Friday, March 23, 2012

Field Trip!

Recently, we went on a field trip with our homeschool group to the local international market/grocery store. They have so many different fruits and vegetables there. We love it!

Our group was about 15 kids strong, and we took a tour of the market, followed by tasting several of the most interesting fruits and vegetables we could find. We had dragon fruit, cactus fruit, and jicama.

Marshall found some lemon grass to smell and get excited about!

Will had a great time and was excited to be there....but not enough to taste any fruits. Mac and Marshall more than made up for him, though.

A fun day in the life of our family.

Monday, February 27, 2012

What's been going on in my house? Lots of train track building. Not so much meal planning! Which around here, looks like lots of Moe's, if we're honest.

This has been a terrible season of things breaking. My beloved new camera (bought just before Christmas) stopped working. It's under warranty, but not just "take it back to the store" warranty. I've mailed it in, and I'm waiting to hear from the factory. Ugh.

So, in the meanwhile, I am taking videos of my boys, and I'm trying to memorize their little faces for the months when I don't have pictures.

Hopefully the camera will be fixed, and I'll be back blogging regularly very quickly.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Meals for after a new baby

my youngest as a sweet newborn

I was talking recently to someone about how I've arranged meals after my babies, and I thought it deserved a blog post of its own. This is the tactic I took after babies 2 and 3, and it worked well for us. With number 1, I was a hungry, crying mess. I knew something had to change the next time, and so it did. The next two times, we were all well fed, and while there might have been tears, at least we weren't hungry!

First, I figured out my main goals for feeding my family. Mine is that I want to serve healthy foods, on a budget, that taste good. The budget thing is number one, unfortunately. But, staying on a budget in this area is what makes everything else run smoothly, so ultimately, it's worth it. If I'm being honest, I'll say that I'd love to throw caution to the wind, get take out for every meal, and spend $2000 on food that first month. Ahem.

When I'm newly postpartum, healthy is relative. There is not time to hand grind wheat. Nor do I cook every single thing from scratch every single meal. But I don't want to eat or serve poptarts every day, either, so there is a balance.

Also, I love stuff that tastes good and has a nice variety. I'm willing to sacrifice some of this for easy when I have a new baby, but it's still nice to have.

I use my freezer a lot to prepare for a new baby. I have complete meals, parts of meals, and meal-starters in there. Now, here's the deal. I don't love, love, love frozen food. I don't think to myself, "oh, boy! It's been in the freezer a month--let me at it!" I don't do once a month cooking (but do keep one casserole/soup in the freezer most of the time). But when it comes to cooking fresh with a 2 week old baby or eating freezer food, well, the freezer food wins out. Almost every time.

So, all that said, I started out with a list of things we already ate that I thought would freeze well. Suppers mostly, but also breakfasts and lunches for that first and second week home. I started looking at sales, and when a major part of the meals I wanted went on sale, then I bought it and stockpiled it. Around 35ish weeks, I took stock of what I had, then I'd make 3-5 meals at a time and freeze them. I did this a couple of times a week, as the urge and energy hit. When I was close to 40 weeks, I had about 30 meals in the freezer.

With baby 3, we were blessed with several meals from friends. What a treat and blessing!! So, between those meals and the stuff in the freezer, I didn't really have to cook for about 6 weeks. It was wonderful. Really, really wonderful. I highly recommend doing some cooking ahead while pregnant so that you can spare yourself from the 5:00 rush those first few weeks.

A couple of my friends used to get together to do massive bulk once a month freezer sessions with 4 of them. They got a variety of food, plus they didn't cook it all. Win/win. They shared some of their freezing tips. Freeze any food possible in ziplocs. Then, lay on a cookie sheet in the freezer until hard. It'll make a flat package that can be stacked, stood upright, and takes up much less space.

Also, for things that are in individual pieces (chicken nuggets, etc), place them on a cookie sheet in the freezer, freeze until solid, then store in a ziploc. It means you can take out however many you need without having to thaw the whole shebang.

Things that we liked frozen:
gumbo (I add a can of tomatoes)
Italian wedding soup
chicken noodle soup (add the noodles when reheating)
chicken and dumplings (add the dumplings when reheating)
ground beef vegetable soup
tortilla soup
taco soup
vegetable soup with ham and okra
spaghetti sauce
sloppy joe sauce
turkey tettrazini (no peas!)
mashed potatoes (made on the stiff side; frozen in ice cream scoop blobs)
hamburger patties
cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese (make the noodles fresh)
red chili
white chicken chili
chicken wings (my husband loves this!)--just reheat in the oven, and they are as good as fresh
meatloaf (frozen raw)
chicken nuggets
taco meat
pinto beans (for tacos or for eating with rice)
red beans (just make the rice fresh)
black beans (seeing a pattern?)

The one thing I really hate frozen is rice. The texture is off. And it's easy enough to make a pot of rice that I don't worry about that one.

For breakfasts: muffins (these freeze really well and just thaw on the counter in about 15 minutes), pancakes, waffles, french toast

For lunches: this is a time I splurge on lunch meat. Also, the muffins, some sort of fruit (even in a can), and I freeze ahead some quesadillas. I know, I know. Quesadillas are dead easy. But, they are even easier if they are already made! I even did some individual pizzas on english muffins. Same deal--easy enough, but even easier premade. I also did some individual servings of soup. Perfect for those days when you need something heartier for lunch, but your kids are happy with peanut butter. Again.

Freezing food ahead is a bit of work, but it's work that really, really pays off on the back side. Definitely worth every minute!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Taco Soup

This has become my go-to meal for taking to families with new babies. Easy, relatively cheap, and it feeds a ton of people. Remember the old school recipe with taco seasoning and ranch dressing mix? This was inspired by that, but I'm way too cheap to buy ranch dressing just for soup, so inspired is used loosely. Because of the ranch ingredient, I used dried parsley and garlic in this, which I think work well.

Taco Soup
loosely inspired by the retro ranch-dressing-including taco soup

1 pound ground beef or turkey
1 onion, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
4 cups pinto beans
16 oz frozen corn
4 oz canned green chiles
3-14 oz cans diced tomatoes (for this batch, I did fire roasted, whole, and diced plain)
4 cups water
1 t salt
2 t cumin
2 t coriander
1 T chili powder
1 t pepper
1 T dried parsley flakes (there's my nod to the ranch)
2 t garlic powder

toppings: chopped cilantro, lime wedges, diced jalapeno, sliced radishes, chips, sour cream, cheese

Cook the ground beef and onion together until beef is browned and onion is translucent. Drain if needed. Add all other ingredients, and allow to simmer for 1 hour for flavors to blend. Serve with assorted toppings (the fun part!).

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Great Gallery Wall Move

Last year, I made a gallery wall in my living room that I've enjoyed over the last year. But, you know...time passes, and I was ready for a change. During the same period, I was also a little tired of our bedroom and ready for something new.

Lucky for me (ha!), we've battled moisture and mildew this year, so we made the decision to flip-flop our bedroom with that of our boys', and I was forced to find a new home for everything on the walls and rethink a few things.

When I think of my bedroom, I aim for cozy. We honeymooned at a run0down family motel on the edge of the earth (the Outer Banks of North really is the edge of the earth!). The place had mis-matched sheets, curtains from the 70s, and the furniture was all different. In a word, it was cozy. You knew that that room had stories to tell. Stories to tell of vacationing families, of fishing trips, of hurricanes and nor'easters survived. And, so, when I decorate, sometimes I want my rooms to feel like they have the same stories to tell. Stories of life and love and history and hope of a great future.

In a word, gallery walls are just my thing.

A few things extended down onto the dresser.
As well as a bowl of buckeyes from a fun camping trip we took back in the days before kids.
And along with the room and gallery wall moves, I got new bedding. I'd had the same floral duvet for almost 11 years. It was a wedding present that I loved at the time and still do, but I was just ready for something lighter. So, I went with this off-white matelasse that I borrowed/stole from my mom. I found the comforter at the end of the bed thrifting. It's king size and very heavy, so just perfect for when the nights are cold.

And there you go. Cozy.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chicken Pozole

A few weeks ago, I took one of my beloved cooking classes, and the focus was on Latin American soups. Now we all know that I'm a sucker for Latin American foods, so that was right up my alley. We made pozole, as well as a black bean soup that I plan to make in the next couple of weeks. But the pozole had to be made quickly! I couldn't stop thinking about it. Good stuff.

Chicken Pozole
recipe courtesy of Zach Meloy and Buford Highway Farmers' Market

2 bone-in chicken breasts
water to cover
1 onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2-28 oz cans tomatoes, pureed in a blender until almost smooth
1-28 oz can hominy

toppings: chips, sour cream, cilantro, lime wedges, onions, radishes, diced jalapenos, avocado. Whatever you've got is good here. This night, we went with chips, cilantro, onions, sour cream, and lime.

Boil chicken breasts in salted water, just until done, about 35-40 minutes. Take chicken out, allow to cool, and shred or chop. Reserve the light broth.

In a large soup pot, saute onion and garlic until done. Add tomatoes, hominy, and chicken broth. Season to taste with salt. Bring to a simmer and allow to simmer at a very low heat for about 45 minutes. Add chicken to soup. Serve with toppings.

Don't be jealous of the world map placemat. All the cool kids have them.

Today, I'm linked to Tasty Tuesday at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Menu Plan January 30

Last week, we amazingly stuck to our plans all week! And we were thrilled to eat Moe's at the end of it, so it was both a great treat, and a mini lesson for my boys on how money only stretches so far, and some of the ways we can help it do so. I will say, though, that the pantry was mighty thin by the end of the week, and I definitely missed the extra $20 I usually spend. So, this week, back to all our meals at home, and hopefully, I can squeeze in a few more treats.

This week is also subject to change, because hopefully, our colds will be gone by the end of the week, and we'll head over to see my mom for a couple of days. I hate winter colds and staying home to keep them to ourselves! Ugh. So, we hit the vitamin C hard and hope for a quick recovery.

Tuesday: chicken pozole (recipe coming tomorrow!)
Wednesday: red clam spaghetti, salad, bread
Thursday: taco soup, brownies
Friday: Thai curry over rice
Saturday: bean and rice burritos (lunch), pot sticker dumplings (supper)
Sunday: quesadillas with spinach, mushrooms, and peppers (lunch), carbonara (supper)
Monday: red beans and rice, salad

As always, I'm linked to meal plan Monday over at orgjunkie.

Friday, January 27, 2012


We love Mexican food here. And one of the fun things about taquerias is the salsa bar that they have. Our favorite has about 6 salsas to choose from, as well as pickled jalapenos, radishes, onions, and pico de gallo. So, so good. And so much fun to add to a meal. So for this night, I decided to play around with some of our favorites and try out a couple of new ones, too.

This is chipotle salsa. A surprising hit. It's The Tomato King's new favorite.

Roasted tomatillo salsa. This is the favorite of my kids. It's a Rick Bayless recipe, which is written in a very wordy way. Don't let that turn you off--it's very easy.

My favorite. Tomatillo avocado salsa. Add an avocado to the tomatillo salsa and blend. Easy peasy.

And the old faithful. Roasted tomato salsa .

We're already making a list for the next salsa night. It's a fun, cheap way to bring some new-ness into our meals and make us feel like we're eating something different. Even if it is rice and beans. Again. (are my kids ever going to tire of this????) Good for the budget. Good for the bored mama. Good all around.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I love greens. Greens in every form, in every way. Almost everything is done in the garden right now, but the collards carry on. A little promise of spring to come and a reminder that even when it looks like nothing is happening, growth still continues. (as an, I love that garden and its glimpse into life. not so much the work involved...but I can really appreciate the beauty and lessons that I find there)

So, anyway.. This is my favorite way to cook collards. It will work for almost anything else you get your hands on, too. Chard, bok choy, spinach, escarole, you name it. The only thing I don't like this way are turnips and mustard. But collards are definitely my favorite.

Heat olive oil in a large shallow skillet. Add whole garlic cloves and crushed red pepper flakes to taste (I usually do 4-5 cloves and 2 tsp red pepper flakes). Add chopped collard greens until the skillet is overflowing. Then just quickly stir-fry until they are done. If you like them more done, add 3 T water and cover the skillet for a few minutes. But they are good just stir-fried.

We eat this as a side dish, as a filler for burritos, as a main dish underneath a piece of meat (like a steak or chicken breast). You name it--you'll find a use for these collards.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chinese Chicken Salad

In honor of Chinese New Year this week, I thought I'd post one of our favorite not-really-Chinese-at-all recipes.

Chinese Chicken Salad
inspired by an old recipe from Southern Living June 2003

1/3 cup light olive oil
2 T sesame oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 tsp pepper (white if you have it)
leftover chicken...we eat about 1/2 roasted chicken for this, but whatever your family likes..shredded
1 head romaine lettuce
1/2-1 head napa cabbage (depends on size; you want about half and half with lettuce)
1 can mandarin oranges
1/2 bunch scallions, sliced into 1 inch pieces, smaller towards the white
1 package ramen noodles, seasoning packet discarded, and crumbled into small pieces
1/2 cup sliced almonds

To make the dressing, whisk together the oils, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings (salt, sugar, pepper) if needed.

To make the salad, add lettuce, cabbage, chicken, oranges, scallions, almonds, and ramen to a large bowl. Toss with dressing and serve immediately.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Indian Mexican Fusion

I checked out a great cookbook from the library last week, 660 Curries. I love, love, love some good Indian food. I also love, love, love some good Mexican food. So, when I saw the recipe for Mexican Indian fusion, using flavors from both, I knew that I had to have it. This recipe takes some time. It requires making the sauce, preparing the peppers, making the batter, then frying. But it's so. worth. it. One of the best new recipes I've tried in a long time.

Potato-Stuffed Peppers in a guajillo chile sauce
For the sauce:
12 dried guajillo chiles
3 cups boiling water
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 t toasted cumin-coriander blend (I used 1 t of each, but you can buy this as dhania-jeera masala)
1 t salt

For the peppers:
1 pound potatoes, boiled and mashed
1 t salt
1/4 cup cilantro
4 cloves garlic
4 fresh green chiles
6 large poblanos or anaheims (but tailor this for your crowd; count on 1-2 per person)

For the batter:
1 cup chickpea flour
1/2 cup rice flour
1 t salt
1/2 t turmeric
3/4 cup warm water (I needed a little more)

Canola oil for frying
2 T cilantro for garnish

To make the sauce, soak the guajillos in the water until soft (about 20 minutes). Take them out and blend until smooth (in a blender), adding most of the 3 cups of water. Strain into a saucepan, then add the salt, cilantro, and spices. Simmer until it's thick enough for a sauce (I just left mine simmering slowly on a back burner while I made the rest of the recipe).

To make the peppers, roast, peel, and then remove the seeds of the peppers. The original recipe called for them raw, but we just prefer roasted and peeled. It's all good. In a food processor, grind the cilantro, garlic, and peppers until very finely chopped. Mix that into the potatoes along with the salt. Then, stuff the peppers with the potato mixture and set aside.

Mix the batter, adding the water slowly, until you get sort of a thick pancake batter. You want it to cling to the peppers.

Heat the oil, and when ready to fry, dip a pepper into the batter, then place into the hot oil. My skillet holds two poblanos at a time, so that's how many I did. Fry until golden brown (cause everything is already cooked; you're just frying the batter). Drain on paper towels.

To serve, top each pepper with the sauce and some cilantro. Enjoy!

Today, I'm linked to Tasty Tuesday over at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam. Check it out!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Meal Plan 1/23

Another week, another meal plan.

Tuesday: red chili

Wednesday: potluck (we're taking salad)

Thursday: black bean burgers, chips, salad

Friday: potato stuffed peppers in a guajillo chile sauce (recipe coming tomorrow!), rice, beans

Saturday: bean and rice burritos with green chiles (lunch), ribeye, chard, salad, baked potatoes (supper)

Monday: Moe's Monday (I promised my kids that if they'd eat cheap stuff all week, I'd save out enough money for this, which they adore. Lots of beans this week, only to eat more beans at a restaurant. Go figure. )