Sunday, November 27, 2011

MPM--Birthday Bonanza!

So crazy-busy, these last weeks of the year. I am still trying to figure out how to squeeze enough hours of the day to do all I want to do in them. But one thing that has surprised and thrilled me: I really feel like a better mother since I went back to work. Not those times when I have to put the tv on or chase the kids to the neighbors' to finish a project, but the rest of the time--it's amazing. Having a job quiets the restless part of my brain so when I'm with my kids--I'm with them. And that hamster wheel in my head stops spinning and I can actually remember to calm down and focus on them and just be. And for that I am most thankful. I am grateful to Katie Granju, who wrote that part of being a good mother can be providing for the family. I'm grateful to 4everMom for showing me a way to think outside the box about combining working and mothering. I'm grateful to Anjali, for always reminding me that she knew, she saw, that spark in me that said, I need a professional life too. I have many other mentors on blogs and in real life, but it's a good season to get the long list started.

This week: with the exception of Monday, lots of eating down the fridge. I was kicking myself last week after running around to multiple markets, looking for creamed onions for my father-in-law, only to find they were in my freezer all along. That's a sign: too full.

Monday: Autumn Pork Roast (since I am still working down butternut squash from the CSA. This time, however, I am browning in the toaster oven so I don't burn my arm again)

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday!

Wednesday: my son's first reconciliation so something fast. Probably the Catered By Trader Joe's route: mushroom truffle flatbread for the boys, mac and cheese for my husband and the boy who eats mac & cheese, and something Indian for me (see below).

Thursday: Leftovers, or more freezer stuff.

Friday: out for my birthday. I will not cook. Thanks to a surprise bill, that's about all we'll be doing, but that's ok. I am trying to purge stuff, not collect more.

One thing I forgot to mention last week: I had grand plans for making chicken curry, and all kinds of other yummies for Interpreter of Maladies night. Then I started running out of time and panicked and bought Trader Joe's Indian. Then I realized that several people there were friend who've never had Indian and I didn't want them to think they didn't like it because they had a lame version of it. So I caved and got takeout. But I'm not sorry.

Thanksgiving was lovely; I did the usual turkey-leg and Stuffing-Like-My-Mother's (nothing secret, just the blue bag of Pepperidge Farms Stuffing mix with the sauteed celery and onions mixed in; my in-laws' recipes are good, but hey, we all want our own memories served on Turkey Day) in the morning, getting the house smelling like the day. Then I went on to the carrot mousse and creamed onions, and when those were done by noon, I kept going and made mac & cheese for the home-from-college nephew, and cranberry blondie bars, because hey, I had the cranberries. And one miso sweet potato later, we were all set. It was great.

But that did remind me of another thing: I keep searching my own blog for my macaroni and cheese recipe. But it's not here, mostly out of fear of lawsuits by irate cardiologists. The ur-recipe is this one, for Patti LaBelle's Over the Rainbow Macaroni and Cheese. It's amazing, but I am too lazy to even find that many bags of shredded cheese. So (deep breath, admitting this in public) here's how I do it.

My Favorite Aunt's Mac & Cheese
Preheat the oven to 350. Make one box of Creamettes, preferably just a little bit undercooked. While they are cooking, unwrap a stick of butter and use the wrapper to grease the inside of one large and one small Corningware dish. While the noodles drain, toss the stick of butter in the still-hot pot you boiled the noodles in. Put it back on the (now-off) burner to melt the butter. Pour the noodles back in. Stir; add seasoned salt (note: this is the only reason I even have seasoned salt) and pepper; stir to coat noodles and melt butter. Open three bags of shredded white sharp (preferably extra sharp) cheddar cheese; pour two in to buttered noodles one at a time, stirring after each. Add some of the third bag; I usually put in about a quarter. Now (gulp) add as much half-and-half as you dare, up to two cups. Currently I skip the eggs due to allergies in the family but if you want a more "together" texture, almost quichey/casseroley, it's also good. Stir well (you will be amazed at how much cream the noodles can absorb); pour in to prepared dishes. Sprinkle the tops with as much of the rest of the cheese as you like. Bake at 350 until bubbly. And go on a cleanse for the next several days and beg your arteries for forgiveness.

On that note, I hang my head in shame and urge you to look for healthier recipes on I'm an Organizing Junkie's blog. She has many great things there. On to December!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

MPM--Changing Seasons

We pulled down most of Halloween this week, leaving some pumpkins to keep the turkeys company, and I remembered anew why to start so early with the Halloween: because Thanksgiving really sweeps right in behind. But it was good; knowing that Christmas is tapping its toes impatiently waiting to invade, I really cleared the decks and eliminated lots of stuff. I actually removed furniture just to give some more space. I consolidated plants and ran a ton of errands that had literally collected on my windowsill. The boys walked in and said, WOW! You worked really hard in here! And that was startling but encouraging, that they noticed and cared.

There is still much to be done; to have any prayer of a birthday party this weekend, I have loads of work to finish in the "crushing through paper" department despite (no joke) filling two recycling containers already. With all else going on, meal planning is taking a serious back seat. But I'm kind of ok with that.

This week:

Monday: Crazy Jane's chicken (by request), roasted Brussels sprouts (I'm obsessed), asparagus ketchup (I'm getting better at it and again: I'm obsessed), salad. Maybe rice for the kids.

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday.

Wednesday: Pre-Thanksgiving spaghetti. Because carbo loading is the way to go, right? I will probably be having leftover chicken, and use the noodles as a side. But we've been doing "family dinners" on Sundays the last few weeks (in my family, Sunday dinner was an early [starting sometime between 1 and 4, depending on when the Eagles or Phillies were playing] dinner of spaghetti, meatballs, garlic bread, and salad. When the weather got cold and I got sentimental, I reinstated the tradition and it was warmly received by 2/3 of the boys) and it is very popular with my younger son, who rightly pointed out that we have my older son's favorite meal every week, why not his too? That made sense to me, and I do love the "anchor meal" that Taco Tuesday gives me.

Thursday: Turkey day! I will probably roast a drumstick and breast for us, just to have the "right" smell in the house, but for the big dinner, we're bringing creamed onions (from frozen) and carrot mousse. I might also make mac & cheese for the college kids, who always enjoy it.

Friday: Leftovers of some kind. Taco or turkey, I care not.

Not much else to report...the kids tried black quinoa from the bulk bins at Wegman's, and loved it. "It tastes just like regular quinoa," my picky one said, "only much, MUCH better!" So that was a success, and since it's cheaper in bulk--score one for mama.

I am looking forward to trying some of Mark Bittman's 20 post-Thanksgiving recipes, depending what we have here. And for more inspiration, you'll have to go elsewhere, I'm afraid...I'm about out of ideas! Try I'm an Organizing Junkie! for more new ideas. And a happy Thanksgiving week to all...I'm thankful for you, wherever you are. I appreciate your checking in and your comments, even you ghostly lurkers, who show up on my Google analytics. Have a great week!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

MPM--SuperFast November

Soccer is over, football is over, and with friends dealing with challenges, I feel so lucky that changing routines is our biggest family issue for the moment. I am swimming in the deep end with my job, eagerly awaiting feeling on top of things again. I did a consignment sale of "never worked for our kids" toys and can't wait to see what that brings, cash-wise. (Only the tricycle and ski goggles didn't sell.) Halloween stuff went away just in time for some turkeys, and now we await the Advent calendars at Trader Joe's to tell us the seasons have truly changed again.

Monday--crockpot pork roast, baked potatoes, something green

Tuesday--Taco Tuesday

Wednesday--leftovers--pork or tacos

Thursday--I'm hosting book group for The Interpreter of Maladies, which I, alas, did not read. But--I get to have Indian food, woohoo!

Friday--unclear. Looking forward to figuring it out.

So on Election Day, when the kids had off, we tried this vegan smoothie from Foodie Parent. Result? Don't bother. Nasty. Not even close to sweet enough, even for me. Vanilla almond milk (as opposed to regular) might have helped but alas, not really a hit with anyone, and I can usually choke down anything healthy with the "it's nutritious" pep talk. Happily, we went to Wawa and erased that memory with some awesome smoothies from them.

Also, we've gone old-school and have started having big Italian dinners on Sundays. It works out well, actually; we have pancakes after Mass & CCD (now "PREP"), and then have an earlyish dinner to set up for the week. I'm loving it and am protecting this schedule as long as possible.

Here's hoping you are finding things that are working for you! If you are looking for new ideas--try over at I'm an Organizing Junkie! Have a great week!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

MPM--Some Other Beginning's End

Ah, November. End of (fall) soccer season, end of outdoor practices, timing falling back...I'm feeling ready, though. The clock fell back, the kids were up early but now are falling asleep is good. Now, trying to keep it that way by doing an eating-down-the-cabinets personal challenge, and attempting to buy only meat and fruit this week. Should be alarmingly easy but you never know.

Monday: Leftovers, mostly from an awesome spaghetti & meatballs Sunday dinner here

Tuesday: back to Taco Tuesday

Wednesday: Tricky; I have a meeting at church at 6:30, so quick is of the essence. Solution: bag o' bbq chicken from Trader Joe's from the freezer, highly recommended by a friend with four kids who says it's one of the only thing that all her kids eat. That's a pretty solid recommendation. Rice, and probably beets.

Thursday: Another meeting for me (this time for the consignment sale this weekend, cannot wait for the empty space to start appearing in the garage, woohoo!) so another freezer meal. Will probably go for the shredded pork over rice and whatever veggies are in the fridge at this point.

Friday: Football made the playoffs (yeah!) but it's supposed to rain (boo!). And we're invited for pizza on Saturday so I'll have to make something. Solution: leftovers. Works for me, it's a Friday.

On Halloween, we had the leftover chili and I also finally made the pasta with sheeps' milk yogurt and caramelized onions. (Ask not what possessed me to try a new recipe on Halloween, but I will tell you: I'd found the yogurt at a Wegman's visit almost three weeks earlier and didn't want it to go bad--like the spinach--while I dithered.) It was good--I liked the tang and the caramelized onions make anything delicious. So I don't know that it will be in heavy rotation but I would definitely make it again.

The rest of the week was pretty much according to the plan, with some chicken breasts and asparagus ketchup thrown in (asparagus went on sale--not sure where in the world it's spring and asparagus season but it made me happy). We also made the white bean and cabbage dish again (this time my husband got to eat some and actually liked it, yay!). Next week I'm hoping to make the cauliflower soup among other things for lunches for the grownups in the house. I also did the sausage skillet dinner (with onions, apples, and cooked in apple cider) and it was yummy. I needed to change up something to get the sausage more browned, but I was glad to know it was all fully cooked, which soothes my nervous mom soul when cooking with sausage.

The lunchbox challenge is over, or almost (I've lost track), on the web at least. But in my kitchen, it continues. And the holiday prep went out the window entirely with the new job, as did reading any of my books for book group. Which is a problem, as I'm in charge of next month's book. Back down to the bookshelves!

Check out I'm an Organizing Junkie! for the most comprehensive meal lists on the web!