Meal Planning

Meal Planning

I am not a consistent nor organized meal planner. Now that Mr. Bee and I are empty nesters and there are no growing children to constantly feed, I am able to plan meals on the fly, usually as I do my grocery shopping. And this is okay for the most part. I have a repertoire of meals in my head, plus the cooking experience to know that I can come up with something we will enjoy. We usually do not eat out or order in and our meals are fairly healthy.

But I would like to up my game and have more variety in our weekly meals. Also, I realized that I do get repetitious and prepare the same dishes over and over. Let’s face it: eating is one of the pleasures of life, but it takes planning to make it truly so.

I really wanted to make the planning process less onerous and so I created a printable sheet where I can list my meals under categories. This sheet has proved helpful in several ways.

The idea I came up with to make meal planning easier is to categorize each day according to the routine that is established already at our house. For example, Monday is healthy meal day. We may have over indulged on the weekend, so Monday is a day to have a lighter meal. Sometimes it is a vegetarian meal but sometimes we have a salad with chicken. The weekends are grill time, although now that we have our first ever gas grill that may change. I have Thursday as leftover day to remind me of my goal to have less/no food waste. On that day my plan is to use our leftovers in pasta or on pizza or any way that I can to come up with a new meal.

I write in pen those meals that I make regularly. But if I plan to try a new recipe I will add it in pencil. That way, if it’s not a keeper I can remove it from my list of tried and true recipes. This planning tool is a new one and I will probably tweak it as time goes by.

I have two templates today. One printable has the weekdays categorized for our preferences. However, if you would like to set up your own categories, say crockpot Wednesday, or salad Tuesday, then there is a blank template for you to add your own categories.

How do you meal plan? I would love to learn about different methods.

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Rose Season

Rose Season

Last year my Mother’s Day present from Mr. Bee was this arbor for my roses. The rose vines were so loaded with blooms that they required something substantial to hold them up. You can read about that here.

By the time the arbor was installed, the roses were past their blooming season. So this is my first season for the roses to bloom on the arbor.

Earlier this spring I did some pruning and shaping to get the vines to grow over the top of the arbor. This job required me to dress in a heavy sweatshirt and gloves because both of my rose bushes have a LOT of thorns. The vines just seem to reach out and hold onto me as I pruned, almost as if they wanted to keep me from my cutting. That trimming back has resulted in fewer blooms I think. But they will come back.

The arbor is located in the sunniest area of the yard. Roses require at least 6 hours of sun daily.

This spot gets loaded up with all of the sun loving flowers, like petunias.

The red pots are planted with canna lilly bulbs. Canna bulbs cannot survive the cold temperatures of our winter here in the mid-Atlantic, so I move these pots into the garage for the winter.

My cannas do not bloom but I love their beautiful leaves like these from last year.

My other rose bush, New Dawn is a climber. The vines are full of buds now but none is open yet. I have some vacation plans coming up and I hope I don’t miss this flowering season.

I have to go mark my calendar to remind me not to plan any trips next May.

It’s gratifying to see how the roses have taken to the structure though!

Small Entry Hallway

Small Entry Hallway

I have shared some pictures here on the blog of the small entry hallway of our home. It’s one of those areas that calls for all the creativity I can bring. How do you add personality and function to an area that is basically a hall, with a door that opens into it?

Over the years, I have tried a few looks.

Even though it’s a small area, there is some separation from the living room. Usually, there are mail and keys, a coffee cup and random other items on that half wall. It’s a very convenient landing zone.

This past weekend I went thrifting and found a bamboo mirror, which has always been on my wish list. Did I tell you that right now I am on the hunt for any rattan, bamboo, vintage wicker “stuff”? I do have my eye out for those items, so when I saw this mirror for $20 I grabbed it. I didn’t know where I was going to put it but I knew it had to go in my house. Guess which area needed a big shot of pizzaz?

It’s hard to appreciate at this angle. However, when you walk in the front door, this is the first thing you will see.

Once past, the first step into the house, your eye falls to the hallway and opening to the living room. The skylight, which was here when we bought the house, really floods this area with light.

This little section of the living room is not really part of the living room yet it kind of is, let’s say, the edge of the living room. It’s up to me to define the space. I think of it as an extension of my entry way.

After several ho-hum efforts I am trying out this iron rack as a kind of filing system/organizer for those items that used to go on the half wall. I can stage my library books that I need to return and the old box can hold the mail that until now sat on my kitchen island. For the time being, and blog purposes, I put some decorative flowers on there too.

Of course Mr. Bee will have to be trained on the new procedure.

Also, I changed up the little area that is behind the front door.


I think these small areas can require more effort and creativity than the larger ones.

I couldn’t resist this vintage botanical print. I’m not sure it’s getting its due in this passageway, so we will see if it stays here.

I am trying a few different looks on this rack.

I found a few other exciting items on this thrift store binge. I can’t wait to show you.

Conquering the not-great View

Conquering the not-great View

I have had a disappointing view from one of the master bedroom windows for, well, as long as we have owned the house, twenty years. My answer has been to keep the curtains closed on that side of the room. We have another window which lets in a fair amount of light. I was not in the bedroom much except to sleep so that was an acceptable solution then.

View of neighbor’s backyard from my master bedroom window

Now that I work from home, I am in and out of my bedroom much more often during the day and this dark corner started to bother and annoy me.

And then I realized I had a ready made solution right in the house.

I made this fake stained glass window years ago. I bought an old window from a friend thinking I would do a different craft involving sea glass pebbles. Anyway, in the craft section of Walmart I found the supplies for making fake stained glass. You can also find the materials at Michael’s.

It has been 15 years since I made this window. However I remember that it was quite easy and an almost zen-like experience. The “leaded” shapes are pre-made. The squares and diamonds, those fleur-de-lis pieces, all of those come pre-formed. I took the time to plan my layout and measure. Planning is so important on any project, right?

I realize the window might look better if I hung it so that it is centered in the window frame. However, we just got new windows for the house and I can not make a hole in the perfect sash I now have.

This bedroom is getting a refresh but it is an extremely slow process. You can see the corner of a bench on some of the pictures here. I am not keeping that. What to keep and what to get rid of are decisions yet to be made. Balancing simplicity and starkness can be a struggle at times. Ha!

I found a few tutorials online that may help you get started: here, and here.

What solutions have you found to hide unsightly views or add privacy without sacrificing sunlight?

Easy Salmon Pinwheels

Remember office parties? It seems as if they are a relic from the past, but we had one this past weekend. I have been working on a recipe idea and I used this occasion to try them out. .

The office party is obviously quite different from having your friends over. It sits in that gray area between formality and familiarity. Our crowd this weekend was friendly and outgoing so that made it fun.

Smoked salmon served with capers and red onion, a little creme fraiche is one of my favorite appetizers. However, it can be messy to keep all of the ingredients contained so they don’t end up on your clothes or the floor. The answer? Put those ingredients in a tortilla! So I did and you can find the recipe here.

I usually offer vegetables and dip at a cocktail party. My go-to dip is curry dip which has so much flavor. I took this picture before adding the curry dip to the bowl.

At a party I hosted a few years ago, I found out by accident that water is something your guests will greatly appreciate. At that time I served water and lemonade in crocks because I was hosting our extended family with a lot of teenagers and I wanted to give them choices besides sodas. But the water crock was what I kept refilling. Every since I have put one of these containers out at parties and people always drink it up. I encourage everyone to make it easy for your guests to get some water.

Last week was a busy one. A party really gets me motivated to tackle and finish projects around the house. I put up a towel hook in the bathroom, washed my dining room chair slipcovers, planted pansies in the yard, cleared out a bunch of clutter from all over the house, and cleaned. Whew! It felt good.

Do parties get you motivated to take care of all those little chores you have been putting off?

Compost Saves

One of my resolutions this year is to be a better citizen of the planet. For me that means to use as little plastic as possible and to re-use and recycle whenever I can. My ultimate goal is to radically reduce the amount of trash we add to the landfill.

One of the primary ways I reduce trash output is to compost. For those who are not familiar with compost, it is a method of recycling food waste, such as peels, eggshells, coffee grounds, along with yard wastes and other matter. These materials decompose into a rich and nutritious soil conditioner for your plants. And I continually learn of items that can be added to the compost pile, further reducing my trash.

Another important reason to compost is that it helps the environment. Did you know that food waste in the landfill is one of the major causes of the methane gases that are contributors to climate change? By recycling our food waste we can help reduce those emissions at the same time we create rich fertilizer for our shrubs and plants. Talk about a win-win.

So, how do we do it? In our case, we set aside a corner of our side yard for this purpose. This corner already had two sides from our fence, and Mr. Bee was able to fashion two other sides out of fencing and a large piece of slate we inherited. Compost bins are available from garden websites as well. We started composting by throwing in yard clippings and kitchen scraps in this pile. I have added some links below this post for a more detailed method to compost.

For the compost to break down in a timely manner you need both green matter (like kitchen and yard waste) and brown matter.

Brown matter can be manure – which you can buy. But also paper is a good source of brown matter, and specifically shredded paper will break down very nicely. I love dumping out my shredder in the compost pile. And so you “layer” your kitchen waste and your paper. I admit that we do not carefully layer our materials. We dump and stir. I probably take out the vegetable matter every day but do not dump in the paper for months. But it works! We end up with a rich black soil for our gardens.

The first time I lifted up a shovel full of compost, I was dumbfounded that this rich soil came from my kitchen scraps! It almost seems like magic. As you handle the soil and feel its rich texture it is obvious this will be good for your garden. The difference in your flowers and vegetables will be recognizable and will multiply each year.

I recently bought this copper canister at TJ Maxx to hold my scraps until I am ready to take them out. No one would ever know that behind that sleek and shiny exterior rot is running riot. But it’s a good idea to take it out daily. Sometimes I use a plastic produce bag to line the container to make the clean up a little easier.

Recycling your food scraps into compost is such an easy way to create food for your plants, reduce methane gas emissions in the landfill and reduce the volume of trash as well. I hope I’ve encouraged you to give it a try!

To learn more about composting you may want to refer to these sites:

https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home

https://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/100-things-you-can-compost

De-cluttering

De-cluttering

How’s your New Year’s resolution to de-clutter your house going? I have actually tackled some closets and had a few thoughts in the process, which I wanted to share with you.

Obviously de-cluttering or cleaning out has different connotations for various stages of life. When Mr. Bee was on active duty and we moved a lot (over 15 times) I was constantly getting rid of items we did not use. Even though I did not have to pack our stuff, I had to unpack it and keep track of it, and that made me want to be as streamlined as possible. That attitude served me well then and has carried over into our non-moving life. So, yes to continual cleaning out. I always have a thrift bag in my closet that I constantly add to. This practice is good for disposing of unworn clothes, books or knick-knacks. As soon as I realize an item is not functional, into the bag it goes.

As we moved around and my children were growing up, I culled their toys and clothes with an eye toward the future. It may be because my mother-in-law saved everything and my mother saved nothing that I decided on a more intentional path. Before a move I would look at the toys and clothes and consider what should be passed down to my grandchildren? Honestly, the answer was very few clothes. What I did save was out of sentimentality rather than utility. I only saved one plastic tote of baby clothes and that was about right. Even of that, I only shared a few precious items with my children who are parents. I have a few classic toys and that has worked well for when my grandbabies visit. I saved almost all of their books which has been great.

I think we all find the most difficult items to purge are those that have sentimental value. The military culture is marked by pride and recognition in achievements, awards for exceptional service, plaques on every departure, just. endless.recognition. Of course Tom is proud of his service and we are so proud of him. He served 31 years as a Marine officer and every bit of the memorabilia is special to him. I am working on him to cull and pick the MOST special of the special. That’s going to be a process. He’s a sentimental guy and I love that about him.

And what about me? Trust me, I have my sentimental items too. My memorabilia involves crafts. I loved cross stitch, quilting, sewing. But what do you do with all of it? Hopefully I can talk my children into taking some of it. On top of that, I have crafts from relatives, such as unfinished quilts my grandmother made, samplers Tom’s mother made. They don’t fit my decor and so they are stored in closets and totes. Yet, I cannot toss it in the thrift store pile. Yet I am conscious that what I do not deal with now, my children will have to deal with later.

I observed our parents’ aging and how their ability and motivation to clean out dissipated the older they became and so it was left to the grown children to do. I would rather save my children from that if I can, recognizing that some clearing out is inevitable.

Perhaps the sequence is de-clutter, clean out, downsize as we progress through life. I know I need a certain amount of possessions around me to feel at home. Mr. Bee needs his memorabilia. I can see us continuing to pare down all of it on a continual basis. My goal is to have an empty attic, very spartan garage, almost empty closets. Will I get there? I don’t know. I’ll keep you posted.

Appetizers for Anytime

With the Superbowl coming up on Sunday, it seemed like a good time to talk about appetizers. I have a couple of favorites I make whenever I need to take a dish or when I’m the host.

I always make curry dip to go with some fresh vegetables. I know these days it’s customary to pick up a veggie tray at the grocery store. And yes, that is not a bad option. But the curry dip is easy to make and it’s different. When I serve this dip, the bowl is usually scraped clean by the end of the evening. Find the recipe here.

I also like to make deviled eggs. They are finger food, easy to pass around, and a good vegetarian option.

Another great dish is tortellini salad. You can make it more finger friendly by offering toothpicks to spear it with if you weren’t planning on needing utensils.

And then, there are always a few recipes that I would like to try, like this pigs in blankets by Martha Stewart. She uses puff pastry instead of the classic crescent rolls.

And I have been wanting to try this recipe for beer nuts by way of Smitten Kitchen.

The internet is full of appetizer and party recipes right now. It’s kind of fun looking at all the possibilities. I will abandon my goal of eating healthy for one evening and just enjoy myself. Then, on Monday morning, back on track.

Have fun!

Minestrone Soup

There’s something elemental about soup. The components are simple: vegetables, water, maybe some meat, possibly pasta or rice, some herbs or other seasonings. The ingredients are not costly, and it is fairly easy to make an ample amount of nourishing food for the family. It’s a meal that is better made early in the day so that it is ready when the family congregates. Soup appeals us today for all of these reasons. Not only does it nourish the body, but it warms and soothes the spirit as well.

As I have said before, having soup in the freezer is like saving for a rainy day. It’s there when you need it. I like to make it while listening to a podcast. Do you listen to the Bon Appetit podcast? It’s like having a very knowledgeable foodie friend.

This minestrone recipe is large, feeds about 10. When I make it, Mr. DB and I have it for dinner with some bread. Then I freeze the rest in small portions for lunch or dinner. It’s also a nice homemade lunch for my elderly mother-in-law or a friend who is feeling under the weather. And, it’s completely vegetarian too.

Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients. It takes under an hour to make and yields so much in quantity. It’s well worth the effort. You can get the recipe here.

Grate a little (or a lot) of parmesan cheese on top for added creaminess and richness.

Let me know what you think!

Best Chicken Noodle Soup

Best Chicken Noodle Soup

Chicken noodle soup is one of those meals that brings me back to my childhood. Yes, I was usually a little sick when it was served to me, but not too sick, perhaps on the mend from tonsillitis, something I seemed to get often. My mother heated it up from a can and I still recall the relief of the warm broth sliding down my sore throat. The simplicity of it must have been what appealed to me. As a picky eater I did not like a lot of different foods combined in one dish, such as casseroles or stews.

But chicken noodle soup was simple with mostly chicken in small cubes, broth and noodles. To my eight year old self nothing else was needed.

I still crave chicken noodle soup when I am a little under the weather. But the canned varieties don’t cut it anymore. At least I haven’t found one that I can finish. So I set out to make my own, and make enough that I can freeze and have some ready when I need it. Over the years I tried various recipes and by trial and error, came up with one that has so much flavor, in addition to being satisfying and restorative.

My broth is made from my turkey carcass from Thanksgiving. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, I removed what meat was left on the bird. Then I placed the remains into a Dutch oven, filling it with water as high as I dared. I got the water boiling, then turned it down to a simmer and let it go for 30-45 minutes. Since the turkey had been thoroughly seasoned, including the breast cavity, I did not season the broth at all. I cooled the broth, put it in containers and froze it in quart size containers.

Turkey Broth

For the full recipe, click here.

I prefer to roast my own chicken breasts but you could certainly use a rotisserie chicken. I buy a package of two chicken breasts, with the bone in. Having the bone in increases the flavor immensely. Place the chicken breasts in a roasting pan, season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Bake at 425 for 30 minutes, then add 2 cups of water to the pan, cover with aluminum foil and return to the oven. Turn the heat down to 325 and cook for another 1 1/2 hours. I remove the cooked breasts from the oven but let them cool in the covered pan for as long as possible. The chicken will be so tender when you let it cool in its juices. This may sound like a lot of effort but I do it while I am doing other things since the hands-on time is quite limited. I only used one of those chicken breasts in my chicken noodle soup recipe. I have another to make something else with or use in a salad. Chicken breasts are so huge nowadays.

This soup is so rich, yet simple you certainly don’t have to reserve it for sick days. It is also satisfying for those times after you have over indulged and you just want to return to a healthy routine.

The recipe makes 6 ample servings, enough to share some with a sick friend.

Enjoy!