Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Community Part I: A Definition


noun, plural -ties.
  1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
  2. a locality inhabited by such a group.
  3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually preceded by the ): the business community; the community of scholars.
  4. a group of associated nations sharing common interests or a common heritage: the community of Western Europe.
  5. Ecclesiastical . a group of men or women leading a common life according to a rule.
What's your definition of community? Here's mine: The place where I live, filled with the people around me, that make up the fiber of my life. My network, my comfort zone, my system.

Having lived in St. Paul but a short 5 1/2 years, I managed to entrench myself in the strongest community I've ever experienced in my entire life. It's amazing what having kids will do for your social life! Part of my strong community is a direct result of my involvement in the activities and organizations I value: ECFE, book clubs, Temple, the co-op day care, preschool. The other part of my strong community is inherent to where I live. The Twin Cities is an area that places a lot of value in community. The municipalities work hard to define and support neighborhoods, which creates a sense of pride in community. My neighborhood, Highland Park, is one such example. It's like living in a small town within a greater metropolis. There are the big city amenities, but you'll run into people you know everywhere you go. Some examples: the receptionist at our doctor's office (which is a 10 minute walk from our house) knows my kids, and let's Buggy play "receptionist" when we have an appointment, we see the librarian at Starbucks, the cashiers at our grocery store know us, I often see people I know driving, walking, or running. We run into friends at any number of places: the library, grocery store, Target, Starbucks, DQ, the coffee shop formerly known as Brewberry's (or "blue"berry's at our house), T-ball, soccer, gymnastics, parks such as Mattocks and Highland, the Highland pool, Wabun wading pool, etc, etc, etc. (do I really need to go on?). Oh how running into a friend instills community! I love arriving at the playground, scanning the crowd, and pointing out friends for Buggy so she can greet them. I love knowing that no matter where we go, we're bound to run into somebody. Well, I mostly love it. I do not love it when I need to run in to the grocery store to return our RedBox movie when I'm unshowered/disheveled/generally stinky. I will DEFINITELY run into somebody I know. Gross.

This is just one slice of my community. Tell me about your neighborhood and why you love it! (or how you wish it were different...) This is a multi-part series, so keep coming back for more! Coming up: giving to your community, neighbors, community and your kids, creating a community, and possibly more!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Community Series

A discussion at ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) and several other happenings in my life have caused me to deeply consider "community." What it is...what it means to I create it changes...etc, etc. I am going to delve into this topic and write multiple posts over the next several months. I would love to hear from you about how you perceive your community, the place it has in your life, and how you entrench yourself it your community. Please comment below so we can start a rich, diverse conversation.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What's in Your Pantry?

To follow up with my recent meal planning post, I thought I would blog about what staples I keep on hand. Having a stocked pantry and refrigerator makes a big difference when you are trying to pull meals together. I'd love to hear what additions you have to the list. Comment below!

In the pantry:
Chicken stock
Diced tomatoes
Tomato Sauce
Olive oil
Vegetable oil
Pasta of different shapes and sizes
White rice
Brown rice
Wild rice
Other grains such as couscous, bulgar, or quinoa
Panko breadcrumbs (read the America's Test Kitchen taste test results here)
Worcestershire sauce
Red wine vinegar
Balsamic vinegar
Basic baking ingredients: flour, white sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, salt
Corn starch (it's my favorite for thickening sauces)
Roasted red peppers
White and yellow onions
Yukon gold potatoes
Sweet potatoes

In the refrigerator:
Salted butter
Soy sauce
Oyster sauce
Tomato paste (get it in the tube - it lasts forever, and you can use as much or as little as you need!)
Plain Greek yogurt
Sour cream
Shredded cheese

In the freezer:
Frozen garlic cubes (click here if you've never heard of this modern marvel of kitchen short-cuttery)
Unsalted butter
Salted butter
Pie crusts (you know, the store bought kind)
Assorted proteins (chicken breasts, thighs, pork chops, sausage, ground beef, ground turkey)
Trader Joe's haricot vert (Trust me. These are good, and good to have on hand in case of a vegetable emergency)
Frozen berries

Friday, February 10, 2012

Meal Planning for the Challenged of Schedule

If you're reading this, you're probably like me: busy mom, hungry family, more items on the to-do list than hours in a day. I think I can help. A little, anyway. Before she joined us at the dinner table, we used to wait for the little lump to go to bed, make something quick, sit down in the living room with our plates on the coffee table (at what we fondly called "the dining table") and eat side-by-side watching reruns of "Trading Spaces" (oh yes we did). When Buggy first started eating table food (read: REAL meals), I had to change my dinner-time strategy. It had always been my husband and I, and then all of the sudden, we had a family to feed. Weird. Fast forward three years, when we added Big K, a kid who eats anything that doesn't eat him first, and talk about a real game changer. Ok, so I have a husband and two kids to feed. No biggie, right? Wrong. Add in all of our activities and just a pinch of my husband's TOTALLY RANDOM schedule, and simmer for a couple years...take the lid off, and oh crap. I have to plan meals around THIS? Yep.

After I got my iPad, I began a fruitless search for the perfect meal-planning app. Let me save you some time - it doesn't exist. (I'm working on that with a wicked smart friend of mine, though). Our family, which is not unlike your family, is very very busy all the time. My husband's shifts vary day by day (did I mention that it's totally random?), I have one kid in preschool, one home with me, I run a small business, volunteer with ECFE, and schelp my kids to Spanish lessons, swimming lessons, gymnastics, playdates, and ECFE. Whew! It was a slow creep, but all of the sudden, my free time completely diminished.

Enter the need to plan ahead. I never even heard of meal planning before I actually needed to do it. Now, I think I've got it down to a science. Here are all of my secret weapons:
  1. Google Calendar
  2. Cookbooks like America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, The Gourmet Slow Cooker, The Joy of Cooking
  3. Magazines with good recipes such as Better Homes and Gardens and Real Simple
  4. Recipe websites: Epicurious,, and Food TV
  5. Binder with sheet protectors and pocketed dividers. This is how I divide them:
    1. Dinners (regular)
    2. Dinners - Quick and Easy
    3. Dinners - Slow Cooker
    4. Sides
    5. Desserts
    6. Breakfast
    7. Entertaining
  6. Twice-a-week trips to the grocery store
Because of my husband's totally random schedule, plus everything else we've got going on, we rely heavily on Google Calendar . He has a calendar where I can see everything he's got going on. I have a calendar where he can see everything I've got going on. And then I have a meal planning calendar. (He doesn't have access to it because, quite frankly, he doesn't care what I'm making for dinner, as long as it's tasty and delicious, and doesn't contain the word "casserole".)

The binder is something I started long before Epicurious let you log in and save recipes. Remember way back before iPads when we used to print out recipes? I am that old. I still like to print out winning recipes because there is always something that I change, or I make notes like "Big hit! Everybody loved it!!" Ok, that doesn't happen too often with a 4 1/2 year old in the house, but you get the idea. I also use the binder for recipes I tear out of magazines or the newspaper. The pockets in the dividers are great for tucking away lists of ideas for recipes you want to find, or recipes you haven't tried yet. I love having my recipes in the sheet protectors so I can take them out of the binder and keep my counter clear as I cook. I suppose Evernote and Epicurious have all but resolved the issue of needing to keep anything on your counter, but this is about how I do it, not about becoming a paper-free techno-chef super-mom.

Every two weeks, I sit down with my calendar, cookbooks, binder, and a list of general meal ideas (standards, things I want to try, proteins in my freezer I need to use, etc). The first thing I look at is my husband's totally random schedule, to figure out when I have to make real meals. I make real meals when it's just me and the kids, too, but it's not nearly as rewarding. And hey, if they're happy eating breakfast for dinner, then why not?! For every night that my husband is home during the dinner hour, I plan to make an honest-to-goodness, prepared-from-a-recipe meal. Because that's how I roll. Monday's are our "slow cooker" day because we have preschool, ECFE, and swimming. I love that I can traipse in and out of the house while dinner cooks, and come home from swimming with two starving kids, plunk them down at the table (that I set during naptime) and feed them immediately. I always serve leftovers on Tuesdays. I do this plan every week regardless of my husband's totally random schedule. I like to figure out how I can rework leftovers into something new. Chicken is really easy for that sort of leftover. Just a couple weeks ago I served roasted chicken and veggies the first night, and chicken potpie the second night. Same ingredients - totally new meal. There are books on the market that help you find meals where this works, but I haven't read any to recommend them. At any rate, here's how I plan the meals:
  1. Brainstorm a list of proteins or general meal ideas, include standards and new ideas
  2. Get inspiration! Flip through magazines (Better Homes and Gardens or Real Simple are great) or check out the quick and easy section at for quick meal ideas.  
  3. Remember my mantra? Cook once, eat twice? Yeah. Here's where I practice it. Look at your calendar and figure out when you need to make meals and plan for leftovers
  4. Plug in your meals as all-day events. Don't forget to indicate where your recipe originates! For instance, if it's a recipe I tore out of a magazine, and keep in my binder, I simply put "Binder" in parentheses next to the name of the meal.
  5. Make a grocery list for the recipes. Note all ingredients you need for the meals, and include quantities. Figure out when you need to get ingredients - plan to buy perishable ingredients for the first half of the week, and again for the second half of the week. **If you have an Android phone, one of my favorite apps is ListMaster Pro (I paid $2 to go ad-free). It's a great time saver, and even includes a voice function so you can speak your list right into your phone. The free version of the app works great, too.
  6. Cook and eat! Don't forget when you make spaghetti sauce, soups or stews, or really freezable fare, double what you make, and freeze it for the future!
This is how I make meal planning work for my family. I would love to hear what you do! Comment below to share tips and tricks. Or let me know about any iPad apps you know, use, and love!

Also, here are some food blogs I really enjoy - I don't always use them as recipe resources, but they sure are fun to read! Dining with Alice, This Week for Dinner, and Under the High Chair. What are your favorites? Comment below!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

MIA, but not missing any action

Yeah, I became one of those bloggers. The type that start off OK, then peter off, say, around the holidays. (sorry about that) But now I'm going to be an anomaly...and pick it up again! I have a million blog posts floating around in my head.  It's the time to type them that I lack. Plus, I hate a photo-less blog post, and feel a lot of pressure to have blog-perfect photos for you.

I've decided to accept mediocrity, and post a recipe I came up with. Many might not think to make croutons at home, but I can tell you that 1) it's super easy, and b) they taste WAY better than the store-bought deal.

Skillet-toasted herby croutons
While I was heating up making dinner last night, I decided to use the last of our Lunds marble rye bread and some of the Trader Joe's Italian pane to make some fresh croutons. Feeling inspired by my recent trysts on Pinterest, I decided to document my process which, I assure you, is as unfussy as it gets. Unfortunately, I didn't think of making it into a blog post until the bread was already in the pan, so you'll just have to visualize the raw bread cubes. No biggie. Also, understand that the way I cook is very approximate. For instance, I usually eyeball spice amounts in the palm of my hand.  It's not because I'm that good. It's because I'm that lazy.  Anyhoo...all amounts are approximate and fluid. Do what you think is right, and it will be right.


An amount of bread - I used three thick slices, and it made enough croutons for a few nights of salad with our dinner
Olive oil - enough to toss the cubes in and lightly coat them
herbs de Provence - about a tablespoon (or as I like to measure it, a small palmful)

Get out a large skillet (you'll want to have enough real estate for a single layer of croutons). Heat the skillet while you cube the bread. Go around the skillet three or four times with your olive oil. Toss the cubes in the pan, along with a palmful of herbs de Provence. Stir to coat the bread cubes. Add more olive oil if necessary.

Let them brown up, turn the cubes over to brown each side. Drain on a paper towel. Add to your salad warm or cooled. Store in an airtight container until you think their time has passed, or you've eaten them all. I don't know how long that is because mine are still good (from two nights ago). I'm guessing you've got maybe a week. Or more, if you're like my husband and think of the date on the milk is more a general guideline, than a hard-and-fast rule (like I do).

If you like this, please pin it!

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Unpurchases I've Regretted

You know that coral trench coat that Target carried a few years ago?  It was about forty bucks, and really cute?  Yeah, that one.  I thought about buying it.  It wouldn't have been a completely ridiculous purchase.  I live in Minnesota after all, and one-third of my wardrobe is outerwear.  Instead of buying it when I saw it (and tried it on - it fit perfectly), I decided to think about it.  Growing up, my mom taught me if something catches my eye to wait before I buy it.  If I really want it, I'll still want it in a week or so.  If not, it's an unnecessary impulse buy.  I'm here to tell you that piece of advice is a bunch of phooey, and should be completely disregarded.  It's the voice of experience speaking here...I went back to Target, money in hand (Figuratively speaking, of course.  Who carries cash anymore?), marched back to the women's department, and......Sold out.  Gone.  None.  Left.  Ok, I thought.  I can look it up online and find one.  Surely there's a Target store somewhere in the metro area that still has one in stock.  I had no luck.  Nobody even had them on eBay!  The coat was completely sold out.  Here I am three years later, lamenting my decision to "think about it".  Thanks, Mom.

I was chatting with a friend last night, and somehow the conversation turned to my missed opportunity with the trench coat.  Would you believe she knew exactly which coat I was talking about?  It got me thinking...there are probably lots of these little missed opportunities, and that it must happen to other people.  It can't be possible that I would be the only person out there that noodles on a $40 Target buy.  Right?  Right??

For me, it's not just things I didn't buy, but also things I didn't buy enough of.  Take my favorite pair of gold ballet flats.  I bought them at Macy's about four years ago from the clearance rack for $16 (regularly $59).  I only bought one pair.  I had no idea they would quickly become my go-to shoes.  For I had never owned a pair of gold shoes.  I did not know of their mystical matching power: they matched EVERYTHING!  I lived in these shoes.  Then, by the time I realized how much I loved them and that they would not last forever, they were no longer in production.  The shoe style is still in production, but the ever-versatile gold was a color of seasons past.  Boo-hoo.  No longer wanting to wear  frayed, scuffed, loose-insoled shoes, I began my hunt for new gold ballet flats.  Finally I found a new pair, after endless hours of hunting.  And, luckily, I do like them almost as much as my first pair.  Of course, I only bought one pair.  Hmm.  I should probably get on that.

What missed shopping opportunities do you regret?