January 31, 2009

The Joy of Meal Planning

I hate meal planning. The trouble is: I love to cook, and I love to have meals planned so that Jesse and I can eat together at home during the week. But, the idea of spending an hour on a Sunday afternoon flipping through cookbooks, coming up with recipes (preferably a combination of ones with similar ingredients . . . so that I don't end up with a full head of lettuce or a bunch of broccoli at the end of my week), and jotting down a grocery list sickens me. What a waste of time. Aren't Sundays for laying on the couch or enjoying a picnic outside? I think so.

So . . . being the planner that I am I created a lovely little system for our household. Here goes. (This could be a long one, so you must actually be interested in this topic to continue reading.) Consider yourself warned.

Step One
The first necessary item in this process was a new recipe organizer for all of the internet-found-and-printed recipes. See all of them to the left of the cookbooks? They are taking over my life.

For this I was inspired by someone who wrote a comment on one of my favorite blogs pinkpicketfence. The comment was left too long ago and I'm too lazy to find out who actually wrote it, but here is how she organized her recipes:

I have a 3-ring-notebook system. I actually have 2 notebooks, one for sweets/baked goods and one for more savory food. The savory one has the following categories: fruit/drinks, soups, salads, vegetables, sides, potatoes, pasta, misc. main dishes, chicken, pork, beef, ethnic, and seafood. The other notebook has: cookies, bar cookies/brownies, cakes, frozen desserts, pies, other misc. desserts, breakfast foods, breads, quick breads, biscuits. The way I organize: If I see a recipe I want to try, I print it or clip it and punch it with the 3-hole punch and put it in the front of the appropriate tabbed section. If I try the recipe and it's a keeper, I put it in a sheet protector in the back of that section (I put them back-to-back in the sheet protectors to save room). If it's not a keeper, it gets tossed. I LOVE my system! I plan my menu & grocery list each week and I try hard to include a variety of flavors. So maybe I'll do one soup, a chicken dish, a seafood dish, a casserole, etc. It's so easy to just look in each section of my book and decide if I want to try something new or make one of the repeaters. I love that the recipes are in plastic so that I can wipe them off. I love that recipes are now on full sheets--no more cramped handwriting on recipe cards, plus if it's from the internet I can often download a photo as well so I can see what my food is supposed to look like. Works for me! :)

I love it. So, into a 1.5" notebook went my recipes. Well, only the ones I use. The others went to recycling-land. I only bought one set of 8-tab dividers. These sections work for me: appetizers, soups & salads, sandwiches & sushi, sides, entrees, cookies & desserts, breads & breakfasts, and beverages. Each recipe is stored in a sheet protector too.

Step Two
Next, I had to conquer my meal-planning dilemma. I started by writing down the recipes that Jesse and I like and would eat regularly. I came up with 35 recipes and then chose 5 of those that I could repeat once - for a total of 40 recipes. That means that I can make 5 meals per week (which I rarely even make that many) for 8 weeks. I also wrote down some side dishes that we like off to the side of my paper.

Step Three
Then, I looked up each recipe (if necessary) and wrote down any ingredients that I would likely have to make sure that I had on hand or have to grocery shop for that week (i.e. broccoli, chicken, beef, cheddar cheese, cilantro, celery etc.).

Step Four
Then, (this is the hardest part) I began to group together the recipes into groups of 5 trying to find recipes that require similar ingredients. Therefore, if I was going to buy cilantro I would be using it for more than one meal that week. Or, if I was going to buy shredded parmesan I would also be using it for more than one meal (i.e. chicken cesar salad and spaghetti). In this step I also paired up some side dishes with the meals.

Step Five
Lastly, I drew up grocery lists for each of my weeks. In this step I compiled one list for each week. The list consisted of all the ingredients for each of the meals that I would likely have to make sure that I had on hand or have to grocery shop for that week (see step three). I also double checked the recipes to make sure that I hadn't forgotten anything important. I figured this would give me the basis for my grocery shopping each week. Then, I could always add the more obvious items like milk, bread, soda, etc. before I went to the store.

Here is a picture of the meal plans for each week on the left and the grocery lists on the right. We have gone through three weeks so far. We haven't eaten 5 meals in one week yet. But, that's okay. At the beginning of the week I see which nights we will likely be at home, I count them up and then I choose that number of meals from that week's list. Then, I just cross out any ingredients from the grocery list that don't apply to the meals that I chose.

It's working well so far! I'm already enjoying my Sundays without the nagging feeling of "meal planning".

Doggie Sweaters

I have to show you my new sweater. I saw it at TJ Maxx and couldn't pass it up. I think it's hilarious . . . but, apparently I'm the only one. Here it is:

Notice the little dogs? Well, they happen to look very similar to my own dog - pointing and all! Click on the picture above if you need a close-up. I couldn't get Scout in his pointing mode, but here's a picture to compare it to:

So, when I told Em about this sweater she was more scared for me than amused. And, Jesse reacted the same way! I must be the only one to find this so funny. Oh well. It's not the first time I've been the only one laughing.

January 22, 2009

A Whole New Perspective

About a month ago I picked up my very first pair of glasses. Turns out I'm nearsighted, so I'm just using the glasses for driving (especially at night). I'm amazed at how much more I can actually see! It's kinda nice, actually. Thought I would give you a peek at my new look. (By the way, I took this with the timer on the camera . . . can you just see me doing that?! How embarrassing.)

Ta da!

It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To

It was a good birthday! I felt very loved and very special. I think that's what birthdays are for.

A friend of mine sent me these tulips at work. They are gorgeous on my dining room table right now:

Now that I work in an education setting I have found that the old kindergarten rule of "bring your own treats to share on your birthday" still stands. Of course, if I'm going to bring treats to share they should be really cute treats. Thankfully, Martha Stewart's February issue came just in time to give me some inspiration:

I'm finding that I love colors that are similar and used in the same design. Kind of the "tone on tone" look. So, that's what I tried to do. I picked three different cupcake recipes: vanilla, chocolate and strawberry and topped them with my mother-in-law's white frosting, which I carefully dyed three different colors with food coloring. Then, I pulled out my new platter (Merry Christmas to me from Jesse) and lined up all the cupcakes. Here's the final result:

Okay, there was more cupcakes - as this amount would not have satisfied my office friends. There were 40 in all. My orange frostings are a little too close in color, so I might be the only one who can tell the difference. Oh well . . . it was late when I was trying to make the colors and frost the cupcakes, so there was going to be no "do overs". The lightest orange(bottom) went on the vanilla cupcakes. The orange (middle) went on the chocolate cupcakes. And the pink (top) went on the strawberry cupcakes.

The chocolate and vanilla cupcakes were my favorite. The chocolate one was from the Martha Stewart Living magazine (Feb. 2009) and the vanilla one was from allrecipes.com. Great recipe website!

January 14, 2009

Reorganizing for the New Year

It snowed 7 inches last night (the weatherman predicted 3-5 inches of snow). I woke up a bit surprised, and relieved to find out that the office is closed. I took the opportunity to go outside to take some pictures of how my street looks in the middle of January. This winter seems pretty typical in the amount of snow we have received (judging from what I've seen in my 2 1/2 winters here).

I couldn't get over to the street to take pictures cause I would have had to tromp through the snow and I was only wearing slippers. Real smart, I know. But, right now the street looks similar to the sidewalk - nice and plowed.

Scout was having a really good time. It's funny to see the "puppy" come out of him when he's running through the snow. (It's about the only time I love seeing the "puppy" come out of him - mostly it's kind of annoying) He was racing as fast as he could go up and down the sidewalk-skidding as he turned around at the end to come back the other way. Hilarious. Look at those ears!

It's our second snow day of the season, and I'm already running out of creative ideas to fill up my time at home. Hmmm . . . I should probably start a list of ideas. Anyway, it's a whopping 2 degrees outside today, so I best stay put here in the house.

I sat down to pay the bills and I realized just how badly I needed to organize my files. So, here goes. My first big project of the year - the file drawer. Here's how it started:

You're probably saying "it doesn't look so bad . . . at least you have folders and labeled tabs". Oh no. This will not do in my house. I can't possibly shove another piece of paper in there (hence all of the papers sticking out). It's driving me crazy.

First step, check out the organizing guru Peter Walsh's (oh, how I love him) website to see if he has any tips for organizing home files. Turns out he does have tips on his FAQ page. Just scroll down a bit.
Second step, make a list of the files that I need. Then, create the tabs.

Third step, sort through ALL of the files and refile or shred. Then, categorize the files with like ones together - insurance, student loans, bank accounts, etc. Then, place all materials in correct folders and put them in the drawer. 3 hours later it's MUCH better:

Ahhhh. Now I can think clearly again. Bring on 2009.