How we are currently doing meal planning

We have talked about our menu planning before (and how we’ve used different methods throughout our lives based on time and money considerations), but I thought I’d give a bit of an update since we cycle through cookbooks and we’ve gone through some new ones since we last posted.

First off, let me tell you about and our constraints.

We go grocery shopping once a week on Saturday morning, but are currently doing the actual ordering groceries on Thursday for curbside pick-up.  So we have to have our grocery list for the next week ready by Thursday.  We can add or subtract after that point, but it’s a little bit of a hassle so we try to avoid it.  Every other week DH can stop in at the other grocery store during DC1’s violin lesson (which is virtual every other week), but usually zie just gets fancy cheese there.

We both work and no longer have the time for lengthy unpredictably long cook-times.  We need things that are quick and easy and don’t take three hours when we think they’re going to take 20 minutes.  (We can do longer things on weekends, but our “weekend meal” is a lot like many people’s “weekday dinner.”)

No red food dye or caramel color (DC2 is allergic) and no yeast extract (it gives me terrible headaches). DC2 hates *the idea* of mushrooms and both kids dislike fresh tomatoes.  DC1 has unpredictable dislikes so we’ve taken to largely ignoring hir complaining, other than tomatoes.  We don’t make separate meals for the kids, but we do let them eat leftovers or fruit etc. after they’ve tried dinner if they decide they don’t like it.

I’m totally ok with pre-prepared frozen food so long as it seems reasonably healthy.

I like having variety and there hasn’t been much movement in restaurants around town (that is, we keep getting boring duplicates of the same kind of brunch place, same kind of chicken tenders place etc.) since about a year before the pandemic started.  Which means food variety must come through what we make.

That said, the children have been agitating for more of the easy stuff that we’ve made forever and never use a recipe for.  Your spaghetti, macaroni and cheese (with tuna and peas at our house), or White people Taco night meals.  And those are easy and fast and great week night dinners.  The list in the middle is a pretty new addition and there are still more things to add (just now while writing a previous paragraph I remembered I should put omeletes/scrambled eggs on the list!).  (Since then we have also added grilled cheese, avocado toast, and chili.)

Three lists on a refrigerator, one of groceries, two of meals

The left is the grocery list for the week. The middle is the list of foods that are super easy to make that the kids have indicated they want more of. The right is our menu plan with dark lines indicating where a week ends (note that these lines move if we don’t exactly follow the plan). Note also Penzey’s magnet and Jetpens sticky-note tape impulse purchase. *Disclaimer– I don’t eat lamb.  Anything that says “lamb” we substitute with beef.

Sidenote:

Let me talk about cookbooks. We just finished going through a bunch and I’d like to give them brief descriptions.

Cookbooks we recently finished:

Pizza by Williams Sonoma was a great week-night book and nobody here minded having pizza or calzones once a week.

Quick and Easy Korean Cooking was as advertised and got us hooked on gochujang.  There are still some things we never made because we don’t have the ingredients, but pretty much everything we did make was quick, easy, and ranged from “good” to “excellent” in our notes.  (I love writing in cookbooks.  Do you write in cookbooks?  I figure if I’m going to splatter food on them, writing isn’t a big deal!)

My First Cookbook (“1st” in the notes above) is DC2’s book, but the savory dishes in it were surprisingly varied and good. And, of course, quick and easy.  You may recall how this book has changed how we make French Toast forever.  There’s some desserts left that we didn’t make, but we’ve finished all the savory dishes so it’s off the rotation.

Jerusalem by Ottolenghi.  This is NOT a quick and easy book.  It was on our weekly rotation while DH was unemployed and we would make maybe a dish every two weeks on a weekend after we both started working again.  Everything in it is excellent, but you can’t really predict how much effort anything will be.  We’ve often been surprised both directions compared to our reading of the text.  It’s also really veggie forward, which is great if you’re trying to get more vegetables in your diet.

Home Baking:  We’d actually already done almost all the savory meal type dishes from here a while ago, but it came back out when we realized we could substitute capers for anchovies.  As you can see on the above notes, those recipes were really weekend recipes, not weeknight.

Our current batch of cookbooks:

Nadiya:  This is Nadiya Hussain’s (of great British Bakeoff fame) weeknight cookbook called, “Time to Eat.”  It is definitely a cookbook for a time-pressed home cook and she even starts with the assumption that if it’s easier you’ll want to make a double batch and freeze half, or make a double batch of part of the meal and use the excess for a different meal.  I got it because I tried the recipe for Kiwi salad from it and it was AMAZEBALLS so I figured I should get the entire cookbook.  And it has been really great and the kids have loved pretty much everything in it.  Lots of familiar but also different options.

Insta:  Instant Pot:  Fast and Easy by Urvashi Pirtre.  We got this cookbook because we finished the amazing Indian Instant Pot cookbook and were excited to try another instapot book by the same author (this was after trying and giving up on another Instant Pot cookbook that was boring and not particularly quick or easy).  She really gets using the technology not as a gimmick but as a way to make food faster and easier.  Also it’s all very tasty and the kids even like her lentil dishes.  If you’re just getting one, I’d recommend the Indian one, but if you want more variety (or more meat) Fast and Easy is great.

CC:  Cooks Country– this is a “quick and easy” cooking magazine subscription that we get about once every two months from Cooks Illustrated (we used to get their main magazine which wasn’t quick and easy instead, but then we had a second kid…).  Back in the day it was only New American and eventually we got tired of it and cancelled, but we re-upped sometime after DC2 was born when they switched to mostly American Fusion.  They have about 8 recipe cards in the middle of each that have been pretty reliably quick and easy meals, and none of the other recipes are too onerous.  So far they’re mostly pretty good.  We don’t go through every single recipe in each magazine, but when we get the magazine we ask both kids to go through the back (where almost all the issue’s meals are pictured) and circle the recipes they’d like to eat.  Once we’ve gone through those we shelve it and move to the next magazine.  We’re about 8 months behind at this point, I think.

Simple by Ottolenghi.  While “Simple” is definitely misleading (he has a 6 part definition of “simple” many parts of which really aren’t), it is more simple than Jerusalem.  And everything we have made has been like eating at a really good restaurant.  I feel like I’m pre-pandemic in the city at a trendy new fusion lunch place that prides itself on farm fresh meals and sells lots of different kinds of salads and toasts.  Or at one of the many hummus plus places in the SF South Bay area.  Everything is just a little more special than what you’re expecting.  We mostly leave stuff from this book to the weekend because we never know how long anything is going to take.  The kids, have, unfortunately, started disliking tahini from too many Ottonlenghi dishes.

Mexican:  Quick and Easy Mexican Cooking by Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee.  It’s by the same author as Quick and Easy Korean, but isn’t as good.  (Why is a Korean-American writing a Mexican cookbook?  Her parents owned a bodega!)  The recipes are good and they’re more varied than the American-Mexican foods that we make without recipes and they’re less fatty than our “authentic” Tex Mex cookbook and quicker and easier than our ginormous bible of Latin American food (there’s a mole recipe in there that takes over a day, fills up a good portion of your freezer, and is orgasmic), so we’ll likely keep cycling through it at the rate of one recipe a week.

/end sidenote

So how do I get that list on the right?

On Saturday after the week’s groceries have come, I count up 7 meals on the list, that’s this week’s meals that we should have ingredients for, I put a line after that, and then count add up enough meals so that there are an additional 7 after that line.  Any ingredients we need for those 7 meals are put on the left-most list for next week’s grocery run.

Sometimes other folks add to the list– you can see where DH decided he wanted stuffed pizza (#ChicagoPizza).  And also berebere peanuts, though that’s more a reminder to him and not an actual meal.  Sometimes there’s a little overflow one week for whatever reason, and those meals get pushed off to the next week.  Sometimes I feel like procrastinating during the week and do some of the menu planning early.  It’s very flexible.

To get the next week’s meals, I take my pile of five cookbooks and I go through the book systematically.

Nadiya’s book is split up into Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner sections, so for hers, I start at the beginning and just go through on receipt per week (we did skip some breakfasts for being too sweet to make a good dinner, though the kids did LOVE having her cheesecake croissants one weekend).  We’re currently partway through lunches.

Cook’s Country isn’t really organized at all, so I just go from top to bottom from the pictures on the back of the magazine, though I’ll often skip things and come back depending on our ingredients needs (for example, that fennel, potatoes, and sausages recipe got put on there before other recipes because we had a bunch of leftover gold potatoes from a previous recipe, btw, if you haven’t tried roasted fennel, it is a REVELATION)

The rest of the cookbooks are broken by category, like raw veggies/cooked veggies/chicken/etc.  For these we go one chapter at a time, so a salad the first week, a cooked veggie dish the next, chicken the week after that.  Occasionally I will skip a meal or a chapter and come back if, for example, we’ve already got a lentils dish for the week and don’t need another (ex. cooked veggie lentil stew from Simple and lentil stew from Insta, I skip the second lentil stew and do a different stew or a chicken dish from Insta instead).  I try to have exactly one seafood dish each week and at least one dish with meat (since I have kids and am too lazy to make sure they’re getting the right veggies for a completely vegetarian diet), but not too many with the same kind of meat.  But generally I will pick up whatever book is on top of the pile, see what the last recipe on the list was, then go to the next recipe we haven’t made yet.  Then the next book, and so on.  After I’m done, there will be five new recipes on the page.  Since it’s the school year, we’ll often eat pre-made freezer meals like lasagna or frozen pizza, so “freezer” reminds me to check the freezer.  I’ve also started adding one meal from the middle list to each week.  And that’s 7!

Of course, we do eat more than 7 meals/week because we usually also have lunches on weekends (for a total of 9).  We generally do have a couple extra meals that either don’t make it to the list or are added after my 7 are done. Getting take-out is often spontaneous and doesn’t show up on the list (sometimes it does, but mostly not).  DH and I usually have leftovers for lunches during the week.  Occasionally we’ll have too many leftovers and have them for a dinner as well.

This other pile of cookbooks that we keep in the kitchen are for things like desserts (DC2 has decided that hir easy cookbooks are too easy and zie only wants to make things out of that enormous Gourmet book now– last week’s vanilla cupcakes turned the kitchen into a DISASTER area, but weren’t really any better than easier vanilla cupcakes), books that are waiting in the wings to be the next “quick and easy” book that we try after we finish one of the current five (if they’re not good enough, we may get rid of them), and books that are there because we needed to reference something and haven’t put it back yet (The Old Fashioned Cookbook– where we got a quick vanilla frosting after the first frosting failed after 2 hours of work and umpteen separated eggs).

So, to sum:

  • Take 1-7 cookbooks known to be quick, easy, and good (maybe one for weekends that is more risky in terms of time)
  • Go through them systematically (generally pulling one from each chapter for each dinner, skipping and coming back in a later week to things that duplicate other recipes for the week too much)
  • List the ingredients you need for each on the grocery list
  • Put a line for the week after you have 7
  • Repeat

When we get home, we usually start at the top of the list and see if we feel like making and eating the first thing listed.  If not, we go to the next thing.  One slight deviation from this method is when we have fresh food that is best at the beginning of the week– that’s why the jicama salad is crossed off before the lentils and rice meal.  I will also often look at the list after dinner to see if there’s anything requiring me to defrost meat from the freezer and if so, stick that in the fridge before we go to bed.  (But we only defrost chicken breasts in the microwave.)

What I like about this method is that it allows for a lot of variety and novelty without forcing me to think too much or to be wedded to some sort of strict list.  I just pick the first thing unless I don’t like the first thing and then go to the second instead.  We’re currently doing it with 5 cookbooks because we didn’t really want to eat pizza 7 days a week or to keep the instapot clean and dry every single day, but you could easily just take the Nadiya cookbook and go through it from start to finish.  If it’s just you or you and a partner at home, you can use this exact method with just Help! My apartment has a kitchen!, which was the first cookbook we used this menu planning method with all by itself.

I leave you with a picture of the rest of our cookbooks.:

Do you menu plan? How do you menu plan? Do you own cookbooks?  What are your favorite quick and easy meals?  How often do you grocery shop?  Any questions about any of our cookbooks?

RBOC

  • DC1 wanted a Swedish princess cake for hir birthday this year.  We had tried making Marzipan twice earlier this year and both times did not end up with something that would make a good cake cover.  So we decided to bite the bullet and buy marzipan.  Sadly the only local places we could get it sell it in tiny 7 oz tubes, so we had to get four of them and squeeze it out.  I know we have made good marzipan in the past, but we don’t seem to have saved the recipe.
  • Update:  we did not actually need to get 4 of them.  Three would have been fine and we probably could have handled just 2.  We have a lot of marzipan in the fridge now.
  • Swedish princess cake was AMAZING.
  • I know that some people are genuinely picky eaters and have processing disorders and so on.  But I do wish that my MIL and SIL would stop telling specific children that said children hate all vegetables.  Like, when I say, would you like some green bean casserole, they could just keep their mouths shut and let the kid answer rather than saying, oh, X hates all vegetables.  I didn’t like most vegetables until I was 15 or 16, but I kept an open mind and tried things.  If I didn’t, I’d never have known that my tastes changed.  It’s not just one kid, it is three kids (ironically the fourth kid actually does have a feeding disorder and eats lots of fruits and vegetables via purees).  My kids have different vegetable likes and dislikes, and with a few exceptions (DC1 has never liked tomatoes, and DC2 doesn’t like the concept of mushrooms), those likes and dislikes have changed through their lives.
  • DC2 actually really loves most vegetables.  I suspect this is connected to hir dislike of most milk products (zie likes ice cream and a very small number of cheeses– I also only liked a small number of cheeses as a kid and now I love everything except goat cheese, but I drank a lot of milk because the pediatrician was worried about me being small and skinny, which DC2 does not do).
  • DC1 tends to eat most vegetables only under duress, but (at age 15 minus a few days) noted that Brussels sprouts (covered in bacon sauce, which zie was obligated to try) aren’t so bad.
  • The in-laws had forgotten that DC2 likes vegetables– the first couple meals we had at their place were uniformly beige in color, though DC2 did eat a lot of mashed potatoes.  The Brussels sprouts came later on in the trip after they remembered.  MIL loves them, but doesn’t usually get to eat them.
  • It’s crazy to think that when we were DC1’s age, we were a year away from trying Thai food for the first time and several years away from Indian food and Sushi.  Home-style Korean didn’t come until graduate school!  Many of DC1’s favorite cuisines and almost all the healthy food that DC1 enjoys were things we didn’t try until we were older than zie is now.  Zie had hir first sushi (veggie/cooked) and Thai etc. before zie could hold a fork!  And I lived on Indian food while pregnant with DC2 because of the wheat allergy.  I wonder what other new foods we will get to try in our future.  I think Poke is our most recent new thing, and that’s from like 6 years ago.  Man I love food.
  • Because of my toasted C drive (more on that later– I bumped the post to a later week) I finally moved into DH’s hand-me-down desktop computer which is a lovely Alienware.  Lots of things that didn’t work before now just work and everything seems faster.  One problem is that the Alienware has a slanted top so we have had to put a box on its side next to the case to hold my external harddrive because it kept slipping off.
  • I do not like my BIL’s MIL.  The first time I met her, a decade and a half ago, she was making my BIL’s fiance (now wife) miserable with her stressing out about the wedding and her insistence on everything being a specific way even though she was paying for none of it.  I later found out that she’d promised to pay for the expensive wedding dress she’d insisted on but then didn’t and BIL and his wife were in debt because of it for a while (plus it took a while for her parents to admit it, so there were fees and interest tacked on).  This time she ended up sitting next to me at Christmas dinner and started complaining about poor people mismanaging their money and what Judge Judy has to say about them.  And she gossiped a lot about her extended family and how terrible they are at raising children and how their three year olds (!) are horrible and are going to grow up to be horrible.  When I said I didn’t like to pass judgment on how people who are worse off than I am spend their money because I can’t understand their problems, she said she could because she has been poor (and then we played the who had a poorer parent game– I think I won because my dad is 5’2″ and grew up in a literal warzone/the Depression).  I did not remind her of her poor monetary behavior in the past which DH later said was very good of me, though I did lecture a little bit about public finance and public policy which apparently Judge Judy does not understand AT ALL.  Fortunately when DH showed up she stopped having her comfortable coze with me and started asking him about his job and whether he was going to be doing all of the driving back.  (“No, we’ll be splitting it,” he said.  “It’s my car!” I piped up.  And then we noted DC1 will probably help with the driving next year if we drive.  She did not approve.)
  • But it could be worse– not a word about Mexicans (which was the big thing I was always correcting one of DH’s grandmas on, reminding her about their essential humanity, though she always accepted the correction and added on to it– she knew because she was a teacher and did remember that Hispanic kids are people– she had one of those racisms where she liked every individual she met and saw them as individual persons, but as a group she quoted conservative talk radio), and not a word about Trump or liberals etc.  Apparently BIL’s wife made her stop doing that in company ages ago.
  • I do like BIL’s wife quite a bit.  We have similar taste in reading.  She’s the one who I miss exchanging presents with now that we’re doing kids only.
  • That’s probably enough of me being catty about people I’m related to by marriage.  I wonder what they say when they gossip about me.  (Actually, I suspect I would rather not know!)

Ask the grumpies: Why is it so hard to prioritize my health when I’m so good at everything else?

First Gen American asks:

Why is it so hard to prioritize my health (specifically portion control) when I am so disciplined in every other aspect of my life?

We are the same person.

Genetics might suggest it’s because we both had parents who likely starved or were undernourished during parts of their childhood which altered our genes.  (Yes, this is a real thing– I went to a conference on it!  Barker, of the Barker hypothesis, himself was there!  RIP.  He yelled at me for being an idiot when I suggested that he partner with Jamie Oliver who at the time was terrifying SAHMs in the US with one of his reality show programs about school lunches.)

And, unlike money where it gets easier to save the more you already have saved, our bodies fight getting “too thin” and it gets harder to lose weight the less we weigh.  We don’t like deprivation and fight against it.

And unlike habits like smoking or video games etc. you cannot stop eating cold turkey (well technically you likely never have to eat turkey of any temperature, but I know you know I meant that metaphorically).  So there’s no all or nothing option.  You HAVE to eat (and eating is delightful), so if you, for example, manage a candy crush addiction by not having it on any of your devices, the same thing won’t work for food.

And, eating food can increase our willpower in other areas (I read that in Willpower by Baumeister).  So lack of portion control may be partly responsible for your amazing discipline in other areas.  I definitely gain weight when I’m up against deadlines because I need to fuel my brain.

There’s also the… yes, I could prioritize exercise, but that 30 minutes/day doesn’t come from nowhere, I have to take something else away.

And one could make food boring (some people have the same thing for lunch every day and the same set of dinners every week) and have food habits (10:30am is apple time), but that sure would take a lot of joy out of life.

Grumpy Nation, do you prioritize your health?  What are your secrets?

What we buy every week at the grocery store

We buy lots of other stuff each week, but those items tend to vary much more.

Our current grocery store allows us to have a list of items that we press a button and they get added to the week’s shopping without us having to hunt them down individually.

I thought it might be mildly interesting to share what’s on our “DH’s list” (that is, what we get every week).  Occasional substitutions are in parentheses.

100% Whole Wheat Bread

Organic Heavy Whipping Cream 16oz (this is often not in stock, so I play roulette so that we have it on hand when we need it)

Organic Milk 1 gal (generally we alternate this with half a gallon, depending on how much teenage DC1 is drinking)

Organic sliced colby jack

Organic sliced pepper jack

Organic unsalted butter

one dozen eggs (we don’t always eat 12 eggs in a week but sometimes we’ll need more than 12 so it evens out… if we have 3 dozen or more in the fridge I skip this)

organic bananas

garlic pod (if we have 2 of these I skip it)

organic ground beef (if we have one of these in the freezer I skip it)

triscuits

muesli (DC1 and I eat this for breakfast.  DH tends to buy grapenuts every other week so it’s not on the list and he also gets random other stuff.  DC2 prefers savory breakfasts.)

two dozen cans of store-brand fizzy water (flavor varies each week).

All told it comes to between $40 and $50 each week depending on what that week’s sales are.  (Swapping from organic to regular on the butter and on the ground beef would save at least $5.)

And that’s what we get every week.  Is there anything that you get every week? What are your regulars?

Ask the grumpies: ritz vs. saltines vs. wheat thins vs. triscuits

Leah asks:

Which are better: ritz, saltines, wheat thins, or triscuits?

#1  Triscuits, hands down.  We go through two boxes a week.  Wheat thins are good but if you think about them while eating them you’ll realize they’re kind of sweet like cookies.  Saltines bring back memories of being broke and having a lot of saltines with peanut butter, which actually isn’t such a bad memory since they’re tasty and filling, but saltines are also kind of like salty paste, so…

#2:  Ugh.  Ritz or saltines. Boo whole wheat.  Wheat thins ore ok.

Note that triscuits and ritz and saltines should be boycotted until nabisco stops abusing its workers.

Update:  Strike is over!

Baking

DH has done a lot less baking since gaining employment, but the kids have done some.  The kids have done less since school started, but there are some summer treats in there.  And DC1 now knows the difference between baking soda and baking powder!  Because sometimes you have to learn by making mistakes.

These are from our new cookbook, Time to Eat by Nadiya Hussain. We didn’t make the croissants– those are actually grocery store croissants, but the filling is homemade ricotta berry cheesecake and extremely good.

He’s been doing a lot of banana sourdoughs… when we don’t eat all the weekly bananas before they go bad he throws them in with some sourdough starter and makes a bread. The end result is only very mildly banana, unlike banana quick breads. This one has chocolate chips. It was very good.

Chocolate chocolate chip waffles.

Deep fried day old pizza dough balls.

Another recipe from Time to Eat by Nadiya Hussain. These are (store-bought) puff pastry with chocolate inside and cocoa powder on top. Extremely simple to make but they seem decadent.

DH felt like making drop biscuits. I assume these are from the Old Fashioned Cookbook since that’s our go-to drop biscuit recipe.

Chocolate chip cookies from his own recipe and an interesting citrus pudding from Time to Eat. It separates into cake on top and a citrus pudding sauce on the bottom.

Eggplant pizza from Williams Sonoma Pizza. We’ve been going through the recipes that we skipped the first time through. They have all been surprisingly good.

Focaccia. I think DH has been doing a lot more cooking without a recipe since unemployment hit. I think also he’s been mostly making things he’s made before rather than trying out new recipes (other than things I force on him from Time to Eat and My First Cookbook).

Marinated zucchini pizza from Williams Sonoma pizza. This was amazing. Even the kids were willing to eat it. Even DC1 who hates zucchini and is the reason we skipped this the first time through the book.

These were cheese cookies, I think from an online recipe. I liked them, but nobody else liked them enough to keep the recipe.

This was a pizza from Williams Sonoma Pizza. It was achingly sweet. DC1 isn’t a huge fan of oranges so didn’t eat much. DH and I found it too sweet. DC2, who liked it quite a bit, gradually got through it in a week of lunches.

I think this is a chocolate chip cookie cake from My First Cookbook by ATK. DC2 made it with help.

Chocolate cupcakes (Barefoot Contessa) with leftover lemon frosting (Cake Bible) from DC2’s birthday cake.

DC2 asked for a lemon cake from The Cake Bible for hir birthday.

A slice of DC2’s birthday cake.

We had extra pie dough that we needed to get rid of so these are some kind of empanada even though they aren’t really shaped like empanadas.

Random sour dough.

A pupusa from My First Cookbook by ATK.

I think this hunk is actually the few biscuits remaining from between when the biscuits came out of the oven and when I got the camera. I believe DC1 made these from hir baking book before school started.

Some kind of random bread.

This pizza from Williams Sonoma Pizza was AMAZING.

What is bread?

DC2 made these chocolate peanut butter rice crispy treats from My First Cookbook by ATK.

These are apple cinnamon donut-hole muffins from My first cookbook. DC2 made them.

Some kind of calzone from Williams Sonoma Pizza.

Must be bread.

DC1 made this streusel coffee cake.

Some kind of chocolate chocolate cookie.

DC1 made this raspberry Clafouti.

Cranberry nut bread.

DC2 made these ooey gooey butter cookies from one of MIL’s recipes. They use cake mix!

A fruit pizza from Williams Sonoma Pizza.

This bread got a little burned.

I don’t know…. some kind of cake.

This is a cabbage streudel from the Victory Garden cookbook. It is is one of my favorites.

One of the kids made these blueberry muffins. Probably DC1.

Bread?

DC1 made these berry scones.

Ask the grumpies: Ice cream preferences

Leah asks:

Hard scoop ice cream or soft serve? Best flavors? What about things like cold stone, DQ, etc?

I remember the first time I had soft serve ice cream.  It was from a food truck at a lake where we went camping in Northern California.  It was a revelation to me.

Later I had soft serve places like McDonalds and similar food places.  It was… not as good.

Then I had soft serve ice cream from a food truck in San Francisco maybe half a decade ago and it all came back to me.  It was the Northern CA high quality soft-serve that was good, not my memories that were wrong.  Inferior soft serve is not as good as hard scoop, but superior soft-serve is better than superior hard scoop.  Since then we’ve found a single food truck in the city closest to ours that has similarly good soft-serve… I don’t know if it is still in business though.

Just straight-up vanilla for soft serve.  Or a vanilla chocolate twist.  Yeah, the vanilla chocolate twist is best.

For hard scoop I like lots of flavors– probably my favorite is anything with mint and chocolate.  But I also like chocolate with other things as well.  And I like fruit ice creams and gelatos.  I mean… it’s all good.

Not crazy about cold stone– I think it’s overpriced.  Mixins are interesting, but I’d rather have them mixed in during churning or on top.  The last time I had DQ I was six months pregnant with DC1 (driving from grad school city to work city) and threw it up so I haven’t been able to eat it since.

Man, I LOVE ice cream.  Here are more posts about ice cream.

Unemployment baking

DH has slowed down and moved onto other hobbies, possibly because it’s gotten a lot hotter.  But here’s baking from the last quarter.   There’s also some non-unemployment baking represented as DC1 (who is not in the labor force) got a baking book from the Easter bunny and has been going through it for hir weekly required cooking.  Also I (employed) made a birthday cake for DH.

White cake with coconut flakes and some kind of candied citrus bits

Coco cabana from Chocolat.  I don’t think there’s any chocolate or cocoa inside.

Some kind of muffin? I didn’t take notes, so I’m betting banana. We’ve been eating a lot of different kinds of banana bread because the grocery people are bad at picking out bananas for us.

This was some kind of savory bean pie from Home Baking.

DC1 made this: Fudge Pie from Help! My apartment has a (either kitchen or dining room, I’m not sure which) by Kevin and Nancy Mills. Although their meals are great, their desserts only tend to be ok and this one was agonizingly sweet.

Pain de Campagne

Gingered Pear Pizza from Williams Sonoma Pizza. Tasted better than it looks!

DC1 made English Walnut Pie from Help! While sweet, this wasn’t as over-sweet as the fudge pie.

Chocolate Banana Bread from Cook’s Country

I made this pineapple upside down cake! (I think it’s American Classics– definitely one of the Americas Test Kitchen recipes. I use pineapple juice in place of milk for a little extra pineapple flavor.)

DC1 made this Roman Style Foccacia from hir The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs by America’s Test Kitchens. Zie put maybe too much salt on top in some places, but it was easily brushed off. It did not last long.

Some kind of bread. I wonder if this is one of the breads that had malt in it from The Bread Book. Malt makes yeast breads super fluffy– it’s pretty amazing.

Almond Milk Bread from Home Baking. These were good, but not very almondy.

Some kind of chocolate cake from Chocolot. There’s a couple of layers of marzipan in there. It was good.

DC1 made these spiced apple muffins from ATK The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs

Some kind of bread… DH has been making a lot of random sour doughs without a recipe, so maybe this is one?

DC1 made these banana and chocolate chip mini muffins from The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs

Bolos Levedos from Cooks Country. They were good, but I don’t think we’ll make them again.

Pane Casalingo from The Bread Book. Isn’t it beautiful?

Some kind of fruit pizza from the Williams Sonoma Pizza book

DH added malt powder to his grandma’s rolls. This picture does not even begin to express how enormous the usually big but now gargantuan rolls are. Very fluffy!

DC1 made these whole wheat raspberry muffins from The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs. They have a *lot* of crusty sugar on top.

We had a bunch of egg whites left from something else, so DH made this White spice pound cake. It was very good.

… I don’t remember

These beautiful scones from The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs were inedible because DC1 used baking soda in place of baking powder. Lesson learned.

These beautiful scones from The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs were amazing– DC1 used baking powder correctly. I’m more than a little proud that DC1 decided to try these again after the previous week’s disaster. They were so good that they didn’t even need jam, though of course we all put jam on our second.

This is a random enormous sourdough that DH made without a recipe. Regular size honeydew melon provided for comparison purposes.

New-to-me French Toast Technique #LifeChanging

The Easter Bunny brought cookbooks and DC2 has started making something every week along with DC1.

DC2’s cookbook is from America’s Test Kitchen and is called, “My first cookbook.”  Technically it is hir second cookbook, but it is the first one zie has used with minimal parental help.  Zie has made ricotta toast and avocado toast and chocolate dipped things.  Next week zie is planning an oven roasted bbq chicken and broccoli one sheet meal, which we’re excited about (DC2 loves broccoli and dislikes cheese… I don’t understand but more power to hir).

This week’s was a revelation to me.

So basically the idea is you spray a jelly roll pan with cooking spray.  Then you mix up the custard/egg stuff.  Then… get this… you POUR THE CUSTARD INTO THE JELLYROLL PAN (!) (!) (!)  Then, working quickly, you put 8 pieces of bread into the jelly roll pan to cover it.  Then, starting from the top you turn them over.  Then you wait a minute.

After a minute, the egg mixture has completely been soaked up into the bread(!!!!!!)  This is AMAZING.  When I first saw the instructions, I was certain this was going to be a nightmare to clean up after with egg baked into the pan, but it wasn’t!

Then you bake it for 10 min on the bottom rack and then you broil it on the top rack for like a minute until it’s brown on top.  And you end up with perfect French toast. It’s not soggy in the middle. The bread is not dry.  It’s not burned. It just works!

Here’s a version of their recipe online (since I’m not going to violate copyright).  (But I will say you need another egg and 1/3 cup more milk if you use whole wheat or multi-grain bread instead of white bread.  And their recipe really needs nutmeg, that they did not list.)  If that link doesn’t work, here’s the google cache.

How do you make French toast?  Am I the only person who did this the fussy way with dipping and frying and occasionally baking after?

RBOC

  • Seems like the busier I get the more RBOC and snippets of my life you get and the fewer thoughtful substantive posts.  Ah well!
  • Vaccine update:  Second shot of Moderna, arm was sore almost right away.  Next day I woke with a massive headache.  Then I had chills alternating with overheating most of the day.  I had a hard time getting to sleep, but also wasn’t any good for work, though I participated in several faculty meetings!  It was pretty miserable and I thought to myself that if this is covid lite, then I don’t want the real thing.  Then the next day I woke up and felt great although my arm was still a little sore.
  • In case you were not eating Annie’s products because they have yeast extract, they stopped using yeast extract like 5+ years ago.  I immediately went out and bought a bunch of their cheddar snack mix.
  • We keep dried fruit and trail mix near the cat treats, and nice kitty has been trained that when we make crinkly sounds by the trail mix, she gets treats too.  I keep chocolate things in the pantry and my kids have been trained that if they catch me, they get chocolate too.  Basically, if I go to the kitchen and make crinkle sounds I suddenly have extra shadows now.  I’ve turned into Pavlov.
  • One of our tenured faculty has started talking about the same hobby horse at every single meeting at great length.  Many of us have discovered that it is a great idea to schedule another meeting right when the faculty meeting is supposed to end rather than leaving extra time.
  • It’s sad that Beverly Cleary died.  If you haven’t reread her core books as an adult, you really should, especially the Ramona ones.  They’re delightfully layered with things for kids and things for their parents that go straight over the kids heads.  Also, I always identified with Beezus because my sister is SUCH a Ramona.  Which Cleary character are you?  (I can definitely see DH as Henry!)
  • My parents always made sure we had a mix of meat, veggies, and starches at every meal.  On Wednesday we had carrots (roasted with olive oil, pomegranate and cilantro) for dinner.  On Thursday we had sweet potato fries (with a little oil, salt, paprika, and chipotle powder).  On Friday we had Korean beef slices (with a marinade and green onions).  So… we get variety over the course of a week.  (They also tend to have healthy lunches, but those are not necessarily balanced either.  Breakfast is usually cereal but not always.)
  • Our uni is having a spike in Covid cases.  But we’re opening up completely for fall with no social distancing and vaccines can’t be required of students unless the vaccine gets full approval by the FDA instead of just emergency approval.  We got those three emails one right after the other, which was really bad timing.
  • The Great British Bakeoff is hilarious whenever someone introduces an American food.  Like they were wowed by Chicken a la King and super impressed by what I consider to be a pretty sloppy pineapple upside down cake (the ones I make for DH are always quite beautiful– you’ll probably see a picture in the next batch of baking photos and I’m sure there are pictures of earlier ones).  But the most hilarious thing was when a woman was saying she was going to use peanut butter and grape jelly together in a dessert and they were like, grape with peanut butter?  There’s no way that’s going to work.  And then they were SHOCKED, shocked! when it turned out to be great.  I had to pause it to yell at the screen a little bit before I could continue.  Peanut butter and grape jelly, who would have thunk it.  What an innovative crazy idea.
  • The other thing that got me was that none of them had any idea what pita bread was supposed to look like.  They all made them oblong.  The only person who had actually eaten them before thought they were triangles because they’d been served as wedges!  PITA BREAD!!!  Do they not have Greek food in the UK?  What is UP with that?  It made me love living in the US because we may not have madiera cake or chelsea buns (which look like slightly fancier cinnamon buns), but *we have Greek food*.
  • If you do watch the Great British Bakeoff, the diversity of contestants in Season 6 is pretty awesome.  We skipped Season 4 because the young woman student character was really irritating (so far in the three seasons we’ve tried, we’ve liked Martha and Flora, who were the young woman student characters in their respective cohorts– wikipedia notes that we were not the only people turned off by season 4’s student) and the cast was so very white.  Also it turns out that Tamal (my favorite in season 6) is gay, though it isn’t mentioned in the show itself.  According to Wikipedia he was interviewed after being put on some hunks list and he was like, sorry ladies, I’m flattered and single but also looking for my own Prince Charming.  (If you’re watching on Netflix, series 1 is season 5, series 2 is season 4, and series 3 is season 6.)
  • DC1 had to read an Ayn Rand novella for English.  I’m starting to believe that QAnon poetry site wasn’t an accident.  Did you know that there are objectivist societies that provide free Ayn Rand books along with propaganda-laden lesson plans to teachers?