menu planning monday

Meal Planning Monday | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

I promise eventually my life will slow down enough (more on that eventually) to do more than post menu plans, but today is not that day. We spent the week getting our den ready for new carpet to be installed (thanks, tax refund!), and spring cleaning in general, so not many deep thoughts were thought, which isn’t very conducive to writing. Even when I’m not writing, though, we gotta eat. Thus, Menu Planning Monday.

Meal Planning Monday | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo
Last week’s meals.

While spring cleaning, I found under our guest bed four giant binders of recipes I had torn out of magazines in the pre-Pinterest era. Now that my husband wants to get into cooking, I realized the hardest part for him will be deciding what to cook. He’s not a Pinterest-er, and he doesn’t read food blogs or peruse cookbooks. When I found those binders, though, I realized I could basically make him/us an analog Pinterest binder of vegetarian and seafood recipes that take less than 30 minutes. And since most of the recipes were from my old Real Simple and Rachael Ray subscriptions, they’re all pretty fast/healthy/easy, too. I went through all the binders and pulled out all the best-looking recipes, and now we can flip through them anytime. I can see it being useful to have the girls flip through and pick out some things they would like to eat every now and then, too.

Here’s what we’ll be making this week (reminder: if you’re reading via an RSS feed, you may need to click through to see the embedded pins):

The first recipe Jon picked out of the recipe binder:

One pot always wins me over:

Will likely serve these tuna cakes with cheesy grits and sautéed zucchini:

I have a bunch of kale that needs to be used before it disintegrates, so this tried-and-true recipe will take care of it, and it’s another one pot recipe:

And because I have a craving for some Costa Rican deliciousness, gallo pinto:

What about you? What’s on your menu this week? Made anything tasty lately?

menu planning now that we’re mostly vegetarian

#bigdinnerlittledinner

Since I’m home alone on a rainy day luxuriously planning meals and making my grocery list while my husband has the kids at the science museum, I thought I’d follow up my post about our recent diet change with a post about how this has affected our meal planning and eating.

Spoiler alert: it actually hasn’t affected it all that much. You may remember from my “meal planning for the easily bored” post that I rely heavily on hyper-organized Pinterest boards to plan our meals. When we decided to commit to being mostly vegetarian (really, we’re pescatarian), I went through my pinboards and micro-organized them further. Instead of just a pasta board, I now have a vegetarian pasta board, and it’s up top. I did the same with soups and stews, Tex/Mex/Tacos, and veg+grain meals. Now all the boards that are compliant with how we’re eating are right up top and easy to find.

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Today, I checked out what we already have on hand and what’s on sale at our local store and then opened up Pinterest. I picked out one vegetarian pasta, one vegetarian soup, one vegetarian tacos, one veggie+grain, and one seafood recipe. I mostly eat leftovers for lunch, and the kids eat sandwiches/soups/cheese and crackers/fruit, so I really only plan dinner recipes and keep basics on hand for breakfasts and lunches: bread, yogurt, eggs, fruit, cheese, peanut butter, jelly, etc. Planning dinners is really the bulk of my menu-planning.

If you’re curious about what we’re having for dinner this week, here’s what’s on deck:

In other family food news, Jon and I went on a marriage retreat over the weekend, and one thing we discussed was having him cook more. I happily do most of the cooking because, if you haven’t guessed, I love cooking and see it as a creative outlet. He usually takes the kids to the park in the afternoons, so I really enjoy my me-time in the kitchen, listening to podcasts and making good food. However. we’ve realized that our girls may not realize that I cook because I love it, and might get the idea that cooking is a woman’s job. Since he has a flexible schedule that often has him home in the evenings, he could totally cook– I just haven’t offered him the opportunity. We want the girls to see that their dad is also competent in the kitchen, and that it is reasonable for them to expect a partner who shares cooking duties. Since I kind of usurped the kitchen years ago, I will likely at first set him up for success by doing some of the prep work, almost like a Blue Apron sort of thing, but I am going to try to stay out of his hair and let him do his thing.

You can often check out our meals on Instagram, where I often use the hashtag #bigdinnerlittledinner to document what we’re eating. I’ll let you know when a meal was prepared by my better half, too!

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How do you plan your meals? Would it be helpful if I start sharing our weekly meal plans on a regular basis?

I think we’re ready for the next step in our family’s food evolution

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

Arkansas Made, Arkansas Grown: raising locavores and Farm2Home

I’m currently co-teaching a class based on Shane Claibourne and Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Revolution at my church. It’s a great book about taking the things Jesus actually said seriously, and I’m enjoying our group discussions every week. On Sunday, one of the chapters I taught was about environmentalism, and how important it is for followers of Jesus not just to take caring for creation seriously, but to become partners and co-workers in God’s restoration of all of creation, a project that ultimately ends in the Revelations-vision of a garden-city in the New Jerusalem when heaven and earth finally become one. The book also makes a great connection between the fact that the price of environmental degradation is almost always paid heaviest by the poorest among us, and notes that creation care is inextricably tied to ideas of justice for the poor.

One way the book suggests we can minimize our environmental impact is through our diets, and this reminded me of the journey my family has been on food-wise since 2009. In 2009, I read an article in National Geographic magazine that started me thinking that my diet was incompatible with some of my deepest concerns for the poor and the environment. As I wrote then, “According to Bourne, 35% of the world’s grain is used to feed livestock instead of people.  Think about that.  I’ve read that it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat, and more and more, that bothers me.  It gets to me to see photographs of starving babies and know that the tasty meat I eat is contributing to the food scarcity that is killing children all over the world.”

Of course, at the time, I was very much a beginning cook, and I didn’t really know how to cook a meal that wasn’t based around a chicken breast, which I bought frozen in giant bags. Knowing that a little change was better than nothing at all, at the time, we committed to one meat-free meal per week. That may seem small (or, depending on how much meat you usually eat, huge), but it actually makes a difference– I had read that if every American committed to one meat-free meal per week, it would be like taking 5 million cars off the road, and if every American committed to one meat-free *day* per week, it would be like taking 8 million cars off the road.

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

Since that first commitment in 2009, we’ve slowly changed our diet from Meatless Monday to Mostly Meat-Free. In fact, after revisiting that 2009 blog post, I suggested to my husband that we might be ready to commit to eat meat ONLY one day per week. He agreed wholeheartedly. After slowly inching in that direction over all this time, it doesn’t feel like a huge leap. We’ve gotten used to eating “mostly plants” as Michael Pollan says, while still rounding out our diets with eggs, dairy, and seafood. (If you want to see some of the meatless meals we love, I’ve got a pinboard for that.)

I’ll say now like I said then: I don’t envision an entirely vegetarian life for us. We like meat, even if we can largely do without it. Once in a while, we like to split a ribeye at Maddie’s Place or roast a chicken for dinner, and I think we will always want to have the freedom to indulge in something we like once in a while, especially when traveling and getting to know other food cultures. I don’t come at this from the angle that eating animals is wrong, though I respect friends’ choices if that’s what they believe.

I guess I’m writing this now to say: little steps make a difference. You don’t have to try to change the world or even your diet all at once. If you currently eat meat at most meals, you might be where we were in 2009. If you want to try just starting with Meatless Mondays (or any other day that works for you), it will make a big difference in the impact you have on the environment and the global food economy, I really believe it.

And if you’re ever interested in what we’re eating around here, I like to Instagram our dinners with the hashtag #bigdinnerlittledinner

Vegan for Lent: know when to fold ’em

ImageSo. I am a Vegan for Lent failure.

It’s just not working for us right now. I’m trying to study for my master’s comprehensive exam which takes place April 1&2, Jon is working like crazy this month (don’t even get me started on how much I hate the ER shift from 3-midnight that means he misses bedtime), and we just don’t have the time or energy or head space to think and plan as much about food as this whole project requires. We were both tired of feeling hungry all the time. I just want a damn grilled cheese sandwich.

I really considered hanging on, solely for the sake of the blog. It appears my readers like vegan food posts. I like happy readers. But I’ve already “cheated” on this thing a few times (currently eating red beans and rice with andouille sausage as I type), and I just have to come clean that it just isn’t happening anymore.

I don’t have any big spiritual insights about failing my Lenten devotion. I have some clarity now that being a vegan is harder than I thought it was, and that it’s most definitely not for me. I shall return to my usual “less meatarian” (per Mark Bittman) diet of largely lacto/ovo vegetarian eating with supplements of sustainably raised meats. I guess I am just really grateful for the bounty available to me, and the fact that the only deprivation I know is the kind I choose (and then fail to keep choosing).

One of my favorite Bible verses is from the Psalms: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” It seems petty, maybe, and possibly anti-Christian, but I think food is a great way to experience the goodness of God. Despite a sort of anti-fleshly strain in our faith, one that preaches denial of the body and being above bodily things, we are enfleshed, and we worship a God who became flesh. A God who, in Jesus, seemed to really love eating good food with people. One of the first things he really wanted after he rose from the dead? BREAKFAST. Sure, he chose fish where I might choose a runny-yolked egg, but I think in Jesus we see that while denial is good for a time, there’s nothing inherently sinful about enjoying good meals, good wine, and good company.

I also still believe that what we choose to eat is a spiritual issue, an opportunity to demonstrate our care (or in Christian lingo, stewardship) for our bodies, our neighbors, the poor, and the planet. And I will probably always be wrestling with how my diet reflects my values. But, for now, I won’t be doing it as a vegan. I need to focus on studying and taking care of my family in a way that I was not able to on this diet.

beans for breakfast? heck yes

I know I said in my last post on Vegan for Lent that I was having issues with breakfast. Until this weekend, when I somehow concocted the BEST BREAKFAST EVER. Yes: a breakfast worthy of all caps. I didn’t even wish it had a runny yolked egg on top, which means you *know* it’s good.

It started, like some of my best dishes, with trying to make something with the weird odds and ends we had left a week after my last grocery trip. In this case, I had 4 small potatoes starting to go soft, and thus an amazing breakfast was born:

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Makes 3-4 servings

Ingredients:
4 palm-sized potatoes
1 onion, halved, one half quartered and sliced thinly, the other half diced
1 jalapeno, diced
1 can pinto beans
3 cloves garlic, minced (we reallllly like garlic, so if you don’t, maybe start with one clove and see what you think)
Cumin
Paprika
Chipotle chile powder
Creole seasoning (even I admit this is weird, so skip it if you want)
Oregano
Red wine vinegar
Salt
Pepper
Oil of your choosing (I used vegetable oil for the hash browns and coconut oil for the beans)
Salsa
Corn tortillas

The thing about a no-recipe recipe is that I sort of threw this together while feeding breakfast to my babies. When cooking on my own, I rarely measure things. I just pour spices out into my palm or sprinkle them over a dish and go with what feels good. So, if you need exact spice measurements, this recipe may not be for you, but I say go with your gut and taste along the way.

I shredded the potatoes using a food processor, then pressed them in a fine mesh strainer to dry them out a bit. Meanwhile I heated up enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of my skillet. I added the shredded potatoes, jalapenos, and sliced onion once the oil was hot. Then I seasoned with salt, pepper, and yes, Creole seasoning. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I saw the shaker sitting there and went for it. It tasted delicious. Fry the potatoes, stirring occasionally, until to your desired crispyness. I totally believe that frozen hash browns would work here, but I needed to use the potatoes.

In another skillet, I melted a couple tablespoons of coconut oil, because I like the subtle coconut flavor with the beans. Then I added the diced onion and garlic and sauteed til softened. Then I added cumin, paprika, and some chipotle chile powder to the mix, stirring for about a minute. Then I drained the can of pintos and added them to the skillet with the garlic and onions. Then I remembered a favorite rice and beans recipe and added some oregano and a few dashes of red wine vinegar, along with salt and pepper. Cook until the hash browns are done.

Layer the beans over the hash browns, pour some salsa over the top (we used a roasted garlic and cilantro salsa), and serve with a couple of corn tortillas on the side.

Variations: I’m sure any kind of beans would work here, except maybe garbanzos. And yes, it would be excellent with a fried egg or some pepperjack cheese or a dollop of sour cream on top, but it’s perfectly tasty by its own vegan self.

Vegan for Lent, Week 2

20130220-105942.jpgThis week in my lenten discipline has taught me something about my psychology: I don’t like being told what to do. The minute there is a rule about something, all I want is to break that rule. I may go weeks without eating meat naturally, but the minute I make a rule that I have to be vegan, all I want are runny yolked eggs, things covered in cheese, and bacon cheeseburgers. I may have taken advantage of Sunday to have both a cheeseburger and cheesy pizza. I could spiritualize this into a nice post about how sinful I am, or something, but the reality is, from the very beginning, people don’t like being told not to eat (of the fruit of that tree, or of the fruit of Five Guys). I may be a bad Christian, but it seems to just be the way people are, and I’m people too. I can’t imagine God not knowing that we’d be this way from the start. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with cheese, really, but doing without it has definitely required me to think harder than I would otherwise think about my food.

Breakfasts are especially difficult. I tend toward the hypoglycemic in the mornings and have always preferred protein to carbs or fruit to start my day. Before, my go-to was homemade Egg McMuffins, or a cheese stick. Rarely I’ll have a KIND nut and grain bar. Now, I find myself having an extra cup of coffee to tide me over, because I don’t want to eat cereal or oatmeal or fruit. So, easy vegan breakfast solutions that are not cereal with almond milk would be appreciated.

Another thing I’ve noticed with being a vegan is: I get bored with the leftovers really fast. Even if a meal was really great the first time, I don’t really want to eat it again very often. This has led to some weird ass dinners when I am avoiding leftovers. The other night I seriously ate a baked potato with green goddess salad dressing on it because I couldn’t face any of the zillions of tupperwears in my fridge. Usually, I’ll put a poached egg on leftovers, or turn them into a frittata, to shake it up a bit, but I can’t do that with this diet.

This week I tried to use some of the online recipes I’d collected on my Pinterest board so you guys can try them too. Here’s what we ate in the last week (it’s so few meals because they always seem to make a ton of leftovers, and because I was home alone for several days, so I did less cooking):

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This gumbo was really tasty served over brown rice, and the friends we had over for dinner who aren’t vegan seemed to think so too! The key, to me, to make up for the lack of sausage is the addition of some liquid smoke seasoning.

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These cookies use coconut oil instead of butter, and I veganized them by using applesauce and a little baking powder and soda to replace the egg. The texture was slightly different than the average cookie, but they were decidedly cookie-like and very tasty. They basically taste like a slightly coconutty sugar cookie.

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I wanted to try a cheese substitute, just for the experience, so I largely gave this casserole a try just to use the Daiya cheese. While I couldn’t get the cheese to melt like it claims it will, I found it to have a good flavor, and will buy their products after Lent is over for my lactose-intolerant husband. The casserole itself was a little dry, so I added salsa to my plate. If I made it in the future, I might just pour some enchilada sauce in with the veggie mix to make it saucier.

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This squash and kale bowl had a great flavor but wasn’t quite filling enough to be a whole meal. I might add bulgur or quinoa to make it more filling next time.

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OK, so I didn’t really cook this tofu banh mi. Consider this a plug for The Root Cafe here in Little Rock. All of their food is local and delicious. It was great to know there was a place I could go and have something yummy for a lunch out with a friend.

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This tagine was a dish I had made and liked even before my Vegan Lent, so I knew we’d like it this time around. I was short on zucchini, so I subbed in some frozen green beans, and they worked beautifully. I also didn’t have preserved lemons, so I used lemon infused olive oil, lemon zest, and some extra lemon juice.

2 weeks down, one month to go!

Vegan for Lent, Week One

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We are now one week into Vegan Lent, and I have to say, I’m enjoying it. Is one supposed to enjoy a Lenten fast?

So far, it hasn’t been a profoundly spiritual event, but my husband and I have both felt like this is another step in a journey we have been on for a while, a journey that has been very much spiritually motivated.

I haven’t felt majorly deprived, but I have missed little things, like cheese on a pasta dish, or butter on bread. Honestly, when we were already not eating much meat and my husband is lactose intolerant, this is probably how we should be eating in general, anyway. I will miss occasionally having fish or eggs as part of a main dish, though.

A friend commented on my initial post that Vegan Lent might end up “sticking” long after Lent ends. I think we might end up mostly vegetarian with eggs and fish thrown back into the mix, plus butter and cheese for me. One problem for me is, I don’t eat fake food, and this makes me uncomfortable with butter and egg substitutes, though I must say, Earth Balance buttery spread is not bad. I want to be able to bake cookies and breads and stuff with all real ingredients. I refuse, on principle, to eat things like “Chick’n,” though tofu and seitan that aren’t trying to pretend to be something they’re not are fine by me.

Also, we have agreed not to go fully veg at this time because we don’t want to make going to dinner at friends’ a giant hassle for them, and we want to be able to enjoy cultural food and hospitality when we travel.

Still, I think this experience is helping us see the rich variety in vegan eating, and I feel healthier. I think, from a week in, that it will certainly affect how we eat going forward.

Here’s what we’ve eaten so far:

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This Lemony Cauliflower Pasta was a recipe from my Fresh Green Table cookbook, slightly modified because I couldn’t find broccolini and also because the original recipe called for butter. It was super tasty, and I didn’t miss the cheese I usually sprinkle all over my pasta at all, I think because the flavorful (homemade) breadcrumbs served that purpose well. Etta also loved this dish, so hey, baby win!

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Both the noodle kugel and lentil salad recipes are from Veganomicon. The lentil salad is excellent, but I’m something of a lentil fan. The kugel uses tofu as another baked pasta recipe might use ricotta cheese. It was quite tasty hot, but reheated, it seems to be lacking something. If I made it again, I might try to spice it up a bit somehow.

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This salad is excellent, and another Veganomicon recipe. I still don’t love mushrooms, though, so I might leave them out next time. I make my hummus using this recipe from Girls Gone Child, with the addition of a can of artichoke hearts to the whole equation. It makes for extra creamy, slightly artichokey hummus. I love it.

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This meal was largely a chance for me to attempt to make crispy tofu a la this method from Herbivoracious. The tofu turned out OK, but the meal honestly would have been fine without it– it just didn’t add much to the dish. Otherwise, I used a pre-sliced bag of fresh veggies and winged it.

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I attempted to make vegan sandwich bread. It had good flavor and texture, but was a little flat. Part of the problem is that my metal loaf pan is just too wide. The loaf I made in my narrower glass pan turned out a little taller.