Meal Planning and Steel Cut Oats

Today is a little departure from the usual. My column in the Yakima Herald today is about basic meal planning. Do you meal plan? My version is fairly informal but it’s a system that works pretty well for us. At the bottom of the post is a recipe for our favorite steel cut oats. I make a big batch on Sundays and keep it in the fridge all week for easy breakfasts. We’re almost to the weekend friends.


I have a friend who is an excellent meal planner. She sits down every week with her husband and they decide on dinners for the week. They make a grocery list of the items they need and one of them goes to the store. They assign dinners to each night based on their weekly schedule and then cook their meals according to the schedule. It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But for so many of us, it’s not that simple at all.

For the left-brained creative-types and the flustered, busy, over-tired parents, for those that aren’t sure they even like to cook, and everyone in between, planning an entire week’s worth of meals is more than a little intimidating; it’s downright daunting. At least that’s how I feel most weeks.

But I also know that to make healthy fresh food for my family, I need a plan. Daily trips to the grocery store with three young kids is out of the question and I don’t want to rely too heavily on take-out and frozen pizzas.

What works for me is to spend a few hours on the weekend preparing foods I want my family to eat during the week. I’ve found that having produce readily available, washed, cut-up and in plain view ensures we all have an easier time reaching for a fruit or vegetable first.

Each week I hit my local fruit stand. Right now I’m buying bags of plums and nectarines, peaches, bell peppers, corn on the cob, potatoes, onions, cucumbers, melons, zucchini and green beans. This is where I start with planning meals for the week. After I’ve made my haul in the produce department, I head to the grocery store, list in hand with the remaining items I need.

On Sundays, when I typically have more time to putter in the kitchen, I do the bulk of my prep for the week. I wash and chop fruits and vegetables. I usually make some kind of salad for easy lunches and muffins or a quick bread for easy breakfast for my kids. Sometimes I make an egg dish and roast a pan of vegetables but mostly it depends on what looked good at the store and what I’m in the mood to cook.

Breakfasts and lunches get exponentially easier on busy weekday mornings. The kids choose between cereal and whatever I’ve prepped for the week and they help themselves. It’s the same for packing lunches; they choose from the fruits and vegetables I’ve already prepared, we throw a sandwich together and they fill their water bottles.

This week I made a loaf of pumpkin bread and a big pot of steel cut oats. I also made tuna salad and chicken salad and some whole-wheat couscous. I cut up cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, bell peppers and washed and trimmed grapes. When I open my fridge, these are the items I see first and what I build meals around all week.

Everyone in my family loves oatmeal, so I thought I would share my recipe for steel cut oats. Hearty and delicious, the only downside to steel-cut oats is the time it takes to make them. I get around this by making a big pot on the weekend and storing it in the fridge. On weekday mornings, we spoon portions into individual bowls and pop them in the microwave. We top ours with a spoonful of peanut butter and a handful of frozen blueberries but raisins and cinnamon or a fresh sliced peach and a drizzle of honey is lovely too.


Creamy Steel-Cut Oats with Chia Seeds

  • 2 cups steel-cut oats
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds

In a pot combine water, milk, salt and oats. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat. As soon as the liquid begins to boil, turn the heat to low. Cook oats at a simmer for 20 to 30 minutes stirring frequently. When oats are finished cooking, gently stir in maple syrup, cinnamon and chia seeds. Spoon oats into individual bowls and top with favorite toppings. Save remaining oats in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to five days.

 

Five Minute Peanut Sauce

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In the rush to get out the door to the back-to-school barbecue, Jack and Scarlet were putting their shoes on in the mud room. From around the corner I hear Jack tell his sister, ‘Oh you look really beautiful, do you need help with your shoes? Do you want fancy ones?’

I peeked around the corner to see she had changed into an all white hand-me-down dress from an older friend of ours. It’s lacy and the bottom is tulle and was probably a flower-girl dress at some point. She had accessorized with multiple bracelets and barrettes in her hair and had her bright pink purse ready to go. Jack was holding up sparkly silver jelly shoes (2 sizes too small) for her approval.

And I froze for a second relishing the moment of sibling kindness and affection. Oh man, momming is so rough sometimes right? Not a day goes by when I don’t wonder when the real mom is finally going to show up. You know, the one that actually knows what she’s doing.

I’ve been thinking about that little interaction all week, feeling like maybe I’m messing up just about everything but somehow in the midst of it all, the kids are doing ok. There’s no better feeling I think.

And speaking of messing things up, I am zero for three on dinners last week. I couldn’t get a win to save my life. I made a rolled pork loin that was to ‘herby’ and a chicken and rice dish that was completely rejected by all three kids (who hates chicken and rice? my kids apparently) and roasted veggies with chicken sausages that resulted in one kid gagging at the dinner table and the other two giving up their desserts in order to not have to eat one more bite of the offending dinner.

But this quick and easy peanut sauce was my one win of the week and I’m holding onto it like I am Jack and Scarlet’s sweet little moment in the mudroom. I found the recipe in the Dinner, A Love Story cookbook. I tweaked it a bit and my changes are included in the recipe below. I sautéed kale, Brussel sprouts and a few random veggies in a little sesame oil and then tossed them with zucchini noodles and covered the whole thing in the peanut sauce. For the kids I simply made a few spaghetti noodles and snuck a few zucchini noodles in with them before mixing the sauce over the noodles. They ate this with a side of cucumbers and EVERYONE was happy. Mom win. I’ll take what I can get.

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Five Minute Peanut Sauce

  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1 (1-inch) piece fresh peeled ginger (really important)
  • ½ cup smooth peanut butter
  • 2/3 cup warm water
  • 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (we like a little heat, but scale back to taste)
  • pinch of salt and pepper

Pulse garlic and ginger in the bowl of a food processor until finely chopped. Add peanut butter, water, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and process until smooth. Taste to make sure the flavor is just right.

Mix with cooked and cooled noodles or rice. Use as a dip for grilled chicken and vegetables. Keep in the fridge to throw together an easy meal.

Peanut Butter Granola

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For some reason I was in a funk last week. I’m not quite sure why but if I had to take a guess it probably had something to do with 100 plus degree temps, tired, bored, antsy kids and thick smoke from forest fires to the north of us descending on the Valley leaving us in a foggy soupy mess. Or maybe I was just grumpy. Who knows.

And just when I thought I might legitimately pull my hair out, a friend invited the kids and I to head up into the mountains for a hike along the Tieton River. We even got a patch of blue sky for a bit and the kids splashed and played in the river for hours. We explored a cave and a waterfall and even found a little natural water slide. It was good to get out of our usual routine and just play and have fun together. You would think after eight years of parenting I would recognize that when we get out of sync as a family, nine times out of ten, we just need to get out of the house and go for an adventure. A little change to the routine makes EVERYONE happier.

I went into the weekend feeling settled and eager for more adventures before the summer is over. Way too soon we are going to be back into our busy routines and I don’t want to miss this last month with the kids home.

With the smoke still settled heavily over our town, we spent a lot of time inside this weekend which left me time to putter and play in the kitchen. I’ve been testing out my new instant pot which I was initially a little skeptical of but I think I’m turning into a believer. I made Nom Nom Paleo’s Kalua Pork yesterday and that alone made the purchase worth it. I’ve also made a couple of roast chickens and some bone broth. This week I’m going to make some grains and beans. I’ll keep you posted with how it all goes.

Once I got on a roll in the kitchen, I was kind of a mad woman. I started going through my pantry and decided that I had too many half open bags of coconut, almonds, oats and raisins. I used to make granola all the time and thought the kids would like it on their yogurt. I started whipping up a batch and at the last second decided to stir a little peanut butter into the mixture. The result was a nutty, sweet (but not too sweet) granola with a hint of peanut butter taste. I made the kids parfaits with vanilla yogurt, granola and fresh blueberries and they gobbled them right up.

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Peanut Butter Granola

  • 5 cups rolled oats (NOT instant)
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. In a large bowl mix oat, coconut, almonds, cinnamon and salt together. In a small sauce pan, melt butter, coconut oil, peanut butter and brown sugar together until melted and mixed well. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour wet mixture over oat mixture and stir well until well combined. Spread evenly on baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring at least once halfway through so the granola gets golden brown on all sides. When the oats are toasty brown and fragrant, remove from oven and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to a month.

To make a yogurt parfait, layer yogurt and granola in a cup and top with blueberries or favorite fruit. Peaches and raspberries are a personal favorite!

Raspberry and Almond Scones

IMG_8707.JPGJuly is my favorite month of the entire year. Growing up, July meant a few very specific things: berry picking, strawberry shortcake for dinner, boat rides and camping at the lake. To this day, I look forward to July all year. I’m sure having a birthday in July has something to do with it, especially considering my husband coined me the ‘birthday princess’ years ago.

Can I be honest? We’ve had a rocky start to the summer. Sickness has slowed us down and forced us to miss out on a lot of fun things in the last couple weeks. We came home from a weekend away and our precious kitty is missing. Living in the country you kind of have to expect this kind of thing from time to time but it doesn’t make it any easier.

All that to say, I’m ready to shake off the last few weeks and start fresh with our summer. We are finally (fingers crossed) healthy and ready to work through our summer-fun list.

At the top of the list is a Sunday stroll through the Yakima Farmers Market. I love slowly walking booth to booth, looking at everything. We buy a giant strawberry lemonade for our kids which they inevitably fight over and someone spills but somehow that’s part of the charm. We buy a loaf of bread from Buhrmaster Bakery and a plate of pad thai. We load up on fruits and vegetables for the week, whenever possible choosing something we wouldn’t typically find at the grocery store; a new variety of tomato, a purple bell pepper, sweet yellow carrots, or a big globe of daikon. If berries are in season, I buy a few pints, which my kids eat most of before we even get home. My last stop before we head home is the flower booth. I take my time choosing a bouquet knowing I’ll get to enjoy them all week on my kitchen island.

This week’s recipe is for fresh raspberry and almond scones. The tender sweet raspberries melt into the dough making pockets of perfectly sweet jammy bites. The hint of almond and crunch of raw sugar on top make these easy scones decadent and special. Perfect for a lazy Saturday morning or to bring to a party as a treat, you could easily turn these into dessert with a spoonful of fresh fruit and a dollop of whip cream.

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Raspberry Almond Cream Scones

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 ounces fresh raspberries
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon raw sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Using clean hands or two forks, mix the butter (breaking it up) into the dough until there are no butter lumps bigger than the size of a pea. Gently stir the raspberries into the flour mixture. In a small bowl whisk together the heavy whipping cream, egg and almond extract. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry and gently stir together with a spatula. Using your hands press the dough into a ball. Sprinkle flour on your countertop and knead the dough until it has just barely come together. Shape the dough into a circle about 1 inch thick. Cut the circle into 8 wedges. Places the wedges on the baking sheet. Using a pastry brush or a spoon, brush the tops of the scones with melted butter. Sprinkle raw sugar over the top of each scone. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until a pale golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Best served warm from the oven, preferably with hot coffee and the early morning sun warming your back as you enjoy Yakima’s perfect summer weather.

Healthy Broccoli Salad

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If you happen to follow my salt and stone Instagram account, you might have seen the barn door we had installed last week. It’s a component of the house I’ve been dreaming about since we started designing the house and I can’t wait to do a little house tour when all the little details are wrapped up.

In the meantime, we finally reached the end of the school year, skidding into the last day with brutal allergies, a minor bout of food poisoning (I think?) and some really tired kids ready for a break.

I gave them a day to sleep it all off and then we headed to the mountains with friends for a day of fun and mud (oh the rain) and relaxation. It was a joy to watch the boys be well…boys. They were wild, playful, imaginative and brave. By the end of the day they didn’t have a single piece of dry or clean clothing, they had fished in the river, explored the forest, killed a Gardner snake, ‘hunted’ and played in the fire (supervised, of course).  And Scarlet was right in the mix, not about to let those boys leave her behind. Her hair still smells faintly of campfire three days later.

Sunday we went back out in search of trees and ended up going for a bike ride at a nearby resort. We pedaled through the trees, admiring the gorgeous homes and occasionally stopping to ‘encourage’ children with sore legs to preserve. All in all a great weekend and the perfect way to welcome summer break.

This broccoli salad has been on repeat lately and feels summery in all the right ways. Crunchy and sweet with a little savory bite here and there, it’s been a fan favorite for everyone. I am using Hampton Creek mayonnaise lately because it’s egg-free and I don’t worry so much about a salad like this spoiling at a barbecue where it might sit out on a counter for a while. It also tastes really good which is always nice. I adapted this recipe from a whole30 web site. I use a bit of honey in the dressing which you could always skip and just add a few extra craisins or dates for sweetness.

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Broccoli Salad

  • 1 broccoli slaw mix (with the bagged salads at the grocery store)
  • 1 head broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 8 pitted dates, chopped
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup craisins
  • 4 pieces center-cut bacon, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (add a little more if you need it. No need to adjust the rest of the recipe)
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper

In a small fry pan, cook bacon pieces over medium heat until cooked through. Drain on paper towels and set aside. In a large bowl combine slaw, broccoli, almonds, dates and craisins. Stir in bacon (all the better if it’s still a little warm). In a small bowl, whisk together mayo, apple cider vinegar and honey. Drizzle over salad and toss until salad is well-coated. Salt and pepper salad and mix together. Taste to make sure the flavor is the way you like it, stirring in more dressing or adding more salt and pepper if needed. Store in the refrigerator covered if not serving immediately.

White Bean Artichoke Dip

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And just like that school is out for the summer. I officially have a third grader, first grader and pre-kindergartner. I told the kids they had this week to do whatever they wanted; watch too much t.v., live like sloths, whatever. But next week mom boot camp kicks in.

I’m not sure quite how to say it nicely, but I would say we are lacking in the personal responsibility and independence department around here. I find a lot of shoes, I hang up towels, I remind children to put dishes away and I watch the clock to make sure no one misses the bus. And that’s just from 8:15am to 8:30am every morning.

It’s time. Time for kids to grow up a little bit and mom to take a step back. Which is going to take a little boot camp for all of us. I’ve gotten into the rhythm of just doing it all because I KNOW where the shoes are and I can do those dishes quickly and easily and sometimes I shrug my shoulders and think…well…I am a stay-at-home mom…this is what you do.

But I’m finding myself feeling a little resentful and frustrated that I’m doing everything for everyone. I’m so busy doing all the things that I don’t slow down long enough to teach my kids the tasks they need to learn to be helpful.

It’s a funny feeling to catch yourself in routines or habits without ever making the conscious decision to do so. When it comes time to reteach or retrain yourself into new habits the first little bit of time feels so overwhelming and hard (that’s where I’m at; staring down the barrel of summer, telling myself ‘I think I can, I think I can!). But anyway, those are just my rambling thoughts on the first day of summer.

I would love any ideas you might have on systems/chores/personal responsibility/summer goals. I don’t want the summer to be a painful push and pull of frustration but at the same time I want to take advantage of a summer of togetherness to build new habits we can take into the school year come fall.

And in the spirit of changing things up, I’ve been in the midst of an experiment the last month or so. In an effort to see if I can eliminate a few (minor but annoying) health concerns I’ve had for years and years, I’ve really endeavored to clean up my diet. I temporarily eliminated dairy which has been…interesting.

I made this easy white bean and artichoke dip on Sunday night and we dipped carrots and cucumbers (and tortilla chips too) as a little appetizer for everyone while we waited for pizzas to come off the grill. I ended up using it as a sauce on my pizza with chicken sausage, bell peppers and Kalamata olives and it was delicious (fake cheese not so much). I stored the leftover dip in the fridge and have snacked on it all week.

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White Bean Artichoke Dip

  • 1 14oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 marinated in olive oil artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons oil reserved from artichoke jar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • sea salt and black pepper

Put all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until smooth. If necessary, add an additional teaspoon of olive oil if the dip is thick. Scoop into a bowl and drizzle lightly with olive oil and a sprinkle of coarse sea salt. Dip chips and veggies, bread sticks or spread on toast or pizza dough. Store extras in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

I am ‘That’ Mom and Other Embarrassing Moments my Kids will Relive in Therapy Someday

Come to find out I am an obnoxious sports fan. Never much of an athlete myself, this revelation has come as a bit of a surprise.

I like to wear the jersey. Sometimes I yell at the TV (I come by this genetically). I cheer until I lose my voice and every once in a while during really special events (like the Olympics) I might even get a little tear in my eye if a game/event doesn’t work out for the team/athlete I’m cheering for.

A couple years ago, on a trip to Whistler, we happened to be there during an Ironman race. We even knew one of the racers so on the morning of the race we got up early to watch. We sipped coffee from the deck of our house and watched the swim, yelling and cheering as the contenders raced out of the chilly mountain water. Then we walked down the road to watch the bike race portion and I’m not joking, even a little bit, when I say that in less than an hour I was completely hoarse from cheering on the bikers. I probably screamed enough for at least 10 people.

So imagine how out-of-control I can be watching my own kid. Oh my gosh. It’s not pretty people, I have zero chill. This weekend was a fun relay race our town hosts called Gap2Gap. Kids form teams of 2 to 4 and compete in a relay that involves running, biking, kayaking (if you’re old enough) and a couple of obstacle courses.

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Jackson and his good buddy prepped for this race all month. They bought matching t-shirts and set up their own obstacle course in the backyard, practicing jumping over picnic benches and crawling under deck chairs. Saturday morning the boys were nervous and excited waiting for their age group to start. When it was finally time, the boys took off, determined to try and win, giving it their all.

I was running between each leg of the event hauling water bottles and taking pictures, yelling and cheering like crazy. The boys finished the event and it appeared like they had come in first place for their age group. They were so excited! We were so excited for them! Lots of celebrating all around.

As the awards ceremony started, the boys excitedly moved to the front of the crowd. As their age group was announced Jackson’s team wasn’t called. They didn’t place at all. And I was ‘that’ mom. You know the one. My cheeks are still red when I think about it.

The boys initially were pretty surprised and bummed out but shrugged off their disappointment in record time. We, of course, talked about how the important thing was that they had fun and did their best and that was what was important.

The next morning the paper ran the times and placements of each team and to our surprise, our hunch was right, the boys DID come in first. We’re not sure where the glitch was, but that’s beside the fact. It doesn’t really matter because the lesson for them and even more for ME, is that sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don’t. Mistakes happen, sometimes from your own doing and other times because of an accidental oversight or a miscommunication or who-knows-why; it just happens. And it matters so much more how you respond in those moments. You know I’m talking to myself right? Oh man, I have some work to do in this area.

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I’ve been thinking all weekend about the way Jack showed good sportsmanship and an even better attitude. He was already coming up with a new team name for next year and he told us in complete seriousness he didn’t even really want the trophy anyway because you had to give it back the following year.

Motherhood never ceases to surprise me in all the big and little ways it teaches and molds me, sometimes throwing the door wide open on places in myself I need to change and evolve. I want to be more like my kid, able to accept disappointment (no matter how big or little) and still feel proud of myself whether people notice or not.

I don’t think I could stop being a crazed cheerleader-type even if I wanted to. I actually kind of like that part of myself, but surely I can reign it in, especially when things don’t quite go as planned.