Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sample menu

Here's an example of our most recent two week menu. It's five meals per week, two days scheduled for leftovers, plus we usually eat leftovers for lunch. When it says veggies, I just mean a random frozen veggie with it. If the orange shrimp, beef satay, or meat loaf pie is any good I'll post the recipe!

Day 1
bruschetta and cheese stuffed chicken breasts

Day 2
turkey burgers

Day 3
chicken ziti with tomato artichoke sauce
garlic bread

Day 4
sesame pork tenderloin

Day 5
foil packet garlic baked salmon
crash potatoes

Day 6

Day 7
meat loaf pie

Day 8
garlic bread

Day 9
peanut satay beef

Day 10
spicy orange garlic shrimp

Friday, February 26, 2010


Look what I finished!

24. Cross-stitch a Christmas stocking for Mo-mo

It's only two months late...

Next cross-stitch project? My crazy ambitious one that will take years. I'll show you all later.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Easy Cooking 101

I have a serious confession to make: I wasn't always the culinary artiste that you see before you.

(I'm going to wait for my friends who have known me for more than, oh, three years to stop laughing. That's right, I see you snickering at me.)

I was infamous in college for being clueless about cooking. I never really had to learn until my senior year. I lived on-campus as an resident or a RA for the first three years of college. Even after I finally moved, I hung out with three guy friends who loved to cook so there was never any pressing need to learn.

My friends love to tell these two stories:

When I was 21 and finally living outside of the dorms, my roommate walked into the kitchen to find me very carefully measuring cups of water and pouring it into a pot. When she asked me what I was doing, I explained that I was making boxed macaroni. I was measuring the water to make sure I g0t it right. She laughed her butt off as she explained that it is NOT necessary to be that exact with mac and cheese. I didn't know--I was just following the box.

I also called a friend and told him that I had frozen ground beef and I wanted to turn it into nachos, but was not sure how.

After graduation, my now-husband and I moved to Texas together. For the first two years we did not make very good food decisions. We ate out at least twice a week if not more often. When we "cooked", it was pizza rolls or chicken tenders.

Three years ago we moved to Illinois. We had very little money and we were both getting fat. Something had to change about the way we approached food. It was difficult to go from eating out or making frozen food to cooking every night--so here's how we did it.

1) Create a two week menu.

We go "hardcore" grocery shopping every two weeks and get odds and ends once during the off week. Before I started making a menu, every single evening my husband and I would blankly stare at the pantry trying to decide what to make. We inevitably made meat and macaroni.

We usually build two nights of leftovers into the menu. When trying to decide what to make, I go for: 1 pasta dish per week, 1 Mexican dish, 1 chicken dish, something that uses the crockpot, and 1 new recipe. Each night we have one main dish + one veggie + one carb.

I'll post an example of a typical menu later this week.

2) Have some no-effort main dishes and side dishes.

Be realistic: You are not going to want to cook an difficult meal every single night. There are a couple of "no recipe" meals that we enjoy--ravioli (I love the frozen brand from Walmart), shake 'n bake (extra crispy!) pork or chicken.

For our veggie, we usually have steam-in-the-bag frozen veggies. They're good, they're quick, they're easy. Salad is also a quick alternative (I love romaine with feta cheese and raspberry vinaigrette).

For the carb, we usually have 10-minute brown rice, southern style biscuits, or garlic bread. We started buying the bags of biscuit and the frozen slices of garlic bread because so much goes to waste if you buy and make an entire can/entire loaf at once.

3) Freeze half, eat half.

Otherwise you will get bogged down with leftovers. Lasagna, chili, soups, pot roast, pretty much anything you make in the crockpot--half can be frozen for a later meal (I usually include it in the next menu).

4) The crock pot is your friend.

Get one. I use mine about once a week. Check out this blog for inspiration if you think that all crock pot meals are the same.

5) Fresh ingredients are lovely, but unnecessary if you are broke or in a hurry.

It would be nice to have the time to buy everything fresh but you know what? I don't. I buy my ginger pickled, my garlic pre-minced (and by the pint--I use a lot of garlic) and my basil already dried. I use bottled lemon and lime juice rather than buying the fruit. I've even been known to substitute a can of diced tomatos for the fresh variety.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How love thee, juvenile fiction

I love novels. I have eight bookcases overflowing with fiction books, alphabetized by author. And I'm no book snob--I embrace all genres equally, from the cheesy romance to sci-fi.

As much as I love every category equally there will always be a special place in my heart for juvenile fiction.

Part of it comes from teaching middle school reading. Part of it comes from my love of books and how much I enjoy the honesty and uniqueness of juvie fiction. You can get away with more in juvenile books--more cheesiness, more angst, more imagination.

I am slightly ashamed to admit that I have the first edition now-out-of-print editions of "The Vampire Diaries" by L.J. Smith. I adored them as a preteen and was considered geeky--now they're considered hip vampire literature.

One of my favorite juvenile fiction genres is the dystopian novel. With the exception of a few hardcore literature types, the adult dystopian novels feel forced. Fake. Too loaded up with it's own self-importance. Juvie fiction doesn't strive that hard, instead going for a good story that makes a teenager think. Teachers love them because they usually have their own lingo and make students actually figure out the meaning of words using context clues.

Nancy Farmer's House of the Scorpion is one of my favorite. My students in south Texas loved it because it was set along the futeristic Mexico/U.S. border. The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick is also great. Do I even need to mention Gathering Blue, the companion to Lois Lowry's The Giver? While I prefer the Abhorsen Trilogy, Shade's Children by Garth Nix was also good. Uglies and Pretties had an interesting premise but merely okay writing.

I bought The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins on Saturday. By 6pm, I had finished with it and had my husband go to Barnes and Noble to buy the sequel, Catching Fire.

Basic premise: The U.S. is divided into 13 different territories. The ruling Capitol demands tribute in the form of teenager gladiators chosen by lot and the resulting death match is televised for all to see.

Why do I like it so much? It's raw. It's dirty (in the mud and poverty sort of way, not in the sexual way.) The main character, Katniss, reads as genuine. It's doesn't pick the easy-happy-ever-endings that wouldn't work in a book like this. Katniss is fierce, guarded, only slightly political savvy, and pragmatic. The author doesn't put her on a pedestal and have her solve all the problems of the world--instead she merely has to do her best to play what role she can.

I can't wait for the last book in the series to come out.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

# 34. Taggie Toy

Number 34 from my list: Make some sort of toy for Mo-mo (felt food, "Hide and Seek" pillow, taggie blanket, etc.)

I have a list of crafts that I want to make one day. I think this pillow is pretty awesome, and who doesn't need a felt Mr. Potato Head?

I've had this page on how to make a taggie monster bookmarked for the past four months. I was feeling crafty yesterday (and I'm doing the finishing touches on Mo-mo's stocking) so I decided it was time to try something new. One trip to Hobby Lobby and $13 later, I was ready to start sewing. I even have enough supplies left over to make two more!

Instead of a monster, I decided that Mo-mo needed a taggie cat. It took about three hours to make.

It's lumpy, lopsided, but I'm still proud of it. Next time around I'm going to make it a little fatter and add a couple more tags.

I'm slightly obsessed with making more now--I think that'll be my go-to gift for new babies. Anyone want me to make one for them? There's so much I could add to it--embroidering initials, more tags, various fabric textures...

Edit: Here she is, she really likes it!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Meet the Animals: Part Deux

In a previous post, you met Odin. Now meet Athena.

I had always known that we wanted two dogs. I think that it's healthier for dogs to have a companion and a friend. Odin was so co-dependent on us when he was a puppy that we quickly realized that he needed another dog to bond with.

We were at the party of a friend of a friend in Texas and the neighbors mentioned that their dog had just had puppies. If someone mentions puppies or kittens, it is physically impossible for me not to go see them. I looked at the puppies (i.e. cuddled and baby-talked them), mentioned I would be interested in adopting one when they were weaned, and the neighbor called me a couple of months later.

When I went to pick one out, all of them looked almost exactly the same. I was overwhelmed with cuteness. I decided to sit down and pick out whichever one came to me first.

None of them came to me.

Finally the mommy dog walked behind me and one puppy tried to follow her. That was close enough in my book.

From day one, she and Odin were best buddies.

We decided to stick with naming motif with had going (names beginning with vowels, various gods and goddess) and call her Athena.

Her mom was a husky and her dad (as best we could figure out) was a pit bull. She had beautiful light blue eyes when she was a puppy and now they're closer to a tawny yellow.

She is as brave as Odin is meek. While he wouldn't even jump off our bed as a puppy, preferring to whine until we set him on the floor, she would throw herself off of the five foot high drop-off in our back yard.

She's an escape artist. Odin knows the boundaries of the yard, and probably wouldn't even leave if a gate was open. She routinely hops the fence at my parent's house and used to squeeze out of our yard through the tiniest holes.

She's smart but a little lazy. When we were teaching the dogs about the electric fence, we'd put them on leashes, throw lunchmeat on the ground until we gradually got to the boundary, let them hear the beep and get shocked, pull them back in and tell them how good they are. Odin learned that beep = shock. Athena learned that lunchmeat on the ground = shock. She spent a week on our porch before she learned the boundaries by following around Odin.

She'll sit on command if Odin does it first. She thinks that fetch is a game of tackle Odin, or sometimes of taking the ball and running away with it.

She's a fierce defender of Mo-mo. She even growled at Odin the first week if he came too near--but she's ever so gentle to Mo-mo herself. She is a compulsive licker and a stealer of the pettings. She dislikes swimming and getting baths. She bolts down dog treats and steals Odin's if he doesn't watch them well enough. She loves getting her belly rubbed. She has horrible manners on the leash. She's tough--she doesn't whimper when she's hurt like Odin does. For anyone who says that pit bulls are a horrible breed and should be outlawed, we point to her and her sweetness. We call her Theena, Tina, Theen-bean, Theeners, Beena, and Butterscotch Ears.

She is also a Good Dog.

The Necessities Roundup: Part deux

I have a blog post about what I used for Ellie for the first three months (here). I thought it'd be nice and create an updated list for what she used from 3 to 6 months.

high chair
tall bottles


Nursery items
  • Crib/mattress
  • 2 or 3 sets of crib sheets
  • 2-3 waterproof mattress pads
  • Breathable bumper. She started getting her feet caught in the bars around 2 months.
  • Baby monitor. I just have the basic one.
  • Battery powered mobile. We have this one. She didn't care for it until she was about a month old. Now it's the only way I have time to shower in the morning.
  • Baby dresser. Instead of one with drawers, I got this one with soft crates at Target. Great for organizing, I have a crate for PJs, pants, onesies, bibs, shoes and socks, etc.
  • Changing table. It's nice to have a designated place for this. Mine has a nice little railing so that while I wouldn't leave her unattended, it still feels safer than one without.
  • Rocker and ottoman. Check out Craigslist if you don't want to pay a lot. I have spent more hours in mine than I can count
  • Floor lamp with 3 way bulb. Goes from dim, brighter, brightest--good for those late night diaper changes.
  • Pack N Play with bassinet level. Not only did she sleep in this in our room for the first month, she also napped in it. It was great to be able to wheel her around the house in it when she was newborn and sleeping all the time.
  • Diaper pail. I don't have a fancy one and it doesn't smell.
  • Clothes hamper
  • Bibs. Lots and lots of cloth, soft bibs! Your baby turns into a drool machine at about 8 weeks. Mine soaks three a day.
  • About 10 onesies in newborn and 0-3 month. Really, you don't NEED more. Matching pants are nice depending on the season.
  • 2 nice outfits in newborn and 0-3 months. Again, I had way too many of these.
  • About 5-6 pairs of PJS. My baby wears them two nights in a row unless she spits up. The gown types are okay for the first two weeks and then become a pain. The BEST is the zipper ones (Gerber has some)--you don't want to mess with snaps in the middle of the night.
  • Socks
  • Baby hats
  • Crib shoes--I like these. While not the cutest, they are very functional! Those itty bitty sneakers are awfully cute but a pain in the butt to put on.
  • Mesh bag (like the kind to wash lingerie in) to wash baby socks and hats so they don't get lost.
  • Burp cloths. Old style cloth diapers work great for this.
  • Diapers! I started cloth diapers once she hit 6 weeks (see earlier post). Before that, I used Pamper's Swaddlers which were great because they had an indicator line to help clueless parents know if your baby was wet.
  • The Boppy. Love it! My husband loves it too.
  • Pacifiers and bottles: While a necessity, WAIT before you buy a bunch of these, or at least save your receipts. Many babies will only take one brand and it takes awhile to figure out what brand. I have tons of pacifiers that I opened and sterilized that will never be used because they are the wrong brand. I have about 9 Medela bottles that fit with my breastpump.
  • Breast pump and accessories. I love my Medela Pump in Style Advanced. You might want to wait to purchase one until you know if you're going to stick with breastfeeding.
  • Breastfeeding stuff: Lansinoh, pads, nipple shells (if your nipples get sore, these help a bunch!), and icepack/heating pad for the first week when your breasts are engorged.
  • 2 nursing bras and 2 or 3 nursing tanks
  • Sterilizer kit
  • Dishwasher caddy
  • Bottle brush
  • Baby bath tub
  • 3 hooded towels
  • 6 baby washclothes. We have 20 for some reason and there is no way we will ever use all of them.
  • Johnson's baby wash, the type in the yellow bottle. It's both body wash and shampoo, no reason to buy anything else.
  • Aveeno scentless lotion. It was gentle enough for our newborn's skin.
  • Don't do what I did: Buy a travel system and realize that the stroller doesn't fit in the car. I do like our Graco Snugride system but we had to buy a Snap 'N Go stroller for going places. It's so much easier when your baby is young to not have to worry about unstrapping them.
  • Diaper bag with travel wipe container, insulated bottle holder, and changing mat.
  • Baby carrier. I love my sleepytime wrap, it's the only way I could get Ellie to nap for the first two months of her life! The Snugli is okay, not the most comfortable but easy to use and she likes it.

  • Swing. It has saved my sanity.
  • Bouncer/baby papasan chair. We use this when we're eating, she can sit and watch us. It doesn't put her to sleep though.
  • Lovie blanket. This is the first toy she really showed an interest in!


  • Baby meds! Stock up on baby tylenol, Mylicon for gas, gripe water, thermometer, aspirator, rubbing alchohol, baby q-tips, medicine eye dropper, etc.
  • Wipes
  • Baby nail clippers
  • Receiving blankets (I would say about 5) and 2 fuzzy soft blankets for floor use.
  • Swaddle-me or some other swaddle blanket. These are WONDERFUL! I didn't think I wanted one, I just figured I'd use regular receiving blankets but she broke through her swaddle too frequently. Get two in case one gets spit-up on it.
  • All Free and Clear detergent. Just get one bottle and wait to see if your baby has sensitive skin because you might be able to use regular detergent. Oh, and Dreft is overpriced and overperfumed!
  • picture books
  • Baby robe. While cute, they are utterly impracticle. You'll just use a hooded towel instead.
  • Baby comforter. It came with our bedding set and has done nothing but collect dust. I use a quilt or fuzzy blanket for sitting on the ground with her. There's no room for us to use it as a wall hanging or anything, and it can't go into the crib because it's a suffocation risk.
  • Pack N Play sheets. Don't have them, might be nice to have them but my baby has never minded.
  • Changing table sheets. I just fold up a receiving blanket and put it over the pad.
  • Tummy time mat. I have three of these and never use them. I prefer to put a soft blanket on the ground and use the Boppy instead--and Ellie likes that better.
  • Bottle warmer or wipe warmer. Don't have either of these, and I think they'd be more trouble than they're worth. Besides, at some point in time you'll be out and you won't have these things around...easier to just not use them than to get your child used to them.
  • Bottle sterilizer. I just use the microwave bags or run them through the dishwasher. Then again, I'm not a germaphobe.
  • All the baby clothes. No, you don't need nearly as much as you probably already have.
  • Baby undershirts/tee shirts. Ellie just wore onesies and it didn't bother her umblical cord stump.
  • Baby handprint kit. I tried to do this with my sister-in-law and we failed miserably at it.
  • She hasn't yet used the high chair and most of her toys. Those can wait until your baby is a bit older if you need to.

Stepmom's Honey Sesame Tenderloin

Note: Again, not my photo. One day when I have a nicer camera I'll take photos of the food that I cook. I think that my camera would make anything look unappetizing...

Source: my stepmom

If you cook both tenderloins, makes enough for 4-6 servings. I usually just make one and it's plenty for my husband and I, plus a little bit of leftovers (I freeze the other).

Prep time: 1 hour+ marinading, 15 minutes prep time, 30 minutes cook time.

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (I'm lazy about mincing so I buy a HUGE jar of pre-minced stuff. It's good and doesn't go bad like fresh garlic can.)
  • 1 tbsp. grated fresh giner or 1 tsp dry ginger
  • 1 lb whole pork tenderloin (i.e. 1 tenderloin from the package of two)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp. sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil

1. Combine soy sauce, garlic, ginger and sesame oil. Place tenderloin in a heavy plastic bag, pour soy mixture over it. Let it marinate 1-2 hour at room temperature or overnight in the fridge.

2. Remove from marinade and pat dry. Mix together honey and brown sugar in a shallow plate.

3. Place sesame seeds on a separate shallow plate. Roll pork in honey mixture, coating well, then roll in sesame seeds.

4. Bake pork in a shallow pan at 375 degrees from 20-30 minutes, or until the meat thermometer hits registers 160. 30 minutes works for us.

5. Remove from pan and slice thinly to serve.

My Comments:
I love this recipe. My stepmom sometimes makes it for special occasion dinners, like Easter. The pork always comes out tender with a wonderful flavor. I usually have rice with it and make a sandwich with the leftovers.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Meet the Animals: Part One

I've had a hard time writing recently, so I've decided to steal some writing prompts from here.

As most of you know, I'm an animal person. I love all of the fuzzy wuzzy little animals, great and small. Except scary birds that bite. And megamouth sharks. (Have you ever seen one of these? I think they're endangered because the only natural reaction to seeing one is "Eeeeeee! Kill it! Kill it now!")

I like cats, dogs, horses, rats, turtles, and so on. When my husband and I own a house I'd like to have chickens and bees. I'm such an animal person that I worked at a vet clinic in high school. I even roomed with three veterinarians in college (I was the token liberal arts McUseless major.)

I have two cats and two dogs. This is the story of my one of my dogs.

When we were living in Texas, Batman and I wanted to adopt a dog. We repeatedly went to the Humane Society but every time we tried to fill out paperwork on one, it was already being adopted.

We stopped one day to look at "roadside puppies"--dogs being sold by random people on the side of the road. They were mostly fighting dogs or the breeds that were popular around there, like chihuahuas. In the midst of a bunch of tough looking pit bull pups was a lone puppy that clearly didn't belong. He was the last of his litter, he was whimpering, and he was being stepped on by the other dogs.

We were worried that he was going to end up in a sack in the river if no one bought him. So of course we did. Price: $30

He shivered in our arms as we went to Petsmart to get supplies. We bathed him to get rid of the fleas and ticks, fed him, played with him. We named him "Odin" after the Norse father god of war (and I love the book American Gods!).

In less than a week, he got sick. He kept vomiting and couldn't keep anything down, not even water. The vet in our town specialized in cows and livestock and seemed totally unimpressed--as if he couldn't imagine why we were so upset about a dog. He gave us calf medicine and told us that all we could do is wait it out. Odin started to get even worse, so we drove an hour and a half to get to an all night vet clinic and found out he had parvo. Odin was put on an IV drip for two days as he rode it out. Price? Incredibly expensive. But worth it.

Odin is our co-dependent, whiny baby dog. He loves to be near people and whimpers if he can't be. Some of our nicknames for him include, "Odin Pants", "Odie", "Handsome", and "Han-term" (a messed up version of "handsome") .

He loves our other dog, Athena, deeply and truly. He loves people and being pet. He sprained his neck last year and became a bit of a chunker while he was on doggy bed rest (outside on harness only) and also because of the steriods/anti-inflammatory medicine. He split his ear defending my mother-in-law's house from a stray dog. He loves swimming. He'll play fetch with a tennis ball. He knows "sit" and "lay down". He's terrified of the electric fence. He likes to sit on people's feet. He is horrible on the leash but will walk next to you without one.

All in all, he's a Good Dog.

Greek Tacos

Note: Not my photo. But it turned out pretty much like this.

Source: Tasteofhome magazine

Makes 12 tacos according to the recipe. We used the larger taco shells with flat bottoms (the ones that stand up by themselves) and I would say we got maybe 8 or 9.

Prep time: 20 minutes or so

  • 1 pound ground beef (I subbed ground turkey and it was great)
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 teaspoons Greek seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach (I think I'll add a third cup to make it healthier next time)
  • 1 can (2-1/4 ounces) sliced ripe olives, drained (I don't like black olives, I just approximated the amount using kalamata olives)
  • 1 package taco shells
  • crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion

1. In large skillet, cook meat over medium heat, drain. Stir in the tomatoes, Greek seasoning, garlic and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer for 8-10 minutes or until thickened. Add spinach and olives; cook and stir for 2-3 minutes or until spinach is wilted.

2. Meanwhile, place taco shells on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake following the directions on the box. Spoon in meat mixture, top with feta cheese and onion.

My Comments:
I liked it because it was simple, yummy and something different. If you sub the black olives for kalamata ones you probably don't need the full amount because they have such a strong taste. I also feel like it's healthier than regular tacos. The recipe would also work well with pita bread.