Friday, September 24, 2010

Menu Planning

I think it was a while ago when I mentioned the benefits of menu planning: better spending habits, less stress after school, minimal time spent shopping for food, and reduced grocery bills. What a win-win, right? Recently, more often than not, I just couldn't find the hour or so I need to do this well each week. For the past three months my grocery lists were scribbled on the backs of envelopes, and - usually - I could find them, and - usually - I did remember what I intended to make with certain ingredients, and - usually - I did pull that off before certain produce items spoiled. Well, that's a lot of usuallys. Hmm. Seemed like it was time to get back in the saddle, so they say.

Slowly I'm getting back in the groove. This book was inspiring: Family Feasts for $75 a Week: A Penny-wise Mom Shares Her Recipe for Cutting Hundreds from Your Monthly Food Bill

I've used so many of Mary Ostyn's ideas to get more organized and really tighten my grocery spending. I'm not quite down to only $75 a week, but I am pretty proud that with a price book, occasional coupons, and the envelope system I have reduced our family food spending by 50%!

Here are a few freebie tools I've liked using:

  • This beautiful menu planner from Ollibird gives you space for a week's worth of dinners. I love her idea for creating a reusable version by fitting a photo print of the planner in a frame and writing on the glass with a dry erase marker.
  • I also like using Delicious to organize recipes that I've found online.
Do you have any tips for staying organized in the kitchen?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Day at the Farm

We had a magical weekend visit at a family friends' local ranch. Maybe the magical part was leaving the suburbs for this kind of backyard.

There were magical trees

bursting with pears and apples.

This was a pear picking party,

and everyone helped.

There were barns to explore, full of equipment and noisy roosters

and a coop full of hens

and a gentle horse to feed

and love

and ride

and ride

and keep riding.

There were even fun things to ride

for those less equine-inclined.

Thanks Grandma!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Homework Desk

Back in July, my 9-year-old and I prepared ourselves with Zyrtec and found a desk in a cluttered, cat-filled junk thrift store. We picked out a chair too and had them both painted white. These pink translucent drawer pulls are from Target. I removed a dusty brocade from the chair cushion and decided to pick my battles wisely by leaving an extremely well-stapled vinyl in place. Instead I covered the pad in two layers of Warm & Natural batting and then a flowery Alexander Henry fabric from our stash.

Stage two for my girl was, naturally, covering the desk in as many tchotchkes as possible, including an eraser collection, Smencils, a lava lamp, an old stationery box filled with homemade wax stamps, a Santa mug of "warm, not hot, not cold" chocolate milk, and her great-grandfather's weather station. I love this view of a 9-year-old's work, but the mom in me is noticing the stack of unfinished birthday thank-you notes...

Stage three is actually working on those thank-you notes, and I'm thrilled to see that she's getting somewhere. My big girl working at her big girl desk. How fun it is to imagine what new creations will emerge from this space!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Best PIzza Dough Discovered

Yesterday was a sad day for me, as my library copy of The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution was due. I've been continuously renewing this all summer, and now I'm out of renewals! I've loved many recipes in here: Potato and Leek Soup, Bolognese Sauce, Beef Stew, Pesto, Cornbread. And I'm eager to try more. I think I have to physically leave the book at the library, make sure no one has been desperately waiting for it, and then head back to check it out again. The one thing we've made constantly from this book was the pizza dough. I flavored it up by using white-whole wheat flour, and it's just delicious. And somehow not as puffy as our first experience. I've shared photos of past pizzas with this dough. And now my freezer is stocked :) Below is my very subtle variation on the original, with all of the quantities doubled because, seriously, if you're going to this much trouble in the first place, why not double the payoffs?

Pizza Dough
Adapted from The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution
{Edited on 10/12/2010; oops! I don't use white-whole wheat flour exclusively, unless I'm interested in a shaggy dough that never comes together and stubbornly refuses to rise!)

  • 4 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 1 cup lukewarm water

Stir the above together in a measuring cup.

  • 1/2 cup unbleached white or white whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup rye flour

Add the above to the measuring cup and mix well. Allow the mixture to sit until quite bubbly, about 30 minutes.

  • 6 1/2 cups unbleached white OR 3 1/2 cups white and 3 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Combine the above in a separate bowl or dough storage container. Add the yeast mixture and the following:

  • 1 1/2 cups cold water
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Mix thoroughly by hand. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until soft and elastic, about 5 minutes. If the dough is too wet and sticky, add more flour, but only enough to form a soft, slightly sticky dough. Put the dough in a large bowl or back in the dough container, cover with a clean towel or partially open lid, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours. (Notes from Alice Waters: For an even better-tasting and more supple dough, let the dough rise slowly overnight in the refrigerator. Remove from the refrigerator 2 hours before shaping.)

Divide the dough into two, then divide each half into two, forming four nice smooth balls. Allow the dough balls to rest at room temperature, wrapped loosely in plastic, for an hour or so. Then do either:

1. Freeze dough: Roll the plastic tightly around the disks, and freeze for up to 2 months in a tightly sealed freezer bag. Defrost overnight, then let dough rest at room temperature at least one hour before proceeding as below.

2. Bake dough: Flatten each ball into a disk about 5 or 6 inches in diameter, flour lightly, cover, and let rest for another 15 minutes. Place a baking stone on the lowest rack in the oven (I can't do this since mine cracked! so I put a baking sheet on the center oven rack), and preheat to 500 degrees. Gently stretch each disk into a round roughly 10 inches in diameter, and place on a floured peel or inverted baking sheet. Brush the dough with olive oil, and top with your ingredients, leaving a 1/2-inch border uncovered. Slide the pizza onto the stone or tray, and bake until the crust is browned, about 10-15 minutes.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I'm back!

I enjoyed an unplanned and very lengthy blog hiatus over the summer. Spending gobs of fun time with all my kiddos.

Beach time

Skateboard park

Paella on the grill

Summer camp at home

Freshening up

Driving model boats


Watersports camp

Harvesting potatoes

And, yes, I did get that incredible camera. And, no, I don't have any money left to get a new lens! Haha. See you soon, I hope.