Banana Flax Muffins

If you didn’t already know, I am very much a morning person.  I wake up at 5:30 each morning, without a whole lot of effort.  If you want to keep me up past 10p.m., though, well… good luck.

I’m far likelier to do laundry before leaving for work (which I do between 7 and 7:30 each day) than after I get home from work (between 4 and 6).  I’m far likelier to do dishes before work than after.  And… I’m far likelier to make breakfast than dinner.  Truth.

I’ve got a rotation of warm breakfasts I like: eggs, oatmeal, waffles, but my favorite is definitely these muffins.  They’re simple, and now that I’m comfortable with the recipe, I can whip them up and let them bake while I hit the shower in the morning.

Loaded with ground flaxseed, these give you energy that won’t quit.  And they are incredibly moist despite the fact that they have no butter or oil.  But my absolute favorite thing: the recipe makes a half dozen, so I can bake them in the toaster oven, and it’s not so much that we’ve got muffins around the house all week.

Banana Flax Muffins

  • 1 medium banana
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. ground flaxseed
  • 1 c. flour*
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/4 t. salt

Mash the banana, and mix in the egg and sugar.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir until flour is just moistened.  Batter will be thick.  Spoon into greased muffin tins, and bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.

*I used a cup-4-cup blend I made from Gluten Free on a Shoestring’s recipe.  Other high-quality gluten free flours that measure cup for cup with regular all-purpose flour will do as well.  That said, I’ve also made it with a more typical all-purpose flour blend (King Arthur’s, Bob’s Red Mill, and one I made myself).  All turned out fine, but you will want to go a little lighter on the flour, more like 3/4 cup rather than a whole cup.

Tolerant

Sometimes, your mother tells you things that don’t really seem true at the time, but you figure out that, as usual, she was right in the long run.  One such lesson is “that’s what works for me/my family”.  She tells me I should say this anytime I feel judged.  And she reminds me of this idea anytime I’m tempted to judge others.

Example: I sometimes feel a wee bit judged when it comes to my work ethic or my ability to participate in meaningful outside of work/family activities.  But the thing is, I’m really stingy with my time.  This is mostly because, as an introvert, I am at my best when I spend most evenings at home, and a good chunk of the weekend, too.  My job requires a lot of extroversion, and I need plenty of quiet downtime to recover.  Too much in the way of extracurriculars, and my energy and disposition go downhill fast.  I’ve learned this about myself, so I’ve stopped pretending like it isn’t true.  One outside activity a week, thank you.  And some weeks, even that’s pushing it.  I’m not a shut-in, I swear.  It’s just that I really believe in living life to its fullest, and for me, the only way to do that is to get plenty of alone time.  And then the judgment.  That’s when my mom suggests I just respond with, “that’s just what works for me”.

And obviously, there are plenty of times when I’m prone to judge others, and I have to remind myself “that’s just what works for them”.

On a related note, I’m kind of addicted to the Awesome Etiquette podcast from the Emily Post Institute and the Infinite Guest Network.  Seriously, get on that.  I’m finding that an appropriate response in at least half of all the etiquette questions they feature could be, “that’s just what works for me”.  Geez, mom…

Speaking of being tolerant…

A couple months ago, I was wandering through Costco.  I find this can be a good strategy for discovering new gluten free goodies, but also sometimes wreak havoc on my wallet.  I discovered Tolerant red lentil rotini.  Made with red lentils, one serving boasts 21g of protein and 13g of dietary fiber.  Whoa.

I put it back down, figuring it probably tastes pretty disgusting.  So I hopped on the internet and started reading reviews, which were, surprisingly, overwhelmingly positive.

And then it sat in my cupboard, because who wants to eat red lentil pasta?  During the great kitchen purge of 2015, I felt a twinge of guilt at hoe many expired food items I threw out.  So I finally cooked it tonight with some leftover meat sauce from the weekend.

Tolerant Red Lentil Rotini

I have to be honest, it’s pretty delicious.

Saturday Sentiments

There’s something about spring that gives me all kinds of new energy.  Maybe it’s having a whole week off from school, but there’s a little more bounce to my step, regardless.  I’m just sure of it.

Our yard is positively overgrown with weeds.  I’m having a hard time caring as there such adorable weeds.  Reminds me of a song by Five Iron Frenzy (likely my favorite band in high school): She sees love where anyone else would see weeds.

But a lot has been happening in this brain of mine.  Some of it connected, much of it not.  So here’s my attempt at a new series here on the blog: Saturday Sentiments.  I’ll be sharing the more noteworthy of the random thoughts I’ve been thinking.

Here goes…

Nicole Hunn at Gluten Free on a Shoestring is giving away recipes.  You should seriously get in on this action.

Tracy at Shutterbean will show you what to do with all this grilling weather.  Most definitely on the meal plan this week.

Margaret Feinberg will teach you Why Christians are Wrong about Joy.

I’ve long thought middle class, based on usage, was an incredibly broad term, applied to everyone from those who just barely make ends meet (although they can do that) on up, stopping just short of millionaires.  Pew Charitable Trust takes away a bit of the mystique in their definition.  Obviously, they don’t account for how many people are in the household, but still an interesting guideline.

This interesting piece about whether being able to stay home with your kids is a luxury or not spoke to me.  Perhaps we should amend our definition of “luxury”, as well.  If you’re at middle class or higher (see above) with only one income, it’s probably a luxury, even if it means you sacrificed other luxuries to have it.

Deborah at Taste and Tell showed us how to make the most amazing looking lemon cakes.  Lemon is a taste that exactly belongs in spring, I believe.

It’s not enough to divide the world by extroverts and introverts, labels that are increasingly difficult to pin down around here, as Joel and I both reside somewhere in the middle though for different reasons.  Now, you can also figure out which of the 4 kinds of introverts you are.

I’ll go ahead and say it now that Suze Orman is off the air and won’t publicly judge me for it: sometimes, the full 8-month (or whatever rule you follow) emergency fund can seem a bit daunting.  This helps put it into perspective.

More on loving your home…

This is a continuation of a post I wrote earlier this week.  Think of the previous post as the “before”, and this post as the “after”.

A few weeks ago, I wasted a Saturday morning on zillow.  At first, I wanted to see what our neighbor’s house sold for.  But then it turned into something else entirely.  A little backstory…

Joel and I eventually plan on adding on a bedroom and a bathroom, possibly even an additional living space.  We actually planned on doing this during this past year (pre-children and all), but some unexpected expenses and other priorities meant putting that plan on hold.  Which was fine.  Since then, somebody close to us has urged us to consider selling and moving, rather than adding onto this house.

Now, I’ll be honest.  While selling and moving sounds tortuous to me, remodeling and adding on to the house right off our kitchen (as this is the planned location) while we have children actually sounds worse.  So there I was on zillow…

We adore our neighborhood, but there are a few other neighborhoods on our side of town that have a lot of the same things going for them.  These, unfortunately, are tremendously out of our budget (like 2 to 3 times our budget).  So our neighborhood it was.  And I looked at basically every home in the neighborhood, starting with the ones that were actually for sale, but then moving on to the ones that weren’t.  Most of the houses in our neighborhood are much like ours: 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom.  We want something at least 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom, which limited things a lot.

There is literally only one house in the whole neighborhood that fits this description and is in our budget.  Literally one.  And I don’t even want that one.  Because one of the bedrooms was in a converted attic, meaning that my husband could not have stood up in it.  Moreover, one of the bathrooms was also in said converted attic, and my husband could not have stood up in that, either.  But okay… that bedroom/bathroom is for the kids.  Still no good, because the dining room (and there was no space for a table in the kitchen) could have barely seated two people at a table.  And even if we didn’t love hosting people for meals, we also very much enjoy having people over for board games, which necessitates a large dining room table.  I’ll take my house any day.

And in truth, it was a good lesson in being content.  Because the grass rarely is actually greener.  And sometimes, the only way to remember that is to spend some time inspecting each individual blade. So I love my home.   But I’m also looking for ways to make it work for me. That’s what this is going to be about…

This is my kitchen!
This is my kitchen!

This is currently sitting on the peninsula, directly ahead of you when you walk into the kitchen. Immediately to the left of the entrance, the peninsula connects to the wall, but without any under counter storage.  Over time, I’ve been able to get two different shelves that just barely fit under the counter.  One holds kitchen appliances.  One is like a rolling pantry for all the costcos* of food we like to buy.  The basket holds drinks (lately Costco has had our favorites on special, so we really stocked up) and old towels to clean up Ramona when she comes in from the backyard on a muddy day.  To the right, you can see a plastic bin that holds a costco* of rice.

under counter storage
under counter storage

This is the peninsula I keep going on about.  I love this vast counter space, especially now that everything has a home and things don’t get left on the peninsula for days/weeks.  Pumpkin artwork courtesy of my brother.

the peninsula
the peninsula

Foster coat of arms, as that’s a family name on my husband’s side.  Beneath that, I have a decorative rack (a gift from my mother) for holding my beautiful measuring cups (a gift from my grandmother).  Handily placed, as below that window, you’ll find…

baking pantry
baking pantry

This rack is sized exactly right to fit into this nook, with just a few inches clearance on either side.  It connects to the other under counter storage on the other side.  This little rack houses my entire chemistry set, with a vast selection of flours, starches, grains, nuts, and gums.  Less used baking supplies and larger containers of said flours, starches, grains, nuts, and gums are in the cabinet just to the left.  It is deep and therefore rather cumbersome to find things in, so having this handy cart has made baking tremendously more enjoyable.  I’ve had this cart for awhile, though I did revamp the way it was organized a bit.  It’s incredibly sturdy, and I loved it so much, I bought one for the pantry space on the other side of the counter.

Side note: If you’re into uniformity when it comes to containers as I am, mason jars can be a great way to go.  They’re fairly affordable, food safe, and easy to come by so if you ever need more, you know you’ll be able to find them.

To the right of the peninsula, there’s a stretch of counter from wall-to-wall of the room (excluding where this stove is.  Like I mentioned in the previous post, I absolutely adore this little section between the sink and the stove.  It’s exactly the right size for a standard size dish mat.

sink and stove
sink and stove

I know a lot of people don’t like to have a dish rack out on the counter at all times.  I’ve sort of resigned myself to this, as we don’t have a dishwasher.  It’s not the most beautiful, but it sure is practical, and if it keeps me doing the dishes more regularly, it works for me.

The stove is an electric stove that was here when Joel bought the house.  It works fine, so I can’t complain, but we hope to upgrade to gas at some point.  There’s a ledge behind the stove that houses salt, pepper, vinegars, oils, etc.  Above that are my baking dishes.  We have some others (primarily, the ones small enough for the toaster oven), but these are the ones I use constantly.

And to the right, you can see our new pegboard.

Joel and I are a wee bit obsessed with magnets.  We switched our spices into these magnetic canisters (uniformity and whatnot).  When we were brainstorming how to mount a metal panel to place them on, we got the idea of a metal pegboard instead.  It’s opened up TONS of storage in the kitchen.  All of my favorite utensils are right there, rather than being cluttered in a crock on the stove.  My favorite cookware, probe thermometer, and my favorite cutting board.

Putting a lot of the regularly used supplies on the pegboard allowed us to condense some of the cabinets (e.g., cookware and bakeware are combined in the cabinet now), without having to sacrifice space.  This also allowed me to get some more regularly used things down to a shelf or cabinet where I can reach them.  I’m sure I’ll be playing with the layout of this in the coming months, as I figure out what I need it to do for me.

this pegboard, though
this pegboard, though

All of that to say… there’s no perfect house out there.  Expecting that from the house you have will undoubtedly leave you feeling frustrated and discontent.  On the other hand, look for the small ways that you can tweak what you have to get it to work for you.  And even though full remodel might seem like the most obvious choice, you might be able to get just a couple new things to minimize the flaws you’re seeing.  For me, it was all about maximizing storage in this kitchen.  It had the space, but a lot of it was wasted.

I know this kitchen will never be featured in a magazine.  Most kitchens won’t, really.  But this kitchen works for our family, and I can’t help but love that.

 

* “Costco”, while obviously a store, can also be used as a unit of measure meaning a relatively large quantity of this item.  Obviously, “a costco of cinnamon” might be small compared to “a costco of rice”, but relative to the quantities you typically see, both are extremely large.

Love the home you have

Love the Home you HaveLove the home you have.

A message I need to hear. Constantly. I’m so quick to find myself discontent, with almost no reason to.

A little history…

I married into my home. While Joel and I were dating, he made the move from Carrboro to Durham, where he and I both worked. I had the privilege of helping him with the house hunt. Realistically, this could have been a disaster for our relationship. Luckily, Joel and I have similar values when it comes to homes: 1) Old charm, 2) Location, 3) Long-term Potential.

Check, check, and check. We live in a home built in 1950, located in a quiet neighborhood with loads of conveniences (huge park, dog park, community center with pool and gym, children’s museum, another park, and loads of trails in and around the neighborhood) that’s within 15 minutes drive of both of our jobs. We can also walk to the best Peruvian food around, objectively the best tacos in the area, and Pelican’s. … so the location is basically the best. In terms of long-term potential, this house is small (2 small bedrooms and 1 bathroom), and that’s definitely a downside when it comes to having children. On the other hand, it sits on a large lot, and we live in a neighborhood where adding an extra bedroom/bathroom would definitely pay back in terms of return. That’s definitely in our long-term plan, and until then, we are happy to know we have a well-built home.

So I have about a thousand reasons to love the home I have. But I don’t always. I focus on the things we don’t have: a dishwasher, a pantry, a paved driveway, a ventilation hood over my stove (I pretty much only mind this one when I’ve burned something), storage… I could keep going.

But I’m trying really hard to love the home I have. And really, what’s the point of listing my home’s shortcomings, when it has such a long list of things I love about it.

And while I loved my home when I first moved in, I have to say, that I enjoy it a whole lot more now than I did then.  For one, it actually feels like my home now.  For two, Joel and I have been steadily fixing this old house up since two months after we got married when I woke up to water dripping from the ceiling in the kitchen.  It’s gotten a new roof, tons of new pipes, a little bit of new paint, a whole lot of cleaning.  It’s gotten new furniture, new ceiling fans, and new-to-us kitchen faucet and fridge.  But more than any of the new stuff, I’ve gotten to know the house better.  We’ve established a life here, and it’s like we’ve gotten to know the house better, and it’s gotten to know us better.

Over at The Nesting Place, Myquillyn talks a lot about making your home work for you.  I’m figuring out how to do that, and I’m loving things so much more.

Last spring, I redid our living room for less than $150.  While I’m fully aware that $150 is still a lot of money, considering the purchase of a new couch and the reupholstery of two chairs, I’m pretty happy with that.  In general, these days, I’m pretty thrilled with our living room.  It works for us practically, but is also pretty enough I can relax in it.  The bedrooms, though nothing tremendously special, work for us as well.  We’ve figured out how to store our clothes and books just perfectly to still give us plenty of room in our bedroom.  And we’ve finally cleaned and set up the second bedroom in preparation for our foster children, which we’re expecting to be licensed for late spring/early summer.  And our bathroom, ugly as it is, is veritably massive for a 1950’s home, boasting double sinks, a large tub, and plenty of room for several people to get ready at once.  This home is really starting to work for us.

Except the kitchen.  It’s spring break, and my mission is to change that.  But in the spirit of loving the home I have, let’s talk about what I really do love about this kitchen.

Number 1: this peninsula

counter tops for days
counter tops for days

This peninsula gives me miles of counter space.  Seriously, I’ve never seen a kitchen this size with so much useable counter space.

Number 2: a standard-sized stove

I know this seems like a given, but I can’t tell you how many older homes Joel and I looked at where it wasn’t.  I’m so incredibly thankful for this stove and oven.  And I’m also thankful for the fact that it has a gas line going right to it, because eventually, I know I’ll get a gas stove.  Woot!

testing

Number 3: this spot right next to the sink

This little spot of counter right there sandwiched between the stove and sink.  Yep, it’s exactly the size of a standard drying mat.  Love.

But no kitchen is without its failings.  This kitchen primarily has a problem with storage.  With few upper cabinets, and even fewer lower cabinets (the peninsula has almost no cabinets beneath it), this is a major issue.  Also, the funky shape of said peninsula means I can’t buy standard shelves to go beneath it because of all the odd angles.  Lack of storage coupled with my Costco obsession means I’m going to need to get creative to keep all those extra cans of tomato paste accessible.  And then there’s also the issue of my giant supply of gluten free flours (Joel refers to it as my “chemistry set”).  I’ve got my work cut out for me this week.

Changes

First, this blog is undergoing some changes.  Many posts are missing, temporarily.  This is getting fixed, and I apologize for any inconvenience in the meantime.

For now, know this: this place will be changing.  It’ll probably broaden a bit in its scope to include more lifestyle posts, but recipes, as always, will continue to be its heart and soul.  I look forward to spending more time with you.

xo,
Jenny

Meal Planning

Before there are groceries, there are meals.  There’s a plan.  Built on the weather, what’s fresh at the farmer’s market, what’s cheap at the supermarket, and whatever my/my husband’s work schedule looks like this week.  I always try to plan the more complicated meals earlier in the week, because I know I’ll have more energy.  Warm meals should coincide with cold nights.  Grilling with warm nights.  And these days, North Carolina is getting both in the same week.  Plan a salad for Tuesday instead of Thursday, and you might seriously regret it.

Completely unrelated, but I fell asleep while watching Scandal last night, which means I was watching what I had missed this morning, and I just spent the last 5 minutes with my hand covering my mouth, gasping repeatedly as things became more and more intense.  Why did I think this could be a chill watch-as-you-write-a-blog-post show this morning?

And that’s how we ended up with shepherd’s pie planned for this last Monday.  Monday was supposed to be cold.  I had come across a picture of shepherd’s pie on pinterest, and very much wanted to eat it.  Joel has been requesting shepherd’s pie basically since we got married.  I didn’t grow up with it, and thought the whole concept was gross.  But oh, that picture.  I wish I could find it again, but well… you know the internet.

I didn’t even realize Monday was St. Patrick’s Day until I got to school that morning and saw my colleague’s shamrock tie.  But even then, I didn’t put together that shepherd’s pie was a good St. Patrick’s Day dinner.  And if I’m being really honest, Monday was a rough day for me.  I got home and made a huge mistake.  I sat down.  As soon as I sit down in the evenings, I don’t get up.  Knowing this, I sat down anyway.  I browsed instagram.  And whoa… St. Patrick’s Day was happening in a serious way.  It was all soda bread and Guinness.

The coincidence was irresistible.  To the point that I actually got off my hindquarters and made it.

Shepherd's Pie

In the end, it was a whole lot easier than I expected.  Here’s how it went down:

Shepherd’s Pie

Adapted from Alton Brown

For the potato topping:

  • 1 1/2 pounds red skin potatoes, chopped with skin on
  • 3 T. unsalted butter
  • 1/3 c. milk
  • 1 t. salt

For the filling:

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 small carrots, diced
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. black pepper
  • 2 T. corn starch
  • 1 1/2 c. chicken broth
  • 2 t. tomato paste
  • 1 t. gluten free Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 t. dried thyme
  • 1/2 c. frozen corn
  • 1/2 c. frozen peas

Get the potatoes in boiling water.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large (preferably oven safe) skillet, cook the onion and carrot in olive oil over medium heat until the onion is just barely translucent.  Add in the ground beef.  Cook until browned.  Add salt and pepper.  Stir the cornstarch into the chicken broth until mixed completely.  Set aside.  Add tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, and chicken broth mixture to the ground beef mixture.  Continue to cook until just barely thickened.  Add corn and peas.  If your skillet is oven safe, you can use that.  If not, transfer to a casserole dish.

When potatoes are cooked through, drain.  Add butter, milk, salt, and pepper.  Mash.  Spread over the filling, beginning at the edge and working your way to the middle.

Bake for approximately 25 minutes or until potato topping is just starting to brown.

Meal Planning

I’ve gone through several approaches to meal planning.  I’ve stuck with some longer than others.  Sometimes, a system will last me a couple years, sometimes only a month.  The real problem with any of these systems is that they just don’t work when my lifestyle changes.  I’ve gone from college, to internship, to office job, to teaching, to a summer off… and now I’m preparing to teach at a new school, which will be unpredictable in its own very unique ways.  I’m starting back next week, and I’m trying to make sure I’m prepared to eat healthy, even when my schedule is a bit demanding.  The beginning of the school year always requires a lot of time.  A new school will require even more.  And a new grade level, well… I’m prepared to disappear for a little bit.

So… eating healthy.  Meal planning.  How do I do this?

Step 1: Prepare.

We were given a stand alone freezer this year, which is a tad ridiculous for a home with only 2 people in it.  Nonetheless, it’s enabled me to squirrel away all kinds of meals.  I’ve made gluten free pizzas, butternut squash lasagna, gluten free meatloaf, and a couple chicken and broccoli casseroles.  That’s 1-2 meals a day that all I have to do is pull out of the freezer and bake.  Not everyone has a massive freezer sitting in their living room.  I get it.  But even if you do this on a much smaller scale (e.g., weekly vegetable prep), it can still be a lifesaver when it comes time to prepare dinner after a 12 hour work day.

Step 2: Stock the right groceries.

Know what you eat.  Don’t buy things you don’t really like in the hopes that after a really hard work day, you’ll suddenly start stress-eating carrots.  You won’t.  Well… I guess you might.  But more likely, you won’t.  So keep those staples handy.  Here’s a guide to our pantry, fridge, and freezer staples:

Pantry:

  • Chicken stock
  • Rice
  • Corn tortillas
  • Canned beans
  • Evaporated milk
  • Corn starch (a gluten free girl’s best friend)
  • Sauces: spaghetti sauce, barbecue sauce, and pretty much anything gluten free by San-J

Fridge/Freezer:

  • Cooked chicken strips (kept in the freezer)
  • Sausage (I like to have cooked and uncooked both available)
  • Chicken (I like to get whole cut chicken from the farmer’s market)
  • Ground beef (I leave it uncooked so I have flexibility, but once thawed, it cooks up in a flash)
  • Steak (I use bison steak more often than not, but it turns into tacos super fast)
  • Bacon bits (typically I cook these up in a batch, but I’ve also purchased high quality bacon bits when in a pinch)
  • Veg (I stock my favorites in large quantities in the freezer, and smaller portions in the fridge)
  • Gluten free bread (udi’s multigrain from costco, flatbread from med deli, and the occasional gluten free biscuits

Step 3: Have a game plan.

Now that I’ve got all the right stuff, I can start cooking.  Having a game plan in the past, always meant a day-by-day meal assignment.  Monday this, Tuesday that.  You know the drill.  This never worked me before, because each day was completely unpredictable.  So I’m throwing that out the window.  I have a bunch of meals that I can make (or that my husband can make), and I’m keeping that list handy (along with the very abbreviated directions I might leave my husband on the fridge).  Here goes:

Comfort Food:

  • Chicken pot pie (veg, chicken, and chicken stock into an oven safe skillet; add cornstarch and cook until thickened; top with bisquick biscuits; bake)
  • Cheesy rice (cook onions in large skillet; add rice and chicken broth; cook until almost all broth has been absorbed; add cheese, spices, protein, and veg of choice – some veg and protein will need to be added earlier in the process to ensure they’re cooked through)
  • Creamy pasta (cook onions in large skillet; add pasta, evaporated milk, and chicken broth; cook until almost all broth has been absorbed; add cheese, spices, protein, and veg of choice – some veg and protein will need to be added earlier in the process to ensure they’re cooked through)
  • BBQ chicken quesadillas (combine cooked chicken with bbq sauce; warm in toaster oven; build quesadillas and cook in nonstick skillet until slightly browned and cheese is melted)

Healthy:

  • Salad (chop lettuce; top with whatever you’ve got on hand)
  • Lettuce wraps (cook rice in rice cooker; cut lettuce into hand-sized cups; cook chicken in sauce of choice)
  • Tomato caprese (slice tomatoes and mozzarella; add basil if you have it on hand; drizzle with balsamic reduction or vinaigrette)

Ethnic:

  • Roasted tomatoes with pasta (drizzle cherry tomatoes with olive oil and roast; top with italian sausage if desired; cook pasta)
  • Steak tacos (grill steak along with chopped onions and peppers; warm beans and corn tortillas; slice steak)

Other Random Ideas:

  • Honey lime chicken (mix honey and lime juice; pour over chicken and bake; cook rice in rice cooker; warm black beans)
  • Grilled sandwiches (fill with cheese, protein, and veg of choice; grill until golden brown; flipping in the absence of a panini or sandwich maker)
  • Grilled sausage and vegetables (grill sausages and vegetables; done)

There are definitely tastier versions of some of these recipes.  But you can’t beat the simplicity of these ideas.  All of these recipes keep my diet relatively well balanced.  They’re not necessarily the healthiest, but they’re certainly better than the popcorn I had for dinner multiple times this past school year.

Although some might take 30 minutes to an hour to cook, this time is largely unsupervised.  I like to stick around the kitchen and finish up my evening chores while they cook, since my recipes don’t include cooking times.  But in 30 minutes to an hour, I can wash breakfast and lunch dishes , feed our pets, get some laundry started, and maybe do a quick sweep of the house.

Being Realistic

I’m trying to be realistic about this school year.  We’ve discussed this before.  I’m anticipating a lot of late nights, possibly without a lot of warning.  Joel and I have been discussing this and how we’re going to stick to our budget and eat healthy during this time.  So Joel’s taking over one dinner per week.  We’ve got 1-2 meals per week in the freezer.  One meal a week, Joel gets home late, so we do dinner separately.  That just leaves 1-2 meals per week.  Weekends don’t count because we have them off, and I enjoy cooking those days.

And with the irregular schedule that I’ll be keeping, this is less about meal planning and more about appropriately stocking the fridge, freezer, and pantry.  We’ve stocked up at Costco on all the usual time-saving suspects: Organic chicken stock, rice, frozen veggies (these don’t save time, necessarily, but they’re handy when I don’t know exactly when we’re going to be eating what), gluten free frozen grilled chicken, cheese (put into smaller packages and frozen, so it doesn’t go bad

Burdens

It’s a bad word.  Nobody says “burden” in a good way.  Ever.

But what does it even mean?  Something that weighs down on you, often times impacting every other part of your life.

I’ve been reading a lot about minimalism this spring/summer, and I’m finding that minimalists like to throw this word around a lot.  “Stuff is a burden.”  Sure, I can get behind that.  All stuff requires work and money (however little) to maintain and space to be stored.  Such a burden.

But I’m finding, that at least for me, minimalism can be a burden as well.  In all the reading I’ve done about minimalism, I’ve found myself frequently frustrated and in a poor mood after I read a blog post or article on the subject.  That isn’t right.  The idea is that minimalism is supposed to be life giving.

So why hasn’t it been for me?

Well, in many ways, it has.  Shrinking the amount of stuff in our bedroom gives me a real sense of peace when I’m going to bed.  The kitchen is easier to work in, frequently cleaner, and all around more pleasant to be in, now that I’ve gotten rid of unnecessary items.  Our living/dining room have always been fairly clutter free, and with few exceptions, it’s remained so during this season.

But there’s this other side of minimalism that I find very burdensome.  It’s the legalism, the rules about how I’m supposed to live, and they’re driving me bonkers.  For example, I read a blog the other day that had an important principle to living with less: “Live on only one income.”  And then I become very discontent with the amount of money that my husband and I make because this seems close to impossible without severely cutting back our lifestyle (hello beans and rice!) and postponing or altogether removing our long term goals (having a family).  My discontentment is my problem, and it’s not fair of me to outsource that on somebody else.

At the same time, hard and fast rules seem unrealistic, however well-intentioned.  When people say things like “live on only one income”, they assume that one of your two incomes is sufficient to live off of.  And while Joel and I certainly could live on only one income if we really needed to, there are a lot of families that simply can’t without governmental aid which they wouldn’t qualify for since they still bring in the two incomes.  And then the spirit of the rule is that you live simply, which Joel and I would certainly accomplish by living on only one income, but I have plenty of friends who still could and would live extravagant lifestyles doing the same.  So the rule doesn’t even accomplish the purpose.  There’s just no way that you can assume that any family could (or should) cut their spending in half, or that if they did, the result would be simplicity.

But the more burdensome part of this to me is what it would mean I would have to give up.  Fresh, sustainably grown fruits and veggies.  Humanely treated and sustainably raised meat.  Dinner out with my husband.  Bella Monica, forever and always.  A breakfast date with a friend.  The possibility of having children of different sexes (because while it’s not necessary, I really think it’s important for boys and girls to have separate bedrooms).  Living within walking distance to an amazing park and fantastic museum.  Living in a neighborhood where I feel safe.  Extra school supplies so that the kids whose parents can’t afford it don’t feel left out and are still able to learn.  Vacation.  And the list goes on.

Could we give up these things?  Certainly.  Should we?  And here’s where the question gets trickier.  Sure, I sometimes spend my money on things that are less than life giving, but the majority of my money goes towards things I really want and enjoy, things that are life-giving.  (And it goes without saying that my husband and I are savers and are debt free except for our mortgage, so we’re not being foolish by putting a dinner out on the credit card.)

Money is meant to be used.  And the ideas behind minimalism were never supposed to make me unwilling to spend it.  Rather, they’re supposed to challenge the way I choose to spend it, which is an idea I gleaned from Vanderkam’s All the Money in the World.  And I choose to spend money in a way that gives life… to others, to my family, to the world.

I’ve found myself buying fewer clothes, fewer shoes, and fewer kitchen gadgets.  But I also didn’t hold back at all when my husband and I saw the latest DC Heroes game (I checked our budget, but didn’t hold back when I saw we had the money there).  There’s room in life for stuff.  Stuff can squeeze life out, but lack of stuff can also do that.  The trick is to find the balance.