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Tag: cooking

Meal Planning: January 2022 Week 2

Meal Planning: January 2022 Week 2

Meal planning this week was mostly about eating leftovers and using fresh produce that needed to be eaten. We did our last major grocery run on 1/02/22 so after a couple of weeks some of our produce was looking like it would go bad. I […]

Meal Planning: January 2022 Week 1

Meal Planning: January 2022 Week 1

Whew. Another week of meal planning under our belt. We used up a lot of things this week from our pantry, fridge and freezer. We still have so many leftovers that we won’t really need to cook for the next few days but we are […]

Meal Planning: A New Start

Meal Planning: A New Start

This past year I realized we have fallen down a hole of eating not so healthy foods more often then we should. We totally fell off the bandwagon of both eating well and keeping our grocery costs down. The pandemic has really split our routine into many different parts. We now have to base our budget on whether or not the store has our food in stock, if the kids are home from school for a bit and whether our oldest daughter will be at our house. Since the oldest has moved out this has become less of an issue and she fully embraces scrounging for food whenever she stops by, and “shopping” our pantry but honestly now that she is on her own we don’t really worry about food costs for her any more.

Tuna Casserole
Tuna Casserole was not so well received…

We have also in the last couple of years had to adjust how we eat. We now have a nut allergies, gluten-free, vegetarian, and sensory preferences to account for and honestly we now have so many different foods for everyone that we have to keep on hand that we would be fine for at least a few weeks if we had some sort of emergency situation where we couldn’t go to the store as long as we have the right foods on hand. Our biggest issue is with our kid with food preferences since the rest of us are more flexible and will be ok with alternates. I am always worried the store will be out of one of their preferred foods and we will have to figure out a work around, which is not fun on a bad day. We did run into this over the summer when the correct dried fruit leather was nowhere to be found or beyond overpriced. Luckily fruit was in season so I was able to make some fruit leather on my own and that was an acceptable alternate. Phew…

Tuna Casserole
Tuna Casserole, green beans and pomegranate (my new obsession).

A few years ago I wrote the below Meal Planning post in my first attempt at meal planning. Let’s just say, attempting to change our eating ways right before starting a new job was not one of my best ideas but it did make me think about how we can do better. Over the past six months or so I have been obsessively been watchin grocery haul, extreme grocery budget, freezer meal making and meal planning videos on YouTube and I have gotten tons of ideas. I especially love the videos where they make meals for a week from the a dollar store since there are so many people living in food deserts where Dollar Tree is the only grocery store around. I will link some of my favorites down below.

An Overview of Meal Planning

 

Meal Planning
November/December 2021Meal Plan.

I thought we would take a stab at meal planning again this fall in an attempt to keep our costs down and create some organization to the chaos of our lives. As you can see, there are a lot of holes in my meal planner for November/December. The kids helped me with some of it and we instituted chicken nugget night for our selective eater so that with pizza night as well, they had at least two nights of the week that were predictable and dinner was something they liked. Most of the time the grownups eat chicken nuggets as well on Tuesdays but if there are extra leftovers I usually eat those instead since gluten-free chicken nuggets are really expensive and I am not a huge fan of fried food. We did run out of chicken nuggets a few weeks ago and it was predictably a disaster. Fish sticks were not an acceptable alternative and dinner was skipped that night. We now have chicken nuggets back in the freezer so hopefully we will not forget to get more next time we are low.

potatoes, cabbage and kielbasa
Steamed potatoes, cabbage and Kielbasa.

Our first month was definitely an adjustment and overall it went pretty well. I made a lot of dishes from my childhood such as steamed potatoes, cabbage and Kielbasa, tuna casserole and tater tot casserole (a huge hit with my daughters). There were a couple of nights where something else was made by my husband but we just adjusted and I pushed out the next night of cooking. I am hoping to be better about following the plan in the future though since it threw off our groceries and when we were using up things in the fridge.

Lentils, eggs olives
Lentils, hard boiled eggs and an olive were a favorite.

We are mostly vegetarian and I am gluten-free so most family meals need to follow along those lines for us. One of the ways we did some light meal prepping was to hard boil about eight eggs and then eat them over the course of a few days for extra protein. We all love lentils so when we make them we usually eat them for dinner the first night and the kids have them for breakfast the next day. I bought some gigantic Spanish Queen olives from Costco last month. I am trying to eat fermented foods or olives every day and a great way for me to do that is to eat an olive with one or two meals a day. I love kimchi as well but we are currently out of it. We should probably make some more!

soup
Veggie soup.

One way I have been trying to eat healthier is to eat vegetable soup a few times a week. Usually I put in greens from the garden, carrots, tomatoes, beans and whatever else I need to use up in the fridge. In September and November I made a bunch of veggie broth and put it in the freezer along with blanched greens from the garden. I have been using that to make soup every couple of weeks. I did however make a batch from the turkey broth we made from Thanksgiving which made the soup seem really rich to me after months of straight vegetable soup. Usually I serve it for dinner and freeze half the batch into portions for later. When I heat it up I add in an egg or leftover meat for protein. Both my daughter and I love soup so usually when I make it she will eat some as well.

pancakes
Pancakes for breakfast.

Another item we have been eating a lot of are pancakes with a hard boiled egg on the side. They are easy to make, keep for a couple of days and I got an excellent deal on some gluten-free pancake mix at Grocery Outlet so we have tons of it, like literally I probably have 10 of 15 boxes left at this point. Since these are confetti pancakes we usually serve them with jam and then make Nutella sandwiches with them for lunch the next day for the kids. My selective eater loves Nutella sandwiches (who doesn’t?) so on that day usually their lunch comes back pretty empty which is a major win for us. This is a great way to cook once and have meals for a couple of days. I usually make half the box at a time and honestly I am not above snagging one later on for snack time with a hard boiled egg. You could totally make the whole box and freeze some for later in the week as well if you are short on time.

Oatmeal Bake
Oatmeal Bake

One of my favorite YouTube recipes I have found is this Oatmeal Bake from Acre Homestead on Scratchpantry.com. I absolutely love it because it contains almost a dozen eggs and it is great to make and freeze half of it for later. It is super healthy, full of protein and in a first, keeps me full until lunchtime. Usually with oatmeal I get super hungry an hour or so after I eat it but with the eggs and fruit in there this one keeps me going until lunch which is fabulous. Only two of us like to eat this for breakfast so usually I slice and freeze half to thaw out the second week. That way I am only making two a month which really saves on time. We are also currently without a microwave so I have found a great way to heat it up is to mostly thaw it, slice it and then cook the slices in butter for a crunch edge. It is delicious!

roasted broccoli
Roasted broccoli for dinner.

We love roasted vegetables in our house and can eat an embarrassingly large amount of them for dinner. Our favorite is roasted cauliflower and honestly when my oldest is home we can eat a whole Costco bag in one meal. It is that delicious! We have been trying roasted broccoli since the bag is much larger and cheaper. So far we love the broccoli as well. We have made it several times and there are usually no leftovers either. Roasted veggies are something that are quick to put together and you can make ahead. They freeze well if you are putting them into containers and can be heated up on the stove or in the microwave. They also add some fabulous flavor to soups if you need to use some up.

All in all our meal planning is going better than I expected. We are going to keep it up for January along with an attempt at eating through our pantry. We did go to the store for a major grocery haul today which I was not planning on but we were low on a few key items and with the new Covid variant spreading like wildfire I wanted to get groceries now and then not go for as long as possible. I am pretty sure we can make it to the end of January with a couple of exceptions like eggs, seaweed (we forgot it) and salad greens.

 

How do you incorporate meal planning in your house?

 

Links:

 

Oatmeal Bake from Acre Homestead

 

My favorite YouTube channels:

AcreHomestead

I love how Becky tries to eat everything from her garden and she has some fabulous freezer meal recipes.

Frugal Fit Mom

Christine does a great job of showing how to make cheap and healthy meals on a super restrictive budget. She is also a fan of bargain grocery shopping like me and I love sharing the thrill of a good deal when she finds them.

That Lisa Dawn

Lisa is a fabulous person trying to spread the word of how to buy groceries if you have a limited budget. She has my same love of beans and is an excellent cook. Lisa is probably my favorite because she is so kind and I love how much she tries to help people find ways to get around food insecurity.

Jamerrill Stewart

Jamerrill is a mom of a large family who has a no frills way of showing how she feeds her family. Honestly when Jamerrill first showed up in my feed I was skeptical because so many large families try to capitalize on their kids but Jamerrill’s respect for her kids’ privacy and honest videos when things go wrong are so refreshing that I fell in love with her.

 

Gardening Update 11.07.21

Gardening Update 11.07.21

A lot happened in the garden since my last post in July which can be found here. We had a large crop of green tomatoes, lots of greens, successfully grew two nice sized pumpkins and many other vegetables. We continued to battle pests throughout the […]

Gardening Update 07.08.21

Gardening Update 07.08.21

The last few weeks have been rough on everyone’s gardens in the Seattle area. There has been no rain and we had a massive heat wave a bit ago with temperatures well over 100 degrees which is super unusual for this area. I watered like […]

Gardening Update 06.20.21

Gardening Update 06.20.21

Hello and welcome to the first gardening update of 2021! This year my goal was to expand our vegetable garden and add in more pollinator friendly plants. My usual spring garden supply budget was much larger than usual because we ended up needing a large amount of soil and I bought some larger metal garden beds that are supposed to last a really long time. My wooden garden beds are starting to show their age and I am having a bug problem in that area so I was hoping that metal garden beds would solve some of that. We also cleared out a large section of bushy area from the front of our house and mulched most of the front really well. I of course don’t have before pictures of that because I didn’t take any but needless to say, it looks much better.

 

garden bed
New metal garden beds from Australia.

 

I must confess, I have become a bit obsessed with gardening channels on You Tube over the past several months trying to do as much research as I could. I learned quite a bit about gardening but honestly not all of it was helpful since there don’t seem to be very many gardening channels specific to the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps I will do a post with a rundown of my favorites. If you know of any good ones please comment below! We have such a unique climate here that advice from other parts of the country may not be the best fit. My house in particular is in it’s own microclimate and we seem to be two to three weeks behind many of my fellow PNW gardeners that live even just ten minutes away (or even in different parts of my neighborhood). I did however find a common theme with large numbers of people recommending these metal garden beds from Australia so I ordered two of them. I have one installed with some of my giant vegetables and some cucumber in the area in front of my house that we cleared this spring. We have not installed the other one yet but my goal is to get that done this weekend and plant onions and carrots.

 

giant daikon
Sakurajima Daikon Radish

 

I spent quite a bit of time on some rare seed sites over the fall and winter and ended up buying a few large varieties of Kohlrabi, Radishes and Beets. My favorite so far has got to be the Sakurajima Radish seeds I ordered from Japan. These Daikon radish can grow up to about 100 pounds in their native Japan but I am hoping for closer to 10 pounds. I was impatient and did not plant them at the right season though however so I will be planting more later this summer after I harvest my cauliflower to see how they do over the winter. So far they have grown quite large but I am not seeing any bulbs forming. My goal is to get them fertilized this week and maybe poke around under the soil and see if anything is forming.

 

giant beets
Giant Beets

Another seed I tried out were these Mammoth Red Mangel Beets. Traditionally these are used for animal feed and can get up to 40 pounds. I planted these in my new garden bed and they grew great for a few weeks before the bugs got to them. I have broken down this year and I am using some Sluggo Plus around the garden because the slugs, earwigs and piddle bugs are eating everything. I lost lots of plants this year (including most of my zucchini) to bugs so we are trying to save at least a few of them. We treated these shortly after the picture was taken and I am now seeing lots of new growth happening. I have been eating some of the greens off and on and I was pleasantly surprised by how good they are. I am not a fan of beets but I am going to try roasting them this year and I also thought it would be fun to play around with beet dye that we make from our own beets. My dad also loves pickled beets so I was thinking of maybe making those for him at some point. They have not started forming the beet part of the plant yet but I have heard that this particular variety can be slow going. I am hoping by the middle of July we will see some beet action.

 

garlic
Garlic I planted last fall.

 

Another plant I am trying for the first time is garlic. Last fall I planted a large number of cloves pretty late in the season so I was a little bit nervous about them growing but so far the ones that survived are doing well. I honestly don’t remember which varieties I bought but I did get both a soft and and hard neck variety from Territorial Seeds. I did a big no no and I did not top off the soil in my garden beds before planting so we have fertilized these beds a couple of times hopefully to make up for that oversight. I will be filling these beds this fall before my fall planting in late September. My garlic is getting closer to harvest but it will probably be mid to late July before everything is ready. I checked this morning and my scapes are starting to curl and should be done in the next week or two. I will probably pull a test garlic a week or so after we harvest the scapes to see where the plants are at. One thing I did do in these beds however is to plant some tomatoes and peppers in between the garlic. The tomatoes are doing really well but it was a pretty wet spring so my peppers are struggling a bit. I haven’t done peppers before so this year is a trial period for those as well. Next year I will put them in a different spot that gets more sun.

 

purple cauliflower
Purple Cauliflower

 

The plant that surprised me the most was my cauliflower. I have tried growing it before and the seedlings were devoured by slugs faster than the eye could see but this year I stuck some plants in grow bags in our sunniest spot and they did well. One of the varieties I planted was this purple one and I was pleasantly surprised one morning to discover a few heads peeking through the leaves. They are smaller than our white cauliflower so I am going to give them another week or two if the heat wave coming this weekend doesn’t send them into bolting. I am pretty excited to eat these though!

 

sunflower
Sunflower

I am trying again this year to grow some sunflowers. I started a bunch in March and this beauty is the sole survivor of about 20 or 30 seeds I started indoors. It is currently about 4.5 feet tall and starting to flower. I am really hoping I got this one in the ground early enough that we will be able to harvest the seeds this year. Last year we got a gigantic bloom but the weather turned before the seeds could ripen and it just got moldy. It was super disappointing. I also had my daughter poke a bunch of sunflower seeds directly into the soil and although a few came up we currently only have one that is about 8 inches tall. Next year I am going to start a bunch more seeds in March and maybe try a different variety or two.

 

Cabbage
Sole Cabbage survivor.

Keeping with the brassica theme we also started some cabbage and broccoli this spring. We had such good success with our cabbage last year that I planted a bunch of them. Unfortunately the pots were too close to our Hydrangea bush and they were shaded too much and attached viciously by a number of bugs and slugs. I spent every morning for a couple of weeks removing slugs and butterfly eggs but I could not keep up with the onslaught and many of our cabbages are very damaged and not forming heads. I did last week pull some of them out into the sunshine and treat them with a second dose of Sluggo but we really only have one head and it looks pretty buggy. I will still harvest this one and we may or may not eat it depending on what I find on the inside. I am not really sure what we will do for cabbages next year. They did much better in the spot I had them in last year where the garlic is now so I may try that again and see if it works. I am pretty sure all of our broccoli plants did not make it. The spot I put them in is completely covered by my Hydrangea bush and I may get out there this weekend and trim it a bit. Maybe I will find some broccoli plants hiding under there?

 

apple
Apple growing.

We are having mixed luck with our fruit trees this year. Currently we have an apple and a pear tree and although both flowered really well we don’t have a lot of fruit. It was a cold spring and the bees were not quite out yet when our trees flowered so I am assuming that is why. Last year our apple tree had way too many apples on it and many of them were diseased so I am hoping that with fewer apples the tree’s overall health will be better. I would like to eventually put in another pear and another apple tree but honestly I am not sure where I would have them room for them at our current house. Although we do have a lot of space, we also have a lot of ornamental plants that we inherited and only a few spots with decent light.

 

Shasta Daisies
Shasta Daisies.

One of the goals for the garden this year was to reduce our insect issues and to plant some things that would lower our weeds. We have a bumper crop of weeds this year, let me tell you, even with all of the mulching and weeding I did in the spring to prevent it. I am trying to avoid spraying with chemicals and usually if I start out the season with hand weeding we can keep it in check but this year there are so many I can’t even keep on top of our garden areas. One of the biggest indicators of this was going outside about a week after we completely redid the mulch in the front garden to find a large area of new mulch covered in wind blown Stinky Bob baby plants. I also allowed the girls to plant some “native wildflowers” last year in a small area against my better judgement and I was not so surprised to discover that this year most of those plants are weedy. Unfortunately they are super close to my vegetable garden area and I am thinking I will have to pull out a bunch of soil from that area and start fresh.

 

I planted the Shasta Daisies above in an area near our transformer that I can’t really maintain alongside the street but definitely is a weed source for my garden. These spread and can survive with not so much water and they attract bees. I am hoping they will eventually take over that part of the garden and I won’t have to be weeding around the transformer in a couple of years.  I am also hoping it will take at least 5 or 6 years for them to get close enough to the garden to become an issue. I do have a barrier of Rosemary, Lavender and some sort of bush in between that should slow their spread. Maybe I am creating bigger issues later on but honestly it can’t be any worse than what I am already pulling out daily.

 

Gerbera Daisy
Gerbera Daisy.

Wrapping up this garden update with one of my favorite surprises in the garden this year, finding this Gerbera Daisy coming up in the pot I planted it in last year! I had no idea they would over winter and I had already replaced it with some Kale and Primroses so when I saw the little flowers poking up through the Primroses it was exciting to see. I will definitely be buying more of these to plant next year since they are some of my favorites.

 

What surprises have you found in your garden this year?

Covid – 10 Months and Counting

Covid – 10 Months and Counting

We are about 10 months into dealing with Covid and things don’t seem to be letting up any time soon. I was looking back over pictures from the year today and I was struck by how sudden everything was last Feb/March when everything shut down. […]

Gardening Update 09.05.2020

Gardening Update 09.05.2020

As the nights get cooler and the days shorter our summer 2020 garden is winding down for fall. This summer our vegetable garden stepped up a notch and I planted way more than previous years. We also had a huge pest problem with rodents, ants, […]

Gardening Update 6.14.2020

Gardening Update 6.14.2020

This year is the first one in a while I have been excited about my garden. Working from home for the past few months due to the Corona virus has greatly reduced my commute time from 3-4 hours a day to nothing and this means that after work I put on my garden clothes and take the kids outside for some sunshine. My workplace is closed for until the fall and even then they are only allowing a few people in the office and things are up in the air as far as going back to school so I have planned an ambitious vegetable garden this year.

 

Front garden bed.

 

I started out this spring with sprucing up our front garden bed. We share part of it with our neighbors and our side needed a bunch of work. Every fall/winter I am good about cutting our monster hydrangeas back so that was taken care of this year. They grow so much over the summer that if I don’t cut them they will cover most of the garden bed! In late February and early March I pruned back the sword ferns, redid the edging, weeded aggressively, pulled out a bunch of salmon berry and then mulched the whole thing with a thick coat from the stuff that has been hanging out on our driveway for far longer than I would like to admit. The mulch is not super great quality but I needed something to make it look more uniform. The front bed looks fabulous and it was so uniform at first that people were walking in it as if it was empty so our asparagus was slightly trampled this year and we did not get more than a few spears before I decided to let it grow. We have since installed a small fence where the asparagus is and I am hoping that will keep people and dogs out of it in the future.

 

Seed starts from April.

 

I was a little bit late starting my seeds this year. I am not the only one upping their gardening game and many of the seeds I wanted were on backorder or were out at the first couple of places I looked. I ended up ordering from Territorial Seed Company and they took a while to get here but the quality was fabulous and we had a very successful germination rate so l ended up ordering way more seeds later on for my fall gardening. For the spring I planted Napa cabbage, two different green cabbages, a red cabbage, bush peas, pole peas, pole beans, lettuce, spinach, potatoes (from a bag in the pantry), watermelon, cucumber and several varieties of squash.

 

Potatoes in a bag.

 

I may have planted too many potatoes. I planted a bunch early from a bag in our pantry that had started to sprout. A couple of weeks later I noticed squirrel holes all over the bed so I planted more, and some in another part of the garden. Then a couple of weeks after that I replanted more potatoes to fill in even more squirrel dug holes and planted some potatoes into the potato bags I found in the garage and we somehow ended up with about 20 plants which is way more than I wanted. I keep running out of soil so I have not been great about mounding dirt up around the potatoes but if things go ok we should have enough potatoes to last us a little bit. My kids don’t really like potatoes except when they are made a couple of ways so I may end up donating some of them to the local free pantry if we have too many.

 

garden beds
New garden beds.

 

This year I decided to put our plants into garden beds instead of directly into the ground. Our soil is not that great and I wanted to mulch around the beds to create a path and reduce the mud. In the past I planted directly into the ground with squash varieties but since we are doing more than squash this year we got some raised beds off of Amazon. We bought three total and used some landscape fabric underneath to reduce the weeds. Our older beds need a soil refresh and but I discovered that after I had done some planting so one of my plans for next fall is to add a bunch of soil and plant some cover crops for the older beds.

 

potted plants
Fairy gardens and our containers.

 

Over Mother’s Day weekend the family got together and planted some seed starts from the store of tomatoes, pumpkins and cantaloupe as well as the Brussels sprouts and artichokes I started in March. I should have planted the seeds I started earlier but honestly I ran out of space in my main vegetable garden and we had to buy both containers and more soil. We had some issues transplanting two of the pumpkins and the cantaloupe and as of right now our cantaloupe won’t make it and the pumpkins might recover. In order to use up more of the empty space in the tomato planters I also sprinkled some lettuce seeds in there and so far we have a few plants coming up.

 

Cabbages April 2020

 

cabbage
Cabbages June 2020

 

One part of our garden that is thriving is the cabbage bed. I totally over planted this one with nine or ten cabbages but they are doing great. These seeds were started around the 14th of April and most of them should be ready to eat around the first week of July. This year I got smart and I wrote the day I planted them and the days to maturity from the package on the popsicle stick labels. I already have another set of seeds planted under these ones so we shall see if those do ok with the larger cabbages in there as well. If not, I plan on starting more seeds indoors with our grow light just in case although I have heard that Napa cabbage will bolt when the weather turns so I may try something else here over the heat of the summer. Cabbages are just starting to form and it is really cool to see. I have not grown cabbages before and honestly I didn’t do any research ahead of time but I view the garden as a gigantic experiment so if these don’t work out I will have a better idea for next year.

 

squash
Squash bed.

 

We have always had good luck with zucchini and yellow squash in our garden. This year is no exception. This bed has three zucchini plants in it as well as some bee attracting flowers. They are probably too close together but that was not a problem for us last year and we fertilized this soil so there is plenty of nutrients. Our male flowers are already blooming but I have not seen any female flowers yet. We have about 8 total squash plants so I am sure we won’t have any issues with pollination. Usually we do three or 4 plants and it has never been an issue for us. We have a really healthy bee population which helps tremendously.

 

strawberry
Strawberry plant.

 

We have been harvesting quite a few strawberries off of the plant I threw into a pot a couple of years ago. For some reason it does really well in the spot that it is in and has strawberries on it weeks ahead of our actual strawberry plot. I think this spot is more sunny than the other and even though the bees have been pollinating away in our main strawberry bed the berries are still super immature and won’t be ripe for another week or two.

 

ladybugs
Releasing lady bugs into the garden

 

One fun thing we tried this year was releasing ladybugs into the garden. I ordered them from Territorial Seeds a couple of weeks ago along with my fall planting seeds and some garlic starts that will ship in September. My kids were a little scared of the lady bugs at first but by the end of it they were picking them up gently and letting them crawl around for a bit before asking for the grownups to remove them. We will definitely be doing this again next year or maybe even later on this summer since we had such a good time. I would have loved to do praying mantises as well but everywhere was out so we haven’t yet. Ladybugs only stick around long enough to lay some eggs and then they move on to the next area. I am hoping in a few weeks we will have lots of little lady bug larva crawling around eating up any aphids on our plants. So far the weather in the PNW has been mostly gloomy and wet and I haven’t seen many aphids but I know that as soon as it warms up a bit we will start to see them more.

 

We are having a great time in the garden this year and hopefully in a few weeks we will be able to start eating most of our vegetables out of the garden instead of buying them at the store. Below are some resources for your garden with no affiliate links, just sites we have used and liked. Happy gardening!

 

Territorial Seed

 

Seed Savers Exchange

 

Ladybug Life Cycle

 

 

 

A Not So Brief Hiatus

A Not So Brief Hiatus

About eight months ago I took a break from blogging. There were many reasons, the most pressing being a complete utter lack of time while trying to maintain balance with both Mr. Oscoey and I working full-time with small kids. To say it was difficult […]


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