Meal Planning (The 5 Stars of Cafe Le Shay)

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It is no secret that I love to cook. I have thousands of recipes saved to try, a not small collection of cookbooks, and my favorite gifts are more kitchen supplies. However, after a long day at work, I just can’t seem to find the energy to do more than pick up fast food or eat only chips and salsa. I’m somehow terrible at meal planning. It’s not the process that messes me up.  I make plans and shop with the best of them. But when it comes to the actual cooking, I have no energy, even if it was something that I was excited to make.

You might say “Well, get on the meal prep trend, Shay!” The one where someone spends hours on the weekend making breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the week. And if I wasn’t trying to cram everything else into my weekend, that might be a good idea.

My husband, Andrew, came up with this idea of the “5 Stars”. He gets home at least an hour before I do, and he said, “I can cook.  Let’s plan some simple meals and then I can have dinner ready for you when you get home.” (Isn’t he the best?)

The 5 Stars are basically theme nights. Initially, we are using:

  • Taco Night
  • Sandwich Night
  • Appetizer/Snack Night
  • Sheet Pan/One Pot Night
  • Stir Fry Night

The idea is that they are specific enough to stick to, but flexible and simple enough to not get bored. They don’t align to specific days. We pick what flavors we want, shop for that on the weekend, and then make whichever one we feel like each night. We tried to pick things that don’t typically take more than 30 minutes to an hour to cook.  This also allows me to try new recipes on the weekend when I’ll have plenty of time. The picture at the top is the results of one of the Stir-Fry Nights.

After a couple of months, we’ll evaluate and maybe trade some out for other different themes. We are not applying this to breakfast or lunch. We typically take leftovers for lunch, and breakfast depends on what we have around the house.

Do any of you use something similar to the 5 Stars?  What are your favorite theme nights? Or, if you don’t use theme nights, what is your plan for dinner? How do you manage low energy days?

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What I’ve Been Watching #1

Friends!  I watch too many shows, despite not having cable.  I have a computer hooked up to my TV, and since I don’t have any children to be a good example to, I often eat my dinner while watching a show.  Depending on my energy level after work, I may spend the whole evening doing this.  So I thought I would share some of the things I’ve been enjoying.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries – Do you love old school whodunit mysteries, done with observation and wit, rather than high-tech forensics?  This series follows Miss Phryne Fisher, a wealthy young woman in 1930s Australia, as she becomes a private detective and solves the murder mysteries that happen around her.  Her dynamic with the police is more positive than most similar shows.  Also, the costumes are fabulous!  The show can be found on Netflix.

Extra History – A Youtube series about various events in history.  Extra Credits is a show normally about aspects of video games.  As a side project, they run short series on historical events.  The first one was the Second Punic War, supported by a game company that was releasing a game set in that time period.  Since then, they’ve let their Patreon supporters decide, and so the topics vary.  The most recent series was on Khosrau Anushirawan, a Persian King.  I enjoy this because my history classes when I was younger were sorely lacking.

Guilty Pleasure:  Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – I’m a sucker for magical girl anime.  I actually originally got a Crunchyroll subscription so I could binge the original Cardcaptor Sakura series.  It’s just so light-hearted and predictable.  I love to put it on when I’ve had a rough day and need something to cheer me up.  The new series is more of the same saccharine predictability, but in a nostalgic shiny package.

2018 Thoughts and Goals

Friends, it is the time of year where people make resolutions and some have already broken them. My birthday is later this month which is another time for reflection on the past year.  Did I accomplish what I wanted to? Did I make myself a better person? Am I where I want to be in life?

The short answer, dear readers, is no. I didn’t lose weight, I didn’t keep up with workouts, I didn’t practice piano or do very many craft projects. I set these goals every year and never seem to make progress on any of them.  At work, I felt like I was just surviving, not actually moving in any direction. I was just getting through week by week.

I’ve seen some people give a theme to the year instead of making resolutions that are broken almost immediately.  I really like this idea, as resolutions obviously haven’t been working for me.  So, inspired by a friend on Facebook, I’m making 2018 my “Year of Self-Care”.

I want to feel like I’m doing more than just surviving week to week.  I don’t want to beat myself up for failing some expectation in my head of how I should be. I want to celebrate that today I did something like eat vegetables at every meal or stretch before bed and not be disappointed that I can’t do that every day.  Those may seem like tiny things but when there’s a voice in your head expecting perfection, it’s hard to say back to it “No, I wasn’t perfect today. But I did these things that were good for me and if that’s all I did today, that’s ok.”

I want 2018 to be focused on habits more than goals, and I’m hoping the best way to start is by being kinder to myself.

Preparing for a “Perfect” Holiday Dinner

The holidays are rapidly approaching, my favorite time of year.  It’s the one time of year that I’m guaranteed to throw a dinner party.  Some people think that I’m crazy to want to host the whole thing myself, be it Thanksgiving or Christmas.  They find the whole affair quite stressful. There’s so much pressure to have everything be “perfect”.

I was surprised to find that some people only make these dishes on the holiday in question.  That’s not very much opportunity to practice, especially if it’s the first year you’re doing it.  I was fortunate to learn from my mom when I was a teenager, but even today, I’m always wanting to try new things.

Last year I did an experiment with my pumpkin pie.  I made one pie the old way and one pie the new experimental way.  I don’t recommend this for all dishes (nobody wants to make two turkeys).  It worked well for me because I was feeding a small number of people and I always make two pies anyway.

This year, I’m trying to improve on existing recipes.  I’ve never been quite happy with my makowiec recipe.  My current barzcz recipe also isn’t quite right for the traditional Polish Christmas Eve.  But, I don’t want to be making my new potential recipe the day of.  What if that one does not turn out well either?

So over the next month or so, I’m going to be practicing.  I’m starting with a new makowiec recipe and I’ll keep going until I find one I like more than my current one.  I will, of course, update as I test them out.  Please stay tuned.

European Pecan Cookies

Blog Note:  I know I’ve been away for a while.  A long while.  I have no excuses.  But I do enjoy blogging, so I will work to get back into the swing of things.  You can also check out my Instagram (linked in the margin) where I’ll try to post little tastes of my daily life that don’t merit whole posts.  On to the recipe!

Blog Note 2: Apparently, I had posted this recipe to the blog years ago. This version has more detailed directions, so I decided to post it anyway. 
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I’ve been working on digitizing some of my recipe cards, because I often find myself searching my online recipe stash instead of thumbing through cookbooks or cards.  I figured I would also share them with you.  This one I got from my grandma, though she just called them “Refrigerator Cookies”.  I renamed them to European Pecan Cookies.  It’s a funny name, because pecans are natural to North America.  But I feel like the cookies have a more European sensitivity to the taste: they are not too sweet and they go great with coffee and tea.

Like many of my grandmother’s recipes, there are quirky notes in places that don’t make sense to me.  For example, her notes say that the flour is “not sifted”.  I never sift my flour unless a recipe says to.  However, she doesn’t give any guidance on how thick to slice them, which seems especially crucial. Don’t fear though, I took notes the last time I made them so that if you attempt them, you won’t have to experiment too much.

I recommend using the pecan “bits” or tiny chopped pecans that you can find in the store.  I find that if I chop them myself, they’re irregular and there’s a lot of pecan dust.  I haven’t found it hurts the cookies too much, it just feels messy and time consuming when I could just spend a little bit more to make it easy.

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Ingredients

  • 0.5 lb (2 sticks) butter
  • 0.5 cup packed brown sugar
  • 0.5 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 0.5 tsp baking soda
  • 0.25 tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

  1. Cream butter and sugars together.  Add in the egg.  Then add baking soda, salt, and flour.  Then gently stir in the vanilla and pecans.
  2. Roll into 2 even rolls in wax paper. (I use a couple cheap silicone cookie sheet liners.)  Chill in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight.
  3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Pull one roll from the fridge.  Slice into 1/4″ slices and place on a cookie sheet about 1.5 inches apart.  Return the roll to the fridge while baking.
  5. Bake for about 10 minutes or until the cookies are light tan with a slighter darker color around the edges.  Cool on the pan for minute or two before moving to a rack to cool completely.

Adventures in Jelly making

You know grape jelly? That essential ingredient of childhood sandwiches and also the flavor of childhood medicine?  It has a very distinctive flavor that until recently I referred to as “fake grape” or “purple flavored”.  Despite purple being my favorite color, I hated that too strong taste.  And the actual grapes I had encountered in real life never tasted like that.  That’s probably true for a lot of people I think.  So imagine my surprise when I got grapes in my CSA basket.

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Aside from the fact that grapes aren’t commonly grown in Oklahoma, these were fragrant.  They filled up the kitchen with their scent once I got them home.  And you know what they smelled like?  Grape jelly!  Seriously!  I had true concord grapes sitting in my kitchen.

The first batch I took to a friend’s house to eat as a snack.  And they tasted all right, but they had these annoying little seeds in them.  Now I understand why they are typically made into jelly.

These were my first attempt at jelly making.  I normally prefer jams because you don’t have to worry about pectin and such generally.  I followed the recipe for Concord Grape Jelly with Green Apples from Canning for a New Generation.  The photos here are from my second, much smaller attempt.  The first attempt, I might have overcooked the jelly.  I won’t be sure until I open the jars.  This second batch I did not can; it went straight into the fridge when it was done.

Definitely put on your aprons for this one, and I wore gloves while cleaning and squeezing the grapes.

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One of the neat things about this recipe is that it uses green apples to boost the pectin content for the jelly.  I love this, because it feels more natural to me than buying a packet of instant pectin.  However, I have so little experience with jellies, that I’m not sure how it’s supposed to behave.  Jams seem a lot more straightforward by comparison.

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We tried this on toast the following weekend.  I might have also overcooked this one? The texture is strange compared to store-bought jellies.  It’s very spreadable and soft, and Andrew and I prefer it to the clumpy nature you usually see.

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Left: store bought cherry “spread” Right: homemade grape jelly

If anyone has experience making jellies, I’d love to know. I tried googling, but it seemed that for most people overcooked jelly went to hard candy mode and I didn’t see a lot of photos of the finished product being used.

Returning to Blogging

It’s been almost a year since I last posted to this blog.  In my last reboot, I gave the site a makeover, and thought I was going to move in a more food blog direction.  But, even though most of my projects are kitchen projects, very few of them were my own idea.  It was mostly me trying somebody else’s recipe.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but generally, I want to contribute something new when I post stuff to the internet.  This makes me a lurker on a lot of the communities I frequent (including Facebook).

So that is  part of the reason I haven’t been posting.  I’ve been thinking carefully about whether or not to come back, and what kind of things I want to post if I do come back.  I’m not sure I have an answer.  I like posting to my blog. I feel like it offers a more long-form venue than Facebook or Twitter.  But I want to feel like I’m writing something interesting to other people, and not just echoing other people.  I’m not an activist, and I’m the first to admit that I’m not the most creative person.  So what then does someone like me write about?

I’m not quite sure yet. I spend a lot of my time on the internet, reading blogs, collecting projects and recipes.  I check out library books.  I work long hours during the week, and my weekend projects tend to be food related.  Lately, I’ve been focusing on exercising, eating well, and meditation.  I’m getting to a place where I feel really on top of my life right now.  So I want to add blogging again.  And NaBloPoMo (like NaNoWriMo, but for blogs) seems like good timing.  I hope you’ll find my new posts interesting enough to keep following.

If you have any ideas for content you’d like to see, please leave a comment or use the contact form on the side.