sickness, sleep (not much), meal-planning

Don’t even try to deny that is the best, most compelling blog post title ever! Yeah, so you’re only getting one blog post again this week, due to sickness (kids’) and lack of sleep (mine). But I do have a small offering and it just might change your life.

(For the better.)

It is meal-planning.

Recently I heard a stat that is completely wackadoo: according to a recent study, Americans throw away nearly 40% of the food we buy. (Think on that for a moment. Okay, continue.) If you want, go ahead and use the Google to find out what this means for water waste, increased greenhouse gas emissions from rotting food in landfills and the amount of money you might be throwing away annually. Also, only 28% of Americans say they can cook.


100% wackadoo.

I am not being judgy or bossy. (I’m being slightly bossy.) Let’s think of it not as bossiness but as unsolicited helpfulness.

I am really good at meal-planning. There are many things at which I suck. Gymnastics. Swallowing vitamins. Behaving normally in a great deal of social situations. But this chick can meal-plan.


I created a standard grocery list and print a copy every week then cross off and add to it as needed. This is a blank one. I shop at several places, so they’re all on here as well as a little OTHER column for those one-offs. I know—I’m such a dork.

You can totally do this, too. I swear that you do have the time. I developed this skill when I was in graduate school full-time and working 40 hours a week simultaneously. And even though I didn’t possess actual small humans in those days, believe me when I tell you that schedule is something like having 7 newborns with at least 2 of them screaming at all times.

(I am totally being bossy today. It’s the lack of sleep. Or that I’m bossy.)

I promise you, this is quick and easy. Okay, you don’t need a fancy app, but you do need to start with one of two things (or both): a little stash of recipes you like and/or a little list of things that your family likes to eat. Now jot down the days of the week. Choose 5 meals and, depending on what your schedule looks like for the week—when you’ll be getting home and how long each recipe will take to prepare, etc.—decide what meal you will assign to each day. I say 5 because chances are you’ll have leftovers to eat on the other days. If you want to only cook 4 days of the week, choose recipes that produce a high yield and hence a larger quantity leftovers. I do suggest choosing recipes that are quick and easy for weekdays and save those that are more challenging and time-consuming for weekends. And I promise that if you decide to switch things around during the week no one will stop you.

Next, make your grocery list based off the ingredients that your chosen recipes require, plus your usual staples.


I write in my weekly meals plan here as well. This sheet may seem a little much, but it really makes my life easier. I categorize the items by department and also list stuff in order by aisle. (I’m a freak.)
Grocery stores tend to induce the fight or flight response in me—
it’s best for everyone if I get outta there quickly.

If this all seems like, doy, I know—I get it. But before I devised this system, I was one of those people who threw food away every week. Not only do I never throw out fresh produce or meat anymore, I almost never even throw out leftovers. ‘Cause I plan.

Bonus Tips! Freeze those leftovers! If, after a day or 3, it seems evident that you are not going to consume a container of leftovers, label them (don’t question me on this one) and toss them in the freezer. Some night when you don’t feel like cooking, you will rejoice over that container. And if you make a soup, double the recipe and freeze half. Soup freezes really well and doubling is easy since soup is pretty much just a bunch of stuff you bung in a big pan. Double lasagna filling and freeze half. Double veggie or chicken pot pie filling and freeze half. (Use pre-made pie crust—cheat! Who’s gonna know?) Make a double recipe of meatballs and freeze half. (Are you getting this?)

See? Easier than executing a cartwheel. Or carrying on a normal conversation with the cashier at Hannaford.

I have begun to dabble in make-ahead-and-freeze meals (got this book) and once a month cooking (this is an oldie). I’ll keep you posted.

(Expect more unsolicited helpfulness in your future. You can’t wait.)

groc_list2 Notice how WINE is both capitalized and emphasized? Like I’d forget wine... But better safe than sorry.

food is innocent, people—even evil piles of oiled spaghetti

Wanna hear my latest pet peeve? (You do.)

Mean cooking shows. What the hell is wrong with this country?

I don’t watch a lot of shows besides Downton Abbey, Girls, New Girl, Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix (where has that show been my whole life?), One Tree Hill on Netflix (TOTAL crap, but I can’t stop), Louie and (best show ever) Felicity which I only watch on DVD since Netflix uses the wrong songs in some places and it ruins entire episodes. Don’t mess around with my Felicity. You’ve been warned. There may be some shows I am forgetting to remember... Oh! Nashville. So gloriously trashy! So aside from all of those, I don’t watch a lot of shows. I forgot Shameless.

But I totally love cooking shows. They are like delicious white noise. Almost anything on the Cooking Channel or the Food Network—LOVE it. I usually watch a little of The Chew (how much do I LOVE that show?) while I eat my lunch and lately ABC has been advertising a new show called The Taste and it is just all mean. There are other mean cooking shows, too. And they all suck. Not that I’ve watched them. I refuse on principle.

Can we just allow some things to be nice? It’s food, not the giant trash heap in the Pacific. Or global warming. Or malaria. Or the wrong songs in some places on Felicity ruining entire episodes.

(Okay, I’m done with that.)

So, you can anticipate only one blog post from me this week. (Take a moment if you need to. Alright... you okay now? Good.) I am into heavy edits on The Mosquito Hours and very busy scrutinizing every word and examining every theme. And—because what would my life be without freaking out about pretty much everything (I’m exaggerating—it’s only almost everything)—I find myself concerned that not every single thread and theme and thought and metaphor and motif and other literary devices I don’t remember from AP English are not fully realized.

This is a 101,826 word document. Do you know what it that is like?

I can’t even explain it.

(I’m a writer—I should try.)

It’s like an enormous and evil pile of oiled spaghetti—you prop up one area to have a look and the rest droops and slides away. You prop up some other area to have a look and the rest droops and slides away. You prop up some other area to have a look and the rest droops and slides away.

(I think you get it.)


My workspace. Totally overwhelming pile of notes and one of my favorite pens. Yes, that is One Tree Hill on the screen.

You have to try to remember every way you did everything for the sake of consistency, make sure the story doesn’t get bogged down anywhere, too speedy anywhere, make sure the prose is interesting yet clear and the story lines are believable, find and fix all typos (totally impossible), insert/adjust the excellent ideas and feedback from your friends who have graciously read the 101,826 word document.

(Aren’t you freaked out now, too?)

But then I remembered that writing is truly a collaboration with the reader. My readers are smart—I have to allow them space to find the themes and the connections. Find the meaning and metaphor. And that might be somewhat different for each reader. And that will mean the book itself will be essentially different. Each reader brings his or her own perspective and that will shape their experience with my words. And that is really pretty amazing. So, thank you ahead of time, as I know you will find wonders in my book of which I had not even conceived.

It’s gonna be great.

In the meantime while you wait to read The Mosquito Hours, do not watch mean cooking shows. Or Felicity on Netflix. Seriously.

meatball triumph! (...and tragedy)

Meatballs are a pain in the ass. Maybe not to Mario or Giada, but for me, a total pain in the ass. They’re messy and raw meat totally freaks me out and I don’t like touching it. Then when I fry them up in the giant sauté pain (which is also a total drag to clean later), they always seem to stick and I have to chisel them out to flip them over and the olive oil is spitting all over the top of the stove. One giant pain. (Do you ever wonder when you read this blog, Is there nothing about which she can’t find to complain? The answer is no. It is one of my special talents that I share with you. You are welcome.) But everyone eats meatballs with exuberance which makes them little miracle balls. Let me make clear that when I say “everyone,” I mean everyone except my son who only eats 6 things. Wanna guess what they are? If you said boxed mac-n-cheese, pizza, peanut butter and jelly, waffles, nuggets and fries and bacon you win! What do you win? Nothing. It’s just an expression. (And I exaggerate. He eats, like, 8 things.) Everyone knows that when I say “everyone” eats such and such, I am excluding my son. Who is everyone? You know, just everyone. Everyone who eats meatballs. Which is everyone except my son. (Are you following?) At any rate, I had a meatball epiphany the other day. It was more like several different meatball ideas merging to create the PERFECT method for making meatballs. (At least if you are me.)

Here’s what you do.

Make your meatball mix. I always make Giada’s. (Just use white turkey meat if you can’t get dark, which mostly you can’t unless you live near a Whole Foods, which I personally do not. Or you can kill a turkey yourself. Your call.) Grab a nice cookie scoop and a mini-muffin tin. mini-muffin_tin

Let me break here a moment to tell you about my mini-muffin tin.

In my kitchen, there are two skinny cabinets that flank the stove.skinny_cabinet They are the perfect size for cookie sheets and cooling racks, cutting boards and muffin tins. The people who owned this place before we did lost the house because they over-financed it. I don’t know them, of course—the house was owned by the bank by the time we found the for sale sign on the lawn. One of the neighbors told me about the foreclosure. She told me that she sometimes saw the man who used to live here drive by, which made me feel really sad. I love my house, but like most houses, it contains a history that precedes the footfalls and chatter of its current inhabitants. All the former footfalls and chatter echo.

Well, the day we moved in, my mom and I took to cleaning the kitchen cabinets in preparation for their filling with my stuff. The woman who used to live here forgot to empty out one of the skinny cabinets and I acquired a sheet pan, a tray covered with a flower pattern and a mini-muffin tin. I always wanted one, but never could justify the expense. I mean, who really needs a mini-muffin tin? But it is nice to have it. So thanks to the woman who used to occupy this kitchen—I am putting her muffin tin to good use.

Ok, back to the recipe.

Spray your mini-muffin tin with oil and drop the uniformly-sized (Who doesn’t love uniformly-sized things? Crazy people, that’s who!) meatballs in the mini-muffin tin wells. (Did I really need to articulate that? Were you thinking you would just drop the meatballs on the counter and see what happened? Anyhow, any confusion is now diffused.) Then you BAKE THE MEATBALLS (I know!) at 425 degrees F for 20 minutes or so. Then, because I am a freak who worries about undercooked meat with an insistence that would shock you (or would it?), I drop them in a big pan and simmer in sauce for about 10-15 minutes. Just in case. (If you are normal, I think you can just serve them with warmed sauce.)

Can I tell you the joy I felt when all this came together?

Now, the tragic part of my little story.

I find that one jar of sauce is not enough for a batch of meatballs, but 2 jars is too much. The other day when I was making these meatballs, I happened to find a baggie of sauce in the bottom of the freezer—about half a jar’s worth. Perfect, methinks! I gleefully dumped it into the pan with the meatballs and it smelled wrong. More like misplaced. But I shrugged it off. Until it nagged at me and I took a little taste.


It was NOT tomato sauce but chipotle salsa. I’d frozen it a while back and thought I would use it in a chili or something. I was certain that I would remember what it was so I didn’t bother labeling it. I did not in fact remember what it was.

Kids won’t eat spicy food. So what would have been several meals joyously consumed by everyone (except, you might recall, my son), now it’s just me and my husband who will eat them. And we’re the least picky eaters in this house so who gives a crap.


Label them baggies, people! I mean it!

This is why you should always label baggies of stuff before you abandon them to the bottom of the freezer. You will not guess right even though you will insist that you will. Trust me.

And this is how I came to have a meatball triumph and tragedy all in the same meal.

I wrote a flash fiction story inspired by the mini-muffin tin. I will post it on Friday for your reading pleasure! Please come back.