Monday, February 23, 2015

Family meals 3: guest blogger Becca

I'm so happy that today my friend (and fellow blogger!) Becca is sharing about the meals she makes for her family. Becca always has delicious treats and food to share, so I'm thrilled that you get to benefit from her creativity in the kitchen.Without further adieu....

My name is Rebecca, I live outside of Philadelphia in a little apartment with my husband and our dog. I'm a kindergarten teacher, and I tutor after school (for some reason I don't get enough of it during the day!). I am lucky enough to love my job, but when I have free time (ha) I like to read, bake, and be outside. I'm also lucky because I actually love cooking--everything from the planning to the eating--so preparing food for my little family is something that generally brings me joy instead of stress! My sister lives nearby and eats with us at least once a week, and she is a vegetarian. One of our closest friends also lives about two blocks away, and he eats with us regularly. While he doesn't have any dietary restrictions, his lovely fiancee is gluten-free, as well as some-other-stuff-free, so I'm becoming much more mindful as to how my favorite meals can be adapted to be meat-free, gluten-free, and more! I tend to view this as an exciting challenge rather than a nuisance, and it encourages me to try new recipes and ingredients. Thus, even though technically it's just me and my husband at home my cooking needs to accommodate other people and needs on a regular basis. 

I started meal planning very early on in my marriage. I'm a list-maker and a planner by nature, but we are also very social and have multiple busy nights every week so we need lots of flexibility. Usually on Saturdays I go through the kitchen, check for food that needs to be used up, and make a list of 4-5 meals that we want to eat throughout the coming week. I use Pinterest, food blogs, and cookbooks for my inspiration, although my husband would probably be happy with a steady rotation of tacos, chili, and tuna salad (much to my experimental chagrin). I jot those meals down and then make a list that includes all the necessary ingredients, plus some staples (for example, I always keep cans of tuna, frozen shrimp, frozen veggies, some pesto, rice, and pasta on hand so a quickie dinner is never far away, just in case). My goal is usually to try one new or interesting recipe per week, and the others are more familiar fare. Now that my sister is a vegetarian, I also try to incorporate one meatless meal a week.

Some meals that are almost always in the rotation (meaning we eat it at least every other week if not more often) are tacos, spaghetti (either with meat sauce or chicken sausage in red sauce), and chopped salad. We usually eat out once or twice on the weekend, but we also share meals with friends or family most weekends.So this week represented a moderately typical week for us, except for the fact that we didn't host any meals this week (although it wasn't for lack of trying--Westminster Seminary students apparently have a lot of studying to do. Shocker, right?). 

Included in my meal plan for each week are two nights of tutoring. On Mondays I go straight from school, and on Wednesdays I head back out mid-evening, so I plan meals for these nights that either A) Dan can make, B) I can make very quickly, or C) go in the crock-pot (or once in a while it's D) takeout). Also, Dan is taking a grad class Tuesday nights, so our Tuesday meal is disjointed at the moment. 

This week we ate: 

Monday - Chicken with mushrooms and onions, over mashed potatoes (this is an unusually involved dinner for a Monday night, but I had mushrooms that I needed to use up). This is such a comforting meal, with a hearty homemade sauce to pour over the meat and potatoes. 

Tuesday- salad with roasted veg for me, tuna melt for Dan. This is one of my favorite meals when I'm cooking for myself, and I made tuna for Dan when he got home from class. This week I roasted broccoli and sweet potatoes, and ended up taking the leftovers for lunch on Wednesday! 

Wednesday - takeout pepperoni pizza. It was one of those weeks.  

Thursday- Before school I threw together one of my favorite crock-pot meals: roast BBQ chicken. I combine barbecue sauce and whatever citrusy jam is available (this week it was orange marmalade, courtesy of an older British lady from our church), and poured it over skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs. Turn the crock-pot on Low, and voila! Delicious. However, Dan ended up getting wrapped up in something at his parent's house, so at the last minute I drove over there and we ended up having soup with them. Whomp whomp. I had planned to roast potatoes and broccoli to go with this meal, so I just saved them for next week. 

Friday- We had a potluck dinner with a college and career aged group meets one or twice a month for topical discussions. I shredded and reheated the chicken from yesterday to make BBQ sliders, and brought a tub of Trader Joe's spinach dip and a bag of pita chips. 

This week I also had prepped ahead of time homemade granola, whole-wheat pumpkin muffins, and a half dozen hardboiled eggs. This gave us breakfasts for the week, and for lunches we usually do leftovers, salads, or yogurt. 

As I said, I am lucky enough to love cooking, and the process of unwinding in the kitchen while a pot of tomato sauce simmers on the stove or garlic sautes in a pan is truly relaxing to me. Thankfully, it's a hobby/therapy that keeps us well-fed and happy!

How fun! Thanks so much, Bec! 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dear Charlotte, 11

Dear little girl (You can hardly be called a baby nowadays),

You are a crawling, standing, cruising, scooting, climbing, biking machine... And I love it.

It brings my heart so much joy to see you moving and playing all over our house. Your favorite activity of late is to ride your little Y-Bike around the first floor... from the front door, across the living room, through the dining room, and into the kitchen. You've basically mastered getting over the little hump between the dining room and kitchen, and you can go SO fast from one place to the next.

It's funny, though, because you can't get off the bike. When you are done, you ride over to me and hold up your arms to be helped. You're always making some noise to get my attention. I try to treasure these little hints that you need me; your independence is wonderful, but you are growing up so fast that sometimes I'm a tiny bit sad.


Oh, and another awesome thing about you lately, little worm?! YOUR GIGGLE. My word, that giggle is music to my tired ears. 

You giggle when you see someone you love, when you hug a stuffed animal, when you throw yourself onto our bed, when you fall back into a pile of pillows you've gathered on the floor, and when you are wrestling with your dad. You get really close to giggling when you concentrate really hard and stand up on your own for 20-30 seconds at a time. But the giggle doesn't quite happen because you are working so hard and feeling so big and cool.  

Gosh I love you, Charlotte girl. You make me so proud. 

xoxo, Momma

Thursday, February 19, 2015

the season of YES

Last week Joel and I announced to our students some big news for our family: in July, we are moving across the country to the city of Everett, Washington.

The doors that have opened for us in the last few years are completely unbelievable to me now, looking back.

We had a hard season of NO, where I lost my job, we failed to get pregnant though we desperately wanted to grow our family, and Joel was turned down for multiple school leadership positions. God remained constant and faithful, despite our doubts and fears.

We are overwhelmed with gratitude to now be in a season of YES!

Yes, we got pregnant and delivered a healthy, beautiful baby girl! Yes, I got a teaching job. Yes, I got a perfect part-time job that allowed me to stay home with Charlotte most days. Yes, our daughter is growing well and just turned one!

And yes, finally, Joel gets to pursue his dream of becoming a Christian school principal.

In early December, a small Christian school in Washington flew all three of us to the Seattle area so Joel could spend a long weekend interviewing, meeting students, talking with teachers, and getting to know the area. It was an intense weekend and we were all exhausted. Three days after we returned home, they called to say the school board had voted unanimously to call Joel as their next principal. He accepted the job two days later.

We've managed to keep the news close for a while, since we needed to coordinate how/when to tell our students. Joel wanted to talk to his classes on the same day I announced to my junior high students, so there wouldn't be any spreading of the news around town. Now that it's out in the open, expect a few more blog posts as I process the huge adjustments to come.

I go back and forth between elation and heartbreak, sometimes changing my mind every minute. I've come to call this place home and I mourn the loss of our house, our neighborhood, Joel's school community, our church, my job, and our local friends. At the same time, we are so incredibly grateful for God's provision in giving Joel this job and giving our family this opportunity to travel and grow and adventure together.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Family meals 2: guest blogger Laurel

Please welcome our first guest blogger... my friend, Laurel!

Here's her intro and a list of meals her family ate last week. ENJOY!

My husband Josh and I have four children, ages 1 to 8 years old. We live the suburban life outside of Philadelphia. My husband loves football, basketball, and baseball, and I love reading, music and more reading.  We both love the outdoors though.  We have had many dates hiking in state parks, ice skating, skiing and swimming.

I stopped working at a pharmaceutical company after our first baby came along.  I can remember when my husband and I were newlyweds and thought "Hamburger Helper" was serious cooking. Once I stopped working I was able to slowly gain confidence and experience with ingredients and recipes. Now that we have at least three pretty good eaters, meal planning has become necessary... especially when they are always asking "what's for dinner?"!

We have a whiteboard in our kitchen with the week's activities and schedule, and I began adding the menu two years ago as our first kindergartner learned to read.

My husband is a big salad eater, and no one in the family enjoys cooked vegetables too much, so we have salad or raw veggies with dinner almost every night. In the summer we grill almost every night.  Josh does the grilling and I do everything else.  In the winter I typically cook all of the meals. Sometimes I prep the dinner in the morning, but I usually don't have my act together to do this! I can barely get the morning breakfast dishes cleaned up!

I love reading recipes and cookbooks.  I try to make most things from scratch, although my bread machine died a few years ago and I never replaced it, so supermarket bakery bread is usually on the table.  We also keep the freezer stocked with Trader Joe's meatballs! No shame there.

I typically plan the meals sometime Sunday or Monday.  I keep our pantry and freezer stocked with standby ingredients for the days that I don't have a plan going.  On Tuesdays I usually head to Giant Supermarket, but often go out again Thursday or Friday to a different type of store like Trader Joe's or Whole Foods.  About every six weeks I try to hit Costco and stock up on our favorite items (salsa, salmon, berries, kielbasa...).

Last week's meals were not planned very well, as the baby was getting over an ear infection and boycotting naps.  I only had two nights planned out by Monday morning.  But this is real life, so here's what ended up getting on the table!

Monday: (a hard day!) baked ham, cheese and spinach wraps (honey mustard on ours; the kids eat them dry), baked sweet potato wedges, raw veggies.

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday! Tuesday is piano lesson afternoon, and my mom babysits for the littles and then stays for supper.  She loves tacos! We all do actually! I typically have both crunchy and soft shell tacos.  We do ground turkey or chicken.  I fried up peppers and onions and also put out lettuce, tomato, sour cream, and some pineapple salsa and guacamole from Whole Foods.  Sometimes I have rice and beans.  I did have the beans, but no rice that day.

Wednesday: a CRAZY day. Six kids by 3:30 pm. Baby did not nap. Two cousins were over for the afternoon, and I drove one of them home at 5pm (round trip is about 35 minutes).  This put me up against dinnertime on Kids' Club night at church (Josh drives them and stays for boy's club).  Before I left to take my niece home, I put two Trader Joe's chicken pot pies in the oven, and when I got home Josh was serving the kids leftover tacos.  I thanked God for freezer meals, and gratefully sat down and ate that pot pie!

Thursday: A quieter day...only one outing.  By the afternoon I was craving soup since it was so cold outside.  This was a day that I had not planned dinner, so I made a soup with San Marzano tomatoes, veggies and orzo, and served rolls from the freezer, plus salad with lots of seeds and nuts since the soup had no meat (and Josh prefers meals with meat!).  I made homemade ranch dressing -- it makes soup and salad more special!

Friday: the favorite meal of the entire family: salmon.  We almost always bake it with a rub made of dijon, garlic, brown sugar, coriander, ginger and s&p. I made orzo with chicken broth and stirred in 1/2 cup of fresh Parmesan before serving.  It was serious comfort food.  Vegetable was salad.

Saturday: Valentine's Day! My sister was babysitting for us so that we could go out to dinner at 8pm. I baked the rest of the salmon for her and the kids, with sweet potato wedges and sugar snap peas.  Then we gave lots of kisses, walked out the door and drove through the snow to our favorite restaurant!! :) Bliss.

Sunday: Takeout!

Thanks so much, Laurel! I am so inspired by your honest, flexible approach to meal planning! 

If you are interested in sharing what your family ate as part of our family meals series, let me know! I'd love to have your perspective. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Charlotte's 1st birthday

We had an incredibly sweet celebration of our big girl last Saturday, with family and friends in attendance.

I did very little prep work ahead of time and basically took advantage of my parents' presence here on Friday to buy everything and get it all set up in time. (Thanks, parents!) We were very fortunate to use the junior high room at our church for the party. It was incredibly convenient for setting up AND I know where all the furniture goes so I could easily get it set back correctly before church on Sunday morning. Win!

The party was held during Charlotte's best time of day-- after her first nap and before her second. We made brunch foods such as fruit salad, muffins, soup, egg casserole, chicken salad, and banana bread. When I say "we made," I basically mean my mom and friends helped make. Ha. Looking back, I don't think we had quite enough food, so that's something I would go back and change if I could. It was hard to predict how much people would eat at the lunch hour and I definitely underestimated. We probably should have had bigger portions of the main dishes (like egg casserole and butternut squash soup).

Charlotte played with her little friends and people sat around and visited. We didn't have any specific agenda besides eating and singing "Happy Birthday," so our guests mingled and supervised the kids playing on the floor. Charlotte had this incredibly serious and surprised look on her face while we sang, but fortunately, she didn't cry. :)

Our girl was tuckered out afterward; she napped for over two hours!

A BIG thanks to everyone who helped us celebrate our babe. We had a wonderful day!

(Also-- I feel that her hair has gotten about 100 times curlier since her birthday 10 days ago!)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Family meals: 1

Within hours of posting the link to last week's post about a family meal series, I had multiple guest contributors volunteer to share! I am really excited to get a glimpse into their minds and their kitchens...

I sent them off a list of questions and will be sharing family meals from a few great ladies in the coming week!

Today, though, I'll share my family's meals from last week. Sunday through Wednesday were meals for three adults and one child. We have an international student living with us who is 18; he eats like a grown man (because he is a grown man) and I've had to adjust my portions accordingly for the last month. Because we had family in town for Charlotte's birthday party, a few of the meals were for a bigger crowd. 

Sunday- whole wheat pizza and salad. I purchased two balls of dough from my local grocery store and topped the pizzas with jarred sauce, shredded mozzarella, and sliced pepperoni from the deli counter. This was an easy dinner, which I specifically planned for the evening after I got home from a 48 hour retreat. 

Monday- eggplant and zucchini risotto with frozen corn and fresh bread. My neighbor miraculously dropped off a loaf of warm bread around 3 pm this day, which was amazing! The risotto recipe I used was from the Baby Led Weaning cookbook, and while it was delicious, didn't really make enough for all four of us. We were really glad to have the bread to fill us up!

Tuesday- chicken tacos. Last week I had two extra chicken breasts that were about to expire in the fridge. I put them in the crock-pot with salsa, chicken broth, and homemade taco seasoning. Then, when the chicken was cooked, I froze it to use this week for tacos. There wasn't a ton of chicken, so I supplemented the tacos with canned black beans, shredded cheddar cheese, lettuce, sliced tomatoes, sour cream, and a tiny bit of homemade guacamole.

Wednesday- spaghetti with turkey meatballs (above image from skinnytaste) and salad. I used whole grain spaghetti and jarred sauce. The recipe for meatballs calls for a crock pot, which I LOVE! So easy and quick to toss together during nap time!

Thursday- out to eat with my parents

Friday-  roasted chicken drumsticks, homemade buttermilk biscuits, steamed broccoli. For the drumsticks, I simply peeled back the skin and cut it off using kitchen shears. Then I put some olive oil in a 9 x 13 pan and sprinkled the drumsticks with paprika, garlic, and black pepper. I roasted them on 425 for about 35-40 minutes. 

Saturday- chili with cornbread (I use my mom's chili recipe which is very basic but very delicious. This time I subbed the ground beef for ground turkey breast, since I had some in my fridge.)