Monday, August 3, 2015

Meal Planning Monday

Last week was, more or less, a meal planning success. We overspent the week before, so I pulled meals together based on things we already had. We also had a plethora of produce that came from my grandmother's garden; beets, green beans, onions, rhubarb. We managed to stay very close our $100 budget, mostly because I didn't step foot in a grocery store for - well, almost - the whole week.

The plan last week looked like this;

  • Tuesday Hamburgers with homemade buns
  • Wednesday Chicken and Goat Cheese Salad
  • Thursday Roasted Yam and Kale Salad with chicken
  • Friday Beet green salad
(Saturday and Sunday were undetermined, so I ended up rolling them into this coming week, since I planned and did groceries on Saturday anyway.)

Believe it or not, we stuck to this plan with one exception. On Friday, we ran around town doing a few errands - returns and exchanges mostly - and decided we really didn't want to think about dinner when we got back. We stopped at a grocery store and picked up a frozen pizza to toss in the oven instead. It's better than take-out, right?

A few things helps us through last week.

We bought a bag of frozen fish fillets for $10. There are a surprising amount of fillets in the bag, so whenever I'm stuck for a meal, I can always reach for a couple. Fish is incredibly easy and quick to prepare, even when it's frozen. 

It's incredibly handy knowing how to make bread. We had planned burgers, but originally forgot to buy buns. With no room left in the week's budget, I pulled out my breadmaker and made them instead. I would say they turned out surprisingly well! 

The kale in our garden has taken off and really needs to be harvested. This means plenty of kale salads in our future, all for free!  

So, what's coming up for this week?

  • Monday Frozen pizza. (Again. Mondays are the day I have the most difficulty sticking to a plan, so if we start off easy, I hope the rest of the week will be easier too.)
  • Tuesday Meatloaf with green beans.
  • Wednesday Fish tacos.
  • Thursday Meatless quesadillas.
  • Friday Leftovers. (AKA meatloaf and green beans!)
I spent $51 at the grocery store on Saturday. Some of my plan for this coming week uses things we already have: ground beef, frozen fish, salsa, etc. If we can stick to this plan, we'll have a little wiggle room in future weeks to stock up on some of those staples again. 

What is your go-to when you don't want to think about making dinner? We love pizza, but perhaps there's something better we can add to our meal rotation!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Saturday Survival

Saturday.


We were up at 6 am, but really at 2 am, with a teething but playful baby who really really didn't want to sleep. Coffee didn't help - brewed, creatively, through a paper towel, since both coffee presses were in the dishwasher, and drunk black because both the cream and the milk went sour in the fridge two days ago. We dragged ourselves through the first hour or so of the day, lazily making plans for the hours ahead of us.

And then, we leapt into chaos.

Isabel has been difficult lately. Her incisors are breaking through, months ahead of schedule, and the pressure of teeth descending out of her gums has stolen away my happy baby and left behind this shrieky thing. I find myself moving through each moment with her just waiting for the next one, willing nap time to come soon, begging her to play by herself, just for five minutes. It feels terrible, this waiting. No stage of this parenting thing lasts for long and sometimes I fear that I'm allowing it all to slip through my fingers. Every so often, I find myself standing in Isabel's nursery, rocking her growing body back and forth, wondering how I go here, how I landed in the world of motherhood. The baby she was has slipped out of my memory, but this toddler in my arms? I hardly recognize her and it terrifies me that I am letting any moment go for the sake of survival.

But survival it is. I try to be easy on myself. Motherhood is hard. Day in, day out, my life is governed by a toddler's moods. I steal moments of rest from time I'm meant to be doing dishes. I fold laundry between redirecting little feet and knees and hands away from the stairs. I try - and usually fail - to block out tired, teething squeals. Annoyance creeps into my voice more often than I wish it did.

This Saturday was productive. All those clothes got put away. We did our groceries and made a trip to Home Depot. We got a few fun projects done. And yet. I sit here with my feet up and my baby finally sleeping and I can't help but worry that this was just another day I moved through, passing Isabel off to Mark as frequently as I could, ignoring the fussiness, but also not slowing down so I can catch the giggles, few though they may have been.

Toddlerhood is short. A lot of toddlerhood - so far - doesn't seem particularly fun. I'm ok with that and, most days, I'm ok with resorting to survival mode. But, I need to make sure I break out of it every so often to sit on the floor with her and flip through her favourite books, to build duplo buildings so she can take them apart, to take her outside and let her splash around in the kiddie pool. In those moments, I know I will find the energy to hold on, to survive the next difficult night, the next inexplicable fit of crying and clinging.

And soon, we'll be on to the next thing, a better thing, maybe and I'll be wondering, nostalgically,  where my toddler went.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Garden 2015: Weeds Galore but also Vegetables


At the beginning of the season, I was very hesitant about our garden this year. If Mark had agreed, I probably would have thrown the towel in on the whole thing and purchased a bunch of rolls of sod instead of seeds for the space. This is the fifth year we've planted, and, over the past three harvests, I've learned a few less than pleasant things about myself when it comes to gardening.

There was the first year. It was kind of haphazard, planted quickly in the middle of renovations and left to neglect. But the carrots! The carrots did so well, we were eating carrot soup for weeks. Gardening seemed like a piece of cake.

I was even more ready for it for the second year, eager to get going. I started our tomatoes and jalapenos in February, silly me, and ended up with bumper crops that were way too big for their own good by the end of April. I even learned about hardening plants off and was thrilled when those plants thrived. We moved our garden from along one fence to the back of the property, built a pretty split-rail fence and put in six raised beds. We did a lot of work that first spring. In the end, we complained about the number of tomatoes we had and allowed so many of them to rot on the vine. Our carrots - which had done so well a year before - were attacked by spiders, so I just allowed them to turn back to compost in the ground. Our beans? We wanted pole beans, but ended up with bush beans, and by the time we realized they were ready to pick, they were already to big. Our lettuce bolted. We let our beds go to weeds.


Our third year, I approached the whole thing with much less eagerness. We were in the middle of renovations on the attic at the time, and the winter had been long, so by the time we rolled up our sleeves and got to work on the soil, we were excited for a change in pace. We thought we could learn from the year before. We planted fewer tomatoes, and just bought them instead of starting them really early ourselves. We carefully selected pole beans instead of bush beans. We bought a sprinkler. We tried container gardening. We gave some of our plants more room to grow and allowed some butternut squash to take over some good square footage. Once again, by July, we let our beds go to weeds.

Last year, our fourth year. Well, what do you expect? I was 8 months pregnant during planting season. I had zero desire to pull weeds. But, we planted anyway, and we didn't even attempt to reign in our ambition. And then, there was Isabel. We let our beds go to weeds, and yet we harvested plenty of beans, plenty of carrots, plenty of tomatoes, even some lettuce and zucchini.


Now, here we our. The fifth year of our garden. From all of this, I have come to realize that I do not have the dedication to garden. Most years, I start off so excited to plant, so excited to see what will come out of the earth for us to eat. Many years I think about the money we might be able to save if we can actually coax enough produce from our land. We try something new every year, learning along the way. And yet, we lack follow through. We aren't consistent enough with weeding. We aren't on top of things enough to get the timing for harvesting right. Half the things we plant lead to nothing.

It can be so frustrating.

So, at the beginning of the spring, I was hesitant. I didn't want to end the growing season feeling like a neglectful failure again. Mark, however, wanted a garden and insisted it would be his summer project. We bought tomato plants, and jalapeno plants, seeds for beets, carrots, radishes, corn, beans, kale, and broccoli. We planted everything. I continued to doubt.


But, despite our neglectful nature as gardeners, our garden didn't let us down and, as I look over our history, I realize that it never has. Seeds know what they're doing. If they can, plants will grow and thrive without the help of a gardener. They don't need us to grow. They provide so selflessly.

These days, the tomatoes, which have collapsed on the tomato cages into a massive tangle of tomato bush, are turning red. The jalapenos are ready to harvest. The radishes are ready to be taken out and replaced with something else, spinach maybe. The carrots are ready for thinning. The kale is ready to be eaten. The beans never came up. The broccoli is doing I don't know what. And the corn has little cobs on it, cobs I have very little hope for, but am happy to see. Every year has some success.

Every year, we will plant a garden.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Meal Planning Struggles: Searching For Success

Meal planning does not come easily to me. Does it come easily to anyone? I need to know your secrets. There's something about the task of deciding what we're going to eat for the week that sends all recipes and favourite foods scurrying out of my head.

These days, I'm using two things to help this predicament.

One


Pepperplate is a free meal planning website and app that allows you to import your favourite recipes and turn them into meal plans, menus, and shopping lists. It takes some time to set up, since your account comes empty, with no recipes in it whatsoever, but I'm hoping that, after a few weeks of tracking our meals and recipes on it, I'll be able to easily pull together plans for our week.

Twice now, I've also used the shopping list feature that comes with it. On one hand, it works great, but it's a little more cumbersome than a simple list on a piece of paper, so I'm not sure I'll continue to use it.

Two


This was a simple DIY that I just completed yesterday, so we'll see if it even works for us. I pulled out a very dusty frame that we've had sitting around, doing nothing for ages. It lived in the garage for a while, then found it's way into Isabel's bedroom closet. It was just a cheap frame, and I'm fairly certain the style is still easy to find, but I could have used any type of frame. This one is nice because it has twelve panes to break things up easily.


See what I mean by dusty? And look how young those kids look! Before my hair started to go grey, before Mark trimmed his hair into a proper, professional cut.

I removed the photos as carefully as I could, but most of them had been in the frame so long, they had stuck to the glass and ripped. Oh well; we have the digital files somewhere, sitting on one old computer or another. I used the old photos as a template to cut new paper to put into the frames. At first, I just used white paper, but then, I remembered that I still had a pack of patterned paper tucked away with my craft supplies. Much better than white, yes?


It hangs in our kitchen now, a prominent place to remind me of what we're going to be eating each day of the week. It also contains schedules, upcoming plans, shopping lists, messages, and to-do tasks. I think it doesn't look too bad, but that wall definitely needs more. Some kind of artwork maybe?


Are these things actually going to help me keep to a meal plan for the first time ever? I don't know. Maybe. What do you think? If you meal plan, how do you stick to it in order to avoid waste, and keep your family appropriately fed?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Refrigerator Confessions

My refrigerator is embarrassing.


Today, I cleaned it out. I threw out:

  • One large ziploc bag filled with half a package of macaroni noodles and one head of chopped broccoli, left over from a camping trip we took two and a half weeks ago.
  • One serving of pork chop pieces, left over from approximately four weeks ago.
  • Half a box of baby spinach leaves, wilted, stuck to the sides, and foul smelling.
  • Three half eaten tubs of yogurt, each approximately a month over their due dates.
  • One container of mold-speckled rice salad.
  • One container of leftover rice, veggies, mold, and chicken.
  • One container of leftover linguine and pea pesto. (Maaaaybe it was ok? But it's been sitting in the fridge for a week, and I certainly didn't want to feed it to Isabel.)
The giant bag that went out to our compost bin nearly made me cry. So much perfectly good food, wasted! I know that, here in North America, we waste so. much. food. I know that it's a huge, complicated problem that a fridge full of rotting food hardly matters at all, but I hate that this household is a part of the problem anyway. I can only do so much to be a steward of this world; cleaning up our grocery habits is one of those things. Maybe this $100/week thing will help fix it. Or maybe meal planning will. One way or another, I know we need to fix something.

Suggestions? Tips? How do you avoid wasting all those leftovers?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Progress Report: Plans and Reality

We are one week into our money-saving project. Last week, I read through all of your comments. I was a little blown away by the interest in our project, and all your tips and encouragement will come in handy over the next number of weeks. It seemed pretty unanimous that $100/week is not only doable, but, in fact, pretty normal. So many of you told me that you spend pretty much that amount on food every week. On one hand, this encourages me that our project really shouldn't be that hard. On the other hand, I wonder at how we allowed our spending to get so out of hand that $100/week seems like so little to me.

Last week didn't go as planned. On Wednesday, we found ourselves unexpectedly headed to my parents' place in the country, where we stayed until late Sunday night. This means we weren't eating our own food for most of the week. On one hand, this saved us money. We hardly made a dent in the food we had bought for this week. On the other hand, there's a fridge full of produce that was fresh last week that now needs to be sorted through and some - sadly - tossed.

Knowing that last week really wasn't typical, let's take a look at how we did anyway.

We went grocery shopping last Saturday - before we had even really conceived of the project - and spent just under $200. This means that there will be no grocery shopping again until this Saturday. Everything we bought must stretch two weeks - this week and last. 

I had four dinners planned for last week:
By Wednesday, we had eaten two of these meals. 


Sunday night, I had no plan, but managed to pull together delicious quesadillas from random leftover produce, cheese and salsa. Unplanned, but it may very well have been the best meal of the three days we had at home.


Monday, bean dip. I made it at lunch time and ate it for both meals, and learned one of the most important lessons, one we've been learning over and over and over. Later on in the day, I left the house for about half an hour, and, mistakenly, left the tortilla chips sitting on the counter. By the time I got home, most of them were gone, down Mocha's gullet with Kingsley's help. We ended up eating them with a few crackers instead.

Tuesday, linguine with pea pesto. I forgot about the chicken until I was almost finished the pasta, so dinner ended up a little late and was, over all, a little disappointing. Pea pesto might just not be my thing. Isabel loved it though, which is also important. I had enough of this left over that we could eat it for a quick lunch before we hit the road on Wednesday. 

Obviously, we managed to stay under $100, but not necessarily by our own doing. Life can complicate plans. While we saved this week, it could have easily gone the other way. There must be room for life in our budget, but I believe that, as we continue to save and learn, and handle our budget carefully during normal times, the times when we can't pay attention to it are much more easily managed. 

Now, we're in a new week. I need to clean out our kitchen, assessing what we have and what meals I can pull together from it. Because we've already spent this week's budget, we won't be stepping foot into a grocery store until Saturday. How do you manage groceries when you go over budget one week? How do you keep track of your spending? Any favourite budgeting apps I should consider?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Grandma, 1937-2015


I don't have a first memory of my grandmother. She was just always there, her presence so closely tied to the farm on which they lived. She was always there, bringing home turtles from the pond in a feed bucket, and showing us where the cat had made a nest for the kittens in the straw mow. She was always there, scooping ice cream onto little plates of perfect apple pie slices. She was always there, picking strawberries from her garden by the bucketful and sending us bags of green beans long after we had moved away from home.

On Monday, after a short struggle with cancer that began in May, Grandma died and God took her soul to be with him. She was 77, but everyone - herself included - expected her to live to 95, just like her mother, spry and sharp in thought and memory until the very end. Saying goodbye this week has been one of the hardest, most surreal experiences of my life.

I saw my grandparents all the time as a child, but in recent years, as an adult, I have not visited as often. Now that I can no longer see her at all, I wish I had found the time, the energy to visit from the big city, to sit at her kitchen table in her new house for a cup of tea and a slice of pie, or a lunch of summer sausage sandwiches. There is so much I could yet have learned from her: stories of adjusting to life in Canada; how to grow everything, and store it to feed a family all through the winter; how to make her perfect apple pie.

We will be okay without Grandma. We won't mourn forever. But we will always know what we are missing, what we have lost, and what we will never have in our lives again.