An Easy Weeknight Dinner, and…

Life has been picking up pretty well around here- it’s beginning to feel like a struggle to fit everything in to a single day, which suits me just fine because I like a challenge. Luis recently had a change in his work schedule, requiring him to leave much earlier in the morning, but return around 4:30 or 5 in the evening. I actually prefer it that way, because it gives me the uninterrupted mornings with the kids. We go about our day, usually running an errand or two, reading books, doing puzzles, napping (them), snacking, and visiting friends.

I’ve been beginning dinner around 4, which may sound super early, but it always takes me at least an hour to get dinner made because I am usually one-handed. We actually end up eating around 5:30, after Luis has come home, which I prefer because it keeps us from eating too late at night. However, dinner has become rather a big deal in our house now that we all eat basically the same meal, with a few tweaks for taste and spice strength. I have to make sure that whatever I’m cooking is a) EASY, b) relatively quick and comes together with minimal dishes, and c) is something that everyone can eat. Sometimes we’ll plan a night and whip up some suuuuuper spicy enchiladas for the adults, in which case I’ll mix up rice/bean/avocado bowls for J & C (or, on special occasions, even some Trader Joe’s prepared soup). That being said, I thought I’d share an example of a really easy and yummy weeknight dinner that is versatile, can be thrown together with basic ingredients, and is kid- and mom-friendly. Allons-y!

One of the easiest meal “concepts” is the bowl (five years ago, that term had an entirely different but no less exciting connotation). The idea of the bowl is as follows: grain on the bottom. Top with some kind of protein, veggies, garnish, and sauce. Nom. So easy. I’ll walk you through it:

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This picture is from an old shopping trip, but you can see the brown rice on the top right.

We started with some TJ’s brown jasmine rice. I am totally obsessed with jasmine rice, and was buying the frozen white stuff for a while, but it’s cheaper and healthier to buy brown rice and cook it myself. One cup of rice + two cups of water, cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes (until water is absorbed). While that’s cooking…

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Prepare and cook some kind of vegetable. We had asparagus on hand, and the kids (and I) love it, so I coated a bunch with sunflower oil and flaked sea salt and popped them in the oven at 275 for 30 minutes. At the same time…

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I tossed a bag of pre-torn chard in sunflower oil, nutritional yeast, and garlic powder. These went into the oven for 40 minutes, and came out as delicious, crumbly, crunchy chard chips.

While all of that is roasting/simmering….

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BAM! Beans- canned beans, possibly the easiest food in all the world. I like to try to soak and cook my own beans as much as possible, but I didn’t have any on hand, and I was keeping with our lazy theme. Open, rinse, drain, set aside.

When everything has finished cooking, assemble your bowl: rice, beans, asparagus off to the side. We actually got kind-of fancy with some BBQ tempeh…

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Saucy-delicious in my beloved cast-iron pan….

We totally doubled-up on our protein, but I was just feeling the BBQ and Jack was asking for tempeh, so we went for it. I’ve been trying to up my protein intake a bit anyway to support me through my running (which has been mild but consistent, thank god for that).

Top the entire thing with some kind of raunchy sauce and garnish. I was going to pour a boatload of salsa over mine, but when I went for it in the fridge, it was gone.

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Avocado to the rescue! This is the first ripe one out of the bunch, and it was just ripe enough to eat, so we lucked out. We also added some scallions-

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The kids are actually really big on scallions. I don’t know if it has to do with their taste- I suspect not. We’ve been having a lot of fun growing our own scallions in jars, and I think they’re tickled to eat food that we grow on the window sill.

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This is what my dinner looked like tonight, and it came together in about 45 minutes WITH two small children to hold/chase around. It was also nutritionally balanced and totally yummy:

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the rice is under there, somewhere…

Served with a big bowl of chard chips to share:

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This is definitely not how it goes down every night- sometimes the time gets away from us, or we run behind on an errand and get home late, or the kids have a meltdown, and it’s organic canned soup to the rescue. Sometimes I just don’t feel like cooking- or I do, and I go all-out and start way earlier in the day. This is just a really solid example of an easy weeknight meal that is both healthy and satisfying. If you want to make things even easier, cook the rice the day before (or make a big batch in the beginning of the week and keep it in the fridge/freezer) and skip the chard chips and the tempeh. Dump that BBQ sauce all over the bowl and call it a night- whatever! The point is to keep it simple and delicious.

Speaking of simple and delicious, while I’m here, I may as well share some tidbits with you from our week. First up, here are some random foods that I’ve been obsessed with lately (besides the jasmine rice):

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Cacao powder- like chocolate, only less sweet and better for you! Cacao is loaded with antioxidants, and is naturally sweet, so it works really well in baking and smoothies. It’s more expensive than cocoa, so I use it much less frequently, which generally means I bake less frequently, which is totally okay.

Sweet sesame seaweed flakes- I know most people won’t go for the seaweed thing, but it’s really nutrient-rich and makes a delicious salty snack. These flakes are like kettle corn seaweed- outrageous. Also, they’re only 99 cents per bag. I pour them on rice or sprinkle them onto miso soup.

Sunflower seed oil- better for you than vegetable oil, way high in vitamin E, and cheaper than olive oil. I almost exclusively use coconut oil for cooking, but this is great for nights like tonight when I want to make roasted veggies or sauteed tempeh- things that might not take to coconut flavor so well.

Sunflower seed butter- note: we have NOT replaced almond butter with sunbutter, because almond butter is minimally processed and raw. This is our super-special nut butter that we slather all over soynog french toast or drizzle over Coconut Bliss ice cream. It has added oils and sugars, so it’s a splurge, but it’s also ridiculously delicious.

Spelt flour- SPELT FLOUR! Spelt is a totally awesome ancient grain that is high in protein and fiber, and is also more easily digested by those with a gluten intolerance or sensitivity. We are NOT gluten-free in our house (I love me some Great Harvest Flax bread!), but I have been experimenting with more nutritious options in baking, flours in particular. Spelt works really well in cakes, cookies, muffins, doughnuts, and quickbreads. Spelt for president! We love it.

Speaking of healthy ingredients…

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Check out all that FRUIT! I love fruit (who doesn’t?!), and now that spring is (supposedly) waiting in the wings, more and more seasonal fruit has been popping up. Whole Foods has been stocking organic fair-trade pineapples for $2.99, as well as champagne mangoes for 4/$5. Also, pears are back on the scene, along with a widening variety of apples. I’m excited for the new, warmer seasons, and very much looking forward to the start of our first season with Anchor Run CSA. Expect plenty of weekly detailed posts on that one!

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Also, I finally kicked my coffee habit! I hadn’t been much into brewing coffee at home on the daily, but I was hooked on Starbucks soy cappuccinos. I haven’t had any coffee in…two weeks? Three? And I feel great. Also, green tea is loaded with antioxidants, hydrates you, and has a wonderfully mild and meditative flavor. Not to mention, it’s way cheaper than espresso, especially if you’re smart and double-steep your tea bags!

I’ve been pretty swamped with school (who would’ve guessed?), but in the bit of spare time I have had (mostly at night), I’ve been reading a ton. I’ve always loved to read, and usually have at least one book in progress, but lately it’s been more like nine or ten at a time. I’m really looking forward to that vacation in June….

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Titles I have read recently (f) or am currently reading (ip): Chris’s book, The Boy With One Wing (f), The Dark (ip), In Dubious Battle (f), The Language Instinct (ip), Creativity (ip), Now You’re the Enemy (f), The Secret Life of Pronouns (ip), Contemporary Irish Poetry (f), The Dubliners (f), If You Catch an Adjective, Kill It (ip), Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language (ip).

I have recently (thanks to the Spring Workshop) become totally engrossed in the psychology of creativity, and more specifically, language, so a great many of these books have to do with that.

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Oh, you thought that was all? I told you- I’ve been READING.

Grooks (f) (an incredible book of short and incredibly meaningful poems that everyone should pick up and flip through. Just Google Piet Hein), Fire Starter (ip), The Help (ip), Ink On Snow (f), Memento Tsunami (f), Poetry as Survival (f), Late Psalm (f), Divining Divas: 100 Gay Men on Their Muses (f), The Inner Tradition of Yoga (ip), An Exaltation of Larks (INCREDIBLE) (f), and The Runner’s Literary Companion (thanks, Ally!) (f).

This is a pretty comprehensive account of everything I’ve read in the past three weeks, or am currently reading. I’m a speedy reader, and I’m hoping to knock out half of these in-progress books in the next two weeks if I don’t get slammed with homework. Yay, reading!

I have also been spending more time with a little writing workshop that I am a part of. We’ve been getting together to critique each others work, and a few of us have been attending different writing workshops in Philly and around Bucks County. It’s been such magic to connect to a community of writers- it fills a space in me that nothing else could have. Bonus that everyone in the group is a rock star on a personal level, as well as fantastically talented. I am very, very grateful to have connected with them.

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Aw, I can’t sign off without giving you all a rundown of what the kids have been up to! 🙂 Which is not much, since it’s still pretty chilly. We have been doing a LOT of puzzles O.o Carolyn and I went to Wednesday story hour last week, and then on Friday I took both of them to the Barnes and Noble story and music hour. I really prefer the Wednesday hour at the Yardley library, but it’s for younger children, so Jack would have a hard time with so many little babies around. Barnes and Noble is great because it’s mostly older kids, and they have a train set for when Jack loses interest in the story (they read FOUR!). They also sing and toss stuffed animals around on a parachute, and that’s a lot of fun, but still, it’s very high-energy and the moms are not very friendly.

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He doesn’t seem too put-out 🙂 Last week was my spring break, and we had a great time hanging with Uncle James and just enjoying our time together. With school and homework and activities with the kids, the days can feel a bit rushed, and it was nice to take the opportunity to slow down and relax together.

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Of course, we still have some days that looked like this…

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…but for the most part, we’re still our own happy little family.

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That’s all for now. I don’t expect I’ll be too busy to check in here again sometime next week. I’m heading over to Doc Baker’s to do a full writeup this weekend, so I’ll definitely be in to tell you all about it. I’m super excited 🙂 The weather’s warming up, which means park days and long walks are just around the monthly corner, not to mention our CSA. I’ll leave you with one final reminder as we head into warmer months and the start of the 2013 growing season:

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!

Peach Cobbler Instant Oat Groats

Tuesday night already?! Surely not. Since starting classes, it seems like the beginning of each week goes zooming by before I even have a chance to register that I’ve been in class for two days. Allow me to lay out the craziness of the first half of my week, to give you an idea of what I am doing Monday through Wednesday:

Monday:

9:30- Out the door and on my way to the art studio for two hours while the kids hang out with a babysitter.

12:00- Leave the art studio and head straight to class. Frantic call home to make sure everyone is still in one piece.

1-2:15- Intro to Poetry. I usually have a book and/or essay due in addition to some writing assignments, so I use the extra time before class to get organized.

2:30- Home! By now I’m missing Jack and Carolyn terribly, so we usually head out to a park or playground to have some fun together.

5:00- Back home to start getting dinner ready and put things in motion to get the kids into bed.

6:00- Bathtime!

7:30- Jack goes to sleep.

8:30- Carolyn goes to sleep. Mommy regroups from the weekend and tackles any homework due on Wednesday. Laundry, dishes, and the cleaning up of toys also happens.

12:00: Mommy goes to sleep- snore!

Tuesday.

Tuesdays are tricky, because they vary from week to week. Sometimes I go to the dentist at 9 (I am in the middle of extensive dental work, so I go almost every week), which is what happened today. In that case, I am there for about 2 1/2 hours, and my mother helps me out by picking up Luis from Hamilton. If I don’t have to be at the dentist, it goes something like this:

7:30- Wake up with Jack and Carolyn. Commence diaper changes, clothes for the day, and breakfast.

9:30- Leave to meet Luis at Hamilton.

10:00- Pick up Luis. We often stop at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods on the way home, since it’s right there.

12:00- Home to unload and regroup. I start packing up my books and lunch for school.

1:00- Leave for school. Cry the whole way over about leaving J & C for an entire day. Feel guilty about being mildly excited that I am alone.

1:30- 6:00- Silkscreening class, where I talk about my children while printing silhouettes of my children, completely playing into the boring Mommy stereotype. Break at 4:00 to call home and check on the kids. Jack will actually talk to me on the phone now, so this is a major highlight of my day.

6:15- Creative Writing workshop, another phone call home to check in, and a snack.

7:00- 9:30- Creative Writing class. Break at 8:15 to call home and check on the kids.

9:45- Home to bolt down some dinner, feed Carolyn, check Jack, do laundry, and crash (and, obviously, try for a quick blog update).

Wednesday.

8:00- Wake up. If I’m lucky, Luis has already gotten up with the kids and is getting them dressed, but this isn’t always a reality. Begin morning routine. Wednesday is usually a toast morning.

9:30- 10:45- YOGA! I missed yoga last week in favor of going to the art studio, but tomorrow it’s on. I thrive when I practice in the studio, and Wednesdays are the only day I am guaranteed studio time, since Luis is with the kids. I don’t often miss it.

11:00- Swing by the house to pick up Luis & co. Luis has to catch a train out of Hamilton at noon, so often times they’re waiting for me in the driveway and I don’t even get out of the car.

12:00- Luis gets on a train and the kids and I head home.

12:30- Back home, change diapers, and pop Jack into his bed for a nap while feeding Carolyn. Tomorrow my mother is helping me out by watching the kids, but FYI to anyone interested: I am in the market for a Wednesday babysitter.

1:00 – 2:15- Intro to Poetry!

2;30- Home to change diapers and handle lunch for J & C. At this point I’m usually wondering where the beginning of my week has run off to, and how it could possibly be Wednesday afternoon already. Tomorrow will be a bit crazier because I am attending a movie screening at 6, but I am looking forward to it, despite the running around.

So…that is how I begin my week. It’s no wonder Thursday always takes me by surprise! It would be totally overwhelming if I didn’t absolutely L-O-V-E my classes.

Here’s where I am going with all of this, because I’m sure I haven’t made it very clear: in the beginning of my week, time is of the essence, meaning things that can be done quickly must be done quickly. Like, say, my meals- because it is more important for Jack and Carolyn to have balanced meals than it is for me to have food to bring to school. Fortunately, we do not often have to face such a compromise. I have become quite adept at throwing together healthy meals well-suited for both Mommy and child!

Which brings me to my next point: peach cobbler near-instant oat groats! I know- you’re thinking, there’s no such thing!

I assure you, there is. I was struck by inspiration over the weekend, and devised a plan to alter those incredible oat groats in the interest of cutting down the cooking time without compromising the nutritional value. Behold:

By processing the whole groats into a flour, I maintained their nutritional profile but cut down the cooking time by about an hour. It does alter the texture- whole groats will cook up chewy and firm, while the ground groats have a creamy texture, much like grits or porridge. I honestly love them both ways, but on busy mornings, this method trumps all.

 

Peach Cobbler Instant Oat Groats

by Elizabeth Austin

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Keywords: blender breakfast dessert snack kosher low-sodium nut-free soy-free vegan vegetarian oat groats chia seeds peaches hempmilk American fall spring summer winter

 

 

Ingredients (serves 2)

    For the oatmeal:

    • 3/4 cup whole oat groats
    • 2 tbsp. chia seeds
    • 2 1/2 cups non-dairy milk
    • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
    • 1 tsp. cinnamon
    • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
    • sprinkle of nutmeg
    • 1 tsp. vanilla extract (or one vanilla bean, scraped)
    • 1/4 tsp. salt
    • 1 large or 2 small peaches, chopped
    • additional peaches, for topping

    For the oat topping:

    • 2 tbsp. rolled oats
    • 2 tsp. brown sugar
    • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

    Instructions

    For the oatmeal:

    Begin by adding your oats and chia seeds to your food processor or high-speed blender.

    Grind into a flour.

    Add oats, chia, and milk into a pot, and whisk until combined.

    We use hempmilk for oatmeal because it is delicious!

    Stir in sugar, spices, vanilla, and peaches.

    Cook over medium heat until thickened, about 5-10 minutes.

    While it’s cooking…

    Make your oat topping:

    Preheat oven to 350.

    In a measuring cup or small bowl, combine oats, brown sugar, and cinnamon.

    Spread over a baking sheet, and toast in the oven 5-7 minutes, until golden and fragrant.

    When oatmeal has thickened…

    Dish into individual servings.

    Top with additional peaches, a splash of milk, a sprinkle of oat topping, and an extra shake of cinnamon.

    Enjoy!

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    This oatmeal is my tentative plan for the morning, assuming I can get myself out of bed before 9. ‘Tired’ does not even remotely approach how I am feeling right this minute, and so I am going to excuse myself in the interest of shutting my eyes and getting some much-needed sleep.

    Eat well and be well!