Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Taking its toll

I've been working about eight extra hours per week for the last few weeks, adding four hours to my Mondays and Wednesdays. With Craig teaching a night class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a busy weekend this past weekend, something crucial didn't happen.

We didn't plan meals, nor did we go to the grocery store.

Most of the time, cooking is something I enjoy. But only under the right conditions. I like to have sufficient time to cook so I'm not feeling rushed. I like to have company in the kitchen (even if it's just a kid sitting at the counter, chatting). I like to listen to music (preferably Prince) or NPR news. And if it could please be cold outside, as well? That would be great.

Those conditions haven't been met for several weeks. The combination of factors, beginning with Craig teaching evening classes and the kids being out of town for almost four weeks, has gotten me into a pattern of not cooking. Working late, I haven't really had time to get into a cooking groove. And our pantry selection is paltry, mostly consisting of ingredients picked up on quick trips to the store, with the intention of making a specific meal (like tacos, or this one). The kids are making the most of their last week of summer vacation by spending as much of their waking hours as possible in front of the television or computer. They're not interested in hanging out in the kitchen while I cook.

School starts for the kids on Monday, and Craig's summer semester ended yesterday. While I'll still be working late on Mondays and Wednesdays, at least for the next month, our schedule will be a little less complicated. But I've got to get back to planning our meals and shopping.

This weekend, I want to accomplish a few things. I want to go to the Farmer's Market as early as possible on Saturday. What I get there will help set the direction of the week's menu. Then I want to have a family meeting, over breakfast, in which we plan the week's meals (including lunches) and determine who is responsible for which meal. I was inspired by this post at Dirt to Dish for this tactic.

Planning the week's menu, rather than thinking about each day separately, has the added benefit of looking for nutritional "holes" in my family's diet. Since two family members are vegetarian, most of our meals are vegetarian, simply because preparing an extra meat dish is more work and more money. I've always been interested in eating healthfully (but don't begrudge me my weekly makes me happy), and I'm pleased to have children who like healthy food. It's too easy, though, to slip into a few favorite dishes (my kids both love starch, and I can happily make a full meal with a loaf of bread) and realize that we haven't eaten anything green or orange in days. But with a weekly meal plan, we can have a day or two that aren't entirely nutritionally complete, as long as the missing components are featured somewhere in the week.

I anticipate lots of fruit smoothies for breakfast, and caprese salads in my daughter's lunchbox. And maybe some locally-grown edamame. I can't wait to taste what we come up with.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Singing the praises of vegetarian chicken patties

Last night was one of those nights. My family had plans that didn't work out. Those plans included the post-vacation grocery shopping. But the car had other ideas, namely not turning over and being quite still in the driveway.

On grocery nights, my kids often eat TV dinners, only because (a) they like them and (b) after working all day and grocery shopping, there's not time or energy to cook. And that's what their tastebuds were expecting.

Plan B. I had some butter beans in the fridge from the farmer's market. The broccoli and cauliflower had held up fine, and there were baby carrots. That's a perfectly balanced, reasonable meal, especially with fruit and yogurt smoothies in the plan for dessert.

But my poor son. When he saw his plate, he literally wept. It hadn't clicked in his brain that we had to buy the TV dinners at the store, and we hadn't been to the store. Since I haven't seen the kids in weeks, I wasn't feeling stern; I didn't want to tell him to get a grip. He was disappointed, reasonably so, and I wanted to make him feel better.

So I opened the freezer, praying that I'd find some old TV dinner from months ago. Nope. But I did see vegetarian chicken patties. And that was enough to make him smile. And enough cooking time to get him to eat his vegetables while it cooked.

He didn't like the beans. He tolerated the broccoli and cauliflower. He deemed the carrots "too sweet." But he hugged me after he finished that chicken patty.

The carrots were delicious and made the house smell great. What did I do to them?

Cranberry Carrots
In a saucepan, pour 3/4 cup cranberry juice over 2 cups baby carrots. Add a few (5) whole cloves. Cook over low heat, covered, until the carrots reach desired tenderness. Serve.

Fruit Smoothies
Fill a blender with mixed fruit (I use the Spectrum brand that I find at Costco, which has a blend of peaches, melon, strawberries, blueberries and more, covering all the colors of's frozen so allow time for it to thaw). Add 1 cup fruit juice (I used the rest of the cranberry), 1 cup nonfat plain yogurt, and a banana. Blend until smooth. It's easier (and more fun) to drink this with a big straw (you can find them with the bubble tea supplies at most Asian markets).