D is for Doubling Up

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OK, one more food post and then I’ll move on for a bit…

I’m of the “cook once, eat (at least twice)” school of cuisine. Heck, to be honest I would eat the same food day and night for a week if it would save me time, but the rest of my crew is not enthusiastic about this practice. So when I cook, I do what I call “doubling up” to save me prep on future meals.

I’m not talking about preparing vast amounts of crockpot standards like beef stew, pasta sauce, and chili, although that works, too. I’m talking about preparing more ingredients than you need for one meal and putting it in the refrigerator or freezer so you have a head start the next time you find yourself staring into the fridge, slack-jawed, trying to make dinner out of nothing.

Here are some of my favorite double-ups:

  • Poached chicken – Buy a gross of skinless, boneless chicken breasts, put them in the crockpot overnight on low, and in the morning you have chicken for all kinds of wonderful things. If you’re not going to use it within a day or two, shred it or cube it, and freeze it in portions sized for future recipes (1 to 2 cups?) Works with turkey, too.
  • Mashed potatoes – Is it really that much more work to peel 8 potatoes instead of 4? Mashed potatoes freeze really well. You can either serve them as a side dish or use them in recipes – they’re great in blended soups that call for potatoes, and since they’re already cooked and mashed, they cut at least 20 minutes off the prep time.
  • Mirepoix – Which, thanks to Trader Joe’s, I’ve learned just means diced vegetables – there’s is composed of onions, carrots, and celery. All three of these freeze well enough – if you’re going to throw them in soup later, who will even know they’ve been frozen? (Or, of course, you could just pick some up mirepoix on the way home.)
  • The brassica plants(Like how I’m throwing these official-sounding terms around? This one I learned from my kids.) I chop up a whole broccoli or cauliflower at once, then prepare it or throw it in salad over the space of a few days. My kids like it roasted, which is a cinch – just toss it in olive oil and pop it in the oven at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. It’s done by the time I’ve changed out of my work clothes.
  • Kale – Right, I know – kale is a brassica plant, but I love kale so I’m granting it its own category. The best part about using kale as a salad green is that this stuff keeps for days. It does not give up the ghost overnight like lettuce. I wash mine on Sunday, and even slice it ahead of time, then I can throw a salad together in no time. One hint for kale – if you find it bitter, use a dressing that has lemon juice in it. It cuts the bitterness. Oh, and make sure to massage it before you serve it (in other words, mash it up with your hands), or the kids might find it a little challenging.

I’m sure there are other ways to double up out there – any suggestions? I’ll take any help I can get.

Next up….E is for Eight-minute Yoga.

 Read the series at A is for About

C is for Cheese Sauce

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A confession: Because I grew up in Wisconsin, I’ve had a life-long romance with cheese. Even on the nights our refrigerator is really, really empty, you can count on it to contain at least one big block of cheese.

And that cheese has saved me many an evening.

I’ve discovered that you can serve virtually anyone a dish that contains only three or four main ingredients as long as one of them is cheese. Here is my handy-dandy recipe for cheese sauce:

  • 2 TBS unsalted butter
  • 2 TBS flour (I use brown rice flour, but you can use any kind)
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 6 oz. shredded cheese of your choice

Melt the butter over medium heat, then add the flour. Stir for 30 seconds or so until it thickens, then pour in the milk. When the mixture begins to simmer, turn it down to low and  throw in the cheese, stirring occasionally until it melts.

This is easy – and there is no fake, orange cheese-food powder to deal with.

(Those of you who blog about food will note the absence of the beautiful picture of cheese sauce that blogging convention indicates. That is because it is not possible to take a beautiful picture of cheese sauce, at least not in my kitchen. My picture will look like either a) a backed-up drain, or b)…sorry, I can’t get past the drain image.)

I’ve tried many kinds of cheese – Swiss, English Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Manchego…but my kids greatly prefer the Tillamook Cheddar I buy in a 14 pound brick from CostCo.

What do you do with the cheese sauce? A fair question. Combine it with one (1) grain-type substance, one (1) protein, leftover if possible, and one (1) vegetable of whatever kind you can scrounge up.

Here are some ideas to get you started, all tried and tested in my kitchen. Pick one item from each column below, combine them and cook at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. And dinner is served.

Screenshot 2015-03-31 22.24.47Tomorrow….D is for Doubling Up.

 Read the series at A is for About

B is for Buffet

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Behind every good tip is someone who is inherently lazy. Or maybe just efficient?

In an attempt to shortcut the kitchen clean up, I’ve taken to serving everything buffet style. We have a large, stainless steel table in our kitchen that serves as an island. Instead of carrying food to the table, I make my family come to the food. I arrange it in a line on the island, they bring in their plates (or take one from a pile at the end of the table) and we go through the “buffet”.

Perhaps this doesn’t seem like a huge time-saver, but I can tell you it eliminates the need to carry a bunch of dishes out to the table and back into the kitchen 15 minutes later. (15 minutes being the approximate time it takes my teenagers to scarf down food it took me two hours to plan, shop for, and prepare.)

Anything to save a little clean-up.

Tomorrow.C is for Cheese Sauce.

 Read the series at A is for About

A is for About

Screenshot 2015-03-31 21.10.53Before I jump into my practical, personally-tested, and occasionally odd tips for working parents, I thought I’d provide some context. The concept arose from a well-meaning, but off-base program from my healthcare company intended to help me improve my well-being by, among other things, reducing stress.

After taking an inventory, I selected one of their helpful stress-reducing suggestions – spend 10 minutes, several days a week, decluttering. “I can do that,” I thought. “What’s 10 minutes in a day?”

But it all went terribly wrong.

Instead of helpful hints suggesting I declutter a particular room, or giving me steps I can follow, I’m getting prompts every couple of days that say merely, “Don’t forget to declutter for 10 minutes.” And thanks to my nagging, ever-present smart phone, here is where I’ve picked up this helpful message:

  • At work
  • On the bleachers at my sons’ lacrosse games
  • On a girls’ weekend, the only time in forever I’ve had to relax
  • In the parking lot at the grocery store
  • In the waiting room where my daughter receives her allergy shots

Are you kidding me? I can tell you, definitively, that this does not lessen my stress. Instead I have been reduced to someone who yells “Stop nagging me!” at their phone in highly public places.

So…I’ve decided, in the interest of promoting sane parents, to try to provide tips that are actually doable. Some will be silly, most will be practical, and many will be about food, since as a working parent, the first thing I usually think about when I awaken is “What should we have for dinner?”

But they are all things I’ve actually been able to do. Use them – or ignore them – as you like. I promise you I will send you no reminders.

Tomorrow….B is for Buffet. And no, I don’t mean dining out.

 Read the series:

B is for Buffet

C is for Cheese Sauce

D is for Doubling Up

E is for Eking Out Exercise 

F is for Fail…and a Feather in My Cap

G is for Giant Bag

H is for H2O

I is for Instructions

J is for Just in Time

K is for Kale Chips

L is for Lavender Oil

M is for Mashed Potatoes

N is for Nuts

O is for Oven Time

P is for Posture

Q is for Quality Footwear

R is for Routine

S is for Stash of Cash

T is for To-Go

U is for Underwear

V is for Vitamins (especially D)

W is for What Was I Thinking?

X is for Xtra

Y is for Yawn

Z is for Zzzzzz

Parent Your Biz goes back to work

AtoZ 2015

Last year, on a whim, I joined the 2014 A to Z Challenge and wrote the work-at-home alphabet to describe the ups and downs of working from a home office.

Oh, what a difference a year makes.

Recently, after a decade of self-employment, I’ve returned to the full-time workplace. My family and friends were largely supportive. My sister’s words capture the feeling best: “I’m somewhere between ‘Congrats’ and ‘You crazy fool’,” she said.

Yes, well.

Self-employment is definitely one of those “grass is greener” scenarios. Those who aren’t self-employed long for what they rightly perceive as the benefits – flexibility, autonomy, freedom to choose what to do and what not to do.

What they don’t see is the downside – the challenge of balancing weeks of more work than you can reasonably do with the weeks where even the sound of crickets would be a welcome change. The temptation to paint the bedroom instead of finishing that proposal. The snow days. The interruptions in income. The relentless business development. The loneliness.

It was the loneliness that finally got me.

With my kids aging out of the mommy league, and my decision a few years ago to focus my professional life on writing – a beloved, but solitary pursuit – I was spending way too much time staring at the walls. I needed peers. I needed a place to go every day. I needed to feel like part of a team. So I found myself a job.

But the transition back to work has had its challenges. During April, I’ll be cataloging my survival tips for working parents. Some are useful, and some are downright silly, but they work for me.

Oh, and if you have something to contribute (especially if it is later in the alphabet and/or starts with a problematic letter like X) feel free to comment.

See you April 1st.

One pork chop

food chart snapI’ve hit upon an ingenious way to use that last pork chop – I shall explain.

We are a family of five. Most cuts of pork these days come packaged in threes. I have always been greatly disturbed by this. It means each time I serve my family pork chops I end up with a leftover.

This sad leftover sits in the refrigerator until it is beyond hope and I throw it away, because no one in my house really likes leftover pork. Even I, a general advocate for leftovers, will usually opt for something a little more interesting like the beef stew or the black-eyed-pea salad, and skip the lone pork chop. But it bugs me to throw it out.

Then I hit on an idea. Many times, when I serve my family a meal, one child opts out. My kids have vastly different tastes. One eats nothing spicy. One won’t eat fish. The third won’t eat anything that resembles sausage.

So now I freeze that sixth pork chop – tuck it in its own little bag and store it for the meal one kid won’t eat. I thaw that baby, season it, throw on two teaspoons of cider vinegar and two teaspoons of maple syrup and twenty minutes later I have a back up meal. Voila!

Works with that sixth chicken breast, too.

 

A commitment etched in stone

stonesThe other day as I dusted the desk of one of my children, I found something that made me pause, made me think. Raised a lump in my throat. It didn’t look like much, just a small, smooth stone with some writing on it, in pencil.

But the message startled me. It said, “I will never stop trying.”

It startled me, because this is a kid who sometimes doesn’t seem to be trying that hard, who doesn’t seem to care. For whom heated questions are often met with a shrug and an “I don’t know.”

But in those words I saw a spark, the ambition to do something bigger.

On the other side, I saw my child’s carefully penciled initials. A commitment, etched in stone. It gave me hope. It gave me a glimpse of a child I don’t usually see, one with a determined attitude, in pursuit of something great.

I dusted that little stone and replaced it where I found it. It’s just a small, nondescript thing. But now it’s inspiring two of us.

 

Christmas Past – 2013

As I write my annual, snarky holiday letter, I’m revisiting some highlights of past years. From my heart to yours. With apologies.

imageHow They Spent the Year

While Sarah spent 2013 pursuing that most lucrative of endeavors – blogging – her loved ones expended their energy in different ways:

Spouse

Spent it seeing if he could experience every virus known to man, sort of like a round-the-world beer tour only with no beer and, so far, no t-shirt.

Highlight: Being abandoned at urgent care with pneumonia and a double ear infection because Sarah didn’t want to sit for 90 minutes in a room full of sick people. Her compassionate parting words: “Text me when you’re done.”

Child #1 (age 14)

Spent the year trying to hide the fact that she was watching TV on her phone.

Highlight: Her dance team taking a first place at a competition where all the other teams’ moms were wearing matching jackets. (Not hers.)

Child #2 (age 11)

Spent the year in truly offensive used lacrosse gear.

Highlight: Eating a piece of insulation because it looked and smelled like cotton candy.

Child #3 (age 9)

Spent the year vigorously pursuing his self-study of World War I .

Highlight: A discussion with his great-aunt, a history professor, on the impact of the Zimmermann Telegram.

Read other years:

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

Christmas Past – 2012

As I write my annual, snarky Christmas letter, I’m revisiting some highlights of past years. From my heart to yours. With apologies.

IMG_1332Mild Weather Disrupts Winter Activities

The only thing Minnesotans complain about more than a harsh winter is a mild winter. While global warming has definitely benefited those of us in the frozen north with milder temperatures, earlier springs, and warmer falls, there is a downside.

Ski Season

Warm temperatures and a lack of snow present a conflict for those families enrolled in ski school. After skipping a few weekends, the Days decided that navigating rocks and patches of grass was preferable to wasting the exorbitant (and nonrefundable) ski school enrollment fees. Fortunately, only minor injuries resulted.

Winter Recreation Camp

The boys spent two days at an overnight winter recreation camp despite the lack of even a single flake of snow. They reported that the highlight of camp was tobogganing down the inside of a huge (and fortunately empty) sewer pipe. Oh, and baking cookies, a classic Minnesota winter activity.

Important Economic Categories

Tragically, as reported in the January 20th edition of the local newspaper, the ice wine season was officially cancelled due to a lack of ice-generating temperatures. Not addressed: The question “What is ice wine?”

A Snapshot from March

  • 4 lacrosse games
  • 9 lacrosse practices
  • 11 dance classes
  • 2 dance competitions
  • 4 baseball clinics
  • 4 piano lessons
  • 4 chess club meetings
  • 4 birthday parties
  • 8 swim lessons
  • 5 school events
  • 3 school conferences
  • 3 round-trips to the airport
  • 2 trips to the orthodontist
  • 1 opera

And finally to end the month…one well-deserved vacation!

Tomorrow, excerpts from 2013…

Read other years:

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Christmas Past – 2011

As I write my annual, snarky Christmas letter, I’m revisiting some highlights of past years. From my heart to yours. With apologies.

Sporting the latest in orthopedic resort wear

Sporting the latest in orthopedic resort wear

How They Spent the Year

Sarah – Rehabbing a knee she severely sprained by following her hot-dogging husband down an icy black diamond ski run, an injury incurred three days before the Days’ first kid-free vacation trip in a decade.

Mr. Day – Flying to and from Detroit for meetings with auto companies, proving that the economic stimulus funds benefited at least one family.

Child #1 – Begging for a phone during the first half of the year, and on the phone for the second half of the year.

Child #2 – Memorizing every Calvin and Hobbes cartoon ever written.

Child #3 – Trying to hit the B flat while playing the Star Spangled Banner on the piano.

Other Sweet Memories…

  • January – The Days ignore ice dams on the roof that are causing water to drip through the recessed lights in the kitchen.
  • March – Child #2 climbs (and then falls out of) a tree while wearing boots and snow pants.
  • April – First little league game of the season snowed out. Second little league game of the season snowed out.
  • May – Child #1 comes up early in the rotation at his first ever piano recital. No one from the family is there to see it.
  • June – Child #2 hits the first triple of his baseball career. No one from the family is there to see it.
  • November – Sarah shows off the new roof, gutters and soffits announcing, “Look up kids, there’s our new car!”
  • December – Sarah adjusts to working out with a personal trainer young enough to be her son.

Tomorrow, excerpts from 2012…

Read other years:

2007

2008

2009

2010