The Power of a Plan (with meal planning / grocery shopping form freebie)

What is this blog formally about? I don’t know anymore. Today it’s about grocery shopping with a plan. Do you mind? 

I love a plan, I love a planner BUT… I also struggle occasionally to commit to a plan and I currently lack the energy to make one some weeks.

I’m a wishy washy planner, it’s a blessing and a curse.

Yet, I find that when I go into something with a plan it becomes a total game changer.

Take meal planning and grocery shopping. Last week I made a crock pot based meal plan with attached grocery list, all in one document.

I bought the stuff for the decided upon recipes and executed them early in the day when I had the energy.

Our entire week felt pulled together by this one act. It was insane.

I once heard a pastor say that flossing was his game changer or hinge habit. If he was flossing, it led to other healthy habits. When he stopped flossing? Things started to slide.

I think there is truth in this logic. When we feel good about the way we are approaching our week we feel more confident about adding in other good stuff.

Like last week I finished some sorting and got our coat closet and medicine cabinet in order. I give credit to the original meal planning.

I used to work at Franklin Covey, back when they had stores in the mall, and we sold a paper form called the meal planning / shopping list. So I sort of recreated it in google docs a while back.

Last week Monday I scanned the ads, pinned easy recipes and then acted upon it.

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Homemade Chicken Stock: The Easy Way

A few nights back I made chicken stock at our new house for the first time. This was a much needed step because we were out in the freezer and I’ve become stubborn when it comes to buying it at the store.

I had multiple friends and readers ask for my recipe. In all honesty, this shocked and flattered me. There are bazillion tutorials on this, but I thought hey, why not take the time to add my process to the mix?

If you don’t like it find another one. Seriously, this is JUST how I DO IT. It’s a compilation of other methods over time. 

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First off, here is why I make my own.

1) The “good stuff” is expensive ranging from .75 – $1 a cup.
2) The not good stuff will say things like “chicken flavored” broth and include food dyes, which no one needs.
3) It makes our house smell amazing and I end up feeling like a mighty, resourceful pioneer warrior.
4) The flavor is amazing.
5) Ridiculous money-saver.

Also here is the difference between broth and chicken stock. Basically chicken stock is a lot more flavorful and better for you as it contains the gelatin from the bones. The longer it simmers, the better it tastes and the more it will do for your health.

Ideally you start with a chicken you roasted yourself, which is free range and all that jazz. These birds are unarguably better for you and generally $10 or more. If this is in your grocery budget, I’d do it.

It’s not in ours so generally I get a fryer from the store (a roaster will also do. Here is the difference between them) or I cheat completely and buy a rotisserie chicken from the deli. This was the instance with this particular stock, they are $5.99 at our local Meijer and for an already-cooked, versatile and relatively healthy main you can’t go wrong.

If you’re roasting yourself, this is my favorite recipe. Yes it’s Ina Garten but it’s not fancy, just use regular onions and don’t make the sauce if you don’t have the time. But totally make it if you do… you will not regret it. People WILL propose. It could get awkward. 

Okay, so however it happened you have a roast chicken. Now it eat for dinner or make chicken salad out of it. Either way you’ll have this chicken carcass leftover.

And odds are if you dig into it and give it a once over you’ll find a couple more cups of meat that you missed. And you’ll pop an obscene amount more chicken in your mouth as you pick. (I happen to be VERY good at picking a chicken due to my deli days making chicken salad. You can’t teach this, it comes with time and a willingness to get greasy)

Whatever you find, save it, put it on a salad, use it for soup because FREE CHICKEN! You’re a genius!

So now you have a picked clean carcass. I realize I’m already almost 400 words in but this part really isn’t that hard. You just need to get to carcass stage.

Now get your largest pot. I like this one and got it on a mother’s day sale for about $60 I think.

You will need the following
Chicken Carcass
Celery
Carrots
Onion
Bay Leave
Peppercorns
Salt

celery and carrots

Big chunks and no need to peel.

1) Throw in your bones and carcass.
2) Grab 2 big carrots, 2 celery stalks, a large onion (quartered) 2 Bay leaves and a handful of peppercorns and a tsp of salt. (Honestly? I eyeball ALL of this)
3) Cut your carrots and celery into big chunks, throw em in the pot along with your peppercorns, bay leaves and salt. Add some smooshed garlic cloves if you’re feeling it.
6) Put the pot in your sink and fill to the top with water.
7) Place it on the stove and bring it to a boil. Once it’s boiling, turn it down to a simmer.
8) If you see a film on top, skim it off with a wooden sppon. This is fatty grossness and you don’t need it per say. Feel free to do this several more times.
9) When the water gets low, add more.

Let it simmer until you go to bed. Then turn it off and put the whole thing in the fridge (use a pot holder. Don’t melt your fridge) because it probably has only been going for four hours or so and needs more time to become awesome.

The next morning throw it back on the stove if you have time (you can also do this the next evening) and let it go for about 4 more hours or so. If it looks gelatinous when cold this is a good thing, it means you have thick, hearty broth. You done good kid.

When you’re satisfied with flavor optimization get a huge bowl or another large pot and strain it.

Use your finest strainer, or if you’re like me, use your biggest one first and then strain it more finely as you move it into storage (I do this because I am the proud owner of a tiny, crappy, dollar store mesh strainer.)

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I strain it once to get out the big stuff and then again through a fine mesh strainer.

Now move it into storage. I use off-brand ziploc baggies and store most of it in 2 cup servings which I can use for either soup or recipes. Sometimes I do a 4 cup serving for a soup recipe, in which case I put it in a tupperware bowl with a post-it to label.

Then I make a round or two of ice cube tray chicken broth and throw them all in a big ziploc bag when they’re frozen. This way I can use just a little for those recipes that call for 1/4 cup or some such nonsense.

(With my ice cube trays 3 cubes = 1/4 cup)

Ludicrous Handiness

Ludicrous Handiness

The best part is realizing that you just took leftover bones and turned it into a TON of broth you can use for cooking. It’s not only more more nutrient dense, but it’s ridiculously cheaper.

For instance my recipe yielded 16 cups of broth. 
Chicken Carcass- Free, leftover after already eating the chicken (which yields more than one meal)
Carrots and Celery – $.30
Bay Leaves- $.30
Onion- $.50 (at the most!)
Peppercorns- $.10
Salt- Not even going to factor this in people.

So you spent maybe $1.25, IF THAT and you got 16 cups of much chicken breast that would have cost you about $15 or more in the store.

Store them flat to free and THEN you can put them wherever.

Store them flat to free and THEN you can put them wherever.

Okay, this is JUST how I make stock.

Also, I swear upon the very old table I am working on, that once you get through this once it will become easy and second nature.

It’s just this thing that is happening at your house making your house smell like maybe you are in fact the Pioneer woman herself.

Did I leave anything out? Do you have any questions? Please let me know and I will field them as best I can. I will try to take better pictures and change them up next time I make this.

Ordinary is Extraordinary (children’s book review and giveaway!)

So yesterday a dream came true, did you know? Could you feel it?

Yesterday one of my best friend’s new Children’s book, Extraordinary Jane by Hannah Harrison, hit the shelves (both digital and in real life) and it’s so beautiful.

extraordinary-jane-cover

I saw it take shape in her dining room, I heard about the story as we drove to the children’s museum and went out for trivia at the wine bar.

And now it’s here and we’re reading it on the couch before bed and after lunch and I find myself in tears every read through… because books are miracles guys.

They’re whispers of dreams fanned into reality by hard work and a thousand bootstrap moments.

I still remember the first time I met Hannah, six years ago at our initial lifegroup meeting in Oklahoma. I was sitting on a folding chair, eating tacos, terrified to engage anyone and exhausted by our move into town two days earlier.

Across the room everyone was oohing and ahhing over something, later in the evening they called me over to fill me in. This girl had painted these amazing Alice in Wonderland portraits of one of the group member’s daughters. They were tiny… and beyond amazing.  You can see them here

Christmas crafting after Thanksgiving dinner

Christmas crafting after Thanksgiving dinner

Over time we became good friends, sharing holidays together as families and swapping woes about being writers and moms and OH MY GOD the HEAT in Oklahoma, surely we will die (she’s from New Hampshire.)

She’s one of the most encouraging, hilarious, creative and lovely people I’ve ever met on the planet and I miss our walks and in-person chats deeply.

And now holding her book is like holding a piece of her heart, straight from her home in Oklahoma via Amazon.com.

Let’s talk about the book a bit more, shall we?

Jane is an ordinary dog in an extraordinary circus. She isn’t strong, graceful, or brave like her family. When she tries to be those things, Jane just doesn’t feel like herself, but she also doesn’t feel special. Is she really meant for this kind of life? Her Ringmaster thinks so, but not for the reasons Jane believes.

This is a lesson I want to impart to my children on a regular basis, and certainly one I’m still working through myself. It’s so easy to get caught up in what everyone else is accomplishing and then turn those observations into very real feelings of inadequacy.

extraordianry-jane-art

The theme is something every child in our accomplishment-driven society needs to have read to them. Through the experiences of a circus dog, maybe we can take one more step toward helping them believe that it’s not your accomplishments that make you loved or acceptable. Your parent’s love, God’s love, the love of true friends isn’t conditional, doesn’t depend on your achievement.

I think my favorite parts of the book are the tender and thoughtful expressions on the Ringmaster’s face and he helps Jane figure out where she belongs. To me they mirror the acceptance and love that I know God has for me I don’t have to perform or fit in a niche to be extraordinary in his eyes.

“When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does” ~Kathleen Kelly of the Little Book Store

This is a lesson I want my children to internalize.

I hope that long into the future, when Noelle and Caedmon are selecting books for their children’s libraries that this book book floats back into their memories, that it has become a classic by that time.

And lucky for you I am giving away a copy of this gorgeous book today!

And all you need to do is leave a comment below that answers this question: What book did you read as a child that wove it’s way into your heart and made an impact?

For me it was Perfect the Pig by Susan Jeschke, I loved the way Perfect was enough for her, beautiful even though he was very different… how she fought for him, loved him.  

But don’t rely on the giveaway, go buy a copy right now. Buy a few and do what I am doing, give them away at every kid’s birthday party for the foreseeable future.

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There’s always twitter and Facebook too, you can join the conversation on all fronts, that my favorite.

Buying products through the links on this page helps support this blog, so if you’re going to buy them anyway…

Day 3- Breath not Bread

The day begins with a two year old squeaking in my ear, asking permission to be hoisted into our bed: “up mama, up!”

So I roll over, position my hands under his shoulders and place him squarely in the middle, where he hones in on my pillow space before slowly finding sleep once again.

Usually this process wakes me up and I roll out of bed with the sleep that I’ve managed, happily alone to start the day. I find my robe, move down the hallway, start the teapot and inspect the contents of the cupboard and fridge, weighing our breakfast options.

Do we have eggs today or will it be another oatmeal morning?

Are the cupboards looking bare or is today one flush with choices?

Will this morning be luxurious or simple sustenance?

dailybread

This is the routine of feeding families, you get what you can manage and then set it on the table as a feat and a feast.  Each meal something to get excited about, to celebrate.

Because it is worth celebrating, another morning of “just enough” to fill bellies and send them on their way nourished.

Not only enough on the table, but enough in my heart, enough sleep and sanity to fix food in love instead of view it as another morning of rote annoyance.

We truly do serve a God of daily bread, who is interested in the daily work of provision, lest we get arrogant and think we’re the ones behind the eggs and oatmeal.

There will be seasons where the thing we need most, is the thing that is absolutely uncertain from day to day, breath to breath.

We were never guaranteed full storehouses across the board, it would only serve to separate us from the love we need to thrive.  

Because to thrive, we have to live in the right here, to realize that “daily bread” is more than a prayer, it’s a way to live.

We were never guaranteed a dozen eggs every time we open the refrigerator.
Never assured a full emergency fund or tank of gas.
There were no guarantees that we’d have enough time to fold all the laundry… or enough jeans to get through the week without doing it all over again.

The “always flush, care-free, sustained life” is a total illusion.

We are all running low in certain areas, all prone to anxiety in one way or another.

If we spend our lives always waiting for things to be guaranteed, for the store houses to overflow we will be tarried permanently.

We’re all low in some areas, all living breath to breath in one way or another.

Maybe it’s sanity, romance, money, eggs or gas.
Maybe it’s straight up cash
Maybe it’s patience or the gumption to do it all over again.

Not all our cups runneth over.

We’d like to hoard and store and consider ourselves all set and self-reliant, but it wouldn’t serve us well in the end.

We need to cling, to remain, to whisper hourly prayers for supplication that seems beyond hope and possibility.  (I’m preaching to myself)

This is why Jesus taught us to pray “give us this day our daily bread”

It’s not about bread, it’s about breath and the strength to go on in a world that seems to take more than we have in every conceivable way.

Christ knew, he came, he saw, he felt the tug and the pain and the reality of fallen earth.

So he gave us this prayer: “Lord, please, enough for today?”

And it comes, somehow it always comes, even when it looks like rock bottom and we fall to our knees, I have learned that in one way or another, daily bread is on it’s way.

sometimes small, often unexpected but it’s here.

Greed is hoarding manna, but freedom comes in the hands that gather and ask in the now.

Who gather and give thanks for their rosebuds while they may.

There is a sacredness that comes from going to the pantry morning after sleepy morning and breathing a prayer of thanks for the strength, sweetness, coffee and oatmeal needed for here.

The more we enter in to this prayer, this sacred rhythm, the more alive we become.

Less self-reliant and more God-expectant, steeped in peace.

Here

I’m spending the month of October writing for 31 Days on the concept of “here.”  Sign up right here to receive these posts in your inbox.

Apple by Apple

Today I’m blending the pictures and poetry of our trip with to the orchard with the Burden Family into a prayer for autumn.  All photos compliments of my lovely and dear friend Jillian Burden.  

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Like any good Michigander, I can measure my years by trips to the apple orchard.

I can still remember with vivd clarity my kindergarden trip to the pumpkin patch and cider mill.  After wandering the fields of orange and green we were rewarded by a warm donut and fresh pressed cider as we squeezed together on the picnic tables.

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There is nothing in the world like a cake donut with fresh pressed cider, If you love it, you know it’s a comfort food born early.

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Trips to the orchard ring altogether wholesome, holding hands while crunching apples and leaves as you fill heap your wagon full of fruit.

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This is What I’m Into- July 2013 Edition

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Once again I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer for another edition of “This is what I’m Into.”

Month in (super brief) review:  July wasn’t marked by any massive changes.  We celebrated fourth of July, I worked a lot, we swam a lot, Caedmon got stitches and then Kel and I went to camp at Timber Wolf Lake.

Favorite Moments: Watching the kids play with sparklers at the fourth of july and getting pictures (on my phone!) that looked like the belonged on the front page of the paper.

Random family date night at Lake Michigan, where Caedmon found a minion in the lake and Noelle found a gluten free bun at the 8th Street Grille.

The High Ropes course at Timber Wolf Lake and the ensuing laughter when my “step” off 946312_527554430667_1871061970_nthe platform looked more like a squirrely seizure.

Reading List- With increased hours at work, more guest posting and starting an Etsy store…  July left little time for reading.  And it was far, far, far too busy.

So in August we will be making some changes at the Casa such as scheduling reading time until it becomes a habit and moving our TV downstairs and dropping down to just one TV set again.

I will say that I did spend the month making my slow way through Barbara Kingsolver’s The The Poisonwood Bible(finally) but I’m only 1/3 of the way through so it doesn’t count and I still don’t have as great a feel for it.

 On the Small Screen:  These days we seem to only watch TV as the background noise for doing something else, so when I’m doing a lot of rug making or sewing, I have the TV on the in the background.  It’s one of my favorite ways to chill.  I relax in this somewhat noisy, multi-tasking way nearly every afternoon for about an hour.

This month I’ve been re-watching Arrested Development from the beginning and laughing. A lot.

Also I gave The Walking Dead a try with Kel and I have to say that the story line is great but the zombie parts make me want to curl up in my momma’s lap.  I don’t enjoy the undead and I think that’s okay.

July 2

On my playlists: This has been a great month for new music, mostly thanks to listening through the Parenthood Soundtrack on Spotify.  You should check out these tracks

Human After All – Michael Logan.
Somehow this song seems to sum up my entire July “Chase that sunset til we’re blind, and wake up to find, we are only human after all.  We are only human after all.”

Today has been OK – Emiliana Torrini
Another song about life, love and the stuff of life… mostly for melancholy moods, which I’ve sort of been in.  Can’t you tell?  

Shine On – The Kooks.
Because when you’re done realizing how you’ve messed up.. you gotsa have something upbeat to move you along.

St. Judy’s Comet – Paul Simon.
Because it reminds me to focus on my kids and not so much on whatever is stressing me out.  

Best Bites:  I made up some white chicken chili and for some reason it was pure magic in the middle of the summer.

Other than that it’s just been a lot of fresh blueberries and turkey wraps because July was busy.  Too busy.

Although there is this Salsa recipe.  I call it Salsa ala Betsy, because it’s a recipe from my Aunt Betsy… who I dearly love.

Take a jar of salsa.
Add a chopped pepper (color of your choosing but I go red, yellow, orange.. sweet)
Add a can of sweet corn (or whatever corn you have on hand, but this is easiest.)
Add a can of black beans
Add a chopped, ripe avocado.

Eat this for lunch and feel great because you’ve eaten protein AND veggies while standing at the counter.

Craft July

Non Verbal Creativity: I think the pies de resistance of my rug making thus far was this inset heart rug, which ultimately went to the home of my dear friend Allison.

Also! I scored some fantastic furniture from the side of the road and have big plans to up-cycle it for either sale or personal enjoyment.

Random Love For:  Mary Kay Lash Love Lengthening Mascara.  I don’t spend too much on makeup but I’ll invest in eyelashes that feel so long you could poke people with them.

On the Blog / Writing: Well most of you know this, but I had a viral post with Relevant Magazine.  It was shared on facebook over 2,200 times as of the writing of this post.  I cried the entire day it was being shared because redemption of my pain is the hope of my storytelling.  So… yeah lots of tears.

Other than that, my most popular post here was my big, exciting, Young Life Announcement where I told you all about how I’m fundraising to come on staff with the Western Great Lakes Region of Young Life to do their writing and social media.  So. Excited.

So now it’s your turn, what are you into, up to, all about? 

This post contains links to my Amazon Affiliates Page.  Clicking through and making purchases supports this blog, and that makes me pretty happy, really.

One Small Change: Fresh Eggs and Buckets of Blueberries (a guest post for Addie Zierman)

If there is one thing in out lives that has become overly complicated, it’s our food.  We’re confused and constantly bombarded with opposing opinions on what we should eat t many of us have given up in resignation by ordering another pizza with a side of “screw it.”

One of the coolest parts of being a blogger is the potential for blog crushes to turn into real-life friends.  It’s encouraging, needed and it makes feel like pulling a Sally Fields (you like me!  You really like me!)

Anyway… that’s what happened with my sweet friend, the amazingly prolific Addie Zierman.  And today I’m guest posting at her place for her One Small Change Series, which is all about combatting the overwhelming need (and guilt) that exists in our world regarding social justice and the environment with small, doable changes.  Here we go.

Addie New Pic

Jerry Seinfeld put it best when he said: “Food is just so complicated as an adult. Nobody knows what to eat: protein, carbs, fat content?  We’re just walking up to each going “you look pretty good, what are you eating? Maybe I’ll eat that.”

Preach Jerry.

In fact, I have a good solid bet that this is how you came across every diet plan you’ve ever adopted. You had a friend who seemed passionate about a way of eating and rather than research it, you just went “what the hell, I’ll eat that too.”

I speak from experience here.

When I started this journey I was clueless. I knew I needed eat more naturally, but I didn’t even know how to make soup that didn’t come from a can.

Head on over to Addie’s place to finish it up.

What Oklahoma Gave me: Beans and Cornbread (humility of place)

What Oklahoma Gave Me

Yesterday I said it a little. Today I am going to say it a lot: I was pretty snobby when I arrived in Ada.  Before we ever arrived in our rental house Kel’s board members loaded up our fridge with food so that we wouldn’t have to do a grocery run upon arrival.

I assured Kel that they wouldn’t get it right and that I’d end up throwing most of it away, after all they were southerners and I didn’t like chicken fried steak or fried pickles.  (I know… I know… pretentious with a capital P!)

I’m pretty sure that I scoffed and made jokes about what I found in the fridge, turning up my nose at most of it.  I have no idea what I was trying to prove to the state of Oklahoma, but… ugh…what a snob.

So, when I heard about the classic Oklahoma dish “beans and cornbread” I turned my nose up at it.  Who would just eat beans and bread for dinner?  What Nonsense…Crazy Okies!

Then I was given 2 ham bones and a bag of pinto beans all in the same week and the die was cast.  I don’t waste food and Beans and Cornbread fit the bill.

So I simmered up a big ol’ pot of beans on my stove and dove in that evening with a little pretentious sour cream and cilantro on top.  And I loved it, A lot… like A LOT A LOT.  

As The Pioneer Woman says: There’s something so pure and elemental about a pot of dried beans, don’t you think?

Yes Ree, Yes I do.

So now, when it’s chilly or rainy or I just plain feel like it… I grab my large, red dutch oven and start a pot of beans to boil on the stove.  And then I promptly feel like an unlikely Okie and a pioneer of sorts.

Because there isn’t a thing that’s pretentious about a pot of beans for dinner.  It’s simple cowboy food, something I make when the budget is tight but we need protein on the cheap.

And with every bite of beans and crumbled morsel of cornbread I swallow a bit of humble pie.

Because it turns out that Beans and Cornbread is great and that every state has delicious flavor to bring to the table.  And I’m not just talking about food here.

There is no superior state in the union, or place on earth that’s necessarily better than any other.  Oklahoma is the perfect fit for the souls who were cut out for it.  It’s a land and a life beloved my many people I love myself.

 beans and cornbread

And so it was that Beans and Cornbread gave me not only delicious food, but a hearty lesson in humility.  Also it helped me give up my Oklahoma bashing once and for all, and that caused me to surrender the practice of bashing altogether.

Every place is someone’s beloved home, whether they live there or not.  Even if Oklahoma’s not for me it’s certainly for some people, most of them my current friends and neighbors.

This lesson doesn’t just apply to humility of place but to a slew of other things as well.

There is almost always more then one way to do things whether it’s parenting, church, diet, house color, mailbox style, fashion sense… the list is endless.

The only instance I can think of where this doesn’t apply is in “what order should one dust and vacuum?”  And in this case it’s dust first vacuum second I don’t care what you say.

But really, truly we should stop our bashing on other people’s way of life.  It’s pretty pointless, even if we happen to be right we aren’t doing anything but gossip or complain.  

We help no one and accomplish nothing.

So now I’m a more humble person, I make cornbread and I praise the grand state of Oklahoma for all it’s given me and in honor of all those who love it and call it home.

Thank you oklahoma for Beans, Cornbread and all that humble pie.  (Here’s my favorite recipe for beans and cornbread... which I make with a ham bone or bacon)

What unlikely source gave you a hearty dose of humility?

What dish did you once hate and now can’t help but love?