Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and Recipes

Howdy friends! It's been Mr. Toad's Wild Ride over here in my head. What Disney world ride have you been living in lately? Usually I'm stuck on the loop of It's a Small World given that I'm with a one-year-old 24-7, but recently, I've been debating whether or not to go back to work part-time. So I've been on the daycare search. Let me tell you how fun that is. I actually wanted to run screaming from one woman's house after she explained loudly (because the television was blaring) that she feeds the children "government food" and that her chiuaua can get mouthy. I'm definitely going to write a post soon about the whole process because I think it's not only a huge decision for a lot of mothers, but one that challenges mothers in a lot of ways.

Speaking of challenging mothers, this is what E has been up to lately:

Climbing on stools and stairs and obsessed with computers. Obsessed.

Getting into precarious positions

We've also been having lots of fun at our movement play class at the YMCA.

And this moment, when getting her up from her naps, is my favorite part of the day.

Update on freezer meals: they're delicious and easy. As long as you make sure you defrost them overnight in time to cook them the next day. I always forget. Still, we have not ordered from the Dominos around the corner. Curses on them and their bready-cheesy aroma that encapsulates my house at 4 p.m. every day. You will NOT get me this month! I will just drink extra wine in order to distract myself.

Many of you requested some of the recipes I used for my freezer meals, so here are the top three I'd like to share:

Tomato Bisque (Aka: I can't believe it's not milk and cream!) Soup:
Seriously, I'm a snob about tomato soup and totally made a face when my MIL gave me this recipe. I was so wrong. This is now the only tomato soup I will ever eat. It is that good. Serves 6

3 Cups carrot juice
1 28oz can of San Marzano whole tomatoes (or whatever brand you like best)
1/4 C sun dried tomatoes, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 leek, chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small bay leaf
pinch of saffron (optional)
1 tsp dried thyme
2 Tbsp Mrs. Dash
1/2 c raw cashews (or 1/4 c cashew butter)
1/4 c chopped fresh basil
5 oz baby spinach

In large saucepan, combine all ingredients except the cashews, basil, and spinach. Simmer for 30 min. Discard bay leaf. Remove 2 cups of the veggies with slotted spoon and set aside. Puree the remaining soup and cashews in food processor or blender until smooth. Return reserved veggies to the pot and stir in basil, spinach and let the spinach wilt.

Kale with Cashew Cream Sauce (with no actual cream in it - booyah!):
Serves 4

2 larges bunches of kale, stems and center ribs removed
1 cup of raw cashews, or 1/2 cup of cashew butter
1 cup of almond milk, soy, or hemp milk (uh, does anyone actually drink hemp?)
1/4 cup of onion flakes
1 Tbsp Mrs. Dash
Steam kale for 15 min. While kale is steaming, blend cashews, milk, onion flakes, and Mrs. Dash in blender or food processor 'til smooth and creamy. When kale is done, press it with paper towels or clean cloth to remove excess water, chop and mix with sauce. Easy peasy.

Hoisin Pork Tenderloin:
This freezes really well. I thought it was more delicious after being frozen for awhile. Serves 4

1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 Tbsp sliced green onions
2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves
1 (1 lb) pork tenderloin, trimmed
1 Tbsp sesame seeds

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large Ziploc bag; add pork to bag. Seal and marinate in fridge for 2 hours (or freeze for later cooking). Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place pork on roasting pan coated with cooking spray and bake at 425 for 15 min. Sprinkle pork with sesame seeds; bake an additional 5 minutes or until thermometer registers 160 (slightly pink). Place pork on cutting board; let stand for 10 min. Meanwhile, pour reserved marinade into a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook until reduced to 1/3 cup (about 2 minutes). Serve with pork. Note: I found there wasn't any reserved marinade left after defrosting the pork from the freezer. So next time I'm gonna make more marinade.

Hope some of you readers out there try them out and report back on your amazement. :)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Freezer Meals, My Way

A major resolution I made for 2012 is to get meal planning and cooking into a zen-like place for my family. Hand-in-hand goes making food that's healthier and easy to throw together. I'm sure I'm the first mom ever to tackle this never-ending saga of "what's for dinner," so I thought I'd put together a little blog post sharing my process of making meals to freeze.

First, I checked out a few websites for resource information. Here was very helpful for thinking about what I want to store my food in (i.e., foil baking pans, freezer bags, crockpot liners, ovenware, etc.), and, more importantly, how to approach your own recipes for the freezer.

I've done those meal assembly deals where you pay for a package of meals and then go into the store and prep them yourself for the freezer. They can be a great first step toward having lots of meals in the freezer for your family, and it even saves you from having to plan the grocery list and prep and cook the food. However, you can certainly do it cheaper if you can set aside a few more hours. After doing it a few times, I'm sure it'll go a lot faster, too.

After sifting through a few other websites here and here, I sat down with my cookbooks and recipe cards to pull out meals that A) I knew we'd eat, and B) were conducive to freezing. We're big salad eaters, but darn if they don't get soggy after defrosting. Har, har, har.

I should also add that we try to follow the Paleo diet for optimal health, but we are still easing into it and therefore cheese and grains do get thrown in there once in awhile. But a lot of these meals are Paleo-friendly. Here's the list of meals I came up with and ended up preparing:

  1. Tomato Bisque Soup (8 meals) - base is carrot juice and cashews, but it is to.die.for!
  2. Sirloin Stir-Fry (4 meals)
  3. Mustard Dill Salmon (3 meals)
  4. Hoisin Pork Tenderloin (1 meal) - Hoisin sauce has sugar, need to find one w/o
  5. Sante Fe Chicken (2 meals) - does have a wee bit of honey in the marinade
  6. Turkey Meatloaf (1 meal) - breadcrumbs are whole wheat and there's no sugar, aka, Ketsup
  7. Healthy Lasagna (2 pans) - made w/ ff cottage cheese, whole wheat noodles, and part-skim mozzerella
  8. Steamed Kale with Cashew Sauce (8 meals as side dish) - also TDF
  9. Green-Chile Chicken Enchiladas (1 pan) - this will be for hard days or a weekend night
  10. 2 Organic Chickens to cook and shred (saved and froze stock) - perfect to throw into a salad or add to the bisque for more protein
That's 26 meals, not including the shredded chicken and kale. Now, we won't be eating these straight in a row for 26 days, but it sure fills up a big chunk of the monthly calendar. I'd say that's a good start for my first attempt and keeping things healthy. None of these meals were found in a "freezer meal" section of a cook book. I simply looked at the recipe and figured out how far I could prep the meal before needing to freeze it while also considering what I needed to do once I thawed it. For example, the salmon was the easier, by far. I bought a large piece of salmon, cut it into approximately 6 oz side portions, made the mustard dill marinade, brushed it on top of the salmon, then wrapped it up in foil, stuck two in a freezer bag and labeled the outside. For the Sirloin Stir-Fry, I cut the meat into small chunks, seasoned it with chinese 5 spice, and threw it into a small freezer bag. Then after rinsing and cutting the veggies (red bell pepper, broccoli, snap peas, carrots, mushrooms) I loaded them into a gallon freezer bag. Finally, I made the sauce and put it in a quart size freezer bag, and along with the meat bag, put it into the gallon bag with the veggies. All in one freezer bag, but sectioned off into separate baggies for thawing and cooking separately.

Something I need to get better at is finding recipes that share more ingredients so that the prep gets easier. My recipes were pretty different from one another, so I made these over the course of two days (thanks to my MIL who watched E the whole time).

Okay, now the fun part where I show my loot!

Ah, a freezer full of healthy food! What a great way to start off the New Year, huh?

If anyone wants the recipes to some or all of these, just let me know and I'll get them to you somehow. I hope I've inspired someone out there to freeze up some meals in order to free up some time. It's worth it!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mothers Against Drunk Sewing

I often feel like Friday night is that shiny finish line tape at the end of a race. Not like I've ever ran a race to really know...but stick with me.

You've been pacing yourself all week, giving yourself pats on the back for not using the television as a babysitter or ignoring your whiny baby while on Facebook. You even kept your cool when she bit you while you were on the phone with the cold and unfeeling sales rep. You've done a few yoga poses, maybe even spent a minute in silent meditation knowing that if you don't *findtheinnerpeace* you will never finish this week's race. However, Friday comes and things that rolled off your back on Monday are now setting you off easily. You white knuckle it until that sweet, sweet bedtime hour comes and you can see the shiny finish line tape. You feel me?

On a recent Friday night, rather than take a much deserved bubble bath, I decided to tackle a damn sewing project...after white knuckling it. Yeah, not a good idea. Let me illustrate my state of being with a picture:

Notice the tall glass of something fruity to the right of the machine? I had the brilliant idea that I could have a happy hour with my sewing machine. But reading a complicated sewing pattern while imbibing does not mix, people.

The pattern was for a shopping cart cover and seemed simple enough, but there were multiple layers of fabric involved as well as turning it inside out. As a side note: I never thought those covers seemed necessary before I became a parent, but now that my daughter likes to chew on the handle of the grocery cart, and my sudden stops send her failing against the metal sides, I've reconsidered. Of course, rather than spend $50 on a boutique cover, I thought I could whip one up...on a Friday night.

Needless to say, I got to this point:

Which meant a phone call to my mother. Being the amazing, talented, and super caring woman she is, my mother not only answered my call while in the middle of a dinner party, but she also spent 15 minutes talking through the pattern with me on the phone. How anyone can understand a pattern without a) seeing the pattern, or b) looking at the fabric, is beyond me. She's got special skills. Although her first advice should have been to not drink while sewing, she eventually pointed out that you can't turn something inside out when you've sewn all three layers together in the middle. Ah, yes. I'm a quick one.

After a few sobering moments on the phone with my mother, I finished it up and even made a cute bag to put the cover in. I was quite proud of getting through that evening, but learned that I'm plain stubborn. I wanted to finish the sewing project AND have my happy hour to celebrate winning my weekly parenting race, but the two simply don't mix. You'll just end up drunk dialing Mom.

I think this last picture speaks for itself.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fall Wreath

I've been keeping myself busier than usual with projects around the house in an attempt to decorate more thoughtfully and creatively (read: without spending money). October 1st came round and since I almost love Fall as much as Christmas, I had an impulsive desire to go buy pumpkins, hay bales, and cornstalks galore. But I accepted that my front porch will never look like a page in the Pottery Barn catalog, so I turned to my recent addiction, pinterest. If you don't know pinterest, it's basically an online bulletin board where you "pin" all of your finds from the web, home, and other people's boards. Great for searching home diy projects, party ideas, and recipes. I also love seeing what other people pin. Of course, get ready to waste lots of unproductive time online getting greedy and craving just about everything with butter and sugar. Tip: don't search "brownies" unless you're emotionally stable.

I did a search for fall wreaths and found this fun thing by ItzFitz on Etsy:

I've got a ton of random skeins lying around, so I thought this would be a fun, not-to0-challenging project to whip up. Aside from untangling my 10-month-old daughter from the yarn a few times, it was fairly easy. You do have to wind the yarn around the styrofoam wreath a gajillion times, but if you watch plenty of Housewives & Project Runway, you'll be fine.

Without further ado, my take:

Not too shabby if I do say so myself! Are you doing any fall crafts or projects? Have you tried this wreath? I'd love to see if it you have!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

hopping the train to Crazytown

I'm not an impulsive person. I've always wanted to be, but when the moment came to hop the train to nowhere or get matching tattoos, I'd cave. It's not that I don't like to have fun or be spontaneous, I just don't like to have regrets. Besides, now that I'm a mom, impulsivity is limited to pulling a u-turn to go to the park on the other side of town instead of the one you always go to. Unfortunately, when it comes to decisions about my hair, all reason leaves my body and mind, and I hop the train to crazytown.

I've been growing my hair out for years now, determined to make it past shoulder length. I must say, I made it pretty far.

Nice, huh? Well, the humidity hit hard in Maryland and I wanted a cooler, summer 'do. Commence looking at umpteen googled pictures of the likes of Carrie Mulligan, Sienna Miller, Kiera Knightly, and Ginnifer Goodwin. I easily imagined myself thinner, better dressed, and oh yeah, and famous. Surely I would have the paparazzi following me to the farmer's market that weekend!

Reality had truly slipped by the time I dialed the local salon and made an appointment for THAT DAY. Oh Hindsight, how I wish I could bring you back with me in my time machine to the past. Never, Jill, never make a hair appointment the same day you decide to cut more than 1 inch off your hair. Coincidentally, NPR published a story about impulsively getting one's haircut just days after mine. It was frighteningly spot-on and hilarious: read it here.

The stylist I saw has a very hit-and-miss reputation, as every one of my friends in Easton can attest to. I say "saw" rather than "see" because after this haircut experience she will never be seen by me again. I don't blame her completely, because, like I said, I knew she was a wild card and took the risk anyway. However, she used a razor to cut off all 10 inches of my hair from beginning to end, resulting in the same blunted, overly layered look I often gave my dog when I trimmed his fur myself. Not exactly what I was going for.

Without further ado, let me show you a few pictures. First, the pictures I showed the stylist:

Yes, that's Carrie Mulligan. Yes, I thought I could look like her. Yes, I'm crazy.

Finally, here's what I look like now:

I'm sure you're all saying to yourself, "Oh, she's overreacting. It's not that bad." You're right. It's not that bad. I can go out in public and not feel ashamed. But it's just not what I wanted. It's a brown helmet and I wanted a crown of glowing tendrils. However, it IS just hair and it WILL grow back.

One thing to know about me from the get-go is that I'm always thinking about what I can learn from bad experiences. I'm a chronic self-improver and I know I annoy my friends sometimes when I over-analyze. So reflecting on this experience, I'm torn about how I should have handled myself when I saw the finished product in the salon chair. I didn't lie and say I loved it, but I also didn't honestly share my disappointment with her. What do you do when you get a bad haircut? Swallow your loathing and move on, or ask for a manager? I felt equally to blame for my own rash decision, yet unless we give feedback, poor stylists will remain poor stylists. Also, has anyone out there EVER gotten a good haircut that actually looked like a picture you showed your stylist? I'm dying to know what others do in this situation.

I've been sewing and knitting up a storm lately, so there should be some show-and-tell later this week. Mostly, I've been addicted to Pinterest, which if you haven't experienced yet, prepare yourself for a world of delicious eye candy.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Here We Go Again

First blog post. huh.

I've been creating posts in my head all week. Hesitant to start off on the wrong foot. Should I start off writing about what's consumed my time lately: gardening, learning how to tweet, non-stop breastfeeding, sewing baby clothes, going back-and-forth about cloth diapers, reading my 251st self-help book? Bor-ing.

I've read blogs upon blogs for years, and I even had a blog for about 3 years. It was first called Fish Needs Bicycle, then Feckless Essentials (which makes no sense because I misread the definition of "feckless"...uh, who does that?). So I've learned several things from blogging the first go-round in addition to *doublecheckdefinitions*:

1. Don't write about your vagina. I paid a trip down college memory lane when I took part of the Vagina Monologues and decided to expound on the virtues of my lady parts. You know, I am woman, hear me roar. Of course, that backfired when the marketing director at the new job asked the name of my blog, which I freely gave, and he clickety-clacked to it right there in front of me and *gasp* landed on THE post in which I imagined what my vagina might say if it could talk. Needless to say, it was an awkward moment.

2. Remember that your parents and/or past boyfriends have access. There were times that I used my blog to heal from wounds. It's oh so tempting to get all "dear diary" on the Internets. Not wise. Save the juicy details of your first sexual encounter for the therapists office. Enough said.

3. Be real. No one likes a suck-up, wannabe, masquerading fool trying to create an "image" of herself that isn't quite...real. But what's real, real-ly? I'm choosing the pieces and parts (no, not those parts) to reveal and, in turn, creating somewhat of a persona. There were times I tried to make myself sound and look like a cooler person than I really was. I regret that. The best writing is that which is totally honest, warts and all. I'll be taking off my mask for you, folks. I hate wearing that damn thing in public anyway.

So there it is, my first blog post. Thank god that's out of the way. Now for the good stuff.