Back to basics in the kitchen

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 7.39.15 PMFall is my favorite season, and I have been keen for something resembling order in the kitchen. No, not in the cabinets. I needed to simplify meals so that the planning and cooking would accommodate the busy lives of two teens, large afternoon snacks that pushed supper later, a family mostly wanting quick and familiar meals, and a parent trying to get away from constantly rushing to get food on the table (yep, that last one’s me).
Thankfully, years ago, one of my excellent friends talked about how she had been meal planning in a pattern: one night each week was pasta, another was maybe a rice or potato dish, etc. So, with thanks to RB, we’ve started our new basic meal plan:
  • Monday is pasta night; we can vary the sauces or toppings
  • Taco Tuesday. I may also put together freezer taco kits to make future weeks really easy. Cheater chilaquiles will surely appear as an occasional substitute.
  • Wednesday we have breakfast for dinner (pancakes, waffles, eggs, or maybe even cereal if things get really crazy)
  • Thursday leftovers or bagel sandwiches
  • Friday frozen pizza or something made ahead and frozen
  • Crock pot Saturday
  • Sunday I’m leaving open for whatever I feel like cooking and I’ll try to cook ahead some things for the week’s lunches or suppers

I’m also keeping a list of standard food items (cheese, crackers, baked beans, frozen berries, dried fruit, etc.) we can have around for when the plan goes awry or we just don’t feel like it.

 I still enjoying using Plan to Eat to save recipes, get that shopping list made for me, and fill in those weekends! A number of grocery stores in town will shop for you and either deliver it or have it ready for pick-up at a prearranged time, so using that and the shopping list generated by Plan to Eat gives me some unrushed time in the kitchen. It’s got me wondering about online shopping and home delivery for non-perishable items.  Readers, have you used Amazon or other services for this? Please share your advice in the comments.


Getting local produce from the farmers market is as basic as it gets to me, so we will take full advantage of the remaining few weeks of the outdoor farmers market. If your CSA has a market pick-up location or market share option (prepaid shopping cards for your choice of veggies from the stand), you can stock up on veggies and buy local cheese, meat, syrup, or other items while you are there. Next on my list is to use some of this year’s frozen berries in sauces and recipes and, girl, dye some yarn – there’s too many non-edible plant things in the freezer!

All the food, fiber, and gardening of summer

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This summer I had my head in the game but not my butt in the chair when it comes to writing (to steal a phrase from the #AmWriting podcast). I missed blogging but let myself be swept up in the moment. They won’t be teens at home forever and, despite what one often hears, these are great parenting years.

Lots happening around the Yarnstead with the basement finally getting spruced up and the tree that’s too close to the wires coming down. There was gardening, cooking, going to the farmers market, learning lots about food photography (a great day of learning and sisterhood plus my debut as a hand model;), making of yarn, making of things with yarn, and going to the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. Many but not all of these photos will be familiar if you follow me on Instagram. Off blog topics, there were visits to both of our amazing Great Lakes and many hours of teaching my eldest to drive (gulp).

Memorial Day garden gallery

Left column (top to bottom): herb garden, walking onions, tomato and ground cherry bed, kale that resprouted from last year, pollinator garden in dire need of weeding

Middle column (top to bottom): Also in dire need of weeding, the top two are views of the   big mixed garden bed (perennials, rhubarb, blackberries, new asparagus, some dye plants); bottom image are the raised beds close to the house with veggies and flowers

Right column (top to bottom): Blueberries, raspberries, front corner so we don’t have to mow there garden bed, 3 new Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium, edible berries and a dye plant)

The yard is always a work in progress! The weeds thrive in all kinds of growing conditions, which can be frustrating in the spring, but getting my hands in the dirt to weed can be a meditation.

When a treasure box is waiting on your doorstep

Text this afternoon from me: Is there a box on the doorstep?

Daughter: Ya. it’s huuuuuuuuuuuge.img_4351

I had checked the package tracking earlier today and was eager to get home to my first Harvestbox. I dug through the thick packaging and past the dry ice (pro tip: they are not kidding when they tell you not to touch that stuff, so watch where you grab the bag).

The package comes with a friendly greeting, plus info on defrosting, the farm where my poultry was raised out under the sky, and directions for returning the packaging if I want.img_4353

I had been wanting some boneless cuts of pastured chicken for a long time, partly because of family preference and partly because they are easy to use in our favorite recipes. At my farmers’ market, there was delicious chicken of the whole, half, or quarter variety, but no boneless cuts. I had been unable to find pastured boneless cuts at the stores I usually use. This bundle is a mix of boneless and bone-in cuts.

Almost all of these went straight into the chest freezer in the basement, but I’m looking forward to cooking some tomorrow. I love how they are bagged by type of cut, and Harvestbox sends a note with a magnet so you can keep track of how much you’ve used. They also sell grass-fed beef and free-range pork although I plan to keep buying those from the farmers’ market. There was room in the box for one bonus pack, so I did buy some grass-fed bacon because more bacon = always better.

This is not a sponsored post; in fact, Harvestbox knows nothing about it (surprise! you hoo, over here;)

I’ll be using this chicken in my meal planning with Plan to Eat, the very useful recipe-storing, list-making, and meal planning website. If you’d like to try Plan to Eat, please use my referral code for a free trial; if you decide to sign up for a paid plan after the trial, I will get a small commission.


A trip to Tolt Yarn and Wool

On a recent visit to western Washington state, I not only connected with family but also with all three of my blog’s topics by way of delicious homemade Dungeness crab sandwiches, two visits to a farm-to-table restaurant, many glimpses of a gardening season ahead of ours, and a visit to Tolt Yarn and Wool.

I’ve tended to be in Washington when the weather is very pleasant, so sometimes I look at the place with rose-colored glasses. Plus I was on vacation, right? When it comes to Tolt, though, I know its fabulousness is the real deal. I first heard about the shop on the Woolful podcast but had dismissed the idea of going there on this trip because of time constraints. My sister-in-law however has hoping to see the trunk show which Tolt was hosting and suggested a quick Sunday afternoon jaunt. I couldn’t say yes fast enough!

We had a 30-minute scenic drive from her home in a Seattle suburb to the town of Carnation. Tolt has spacious premises in Carnation’s downtown. You will find plenty of yarn, books, and notions to choose from, plus fiber for spinning or feltmaking. They also have room for crafting together and classes. I look forward to discovering more treasures on a future visit. 

Of course, I had brought some knitting with me (I made a hat on the train on the way out and had enough yarn for another, hats being excellent travel projects), but I knew when I walked into the shop where I was going to spend my souvenir money. 

I looked particularly at yarns that were from the Pacific Northwest and chose Snoqualmie, an organic Blue-faced Leicester and Clun Forest wool DK yarn. I really liked the store sample of the Cherry Creek Shawl, and just like at Costco, samples sell. So I bought three skeins of Snoqualmie in light blue (indigo-dyed, be still my heart), the pattern booklet (print copy includes a code for PDF download from Ravelry), and needles. You are probably thinking I already own the right needles…but they were in Wisconsin. I left the shop thinking that even though we’d just arrived, I win at vacation.

What’s happening in the food and gardening department? Well, April kicks my backside every year by making me extremely busy in every area of life, which is why a vacation by train was such a treat. I was able to do some garden prep work when it was mild in March and early April. My kale came back from last year on its own, and the berry bushes and cherry tree are doing great without any attention. The farmers’ market started in mid-April, so fresh greens are back on the menu. May will be a good time for a spring garden progress post!

Plan(ning) to Eat and liking it


What a difference a month makes! I am busily and happily meal planning again.

Last month, I reviewed some of the many options and was going to write my meal plan old school in my bullet journal. I did that for a while, still feeling not very inspired to try new things and keep my shopping list in any kind of useful order.

More Internet research led me to Plan to Eat (affiliate link) and its free 30-day trial. I am really liking this recipe storage, meal planning, and shopping list tool. Plan to Eat lets you use the recipes you choose from online sources or your cookbooks. When you add a recipe from a blog to your “recipe book,” the blog name is prominently displayed on the recipe view with a link back to the original page. The recipes showing on the left above are from the Plan to Eat blog.

You can choose to manually add your favorite recipes from print sources, or do what I did: enter the ingredients and amounts, and in the direction section, refer back by cookbook name and page number. I’ll just add others as the time comes to cook them. I also added Leftovers, DIY Tacos, and Scrambled Eggs with no directions. I can mark entrees as “in freezer” if prepared ahead and frozen or I made a double batch.

So far I’m planning our suppers and some baking but have the option to do all three meals plus snacks daily. The notes section is very useful to remind me to thaw things!

I switched to a paid version about halfway through my 30-day trial and signed up for the affiliate program (if anyone starts a free trial through my link later signs up for a paid version, I receive a commission). An annual plan is $39, and monthly plans are $4.95.

It’s easy to drag your recipe selections onto the calendar and move them around. I have mine set up to sync with my Google calendar which in turn shows up on my phone’s calendar app, but I also set up a shortcut to the Plan to Eat mobile site on my phone’s home screen.

The automatic making of shopping lists is a favorite feature of mine. Because it’s web-based and works on mobile, you can use it on any smartphone, tablet, or computer. If you are in an area where you don’t get cell reception, you can download your shopping list before you go.

You can keep a standard list of staples so you don’t forget toilet paper or cat food, and even make separate lists for different stores if that’s how your brain works. Once you have the list, you can check off items you already have so you can reduce spending and food waste. That’s also when I think about substituting for something in freezer or pantry and make a note. Good thing, since I am behind on my January goal of emptying freezer and cupboards. I’ve changed it to having the freezer and cupboards empty by farmers’ market time, so I have a few more weeks!

Stuck in the meal planning rut: when you don’t follow your own advice

fullsizeoutput_1669.jpegIn January, I started my third year of a cooking challenge to work my way through the food in the freezer and cupboards. I’m still at it because I am in a meal planning rut. Think of it as the home cook’s version of writer’s block. Just like words, the ingredients are all around but not coming together in any sort of satisfying way.

Visiting with my sister over the weekend, I quizzed her about her subscription to Plated. I was really intrigued, but with so many stores in town that will deliver my groceries and a fair amount of food already in my house, I probably don’t need a service that delivers the ingredients with the meal plan.

I had a subscription a few years back to The Fresh 20 which got me out of a previous meal planning black hole, and later I used a simple DIY method. Too bad I don’t stick with my own advice.

I surfed the web and found there are even more meal planning service options now. The Fresh 20 (no affiliation, just a happy former customer) still would be my favorite; it’s closest to my cooking style, uses unprocessed food prepared in a way that reduces waste, and isn’t overly complicated. Your mileage may vary. Happily many services will give you a free sample week, which is a great way to try out several and see which one works best for you.

100 Days of Real Food has some meal planning resourcesWisconsin Whisk bloggers have an impressive recipe output that can help me get unstuck. Hip Foodie Mom posts healthy meal plans on her blog. The Leek and The Carrot is thinking meal planning lately too! I’m saving online recipes in my Evernote account, and I have some cookbooks specifically to help with meal planning.

I guess I’ve come to rely on the garden and farmers’ market for inspiration, but in February, those seem like a daydream. I’d love to hear what meal planning tips or services have worked for you. I am going to put my meal plan in my bullet journal – but don’t google that or you’ll fall down a rabbit hole of fancy pages. My meal plan will be full of scribbles, arrows, and if I break out of my rut, crumbs and food stains.