Meals through 11 weeks of the 3ME

I wanted to spend a little time analyzing what we have been eating during this three month experiment. I wanted to make sure that we had kept a lot of variety in our meals and that we had not leaned too heavily on any one thing. It was interesting to look at – to me, if to no one else. Out of 77 evenings of eating at home, here’s how it breaks down:

Fast food, none of which was purchased by us:

  • McDonald’s hamburgers (end of VBS celebration)
  • Little Caesar’s pizza (had been out with kids, they couldn’t wait for Mimi to cook) We even ate these meals AT HOME, not in the restaurant.

Fast food, made at home:

  • Turkey burgers (our go-to busy night meal) with chips, fries, or tots – 6 times
  • Hot dogs – 2 times
  • Aldi pizza – 3 times
  • Tacos – chicken and fish – better than fast food by a bunch
  • Chicken strips and mac & cheese (Abi’s birthday)
  • Nachos – 2 times (usually made with leftover meat from other meals)
  • Stuffed baked potatoes – 2 times (again, made with leftovers from other meals)

From the grill (summer is a blessing!):

  • Grilled sausage – 2 times
  • Grilled chicken – 2 times (different seasonings each time)
  • Steak (4th of July celebration)
  • Hamburgers (beef, not turkey, and done on the grill)
  • Pork chops
  • Grilled everything (whatever was in freezer to grill on a Sunday night)

Tuna meals:

  • Tuna casserole
  • Tuna cakes
  • Tuna salad – 2 times

Meatless meals:

  • Baked ravioli
  • Tortellini with corn and tomatoes
  • South of the Border Pie

Pork meals:

  • Pork chops and black beans – 2 times
  • Pulled pork
  • French onion pork chops
  • Soy lemon pork chops
  • Carnitas

Beef meals:

  • Tex Mex Beefy Mac and Cheese
  • Sloppy Joes
  • Chili
  • Bubble pizza
  • Weeknight Lasagna Toss
  • Pot roast
  • Taco soup
  • Meatloaf

Chicken meals:

  • Chicken and broccoli soup
  • Crunchy oven BBQ chicken
  • Chicken tamale casserole
  • Plain old baked chicken
  • Garlic parmesan chicken
  • Chicken lasagna
  • Chicken pot pie
  • Lemon chicken stir fry

Sausage/ham/pepperoni/deli meat meals:

  • Ham and pepper quiche
  • Penne pasta and ham
  • Chef salad
  • Ham and potato soup
  • Zatarains and sausage
  • Deli meat and cheese sandwiches (big hit at Sunday game night, we sprang for the good meat and cheese from Target deli)
  • Grilled deli meat/cheese sandwiches (so we did it again during the week)
  • Red beans and rice
  • Snack supper (meat/cheese/crackers/wine) – 2 times
  • Breakfast for supper, usually involving sausage, bacon, ham or some such – 3 times (once it was breakfast casserole, once french toast, once pancakes – with accompaniments)

And the final, and most repeated category:

  • LEFTOVERS – 8 times. These are the times we straight up ate the exact same entree we had made before. It doesn’t include the meals above where we repurposed leftovers into something different for another meal. This is probably more leftovers than a family of more than two would have to eat. With only two of us, any casserole we make will automatically serve for either another supper or a couple of lunches.

So, overall it looks like we’ve done a decent job of spreading things around. We eat a “fast food at home” meal about once a week and leftovers, either straight up or repurposed, about once a week. The other 5 dinners a week have good variety. All of them were accompanied by veggies, or fruit, or beans, in addition to sometimes having potatoes, rice, or noodles. It’s healthier than we’ve eaten in a long while.

I’ll update the stats at the end of the next two weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the Holy Spirit Smacks You Down in the Grocery Store Line

This has been a hard few days. My husband’s brother, Dan, died last Saturday. Craig had gone to Rockford, because things weren’t looking so good and his brother needed him to come and take control of his finances, etc. when he was moved into hospice. Craig got there on Friday. His brother died on Saturday. So while the death was not unexpected, the timing certainly was.

Craig went without me. First of all because we didn’t think this was necessarily going to be the last trip to Rockford to see about Dan. But then second because Craig is staying at his brother’s apartment and there is really no room for me. Dan was a life-long bachelor. No wife, no kids, nada. And his apartment reflects that. A couple of chairs. A bed with no frame. He lived meagerly – and yet could never think of anything he wanted for Christmas. He had his TV, his books, his CDs, his recliner.

And I hate it when Craig is away. Especially for longer than a day or two. And this trip is driving me nuts, because it is so open-ended. Craig will be gone for as long as it takes to wind things up. That includes the cremation of Dan’s body, giving away/selling his stuff (what there is of it) and dealing with final bills and bank accounts. It takes however long it takes, but I’m already driving Craig crazy, because I keep saying, “When can you do X? When will you do Y?” I want him to finish and come home. And it’s not like he doesn’t long to come home. He does. Maybe I’d be better if I had married someone who traveled. But I didn’t.

So, what does this have to do with the grocery store line? Well, I was doing the weekly grocery shopping and ended up in line behind a lady who was roughly my age and single. And I know this because we were chatting in line and people always tell me stuff. I don’t know why.

And I looked at her groceries and the Holy Spirit smacked me between the eyes. Because I saw what MY grocery cart would probably look like without my dearest husband. She had a stack of frozen dinners – the “good” ones, not the cheapie ones. (And yes, I realize that probably none of them are really good.) Three or four cans of green beans (though mine would be frozen instead of canned), a package of candy (not too much, just enough for a treat each evening), and 2 liter bottles of soda. And I thought, “Terry, if you were alone, you would never cook for yourself. You would eat just like this. Cooking would be too much trouble to take just for yourself.” And mark this: I’m not even saying this lady was unhappy with her life. But I saw my life on a different timeline with a pair of new eyes.

And I thought of my impatience and felt ashamed. My husband is coming home. I will be cooking for us again and it won’t be too much trouble to make a dinner that is better than a frozen meal. I am blessed. And I need to quit making him nuts while he is doing what must be done.

That lady’s groceries made me remember just how much I love my husband. How fortunate I am to have him. And just how lucky a woman I am.

The Holy Spirit smacked me down right there in Walmart. And I’m glad.

 

Whatcha Reading? Wednesday (barely)

Weekly (what? weekly?) update on what has been read, what is being read, and what will be read.

Has been? Just finished A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. The story of the Count, who, having been deemed a “non-person” after the Revolution, is confined for the rest of his life in the Metropol – a luxury hotel (though his quarters are anything but luxurious). The story of finding how to live a life of purpose in the face of adversity and of receiving great blessings through things that were thought to be beyond one’s abilities. It’s also the story of the value of friendship, family, civility, work, and finding joy where it is to be had.  Loved the book, except for the last 2 pages! The ending wasn’t my favorite, but it didn’t destroy my love for the Count.

Also finished Witsec: Inside the Witness Protection Program by Gerald Shur and Pete Earley. Shur was the guy who founded the program, originally to break the back of the Mafia by protecting witnesses who would turn on their former compatriots. Interesting, though I thought it could have done with more discussion of life inside the program as a protected witness.

Is? Two books in process. Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor. Reminiscent of Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog, I don’t think that it is the rip-off that some others seem to think it is. But then, I’m not a particular Connie Willis fan (though her Doomsday Book is one of my favorites). “History is just one damned thing after another” and that’s pretty much what this book is. Time travel. Disasters. Cups of tea. Conspiracies. In some ways I think it is most like the Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde. Time travel is not explained – it is just accepted, sort of. Buckets of handwavium here. But it is all in good fun (though it’s not all funny by a long shot).

Also in process, A Room With a View by E. M. Forster. I find a lot of this amusing – Miss Bartlett is such the epitome of the passive aggressive martyr and poor Lucy Honeychurch is getting a real lesson in how to stand up for herself.

Will be? On the nightstand sits Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond. For something lighter, Lois McMaster Bujold’s two novellas: Penric’s Demon and Penric and the Shaman. Set in the world of the Five Gods, I look forward to these. I adored Chalion’s Curse, and I hope these are as good.

Happy reading, ya’ll!

 

Mama T’s Game Closet – Sleeping Queens

game-on

 

Now that school is about over for the year, some of you may be looking for games that can be played with your kids and grandkids. Sleeping Queens is a fun card game for kids. I think it’s good especially for girls – which is a plus in my book, because so many games seem to be oriented toward boys.

sleepingqueens

Sleeping Queens was developed by a young girl and her family (and I hope it is funding her college education!). It has super cute art and it’s easy enough to play that my grandgirls (6 and almost 5) are close to being able to play themselves. Well, they would be if Miri could pick up her cards without showing them to everyone at the table! We team up with them to help with the addition. But it won’t be long before they are playing on their own.

Here’s a look at those all-important queen cards.

queens

 

Rules are simple. There are twelve queen cards and they are placed in four rows, face down, on the table. Each player (any number 2-4) gets a hand of 5 cards. All the rest of the cards are put in the draw pile in the center of the table. There are 8 king cards. Playing a king card lets you “wake up” a sleeping queen and put her in front of you. Each queen has a numerical value, and the first person to reach 40 point or get 4 queens wins the game! Some of the queens have special powers. For example, you can’t have both the Dog Queen and the Cat Queen in your hand or in front of you, because they fight like cats and dogs. But there aren’t many of these special queens and their powers aren’t hard to remember.

The deck is also full of other number cards – which aren’t really good for anything, so you discard them and draw from the deck. You can discard one card, a pair of matching cards, or any group of cards that represent a valid addition equation (for example: you can discard a one, a one and a two card because 1+1=2) and draw to bring your hand back to five cards. You’re hoping for that king card that will let you wake up a queen!

But there are also “power” cards – cards that let you do something else, or prevent what someone else is trying to do to you. If you have a sleeping potion card, you can put one of your opponents’ queens back to sleep and move her back to the middle of the board. That is, unless the queen’s owner has a magic wand card to play to fend you off. And if you have a knight card, you can steal a queen from another player. Unless, of course, they have a dragon card to defend their queen! And yes, I know that seems backwards, but the queens have pet dragons, so there.

The game plays quickly, has just enough “I’m taking yours”/”Oh no you’re not!” to be fun and without tears. Each game takes about 10 minutes, maybe 15 to play. Just right for a shorter attention span. A lot of kid games are murder for adults to play. This one isn’t. No one groans when the girls ask for Sleeping Queens.

There is a new Deluxe 10th anniversary edition out that adds 4 new queens and 2 new kings. That also increases the number that can play up to 5.

When it is 104 degrees outside, you’re going to need something to do. Mama T recommends a few games of Sleeping Queens to pass the time!

The Three Month Experiment – Recipes

In attempting this 3ME, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t fall into the rut of doing the same thing over and over. That makes us bored. And boredom makes us want to “just go get something” so we don’t have to think about it.

I realize that this is a luxury. If I were feeding an army of people (which, by the way, I would love to do) it would be necessary to focus more on getting food into lots of mouths instead of worrying about getting bored with what you’re fixing and eating. But life situations are different and mine right now lets me worry about NOT fixing the same thing repeatedly.

So I sat down with the family cookbook (you have one of those, right? If you don’t you should!) and picked out some tried and true favorites. And then I went to my recipe sites (love the internet!) and picked out some things that I had marked to try. And I made a master list. I’m not silly enough to think that this is exactly how it will work. But it is a workable plan: enough meals for when we serve a crowd, enough easy ones for the days I am running in circles, enough comfort, enough variety of ethnic flavors. As I use the recipes, I want to mark them off. Just to see where we are at the end of 60 days or so.

So, here they are. Quit reading now if you don’t like list after list!

Hamburger Meals:

  • Meatballs and gravy
  • Meatloaf
  • Spaghetti and meat sauce
  • Easy Shepherd’s Pie
  • Korean beef
  • Chili with jalapeno pintos
  • Sloppy Joes
  • Bubble pizza

Chicken Meals:

  • Crunchy oven bbq chicken
  • Rotel chicken spaghetti
  • Chinese takeout lemon chicken
  • Chicken enchilada casserole (Zack’s favorite!)
  • Grilled chicken
  • Quick chicken and broccoli soup
  • Crockpot orange chicken
  • Chicken pot pie
  • Salsa chicken
  • Baked garlic parmesan chicken
  • Chicken tikka masala
  • Chicken fried rice

Fish Meals:

  • Fish and chips
  • Baked fish with lemon and dill
  • Heavenly halibut (using a fish other than halibut!)

Pork Meals:

  • Grilled pork chops
  • French onion pork chops
  • Black bean pork chops
  • Asian pork chops (crockpot meal)
  • Adobo style chili
  • Slow cooker carnitas
  • Italian breaded pork chops
  • Baked soy lemon pork chops
  • Apricot pork chops
  • Pork stroganoff
  • Crockpot BBQ Coke pulled pork

Kielbasa Meals:

  • Nine bean soup
  • Zatarains and sausage (we LOVE this stuff)
  • Easy red beans and rice

Pepperoni Meals:

  • Pepperoni tortellini soup
  • Pasta with roasted cauliflower and pepperoni
  • French bread pizza
  • Grilled pizza sandwiches with warm marinara

Ham Meals:

  • Ham and bell pepper quiche
  • Pretty penne pasta
  • Ham and potato frittata
  • Breakfast casserole
  • Oven Denver omelet
  • Ham and potato soup
  • Chef salad

Tuna Meals:

  • Tuna cakes
  • Tuna salad sandwiches
  • Not Your Mother’s Tuna Casserole

Meatless Meals:

  • Gnocchi with white beans
  • Really easy mixed bean chili
  • South of the border pie
  • Nacho potato soup
  • Baked ravioli

“Fast Food” Meals:

  • Turkey burgers & chips
  • Hot dogs and chips
  • Frito pie
  • Stuffed baked potatoes
  • Aldi pizza
  • Pancakes and eggs

 

That last category has meals that may be repeated several times. Leftover chili makes GREAT stuffed baked potatoes. And we love us some hot dogs (so sue me – but at least they are Hebrew National!) on a busy night. And if the weekly food budget allows, we really do like Aldi pizza.

The menu plan I wrote for this week came directly from this list. About 1/3 or slightly more of the recipes listed are new. It was time for some new recipes. As I was going through the family cookbook I kept thinking, “No, I’m tired of THAT” or “No, I’m not even sure I LIKE that anymore.” Sigh. It was a real sign of my cooking burnout. Maybe by the end of 3ME, I’ll get my cooking mojo back. I think it’s possible.

Happy Tuesday, ya’ll!

 

 

 

The Three Month Experiment

You know, when I was a little girl, we only rarely went out to eat. My dad died when I was 11 and before that he had had 3 heart attacks. Back in the day that meant limited work schedules and tight budgets. My mom went to work, but she still had to watch, watch, watch the budget. And that continued into my senior year in high school, when my mom remarried and the budget eased up.

Taco Bueno started in my home town and the entire menu (maybe except for drinks, but then we never bought drinks at a fast food place) was 19 cents an item. We would go and stand in lines that were out the door for 19 cent tacos, burritos, and tacoburgers. (Did you know that some Taco Buenos will still make you a tacoburger if you ask?) That and a trip to McDonald’s once in a blue moon were about it for the eating out at my house. Oh, we might eat at the cafeteria after church in San Angelo when we went to visit my grandparents. But usually my grandmother cooked.

And I don’t think we were very unusual.

Compare that to today. Some studies show that in the good old USA, more money is spent on restaurants than on groceries. Since the cost of restaurants is markedly more than the cost of groceries, I wouldn’t say that we eat out more than we eat at home. YET. But the tide is running that way, certainly.

And whenever our budget gets out of control, I only have to look at the debits in our checking account; they become a litany of fast food/fast casual restaurant payments. We delude ourselves by thinking that we don’t ever eat anywhere EXPENSIVE, but the fact is that we end up spending more than we ought to just to feed ourselves. And aren’t there other things we would rather or should rather spend that money on?

So, it became obvious that it was time for a little self-discipline in this area. And I wanted to see if we could discipline ourselves longer than a week or two. So I prayed about it (yes, I pray about my budget – don’t you?) and I came to see that we were so pampered and petted that there was always a reason to go out and spend money on food. Yes, we are busy people. But when did cooking a meal become something that I couldn’t re-learn to enjoy doing? Even if it was an easy meal. I felt like I had lost something in some indefinable way – giving over the feeding of myself and my family (whichever number of people shows up!) to someone else.

So the Three Month Eat at Home Challenge (hereinafter referred to as 3ME) was born. Could I commit to eating at home (or making picnic food to take to the park or to Levitt Pavilion) for three whole months? And I think, yes. Yes, I can.

We had been eating out of the freezer for a couple of weeks to clear it out. While I think I have a small freezer, it will hold a deceptively large amount of stuff. And we had been squirreling away money for a couple of months to fund the next Fill the Freezer Shopping Trip. So this past Saturday was the day – and after spending our bucks, we bought a bunch of stuff, came home and bagged it 1 lb portions and stuffed our freezer full again.

And I sat down with the list of what we had in the freezer and came up with a plan to use all that stuff up – never duplicating the recipes. Then I thought of the tuna meals we enjoy (ya’ll, I make killer tuna salad), the meatless meals we like, the breakfast for dinner meals, and the meals we call “miscellaneous meat meals” – the ones with chopped ham or pepperoni.

Then I tried to think of the things that we like to go out and get – and figure out a way for those things to happen at home. I’m calling them Fast Food Meals.

Adding all those things up, I have more than 60 main meals planned. At the end of two months it should be time to make the meat run again – because if we work the plan, it will all be used up.

I’m excited about this. I’m pumped for the challenge. I think we can succeed. And I think we will eat better, and for less, than we were doing before. I want to recapture the satisfaction that I get when I put a meal on the table. And I want to let my husband learn to like that part, too.

And I want to be thankful while I’m doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whatcha Reading? Wednesday

Just Finished: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. Recommended to me by Kat Laurange. What a good book this was. Mostly character study/character driven, but with a character I really, really liked. Maia is the fourth son, and 1/2 goblin at that!, of the Elvish emperor. When the emperor and the other sons are killed in an airship crash, the throne belongs to the one who was most despised and least trained for the job. But Maia’s hole card is that he had a mother who loved him – deeply and thoroughly, even though she died when he was young. That laid a base down that allowed him to act justly and kindly in a situation where others would focus only on revenge. The novel has its problems, but the story is so winning and the main character just *shines*. Recommended.

Currently reading: The Rose Rent by Ellis Peters. Cadfael #13. Love me some Brother Cadfael – always enjoyable. I’ve not figured out the killer in this one at the halfway point.

In the on-deck circle: I’m not sure about this yet. I want to read A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles because one of the Goodreads groups I am in is discussing it beginning May 15th. But, alas, all the copies are checked out of the library and the wait list is 6 people ahead of me. Small chance I’ll get it before the discussions begin.

Since that probably won’t be an option, I think the next choice may be Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It’s been on my Kindle for a long time. The folks on Goodreads seem to mostly like it, but those who hate it really, really hate it. We’ll see what camp I fall into.

Happy reading, ya’ll!