Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Menu of Simplicities

Coming home at the end of the school day, having taught and learned, my wife having done the same, and looking forward to an evening chauffeuring our kids around town, a frozen chicken breast in the freezer seems overwhelming. In an ever evolving effort to continually simplify my life, to cut out as much fat as possible, I often create monthly menu plans. I post the menus for the current week on our refrigerator. Last semester, I did not do this, and spent way too much money driving through McDonald’s or a Chinese fast food joint, ordering pizza and ordering more pizza. The amount of work it takes to put one of these semester long menu plans together is considerable and more stressful than working on a thesis. The pay-out, however, are easy meals and twenty minute grocery shopping trips.

I have a few rules for my menus. One, the meals have to be cheap. I’m really happy if I can feed the family on $50 for the week. Two, the meals have to be quick. Rachel Ray’s thirty minute meals be damned. I’m talking ten minutes flat prep, cook, and serve. Third, one meal a week is crock pot night. I will say that this last rule is more of a rule of thumb. Hopefully it happens. Grad school, for some reason, tends to be filled with evening classes. A crock pot meal is nice to come home to. The kids and the wife have already eaten. The pot is still simmering, and it’s just plop on your plate, eat, and go to bed. My cousin runs a crock pot Facebook page, though I am a little ticked off at the page because it’s called “Crock-pot Ladies.”

Other sites I follow:
                   The Pioneer Woman
                   Grocery Budget 101

And then at that point, I am at a loss, and my menu planning consists of crazy and desperate Google searches. Then recipes get lost never to be repeated in our household again. I wish I could find an app that I like that would allow me to collect this stuff.

When my wife and I were first married, one of our wedding gifts was the 1991 edition of the Betty Crocker’s Cookbook. We still have this book, but the cover has been replaced with duct tape. Pages are falling out. Other pages have huge tears down the center and repaired with Scotch tape. There are oil stains, and the pages are yellowed at the edges. We do not use this book any longer. It sits on our bookshelf beside our wedding album, a testament of almost seventeen years of marriage, two kids, and several moves across the country.

Here’s a recipe:

Boil spaghetti noodles al dente.

In a frying pan, slice up a kielbasa, add red onions, sliced zucchini, yellow squash, and some Kraft Italian Tuscany dressing. While this is all cooking, strip baby spinach from their stems, and cut in half several grape tomatoes. Drain the noodles, add the spinach to the drained noodles, toss, and put take the pan stuff and add to the noodles, toss again. Put the tomatoes on top, then lid the noodles. Let sit for a bit, so the tomatoes can sweat and the spinach can wilt. Serve topped with feta cheese.

Do you have a favorite recipe? A menu app that you’d like to share? Shopping tips?  

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