eMeals: the hungry girl's answer to meal planning



Who here loves to eat?

I mean, meal plan?

Me too.

I'm a little Type A in most things -- ok, all the things -- but not having to worry about what we're going to have for supper when I'm hungry, my farmer is headed home after a busy day, and two little people are begging for food is helpful.

The hitch is that I don't like leftovers. Or vegetables. Also, healthy food. Or really anything other than cereal and tacos and chicken salad because I'm basically a three-year-old at heart.

Whenever I'd sit down to meal plan, I'd spend an hour looking through cookbooks only to end up annoyed and frustrated that -- say it with me -- "there's nothing to eat."

My husband loved that.

No, really. He did.




But if there's one thing I've learned from my dad, it's that you don't get to gripe about things. You have a problem, you find a solution, you fix it, you move on to the next thing. Bam. Cross it off the list. No indecision. No whining. Identify it, rectify it.

Thus, eMeals.

I did it. I signed up.

Now I get a weekly email containing a meal plan for an entire week's worth of suppers. It includes the recipes as well as a grocery list.

(For my Iowa people, "supper" is "dinner." Don't try to understand. I don't get it either.)

You can also get weekly recipes for breakfasts, lunches, desserts and special occasions. (Cinco de Mayo chicken enchiladas with red chile gravy, roasted tomatillo and poblano salsa and mexican street corn, here we come!)

It's a year-long subscription, so even if I decide to cancel it when the year is up, I'll have a pile of good recipes our family can use, and I won't have to go through the agony of not knowing what to cook ever again. It's already planned for me!



There are several meal plans available to choose from -- low budget, low calorie, clean eating, quick and healthy, kid-friendly, paleo, etc. -- and you can switch between them as often as you'd like. Right now, because all I really want to eat is donuts (I blame the baby . . . this can't possibly be my fault, right?), we're trying the clean eating plan, where "The only things added or processed are convenience and efficiency."

I'm not really a "clean eating" kind of gal. I mean, I'd prefer they add some CrunchWraps and a giant pizza, and then process me up a pan of Scotcheroos and some chocolate milk, but I'm trying here. Mostly.

And so far, everything's been good.

Not, you know, homemade macaroni and cheese good but close.

We've enjoyed honey-ricotta toast with strawberries and almonds for Sunday brunch . . .



turkey bagel sandwiches with a zesty feta spread and balsamic grape salad for lunch, and a chicken peanut stir fry with a sauteed snap pea and bell pepper toss for supper that my husband gave five stars.

We've had a Mediterranean chicken and quinoa salad we both really liked and a chicken caesar pasta salad that will become a summertime staple.

This week we're trying out citrus flank steak with veggie kabobs, Greek hummus-coated chicken tenders with roasted broccoli and tomatoes, and a tuna-cucumber-tomato salad with baked pita chips.

All to be followed with a gallon of ice cream.

Ok, or at least crunchy fried ice cream or chocolate chip cookie dough sandwiches.

Yeah, I bought the dessert plan too.

What'd you expect? A miracle?!


Easter brunch menu

 

It's confession time: I don't like ham.

I know.

My dad's a pork producer.

Bacon put me through college.

I have many a hog to thank for where and who I am today.

But I remain undeterred: I still don't like ham.

Easter at my grandma's house made me wish for four stomachs. It was filled with appetizers and dips and creamed corn and creamy pea and lettuce salads and rolls slathered in butter and Jello layers upon Jello layers and . . . what my ten-year-old self deemed rubbery, gross, yuck ham.

Or as my sister-in-law aptly put it: "Some are fatty and taste rubbery and overly salty and you practically have to rip it out of your mouth to get a bite and then chew for 5 minutes." 

Of course, she also pointed out that it may have been the TYPE of ham my grandma served or maybe the preparation method, both valid points.

Or it may have just been me. Until recently, I didn't like steak for the same reasons. Way too much chewing for a small amount of meat, IMO.

Ok, it's definitely me. 

So until I master the art of the ham, we're going an Easter brunch route this year instead: cheesy baked grits, peppered bacon, brown sugar pecan coffee cake, fruit and granola pizza, and a dish filled with sausage and cheese and eggs, which I may or may not share with anyone else in attendance. For starters.

And a dear friend who is joining us has graciously offered to bring a double chocolate trifle, and now I basically just want to skip lunch and go straight to dessert.

Also . . . mimosas. Not for me, regrettably, but for our guests.

So now that that's out of the way, help a girl out. What are your ham recommendations? What are your go-to recipes? How do you guarantee it won't be like eating a rubber chicken for Easter lunch?

And if you're in a sharing mood, what's on your Easter menu?

I'm curious and all ears!

{But for the record, I still don't like ham.}

P.S. Sorry, Dad.




What do cows eat?

   
If you ask our toddler, she claims cows eat Goldfish. If you ask people who haven't been around livestock, they think cows just eat "grass." If you ask a cow what she'd like to eat, she probably ask why you gave a mouse a cookie and a moose a muffin and didn't give her any baked goods. 

#carbsforlife

Two things: 

(1) Each day, one of the guys at the dairy has the job of mixing rations for different groups of cows. The ration is routinely tweaked by the dairy's nutritionist, who increases or decreases ingredients based on the cows' health, nutritional needs, and production. 

(2) The ration is mixed in a giant mixer that holds tons of feed. Literally. Tons. Think of it like a Kitchen Aid mixer the size of your kitchen, and instead of teaspoons, you're measuring in pounds. Hundreds of pounds, to be exact.

Don't worry. We're not finished debunking all your bovine myths. There's still more!

So, what do cows eat?

ALL THE THINGS. 

When the guys get ready to mix the ration for the day, they are combining several ingredients, none of which, sadly, include Goldfish.

The smallest bowl pictured above contains ground corn. Think high energy, high calorie food, and then take it times ten. Plus, unlike me when I eat sweet corn, it's already ground up, so cows don't have to spend an hour with giant toothpicks picking husks out of their teeth. We're thoughtful like that.

Next up: dried distillers grain. If you want to sound like you know what you're talking about next time you visit a dairy, call it DDG. When grain is used to make ethanol, the leftovers get repurposed into, you guessed it, food for cows!

Then there's mineral mix.  That's pretty self explanatory. Minerals. Vitamins. In a mix. A local feed mill creates that mix since we don't carry enough of each on the farm to make our own.

And in the biggest bowl? Soybean meal. Because everybody has to eat their vegetables and proteins, even 1500 pound cows.


 

Pop quiz to see if you remember what's what!

Ready?

 What's featured in the picture above? 

That's right. DDG!

 

Lest you think that's all that goes into a cow's own personal Chex Mix, there's more!

Soybean hull pellets are in the smallest bowl. Fat and fiber. You name it; they've got it.

The white fluffy stuff in the bottom right? Whole cotton seed. (Pro tip: If you're under the age of 10, a giant pile of cotton seed is great for jumping in. It's also great if you're over 10; people just might look at you funny.) Cotton seed is yet another source of -- you guessed it -- protein, fat, and fiber.

In the third largest bowl, you'll see gluten feed pellets. These are made of corn byproduct (seriously . . . nothing goes to waste!), and while they're not as high in protein, they're still chalk full of fiber.

And in the biggest bowl? Alfalfa. In addition to other nutrients, alfalfa adds calcium and is easily digestible, so cow stomachs don't have to work quite as hard. And when you have four stomachs, you can use a little break now and then. 

Additionally, corn and rye silage get added to the ration. (You can learn more about silage here.) Silage is like a giant energy bar for cows. It provides them with huge amounts of fiber and energy, and those, in turn, boost their milk production.


 

Lactating cows get a special feed called -- aptly -- lactation mix. It's made of ground corn, cotton seed, DDG, vitamin and mineral mix, soybean hulls, and soybean meal.

When I sit down to meal plan each week, I try to include fruits, veggies, proteins and dairy in each meal. Likewise,  the guys mixing the ration for the cows each day combine different amounts of each of the above commodities to make sure that the cows are not only well fed but also healthily! 

I mean, no girl wants to sit around just eating HoHos and Oatmeal Cream Pies all day. 

Just kidding. 

Me. 

I do!

But there you have it. No Goldfish, unfortunately, but lots of fiber, protein, fat and energy uniquely mixed and suited for specific groups of cows' needs. 

And now you know . . . the rest of the . . . . um, ration?






the extraordinary ordinary

There's often a brief moment -- right after someone finds out that we will have three kids under age 2.5 as of June -- when the conversation takes a horribly awkward turn.

"Oh. Wow."

"You guys are going to have your hands full."

"On purpose?"

So, and let this go on the record, WE ARE NOT CRAZY.

Having small children . . . and a life . . . and a wonderful marriage is do-able. 

We follow a parent-directed feeding/eating/sleeping way of life around here, so we have a pretty ordered day. It's not (usually) total chaos, which means that we got our kiddos in a routine when they were little and we're sticking with it.

After Dad goes to work, the kiddos eat breakfast and then play. When little brother takes a nap, sis and I do the laundry or read books or go outside. When he wakes up, we get ready for lunch and watch out the window of the front door for Dad to return. (Feel free to not look closely for nose and tiny hand smudges on the glass when you're at our house. Well, honestly, you won't need to. They're everywhere. Always.)

After lunch, the kids both lay down for a nap from about 1:00-3:30. After snacks, we play some more and then work on dinner. After dinner, Daddy tosses the kids around, tickles tummies, builds towers, reads outloud, and tickles some more. Then it's time to pick up toys, put on jammies, do our devotions, brush our teeth and climb in bed.

Since my friend Katie at Good and Lovely recently posted what her day looks like, and since she and I have talked a fair amount about this, and because I always appreciate seeing what other mamas' days are made of, here's what a normal day at our house looks like:

7:00-8:00 a.m.

Me: Kids, let's get your clothes on so we can go have breakfast.
Them: Just 42,912 more books, Mom, and then we'll be ready!



8:00-9:00 a.m.

When we don't FaceTime with grandparents or aunts and cousins during breakfast, we have extended breakfast conversations about skunks, coyotes, Blackjack the dog, and whether or not panthers live in the bathtub drain.

Cereal with marshmallows and bananas earn this mom some serious morning bonus points.




After breakfast, I attempt to restore order to the kitchen. Translation: Vacuum up roughly 27 cheerios and a blob of mushed banana from the floor. 

Yes, she picked out that shirt because it reminded her of a puppy. And the necklaces? A must. A girl needs her pearls. 

If we need groceries, this is the time to make our Aldi run. Other days we ransack the library and check out all the books we can cram in a bag.


9:00-10:00 a.m.

The girl reads, plays with Little People, talks non-stop and hollers when little brother tosses anything he can get his hands on in the potty. Then he lays down for a nap at 9:30 and is out like a light until 10:30.

 

10:00-11:00 a.m.


While little brother naps, Sis and I do the laundry, work in the kitchen, read some books, get some Vitamin D, make pancakes in her Ikea kitchen, do some baking, or dust and mop.  Strangely, she, like me, doesn't love the last two options.

Brother is awake again by 10:30, raring to get back in the action (read: potty diving). 


11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.


Lunchtime! Both for imaginary food and for real food, apparently. Chants of "DaDDY! DaDDY!" can be heard at the table whenever Dad drives in the lane.



12:00-1:00 p.m.


Mom attempts to restore order to the kitchen after lunch. Wait. Didn't this just happen?



1:00-2:00 p.m.


Everyone waves hello to the mailman and the heifer feeder after bidding a sad goodbye to Dad.  Then Sis lays down for a nap in the kids' room, Brother lays down for a nap in the guest room, and Mom does ALL THE THINGS WHILE IT IS QUIET. 


2:00-3:00 p.m.


That involves cleaning, fishing toys out from under the couch, and making a grocery list because five cousins are coming to visit this week! 


3:00-4:00 p.m.


Then, because Alexa is just plain rude, I do another load of laundry. Yes, I do 1-2 loads a day around here. Have you ever seen how many clothes a farmer and two small children can go through in a 24-hour period?


The kids get up around 3:30, have a snack, and play me some tunes, usually in the key of low, low C.


(Change of clothes attributed to Mom forgetting to keep taking pictures one day and scrambling to remember to make up for it the next day. #pregnancybrain)




4:00-5:00 p.m.


Brother grows increasingly crabby because he's a growing boy who loves to eat, so he follows me around the kitchen while I make supper, and Sis sits up at the table to play with Legos or MagnaTiles or paint.  Or basically to do anything that will keep her little brother from getting into her stuff.

She's learning young.

 


5:00-6:00 p.m.


Daddy comes home for dinner to shouts of great excitement from all of us. And sometimes he brings Mama flowers because although he's busy and got a million things on his mind, he still insists on putting everybody else in his family first, which Mama is forever grateful for. 



6:00-7:00 p.m.


Dad rough houses the kids while Mom does the dishes to the sounds of giggles, chortles, panther growls, horses whinnying, and a little brother grumbling because he can't quite keep up. Crawling, you know. 

  

7:00-8:00 p.m. 


Bedtime! After jammies, drinks of water, devotions, prayers, teeth brushing, book reading, roughly 87 "good nights" and "I love you"s, we turn out the light, shut the door, and listen to the two of them chat for the next 20 minutes until the squeaks and giggles get quieter and then eventually stop. 

Now it's time for Dad to do some bookwork, Mom to clean up the kitchen (are you sensing a theme here?), and Mom and Dad to read the newspaper or a good book, chat about what tomorrow looks like schedule-wise and talk about how their days went.


 

 

Is it busy? Yes. 

Is it sometimes difficult to get everybody loaded into the car and buckled into car seats and back out of the car seats and out of the car? Yes. 

Do we go through a lot of diapers? Let's not even talk about that.

Do I say, "Please be gentle with your brother" and "We don't say 'no.' We say, 'Yes, Mom.'" at least 20, nope, make that 45 times a day? Yes. 

Would I change any of it -- from my husband to my our children to our very ordinary and yet extraordinarily wonderful days, even the ones where the toddler melts down because she is firm in her belief that butterflies live in her milk and refuses to be convinced otherwise? 

Nope. 

Not a bit.

baked egg baguettes

 

I have long contended that being pregnant over Thanksgiving and Christmas is just mean. You go to the doctor's office for your appointment -- having enjoyed all manner of mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie and Christmas cookies and hot chocolate -- and then the nurse asks you to step on the scale. 

Rude. 

At my doctor's office, there's a magical button on the scale that you can push if you want to see what your weight is. Otherwise, the nurse has a readout that you never have to see . . . if in fact you ate an entire batch of snickerdoodles the week before and just don't want to know because the truth is too painful. 

 

And it is almost always too painful. 

I don't suppose loving bread has anything to do with my fear of the dreaded doctor's office scale. Or my doctor's kind yet ominous threat: "Let's not be eating entire pans of brownies for the rest of this pregnancy, ok? We're just not going to do that." 

Killjoy. 


So for the rest of you who can eat bread and bacon and cheese with reckless abandon, eat an egg baguette for me, would you? Please? 

Or even two if you're feeling charitable? One for the baby, you know.


Beat the eggs, add the cream, stir in the gruyere, slice the baguettes, sprinkle on the bacon, bake them, and then -- better yet -- YOU gain the weight from eating eight of them instead of me. 

Do we have ourselves a deal? I'll just be over here . . . standing on a scale . . . slightly horrified.


Or maybe I'll go ahead and eat one anyway. Not for me, of course. Baby's the one who's hungry.

Yeah.

Baby.




Baked Egg Boats (recipe from Spoon Fork Bacon)

4 demi sourdough baguettes
5 eggs
1/3 cup heavy cream
4 ounces pancetta, finely chopped and fried until crisp
3 ounces gruyere cheese, grated
2 green onions, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Cut a deep “V” through the tops of each baguette until about a 1/2 inch to the bottom. Partially unstuff the baguettes. Set aside.
3. Place the eggs and cream into a mixing bowl and lightly beat together. Whisk in the remaining ingredients and lightly season with salt and pepper.
4. Divide and pour the mixture into each baguette boat and place onto a baking sheet.
5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown, puffed and set in the center. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes, cut and serve.




it's always been moo (or why you should give your valentine the gift of raclette aka melted cheese)

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. You COULD be like every other person out there and buy a giant heart-shaped balloon. Or a $4 card that will get thrown away. Or chocolate that will just make you feel gross after eating 36 pieces of it. 

Or you COULD enjoy a night of raclette with your special someone . . . or a group of single friends . . . or just yourself. 

Raclette isn't picky. Raclette loves everyone. 

 

Raclette is essentially a Swiss cheese that's known for melting beautifully. In the Alps -- and even in some nicer restaurants in places like New York and Chicago -- entire wheels of cheese are melted and then scraped onto mounds of potatoes and meat, pickles and veggies. 

Let's take a moment to imagine all that melty dairy goodness on your plate.

Ahhhh. 

If, though, your budget doesn't allow you to hop a flight overseas,  you can enjoy raclette at home on Valentine's Day, Christmas Day (as pictured above . . . and below), Tuesday, Saturday, ok, everyday. 

Because my farmer loves meat and vegetables, I gave him a raclette grill for Christmas. (Thank you, Jeff Bezos and Amazon.) It's an eight-person tabletop grill with trays for melting cheese underneath. He's smitten. 

Sometimes with me, but mostly just with raclette. 


Raclette is a perfect dinner party meal, but it's also a lovely meal for two. Because each person is concocting his own series of little meals on the grill, it lends itself to a we're-not-rushing, pour-another-glass-of-wine, enjoy-the-dinner-conversation feel.

It works well for the hostess too, who can prep everything in advance and then set it on the table for guests to dish up as they choose. So far, I've served marinated chicken, shrimp, and beef. I also boil small potatoes and cut them up so that they cook a little faster on the grill. Mushrooms, corn, zucchini, peppers, onions -- you name the veggie and it works for raclette. 

Traditional raclette also usually includes some charcuterie like proscuitto or ham, as well as cornichons. Add some herbs to the mix, set out some olive oil for the grill, and slice up some good melting cheese (Swiss and gruyere work well if you don't have raclette in your area). Cook up your meat and veggies, lay them on some proscuitto, pour your melted cheese over the top, and roll it up like a taco. Or cook some veggies, cover in melted cheese, and scoop up with a cornichon.

Cut up and butter some French bread for toasting on the grill, make a large salad, open a bottle of a dry red wine, and your Valentine will swear off giant teddy bears and red roses forever. 

How can Hallmark compete with you and cheese? Because when it comes to raclette, you'll have him saying, "I'm udderly head over hooves for you" before he puts his second round of veggies on the grill! 

Cheesy, I know. 

(Should I stop now? 

Ok, I'll stop now. 

But seriously, raclette for Valentine's Day! Flowers are so overrated.) 




do what makes you happy?

Image result for do what makes you happy 

Roughly once per month, one of my sisters texts me a photo of a sign from Hobby Lobby or TJ Maxx or Home Goods with the words "Do what makes you happy!" or "Do more of what makes you happy." or "Don't do much. Just do what makes you happy." Then we all get into a 5-minute angry texting rant about why these signs are the worst.

Do what makes you happy? 

Sweet goodness, I hope not.

What makes me "happy" is eating potato oles and Crunch Wrap Supremes until I'm violently ill. Or going to Michaels and buying scrapbooking paper for a project I'm never going to finish  . . . ok, I'm actually never even going to start it. Or wasting time on Pinterest saving baked donut recipes I'll probably never make while simultaneously avoiding folding clothes my kids actually will wear.

I think you see where this is going.

What so often makes us "happy" are those things that are usually the worst for us. We don't need even our home decor to encourage our worst faults, do we?

So what about alcoholics? Drink more.

Or the liars? Fib more.

Or the lazy schmucks? Do even less.

Or the rude and insensitive? Anger more people.

Or the serial whiners? Complain more.

Or the greedy? Want more!

If those things make you "happy," then it's your lucky day: The world is right there in the Hobby Lobby aisle with pom poms and a cheerleading outfit hooraying you on for the low low cost of $14.99 with 50% off if you show the coupon on your app.

But our hearts all know -- not so secretly -- that's no bueno.

Joanna Gaines, if you're out there, could you please instead design a sign that says:

 Do more of what makes you happy!*

*That which is good and right and true. 

What if, instead of doing what makes us "happy," we do what is best?

What if, instead of focusing on ourselves, we focused on what makes our husband or children or parents or next door neighbor or content?

What if, instead of going for brunch on Sunday, we went to church instead where Christ meets us with true gladness and joy?

What if, instead of indulging our pet sins of laziness and gluttony and lust and greed, we strive for thinking less of ourselves and more of others?

What if what made us truly happy was to live in and by God's Word in the Ten Commandments?

What if we wasted less time and on our phones and spent more time tending to the needs of the people right around us?

What if we opted to worry less about the Hobby Lobby sign and instead got to the business of being content with what we have -- right here, right now?

I think we'd find, slowly and surely, that the things that are actually what are right and true are those things that will bring us lasting joy -- the kind that Crunch Wraps and new cars and laying on the couch when we should be working will never afford.

Do more of what makes you happy?

Only if that means reading a book with my toddler when she asks nicely, or snuggling my ten-month-old when his front tooth is popping through and hurts like all get out, or when my husband needs an hour and a good glass of wine to talk through something on his mind, or when a friend is having a particularly rough week and needs a meal and a break from cooking dinner for a night.

Otherwise, sorry, Hobby Lobby. How about . . . NOT?

 





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