Mom-Friendly Meals

Recently, some of my friends have said, “You really seem to have this meal-planning thing down. What’s your secret?”

I do not have the meal-planning thing down. My secret is that I have a child who is slightly older than their child.

I think there are a lot of us in this boat. We think, “That person over there is doing this much better than I am.” And the truth is, they’re just working with different circumstances.

One of my college friends has a daughter about two months older than Baguette. She also has an older child and a stepchild. And when her daughter was a baby, every night this friend would post on Facebook about some amazing meal she was making her family for dinner.

Now, I know her. She wasn’t doing this to brag about how much better she was at parenting. She was doing it to show that it could be done–that often when you feel overwhelmed, it’s in your head. She wasn’t boasting, she was demonstrating.

But what I couldn’t figure out was this: how was she managing it? Like me, she had a full-time job outside of the home. Like me, she had an infant. Unlike me, she had two other children. So how was she pulling off this amazing feat?

As it turns out, she has a shorter commute. Like, a lot shorter. Mine is an hour each way. Hers is more like 15 minutes.

See what I mean? Different circumstances.

And my own circumstances have changed. Looking back, I’m not really sure what I ate when Baguette was a baby. I cooked for her, but I don’t remember what I made for myself. After a while, I found that I could use the crock pot on the weekends to make a big batch of something. That counted as cooking.

slow cooker
I no longer use the slow cooker for oatmeal, though.

More recently, I’ve been able to use the stove a little. Last night I made shrimp with bell peppers and zucchini in Red Thai Curry Sauce, served over quinoa. I’m having leftovers for lunch.

I have no idea what’s for dinner tonight.

Again, I think there are a lot of us in this boat. So I’m starting an occasional series called “Mom-Friendly Meals.” I’m going to write about what I cook, how I choose recipes, what tools I use, how I find ingredients, and anything else that comes to mind. You can follow me on Twitter at @tragicsandwich; I’ll be using the hashtag #momfriendlymeals for these posts.

One thing to keep in mind: These are mom-friendly recipes. At our house, we all eat different things. Baguette is going through a picky stage, and while we’re trying to move her through that, I’m not going to pretend that she ate the Thai curry with me. And Mr. Sandwich has his own palate, and tends to do his own cooking. So our kitchen is very busy, but we’ve finally started eating together as a family.

Now we just have to clean off the rest of the kitchen table.

Easy Weekend Breakfast: Monkey Bread

I remember monkey bread from my childhood. It wasn’t one of my mom’s regular weekend breakfast dishes–in fact, I’m not sure she made it more than once–but clearly it made an impression. With only three of us in the house, and one of us quite small, I don’t make a lot of big breakfasts. Most weekends, we eat pretty much the same things we eat during the week–eggs, some sort of breakfast bar or pastry, and fruit.

But I want to have some “company” meals on tap, for the years we host family at the holidays, or for when we have other out-of-town visitors. First up? Monkey Bread.

I read a variety of recipes, and yes–I am sure that making the dough from scratch is better. But who has time? People who aren’t me. And while I have a Bundt pan, I wanted to see if I could make it in a regular pan. Spoiler alert: I totally can.

Monkey Bread

Monkey Bread

1 can jumbo biscuits
3 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. honey
2 Tbsp. brown sugar, divided
cinnamon and nutmeg, to taste

Heat oven to 375. Spray a 9×9 pan with cooking spray. Melt the butter and honey and use half to cover the bottom of the pan. Distribute half of brown sugar in bottom of pan.

Cut each biscuit into quarters and cram all the pieces into the pan in a single layer. Top with remaining brown sugar and drizzle remaining butter and honey over everything.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until top is beginning to turn golden brown. Cool pan on rack for 3 minutes and turn onto serving plate.

This was just what I was looking for–easy and quick, and sweet-but-not-TOO-sweet. It’s definitely a keeper.

Parenting: Reality Check

I’m thrilled to be a featured writer at Studio30 Plus! I’m writing about one of the ways my real-world parenting has diverged from my theoretical, pre-Baguette parenting–and how maybe, just maybe, the two are getting closer:

I used to imagine what I’d be like as a mom. I’ve always known I wanted children, so the idea of being a mom came pretty naturally. And I had a great mom, so I knew I wanted to incorporate a lot of what she did into my own parenting.

Also, I was going to be organized.

The mom in my head had a mudroom with hooks for jackets, hats, and scarves. She had a perfectly organized filing system. She had a system for keeping track of which permission slips and report cards needed to be signed for each child. And she cooked wholesome, nutritious meals from scratch, for the whole family.

To read the rest of the post, visit Studio30 Plus.

Meal Planning: Take One

I’ve been wanting to cook, but it’s been much too hot. Seriously, L.A. has been experiencing temperatures of over 100, and based on the current 10-day weather forecast, we’re not done yet.

But while I was thinking about what I want to make, I realized that I really ought to start using what I’ve already got–and not just because the freezer was so full that there was nowhere to put new leftovers. (“New leftovers”–now there’s an oxymoron for you.)

So this morning I pulled everything out of the freezer and was horrified. Why do we have steak from last year and ground beef from two years ago? And even if it’s safe to eat–it has been in the freezer for the whole time–it’s not going to be a pleasant experience, no matter how I prepare it.

After cleanout, however, I know what’s in there and what I have to work with. I’m able to start meal planning. Here’s what’s in the lineup for this week:

Sunday: Crock Pot Meatball Soup with Bowtie Pasta (although I’ll probably substitute some other kind of pasta).

Monday: Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Tuesday: Leftovers from one of the previous evenings

Wednesday: Vegetable soup (there are a LOT of frozen vegetables on that top shelf, as well as quite a bit of homemade chicken stock on the bottom)

Thursday: Leftovers from one of the previous evenings

Friday: Leftovers from one of the previous evenings

That may seem like a lot of leftovers, but I’m not sure how much of this will be eaten by anyone but me. Our family dinners are often individual meals eaten together, so Mr. Sandwich will fix his own food most evenings, and we feed Baguette whatever we can get her to eat (lately, mini pepperoni pizza).

Leaf Bag List: My Fall Goals

Just before summer began, I was inspired to create a “Sand Pail List.” I didn’t fulfill all of my summer goals, but that’s okay–Fall offers new opportunities!

Leaf Bag List - JPG

So what do I want to do this Fall? Hmm . . .

Cooking
This goes back on the list. I’ve had urges to bake pumpkin bread and make casseroles, but with temperatures over 100 lately, it’s just been too hot. Oooh, potato-cheese soup! But again with the too hot.

Closet Cleanout
Mine and Baguette’s. I need to update my work wardrobe, and there’s just no way she’s going to wear those 12M dresses from two years ago.

Photography
I want to learn to use the DSLR, and Mr. Sandwich has provided me with a book that is really informative and clear. I just need to do it.

Scanning
I want to scan old photos to share with family and friends. I have so many, and there’s no reason other people shouldn’t have them, too.

Crafts
I’m not a crafty person by nature, and that’s fine. But I’ve wanted to make a button wreath for years, and there’s no reason I shouldn’t do that this fall.

So as we begin a new season, what’s on your Leaf Bag List?

If you want to use the Leaf Bag List icon, feel free! You can find it on Flickr.

Sand Pail List, Revisited

Sand and Toys

In May, I created my “Sand Pail List” of things I wanted to accomplish this summer. How’d we do? Let’s take a look:

Going to the park
We did go to local playgrounds, but not nearly as often as I’d intended–except for when we were in Santa Barbara. We went to a lot of playgrounds in Santa Barbara.

Summer concerts
Not one. Turns out that the ones held in my friend’s town are on Sunday nights, which didn’t work for us, and we never investigated the ones closer to home. Maybe next year.

Going to the beach
We got to the beach three times this summer, and are going again once Baguette gets her cast off. Labor Day may be over, but southern California’s summer is not.

Swimming lessons
Happening right now! Well, not right now. But we’ve enrolled Baguette in the current session at our local Y, because you cannot keep her out of the water. (Me, either.)

Cooking
Err . . . I’ve done a little, but certainly not as much as I meant to. And I still haven’t gotten back to that farmers’ market.

Well, there’s always fall. What should I call that one–maybe Leaf Bag List? I wonder if that works in the land of no fall colors.

Photo by ~W~, via Flickr.

Cooking With Pinterest

I don’t believe in Pinterest guilt. Seriously, if you’re judging yourself by other people’s pins, then it’s time to step away from the computer and go play outside.

For me, Pinterest is primarily an inspiration board. I find things I like the look of, and I pin them. Easy.

But then, in my never-ending quest to streamline my day, I found a couple of recipes that seemed worth trying.

The Overnight Slow-Cooker Oatmeal seemed like a no-brainer. So easy! So oatmeal-y! So made in the slow-cooker!

It tastes just fine, but let me tell you, the cooking spray? Did nothing. I’m pretty sure there are oats welded to my slow cooker.

And the Egg Muffins?

Sure, they look harmless. And, after all, a friend did give me fresh chives. But again with the cooking spray #fail. I have no idea if I can return the pan to a usable condition. Also, they’re like rubber. I ate mine on the way to work; I can’t imagine that Baguette will eat hers. And I don’t blame her.

(And did I mention that I already knew that morning is not the time to experiment? But noooo, I’m going to make it work!)

Now I’m anxious about taking on other Pinterest cooking experiments–because while I really want to make this Chocolate Caramel Tart and these Nutter Butter Truffles (although I’m thinking about using dark chocolate), I can’t help but wonder whether I’ll feel mocked by the results.

What about you? Any Pinterest cooking failures? Or, more importantly, Pinterest cooking successes?

Why Our House Is a Disaster – Weekday Edition

caution tape

We’re refinancing, and on a recent Friday, we had a visit from an appraiser. The house was not even remotely clean, although I did set my alarm for 5 a.m. so that I’d have time to at least straighten up the living room (read: put things in stacks). Instead, I was so exhausted that I just kept hitting the snooze button. Sorry, appraiser.

Mr. Sandwich and I are constantly evaluating the way we spend our time, particularly on weeknights, so that we can finish everything we need to and be ready for the next morning, while still getting Baguette to bed. What does that look like right now?

5:30 a.m.

Get up, wash face and brush teeth, unload dishwasher, wash any dishes in sink and put in drain rack to dry, give dog her medicine, open dog door, take one egg out of the refrigerator, put skillet on burner (which is not yet turned on). If it’s a day when we send lunch for Baguette, prep thermos with hot water.

5:48 a.m.
Finish bathroom routine. Shower if I’m lucky.

5:53 a.m.
Go back to bed to keep Baguette from rolling out; Mr. Sandwich gets up, gets dressed, and leaves for work.

6:20 a.m.
Get up, counting on Baguette to not roll out; get dressed, pull her pre-selected clothes/socks/shoes off of the shelf, get diaper and wipes and put them with her clothes, scramble and cook egg, heat up food to go in thermos, put egg in portable container, put food in thermos, assemble her lunch bag, put her breakfast in her tote bag along with anything else needed that day (set out the night before). Put yogurt and granola in my lunch bag if set up the night before; otherwise plan to buy breakfast at work. Feed dog. Make sure back door is locked, cabinets are latched, stove is off, and refrigator is closed.

6:40 a.m.
Unplug anything that has been charging overnight and put in handbag. Go back to bedroom and change Baguette’s diaper. Put her pajamas in the hamper and dress her for the day. Comb her hair. After she lies back down, sit her up and comb her hair again.

6:50 a.m.
Make Baguette stand up and walk to front door. Pet dog goodbye. Pick up bags, lock door, coax Baguette down steps, put her and bags in car.

6:55 a.m.
Arrive at day care. Get Baguette and her bags out of car, sign her in, drop off tuition or hot lunch money or other paperwork as needed, and walk her to classroom.

7:02 a.m. If I’m lucky.
Leave day care. Drive to bus stop. Park car, run across street, hope to catch bus. If I do, hope to get seat. If I don’t, drive to work. It’s an hour either way.

8:05 a.m.
Enter building. Buy breakfast and coffee, or just coffee if I managed to pack my own breakfast (lunch is even less likely). Go upstairs and work.

5:00 p.m. Unless I have to work late.
Leave building. Walk to bus stop. Catch bus home.*

6:00 p.m. Unless traffic is worse than usual.
Exit bus. Get in car and drive home.

6:07 p.m.
Arrive home. Pet dog hello. Change clothes. Put away any dishes in drain rack. Pour milk into straw cups for evening and next day.

6:12 p.m.
Mr. Sandwich brings Baguette home. Feed Baguette as much fruit and/or Goldfish as she will eat.

6:25 p.m.
Take Baguette and dog for walk around the block (1/2-mile distance). Discuss day. Encourage Baguette to walk, but carry her for intermittent stretches. Let her run back and forth when the impulse strikes her.

7:10 p.m.
Return home. Pull together some semblance of dinner for Baguette while Mr. Sandwich helps her play with the hose (it’s hot out). Start her bath.

7:20 p.m.
Change Baguette’s wet clothes and feed her.

7:50 p.m.
Mr. Sandwich gives Baguette her bath. Set out her pajamas and nighttime diaper, take dog out, feed dog, close dog door, wash dishes from her dinner, empty her lunch bag and clean containers, straw cups, and thermos, probably wash the skillet from that morning.

8:05 p.m.
Dry Baguette off, put her in nighttime diaper and pajamas, let her watch Sesame Street. Continue to prep for next day, gathering any paperwork or materials needed for day care. Eat tortilla with peanut butter (if lucky).

9:10 p.m.

Go to bed. All of us, because otherwise Baguette won’t. (Note: That’s “go to bed,” not “go to sleep.” There’s no telling how long that could take.)

What’s missing from this picture?

*This is when Mr. Sandwich does as much laundry as humanly possible in 50 minutes. Neither one of us has time to fold it or put it away.

Photo by skyloader, via Flickr.

My Balance, Revisited

Nearly a year ago, I was inspired by a post by Oil and Garlic to write about my balance. So, where do we stand now?

1. What’s your work schedule?

I still drop Baguette off at 7 so I can be at work at (or around) 8, and I still work until 5 and am home a little after 6. All of this is likely to change on Friday, however, because the Rampture is coming–and that means all bets are off. I have no idea what my commute will be like for the next year, except that I know it won’t be good.

2. How do you handle childcare?

We still love Baguette’s day care. Mr. Sandwich’s parents come over to help around the house, but are less likely to babysit on weekend evenings; they have their own busy schedules, and it’s a lot harder to keep up with a toddler than it was to monitor an infant. However, one of her favorite teachers left the day care (not for reasons that concern us), and we’ve had her over for a get-reacquainted evening so that she can sit for us on occasion.

3. What do you find best about your current set-up?

It works, but just barely. Because of our jobs and commutes, we just don’t have enough time with her on workday evenings. We get home, go for a walk, eat dinner, give her a bath (while the other person fixes lunches for the next day), play a little, and go to bed. There just isn’t a lot of leeway in that schedule. But at least we have a routine.

4. What advice would you give to other moms about the juggle?

It doesn’t last forever–at least, not in this form. For a long time, I barely cooked at all. Now, I can manage to make a big batch of food in the slow cooker on Sundays, and that means lunches for several days that week. But being able to do that, which previously I could not, tells me that some day I will be able to cook meals with more than one dish.

5. Do you think the juggle is harder for women than for men?

Yes. There are no Daddy Wars, not even in the media.

Sand Pail List

Pail

The latest issue of Better Homes and Gardens (and with that, I am officially my mother–or, since she read Woman’s Day and Family Circle, perhaps one of her close cousins) encourages people to make a “Sand Pail List” of things you want to accomplish before the end of summer. It’s like a Bucket List, but only for summer. And presumably without bringing death into the equation. So here’s what I’m thinking about:

Going to the park
Baguette loves to run free, and we’re lucky enough to live near several public parks. I want to make the most of them.

Summer concerts
One of my friends lets us know about outdoor concerts in a park close to her. It sounds like a great family event, and I’d love for Baguette to meet her boys. Plus I’m not sure I’ve seen this friend since shortly after Baguette was born.

Going to the beach
We live close enough–why don’t we go more often? I want to go at least three times this summer.

Swimming lessons
Baguette loves the pool, and she finally loves the tub–she’s even teaching herself to put her face in the water. I want to make sure we start her on swim lessons this summer.

Cooking

This is a perennial goal of mine. Baguette and I love summer produce, and there’s a farmers’ market near our house every Sunday. I want to get back into the habit of buying food there and making healthy family dinners.

How about you?

Photo by k.l.macke, via Flickr.