what we eat

Lazy Genius Your Homeschool–Principle #2: Start Small
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Lazy Genius Your Homeschool–Principle #2: Start Small

{If you happen to be reading this on June 26th…the Kindle edition of Lazy Genius Way is on sale today for $1.99. Very much worth it!}

Is there anything more daunting than dinner? Every single day. It takes an unbelievable amount of energy and thought to plan, shop, prepare, and clean up meals. One clue to the difficulty is in that list. Meal planning is a project with many steps instead of a single task that we can quickly mark off.

When it comes to meal planning, there are all kinds of classes and products and systems aimed specifically at homeschool moms. And I’ve taken some of these classes and learned so much! But really, meal planning is an approachable place where you can start small and see real benefits.

Start doubling one dinner each week. Just once. Eat one and freeze one.

Blessedly, this is not a fill-your-freezer all day cooking event! This is just one extra. For the long co-op day. For the end of the week. For an easy weekend meal. Or just for a Tuesday when you’re already tired. Here are a few casserole meals that we eat that are very easy to double.

One already prepped meal isn’t going to change everything. There are still the other 6 dinners that need making. But starting small creates a tiny bit of margin, a little breathing room. And that’s not a small thing.

“Small is beautiful” could be the motto of our homeschool, so this principle feels very intuitive to me. Here are a few more places you might consider taking small steps.

Sometimes, it can feel like the small things don’t really count. If it’s not big and flashy, if it’s not a part of a curriculum or a program, it’s not really school. Small feels pedestrian.

But really, small is where we can take action. Small is repeatable. Small is sustainable.

If you are new to The Lazy Genius, here’s the Starter Kit! 20 episodes that will get you energized and moving in the right direction!

And you can find all the posts in this series right here.

Meal Planning for Peace

Meal Planning for Peace

Nothing can derail a day like not having a plan in place for dinner. Knowing what’s for dinner and reliably having ingredients stocked brings an outsized measure of peace. It means that I can spend my (limited!) mental energy on things like writing and homeschooling.

For a few years now I’ve been taking classes and learning from Jessica Fisher at Good Cheap Eats. Turns out meal planning is a skill, and you can learn how to do it. Here are a few helpful resources.

  • Grocery Savings Challenge this month is all about filling the freezer–just in time for the return to the school routine!
  • Jessica on Instagram so much good info here! Jessica goes live almost every weekday around 10 am. She is funny and smart and ready to help. Talking freezer meal tips all month.
  • Dinner Calendar I use these lovely free printable calendars from A Humble Place (excellent picture study resources too!) I write out our dinner plan and put it on the fridge. And then no one asks me, What’s for dinner?
  • Simplify what’s for dinner! We eat beans and rice every week. It’s good, humble food. Then I use the leftover beans in another meal–nachos, tacos, soup, tostadas. Two meals every week that are already more or less planned.
  • Have a few backups. Our days as home educators hardly ever go exactly as planned. And these exceptional days–that really aren’t the exception–can make it hard to stick to a meal plan. Always having a jar of sauce and some noodles on hand means that we can eat. Add in some meat from the freezer and some garlic bread and it’s a feast!
Peace and Progress in the Kitchen
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Peace and Progress in the Kitchen

The light is changing here as we shift into Autumn, and we woke to rain. New corners of the house are illuminated, new shadows cast. We’ve started into our Fall routine. This tends to be our busiest, most productive academic season. This past month as I finalized our school plans, I was also working through Jessica Fisher’s Mom’s Kitchen Survival Workshop.

Our kids’ tastes have expanded enough so that dinner isn’t a struggle every night. And my energy levels have also given me a little wiggle room. On most nights I’m not completely dragging by 6 pm. So, it felt like a good time to level up my cooking game. I’ve used and loved Jessica’s freezer cookbook for years, and her granola is in regular rotation around here when it’s not too hot to turn on the oven. This workshop gave me the opportunity to participate in 4 coaching sessions with Jessica. The woman is funny and smart and ready with suggestions.  She’s a homeschooling mama with 6 kids, so she knows what’s she’s talking about!

Here are my favorites from this month spent planning and cooking!

  • Sourdough Crumpets–I started making sourdough bread last Spring, and revived my starter to make pizzas on the grill. This recipe uses up extra starter in the tastiest way! We like toasting the crumpets and adding jam for a sweet treat or cheese to make them savory.
  • Oatmeal Bites–this is a wonderful version of the classic no-bake snacks. We’re making a double batch today.
  • Sausage Egg Potato Bake–freezer cooking for breakfast wasn’t something I had considered before. I made 4 of these casseroles and stashed them in the freezer. The first harried morning I tried to cook them, they  hadn’t fully thawed out and needed a lot longer cooking time. But the second round was divine!
  • Sausage Broccoli Quiche--I thought this would be a hit–even made an extra to freeze. Everyone ate dinner. But two people were not very enthusiastic! Jessica recommended the book French Kids Eat Everything. She also recommends offering a side that you know the picky eaters will love. So, we had corn too to make Jojo happy!
  • Sausage Sheet Pan Dinner–everything cooks on one pan? Yes, please! We are having this on Wednesday to go with this Cheesy Spinach Dip that Mabel’s going to make for us. We would love to have you join us!
  • Sheet Pan Chocolate Chip Cookies–a total winner!

I’d love to hear what you do to make dinner easier!

Easy Dulce de Leche

Using this excellent recipe, we fired up the Crock Pot and made Dulce de Leche ice cream sauce for Christmas presents this last year.  I hadn’t had the chance to sample any…until last night!Oh my stars!  It’s so tasty on a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The only problem I had was getting my milk-filled mason jars to seal well enough.  That just meant that a bit of milk spilled into the water bath and made the water cloudy.  It took the full 8 hours for our carmel to turn the rich brown color, but if you start a batch in the morning, it will be ready for dessert!   So, the next time you’re at the grocery, pick up some sweetened condensed milk and make a batch of this sweet treat.

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baja-style pickled carrots

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do you eat pickled carrots at your place?  i’d wager that if you grew up living just minutes from the border you just might!  they are simple and oh so satisfying to make.  here’s the process:

wash and peel carrots–how many?  i usually do around 8 for a quart jar.

cut 1-2 jalapenos in half longways–seeds out or in? depends on how hot you want your carrots

put carrots + peppers in a pan; cover with vinegar + water–use a 1:1 ratio, 1 c water : 1 c apple cider vinegar. it usually takes a cup and a half of each to get my carrots covered.

bring to a boil; reduce heat to simmer; cook carrots until just beginning to get tender–not too much!  you want a little bite.

remove from heat + place in glass jar. cover and let marinate 24 hours.

then your carrots are ready to eat.  they will last in the fridge for a long time.  but you’ll eat them up soon enough!  they are the perfect addition to basic brined beans + rice, nachos, or anytime you want to add a little color, a little heat, a little crunch to your plate.  enjoy!

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kitchen happy :: more make ahead winners

well, that was a longer than anticipated break between posts!  last time i wrote about Spicy Southwest Chicken–our favorite recipe from Jessica Fisher’s Not Your Mother’s Make Ahead and Freeze Cookbook.  but i forgot to mention that i used this same recipe for fish that we marinated and cooked for Baja fish tacos.  amazing!

here are a few of our other favorites:

  • meatballs + meatloaf… i replaced the bread crumbs with oatmeal because that’s what i had on hand.  the meatloaf was more popular than the meatballs even though they come from the same recipe.  go figure!  i had to sell the meatballs by calling them Viking Meatballs and serving them with lingonberry jam.
  • Soy-Ginger Pork yummy with green beans and rice.  the marinade + juice cook up just enough to make a touch of sauce for the rice.
  • ultimate freezer guide…from Life As Mom.  there is so much good, helpful info here!

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kitchen happy :: meat in marinade

2181646974_d6accd4893_b:: handsome painting outside The Chicken Pie Shop ::

like i said yesterday, most of the recipes that we have tried from Not Your Mother’s Make Ahead and Freeze Cookbook by Jessica Fisher are basically marinade for meat.  at first i was thrown off because it didn’t seem like all that much of a help.  and the cooking instructions were to grill the meat.  i know that Jessica lives in Southern California where it’s always grill weather, but for those of us who live in less sunny places, grilling is certainly a seasonal event. but these recipes work great as a slow simmer on the stovetop or in the slow cooker.

our favorite, most versatile recipe is Spicy Southwest Chicken.  all winter i’ve use fire-roasted canned tomatoes, but am looking forward to fresh this summer.  we also cheat on the jalapeno, preferring to add our heat individually.  this dish can go southwest or it can go Italian–very flexible.

and like i said yesterday, the flavors of each marinade are the inspiration for the rest of the side dishes.  it has made meal planning much easier.  we’ve even started eating move vegetables because it’s easy for me to imagine how they coordinate with the meal and i have the energy to fix them!

and through May 18th, *you* can enter to win a copy of the cookbook for your house!

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kitchen happy :: a leisurely dinner

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:: mother’s day pretty with pictures of my mom and AP’s mom ::

we’ve all heard how very important eating together is.  i think it’s less true for a homeschooling family because we spend so much time together anyway.  but meals together are important. some time ago i read some suggestions on making dinner more leisurely.  and though the exact suggestions didn’t really fit my season of life, the vision that it cast–of people truly gathered–has stuck with me.

at our house, far and away the most important change in this regard has come from freezer cooking, using Jessica Fisher’s excellent book Not-Your-Mother’s-Make-Ahead-and-Freeze Cookbook as a guide.  i have made two complete batches of 20 dinners and 2 additional batches of 10 meals.  her work is different from other freezer meal plans.  you aren’t making and freezing 30 casseroles.  most of the recipes that i chose are simple meat marinades that create a flavor profile to build around–black beans + polenta to pair with  Spicy Southwest Chicken or green beans and rice to pair with Soy-Ginger Pork.

with some planning and a little extra work up front, my freezer has become my friend!  and it got me a few steps closer to a leisurely dinner hour!  over the next week, i’ll share the recipes that have been most successful at our place.

and guess what?!  you can win a copy of Jessica’s book for your kitchen!  details and an entry form can be found at her site Life As Mom.  woot!

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learning all the time :: 6 february

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__AfuXwS36I]

many moons ago, twenty years ago now, i came across Herbal Healing for Women by Rosemary Gladstar.  her easy wisdom, her utter respect for women and the earth made this a book that i lived and breathed.  there was an ancient herb store just down the street from my house on the east side of Mt. Tabor. i would scrimp and save and buy dried herbs from clear glass jars to brew into medicinal tea in tiny muslin  bags.

this morning i bumped into Rosemary over at YouTube!  it’s so amazing to hear her voice, to see her smile.  she is a wise woman worth every bit of your attention.  and if her videos make you want to try your hand at making remedies for your family, Mountain Rose Herbs is an excellent storefront.

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make ahead + freeze update

a couple of weeks ago i took the plunge, bought a cart full of fresh ingredients, and worked for a couple of hours stocking our freezer with main dishes for supper.  i used Not Your Mother’s Make Ahead and Freeze Cookbook by Jessica Fisher as my guide.  i mentioned before how having dinner ready, or at least somewhat planned, brings an outsized sense of peace to my days.  it’s a lot of bang for my buck.  and last week proved that again.  the whole week was a bit more peaceful.  we ate, and then in the evening i still had enough energy to clean up the kitchen!

this book is different from other 30 meals plans i’ve seen before.  it’s not all recipes for casseroles.  there are many recipes that are simply marinades for meat.  that means that the prep on cooking day isn’t extensive.  but the meal planning has already been done.  so when you want to eat the meal, you will have to cook.  but the chicken can saute while the rice cooks, so weeknight cooking stays streamlined.

so far we have eaten the Swedish meatballs (Viking food!), Teriyaki chicken, southwest fish (it’s a recipe for chicken, but i substituted fish and used it for fish tacos), chicken bacon sub (added red sauce for dipping).  southwest chicken with polenta and kale is on the menu tonight…then i’ll be using left-overs with beans and cheese for Friday night nachos.  here are a few tips from this first try:

  • start with a clean kitchen and an empty dishwasher…it makes working easier and more pleasant and it means that you won’t be sabotaging your efforts at streamlining with a kitchen disaster!
  • use one of Jessica’s plans…she includes step-by-step instructions and shopping lists.  i did make some substitutions, but tried to let her do all the heavy lifting.  this way of cooking does require a lot of mental energy–planning the menu, organizing grocery shopping, planning the cooking process efficiently.  with the meal plans, this is done for you.
  • plan easy meals for cooking day…or plan to eat one of the meals that you’ll be preparing.  dinner needs to be taken care of.
  • read the instructions for the cooking day and each recipe….twice…you need to know the plan!  there is prep work to do before the planned cooking day, so you need to make time for that too.  the prep work makes it more fun to cook.
  • label your bags/pans before putting them in the freezer
  • keep an updated list of what + how many you have in the freezer

Lindsey at Running in Circles has also been writing about meal planning.  her post is full of great ideas and even includes wonderful quotes from Like Mother, Like Daughter.

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