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What a meal plan looks like in this house

2015 March 18
by Laura

Sunday morning, while Ryan watched John Oliver and drank his coffee, I sat at the kitchen table with the latest issue of Cooking Light, my big fat binder of recipes, my computer, and a pen and two pieces of paper.

One paper was the working meal plan, one was the working grocery list.

Tabs open on my computer included weather.com, my calendar with my work schedule, and Pinterest.

When I finished, about 30 minutes later, Ryan said, “Gosh, were you just meal planning that entire time?!”

Yes. Yes I was.

Maybe this post makes me sound like a freak (maybe I am) or maybe it will inspire others to meal plan, too. The thing is, speaking personally: If I don’t meal plan, we will eat crap food. That’s the end of that.

My work schedule is important, because I cannot cook on days when I get home from work. I usually walk in the door at 8:00, starving, sore, grumpy, and tired. The food has to be hot and on the plate at 8:01 for me to even function for the rest of the evening. Standing in the kitchen to cook is a no-go. This just means planning meals that will have leftovers!

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Here’s what we ate this week:

Sunday night: Seafood special. I made this salmon recipe from Cooking Light — a real star. I cooked some mashed potatoes on the side and Ryan told me it was a restaurant-quality meal. Boom! Done. I like using seafood as my “no leftovers” food since, well, there aren’t usually leftovers, and leftover fish is…kinda gross.

Monday night: I wasn’t working, but I needed to make enough food for two days. Highs in the upper 60s led me to consider something on the grill, and we hadn’t had chicken in a while. Enter: Cilantro-lime chicken with avocado salsa. It’s a super flavorful chicken dish that is topped with a deconstructed guacamole—and it’s delicious.

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Recipe from Cooking Light, here.

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I served it with this boxed rice mix (ummm sooooo good, Goya, good work) and a side of easy black beans (recipe below):

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Take two cans of black beans, one drained and one not. Dump beans in a medium-sized pan with about 1 tbsp olive oil, 1-2 tbsp chopped jalapeños, 1-2 tbsp chopped cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice. Bring to a small simmer until it’s all heated through and serve with the rice.

Side of Taylor’s Southwest Salad rounded out the meal with a satisfying crunch.

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Tuesday night: Leftovers! Making three chicken breasts was enough for the two of us — I ate half on Tuesday night and half last night. The box of rice, salad bag, and beans were enough for two people, two times, too.

Someone had it all warmed up out of the microwave for me at 8:01 p.m.

Wednesday: Not working, so I’m cooking. I actually made two meals today: Pizza Rice Casserole (at Someone’s request this week) and Italian Wedding Weeknight Soup, from Bev.

Tonight’s soup was inspired by suddenly freezing temperatures in the 30s-40s (gross!) and my need to have a substantive lunch while at work tomorrow.

Quick and easy.

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Thursday and FridayPizza Rice Casserole is for us to eat Thursday and Friday, since I work both days. The PRC is easy to preassemble and leave in the fridge with instructions such as, “Take off the saran wrap and bake at 325 for 30 minutes.” Trust me that each piece of those instructions is vital to Someone’s success…

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So there you have it — the cooking that gets us from Sunday to Friday.

Do you meal plan? I’m a freak?

Books, lately

2015 March 16
by Laura

The library hold list is killer. I’m telling you: nothing will incentivize you to read faster than hearing that the book you waited four months to check out is ready for pick up.

[I am #52 of 386 holds on The Girl on the Train. Can’t wait to get it in time for my summer vacation in July!]

Here are a few good ones I’ve read lately:

We Were Liars, E. LockhartIMG_5201

Love me an unreliable narrator. Love me a young adult fiction book that is so well written and haunting you go, wait, seriously? Young adult? What kind of young adult could handle this?

Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

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What an emotional story about a family and its tragedy. I was so upset by this beautiful book. So many feels. A very moving portrait of four very flawed members of a family, and how they hurt one another despite their love.

And finally, the one I just started reading:

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

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It’s gripping already. I also have Those Who Save Us on my nightstand, but my heart can only stand one WWII book every three months.

 

Wedding planning, lately

2015 March 10
by Laura

The wedding is officially less than 11 months away (I’m aware that’s still ridiculously far off, but still) and we are deep in the “booking your vendors!” stage.

Although not surprising, I consult my married friends’ advice on how to plan a wedding almost daily. “How do you choose a photographer?” “How many DJs did you meet with?” “How much is too much for flowers?” It’s been immensely helpful to hear them say, “Oh yes, that’s the hardest part” (guest list) or “Yes, yes, the photographs of DJs are frightening and you cannot judge them on their hair gel.”

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Here are some things that have helped for me in the first two months of planning:

1. Get a wedding book. 

The one pictured above was recommended to me by a friend, and it’s fantastic.

2. Wedding Wire. 

It’s a good place to start. Although I don’t find the “star ratings” very helpful (it seems everyone has 4-5 stars, somehow) it brings you to a list of names that are at least narrowed down from a google search.

3. Vendor list. 

See if your venue has put together a preferred vendor list, and even better, ask your coordinator or representative who her personal favorite vendors are. I found this to be most helpful with florist and DJs.

4. Trust your own personal taste, even if you aren’t an expert.

I don’t know too much about photography, other than knowing when I like something and when I don’t. If you don’t like the pictures you’re seeing for some reason, just stop right there.

However, if you’re like me, you’ll fall in love with the photographer whose packages start at $8500 and you’ll be screwed.

What worked for me was setting a firm budget. As a friend pointed out: “Yes, when you’re in the middle of planning it all, it’s easy to think, ‘What’s another $1000? $2000?’ But when you step back for one second, you realize just how much money that is.”

What I tried to do was figure out what it was about the $8000 photography I liked. Was it the angles? The lighting? The emotion? The style? I guarantee you can find those things in a less expensive photographer.

(I’m not saying that wedding photographers do not work hard or do not deserve the money they make, but DAMN I should have chosen a different career, yaknowwhatImean?)

Set an amount that you don’t want to go above, and start googling. Many photographers of course do not put their pricing on their website, so you have to inquire. But if it’s out of reach, respond immediately saying, “Thank you for your response, but we’re going with someone else.” Some of them will also let you customize the packages (I didn’t want a photo album, for instance) which can also help adjust the pricing a bit.

Your list will get narrowed down. Meet with no more than three of them (I met with one!) in person and choose who you like the best. That makes it sound overly simple, but it is. If you’re able to make a personal connection with one, choose her. As my friend Cara put it: “This person is following you around for 8 hours and will watch you get dressed. Pick who you would be friends with.”

5. Those friends…

Ask your friends who got married how they did it. They honestly have the best advice.

Life lately

2015 March 10
by Laura

Hello, friends! Here’s what we’ve missed.

In about a week, thankfully, we have gone from this….

11023162_775876685823383_1691898733_n…to this!

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Hurray! Yesterday’s Rennie walk was 61 degrees, and i did it with my sweatshirt tied around my waste and my bare white arms flinging around at my sides. It was rejuvenating.

We had what was hopefully our last snowstorm last week. Somehow this winter I’ve been scheduled to work each and every time the DC area has seen accumulating snow; that’s resulted in several white-knuckled drives in my two-door coupe through hazardous conditions that would shock people outside of this area (“This is the nation’s capital? Surely you can clear snow better than this?”).

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Alas, nurses don’t get snow days.

So what makes the snow more bearable? Kale and sausage soup with a parmesan rind broth.

While in heaven last week (Wegmans) I found a small container of four parmesan rinds. Aha! Finally! The last ingredient necessary to make the parmesan broth I’ve been reading so much about.

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I used this recipe and it cooked up reeeeaaaal nice.

In other boring news, I visited home last weekend and managed to book a photographer whom I love and nail down some wedding details with the wedding coordinator at our venue.

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Wedding planning is fun again!

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How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day?

2015 February 19
by Laura

If this were two years ago, I would have celebrated V-day by wearing all black and scowling all day at happy couples.

Last year, boyfriend and I braved a snowstorm to get dinner at the Mexican restaurant where we first met, and Someone trudged through the snow to get me the beautiful bouquet he had pre-ordered.

This Valentine’s Day was a little more…real. And I loved it. No fancy dinner out — I went and bought us some crab legs and made a big seafood dinner. We drank wine, cranked the heat up and snuggled. We played Nintendo 64 and watched a movie on Netflix. It was cozy and perfect.

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We watched an old movie called The Piano. Have you seen it? We really enjoyed it. It was different and weird and haunting. Have you watched any old movies on Netflix lately that are worth watching?

I got chocolate, cheese, and roses. Perfect.

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My handsome Valentine took me to a restaurant for some gluten-free pizza:

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It was a fantastic day.

We’re super over winter over here — we’re over sitting on the couch, playing cards, and drinking. JK! We’re trying to make the best of it and we know spring is coming. It is coming, right?

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Oh! Wanna see my ring?

2015 February 9
by Laura

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1 big one and 76 small ones.

He did good.

On engagement and wedding planning

2015 February 5
by Laura

Being engaged changes things. Slightly at first, more in a “I have a different mind-set about us” way over time.

Ryan and I had a few weeks of more-often-than-usual bad days. Several things contributed to this: job stress, winter-ness, wedding stress. There are several big decisions to be made in the beginning of an engagement that are more-than-slightly stressful. Size, budget, location, date… big ones. It can feel very overwhelming. 

Stress for each of us independently put stress on us as a couple. But things…feel different now. It’s more of a long game, if that makes any sense. A bad day here and there doesn’t really mean much to me anymore when I look at the next 60-70 years of life. Eh, a bad Tuesday, but we’ve got time. Tomorrow will be better, and there will, god willing, be lots of tomorrows.

Another change? Money. We used to be very exact about who paid for what, who owed what to whom, and we made very sure to make things very even. Now? Eh, it’s all going the same place. I’ve definitely noticed a more lax attitude about paying someone back for paying that cable bill or buying Rennie’s food that one day.

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one of many beautiful and thoughtful cards we’ve received that are decorating our bookshelf and making us smile every day

 

Now let’s go back to that wedding planning piece for a few minutes.

[Disclaimer: I am planning a wedding, so I’m focused on that. But please don’t think I’ve lost sight of the fact that it’s about a marriage, and not about a day in my life. Every time this starts to run away with me I remember the M word, and not its evil W-word counterpart, and we get back on track.]

When I’ve spoken to my married friends about this part, they all laugh at me. “Oh! Hahahaha. Wedding planning sucks, honey. You thought it would be fun??”

Well, kinda? Pinterest certainly makes it look fun (and more later on the devil that is Pinterest). But those big decisions I mentioned? Lots of people who love you as a couple are invested in those big decisions, too. Determining the budget, the size of the wedding, whom to invite, and counting up everyone and their plus ones is very, very stressful. Not everyone will be happy with all of the decisions that are made, and that’s really hard for a people-pleaser like me. What matters is you and your future partner. “It’s your day” is thrown around a lot, and you just have to remember that wait, yes, it is. It’s our day.

On budgeting: Of course this wedding will not be a platinum wedding, and I don’t want it to be. (Really, really re-thinking the decision not to take the money and run…) But realizing just how much everything costs—from photos (photography?!?!?!!? seriously?!?!?!?!?!?) to the insane expense of, say, flower arrangements or invitations (IT IS JUST PAPER, PEOPLE!)—can be startling and upsetting.

It’s OK! You pick the few things that are most important to you and you go from there. I, for instance, don’t really care too much about shoes or the dress or the favors. I don’t care about paper programs or flower centerpieces. But it’s hard to parse that out because ideally, of course, we would all want all the things. All the lovely things from Pinterest. And ideally, it wouldn’t make me feel SO guilty to spend money on such temporary things.

I don’t mean to sound super Debbie-Downer about it, or “Wah wah first world princess problem” because it has really been a fun experience so far. I am planning the day when I marry my best friend! A celebration of love. We haven’t done too much yet (more on that later, too), but the decisions we have made have made me feel good and I’m very happy with the overall vision of the wedding. I cherish every one of our loving family and friends who are going to make the day so special for us. I appreciate everyone’s help and assistance so far and would be nowhere without the extra support.

And the best part? We get married one year from tomorrow!

Gluten free Special K

2015 February 5
by Laura

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Oh yes yes yes. This is the best.

I love Chex cereals, don’t get me wrong — I couldn’t be happier that the General Mills brand decided to invest in changing their recipes (only slightly, mind you) to make them completely free of gluten and full of taste. The rice and corn chex are in my monthly rotations, for sure, but sometimes I want a heartier cereal that isn’t dry and weirdly crunchy.

Thank goodness Kellogg’s got a whiff of the Chex success!

Spec K GF (1)

 

I’ve missed Special K. I used to absolutely love whatever kind came with those freeze-dried strawberries in it. This gluten-free version features a hearty flake that moistens perfectly in your cold milk, which is lightly sweet with a brown sugar taste. I love it — I ate two bowls yesterday for breakfast and lunch and then went back to the store to grab another box at Safeway (while it is still priced at $2.99!)

I think it’s a cereal even you non-GFers would enjoy!

 

Kellogg’s nor General Mills pays me in any way for commenting on their products. Even though maybe they should. 

The Imitation Game

2015 January 28
by Laura

What a great film. I knew nothing of Alan Turing before this movie and actually kind of feel like an ignorant fool for not knowing about Enigma.

BUT: If you, like I, knew not much about this historical hero, do yourself a favor and DON’T google him before you go. The movie will be much more powerful if you don’t.

It’s got a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and we supremely enjoyed it. I sat in the theater for a good five minutes after it ended, getting myself together. Engrossing. Emotional. Important.

One of those stay-with-you-forever books

2015 January 28
by Laura

I am so sad that I finished this book in a little over two days. The way that Jandy Nelson writes is spellbinding. I cannot get over the language in the text — I feel like I just read a movie. It was so good that the day I started reading it, I read some passages aloud to Ryan so he could hear what I meant. He loved it, too.

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I’ll Give You the Sun is a book about two twins and a family tragedy they share. It’s a few years later, and they’ve grown completely apart, not realizing that both of them only have half of the story of what happened.

You will just love this book. I know it.