading the comments from their initial post 3 years ago.  Including some nay-sayers that say "it tastes like frozen banana."  Well, duh.  It IS frozen banana!  But it's very creamy and a great vehicle for chocolate syrup.

Anyway, I always have frozen bananas in the freezer.  Sometimes peeled, sometimes not.  Here are the advantages to banana soft serve compared to fro yo:

1.  Way cheaper.  Total cost of the banana soft serve for two (with some peanut butter mixed in and chocolate syrup on top): probably about 50 cents.  Maybe 60 cents.
2.  Healthier.  It's banana.  One ingredient.  Unless you are me and add peanut butter and chocolate.
3.  Faster and simpler.  No getting into the car and driving downtown to the yogurt place.  No keeping a pint of the sugary or fatty stuff in your freezer, that you swear you will eat 1/2 cup at a time and make it last two weeks, when really you'll eat the pint in three sittings, three days in a row.

All you gotta do is wash the food processor when you are done.

For instructions: here

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

Well, I caught the baby's cold.  At least it's not a work day right?  I have to say, at least 3 times a week, I am asked by coworkers "when are you coming back full time?"  These are, clearly, not people who have an infant.  I kind of laugh them off.  If they push more, I ask "well, when am I supposed to get in that extra 1-1.5 hours?"

Here's a little example of my schedule: (on a gym day)
5 am, baby wakes up.  Nurse baby, put him back to bed.
5:30 am, brush teeth, bathroom, go to the gym.
5:45 to 6:30 workout at gym - 15-20 mins of intervals, 15-20 mins of strengthening/weights
6:35 - 7:45: come home, shower, pump, eat breakfast, feed baby again, get baby dressed.
7:45 - 8:00 ish: pack up my lunch bag, work/computer bag, diaper bag, and baby into the car.
8-8:10 ish, drop baby off at daycare
8:30 to 8:35, arrive at work
8:30 to 3:30 or 3:45: work.  I generally take a 20-30 min lunch, and I take 2 pump breaks, but I work during those (my computer has wireless!)
3:40-3:45ish, leave work.
4:00 pick up baby.  Drive to school.
4:20 pick up first graders (mine and the neighbor's)
4:30 get home.  Reverse the loading of the car.  Takes a couple of trips.
4:30 - 4:45, unpack and wash all the bottles and pump parts
4:45 feed baby
5-ish, neighbor's daughter gets picked up
5 to 6, try to keep tired baby happy, cook dinner, help 1st grader with homework.  Most often dinner is leftovers, but I still have to prep a vegetable.
6 to 6:30ish, eat dinner (hubby comes home at 6)
6:30 to 7:30: baby's bath (every other day,  hubby does this), nurse baby to sleep, 20 mins of reading with the 1st grader, pack lunches, put away leftovers, not in any particular order, and hubby and I take turns on the reading.
7:30 to 8: sometimes we're still doing the homework and reading
8: 1st grader's bed time - reading to him and snuggling
8:15: brush teeth, get ready for bed, more kitchen cleanup.  Then about 15 to 20 min of catching up on facebook or reading
8:30: in bed, asleep.  Sometimes it pushes into 9 pm

So, I'm working those extra hours...when?  On my non-workout days, I have an extra 45 min, spent with the first grader in the morning, getting him breakfast, etc.  When he was a baby, I worked full time.  That extra hour and a half came at the expense of sleep.  He wasn't a sleeper.  He stayed up later (8:30 pm) at night and woke up earlier (4:30 am).

With the new baby - half the days, he's asleep at 6:30 pm.  If I worked an extra 1.5 hours (until 5 pm), I wouldn't get home until 6 pm, and he'd be asleep at 6:30 or 7!  It already works that way for my husband.  He misses time with the baby during the week.

My goals for the new year?  Keep the family happy and healthy...that's it!