December 29, 2017

Meal Planning 101: Setting Up for 2018

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I won’t claim to be an expert, but I will tell you that I’ve honed a system for meal planning that has taken so much stress and frustration out of my routine. And yes, it does involve getting set up for the entire year. Don’t feel overwhelmed – an hour or two of time the first week of January is all it takes. If you’re interested in giving it a try this year, read on:

Step 1: Choose your tool

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Planners are such a personal choice, I’m not going to say you MUST pick this-that-or-the-other. However, I do have some strong suggestions:

  • Get one with a 12-month length. My system works best this way, and I really feel like it’s worth it, whether it’s a dedicated meal planner or a life planner.
  • Make it portable. You don’t have to take it to the grocery store every time, of course, but once you get into the swing of things, you’ll be surprised at how often meal inspiration hits you, and it’s nice to be able to write it down right away
  • Try a few. If you aren’t settled on a planer system right away, don’t give up if the first one or two you try just don’t work, for some undiscernible reason. There’s a reason there are dozens of planners and brands and styles. Something different works for everyone.

Step 2: Make your list

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This is your master list of all the meals you know your family will eat, at least most of them, most of the time. Make sure you can add to it throughout the year as you discover new winners. Throughout the year you will pull from this list so you don’t have to “come up” with fresh ideas out of the clear blue. Mine is just a random list in no particular order. If you want to put them in a more organized system, such as style or length of cook time, that’s a great idea. But a simple list works for me.

NOTE: Make the list. Trust me. I have a deep kitchen drawer stuffed with cookbooks that only get referenced a few times a year – when a recipe I’ve written on the list pops up. Unless you are already in the habit of pulling out every. single. cookbook. (and facebook video and pinterest link) every. single. time. you sit down to meal plan, you probably won’t start now. Make the master list, and refer to external sources when necessary.

Step 3: Choose your favorites

This is why I recommend a 12 month system. This is where we start making headway. I pick out a handful of meals that we don’t/shouldn’t eat too often – because they take all afternoon to make, because they are delicious calorie bombs and we will eat the whole casserole in one evening, because they call for exotic ingredients that hit our budget – but that we do love eating, and I scatter them throughout the year.

For example: I pick lasagna, and I write down “lasagna,” on the 3rd Friday of every quarter. Then I pick out Chicken Pot Pie, and I write it down on the 6th Friday of every quarter. Etc. Depending on how many of those types of meals you have, you can have 20 or 30 dinners already “planned” before you even get to that month in real life.

Step 4: Come up with “hints”

Friday nights are (usually) crock pot nights here, because our schedules mean we eat dinner separately. Thursday nights are family Bible study night, which means I make a big entree we share with 3 other families. Saturdays and Sundays are either takeout or something simple like frozen pizza. With those already set, that only leaves me 3 or 4 days a week where I need to actually plan a meal each session. And then some are already planned, because of Step 3! See? Less work in August because I put in the extra work in January. When you figure out your “hints” to help you segment your weeks and days, it flows much more quickly!

Step 5: Give yourself flexibility

You might be thinking: “How can I plan meals 5 and 6 months away? I don’t know what I’ll feel like tomorrow, or even next Tuesday?” When you start each meal planning session – whether it’s one week, two weeks, or an entire month - the trick I’ve found is to use a rubric for planning each set of meals. Ask: How many beef meals are we eating? How many poultry? Fish? How many Italian, how many Mexican, how many comfort food, etc. Keeping a mix/balance in each set of planned meals allows for some “spur of the moment” wiggle room, because one your meals are planned, you can buy all the ingredients you’ll need, and have them on hand.

And there you go! The framework for a solid start to meal planning for 2018. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask! I also post many of my meals on instagram now, @jacilikestoeat.

If you have your own tips and tricks to share, feel free to leave them below and share the wealth Smile

August 8, 2017

Great American Cookie Company Icing Copycat Recipe

And if you don’t think that’s a sexy title, you’ve got rocks for brains.

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Ladies and gentlemen.

It is here.

I scoured the interwebs, I tested recipes and variations of those recipes. I went to multiple stores to get just the right ingredients. I sighed. I (nearly) cried. I bashed my head against the steering wheel. I drank a real coke.

They said it couldn’t be done. They said “nearly” was “as good as.”

They were wrong.

This is the end of a personal odyssey lasting years. To crack the secret of the Great American Cookie Company’s icing.

Anyone can make a giant chocolate chip cookie. That’s no big deal. Anyone can pop open a can of premade frosting and call it good. But that’s not good enough in this household. To be a legit cookie cake (or double-doozie) it has to be the real GACC icing. There is no substitute.

At least, until now.

Like I said, there were other recipes consulted and multiple tweaks made. You won’t find this recipe anywhere else. This is the one, y’all. Posted on August 8, 2017.

Without further ado (and I am all about making as much ado about this as possible, I feel like I just won the Olympics. I may even feel empowered enough to take on Mazzio’s Ranch) here it is: the recipe

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Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs powdered sugar
  • 4 tablespoons merengue powder
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup milk (approximately)
  • 2 tbsp hot water
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract

Directions:

Combine wet/wet-ish ingredients in large bowl. Gradually incorporate powdered sugar and merengue powder alternatingly. Beat at high speed until stiff. It will be VERY stiff. *This makes a lot of icing. Enough for a two-layer 11x14 cookie cake with a thick center layer, and then some.

January 11, 2017

Recipe Post: Chicken Noodle Soup

Honestly, there’s nothing really exceptional about this recipe, except that it works. I don’t make my own bone broth or my own noodles or anything. But, if you want a solid go-to chicken noodle soup recipe, this is the one. It’s really easy, and when Miss G gets a bit older, it’ll be a good one for her to help me with. I tend to make my chicken noodle soup more stew-y than soup-y, so bear that in mind.

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Ingredients:

  • Chicken Breasts (I use frozen) - 2
  • Box of chicken broth
  • Water, as needed
  • Carrot, large
  • Celery stalks, 2
  • Seasoned salt – 1/2 tbsp
  • Pepper – 1/2 tsp
  • Garlic powder – scant 1/2 tsp
  • Package of egg noodles

Directions:

Take a large pot and put in the chicken breasts and chicken broth. Add water as needed until chicken breasts are covered. Simmer chicken breasts until cooked through (for frozen, I leave it for about an hour). Chop carrot and celery. Remove chicken breasts. Add vegetables and seasonings to broth. Shred chicken and add back to broth. Bring to a boil. Add in desired amount of noodles. boil noodles according to package directions. Turn off heat and let set 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

October 19, 2016

Final Election Thoughts

Not “final” because I won’t talk about them again (you aren’t that lucky) but “final” in that this is the conclusion/culmination of near 18 months of reading, watching, talking, praying, and, yes, listening.

I think unless you’re a hardcore partisan, everyone would admit we have some really horrible choices this year. And I mean of the candidates actually on ballots, not the wishful thinking write-ins. (Let’s be honest, they are wishful thinking spoiler candidates. Even if we like them. They won’t win.) So what do we do? Blame the two party system? Blame representative democracy? Blame the media, blame the people who didn’t vote last time, blame whatever whatever. The problem isn’t the systems we use. World history tells us the law of entropy rules over the entire course of human history.

We’ve never had an election like this where there wasn’t at least one basically decent person to vote for. And that should matter, decency, more than whether or not which guy (or girl) will give us more stuff. So for my friends who are frustrated because “in the past not voting or voting 3rd party was throwing away your vote, but now it’s supposedly okay,” looking back over past situations, I still believe that was the case. We’ve haven’t faced this kind of Sophie’s Choice for president in my lifetime. It’s 2016, and everything is awful.

Now it’s October and I’ve been asked 235 times, by friends and by total strangers, “Well then, who do YOU think we should vote for, if you’re just going to be negative and critical?” So, staring down the barrel of Election Day, this blog is my answer in four parts (keeping in mind I’m strictly speaking about one single item on the ballot and assuming you will vote on the rest):

A) We need to stop with that question. We ask it because we want a quick and easy answer. I don’t see any quick and easy answers. At least, it wasn’t quick and easy for me. You may not believe me, but I’m actually very glad to see pretty much everyone I know voice some kind of opinion this year. Even when I disagree. Even when it’s been rude (yes, sometimes it has). At least people are caring and talking. Like I said the other day, we should absolutely keep talking and sharing ideas. Otherwise I think social media is 75% wasted. But I think we should stop saying “So tell me who to vote for” looking for a one-sentence concession, and actually read and listen to what people are saying. Then be convinced in your own mind.

B) Which is point B. Be convinced in your own mind. Whatever you are going to do, do it with all your heart. The Bible is clear on this. Even though it boggles my mind how much saying “vote your conscience” pisses people off, that’s actually what the Bible says. If we aren’t talking about things like murder and adultery, the Bible says that we should act “fully convinced in our own mind” so that we can have a clear conscience. And by the way, it also says that doing things without a clear conscience is a sin, which is why our conscience is convicting us about it. Read Romans and James. So if you vote, or don’t vote, or write-in, or anything, do it because you are fully convinced it is what YOU SHOULD be doing. If you feel like you have to hold your nose (or your vomit) and vote for someone anyway, because you just have to, that might be the sign that you shouldn’t. Not because of who you are voting for, necessarily, but because you can’t do it with your whole heart.

C) Repent. I’ve been preaching this to myself for a while now and am continuing to do so until November 8th. (Or 28th, as the case may be.) We have horrible choices at the top of the ballot. I think this meme pretty well sums it up: 14600863_1324556830936449_5716318283315586400_n
We can point fingers all we want, but the truth of the matter is, we’ve brought this on ourselves. And I say this as someone who has worked many campaigns in the past and has been trying to stay informed and engage in conversations since then. And I’m speaking as a member of the American church. We’ve done this to ourselves.
Not because we didn’t abolish the Congress and establish a theocracy. Not because we allowed for individuals to hold different convictions before God (whether they realize they are before God or not). I don’t think there’s a single straight line from Point A to Point B. But none of us can look around and say “Hey, I’ve been living as a hermit on a mountain doing nothing but pray for the welfare of my country for my entire life, so my hands are totally clean.” That’s not how it works. Read Daniel 9.
We need to repent. We need to repent for whatever part we, individually, played in coming to this point. I won’t pretend that this election is only one small blip in the course of human history. It’s still a decision over the leader of an entire country, and biblical stewardship theology says that because we are the ones making this choice – even the choice to not choose – we will be the ones held accountable for that choice. So know that I am not being flippant here. Which leads me to:

D) Vote (or don’t vote) in such a way that expresses that repentance before God. If you are fully convinced that Person A or Person B is “God’s Man/Woman for America”…well, you probably aren’t even reading this, actually. On the off-chance you are, I’d encourage you to peruse the Old Testament regarding the people God raised up as national rulers. P.S. – they often weren’t Esther or Joseph.
But outside of that, whatever you do convinced in your own mind, I encourage every believer to vote or don’t vote this year in a spirit of repentance. If you think you can vote for one of those people and do that, then do it. If you think you have to abstain completely, then do that. If you will do that by going 3rd party, then by all means.

I realize these last two sections might come off as arrogant. I hope you believe me when I say that this isn’t easy for me to write. When I’ve heard this in the past, I refused to hear it. So this is still a concept I’m working on accepting, even while I acknowledge it’s truth. It’s also why I don’t plan to vote for anyone at all. For myself, I can’t see voting for any of my options as a way of saying anything but “I see your big neon WARNING sign, God, but I’m going to keep on doing the same thing I’ve always done and just hope you’ll make it all right in the end.” It would be like me jumping off a ten-story building and trusting God to “make it right in the end,” which of course He would – he’d let me just go ahead and die and go to Heaven so I couldn’t influence anyone else with my stupidity.

That’s part of what motivates my non-voting. I’m not voting in the hopes that by doing so, my repentance will stay God’s hand in the destruction of our nation. Because I see it coming. I see how we have decayed internally to the point that down is up, wrong is right, male is female, exploitation is empowerment, and life isn’t life unless we decide we want it to exist. We’ve embraced Moloch and shrugged and said, “until we can overturn a Supreme Court decision or woo people with affection, we will just let the child sacrifice continue.” I see the black flag sweeping the Middle East, pushing into Europe, and coming our direction. I think of the world my daughter will have to face with a lump in my throat. Not because “I don’t believe God is in control,” but because we live in a sinful world that He already told us will have to get to the brink of self-destruction before He gives us a brand new one. I don’t want to hasten that in any way.

I’m still doing a lot of personal reflection and soul searching and praying on this issue on a daily basis. I know there are areas in my life where I personally need to “be the change.” I don’t say this as someone who has arrived at perfection, to quote a familiar voice. I’m sharing this with you as a coworker and fellow sojourner. Take it or leave it. But I am hopeful you at least consider it.

Sorry this was so long.