Thursday, October 28, 2010

Whole Wheat Couscous with Zucchini and Cherry Tomatoes

This recipe is incredibly versatile as a side dish or a potluck dish:
  • You can serve it either hot or at room temperature
  • It makes 6-8 large servings for an affordable price, especially if you make it using produce from your garden
  • It's great as leftovers, especially when the cherry tomatoes burst and the tangy tomato juice soaks into the couscous
  • It's a great way to use a large quantity of cherry or grape tomatoes quickly--you know, when they are on their last legs and getting a little too soft to add to a salad.
  • If you finely dice a portion of the yellow squash, you can serve the couscous only portion to a picky child and they will not notice that they are eating onions and squash with the couscous. (Ask me how I know!)
Adapted from The All New Joy of Cooking, page 268:
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs zucchini and/or yellow squash (I use 4 medium: 2 green, 2 yellow) in larger bite-sized pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I try to use bone soup or homemade vegetable stock)
  • 2 T chopped fresh thyme, or 2 tsp dried
  • 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1 1/2 cups quick cooking whole wheat couscous (I find this at Trader Joe's)
  • 24-36 Cherry or Grape tomatoes (to taste; I like extra)
Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onions, cook 5 minutes, then add squash and zucchini. Cook, stirring often, until some onions and squash are browned a bit. Don't overcook to avoid the squash getting soft and soggy. Add minced garlic, stir, and cook for an additional minute. Add stock, thyme, and salt, stirring to combine. Bring mixture to a boil, then simmer for 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in whole wheat couscous. Cover and let stand until couscous has absorbed the stock, about 8-10 minutes. Add cherry tomatoes, stirring to combine, and cover again to gently warm tomatoes up a few minutes longer. Serve warm immediately, or at room temperature later.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Menu Revisions... Forgot the Fresh Stuff

Apparently this weeks meal plan was the 'What Was I Thinking?' version, because I completely forgot about the large harvest of cherry tomatoes from our garden. I just picked about a dozen, used 3 dozen last night, and have an additional 2 dozen that my daughter has been harvesting over the past week. Some of those may be too old to use by now.

As well as some yellow squash that is growing.

And a couple green pumpkins that are taking forever to turn orange, I think I need to harvest and sun them. There's only one pumpkin in this picture.

Clearly I need to leave a few items in the freezer and focus on the fresh produce growing in my yard! Despite the fact that it is nearly November!

Revised Menu Plan:
That's better! It's possible that I'll be able to keep up with the cherry tomatoes if I stick to this plan. If not, I'll make a Summer Squash Frittata with halved cherry tomatoes decorating the top.

Purse Funeral

It kills me to have to write this, but it is time for a purse funeral.

I love my beautiful red purse. It is especially special because my husband bought it for me a few years back when we were on a date. (If you know my husband, you know that this is atypical to say the least.) I like to carry it in the fall/winter, as it goes well with both my gray and brown coats. It's nothing special, just a vinyl handbag that happens to be a very pretty shade of red, with teal lining, and is just the size that I like to carry--big enough to serve a few diaper bag functions (water bottles, snacks, extra clothes) without being Huge.

So why the funeral?

This purse has a metal frame opening, and it keeps falling apart. I searched for someone who could repair it the first time it happened, but no one really 'repairs' things anymore. I finally found a clock repairman who was willing to give it a try, despite the challenge of cheap manufacturing. He did his best, and it lasted a bit longer, but now it is falling apart again. When the frame IS holding together, the clasp doesn't hold the purse closed properly. Clearly the lesson here is: Do not purchase a handbag that has a metal frame/clasp opening, no matter how pretty the bag is!

I am so disappointed because I am the type of person who likes to use a handbag (or ANY item) over and over again. I keep finding that my expectations are too high for how long an item should last, whether it be a home appliance, or a purse made of vinyl. I know that the companies that manufacture these items want me to go back to the store any buy a replacement item as soon as possible. I get tired of this process.

I've tried different strategies to get around the built in 'wear-out' timer on my stuff. Once a while back, I bought a handbag and I liked it so much that I bought a second one exactly like it (on deep discount) so that I would have a new handbag all ready to go when the first one died (my plan worked!) I have also bought multiples of shoes that worked well for me to avoid having to search all over again for something that fits.

My summer handbag is canvas with a few pieces of leather, and it has tolerated being washed in the washing machine twice now. Next spring/summer will be Season 3 for that bag.

In the mean time, I need to somehow let go of my beautiful red bag, and find a replacement. It's in perfect condition other than the metal frame. Goodwill? The trash??? Maybe I will just put it on the shelf in my closet, to look at once in a while.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: October 25th

Last week I ate out for dinner four times, and it was too much (and it was mostly junk food). I am really happy to return to normal!
  • Monday: Baked Breaded Fish Nuggets (sliding from last week) with baked redskin potatoes and steamed asparagus
  • Tuesday: Apple Sausage Risotto with steamed broccoli
  • Wednesday: Lasagna
  • Thursday: Leftovers
  • Friday: Salt and Pepper Chicken
  • Saturday: Attend a Party (need to ask if I can bring something)
  • Sunday: (Halloween/Family Get-together) I am not sure what we will be eating yet. Something that works well with extensive pumpking carving, numerous relatives, and candy-hyper kids!
I also need to make baked goods for two class Halloween Parties on Thursday, which is why that day is Leftover night.

Find more meal planning ideas at!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Liven Up Leftovers: Eggplant Stew for Breakfast

Here is a little breakfast I put together using my leftover Eggplant Stew:
  • Reheat Eggplant Stew in the microwave (approximately 3/4 cup per serving)
  • Meanwhile, scramble two eggs
  • Serve Eggplant Stew over the scrambled eggs
Here I served it with clementines and a mini whole wheat bagel with cream cheese. A hearty breakfast like this will stick with me all morning--and I've already eaten a serving of vegetables today! It's a quick any easy way to Liven up your Leftovers. I'm sure there are numerous leftover dishes that would taste good for breakfast served over scrambled eggs.

If only my kids would eat stuff like this... they just don't know what they're missing!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How to Feel More Organized: 5 Little Things

I am a long way from being fully organized, but I like to think that I get a littler closer to having it all together each day. Here are a few tips that I try to follow to help keep everything a little more together.
1. Keep Dollars and Quarters on Hand
If I have a supply of dollar bills (or coins!) and quarters, it helps everything run a bit more smoothly. I'm prepared if I have to feed a parking meter, pay a toll, tip a service person, hire my son to do a project (his fees range from 25c to $1 depending on the task), or play the Tooth Fairy.
2. Charge Up the Technology 
When I take the time to make sure my cell phone, camera, ipod, and laptop are plugged and charged properly, I can just grab them and go. I need to get better about this, particularly for  my cell phone.

3. An Empty box in the trunk to hold Reusable Shopping Bags
I recently left this box in my trunk, and I think it's going to stay until it wears out! It holds all of my reusable grocery bags, which has a double benefit of clearing the bags out of my cluttered pantry along with ensuring that I never arrive at the store without my bags. I can fit two full grocery bags in the box to prevent them from falling over on the way home. I can put messy things, like potted plants, in the box. I also keep a few plastic newspaper bags in the box to cover wet umbrellas when getting in/out of the car on rainy days.
4. A 'Little Bits' Tray
You know when you are clearing things up around the house and you stumble across a small object, but you're not quite sure what it is or where it goes? This Little Bits Tray is where those items end up in my house. Along with various tiny toy parts, it holds some paperclips and other potentially useful items. It's a quick place to stow something small that I don't want to lose, then periodically I go through it and put small items where they really belong.
5. A Running Grocery List on the Refrigerator
I use a large Post-it Note pad to keep a running grocery list, right on the fridge. I keep a pen in the drawer close by so that I can quickly add to the list when I see that I am running low on various staple items--I don't wait until I run out of something to add it to the list! I put items in three columns based on the grocery stores where I typically purchase things. When I am ready to go to the store, I add the items I always buy (milk, bread, produce) as well as anything in particular I need for an upcoming recipe and I'm good to go. When I get away from this habit, I find myself going crazy running out of things that I thought I had!

I would love to hear from others about the little things that you do that make you feel more organized.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dishwasher Day Part II

Another thing I learned about dishwashers is that it is not enough to clean the front. My appliance repairman visited recently and reported that the bacterial and dish soap buildup around the gasket/door seal of my dishwasher is best removed occasionally.
That vertical black line in the picture is coated with crud.

Fortunately, I have a handy dandy grout brush that looked up to the task!

As you can see, the crud is growing on the edge of the dishwasher door as well as on the seal.

Fortunately, the grout brush combined with some liquid dish soap quickly dissolved the mess and all was wiped away with a damp rag.

We can add this to my list of Things I Never Thought to Clean. My repairman will be so impressed--if ever we need him to return...

Menu Plan Monday October 18th

Fall has finally arrived--with regard to the weather in our area, so I'd like to pull out a few more cold-weather recipes... unfortunately it will be difficult to do that this week because there is a lot going on, including my husband leaving town for a few days.
  • Monday: Leftovers for adults, quesadillas and steamed broccoli for the kids
  • Tuesday: (parents out) Whole Wheat Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs with steamed vegetables
  • Wednesday: (book fair) Eating out
  • Thursday: Baked Breaded Fish Nuggets, hash browns, steamed vegetable
  • Friday: Eating out
  • Saturday: Date night; kids at grandparents'
  • Sunday: (Book Club) Mom's Chili with homemade cornbread and salad
  • Monday: Apple Sausage Risotto (sliding from last week where it was sacrificed for Fast Food :()
Soup of the Week: I didn't get to the Minestrone last week. I'm not sure I will get to it this week, either, but I'll try.

Find other meal plan ideas at!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dishwasher Day Part 1

A few weeks ago, I observed that all of the dishes coming out of the dishwasher were less than clean. I used Angie's List to find a reputable, affordable repairman, and he had bad news: the dishwasher motor needed to be replaced entirely.

We were disappointed to say the least, as we purchased the dishwasher in February 2006 based on the Consumer Reports recommendation at the time. (It's a Kenmore Elite, if you care to know.) We have run the dishwasher once a day on average for less than 4 years, so we were very surprised to learn that it needed such an extensive repair--$350!

My first thought was to replace the dishwasher entirely. It doesn't make sense to me to invest an additional $350 into a machine that cost less than twice that amount in the first place. When I asked the repairman for dishwasher recommendations,the repairman recommended the mid-range dishwashers because many of the low-price dishwashers have a one-piece motor identical or similar to the one in my broken dishwasher. I hopped online to research and determine which dishwasher would be the best replacement.

Many hours of research and deliberation later, I was confused and overwhelmed. The dishwashers rated highest by Consumer Reports (and the dishwasher repairman) were the ones that had the most positive AND negative reviews by individuals on the various store web sites. Most of the time it was difficult to determine whether the reviewer was writing a review for the specific dishwasher I was looking at... or an older/different model.

The entire research process left me as uninformed as when I started, except as to the high cost of a new dishwasher. In addition to the $1,100 dishwasher I was considering, I would need to pay an installation fee, anywhere from $200 to $400. After reading about the mixed experiences people were having with the various dishwashers, I felt like it would be taking a risk to purchase a new dishwasher.
These conclusions led me back to the option of repairing the current dishwasher. Not the glamorous choice by far, especially after seeing the special 3rd rack my potential new dishwasher came with. The deciding factor was the recycling factor. It seems like a crime to dispose of a practically new dishwasher, even if the entire motor doesn't work. If I succumb to temptation and buy the sparkly new dishwasher (with stainless steel interior), I will be reinforcing our culture of discarding appliances at the first sign of a problem to replace them with the latest and greatest (energy-saving drying cycle!).

If the old dishwasher lasts another 4 years with the repair, we will have saved money.

If the replacement motor dies in 12-18 months (as happened to numerous reviewers on the web), we'll kick ourselves and wish we had gone with the new dishwasher. And then buy the new one.

If we're lucky, the new motor will last longer that our wildest dreams and I will never get a chance to enjoy the new-fangled one. I don't know why I care; ask me how often I load the dishwasher in our household? I'm the chef of the house, my husband is The Loader.

Anyway, I have been spending way too much time thinking about dishwashers recently.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: October 11th

It's Abundance Week in our household... a series of lovely gatherings with friends and family over the holiday weekend have left us with a full refrigerator, and I just need to plan out what we are going to eat when!
The great thing is that I have everything I need to make all of the recipes listed above. It is so nice to have a break from grocery shopping.

Soup of the Week: I'm craving the Minestrone alla Milanese that I made a few weeks ago... I want to eat it for lunch with a buttery grilled cheese sandwich. MMMmmm!

Also for lunch I need to make a Super Special Spinach Pie to use up some spinach and sour cream (and eat the leftovers for breakfast), and also make some Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins for my friend who is ill.

Added to all that, I have 3 leftover cakes, and the leftover Apple Crisp to finish up. I guess I'd better plan on working out every day this week to keep up with the caloric intake!

Find more meal planning ideas at!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Yard Sale and Consignment Deja Vu

I'm having somewhat of a deja vu experience this month. Just like this past spring, I am participating in a consignment sale and a yard sale all in the same week!

The consignment sale is a set event that occurs twice a year, and I am exhaustedly pleased to report that I pulled together just under 100 items to take to the sale: kids' clothing, snow bibs/boots, videos/DVDs/toys, and a few other miscellaneous items, including those items pictured above--except for the 18-wheeler truck, which was withdrawn from the sale by my packrat son. (Has he played with this truck in the past 2 years? No! Will he play with it again after today? No! Sigh.)

The Yard Sale is actually something a friend of mine is putting together, and she has kindly invited others to sell items at her sale. I have just a few larger items in mind to add to the sale, but it will save me having to list items on Craigslist and arrange individual pickups, etc.

I'm glad to have these extra motivators to keep me focused on Stuff Elimination, because I've been looking at my calendar and there is a lot going on in the next few months. I want to continue purging through the end of the year to complete my Declutter Challenge, but I have to be realistic about the lack of available time and energy I'm going to have to devote to the project. It is probably realistic to predict that October is going to be my last 'big' selling month of the year.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Birthday Declutter: Daughter's Bedroom

Recently I decided it was time to deal with... The Situation in my Daughter's Room.

Most of my daughter's toys are kept here in her room, and she enjoys pulling everything out, as can be seen. She has plenty of things (including many many puppies), but she isn't interested in helping me declutter. "Don't sell my stuff, MOM!" is what she says every time I gently bring it up.

The space in her room is a little tight because she has a double bed. We gave our kids larger beds because a) we had two double beds already and b) a parent can lie down with either child to help them fall asleep (the kids love it. The parents don't mind except when they fall asleep before the kids do!) My daughter's room is decorated with a bedspread and curtains that used to be mine when I was growing up. I figure we'll update her room if/when she is interested and wants to pick out something on her own.

In the mean time, I wanted to get a better hold on her stuff, and clear out some of the things I didn't think she would miss, and do this before her birthday, when I knew she would acquire additional Stuff on top of the stuff she already had. We took one rainy day and spent it moving furniture and decluttering. I took four boxes of random items to the basement, and completely cleared everything under the bed. (Did I post that before picture yet?)

Anyway. Ever since, my daughter has enjoyed her clean room so much, she asks me to clean her room almost every day. I encourage her to help me, of course.

I can't wait to post the 'After' pictures, which I will do later this week. (Long Story Short: daughter broke camera, ordered new one, it's arrived, just need to remember to take the pictures when the room is all put together nice.)

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Menu Plan Tuesday October 5th

I have a plan, I just need to write it down here:
  • Monday: Spaghetti with whole wheat pasta and turkey meatballs, with steamed broccoli
  • Tuesday: Roasted Lamb Rack (special treat from Trader Joe's) with baked potatoes and steamed green beans
  • Wednesday: Creamy Enchilada Casserole with steamed asparagus (parents out)
  • Thursday: I could be optimistic and plan to cook on Thursday, but I doubt it will happen. I think we'll order Pizza. :)
  • Friday: (Friends for Dinner) Marinated Flank Steak on the grill, cranberry brown rice pilaf, salad, maybe something else
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Family Birthday Get-together (need to finalize menu)
  • Monday: (Dinner at Friends) Make some sort of apple crisp or pie with the apples my friend brought me today, I haven't decide yet. With vanilla ice cream, of course.
I also need to bake chocolate chip cookies for a teacher luncheon. Fortunately I can do that asleep with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back.

I just used the Recipe Index that I put together last week for the first time. I found my links so quickly!

Find many more meal planning ideas at!