Monday, December 19, 2011

Meal Plan Monday

I just got home from a week at my mom's house.  She watched my beautiful children while I finished my thesis.  Woo hoo!  I love visiting my mom, but I am not good at showing dietary restraint in her home.  At this time of year, there are too many cookies.  Plus amazing cheese dip.  Plus she cooks me delicious food for every meal.  And then there were the weekend Christmas parties.  Ugh... 

Less than a week to go before Christmas, and I need a little "normal" in my life right now.  Back to the morning and noon prayers.  Back to "treats are for sometimes" rather than cookies every day.  Back to a regular nap and bedtime schedule.  Back to some walking for exercise and fresh air.  We'll try.  Saturday there's a midnight service at church, so the weekend will be totally crazy.  But I will try for the next 5 days.

This week, my goal is only healthy foods until Saturday.  None of the cookies on my counter.  None of the Christmas candy I'm making for presents.  The only sugar I am indulging in is the little I put in my bread recipe and a couple tsp. in my morning coffee.  I WILL show some restraint.  Seriously!  OK, on to the healthy menu.

Monday- Garlic lime fish, black bean and corn relish, maybe grilled zucchini, and corn tortillas

Tuesday-  Veggie and noodle soup with bread.  (The munchkin specifically asked for noodle soup, so we'll see what we can cobble together from the crisper drawer and freezer.)

Wednesday- Eggplant and chickpea curry (adapted from this recipe). Chapati (aka. whole wheat flour tortillas)

Thursday- Tomato soup from scratch and garlic-cheese bread sticks

Friday- Baked potatoes with chili on top.  Broccoli salad if I go shopping, frozen peas if I don't

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Why no, I did not drop off the face of the earth.  We're taking a date hiatus during the madness of the holidays.  And I had so many leftovers after Thanksgiving, not Thanksgiving leftovers, just regular meals, that I basically took a week off from cooking.  Yay! 

However, we have been up to some fun around here.  I'll tell you about the Advent calendar later, but today, it's gingerbread! 

We hosted a gingerbread house making party for the ladies from my Bible study.  I followed the recipes from this book and cut my own template based on the dimensions of his Cape Cod house.  Using my brilliant math skills, I determined if I halved the original dimensions each batch of dough would make 2 houses.  I forgot to take into account that 6x6 is actually 4 times the size of 3x3.  So don't make that mistake. 

Our houses ended up being 3 inches north/south, 5 inches eat/west, and 5.5 inches in total height, which was just about right.  And now, from the benefit of my experience, here are some tips for hosting a successful gingerbread house building party.

Before the Party

1. Start early.  If you don't want to go crazy, this will be a 4 day process.  Day one, shop.  Day two, mix your dough.  Day three, roll, cut, and bake your pieces.  Day 4, host your fantastic party.

2. Have some inspiration.  I checked out a dozen library books on gingerbread house decorating.  They were helpful, not only to give me recipes and ideas on what candies to use (hint, pretzels and Chex cereal for half-timbered and thatched roof houses), but also as visual inspiration for the guests.

3. Use parchment paper.  I rolled my dough on a silicone mat, and while it didn't stick (yay), it did stretch when I picked it up (boo).

4. Give yourself at least three hours for the party.  It takes a long time if you want to build and decorate gingerbread houses.  We were working from 7 until 10:30.  *Whew*

5. Have your guests bring surfaces to build on.  It saves you preparing cardboard until the middle of the night or buying 20 trays.  Successful surfaces include cake stands; cookie trays; rigid cutting boards; and pieces of sturdy cardboard, wood, or Styrofoam covered in aluminum foil.  Don't use anything flexible unless you can leave the house undisturbed for 12 hours.  Lifting a wet house on a flexible surface will result in your house falling apart.

On the Day of the Party

1. Erect the walls of the houses, and then look at the books.  You want to give your walls a good chance to solidify before you put on the roof, or else your house will collapse.  Maybe serve coffee and hot cocoa while your guests look.  Or wine.  Or some veggies and cheese to counteract the frosting and candy that they're bound to eat while decorating.

2. After the walls are solid, add the roof, then decorate the grounds and the walls.  The same logic as #1.  You want your roof to dry in place quite a while before you try to decorate it, or else it will slip off and/or break in the middle.

3. Quart size zipper-top plastic bags work just fine for piping icing.  But you can get disposable piping bags, which work even better, waste less icing, and look classier.

4. Have a lot of scissors.  Table knives, spoons, and a fine grater for shaping uneven cookie pieces are also handy.  But everyone will want scissors to open piping bags or cut licorice sticks or defend their chocolate kisses.  Run several pairs through the dishwasher.

5. Amuse your small people.  Let them make marshmallow snowmen or decorate sugar cone trees.  Keep them busy mucking so that the don't topple your guests' precious creations.

Happy sugar high!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Meal Plan Monday

Monday- Ham and peapod stirfry with cilantro rice

Tuesday- Youth Group Night.  Bean soup with the ham bone in it.  Bread.  I'd do a salad, but there's only one student who would eat it, so I'm just putting out a bowl of oranges and pears instead.

Wednesday- Deconstructed cabbage rolls.  (I like the ingredients in cabbage rolls, but the actually rolling is too much fiddle for my current lifestyle.  Deconstruct your favorite cabbage roll recipe by chopping the cabbage and layering everything in a casserole dish instead of using whole leaves and filling them.)

Thursday- Thanksgiving!  I'm making buns and a salad.

Friday- If we don't bring home many leftovers, I'll make roll ups with whole wheat tortillas, finely sliced cabbage, cilantro, cream cheese, leftover turkey, and Thai Peanut Sauce.  If we do bring home a lot of leftovers, we'll just eat them as-is and I'll make another batch of bread so there's one fresh thing on the table.

Saturday- Homemade mac and cheese with sauteed mushrooms.  Sweet potatoes.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Meal Plan Monday

Monday- Cream of broccoli soup and bread.  Cream of any vegetable soup is crazy easy with the 3-2-1 method.  3 parts broth, 2 parts vegetables, 1 part dairy.  Garlic, salt, and pepper to taste.  Cook your veggie and garlic in the broth, add your dairy, heat through, puree if you want, and finish with salt and pepper.  Cooking for one?  Use 1/2 or 1/3 cup as your "part."  Cooking for a crowd?  Use a quart as your part.  Cook it light with skim milk, probiotic with yoghurt, kid friendly with a little cheese, indulgent with half-and-half.  Or just use whatever you have in the fridge.  You're a star.

Tuesday- Youth Group Night.  Minestrone Casserole and bread.

Wednesday- Bible Study potluck.  Bread for the potluck.  Also tomato soup for the boys.

Thursday- Cinnamon Stewed Chicken, rice, salad, bread

Friday- Baked potato nachos.  (All your favorite nacho toppings over baked potato fries.)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Date #5- Ball Game

Play a game of HORSE.

We had to borrow a basketball and head down to the local elementary school playground.  You might also find a basketball court at a local church or community center.  The typical rules are as follows: the leader takes a shot (from anywhere, in any style, with any additional rules he cares to add).  If he makes it, the follower tries to make the same shot.  If the follower misses, she gets one letter.  If the follower makes the shot, the leader gets the ball again and takes another shot.  If the leader misses any shot, the leader and follower switch roles. Play continues until one person has all 5 letters.  For a shorter game, play PIG.  For a longer game, play HIPPOPOTAMUS.

We're really bad at basketball.  Neither one of us could land a free throw, much less a three pointer or a hook shot.  But I did try a lay up while holding the baby.  That was good times.  We both ended up laughing quite a bit.  We probably won't go again anytime soon, but it was fun for one afternoon.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Meal Plan Monday

Monday- Rice with leftover sauce.  (I've got leftover spicy beans, ground beef, and peppers and onions.  I'll add tomatoes.  Doesn't that name sound tasty?  )

Tuesday- Mexican Lasagna (corn tortillas, refried beans, cheese, b├ęchamel sauce, and salsa.  Layered and baked.) Salad.

Wednesday- Lemony Chickpea Stir-fry, although of course not exactly following the recipe.  Probably I'll include chicken.

Thursday- Lebanese style stuffed eggplants.  However, I will not stuff them, but rather cook everything together in a big mush.  And serve it with bread.  Yum yum.

Friday- Chicken Fajitas with homemade whole wheat tortillas.  It'll be my first try with the recipe, so wish me luck.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Meal Plan Monday

Monday- Halloween!  Italian beef sandwiches.  Sliced raw veggies and guacamole.

Tuesday- Youth Group night.  Split pea soup and bread.

Wednesday- Pumpkin Lasagna.  Salad.

Thursday- Baked chili-cheese fries with leftover chili.  Roasted veggies.

Friday- Last week I actually made "Winter Pesto" risotto on Wednesday.  The trick is to use parsley instead of basil and walnuts instead of pinenuts.  Yum.  So I'm actually going to make last week's mac'n'cheese with cauliflower THIS week.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Meal Plan Monday

Monday-Burgers and coleslaw (probably the year's last outside grilling).

Tuesday- Youth Group night.  Red beans and rice.  Salad.

Wednesday- Macaroni and cheese with cauliflower.  (This is one of those "hide the veggies" recipes that are all the rage now.  I object to the principle- I think kids need to learn to eat veggies.  "Hidden" nutrition only impacts one meal, but good eating habits last a lifetime.  I love this blog on the topic.  HOWEVER, I like cauliflower, the munchkin likes cauliflower, and the recipe sounds yummy, so I'm gonna make it.)  Bread.  Peas, because you have to have one obvious vegetable on your plate.  :-)

Thursday- Mustard chicken, buttered carrots, bread

Friday- Garlic and parmesan soba noodles from this recipe.  Some kinda veggie, but I'm not sure what yet.

Another crazy weekend planned.  We're hosting a reunion of sort for hubby's friends from youth group during high school and attending at least two big parties.  If I cook at all, it will likely be grilled cheese.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Meal Plan Monday

Monday - Chicken tacos with sauteed red peppers

Tuesday - youth group night.  Rice and beef hot dish.  You know, the kind with cream of mushroom soup and basically no vitamins?  Yeah.  That.

Wednesday - Pasta with mushroom white wine sauce

Thursday - Baked potato bar with all the fixings

Friday - Brian's gone.  We'll eat leftovers.

Saturday - Brian's gone.  Scrambled eggs, toast, and whatever veggies are still in the fridge.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Date #4- See a Show

See a live performance on stage.

This may take some planning for you to do in less than 2 hours and/or for less than $20.  We actually have been to see two shows in the past month, which is amazing for us.  We got free tickets to Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at the Drury Lane theater.  We also used a Groupon deal of $10 for two tickets to see Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind in Chicago.  Usually tickets for TMLMTBGB are $9 plus the roll of a 6 sided die, so it was better than half off.

Both shows were wonderful.  I was much impressed with the actress who played Mrs. Lovett at Drury Lane.  It turns out with musicals, I like the second and third viewings more than the first.  With the first I have to think too hard about the characters and plot and general "what's going on?" sorts of things, and so I don't follow musical cues or catch most of the lyrics.  Such fun.

And TMLMTBGB is always a mixture of sublime and ridiculous.  One of the plays involved open heart surgery on a banana, one was a beautiful vignette about the passage of time, and one was an audience participation stunt involving tennis balls.  I highly recommend seeing TMLMTBGB any time you've got a spare $30 and Friday, Saturday,  or Sunday evening free.  The rotation of plays changes every week, so if you put a month between visits, you'll see an all new show.  Yay!

Happy dating.  And don't forget to share your experiences in the comments.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Meal Plan Monday

Monday - Quinoa with Broccoli Two Ways (from this wonderful recipe) and burgers on the grill.

Tuesday - Youth Group night.  Pork and cabbage soup.  Bread.

Wednesday - Stir-fry with green beans and bacon.

Thursday - Beef roast with potatoes and carrots.

Friday - Grilled cheese and home made tomato soup.

Saturday - Sukkot Party!!  I'm making 2 pots of chili- one vegetarian and one not- and a couple of batches of bread.  We're doing potluck style, so hopefully others will bring dessert.  :-)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Meal Plan Monday (on Wednesday)

Monday - "Fresh" Pea soup with buttermilk and tarragon.  (By "fresh" I mean frozen, but what the heck.)  Bread.

Tuesday- Youth group night.  White Chicken Chili with garlic bread

Wednesday- Pork Tacos (with leftover ropas viejas from the freezer, lettuce, cilantro, salsa, cheese, and green tomatoes)

Thursday- Chicken "alfredo" and salad.  (I use a recipe from this book that is lower fat because it substitutes neufchatel cheese for the cream.  Also it's really tasty.  I highly endorse the linked cook book.)

Friday- Curry of some description with rice and pita bread.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Date #3- Making Something Together

Join The Toy Society.  Make and drop a toy.

We tried to do this as a post-bedtime date.  It did not go well.  The munchkin wasn't settled in bed until 9:00, and the tiny one refused to sleep.  So I ended up coaching the hubby through most of the toy making while jiggling the baby.  Needless to say, I wasn't much practical help.

We got about halfway to accomplishing this and a quarter of the way to accomplishing this before our two hours were up and we abandoned both projects and went to bed.  Better luck next time.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Menu Plan Monday

We had a big chicken dinner Sunday, so I froze the bones from the chicken for this Friday.

Monday- I bought a big pork roast for $1.68 a pound, so I'm cooking that up in the crock pot all day.  We'll do shredded pork fajitas tonight with that, an heirloom tomato from the neighbor, lots of red and yellow bell peppers, and all the usual fixings.  What's left of the pork I'll freeze for later use.

Tuesday- Youth Group night.  Potato & Parsnip soup with bread.  Maybe a salad, if I get to the grocery store again before then.

Wednesday- Bell Pepper pasta. (A possible recipe to completely ignore here.)  Maybe bread, too, although that would make 3 times in a week.

Thursday- Mushroom, dandelion, and fresh garlic omelets. 

Friday-  Chicken noodle soup with the bones from Sunday.  Bread.  Salad.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Meal Plan Monday

Shall my blog be a project that forces me to stay on track with my homemaking?  If I promise to post my meal plans every Monday, I will have to make meal plans every Monday.  No being lazy!  There are already about a million people who do this, so there's definitely no need for me to post my meal plans.  But maybe my huge list of followers is interested?  (Here's looking at both of you lovely ladies!)  You tell me.  More projects?  Or should I stick with what I'm doing and leave you alone?

Monday: Pasta with Tomato-Cheese sauce.  I used this recipe, except I sauteed an onion, three grated carrots, and 1/2 a grated beet before adding the garlic.  And I used a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes instead of the diced.  Also I used provolone instead of blue cheese.  And dandelion greens instead of spinach, because I had one in my yard and none of the other.  Basically I didn't use that recipe at all.  Except for the basic concept that it was pasta sauce with tomatoes and cheese with a green thing added.  Tasty!

Tuesday:  Cheese strata with spicy Italian sausage.  Youth group night, and we had 2 loaves of white bread given to us.  We don't eat white bread.  Let's feed it to the teenagers!

Wednesday: Tabouleh, meatballs, and pita bread.

Thursday:  Vegetarian vegetable soup.  Grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday: Pasta with mushroom cream sauce.  Some kind of salad.  Homemade buns.

Saturday: Coleslaw for a potluck BBQ.  My brilliant recipe: finely chop a cabbage and an onion.  Combine equal parts mayonnaise and juice from a jar of dill pickles.  Pour dressing over cabbage and onion.  Stir to combine.  Five Stars!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Date #2- Puzzling

Do a puzzle together.

Because the munchkin is 2 years old, we decided to do this date at home after his bedtime.  I'll admit, it took us more like four and a half hours.  It should be noted that our puzzle was 500 pieces, our baby required jiggling most of the night, and we took a break for root-beer floats at midnight, so your results may vary.

Score of 9 on the 'novel' scale.  Score of 2 for 'exciting.'  But it was a pretty good time, as evidenced by the fact that we stayed up until after 1:00 am completing our puzzle.  And we let the munchkin put in the last piece at breakfast.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Date #1- Movie Night

Make a movie about your neighbors or friends.  Show it to them.

We're doing this in 2 parts, because the family we decided to feature is busy this weekend.  I was originally thinking of a documentary, but the hubby suggested a feature film.  We debated buddy comedy and drama but eventually settled on a mystery.  We borrowed a video camera, roughly scripted the plot, set up our props, and filmed before lunch.  It actually took us the full 2 hours to get that far.  Then we edited after naps and dinner.  Here's a link to our brilliant masterpiece film:

Amazing.  It was way more fun to make than to watch.  Oh dear.

We'll see what Ken and Janet think later this week.

Have a fun date!  Tell us about it in the comments.  Link your movie if you've got the courage.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Background- Why creative "dates" matter in your marriage

I am a research junky.  I love studies, especially studies in psychology that tell us about the way we think and behave.  I was recently struck by a study that concluded that long term relationships are healthier and happier when the members of the couple engage in novel and arousing activities together.  (Aron, A., Aron, E. N., Norman, C. C., McKenna, C., & Heyman, R. E. (2000). Couples' Shared Participation in Novel and Arousing Activities and Experienced Relationship Quality. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 78(2), 273-284. for those of you who are similarly nerdy and want to read the original paper yourselves.)

What on earth does that mean?  The original idea makes sense: at the start of your relationship, everything is new.  It's exciting!  You're learning about a new person, one who makes your heart pound.  But as the relationship progresses, you start to get into a routine.  Your heart isn't pounding.  You know everything you need to know about your partner.  Every day is an awful lot like the previous days.  Your relationship is no longer exciting.

Anyone who has studied psych at all has heard about the idea of "optimal level of arousal."  We function best when our lives are exciting, but not too exciting.  Aron et al's premise was that our relationships fall below that optimal level of arousal after we settle into a routine.  But by doing something novel and arousing (or, to put it another way, new and exciting) with our partners, we can increase the level of excitement in our relationships and improve them.  We feel better about our partners when our relationships have a little excitement in them!

So, if everything in your life is crazy right now, you probably are above the optimal level of arousal, and you don't need this.  You need some stability and routine for this season of your life.  Work on that instead.  But, if you're feeling a bit like you're stuck in a rut, or the sparkle has gone out of your love life, you could probably stand to join in the fun.

Here's the plan: every other Sunday, I will post a date idea.  Sometime in the following 2 weeks, you are invited to complete the date.  Comment about you experience below, and we can all compare notes.

The ideas will be fairly general, so you can customize them to your specific situation, but every date is intended to be NOVEL and AROUSING.  That is, NEW and EXCITING.  However you tweak the date ideas, make sure they still meet those criteria.  I'm going to say "new" means you haven't done something together in at least the last 5 years, and "exciting" means at least one of you thinks it sounds like fun.  A lot of my ideas are new variations on common dates, but my intention is for the "twist" to liven things up (for example, we take a lot of walks, but it would be new and exciting for us to take a walk through downtown Moscow).  I'd love to get your suggestions and ideas, too.  A few rules to keep this project as possible as possible...

1. At least 1 date per month will cost less than $1.05.  No date will require spending more than $20.
2. Every date will be possible to complete in 2 hours or less (unless you want it to take longer).
3. You will not need a babysitter for more than 1 date a month.  You can bring your kids with you on most of the dates (if you want).

That's it.  Have fun!