Well, I’m home sick with a crazy cough, and I have two things on my mind: (1) OH MY GOSH I have so much to do at work this week, why couldn’t I be sick last week!?! and (2) soup.
I make a pot of soup nearly every single Sunday, which I package up into individual containers to take to work for a quick, healthy [and cheap] lunch. There’s not a firm recipe, but after making soup regularly for so many weeks I think that I could probably make a pot of soup blindfolded, or handcuffed, or with some clever speed-bump that my sicky-brain cannot think of at this very moment. I’ve been eating soup non-stop since Thursday and I’m pretty sure it is slowly working it’s healing magic.
Here are a few core principles that I make soup by:
1. I use either boneless, skinless chicken breasts or ground turkey. I don’t have time for dealing with a whole chicken or the patience for cleaning and discarding the carcass. For the chicken breast, I’ll roast in the oven at 375* with olive oil and salt & pepper or I will just boil it in the broth, pull it out when cooked to chop it up, and throw it back in the pot. It really makes no difference. For the ground turkey, I cook it in olive oil in the bottom of my soup pan, but I try to use as little oil as possible so the soup doesn’t get oily.
2. Don’t make things harder than they have to be. Sure, you can make homemade broth. But really, this soup is for you to eat. Wouldn’t you rather paint your nails or take a nap or get a massage — aren’t there actually about ten billion things you’d rather be doing than making homemade stock to eat for lunch in your cubicle? Just saying. I use two to three of the large boxes of low-sodium chicken stock.
3. Use the vegetables that you like. My typical vegetables are carrots, onions, celery, zucchini. Sometimes I add kale, but I don’t like the thick stems so I really have to be in the mood to clean and peel off those stems for kale to make it into my pot. You’re going to want to saute the onions, carrots, and celery for a few minutes until the onions are soft. The rest you can throw in to the pot after the chicken is done so long as you give it sufficient time to cook before turning off the heat.
4. Mix things up a little. At this point, I have two basic options that I follow, but I tweak them or mix them up depending on what’s in the fridge and how I feel while cooking. You can really add anything to your soup, so just follow your heart there.
(a) italian-style chicken soup: No zucchini or kale; once the chicken is cooked and the carrots, onions, and celery are sautéed and added to the broth, bring up to a boil and add in orzo pasta. Cook the pasta in the boiling soup until it is about done (read the instructions on the box), then turn down the heat and add three big squirts of lemon juice and a light handful of parmesan cheese. Shake in poultry seasoning and parsley, add salt and pepper and you are done. I learned this lemon-juice trick from Giada and it is delicious. Note: if I want regular chicken soup, I just skip the lemon juice and cheese and leave out the pasta. Otherwise, it’s the same.
(b) tomato-based with veggies: Go ahead and use the zucchini and even the kale here. Add in a can of whole tomatoes in with the broth. Take a pair of clean kitchen scissors or a knife and chop up the whole tomatoes so they are not quite so huge. Then add in spices like you are making chili: chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, etc. Shake in a bit of poultry seasoning if it needs it, add salt and pepper, and you are done. I often add a can of kidney beans to this soup too. (If you want to try this but are unsure about the spicing, google Martha Stewart’s minestrone recipe and start with that, until you feel comfortable going more free-form.)
There you have it. If you already know how to roast chicken, chop and saute vegetables, and boil pasta, you are on your way to making a delicious pot of soup without a recipe on this cold winter day. If you haven’t yet mastered these skills, you’re going to want to find an actual recipe to follow more carefully. I’m a little too foggy to write that for you today, but if that’s where you are, start here and let us know how it turns out.
When I hear the term “meal planning,” I think of housewives with a half-dozen children driving from soccer practice to dance classes. And that is so not my life. A lot of online resources for meal planning are keyed toward families and children, but even if you are single or childless you can save a lot of money and time by planning your meals — and your grocery shopping — in advance.
Over the weekend, H and I take a few minutes to talk through our work weeks so we know when one of us is expecting to work late, grab dinner with friends, or eat lunch out instead of packing lunch. Then, we throw out ideas for what we’d like to eat the next week. I typically like to make one nicer dinner we can look forward to, but otherwise we like to keep it simple and 30-minutes or less. Here’s what we’re eating this week:
As you can see, this is a piece of paper folded in half with the dinners written on the left and breakfasts and lunches written on the right. It’s not rocket science. We choose meals in advance but for breakfasts and lunches we keep options ready that we can grab and go if needed. I eat the exact same lunch every day: turkey or chicken soup packed with veggies, carrot sticks and hummus, and grapes; I take a LUNA bar for mid-afternoon snacks. I change soups from tomato-based to broth-based or throw in an apple and pretzels instead of grapes and carrots when I need variety. It’s a simple life.
We talk about what we want to eat, I quickly sort through the cabinets to see what we have and look in the fridge to pull out anything that’s expired, and then we write down our plans for the week. We put the items we’ll need on our grocery list, and we don’t buy a lot more than what’s one the list. Some, of course — is the beer we love on sale? Are cranberries in season? [I’ve been hoarding cranberries in my freezer like a crazy person.] Did we just discover that there are Triple Double Stuf Oreos? Then we’re totally buying that too. But overall, we stay close to the list.
Using the paper method is helpful on the front end: we spend less at the grocery store. Because we are working on managing our budget better, we’ve been trying to keep our weekly grocery bill under a set amount that is right for us. It’s easy to over-spend at the grocery store if you don’t go in with a plan, but even if we weren’t saving money with this system [we are], I would do it because it is such a stress-killer. Ever walk into your apartment/home and think “what should I make for dinner?” Ever had someone you love ask you “what should we have for dinner?” Ever think that choosing something to make for dinner is too hard and even if you could choose something that sounded good it would be too hard to make, so you should just order a pizza or grab some takeout because decisions are hard? That’s me pretty much every day.
When you have the paper on the fridge, it’s easier to stay on track. The answer to the question “what’s for dinner?” is written on the paper you taped to the refrigerator. You don’t have to decide anything — just read. It is a great plan. Not feeling what is listed for the evening? You have all of the other nightly meals you can choose from before you resort to the takeout option.
Do not think that we don’t ever resort to takeout even when we have perfectly good groceries in our kitchen. We absolutely go off the list all the time. But we do it less, saving money, time, and benefiting our health while being less wasteful overall. It works for us, and even H agrees that it is a good idea.
Do you plan your meals in advance? Do you eat the same breakfasts and lunches every day, or do you need daily variety? Any other tricks for staying on-plan during the week?
“It is important to say the names of who we are, the names of the places we have lived, and to write the details of our lives . . . . We have lived; our moments are important . . . . Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist — the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside . . . We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so that there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.”
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer
Within (1986), page 44.*
Life has been moving every day even though it feels like if we have to wait much longer for news we will turn to statues and have birds land on our noses and random kids leave dirty socks in our empty moats (Christopher Columbus, Union Station, real American tragedy). To hold you over, I have pictures of some delicious food I have been making to excite your Monday evening. Because, basically, since I can’t plan for the future or go apartment shopping or oh, I don’t know, tell my employer that i need a transfer to an actual city before the entire agency goes into budget lockdown, I cook. A lot.
Smitten Kitchen Cookbook’s Plum-Poppyseed Muffins. Actually, I made some pretty delicious mini-blueberry muffins for a work party last week as well. I’m on a bit of a muffin kick — but I only like Smitten Kitchen’s muffins. I HATE gross muffins, which is basically every other muffin I have ever made.
Red pepper, spinach, and feta frittata. I invented this but mostly merged it together from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook and my Better Homes Plaid-front-cover best-cookbook-ever. Also, I love frittatas. So easy and they seem fancy when basically it is just a fat omelet that you put in the oven.
So I admit it, I did not make these. But HOLY CRAP they are so delicious I could die. In case you can’t read the description above (hello blurry iPhone photos!) and the name “espresso pillows” just doesn’t do it for you, these jelly-beans of mystery are actually bits of espresso, toffeed, and then dipped in dark chocolate. And you get to eat 22 for just one serving that has fewer calories than a banana. Seriously, buy them now.
And last but not least, delicious fresh-out-of-the-oven meatballs (baked and half-turkey to save us from an early death by meatballs). Recipe courtesy of me opening Ina Garten’s Family Style cookbook, ignoring all of Ina Garten’s instructions, and just mixing a lot of gross stuff together.
*Note: four “. . . . ” means a paragraph change occurred in the deleted text. Three ” . . .” means same paragraph, but words/sentences deleted.
P.S. I’d also like to announce to you right here in this random and unexpected grammar section that I use two spaces after periods. Because I am old school like Charles Dickens and E.B. White. They seem like pretty cool renegades to hang out with. So suck it, Chicago Manual of Style. (But really I love you except for this one rule that I just cannot accept. I blame Mavis Beacon typing classes.)
I made this chicken tonight. It tastes pretty great, but it wasn’t ready until 10:30. So there’s that.
I’m working at work again — and working pretty hard, actually — and it is so weird how different each day feels now. There are so many things I’d like to fit into each day, but it is hard to make it all happen, isn’t it?
Today I worked from 9:15 until 6:30 before heading home. My bus was late but I was in the door by 7:30. I had a call with my advisee and grabbed some onions from the market, then had the chicken in the oven before H got home. I practiced my guitar (still in the key of C but getting to the chord structures and strumming patterns, finally!) and we watched last night’s New Girl.
But now it’s almost 11 and there is just so much more I wanted to do. I wanted to sweep and mop the kitchen and do all the dishes. I wanted to finish the chapter in my New Testament textbook and start reading Daniel for my Open Course. I wanted to write a blog about something. I wanted to paint my toenails and choose an outfit for tomorrow and pack lunches for me and H.
But we can only do so much. And we only have so many days. And so, it might be time to start choosing certain things to be the first things and certain things to be the little things, the forgotten ones, the tasks we let go.
I have never been so wrong. Never. Yesterday, I was whining about how “hard” I worked to make this recipe for all-natural pumpkin butter and that the mess it created was totally not worth the results.
You guys, seriously. It is the most delicious thing I have ever EVER eaten. This morning, spread on a slice of regular old toast, my taste buds thought I was eating pumpkin pie tastier than any pie I’ve ever actually tasted, and on top of that it was pretty healthy and full of good-for-you things. And there are still four jars and a quart-sized-freezer-bag full of it in my kitchen.
If you’d like to come for a visit I promise to serve it to you with fresh, warm biscuits and coffee. But you’d better come soon, or there may not be any left.
Finally, a 100% Happy Post! Sorry things have been weird lately, it hasn’t been a fantastic October so far. That is changing starting…right… NOW! :)
Today, H and I started our weekend of awesome with a trip to my favorite place in the world: BETHESDA BAGELS. (BB I love you.) It was awesome. We tried their seasonal bananas foster cream cheese — totally a good idea. Check it out.
Important principle of housewifery: When decorating, always have an odd number of things unless the things are absolutely identical. If identical, two is okay.
So, what is in that jar you ask? Well, it’s homemade pumpkin butter that I totally made today. That’s right, you should be impressed…because it was MESSY and it took FOREVER and it was not as cute and fun as the blogpost that inspired this endeavor.
First, cutting pumpkins in half is incredibly difficult. They look like cute little pumpkin buttons, just waiting to become pies or cakes. But they are NOT cute as a button, they are ridiculously hard. I ended up stabbing them with a knife, then flipping the pumpkin to pull the knife out without cutting off my hand. After repeated stabbings, the pumpkin started to crack and then I physically broke it open with my hands like a priest serving some kind of fall-themed communion.
Once sliced open, they had to have their guts scraped out. Oh, save the guts, little housewife — roasted pumpkin seeds are so healthy and delicious. Burnt pumpkin seeds are not actually that delicious. Just saying. I went through the trouble of cleaning, separating seeds from guts, finding a recipe and roasting my seeds. [I actually split the seeds in half and tried two recipes: a spicy and a sweet.] Trouble was, while the recipe called for 30 minutes of roasting at 350 degrees, they were burned after only 18 minutes at 325. I do not accept responsibility for this result.
So anyway, I roasted, burned, and threw away the seeds, and roasted the pumpkins that I literally split in half with my bare hands. The roasted pumpkin then had to be scraped out of the shells and blended with [organic sugar-free] apple juice. Because my blender is pretty small, I did this in three stages. I’m not sure how, but pumpkin bits were everywhere. On the floor, in the burners, in my hair? Then, it had to be blended again with the sugar and spices, and stewed on the stove for approximately 30 minutes before the never-ending-dishwashing-extravaganza-of-2012 could begin. But seriously, it turned out kind of awesome and I’m super excited to eat it on everything — in oatmeal, on toast, with biscuits…
H helped with the dishes because he is THE GREATEST HUSBAND EVER (and probably also because he is going to be eating his fair share and then some of this), we put away the 100,000 loads of laundry that H had done while I was cooking away (did I mention greatest husband ever?!?!), and we are snacking on some hummus and chips and hoping that Tennessee will pull off a win against Mississippi State tonight. Hoping. But between you and me, let’s not necessarily put all of our eggs in that basket.
1) Hank + Sarah forever! I love Ray Romano’s new character on Parenthood — I mean, seriously, I love him. Dear NBC please please keep him and get rid of skinny-moustache-guy. Seriously, though, do it.
2) Reading Atlas Shrugged while drafting language to support jobs training for Americans in poverty is confusing. And quite intellectually stimulating. I highly recommend the experience.
3) I am deflated by work as of late. I know that I can choose to make it better, keep pushing and reading, but I haven’t been able to sustain the push for more than about four consecutive hours. So that.
4) My favorite blogger went to Haiti with a team of bloggers and each member of the team blogged about it. I added all of them to my google reader and now have about a million new blog posts to read. I recommend you do the same.
5) I really want to go to the movies. There are so many movies that I want to see! Did anyone see the one about education with Maggie and Viola? I so wanted it to be great but heard it was not. Also, Pitch Perfect? Argo? The list keeps growing.