Meal Planning and how I learned to love it



I'll admit that the first 47 years of my married life I was haphazard about planning and shopping for dinner. I love to cook and make a nice dinner most nights, but my prep skills were a disaster. I like to think I was spontaneous, but really I was just a crappy planner, which is funny, because I'm an ace at planning for a party. But for everyday cooking, I'd plan for two to three nights tops, make a list, shop, then forget several crucial ingredients which would send me back to the store at the most crowded time. Here's the thing, I loved to cook but hated to shop. Enter my retired husband. He said he would take over the shopping duties and claimed to enjoy it. Actually I think he liked having a reason to drive his vintage red Corvette around town and loved running into my girlfriends and chatting it up over the produce section. This was a great arrangement for both of us and we went along for a decade like this. Then 2020 came along and we were asked to stay home. Plan ahead. Make do. There would be no more popping into the grocery store and local vegetable stand every day. There would be no spontaneity or spur of the moment anything. We all had to change our ways. (And in those early days, there were loads of items that were impossible to find. People were hoarding. It's off topic but I still can't get over that. So rude!) So I thought, well, if I can't change my ways in a pandemic, exactly when could I change my ways? I talked to my daughter and daughter-in-law to see what they were doing about getting food into the house. Since they have less time than I do, they both have always planned ahead. (Talk to a busy person, they always have the best time-saving tips.) I picked their brains, embraced their ideas, added my own, engaged my husband in the process, tossed out a few ideas that didn't work, and now we have a way of planning our meals that is easy and rather fun too. 


Friends, here is how I plan my dinners two weeks at a time, make fast trips to the grocery store twice a month, and visit the vegetable stand only once a week. It took me a while to get it right, but now I love our new routine.


First, and since we can never remember what we like (!), we made a master list of about 75 everyday dinner ideas. It included all our favorite stews, soups, chilis, a dozen chicken breast/thigh recipes, you get the idea. They were often simple things that I don't need a recipe for such as teriyaki pan fried salmon served on a bed of salad or a whole roasted chicken which I could make blind-folded. But if the dinner idea needed a recipe, such as Bahn Mi Lettuce Wraps, I put the recipe in my newly created "dinner ideas" folder.  Most of my everyday recipes take about 30-40 minutes active cook time, and some much less. In this master dinner list I also included several dozen of our favorite side dishes. Sides like roasted asparagus or roasted tomatoes don't need a recipe, but if it did, I added the recipe to my dinner ideas folder too.


The next time I went to the grocery store I took pictures of the signs above the aisles. When I got home I made a spreadsheet with cells for labeled aisles in order, see third picture below. Now when I enter the store at one end I follow my shopping list aisle by aisle to the other end. No more running back and forth in the store for things I forgot. I'm in and out in a flash. 


Twice a month I'll have my husband go through the dinner ideas folder. He'll pull out what he'd like to see on the menu for the next two weeks, I'll add my own and add side dishes too. I write our dinner ideas down on my shopping list, mindful of what is in season, consider if we might do a night of takeout, then go through the recipes to see what ingredients I already have on hand and what I need to shop for. This completely eliminates forgetting things like sour cream or curry spice, and trekking back to the store, which is a no-no these days anyway.


As I cook the dinners, I cross them off my list. The following week I don't go to the grocery store, but I'll pop into the corner greengrocer for milk and to purchase the fresh produce I need for our remaining dinners. I know that some dinners, such as a big roasted chicken will last for three dinners--first night is roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, then we'll have it again on the second night, and on the following night we'll have chicken salad. Then the bones get tossed into a large freezer container. When the bone container is full I'll make chicken stock and then chicken soup will be on the next dinner list. Some dinners will be doubled because neither of us mind planned leftovers. This is especially nice when we have Carter for the day and I don't feel like cooking dinner when he leaves, I can simply heat up the plannedover from the night before. We loved stuffed poblano peppers and lettuce wraps of any kind and have oodles of recipes for both, and they are perfect for doubling. 


And now I want to address all those cookbooks and recipes I've collected over the years. They did not avoid my 2020 decluttering extravaganza. My girlfriend lives in another state, but we decided to each go through our cookbooks "together" and get rid of the ones we didn't use anymore.  If there was a cookbook which was saved for only one or two recipes, the recipe was copied, put in my recipe file, and the cookbook was donated. My local charity shop took every discarded cookbook, thank heaven. And BTW, my recipe files got a deep cleaning too!  I was holding onto magazine clippings such as a super rich first course for a Stilton Stuffed Onion and even had one for Blueberry Chicken. What was I thinking? I had a good laugh going through it.


I hope you like my new-to-me dinner planning. I imagine if you live way out in the country this kind of meal planning is not new to you, but for me, planning ahead has been amazing. 

My recipes file is on the desk near my kitchen table where I do the meal planning.

My Dinner Ideas list is still growing. We need it because we forget what we like! Without this list we both just look at each other and can't remember a thing. The corresponding recipes are in the file folder.

Normally I print out my shopping spreadsheet two-sided so I only have to deal with one piece of paper. The list follows my store, aisle by aisle. I keep it on my desk and add things throughout a two week period then finalize it the night before I go shopping. No more forgetting things!


My condensed cookbook section is not too small, but now it is smaller by a dozen books.


As always, thank you for stopping by. If you would like to make a comment you can click here or scroll down to the comments sections if you are on the website. And if you have any ideas for my everyday dinner list, PLEASE tell me! I'm always on the lookout for something new and easy. Hugs, Kristen

The first image above is from Better Homes and Garden.

Tookish Britches

 










I don't know why it took me so long to knit long pants. Carter loves them so much and now everyone in the family wants a pair. When he put them on he said he was only going to wear these pants from now on. 😊 The pattern comes with a suspenders option which would be super cute but this little fellow likes to dress himself and I knew suspenders would be more than he would want to bother with. I made the drawstring option waistband with eyelets and threaded in 1/2" wide elastic, then attached the i-cord drawstring to the elastic ends. This way I can leave them semi-permanently tied because the elastic allows some give, but if they do get too loose, the drawstrings can be pulled tighter. It makes it very easy for him to pull up and down.


Even though we live in California and I knit many wool sweaters, I thought wool pants might be too warm for our climate. I love my choice of cotton and they go in and out of the washer and dryer wth ease. I used Rowan Handknit Cotton which I dearly love, but I think another great option for this pattern would be Berroco Modern Cotton. When I make him another pair I'll use that because there are some colors I love in that line. I think knitted pants are genius and don't know why I waited so long! Wouldn't you like to be lounging in a pair right now?


The pattern is easy to follow and so fun to make. It has lovely shaping too--skinny legs which I like and roomy bottoms for the diapered set but more streamlined for the older kids. There is also a knee length option that looks super cute. It is sized 3 mos to 10 years. I made a custom sized 5-6 year for my tall, long legged 3 year old grandson. The color, even though it is Aubergine, is really quite neutral and goes with a lot of his sweaters. 


Tookish Britches by Lisa Chemery of Frogginette

 Rowan Handknit Cotton, Aubergine

My Ravelry project page

The hat is a test pattern. More on that later in the month when it is released.


Thank you so much for stopping by for a visit.

To make a comment, please scroll down or click here.

Best, Kristen

Shiny New Year

Even though I'm ready for this shiny new year, I don't think 2020 was a total bust as it gave me the opportunity to slow down in a way I would never have had the courage to do otherwise. The long stretches of blank pages on my calendar looked so strange, but the forced simplification and depravation reminded me daily how much I have to be thankful for. Both my husband and I agreed that there is much that can be enjoyed from a pared down life. Also, 2020 gave us the opportunity to help our son and daughter-in-law with childcare. That has been amazing. I know so many grandparents have stepped up to help with childcare and online schooling and it's rewarding to have an opportunity to help young families. Don't you agree? We will be forever grateful that 2020 and covid did not terribly impact our family. Now a vaccine is here, we have collectively changed a boat load of bad habits and have learned to be more appreciative, proof that something good can come from something bad. 


In many households 2020 was the year of decluttering. Decluttering has been popular for years, but covid amplified and accelerated it. I love to read organizing blogs but so much of what I read is missing the point, which to me is, why do we have so much stuff in the first place? So much stuff that we have to spend hours organizing it?  My large 80 year old home came with ample built-ins. I was dewy eyed when we moved in 36 years ago as we came from a home with zero storage. Over the next decades I filled all the cupboards and closets with my own purchases and anything and everything that elder family members would give me. Did I need all this stuff? Did I use all this stuff? No, no, no, I did not. Eventually, managing so much made my house and me feel tired and heavy. I started my own declutter journey several years ago and have since drastically changed my buying and saving habits. Popular clutter and organizing blogs have their own systems of tackling clutter. I worked best if I have no deadline or expectations other than I should be happy with the results.  I chipped away at 47 years of marital accumulation in fits and starts, took a year off when my mother was sick, then intermittently tackled it again until every drawer and closet had been dealt with. If you are somewhere on this journey I have two books to recommend. First is The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. She is a gem, although her way of decluttering did not work for me but I loved her encouragement. I also love the charming, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. Please don't let the title put you off. The author is adorable and I loved her practical aesthetic. It's a book meant for empty nesters, but her tips are for anyone and I giggled my way through the entire book.


Last week our son offered to help clean out the attic. His offer came out of the blue and was totally welcomed. It was such a mess. I had stopped going up there and I really had no idea what we were storing anymore. Turns out we were holding on to a lot of nothing. Each item was taken down and placed into one of four piles: toss, donate, sell, save. My attic space now is lovely and organized and full of things we truly want and the rest of it is gone. 


There are two more big projects to tackle in 2021. I have several boxes filled with family memorabilia. I have letters from my grandparents to their families in Tennessee after they moved to California in 1905.  One of my favorites is a letter written by my young grandmother describing an avocado in detail, it's texture and taste, and another one exclaiming how beautifully fragrant an orange grove was. She wrote delightful letters and the Tennessee family wrote back agog with wonder; my grandparents might have as well moved to the moon! I won't be able to give those up, but I also have family mementos including scrapbooks and school annuals from the 1910s and 20s and I can give those up. You might be wondering why I have all this stuff? My mother had six older brothers. Four of the brothers died young, two tragically in high school and two in WWII. My grandfather was the original safeguard of all their mementos, then my mother, now me. I can't pass it on to my kids as they don't want the job and I understand. I rarely take the time to look at it anyway and now that mother is gone it's unlikely I will again. I called the high school and the curator of mother's tiny hometown museum and they both would like to look at our memorabilia. My brother has promised to come out this summer and go through the boxes with me. I want someone beside me who shares my memories and can help decide what to save (very little I think) and what is worthy to donate to the school and museum.


Our last project is the garage. That will be huge. Our son has again offered to help as long as dad is on board. My husband famously has a hard time getting rid of things. He's not a collector of anything really, but what he does have, he wants to keep. It's crazy hard to get him to tidy up his wardrobe (he cares not about stains and holes) and any attempts at the garage has fallen flat. He thinks because we can fit our cars inside that all is okie dokie. I recently talked to him about how important it is to not leave our kids with a mess "when that inevitable sad day arrives" (that's the Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning talking) and he has agreed to clean the garage for once and all. We are not minimalists here, but I love the simplicity of owning less and I'm truly looking forward to our summer projects.


As for today, the house is back to pre-Christmas cleanliness. I must say I love putting Christmas up, but maybe love taking it down even more because I love the spartan look of a January home.  Have you packed away Christmas? Are you in the process of decluttering?










As for knitting, there's always new things on my needles. One is Oatmeal by Libby Jonson (love her) with Rowan Island blend (love it). Second is a test for a slip stitch hat with hot colors. I've also started a new scrappy stripes for Carter. Also loving Betagen with chevron stripes in beautiful Rosy Green Manx Merino. 


Oatmeal V Neck
Slip Stitch hat test

Happy Stripes!

Betagen

I always love to hear your comments and experiences. 
Please click here, or scroll down to make a comment.
Cheers to a happy and shiny new year.
xo Kristen


Aggie









I saw this and had to drop everything and make it immediately. I was a bit obsessed.  Such a FUN sweater to make. Love it to bits and plan to make a summer version with short sleeves in Rowan Handknit Cotton or Rowan Creative Linen. I worried that my marled yarn choice would be too much for this sweater and I would lose the bobble pattern, but just the opposite, the bobbles bounce and pop with electricity. Named Aggie after the two-toned agate marbles that the bobbles remind me of.

I started out with the second size for the yoke. Did not add stitches at the sleeve separation and came out with a 34.5". This is pretty much a zero ease fit for me which is what I wanted, but for some reason is too large on me. Next time I'll make the smallest size. Added length to body and to sleeves although I may remove some body length.  

My bobble was a 6 st. bobble and I only knit it "again" one time, not two. I made my bobbles rather loose and tried to pass the stitches over clumped as a group rather than one at a time. When you choose a yarn for this pattern, make sure you can easily make the bobbles; some yarns are not so nice to bobble makers.

Now for the yarn. I've used Shelter many times and love it. This batch however was a mess: thick and thin, breakages, knots, wispy bits looping out, stretches of undyed bits and just a lot of headache. I kept thinking I should send it back (I ordered it on the BT website as it's not carried in any yarn store near me) but I just wanted to plow through. I'm so glad I am familiar with Shelter and know it to be awesome and that this was a rare and unlucky bad batch. I'm finished and happy with the project, but if I ever got a bad batch of yarn again from any company I would not hesitate to return it. BT is an awesome company and they would have wanted me to return it I'm sure, but I didn't want to stop knitting bobbles! You can see a stripe of whitish mid-center across the bobble pattern. That was a part of the mis-dyed bit that I did not notice until I was through with the body. It's something you don't notice while knitting. I have a bit of charcoal Rit Dye that I'm going to dilute and dab with a Q-Tip and see how that goes. In the meantime, I wearing it and loving it.

Apologies for the washed out pictures above. It was hard to get the color right without making me look like either a pink person or a ghost. I settled for somewhere in between. 

The Links;

My color was Newsprint

Below is some leftover DK bits and bobs to be a new sweater for C. He keeps growing!



I love to read your comments! Please comment by scrolling down if on the website, or, click here. xo 

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