Monday, August 29, 2011

Make-Ahead Meals: Week 3 Recap

This past week, we found a couple more favorites among the make-ahead meals we have tried.  Take a look at Week Three's meals:

Creamy Chicken with Soft Polenta
Building blocks: roasted squash, pulled chicken

Pork and Ginger Noodle Soup
Building blocks: pulled pork

Lemon Chicken Frittata 
Building blocks: pulled chicken, rice pilaf

Cheesy Spinach-and-Pepper Calzones 
Building blocks: roasted peppers, tomato sauce for serving 
(I made two big calzones, rather than four smaller ones)

I thought the creamy chicken with polenta was amazing -- pretty rich, thanks to the cream and cheese mixed into the polenta, but it had mushrooms and peas which are a great combo in my book.  Scott and I both enjoyed the calzones, even though I used less cheese than the recipe called for (I know, this is out of character, but I didn't buy quite enough).  Scott voted calzones #2 across all 3 weeks and would have given them the #1 spot if they had a bit more cheese and some meat incorporated.

The pork and ginger noodle soup was fine as a starter to a meal, but the taste was a little bland for a full meal's worth.  And boy, did the recipe make a lot of soup!  As for the lemon chicken frittata, I could have done without the ricotta dollops on top, and similar to the soup, it was okay in a smaller portion.

An added bonus: this week provided a few challenges in the form of new ingredients.  I had never cooked with polenta, fresh ginger, baby bok choy, or bean sprouts (most of those were a part of the pork and ginger noodle soup).  Let's just say Google and YouTube are quick and helpful resources for how-to instructions... what does polenta look like? how do I peel and slice ginger? how do I cut baby bok choy?

So far, this has been a fantastic and very hands-on learning experience! (I have learned more about my husband as well...  Through these weeks, I discovered that Scott likes eggs but more for breakfast than dinner, so Week Two's strata and this week's frittata were not his favorites.)

With all the shopping for these meals, we haven't has many sweets around the house.  This is good for cutting back on sugar and calories, but my sweet tooth isn't liking the change... so tonight, I whipped up some cookies using the original Nestle chocolate chip cookie recipe but swapped in butterscotch chips instead.

Once I started pulling out the ingredients though, I realized we didn't have brown sugar, but there was no way I was going to abandon my baking and not satisfy my craving.  Another helpful Google search and I learned another new tip: in a pinch, you can use powdered sugar in place of brown sugar, as long as you use double the amount of powdered sugar (in my case, I used 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar since the recipe called for 3/4 cup brown sugar).  The cookies tasted great, but they just baked to a lighter color than the usual recipe.

That's all for tonight!  Stay tuned for Week Four... and if you missed the previous Make-Ahead Meals posts, here are some quick links:

Make-Ahead Meals
Make-Ahead Meals: Week 1 Recap
Make-Ahead Meals: Week 2 Recap

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Love What Is

I was talking to Scott tonight about how I sometimes have trouble appreciating the present.  I find myself looking ahead, thinking about what I should be doing, what I want to change.  Maybe I just need to take a deep breath... 

When I think about it, it seems silly to not appreciate the life I am living right now.  I have so much to be thankful for.  And someday, I'll look back with the perspective and clarity only time can provide, and I will understand how the uncertainties and doubts I have now will evolve and change and play out. 

With time and distance, we can remember all the good and understand all the bad of our pasts.  In the future, I will not be able to deny how wonderful things are right now.  Even as I take a moment now, I know it... even as I type this.
via Yoga Journal
I came across a short meditation in the September issue of Yoga Journal that relates to this feeling.  It's called "Love What Is" and begins with a short intro before moving into the meditation itself.  (Even if you aren't into yoga or meditation--I can barely sit still for a full minute--just reading this passage slows my breathing down...)

When you are going through a difficult time, sometimes nothing you do to solve your problems seems to help.  You struggle, but the changes don't come. Can you stop struggling for a moment and recognize the goodness in the life you have right now?  Try this centering practice for 3 to 5 minutes to open to the beauty of your life exactly as it is.

Take a very deep breath in
and a very slow breath out.

Sit up very straight. Notice
that as your spine lengthens,
your heart opens.

Now breathe into the space
of an open heart--feel into
the space of an open heart.

A heart that is empty, a heart
that holds the whole world.

Breathe into a heart that
can hold the whole world.

Feel into a heart that can
hold the whole world.

Breathe into the sweetness
of this moment.

Feel into the sweetness of
this moment.

Allow yourself to be whole-
heartedly alive and well
in the life you have, now.

-Rolf Gates

A few minutes of meditation... calming the body, clearing the mind, breathing into the soul... the words are a mix of prayer and poetry to me (that's why I broke up the meditation into separate lines as it was laid out in the magazine, even if the breaks were not intentional).  I think that's why I love yoga--the words, those spoken aloud and those silently lived out.  Yoga combines the movement of the body and the breath, while tapping into the mind and soul.

Last night, I went to a free Yoga in the Park session in Oz Park, hosted by Lululemon.  It was a beautiful night--the day gradually darkened to dusk as we moved through our practice, grass beneath our mats, our collective gaze looking to the sky.  As summer slowly slips away, last night was a chance to drink it in.  It felt good to live, to love what is.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Make-Ahead Meals: Week 2 Recap

Well, we had another week of success with our make-ahead meals.  Week Two included lots of veggies and big portions that yielded plenty of leftovers.  Here's a peek at the delicious dishes:

Veggie Flatbreads with Hummus
Building block: roasted squash and peppers

Easy Brunswick Stew
Building block: pulled pork, tomato sauce

Pulled Pork-and-Slaw Sandwiches
Building block: pulled pork

Butternut Squash-and-Spinach Strata
Building block: roasted squash

Our favorite meal of the week was the pulled pork-and-slaw sandwiches.  The slaw as a side dish was a little too vinegary (probably because I didn't drain it very well), but as a topping to the pork, it gave the whole sandwich a great tang.

The brunswick stew made a very large amount and reheated well for lunch during the week (bonus points: the stew included a new food for us--okra!).  I thought the veggie flatbreads were a yummy and unique way to serve up a mix of veggies, carbs and protein (forgot the olives but still tasted great).  The strata was okay... I tried to sneak in some whole-grain white bread and it threw the taste a little, and Scott wasn't a huge fan of all the spinach.  It tasted a little better reheated the next day, perhaps because it "set" a bit in the fridge.

We're already moving ahead with Week Three, so stay tuned!  If you missed the introduction to this series, check out Make-Ahead Meals. Or for Week One, feast your eyes upon Make-Ahead Meals: Week 1 Recap.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Book Club: Heaven is for Real

Last Sunday, our book club met at K's place.  Unfortunately the weather didn't allow us to hold our meeting around the pool, but we all settled in on the couch and chatted over snacks and drinks.  I brought along some lime bars (they were easy to whip up using the Barefoot Contessa mix), and K set up a spread of veggies and dip, chips and salsa, taquitos and cheese-filled pretzel bites (amazing!).  She also whipped up mango-flavored margaritas and pomegranate cosmos!

We talked about last month's choice Bossypants and commented on some of our favorite funny parts.  By telling stories of  family, friends, and work projects, as well as describing the challenge of achieving work/life balance, Tina Fey gives us a glimpse into her life... and shows that she doesn't take herself too seriously.  She faces many of the same ups and downs we all do... though she is usually in front of the camera while she lives through them.  It helps to have a good sense of pop culture to get all the nuances of this book, but overall, it was the right fun summer read for our group.

Next month, we'll meet to discuss Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent.  After browsing a few bestseller lists for ideas, we all thought this book sounded interesting (my family was actually talking about it over our vacation).  The story is a young boy's account of what he experienced during a life-saving surgery--his description of what he saw and learned while visiting heaven.

via Review:
A young boy emerges from life-saving surgery with remarkable stories of his visit to heaven.

Heaven is for Real is the true story of the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven. He survives and begins talking about being able to look down and see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn't know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear.

Colton said he met his miscarried sister, whom no one had told him about, and his great grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born, then shared impossible-to-know details about each. He describes the horse that only Jesus could ride, about how "reaaally big" God and his chair are, and how the Holy Spirit "shoots down power" from heaven to help us.

Told by the father, but often in Colton's own words, the disarmingly simple message is heaven is a real place, Jesus really loves children, and be ready, there is a coming last battle.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Happy 1st Birthday to My Blog!

One year ago today, I wrote my first post on Inspiration and Rough Drafts.  I started this blog as a creative outlet, something to encourage me to write on a regular basis and share it with others.  The name really says it all--I wanted to be creative, try new things, find inspiration, and then write about it without worrying about being perfect.

Life isn't perfect, but it's interesting and fascinating and fun.  There are ups and downs, people who come in and out of our lives.  Along the way, we learn what brings us joy, what challenges us, and what we need in life.  I know I love writing--it makes me happy, it always calls me to keep working and growing, and it is what I need to express myself and feel fulfilled.

Being creative, whether it involves writing, food, fashion, or home decor, feeds my soul.  And of course, my wonderful husband, family and friends mean everything to me, so this blog highlights the celebrations we share as well.  In some of the most stressful or confusing times, I know that the people I love and my faith in God are what make life worth living.

Hope you have enjoyed this first year of posts--this one is #93!  Looking back, I see how far I've come and how much I've done over the past year.  Plus I've discovered so much information and inspiration through other people's blogs--it's truly a little community.  Much more to come...

And as a fun recap to celebrate my blog's first birthday... here's a "taste" of the treats that have graced Inspiration and Rough Drafts this year!  (Can you tell I have a sweet tooth?)  Which one was your favorite?

"Big Huge Birthday Party Post" 11.07.2010

"Dessert + Booze = Rum Cake" 02.19.2011

"One Year Down, Forever to Go" 06.06.2011

"Tickled Pink - Baby Shower Fun" 04.18.2011

"Cake Pops for my BFF's Birthday!" 05.26.2011
"Impress Guests with this Fancy (Easy!) Dessert" 03.19.2011

"Fabulous Five-Minute Fudge" 12.14.2010

"Healthy Muffins vs. Sinful Cupcakes" 10.14.2010

"Two-Ingredient Brownie Muffins" 09.14.2010

"Big Huge Birthday Party Post" 11.07.2010

"Our New Year's Eve Celebration" 01.01.2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

Make-Ahead Meals: Week 1 Recap

Warning: don't read this post if you're hungry.  Week One of the make-ahead meals is complete!  After a very long day in the kitchen, I had a stocked freezer of all the building blocks I would need for the next few weeks' worth of meals.

I have to say--it's been wonderful to simply pull out one or two portions from the freezer in the morning so they can thaw throughout the day and then cook a quick dinner in the evening.  In some instances, we even had some leftovers for lunch.  I haven't been able to find the Make-Ahead Meals feature on the Every Day with Rachael Ray website, so if you're interested, pick up the September issue and try these recipes yourself!

Without further ado, here's how the first week turned out:

Spanish Rice with Shrimp
Building blocks: tomato sauce, roasted peppers, rice pilaf

Fusilli with Chicken and Tomato Sauce
Building blocks: tomato sauce, pulled chicken

Mango, Pork and Watercress Salad
Building block: pulled pork; we used a salad mix rather than watercress

Pork-and-Avocado Tacos
Building block: pulled pork

Overall, everything tasted good, but our favorites of the week were the salad and the tacos.  The lime-honey dressing on the salad was fabulous with the mango, pulled pork, red bell pepper, and shallot.  And we were pleasantly surprised that the tacos were so delicious without cheese and sour cream--the creamy avocado definitely did the trick.

Since we had some leftover ingredients at the end of the week, I whipped up some garlic and onions to put over our grilled steaks last night.  Not a make-ahead meal, but easy...  I think I'm getting the hang of this!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Do Not Be Afraid

This past weekend's Gospel reading touched me and has stayed with me through the week... 

After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side,
while he dismissed the crowds.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”
- Matthew 14:22-33 

I keep moving forward, but I don't know what's next.  At times, I am walking along, feeling confident, but then something unexpected happens, something I'm not sure how to handle.  And it's those times that I have to remember to trust.  "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." 

In yoga the past several weeks, when the instructor has asked us to set our intention for our practice, two words have been bubbling to mind... "Relax" and "Trust."  But as much as I try to do those two things in my daily life, I still find myself getting frustrated.  I get stressed.  I doubt.  "Lord, save me!"

But in those wonderful moments when I feel calm and peace come over me, those moments when I remember that it will all turn out for the best, even if I don't know how or when... those are the times that I have faith and feel secure that God has a plan.  "Truly, you are the Son of God."

For now, I have to take courage.  I have to trust.  Even if it occasionally means saying "Lord, save me!"

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Make-Ahead Meals

Trying new things is a little scary.  You don't know what to expect or whether things will turn out well.  Well, I'm not very confident when it comes to cooking (I'm all about the baking!), so I figured the best way to conquer my uncertainties was to face them head on.

When I saw the September issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray, the cover headline "1 Month of Make-Ahead Meals" sounded like something I could handle--or at least attempt.  I don't have time to cook a full meal every night--or even most nights--so I'm hoping this can be my baby step into the cooking world.  This method requires one big day of preparing five "building blocks" and freezing everything.  Then I simply pull out individual portions during the month as needed.

Tomorrow will be my big day of prep.  The five building blocks include: pulled pork, tomato sauce, roasted vegetables, pulled chicken, and rice pilaf.  Today, Scott and I loaded up the grocery cart with all the ingredients for the building blocks, as well as what we needed for the first four meals.

With our busy schedules, I figure we can make four dinners this week (each serves 4) and use the leftovers for lunches too.  I'm slightly overwhelmed by the volume and the fact that I have never cooked with some of these ingredients, but I have everything I need (or in some instances, something that should work just as well).

Wish me luck!  I'll keep you posted on how everything turns out...


Related Posts with Thumbnails