Lately I have had my mind where many gardeners do this time of year— in the garden. It isn’t hard to spot someone with a love for gardening. We’re either a hot mess with lots of plants everywhere and the cottage garden feeling where it is abundant and full, with lots of variety, or some (not me) are immaculately cared for and weeded, always in bloom and perfect. I find that many times it depends on the type of gardener, but not always.
Some people confine food items to a square or block and everything else is… elsewhere. When I was the one with a choice I could only plant in flower beds. Ultimately the need to beautify and somewhat hide produce production led me to look at plants differently.
Take this one for instance. One year I planted these along the front of my house and got a lot of compliments. They loved them. The shock on their faces when I told people they were potatoes was funny to say the least. Beans also have a pretty yellow flower, albeit a bit more hidden under leaves usually. Easier to eat as you work though.
I have moved away from the place hat required nothing but flowerbeds. But since I moved in September I wound up with stuff in the ground and the hopes it would survive rather than a well laid plan of where things would be. And with little to nothing in terms of beds it literally just went in the ground. All 2.5 kiddie pools of them.
I was not in good health then, and in all honesty, I didn’t do terribly well for several years after that. Then I had some things getting progressively worse (sensitivities never seem to decrease :'( ) while life in general has been getting better. Last year after I recovered from the blahs after going gluten free I have been feeling more able to plant and garden and keep up than I have in a long time. Most things that go in my yard are either edible or medicinal in some capacity. A few volunteers insist on sticking around, and occasionally help in other ways (poke berries do make an awesome ink or dye…. But man I would like for them to give up sometimes).
So I really just wanted to share a few quick photos I took this afternoon where plants are both useful and pretty. Hope you enjoy and can get some inspiration for your own garden.
Growing up, Mom made something she would call Skillet Supper. Usually it was a way to use up leftovers, or maybe just throw something together really quick with shelf stable ingredients. I find myself questioning now, what makes something a skillet supper? When I started this job we would have a Saute of the Day in the employee dining room and the buffet. In a lot of ways those were similar to the things we had growing up. Maybe it would have some pasta or some rice. Maybe some veggies or some sauce. Maybe it would have some beans or maybe the beans were what got thrown in so it would have some sauce. If you look at them from the point of view that Skillet Supper is something done to use up leftovers and a saute basically got prepped as needed and is a coherent mix of things that could be chosen from it starts sounding like a capsule wardrobe…. And that doesn’t sound appetizing. Obviously I need more sleep before I try writing these things.
Anyway, if you have a fairly standard set of things you wind up with for leftovers, and you keep some basic foods in the pantry, you have a wide array of options for your next Skillet Supper…. And if it was standard-ish on what you had you could maybe have a base set of sautes you could schedule into your meal plan rather than the way I learned to do Skillet Suppers with a hope and a prayer that they would turn out yummy.
If you have been on my Instagram for very long you probably realize that I do this a fair bit with odds and ends I got from marked down produce. Mom would often throw chili beans or baked beans in the pan with some rice…. Maybe mushrooms if my brother was gone that night. Back then I was a vegetarian, so I honestly don’t know if they ever had meat in them, and if she added that it was at the end(after mine was pulled out). My guess is that she started with beans and rice so that there was a complete protein and then didn’t worry about meat.
What the kids and I have done the last few years that would fit this concept of a formula of ingredients would be Meat and Greens. The meat we start with might be pepperoni, or salami, or pork chops (I am making this for the first time this year tonight with chicken, previously we would often use pepperoni, but it also has pork and wouldn’t be in our normal choices now). Julienne some onion, and toss that in. I used to also use butter with the meat and onions as well. Tonight I am using rendered chicken fat. Throw in some cut up root veggies. Carrots, turnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes are all good. After that stuff is all heated up and most of the way cooked through you toss the stems of your greens in, and then a minute or two later (or whenever you get them cut down) you add the strips of kale, collards, turnip greens, swiss chard, or whatever other greens you have on hand to the pan and let them get wilted down. Salt/Pepper as desired and serve.
The other night I didn’t have the kids and I made one that was a take on my Buttery Ranch Brussel Sprouts that I had been working on as an alternative to the Bacon and Brussels recipe that got my kids to finally eat Brussel sprouts that weren’t coated in some sort of yellow sludge out of a box. I did the Brussel sprouts the way I had been, but then tossed in mushrooms and onions to go with it. This did change the flavor quite a bit, but that very well may have been because I used way more mushrooms than I probably should have.
You might notice a trend that I don’t really have the rice, beans, or pasta in there like my Mom did. Over the years I have occasionally made things that could fall in the Skillet Supper category with these ingredients, and my kids just really don’t care for them. Now maybe I should have listened to them sooner, but we are eating a lot less rice these days, and pasta pretty much went away with the gluten free thing. We will still have the occasional bit of pasta with spaghetti sauce, but since it just isn’t the same and for the last few years I hadn’t been able to find a GF spaghetti I liked, we went with Penne pasta and the little spirally one whose name I don’t remember. I don’t know if this was because of the urging from so many doctors to go paleo, or if we just quit fixing that type of stuff, and maybe it was both. Either way, I know that I feel better the less I eat grains…. processed or not. I still do, but if I can pair meat and veg and be satisfied, that is usually our best bet. And if I am just feeding me I will often just take one thing and cook it somehow, and eat that.
Wishing you the best of luck in your hope and pray supper experiments,
Strawberries spend most of June in season where I am, and straggle to some degree on ever-bearing plants for a while longer. Growing up at our house strawberry shortcake was a special treat every summer. What I have found out since I had kids of my own is that it is a tradition that goes back at least 3 generations (or 4 depending how you count).
When my Grandma was growing up it was a meal her family had when they were picking the berries from the garden. I wish I had that many plants. She continued it with her kids, and Mom continued the tradition as well even though we bought the berries from one of the fruit stands along the road. And despite protests from their dad’s side of the family, I do the same with my kids.
Mom always seemed to have some recipes that she didn’t have to look up. Since she passed we have tracked some down. She always used to tell me — “it is just a basic biscuit recipe, just throw in a few Tablespoons of sugar.” As I’ve told you before I am not the best cook in the world, and obviously don’t have it memorized, so I thought I would share.
2 cups flour
2 T. sugar
1T. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1/3 cup fat
2/3 cup liquid (milk)
Set oven at 450 degrees F. Sift flour once. Measure. Add salt and baking powder; stir well and sift together. Cut fat into dry ingredients until it is the size of rice kernels. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, add milk and stir vigorously with wooden spoon until blended or until dough follows the spoon. Lightly flour countertop using about 1 T. flour. Form dough into a ball and knead lightly with fingertips about 10-15 times. Roll to about ½ inch in thickness. Dip cutter into flour. Cut and place on unoiled baking sheet. Bake until golden brown (about 12 to 15 minutes). Full recipe makes 16 to 18 small biscuits.
— Today I made a few modifications as I am now gluten free. I used a mix of brown and white rice flour (literally as I found stashes of flours I tossed the contents of the bags in my bucket and stirred, so it might also have some other flours, but I will work on standardizing in the future). I also substituted honey for the sugar, added an egg, and then had to add about a quarter cup of flour. They came out a decent texture, but a bit dryer than I really like.
In our world strawberry shortcake is a full meal, complete with lots of fresh berries (cut up and add a little sugar to draw the juice out), shortcake, vanilla ice cream, and milk or berry juice over the top of the whole bowl. It has all of the wonderful taste to match the best meals in the world, and the textures always amaze me as it all just sort of melts in your mouth. Hmmmm, I might just have to try this with peaches when they are in season too…..
A few years ago it was recommended by multiple people (in the medical professions) to go “Paleo”…. All of them knew I was struggling with food sensitivities and other health issues. Of course all of these things are made worse by my weight (which is too much, and has been going up since I got pregnant with my daughter… almost 13 years ago now). The one that took time to explain the suggestion said that because the major things that would be irritating my gut (which is likely an issue) would be gluten and dairy, so if I switched it would cover those). Unfortunately the wonderful messages sent from one person are received by another, and I didn’t hear, remember, or understand some important parts.
I had heard about the 80/20 rule and applied it to this whole “Paleo” idea. Since I wasn’t feeling great about the idea of jumping into something that sounded so restrictive I figured I could do it gradually and pick up parts of it and work toward 80% of the time. And since I started reading about meal ideas in this realm 80/20 sounded like a reasonable option. I could still have everything I wanted, and then I could eat salads and meat and vegetables the rest of the time. So I started working toward gluten free, because no milk sounded like torture. I actually got pretty good about eating gluten free most days…. and then I would go out to eat. Or be strapped for time or not have the flour that was required in the recipes. So 1 meal here and 1 meal there would be okay because that went to my 20%. Or maybe everything else was fine except the salad dressing… and that can’t be much, right?
Then last fall I started reading Wheat Belly Total Health. I really don’t remember anything other than if you eat gluten it undoes the last week of work you put in. And he really doesn’t like the gluten free replacements either because some of the grains used actually have worse reactions as far as blood sugar spikes than wheat. At about this time I also had a consult with a functional medicine doctor (one of the people that had suggested paleo in the first place), and I asked her if this was actually true, and she said yes! So I had to make a choice. Do I want to do this? Do I want to give up on it? And so I decided to give it a try. And decided I needed a plan first and looked at my current situation.
I usually took a smoothie to work for breakfast- already gluten free, and on the rare occasion I wanted cereal I could get Rice Chex or GF Cheerios.
Lunch was often made from leftovers and this was fine since that would be gluten free, but if I didn’t have leftovers or forgot them it would be local fast food places or the gas station. None of these places actually have gluten free lunch options. Even if the website said they did, the minute I used that phrase they would refuse service. Item #1 to figure out a plan for.
For suppers I went through the stuff that we had started eating since I started this part of my health journey. We found we love things like Pad Thai, something we call Mash, chicken or pork chops with a veggie and rice or potatoes for sides, and occasionally things like crustless pizza. Oh, and we can’t forget Chuck Wagon Chow.
My goal here was to find at least 3-4 options for supper on my kid weeks, and then I would batch cook twice on non-kid weeks. Once Sunday night when my leftovers were running out, and it also got my work lunches ready for the week. Then Monday night I would cook the chicken or pork option that I didn’t cook Sunday night. This worked well while I was at that job.
This plan led me to start looking at different meal plans on YouTube and Pinterest for new ideas. I had my basics, and that was good, but without new ideas if you are eating something 4 or 5 meals in a row or days in a row it gets old pretty fast if you aren’t rotating. But a week plan was enough to get started.
So how well did it work out?
The first couple of weeks I felt super yucky (which anyone telling you to go GF should warn you about), but then I started feeling better. Like a lot better. I had actually been putting on a lot of weight, and ballooned up to 310 over the first 6 weeks of being completely gluten free. This is about 15 to 20 pounds above where I had been floating for the previous year or so. And honestly, this was pretty normal for the other stuff in my life right then because I had started trying to lose weight and get healthy. This seems to be a pretty normal reaction for my body, and starting from about the time my daughter was 6 months old til now, I add around 10-15 pounds every time I decide I am going to lose weight. Anyway, I decided I was happy where I was at since I felt so much better and have steadily been losing weight ever since (By December when I started in the kitchen I was down to 305, and when I weighed this morning I was at 280). But there was no way I would have survived even a day in the kitchen before going gluten free… I had barely survived supper prep at home!
Starting a new job did change my routine quite a bit. I actually have options available in the employee dining room that are gluten free and I can eat for free, so I do choose to eat there, and am eating a lot more salad. I have since quit eating pork (99% of the time), and am working towards a kosher way of eating as well.
1 can chili beans (mild or hot will work, check to make sure they are gluten free if needed)
garlic to taste
Start by browning the ground beef in a large skillet. Season with Salt and Pepper if desired.
Drain excess fat from pan and add the whole can of chili beans, liquid and all, and the corn. Stir.
Now that it is mixed up, season with the garlic (this might take more than you think, so check it a couple times as it seems to change as it heats up and melds together. Also depends on how much flavor your beans have). The liquid from the chili beans adds the rest of the flavor.
Heat through and serve.
Cost per serving: $1.86
We used to eat this with garlic bread back when I could have such things. These days the kids will sometimes eat with bread and butter, but normally it is just on its own. Over the years I have started adding a second can of corn and beans to stretch this meal as my kiddos have gotten bigger and we needed more to make a complete meal and no one complains about a lack of meat in the dish.
Can’t do much to beat a quick, simple, and hearty meal with your family.
Last Friday I told you guys that I had joined a pantry challenge. I managed to only grab a gallon of milk mid-week, but I do have a few things I have to grab before I pick the kiddos up. Most of them are requests from the kids.
Orange juice-they were fighting colds for whatever reason last time they were home, and prefer juice to Vitamin C tabs
Pudding- chocolate, vanilla, and lemon…. we already have vanilla, so I will grab the other two
Honey Bunches of Oats (this will only happen if it is on sale, they have raisin bran, and he will make quesadillas which will work out cheaper)
I use vinegar as my principle cleaning agent, so this is actually more for laundry and cleaning than cooking. Mash was requested by my girl child, apparently she doesn’t remember having it a couple weeks ago when she requested it last time, so I need potatoes for that. At the store I am going to they mark down produce on Tuesdays and Fridays, so I will see what I can find to add some fresh veggies to the plan for the week. Cheese and tortillas are on the list every time. Mainly because my son is going to turn into a quesadilla any moment. He will have a couple for breakfast before walking out the door (even though he could have cereal or any number of other things at school), and then turn around and want that for both after school snack and as a bedtime snack if he isn’t digging into the ice cream.
In case you didn’t know, I think pretty much any mother can tell you that you don’t go into a store hungry. Or with kids if you can help it. I do break that last one because after a few years of monthly grocery shops without kids I realized my kids hadn’t actually been in a store in over a year. But I still only take them occasionally. My goal for today is to make it in and out for less than $25. This is somewhat arbitrary, but in order to not have to play whack-a-mole with my budget, that is the goal. I also try to see how fast I can get in and out because the longer you are in, generally the more you spend. So I just fixed myself what I am calling Leftover Saute to get my belly full, and then I will head out.
1 leftover turnip (diced, but I also took the little sprouting tops off and added those)
2 spiralized carrots- cores were eaten for breakfast this morning, and sprials saved in a bowl of water
2 small kale leaves- fresh from the garden… is it leftover considering the kale was leftover from last year?
4ish garlic leaves? stalks? it was the soft tops, not scapes, and not the cloves….
4 spearmint leaves- also picked from the garden today…. the rest of the bunch will probably be dried and used in my morning smoothies
I cut up the chicken into the skillet, put the skin in the toaster oven for 5ish minutes, and then cut the onion and turnip. I did add a pinch of Pink Himalayan salt, and chicken fat leftover from cooking chicken thighs… I honestly don’t know if this is schmaltz…. which I understand to be rendered chicken fat, but that is what I have been calling it for ease of labelling. I used to use bacon grease in these type applications, but am avoiding pork these days. Anyway, once those were all melding well I tossed in the lightly squeezed out carrot spirals, and went to pick the stuff from the garden. It just didn’t have enough color. I did cut those into strips and tossed them in, and basically just let it get good and wilted. Top with the chicken skin. Then nom, nom, nom….. why do I automatically see pacman when I use that term?
For the month of May I joined a pantry challenge on Happy in the Hollow. This isn’t the first pantry challenge I have done, but many times I don’t join a group. I tend to do them when either space or money is tight. We have a local store that does a Buy 2 Get 3 free sale 3 times a year, and I will typically stock the freezer at that time. It always helps if there is room in the freezer to do so.
So what is a pantry challenge? It is a period of time when you make a conscious effort to eat down your pantry instead of buying groceries as you normally would. This may be in an effort to reduce spending if your budget is stretched that week or month, or it may be to clean out old and forgotten items before they go bad. Food does eventually do that even if it keeps for a long time, so in order to get the most nutrient value out of it, you want to cycle through the food in your pantry on a regular basis. Even if you have long term food storage it is a good idea to regularly use that food in your cooking so that you know how to prepare it, and this should be done in a First In, First Out fashion. This keeps a cycle going so that you are always using the oldest food first, and as you (or if you) replace something it will go behind the oldest of the item you already have. They make rotation shelves for this, or there are lots of different ways to do it on pinterest… or you can just pull the old to the front and put the new in the back on your shelf. Do whatever works for you.
Most people will probably start a pantry challenge by looking at what they have. Pull things off shelves or out of cupboards, or if you have certain things you know you keep moving around to get to other things— those are prime targets. The next thing is to set your parameters. Will you buy any groceries during the challenge? If so, will you limit your budget? Only buy certain items? Only buy things if they are needed to finish a recipe to use something up? In my experience, I will almost always still need to buy milk. I may or may not need to buy bread or tortillas for the kids (I am gluten free, but they do some cooking for snacks or food while I am at work). I have tried the buying to recipe approach, but found that it is usually better to ask google for substitutes so that I don’t wind up with another ingredient I wouldn’t normally use for the next challenge. You also want to think about how long you will do the challenge for. If you are doing it for financial reasons that might be until you get another paycheck, or the next month. I will often do a month at a time, unless I am trying to clear a particular location out. Then I go til the food is gone (hopefully with enough time to clean it before refilling it with the food that has gone on sale). After you have set your parameters, and you know what you have that needs used up, you are ready to start planning.
Are there obvious meals your family likes you can make with those ingredients? Can you throw in an extra item in something you know you like to get it used up? Maybe those last few stalks of celery could get tossed into a sauce or a soup you wouldn’t normally have celery in. Maybe that canned salmon that you accidentally bought can turn into salmon patties instead of the hamburgers you would normally fix. Make sense? Great! I will be writing more in this series over the next few weeks, so make sure to check back to see what I am working on. Let me know what you are using up in the comments below!