observations from my new job

Whatever one may say about the red tape around here (and it is indeed very silly), this place is doing really well on the dry-erase markers. This is an honest delight. They are everywhere, in multiple colors, and they all work! Now I want a dry-erase board by my desk. Also I have a bunch of sharpies now, yay.

…Goodness! My boss said I could have some of her tea (and I brought some to share in return), but I had no idea all the stuff that was in that cabinet until just now. It’s in between our desks. In addition to lots of kinds of tea, mostly black but some green (both loose and bagged), there are also some weird old powdered drink mixes, crystal light, plastic cups, terrible plain popcorn, fiber supplements, antacids, gummy vitamins, and a lone can of beef noodle soup. I feel like my drawer is better: granola bars (somewhat crumbly), mints (from HR; a gift from our 401k company), and dark chocolate-covered espresso beans. And I keep string cheese in the office refrigerator.

This has been today’s edition of Afternoon Snax.

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Ask the grumpies: Please talk at length about how wonderful gourmet ice creams and related frozen treats are

Leah asks:

What is your take on “gourmet” ice creams? Things like Salt & Straw from Portland, where they put weird combos in. My favorite from them, by the way, is arabequina olive oil. Sea salt and caramel is another example (tho that has gone mainstream). What’s your favorite “weird” flavor?

#1  I find ice cream places in many cities I visit (there are no good places in my town  *sob*.  Not even a Ben and Jerry’s!).  Man, I love ice cream so much.  And gelato.  And fancy flavors.  And all sorts of fun things mixed inside.  I love weird combos and straight combos and all sorts of stuff.  Let’s see though, it’s been a while since I’ve been to a place that offers fancy combos.  Something with rosemary is coming to mind, but I can’t remember what else was in it… I think it was a sorbetto, so something fruity.

I like all sorts of variations on kulfi.  There’s something about cardamom that I just love, whether that’s with pistachios or pecans or whatever else they put in.  I think I’ve had different kinds in Boston, Westwood, and Houston.  I’ve also had variations of rosewater ice cream in a couple different cities.

Salted caramel is definitely mainstream enough to get at the grocery store.  Though I do remember the first time I had it at a gelato shop in the city.  Angels sang in heavenly choirs.

#2:  Ice cream is delicious. Ben & Jerry’s used to make a White Russian that I liked. I’ve had Black Sesame ice cream — it tastes just like sesame seeds but that’s not really what I’m looking for in an ice cream. I don’t like caramel. In general: more ice cream is good. Taste them all. noms.

#1:  I like black sesame.  Especially when there’s still toasted seeds and it crunches.  I don’t think I’d pick it as just one ice cream, but when I get three little scoops in a cup, it might be one of the choices.

Grumpy eaters, opine!

What’s in your pantry?

I was going to have this be:  “and how has it changed over time” but I can’t find a previous post about what we always keep on hand.  There’s descriptions of cooking systems, which includes a brief overview of the pantry system, and a post about what to cook when you’re really broke, but nothing on the basic question.  So the basic question will come first!

So what is pantry cooking?  Pantry cooking is when you always keep certain things in your pantry (and refrigerator/freezer– not literally just your pantry) so that they’re on-hand so that you can decide what to make without having to menu plan or make extra trips to the grocery store.  You combine having the ingredients on hand with having a repertoire of things that you can make with those ingredients.  You can buy in bulk, and when you’re close to running out, you make sure to buy more even if you don’t have any particular menu item in mind that will be using it.  Here’s a quote from the cooking system post:

I always have the ingredients for spaghetti, bean chili, tomato soup (and grilled cheese sandwiches), lots of rice/quinoa dishes, and so on. My pantry is full of cans of tomatoes, beans, and grains, and I always have eggs, milk, onions, carrots, and usually celery on hand. These, along with sauces and mixed frozen veggies, fruit, and/or nuts, can be turned into any number of meals, especially with chicken and bacon in the freezer. I used to also keep potatoes, but they don’t work well with my metabolism so that’s out (sweet potatoes aren’t as versatile)… no more occasional fry-ups. When something is used up, a new one is bought to replace it. If there’s a sale, we stock up. This saves time and can save money, but can get boring if you’re not feeling especially creative. (In the summer, creative juices are flowing… not so much during the school year.)

Also, if you overspend one month, you can make up for it by eating off your pantry the next month.

All of the food in your house isn’t considered your pantry under this system, only the stuff that you always keep on hand.  The seasons and sales will provide different meals than will just using your pantry alone.

We keep:

Eggs
Butter
basic condiments (mustard, ketchup, mayo)
carrots, celery, apples
bread
cheese
minced garlic (yes, we should use regular garlic and mince it ourselves but we only do that for special dishes)
sunflower oil
lemon juice
tortillas
salsa
sour cream or yogurt
some kind of fresh green thing (like lettuce)

Olive oil
vinegars, soy sauce, tabasco
honey
rice
quinoa
spaghetti, other pastas
tuna
various canned beans
various canned tomato products
peanut butter
sunbutter
maple syrup
oatmeal
crackers
O cereal
jams
red wine, white wine, brandy or sherry

bananas
onions

tea, coffee beans

huge amount of spices
salts, flours, baking soda, baking powder, sugars, cocoa powder, vanilla
chocolate chips, pecans, walnuts

boxed macaroni and cheese
spaghetti sauce
TJ’s sauces (ex. red curry)
trail mix, almonds, raisins
fruit cups/applesauces for kids’ lunches
lara bars

frozen mixed veggies of various kinds
frozen peas
frozen chicken breasts
frozen berries of various kinds
fresh ginger
Parmesan
ground beef or buffalo

Do you have foods that you always make sure to  keep on hand?  What are some of the things you try to never run out of?  How has your pantry changed over time?

RBOC

  • DC1’s algebra teacher quit to join administration a couple of weeks after the second semester started (after a week long absence).  I guess we’ll have to keep a closer eye on the rest of the semester since algebra is so fundamental and I’m pretty sure zie doesn’t now how to factor polynomials even if zie does know how to multiply them.
  • Super bummed that Teen Vogue is no longer doing a print edition.  The last few issues were AMAZING, including one guest edited by HRC.  Irritatingly, they switched DC1’s subscription over to Allure magazine “the magazine for people who care about beauty” or something like that.  Full of “beauty tips.”  This month’s issue was on nudity and had a nearly naked airbrushed stereotypical model on the cover.  Completely not appropriate for an 11 year old or really anybody.  And very different from a magazine that features people like Malala Yousafzi on the cover.  I will be getting a check for $2 in the mail for my cancellation– Teen Vogue should have been charging more.  It’s a different market and was worth much more than the ridiculous $10 for 2 years or whatever it was I paid.
  • Forgive me, for I have referred to a paper about fertility as “seminal” in published work.  Next up:  referring to a paper about religion as “canonical”.  And a paper about building cities as, “ground-breaking” (or should I save that one for agriculture?).
  • it is weird to me that my kids have had macarons before having had macaroons.
  • DC2 has moved onto chapter books at school.  Zie is in love with the Geronimo Stilton that DC1 read maybe once or twice.  They have such different taste in books.  Really the only commonality is that they both love Jim Benton, author of Franny K Stein and Dear Dumb Diary.  I so wish we had Scholastic so I could indulge in buying sets of series we don’t have (like Thea Stilton!)
  • Preserved walnuts are really good.  If you ever get the opportunity to try/buy them, take it!
  • My cholesterol is fine this year (whew!), so maybe all that additional lunchtime walking did some good!  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have helped with my vitamin D levels (which may explain the fatigue I’ve been having), so my doctor wants me to go from 2000 iu to 5000 iu.  I’m going to compromise and do 4000 iu because that means I can have a 2000 iu when I brush my teeth and keep another bottle of 2000 iu in my office when I get my mid-day slump.
  • It isn’t a bargain if you can’t afford it.
  • We owed an additional $2846 in taxes this year, not counting the estimated taxes for this next year.  [Update:  We forgot a whole ton of donations– didn’t go through the school email folder or the check register, so it’s actually $100 less than that.  With the additional donations, we’re just a little over the standard deduction.  Also turns out there’s no point for us to declare a home office since we don’t get anywhere near the minimum for it to count for us– We make too much and our house is too big and too cheap.]
  • DC2’s school was having a performance for parents/relatives and one of their dances had them shooting with finger guns.  This disturbed DC2 enormously given that they started practicing right after the FL school shooting.  Thankfully someone decided to change that number to something in less bad taste.

How do you deal with dinner when everybody is scattered all over the place?

I asked this question in the Frugal Girl’s comment section on a post where she mentioned several nights where her kids weren’t there for dinner.

What do people eat when they’re out and about? That’s getting to be an increasing occurrence with us as DC1 gets older and has more after-school activities. Occasionally zie’ll be at one where food is provided, but most of the time they assume meals before or after (but there’s no time before and after is pretty late!). I am embarrassed to say that my kids had trailmix (emergency snack in the car) for dinner at least once this week (after that they weren’t hungry for dinner when they finally got home).

The comments were mostly that trail-mix is fine– maybe add a banana.

I guess I shouldn’t be implicitly shaming trail-mix meals!  And I know nuts are fine, but I’m not 100% sold on the merits of so much chocolate or sugary dried cranberries or the lack of anything green (other than pistachos).  A great snack, but maybe not a regular dinner plan… Plus there’s always the worry that kids will (gasp) get tired of it or that we’ll run out before making it into the city for more.  We’re at the point now where 3-4 days of the week are in this weird spot where one or both of the kids don’t get home until ~6:30 or later, sometimes with some downtime (sometimes briefly at home after bus dropoff, sometimes only in the car) sometime between 4:30 and 5.

What do you do for meals, or to stave off the low blood-sugar grumpies, on days where your “regular” routine is disrupted?

 

A new lunch plan for DC1

Getting DC1 to make hir lunch last year was an exercise in unpleasantness, so in the end we gave in and just had hir do cafeteria lunches.  It worked out relatively well.  This year at the middle school has been a bit worse– DC1 has been enjoying cafeteria lunches, BUT the cafeteria lunches are no longer healthy.  Basically DC1 gets cheese, pepperoni, or sausage pizza and fries, unless zie remembers to specifically request something other than fries.  Fries are the cafeteria server’s default.  In THEORY there are three different lunch stations, and in theory one of those stations is entirely salads (the third station has more traditional not-that-healthy cafeteria fare).  DC1 promised to try to choose healthier food options, but in the end just ended up eating cheese pizza and fries and the occasional fruit cup or carrot sticks for lunch 5 days a week.  Zie says zie doesn’t want the traditional cafeteria food (which usually isn’t any healthier than pizza– think chicken patty sandwiches without condiments, corndogs, or breadsticks and baked potato) and zie hasn’t been able to find the salad station.

Since school started, DC1 has become much more picky about not eating healthy food at home as well.  Which is annoying.  DH and I suspect the monochrome meals at school are contributing to skipping the vegetable portion of dinner.  We don’t like it.

So we’re trying something new.  Since we’re now higher income and pre-made healthy things are “in”, we’re letting DC1 pick out a bunch of overpriced healthy meals like pre-made salads, guacamole packs (which are like fruit cups, but with guacamole instead), and, of course, our standard applesauce/fruitcup/crunchy legume sides.  We also have a bunch more adorable lunch containers because I put a bunch on the amazon wishlist after writing this post and my mom came through with them at Christmas.   The hope is that this will produce less lunch-making angst than did actually making zir own salad/sandwich/etc.

I vaguely recall when I was in middle school, the lunches I made were mostly packaged orange-colored crackers with peanut butter (or better, the packaged sticks with dipping cheese), Doritos, and an apple.  Sometimes I would even get a Little Debbie snack-cake.  There are a lot healthier packaged options these days for those willing and able to pay for them.

How do/did you deal with middle schooler lunches?  How healthy are/were the school lunches you know or remember?

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Cranking through cookbooks again

Long-time readers will know that #1 gets the bulk of her excitement in life from food.  While some people enjoy eating the same (excellent) ~14 meals on rotation, I am too much of a food dilettante.  On top of that, we live in a relatively small town, so even going out can’t bring excitement to my life because we’ve already had everything our town has to offer until places go out of business and get replaced with the new crop of restaurants.  (And our latest and best beloved CSA went out of business a few months ago, so no being forced to try new veggie things.)

Which means that cook-books are a lifeline.  Yes, the internet is great, but the internet takes effort if you want to find something *new* and *different*.  It’s easy to use the internet to say, find the “best chocolate cake recipe” but not so easy to find something that you don’t yet know exists.

Some cookbooks are really amazing.  Here’s a list from 4 years ago of cookbooks we have loved.  I love taking a cookbook that is ~100% winning recipes and just trying them all, even if some of them sound a little weird (example:  egg and onion soup from Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen! turned out to be quick, simple, and delicious, much to our surprise).

Recently I’ve been on kind of a new American/comfort food kick.  (Part of this is because DC1 has started being a pickier eater for no good reason and DC2 has responded by being unable to handle even the smallest bit of spiciness.  American tends to suit both palates so long as we skip cheese and tomatoes.)   I just retired the Better Homes and Gardens 10 years of best recipes book I’d been digging through after realizing we had marked every recipe we’d tried from that book in the number of years we’ve owned it with “ok, nothing special” except for their cake recipes and a single chocolate chip cookie recipe (the other cookie recipes we tried all say, “meh” or “too cakey” or “nothing special”).  Better Homes and Gardens has good cake, but we don’t make cake that often.  Now I’ve dug out the Cooking Light book with the same theme– 10 years of five star recipes.  So far it’s been giving us better luck, especially when I cut down on sugar and switch out the non-fat ingredients with full-fat alternatives.

It’s possible that we need to get more kids’ cookbooks.  The Disney Princess Cookbook has surprisingly good meals, but not very many of them.  Kid Chef has more difficult recipes, but they’ve almost all been winners (we weren’t that crazy about the sesame bar cookies, but there are a number of recipes that were so amazing that they made our “make for other people” list).  We’ve had the kids’ fun and healthy cookbook for years and it’s been a reliable go-to.

Because DC1 is the pickiest eater, zie is now in charge of menu planning and we have been pushing hir to do more cooking (today the kids made monkey bread from the Disney cookbook… it uses an excellent buttery biscuit dough for the balls which are then dipped into butter and cinnamon sugars)… so I hope I’m passing some of this cooking excitement on to the next generation.  Maybe no-knead bread will be more enticing than drugz for them too.  ;)

What cookbooks do you think are worth cranking through?  Where do you find new recipes?  How do you deal with getting out of a cooking rut?  (Or do you prefer repetition?)