Pantry Clean Out and a Two Week Meal Plan

2wk pantry plan

M and I are on the hunt for apartments.  We have a few top picks that we have checked out externally, but we still need to book tours with the leasing offices.  While we coordinate those tours, in the meantime, we are starting to shift into the early stages of packing mode: sorting through clothes to donate or keep, collecting packing containers, and (my current priority) clearing out our pantry.  I like to keep “the basics” in our pantry, which gives me the freedom to change up our meals easily, or to cop out of a more intensive dish on nights when I decide I do not want make anything more difficult than pasta.  I also keep an eye out for deals, especially on meats, and stock our freezer.  Needless to say, these “basics” can easily add up, especially when one is sharing pantry/fridge/freezer with roommates.  When M and I returned from vacation, our cluttered shelves in the pantry were a huge eyesore.  On top of our usual collection of basic ingredients, we also had leftovers from holiday cooking (chocolate chips, nuts, chestnuts, peppermints, etc), leftovers from the snack food we picked up on vacation (we are pretty notorious road trip snackers), and the 5-6 lbs of chocolate and GF goodies that M’s mum brought back for us from England  (I’m not complaining–both are so much better in the UK).  We had no room left and I couldn’t even begin to think about trying to sort through it all.

Instead, I took stock of what I could see and sat down to plan.   First, I made the list on the right: a list of ingredients we had.  I pulled out the proteins to a separate columns so that I could build meals around that.  And then, looking through the food I had to work with, I began to construct dinners.  I was hoping that what we had would provide us with two weeks of meals, and I managed that, at least on paper.  The final extra dinners were built in as insurance, provided an earlier dinner did not pan out.  The list on the left, obviously, is the dinner list.  I had some ingredients for general breakfasts, and the goal for each dinner was to provide about 4 servings, so that M and I could eat leftovers for lunch.  The leftover road trip snacks and chocolate could fill in for snacking, at least for these two weeks.

This project is primarily for the purpose of clearing out our pantry, though there is the bonus of frugality.   I do suspect I may have to do some spending, but, in theory, our grocery runs should be minor, if not nonexistent, for the next two weeks.  It’ll save us some money to put towards an apartment deposit and give us less food stuffs to pack up and move!  Win-win!  It all looks good on paper, though I am a little concerned.  I made this plan spontaneously, and it is very pantry-based.  While we have some vegetables and fruits, we don’t have nearly as much as usual and I know that fresh produce is pretty key to me feeling satisfied with my day-to-day diet.  I guess we will see how it goes.

My plan for dinners in Week 1:

  • Soup Leftovers/the Udi’s GF pizza in the freezer (leftover from our vacation)
  • My Shepherd’s Pie-this is always guaranteed to be satisfying and provide leftovers. I will pare down from the main recipe.  I only have 1 lb of beef, which I would like to get me through 2 different dinners.  So I will be making it only with 1/2 lb of beef and doubling up on carrots, onions, and peas, as well as adding celery.  The potatoes will also be simpler: mashed with milk, butter, and some parmesan.
  • Tom Ka Soup + Veggie Fried Rice–I have a GF soup mix I picked up at Wegman’s.  It only calls for coconut milk and water, but I will substitute chicken broth instead of water.  I plan on adding some sliced mushrooms, onions, and cilantro to the soup as well.
  • Pasta with Sausage in Sauce + Kale Salad–I brown up crumbled italian sausage with diced onions and some garlic, add a can of plain tomato sauce and some spices, then let in simmer while I cook the pasta.
  • Bean and Potato Enchiladas, Chips + Guac
  • Annie’s boxed GF Macaroni and Cheese, with Peas and Sausage
  • Bean Puttanesca + Homemade French Bread–beans, tomatoes, artichokes, olives, capers, garlic, and herbs served warm and bruschetta style over fresh bread.  Our favorite meatless meal.  It is one of those meals that I can always prepare at a moment’s notice, because it can be made almost entirely with canned/jarred ingredients.  This should really help to clear out my pantry!  I will have to go back and find the original recipe to share with you soon.

My plan for dinners in Week 2:

  • Roast Chicken with Chestnut Stuffing and Cranberry Sauce–I picked up a whole chicken for super cheap and it has been sitting in our freezer.  We also have a bag of dried GF stuffing mix that someone gave us before Thanksgiving and I have chestnuts that I intended to use in our Thanksgiving stuffing, but nixed when our nut-allergic friend decided to join us for the holiday.  We also have cranberry sauce that I picked up (again) for Thanksgiving, just in case it was not present on the table (that happened one year and it was horrible.  Cranberry sauce is a must).  The sauce was already there, so we did not end up using our cans.
  • Tomato Soup–The poor man’s riff on My Favorite Tomato Soup.  I’ll roast the bones from the chicken and crockpot it overnight to make chicken stock, which will replace the tomato juice.  I’ll use a Tablespoon or two of dried basil, instead of fresh, and I will also cut down on the butter and replace the cream with milk, in order to use ingredients that I have on hand.
  • Fried Polenta with Braised Tomato Chicken–I have such a distinct idea for this dish in my head.  I keep wanting to call it Moraccan chicken, or chicken tagine, but I do not think it is truly either.  Anyways, it’ll be the chicken that I picked from the roast, in a slow-simmered tomato sauce with onions, garlic, and warm herbs: cinnamon, a little bit of heat, maybe smoky cumin, and some sweetness–possibly some raisins.  I’m still in the process of figuring it out, but I’ll keep you posted!
  • “Korean” Beef with Rice + Green Beans–I don’t think it is truly so Korean in flavor, but this asian beef dish is super simple.  Tamari, a bit of sugar and some spicy make a sauce to pour over a mixture of ground beef and onions.  This will be the last of my beef.  I will also make some rice and green beans to round out the meal.
  • Chicken Taquitos + Guacamole–this recipe will be coming to you soon! It is a super easy, delicious way to use up cooked chicken leftovers.
  • Chicken Tenders + Fries + Green Beans–quick and easy, with the extra chicken breasts in the freezer
  • Corn and Potato Chowder–I made this ages ago and a portion has been in the freezer for months.  M and I are both running around in separate directions all day.  This will be easy enough to reheat when each of us has time.

I was very impressed that I could make so many meals!  I am pretty bad about utilizing my pantry stores, so this was a great exercise in creating meals that were inspired around the base ingredients, rather than the protein. I will do a check-in after two weeks to let you know how it goes!  Good or bad, hopefully my pantry and freezer will be clear!

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My 2015 Planner and A Lesson in Slowing Down

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Happy 2015, everyone!  I’d like to say that I eased into 2015, but that would certainly be a fib.  After flying home from Colorado on December 30, we promptly threw a New Year’s party the next evening. Copious amounts of champagne bottles popping, plus celebratory fireworks (one of our neighbors seems to be hoarding a stash) had Punc terrified for much of the night.  She is a bit of a chicken, so it was not surprising.  Though fireworks are a rarer occurrence, we may need to get her a thunder vest.  This past 4th of July was a mess–we end up wrapping her in an ace bandage to apply some comforting pressure, but she still cowered under our bed for most of the night.  Thankfully, Punc recovered from New Year’s Eve pretty quickly, as we were dropping her back off at my mother’s house just two days later.  It is a tradition that a large group of our friends takes a vacation in early January.  M and I went down this year and joined in the game of Nerf Gun Assassins (I earned the title of “Best Rookie”), hung out in hot tubs in the frigid January weather, and–in my case–caught up on sleep.  I also made a massive batch of my Swedish Meatballs when it was my turn to make dinner.  Quadrupling the recipe was a little more stressful than I expected, to be honest.  I don’t think restaurant cooking is in my future.  But, ultimately, they turned out just as delicious as usual, in spite of an oven that wouldn’t fully close.  Another highlight of the trip was having real homemade Korean food on our last night.  It was amazing! And the cook was careful to check with us on all of the ingredients, so that we could eat entirely gluten-free.  I may be trying my hand at some Koren BBQ ribs in the near future!

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While our vacation was quite relaxing, M and I jumped back into the deep end as soon as we came back last Thursday.  I auditioned my cast for the sixth grade play that I am directing and M went right back into his usual schedule of tech builds, rehearsals, performances, and break-down.  Saturday and Sunday, I did work as an extra for a friend’s film.  It is set in the 1840s, which means some awesome costumes.  However, I had signed on for an outdoor scene on Saturday.  We were filming in the snow for ten hours while the January sun managed to raise the temperature from 16 degrees to a whopping 20 degrees.  Thankfully, I was in a full-length skirt and cape, which allowed me to pin my costume over my winter coat and the four layers of clothes that I wore beneath it.  I definitely should have put on more socks, but given the environmental ordeals and length of the day, I actually stayed fairly warm.  The weather was certainly a bonding experience for the extras.  I was also able to catch up with several old classmates, whom I had not seen since we graduated from college.  I started some French Onion soup in the crockpot before I left, so I had piping hot soup and whiskey to warm me up when I got home, in addition to a long, hot shower and several heating pads.  Sunday was a late night shoot, thankfully indoors, and for a fancy ball.  I was chosen to be in a particular shot in the hall, because the back of my head looked so good!  Seriously, I should have high-fived the makeup girl, since I just arrived with my hair in ringlets.  She piled it all up with this lovely peacock-feathered hairpiece.  I think I have to give her the credit for that achievement.  So we stood and looked pretty and pretended to chat for another 10 hours.  I got home at 3:45am and managed to noticed that I had a great 50’s-style hair-do after taking the pins out (check it out on instagram–>).  Then I collapsed gratefully into bed, knowing that I still had work the next day.

wk spread 3 copy

I’ve spent this week adapting and casting the script for my students and desperately trying to get my feet under me as we prepared for our largest season: Summer.  One thing that has helped me keep track in this past hectic week is my 2015 planner.  I created my very first planner last year and noticed room for improvements almost immediately.  I keep a running list and, truly, I am very happy with the new format for my 2015 planner.  I knew I wanted to turn the days from vertical to horizontal in the weekly spread.  I also wanted to ditch the space for breakfast and lunch in favor of a cleaning and workout schedule.  Routine and schedules are one of my goals for this year.  A cleaning schedule, so that I am not stuck cleaning the entire house on my day off; and a workout schedule because I am definitely feeling my 8-10 hours spent at a desk each day.  I’m too young to feel so creaky and stiff-jointed.  I thought about ditching the dinner section, because I knew I would be keep my weekly full meal plan page, but I like seeing dinners at a glance, so I can plan my prep throughout the day.  I also knew I wanted to better utilize the page opposite of the weekly meal plan.  Last year, if was a full notes page, but I barely touched it.  This year, I added a timesheet space.  I work flexible hours, rather than a 9-5 schedule, so I knew a dedicated space would be very helpful for keeping record of my hours.  I also added a little blog planner, because another goal for 2015 is to actually build a routine and posting schedule for this blog, as well.  My month spread stayed nearly the same–though I remembered to add the day labels.  I did, however, forget to provide a space in the weekly spread for each day’s date.

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My other problems with the 2015 planner are, thankfully, more visual/physical than functional.  I designed this planner leisurely during our time in Colorado.  But I was rushing to print it as soon as we returned home.  I couldn’t figure out why the printer was shrinking the pages to provide blank margins.  I’d managed to circumvent that last year, but I couldn’t figure out how I had done so now.  Then my ink cartridges ran out about 1/3 of the way through printing.  I tried to remain unfazed and replaced the cartridges, set it printing again, and let my attention wander.  When I glanced over again, the lovely peach+teal combo that I chose to complement the front cover was…well, gone.  Instead, it was printed in a pale pink and bright blue.  I stopped the printing, reran the alignment, and was still stuck with pink and blue.  At this point, I sat back in apathy and assured myself that I didn’t care as the planner finished printing.  The pink isn’t so bad. The blue is a little dark.  I had forgotten to make the decorative print slightly translucent, as I had last year.  That would help to solve the problem, but now it was too late.  With my pink and blue planner in hand, I set to work chopping the pages in half…with a dull paper cutter.  It ripped several pages, and even more were chopped unevenly.  Finally, I began hole-punching without any further thought, except to get this damn planner done.  And wouldn’t you know, I was left with another mistake.  Last year, I had compared, to make sure I was placing the 8 holes correctly.  This year, I forgot to do that.  I ended up with 9 holes that were far too oddly-spaced.  I actually had to chop a half-inch off of the top of every single page, because they would not fit within the covers.

So now, I am left with a weird-size, discolored planner that carries a ton of wasted space in the margins.  But as I said, the functionality is not really affected.  It simply isn’t quite as pretty as I had intended.  But, as much as I told myself it wasn’t, it was frustrating!  I wanted something pretty and perfect!  I had been so careful with my notes and my plans over this year.  I was so ready to fix last year’s mistakes.  So ready, in fact, that I didn’t take the time to check my work or to slow down and think about the consequences.  Thankfully, these poor decisions were made over a stack of paper, and not anything more serious.  But it was a good reminder to take a step back, to slow down, to think things through. Theater major that I was, to my chagrin, I was reminded about the Greek tragic plays and their focus on hubris.  Hubris, to keep things simple, is arrogance, overconfidence, or ‘excessive pride’.  It was almost always the downfall of the tragedy’s main character.  Now, I am not saying that I am in a tragedy, but I do think that I get a little too sure of myself when I have done a task or an act before.  I had made a planner before, and I had planned out all of the design.  I did not even consider that I could encounter problems when I tried to make another planner.  And worse, when I did encounter a problem, I did not stop or slow down to reevaluate.  I gritted my teeth and pushed forward with my original plan, refusing to acknowledge that the original plan had failed.  So I was left with a planner that has far more mistakes that it would have if I had stopped and taken my time to work out those problems one by one.  This same sort scenario is playing out in my life more and more frequently.  I do not like that.

All to often, these days, I find myself rushing.  Rushing to the next task, or the next place, or the next plan.  I do not let myself slow down, so whatever plan I start with has to carry me through to end, for better or for worse.  I think my work, my relationships, and my own mental health are suffering a little from this.  I want to stop this behavior before it gets worse, and before something more precious than a planner suffers from it.  I’m not exactly sure how I can do this, but the thought has certainly been at the front of my mind over the past few weeks.  While I am trying to consciously slow down and consider all of the factors,  the whole process is (haha) slow going.  To start with, I am focusing on multi-tasking less.  And giving myself a break.  I do not always need to be doing something while I watch TV.  Giving a movie my undivided attention after dinner is not a waste of my time, especially when this break from racing thoughts is actually so restorative.  Multi-tasking has become a detriment, and, until now, I have stubbornly ignored that.  That needs to change  So here we go 2015: let’s slow down, establish routine, and be a little gentler on ourselves.