Monthly Archives: September 2011

Menu, week of 9/25

Standard
Last week’s menu plan was a partial success. We did much better with dinners–we had what was on the menu all days except Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday I got home from work a bit late and just didn’t feel like cooking, and Wednesday we ended up going out with friends, which was fun but kind of expensive. We did terrible with breakfasts and lunches, though. This week I am really re-thinking our plans there.

I know everyone talks about how important breakfast is, but there is nothing like actually seeing the results for a week with poor breakfasts versus a week with good morning meals. The first week or two of school, we id pretty well on the breakfast front, and we had one of the smoothest starts tot he year in a while. The boy really did mature over this summer, but I think the breakfasts has a part in the relatively smooth opening weeks, too. He didn’t do as well this past week when we were winging things and grabbing a quick snack at most. Lunches are just expensive, and I never know what they are actually eating unless I send healthy stuff from home.

First, for breakfasts, we really need to do more smoothies again. One night last week, my 14 year old daughter enthusiastically told one of her friends about green smoothies, and how fresh kale or spinach from the garden makes the smoothie green in color, but they taste just like regular fruit smoothies. I managed to contain my proud tear and not embarrass her, but I don’t think it is exaggerating to say it was one of those times I felt most proud of her and myself and like I may be sort of okay at this parenting thing, ;). Both kids like to make and drink fruit smoothies, so they make excellent breakfast choices. I also need to make sure we have plenty of bread on hand so we can at least do some whole grain toast. I may try to make a frittata with potatoes and sausage ahead, too. At some point, I want to make breakfast burritoes and freeze them individually, but I don’t think I will have time today.

For lunches, I need to do more to make sure that there is something for me to take on days when we don’t have any leftovers from dinner. If I make sure we have enough bread, the kids are probably fine. But I am not a fan of lunch meat or peanut butter sandwiches. Soon there will be more lettuces coming up in my garden for salads, but in the meantime, I need to have some better backup plans. There are always a few days that I need to find something fast. I think a bit of making ahead might be in order, or doing lunches the night before.

On Hand

  • chicken thighs
  • ground beef
  • Italian sausage
  • 2 pieces of cod
  • canned tuna
  • pasta
  • black beans
  • baked beans
  • spiced garbanzo beans
  • shredded cabbage
  • frozen fruit
  • frozen broccoli
  • limes

Available in the garden

  • carrots
  • green tomatoes
  • yellow bell peppers
  • kale
  • various herbs
  • japanese eggplants
  • butternut squash
Tonight: Light and sassy cole slaw with Sesame-Maple Tempeh cubes

This will have good leftovers for lunches, as it makes a HUGE amount of slaw.This is delicious and high in protein and veggies.

Monday:Maple cranberry chicken breasts with rice and broccoli, roasted butternut squash

We will have brown rice with this, maybe mixed with some quinoa. I am not usually a fan of these component type meals, with a protein, a grain and a veggie, but this looks pretty interesting, and perfect for the fall weather we are having now. I have a butternut squash in the garden ready to be picked, and we all love roasted butternut squash, including my mother, who always comes over for dinner on Mondays.

Tuesday: cod panang curry or black beans and rice

Trying this again–I need to make sure to get home in a timely manner so I can cook. Both of these sound so good, I can’t decide now. I can make extra rice and quinoa the night before, too, so that will already be done.

Wendesday: Pasta, Sausage and Bean Ragout

Since I didn’t make this last week, I am leaving it on for this week.

Thursday: spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread,

This one is the girl’s choice. I love that she cooks one night a week!

Friday: probably pizza, because that is the kids’ favorite, but I am not finalizing this plan until later in the week

Lunches:

  • Tuna Salad sandwiches
  • leftovers

Grocery list:

  • bread
  • eggs
  • salami
  • bananas
  • mushrooms
  • frozen fruit
  • orange juice
  • vanilla soy milk
  • cereal
  • shredded cabbbage
  • tempeh

Hopefully we will do better this week on the breakfast and lunch front as well as the dinners. If so, this will officially go down as the best school year start ever! Gee, do you think that might have something to do with the fact that this is really the first year I have been on the ADHD medication? I mean, I got the prescription last September, but then I fell and broke my hand on the same day, so that was kind of a wash. This year I am on a good, more organized path.

Author Events: Harlan Coben

Standard

Last Friday, my mother and I went to the St. Louis County Public library to see Harlan Coben speak. I have never actually read any of Coben’s books, but my mother was very excited, so it sounded like a great idea to me. And, after going to this talk I know I will be reading his stuff, which is good and bad–I love discovering new authors, but my stack of books to read is already so long!

I am excited about reading some of these books, but I am going to write now about the talk he gave, which was really interesting. He talked a lot about his writing process, which I found helpful. I have been struggling a bit getting this post written, though, because he talked about a lot of things I know that I should be doing, but I am just *not*.

A lot of the things that he said, I have seen in many places that offer writing advice. While the writing process is different from person to person in many ways, there are some aspects that are universal to successful writers. Obviously, the first one is the fact of sitting down and writing–in order to be a successful writer, you must sit down and write. That seems obvious to me, but it is repeated so often that it is clear that not everyone gets that. I do know what people mean when they give this advice, though–people who say they want to be writers often do very little actual writing.

Coben talked about this a bit when he was talking about his research process. He does very little research, in part because it is too easy to get lost in the research and use it as an excuse to not get on with the actual writing. As he says, only writing counts as writing. Research may sometimes be necessary, but it is not writing until you start putting pen to page or fingers to keyboard and start producing a story. He also talked about the risk of doing too much info-dump if you have done a lot of research, slowing down the story for things your readers really don’t care about. If you know a lot about a topic, especially if you learned it all specifically for the book you are writing, the temptation to use it all can be too great.

Of course, from the description he gave of his revision process, I suspect that wouldn’t be as big of a problem as he fears. He continually edits his work, starting his writing day with a review of what he wrote the day before, and printing out the book to date every fifty pages and editing the whole thing. By the time he finishes his first draft, he says, he has edited the first chapter something like 12 times. And that is just the first draft! Again this is advice I have seen many times–amateurs just write, professionals edit. That is practicing the craft of writing.To me, this seems like a useful way of going through a draft, because it helps to eliminate continuity errors while everything is still fresh in your head. I find that some distance can be helpful in editing, so that you can view your work with just a bit of detachment, and that is still necessary, but correcting errors while you still in the thick of things seems a bit easier than reading through a long story and keeping everything straight. I find it especially hard to catch that sort of error in my own writing, because I know what I mean, so I don’t always notice when I make a logical leap, or even an out and out contradiction of something I already said.

One thing he said that I found very encouraging, even though it sounds a bit discouraging at the same time–it doesn’t really get any easier to do this. I mean, in some ways, it does, in that your skills as a writer improve as you practice your craft, but he said he hasn’t gotten to a point where the ideas just flow, and he thinks he is good at this. In fact, he says if you go see a author and he says that he a good writer and his stuff is great, don’t even read his stuff, he has lost his edge. It is the self-doubt that drives a writer to improve and make their prose the best they can make it. He thinks, every time he finishes a book, “That’s it. You are out of ideas.” He still reads his stuff and sees a typo or a bad sentence that he wants to change. In fact, I am pretty sure he said he doesn’t read his stuff once it is published because of this.

I find this encouraging, because then I don’t have to think it is hard for me because I am just bad. It is hard work, period, no matter how much skill and practice you have under your belt. Many things are bad to start with and that is not a sign you can’t write, just a sign that you need to keep working.

To be fair to myself, I do apply a lot of this advice to my writing for gamingangels.com. It’s my fiction writing that I am failing at, and at the most basic level: I rarely do any fiction writing at all. I think about the stories, and even come up with some useful ideas or bits of plot, but beyond making a note of those bits and pieces, I don’t do anything with them. I need to come up with a better way to force my way through the fear that what I write will be terrible and actually get started. I mean, of course what I write will be terrible, but that doesn’t mean it can‘t be salvaged through good editing, right?

How to get myself to do this, though, I am not sure. I need a better routine, sure, and I have been good about adjusting my routine to include more writing time. I just use it all up on blog writing. I don’t want to give up blog writing, because I find it very useful in many ways, but I don’t want it to be the only thing I do. Obviously, I still have a lot of thinking to do about this, but I do find it helpful to think out the problem. Now that I have set my brain on this problem, I am sure to come up with some ideas that I can actually implement. A word count goal is not enough–I did that, and even met the goal for a couple of weeks, but then I just stopped. I need to find some way to compel myself to meet that goal.

Menu, 9/17 – 9/22

Standard
I am entering the school year with at least one child in school for the ninth time this year. This is the fifth time that I have had both kids starting a new school year. You’d think I’d have this down, wouldn’t you?This year was actually better than some. I planned ahead a bit this year. I figured out that part of the problem is that there really are a lot of back to school events at the beginning of the year, which take up much of my normal cooking time.So, I haven’t done a lot of menu planning, but I have had a lot of ingredients for easy meals on hand, so we have actually cooked more evenings than not since school started. I don’t do well without any planning, but with some thought to easy meals at the grocery store combined with at least a quick glance through the freezer and pantry each morning, I have been okay.

It’s wearing on me, though. I do better with a plan. When I know just what I am making for dinner, and I know I have all the ingredients, because I made a menu, made a grocery list from the menu, and shopped from the list, cooking doesn’t seem like such a chore.So, this weekend I am getting back to the planning. Sure, it takes up some of my weekend, but then I don’t have to think about it all week, which is so worth it to me.

On Hand:

  • chicken thighs
  • ground beef
  • Italian sausage
  • 2 pieces of cod
  • canned tuna
  • red, purple, gold baby potatoes
  • pasta
  • black beans
  • baked beans
  • spiced garbanzo beans
  • shredded cabbage
  • frozen watermelon
  • frozen fruit
  • frozen broccoli

Available in the garden

  • carrots
  • green tomatoes
  • yellow bell peppers
  • kale
  • various herbs
  • japanese eggplants
  • butternut squash

Tonight: Pizza, watermelon frosties, carrots, ice cream

Sunday: roasted butternut squash risotto, steamed broccoli

Monday: Beef Bourgignon, mashed potatoes

Tuesday: cod panang curry

Wendesday: Pasta, Sausage and Bean Ragout

Thursday: Salmon noodle casserole

Next weekend my kids are going to be with their dad, and I am not making plans for Friday. I suspect I will have leftovers to use up, anyway.

Lunches:

  • Tuna Salad sandwiches
  • leftovers
  • salami sandwiches

Grocery list:

  • bread
  • beef broth
  • canned salmon
  • Daiya mozzarella
  • shredded cheese blend (soy)
  • eggs
  • bacon
  • salami
  • 2 lbs. beef stew meat
  • chocolate ice cream
  • vanilla ice cream
  • frozen peas
  • bananas
  • mushrooms
  • Yukon gold potatoes
  • pearl onions
  • egg noodles
  • arborio rice
  • bay leaves
  • nutritional yeast

I feel better already–now to just get to the store and back!

Dinner time is story time

Standard
“Tell us a story,” my son begs. “Tell us the ‘He kissed me!’ story!”

 

This, or some variation of the question, comes up nearly every time we sit at the table for a meal. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, no matter who is at the table with us. Many a teenage girl invited over by my daughter for dinner, or an adult guest invited by me, has had to sit through story after story about my children’s earlier lives, or about my brother and me when we were young.

 

I have told these stories many times, and the kids know them by heart, but it still has to be me telling them for some reason. When they ask, I say, “But you know that story!” They don’t care, they want to hear it again. Once I start a story, get into the rhythm of it, I find I don’t really mind the repetition as much as I thought I would. After I’ve told a few of their favorite stories, or all the stories we can think of, depending on the night, they will sometimes ask me for a new story.

“What kind of story?” I ask.

“A funny story!” Gee, that’s not much to go on, kiddoes. I tell them that it doesn’t work like that, I can’t just come up with things out of nowhere, they have to pay attention to what is happening and remember. Sometimes an old story will sneak up on us, in the middle of some other conversation. The kids love it when this happens. We will be talking and suddenly I’ll say, “Hey, that’s just like when you were little, you used to do that all the time.” Their eyes will gleam, and they will grin in anticipation. “Tell us the story!” I know I had better get it right, too, because if I vary the story in the future, they will correct me.

When we have guests over, I worry that this will be boring to them, especially if this is not the first time they have been at our house and been subjected to story time. So, sometimes, I will ask guests to supply their own family stories. Sometimes people will tell us a few of their own family legends, which I love to hear. Family stories are so universal in one sense, and yet so very particular to the family in question. I find it fascinating to see how other families interact, and how individuals react in a given situation.

But I am surprised how many people say that they don’t have stories like that. I think they do, they just don’t realize it. They don’t sit at the dinner table, hearing the same rehearsed stories, the old favorites. They only hear them at special family gatherings, or by accident, in those surprise conversations. They aren’t storing them up, like my kids do, to ask to hear them again later. And again, and again, and again.

I am a big believer in the power of stories. Stories hold our lives together, whether they are beloved books or just the stories we tell ourselves to get through the day. But the shared stories of a family are special. They are both shared and separate. They bind a family together into a community while holding them separate from everyone else. They create a space where a group of people occupy the same world, in ways that they don’t always in day to day life. During the day, I go to work, my kids go to their separate schools, and we interact with our own friends, acquaintances, co-workers, teachers, peers. When we come to the dinner table and tell our stories, we are together and all those other people, the other worlds we inhabit, are on the outside; we are together in the story world. One of the best parts is that we can create this world with whomever we like. We have stories that involve our close friends, and of course, our extended family. Even sharing our own stories about just us lets those we love into our special world, if only for an evening.

The ‘He Kissed Me!’ story, in case you are wondering, goes like this: One day, when my brother David and I were about 11 and 12 (he is the annoying little brother, natch), we were walking home from school, and he really wanted me to talk to him. For some reason, probably because he was the most annoying brother ever born, I didn’t want to talk to him, so I refused to speak. He said more and more ridiculous things, trying to get me to talk, but I held firm and said nothing. He put his arms around me and, as much as I could, I continued walking as if he wasn’t even there. As we crossed a side street, he escalated to kissing me on the cheek! I was furious! I pushed him so hard, he ended up sitting there in the middle of the street, and I ran the rest of the way home.

I ran uphill a couple of blocks to the really busy street, then down the alley to our house and tore into the house, where my mother was standing at the kitchen sink, washing dishes. As I came in the door, I roared in my most indignant voice, “He kissed me!” My mother, shocked and very worried, stopped what she was doing, and ran over to me, putting her still soapy hands on my arms to focus my attention and calm me down.

“Who?” she asked frantically, “Who kissed you?”

“David.” This, still in the roaring voice, as I glared at her in horror and fury. At this point, my mother made one of those odd faces where she looked like she was trying really hard not to swallow her tongue. Or maybe like she was trying to swallow her tongue, to stop the laughter.

“It is not funny,” I said, quellingly, glaring disgustedly at her now.

“No, baby,” she said, still struggling with her tongue.

About this time, David comes sauntering in the house, looking as smug as it is possible for an 11 year old boy to look, and I stomped off to my room. Doesn’t he sound annoying? That’s really all you need to know about my brother. He is 40 now, and not much different. Well, okay, he is different. But he is still my annoying little brother, no matter what he does (or how tall he is–at 6’5”, my brother is a giant actually; I still call him my little brother, because it still annoys him, 😉 ).

Isn’t that a great story?