Monday, February 28, 2011

Do I need to start thinking about Purim, too?

I committed myself to trying to get Shabbos ready before mid-day on Friday.  It has been tough (especially since I insist on staying up on Thursday night to get the main cooking done), but I have been making it happen.  With Shabbos Mevarchim Adar II a mere 5 days away, I am wondering: do I have to have Purim ready early, too?! 

I imagine that the answer is yes.   I need to get on that... Oh!  And start thinking about Shabbos this week, too.

What are you doing for Purim?  Help me with some ideas!

Friday, February 25, 2011

When good freezers go bad

Everyone is going to get sick of me discussing my freezer situation.  But it is BAD, people.  All it takes is one batch of challah, a partial KC Kosher Coop order, and a few extras and the freezer freaks out. 

Take last night, for example.  I made an extra batch of meatballs and assembled an extra deli roll in an attempt to be prepared for upcoming weeks.  I knew that it was going to be a tight fit, but with my new "make it flat and thin" strategy, I was pretty sure that I could fit everything.  My freezer did not agree.  In fact, my freezer was very upset that I would even THINK that I could fit so many things in it.  My freezer was SO upset that it vomited up everything that it could on to the kitchen floor. 

I was minding my own business and cleaning the kitchen when, all of the sudden, I heard the loudest crash, Bang, BOOM, CLANG!  I turned in time to see the last of the items I tried to make ahead of time crash unto the kitchen floor.  As if to taunt me, the freezer then spit out one last challah. 

"Look lady," it was saying, "I don't need all of your extra food!  I have enough space for a box of frozen pizza and maybe a tub of ice cream.  The next time you try something like this, I will make sure that you have more than frozen food in closed containers all over the floor!"

My freezer has serious attitude.  It needs to get over it, though.  My frozen double layer kugel looks great.  And it was pretty awesome being able to just pull something out and stick it in the oven.  Knowing that part of my meal was already cooked helped me get over the "I have too much to do, so I won't do anything" inertia that plagues me.  In my view, the more I can freeze, the better! 

Watch out, Mr. Freezer! 

We are done!

Before school!!
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Major Cooking is DONE

I have a few salads to make and a little clean-up, but all-in-all, I am done.  I even spent 40 minutes plus chit chatting with Queen Lieberfolk downstairs... and still done before midnight.  I am actually making progress!

Menu Menu Menu

I was singing that title to a nice tune suited to a conga line, but you couldn't tell.

As promised, a simple menu this week.  I had planned to have most of the cooking done at this point (I even bought everything that I needed).  Unfortunately, my freezer became full again before I was able to cook much.  Thanks to a mix up at the Nature's Own bakery, next week's batch will not be kosher (check out the HKA website).  I have some extra sandwich bread taking up the space reserved for my meatballs and deli roll.  I also made challah this week so there went all of the extra space.  The picture above is my freezer in its natural state (stuffed to the gills, barely able to stay shut).  Maybe the simple menu will allow me to get to bed at a decent hour tonight?

A Simple Shabbos

Challah-- DONE
Gefilte fish (both meals... it is hot in Houston again... no soup for awhile)
Meatballs-- Quick & Kosher (dinner)/deli roll (lunch)
Quinoa (dinner)/quinoa salad (lunch)
Double Layer Kugel-- components DONE and frozen
Sweet Potato Mash w/ caramelized leeks and apples-- 2008-2009 Jewish Woman's Weekly Planner-- DONE and frozen, but need to caramelize apples and leeks
Broccoli Salad
Strawberry Shortcake

Grocery deals and match-ups will be posted at by FB page shortly.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Zen of Starting Early

Right before chatzos last week, I wrote that maybe I was missing the point.  By making Shabbos early, my goal is to be calm, relaxed, and well rested on Friday.  I want to be the best mother and wife possible on erev Shabbos-- I want my family to look forward to Friday as much as they look forward to Shabbos, itself.  My question last week: was I missing the point by doing all of my kitchen prep late on Thursday night? 

I think, yes.  After reading a number of thoughts from the ladies at the Chatzos Google Group, I realize that chatzos doesn't happen in one night.  These ladies do something everyday, l'cvod shabbos.  That means that as soon as motzei Shabbos, they are thinking about next week (DH wanted to try that this week!).  Every day is a day towards Shabbos.  In this way, they start to bring the spirit of Shabbos into each day of their week.  Each day has the special quality of being "almost Shabbos!"  And that is the point.

Today, I made challah with my son.  The whole house smelled amazing-- just like Shabbos.  While we were braiding the loaves, he asked me, "Mommy, is tonight Shabbos?" 

"Almost,"  I told him, "Tonight is Tuesday."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It is Tuesday already?!

Where did the beginning of the week go?  In my house, the first two days of the week were eaten by the scary monster that appears about twice a week: the CALL MONSTER!  [insert scary music]. 

The CALL MONSTER [scary music] is a peculiar fellow.  He takes otherwise family-oriented spouses and hides them away at his liar (the hospital).  The CALL MONSTER [scary music and screeching] then tortures the otherwise family oriented spouse.  He forces the otherwise family oriented spouse to stay at his liar for 30 hours.  He challenges the otherwise family oriented spouse with difficult social situation among the spouse's patients.  He even limits the spouse's time available to eat.  And just when the spouse thinks that [s]he can get a little rest, the CALL MONSTER [blood curdling cry] pages that 5 new patients are coming.  When the CALL MONSTER [gasp] finally releases the otherwise family oriented spouse, the spouse is basically the walking dead.  The spouse trudges back home, drinks a glass of chocolate milk and falls into bed (scrubs still on). 

Days when the CALL MONSTER [more scary music] visits our house are difficult.  The kids, DS in particular, miss their dad and I miss my husband.  I won't bore you with the heart wrenching things that a 3 year-old can come up with, suffice to say, he knows that Daddy is not home and he is not thrilled with it.  True to toddler form, his loneliness for his father manifests in temper tantrums and other acting out.  Sundays are particularly difficult because (1) there is no school to distract him and (2) because Sunday is "family day", all of his friends are with their families and not available for playdates.  Needless to say, I have my hands full on those days. 

The day after CALL MONSTER can be just as challenging.  When DH gets home (right when school gets out), he needs rest.  Of course, DS wants to play with Daddy.  More tantrums.  More acting out.  And all of this while I am trying to keep the house quiet so that DH will be able to enjoy time with DS when he wakes up.  This week, the day after CALL MONSTER was ALSO a school holiday.  The fun kept coming. 

So, it is Tuesday.  DS is at school.  DH has clinic this afternoon (home at a normal time!).  And I am finally catching my breath.  But wait!  I need to think about Shabbos! 

I know that I need to bake challah this week (I used the last of my matza challah last week).  Given that and given that the CALL MONSTER is coming back to visit on Thursday, I think that simple is best this week.  I have a few ready to assemble, flat and frozen kugels.  I am going to try do freezer experiments today and tomorrow, as well (uncooked, but assembled deli roll and meatballs).  All of that, some gefilte fish and some salads, and I think we are good to go! 

I feel good!  I have a plan!  I have an hour before school is out!  CHALLAH TIME!

PS I am still looking for people that are making 5#s of challah (this week or another week) to help with a major mitzvah.  Please contact me in the comments and let me know if you are up to help.  You don't have to be in Houston.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mitzvah Opportunity: Who is making challah this week

Please contact me (comment, FB, or email jess dot erin dot miller at gmail dot com) if you plan on making challah and would like to help with a mitzvah.
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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Shavua Tov!

Dr. Chatzos Challenge is getting in on the action! While I was loading the dishwasher, he set up my candles for next week!
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Friday, February 18, 2011

Festive table (in honor of Purim Katan)-- DONE!

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Two Hours to Go and Some New Prespective

I have a little less than two hours to go until chatzos-- I am sure I am going to make it today.  There is really not so much left to do.  I even had time to make the kids' reading nook usable again!

But I was thinking (as I was going from room-to-room trying to reorder the house, feeling totally zonked because of my late night), am I missing the point?   Making Shabbos early is my gift to my family and a gift to myself-- When I get things done early, they get a calm, peaceful, nice Mommy erev Shabbos and I get to avoid the frantic-mad-dash-is-it-all-going-to-get-done-why-isn't-my-husband-home-yet?-I-am-going-to-collapse pre-Shabbos mood.  My question: does any of this REALLY happen when I just push everything to Thursday night?  Am I just making Thursday what Friday was? 

True, this week I started earlier (major help!) and I am really looking at freezing as a viable option for the future, but I was still up until almost 1.  Tired Mommy is not happy Mommy.

As if they read my mind, the ladies at the Chatzos Google Group started having the same conversation!  I can't wait to read what they have to say about moving the tension of erev Shabbos (rather than re-moving the tension of erev Shabbos)!

Off to finish up!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I am done cooking (and it is still officially Thursday)!

Something incredible has happened: I am done with all of my major cooking and it is not yet midnight on Thursday.  I have a salad dressing to make and a few veggies to chop (and don't ask if I have cleaned the kitchen).  I know, I know.  It is still pretty late and I still have some work ahead of me tonight, but barring any major distractions (achem... blog...), I will be in bed BEFORE 3 am! 

My inner perfectionist would like to stay up and set the table, fold the laundry, and organize the mountain of books that DS calls his bookshelf, but I know that all of those things can happen tomorrow in about 30 minutes.  Best to just get my dressing done, so my chopping, and clean-up, right?

Wow! Look at me!

It is 9 pm on Thursday and I am almost done cooking!! And I made mamish two meals. I love the fresh from freezer deal!

Totally begging for a real freezer. I will give up my closet space for it!
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Houston Grocer Sales and Match-ups

I have the deals up over at my Facebook page.  Enjoy!

Gotta get a menu!

Earlier in the week, I wrote about attempting to make some things early and stuffing them into my tiny freezer.  I am happy to report that my tomatillo sauce (for the chicken cholent verde) is all made and frozen (flat and thin!).  On to the rest of my menu!

Two different meals this week.  We are having the sweetest lunch guests (newly returned from exile in Brooklyn), so I wanted to make them some TexMex.  I am taking advantage of a deal on peppers for dinner. I will try to get a Houston Grocer Sales post up at my Facebook page before tomorrow night.

And the menu is...

Challah-- MADE
Carrot Soup (Hadassah Holiday Cookbook)-- SHOULD HAVE MADE
Stuffed Peppers (Quick & Koshers, but sub quinoa)
Garlic Slaw (California Kosher)
Green Beans with garlic
Roasted Potatoes Lieberkugel (Thank you, Queen Lieberfolk for donating from your freezer!)
Pistachio Chocolate Chip Cake

Challah-- MADE
Mexifilte Fish
Salsa-- (thank you, Kosher on a Budget, for posting a homemade salsa recipe RIGHT before TexMex Shabbos!)-- MADE
Chicken Cholent Verde-- Sauce-- MADE
Corn Salad
Garlic Slaw (California Kosher)
Mexiquinoa Salad-- Just going to wing it on this one.  Will report back
Best Black Beans
Corn Tortillas
Pistachio Chocolate Chip Cake (I don't know how to make empanadas)

What are you eating for Shabbos?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Being Grateful for Small Miracles

DH wasn't supposed to be home with us this Shabbos.  While he has been able to somehow manipulate the schedule (with trades, bribes, working extra shifts, working every Sunday) to have off every Shabbos over the last year and a half, we were sure that it wasn't going to work out this month.  He is currently rotating through the intensive care unit at one of the busiest children's hospitals in the country-- the nature of the work and the set-up of the resident teams made his "Shabbos switches" look impossible.  We sat down together about 6 weeks ago to review the schedule-- he would have to have one call on Friday (30 hour shift 6 am Friday to noon Saturday), one call on Saturday (30 hour shift 6 am Saturday to noon on Sunday), and one normal Saturday workday (6 am on Saturday to 12:30ish).  It didn't look like there was any way around it.*

We were preparing for the worst.  I would find meals with neighbors (and would probably cry... a lot) for the days that he was on call.  Miraculously, a few things came up weeks before he started in the PICU, and other residents needed to make switches to the schedule, "Would you be willing to take my Thursday call for your Friday?"  It shouldn't have worked out, but it did.  We were grateful that he wouldn't have to stay at the hospital overnight on Shabbos and we wouldn't be without our favorite Daddy. 

We had resigned that the regular work day was just not going to happen. Truly, we felt blessed to have the call situation fixed.  We would somehow make the work day, well, work.  We decided that the best way to deal with the work day was to pack up the whole family and stay at the Chabad in the Medical Center.  He would walk to work and we would have the majority of the time together.  That was supposed to be this Shabbos. 

And then everything just came together!  I can't even begin to try to explain how many little pieces just "randomly fell into place", but he was somehow able to get off this Shabbos!  He has said, and I agree, it is all min ha-shamyim

Often, we take for granted the details of life.  "Of course my husband will be home for Shabbos!  How could it be any other way?"  Perhaps Hashem gives us these near misses to help us appreciate each and every chance that we get this time together?

Monday, February 14, 2011

To Freeze or Not to Freeze

It is fun to live in an apartment: we don't have to pay property taxes; when things break, we call maintenance and the guy comes to fix it; the complex even pays our electric!  Even with all of those perks, I wish I lived in a bigger place.  A place with room for the most coveted of appliances (next to the washer and dryer-- I have solved that problem)-- the FULL SIZED FREEZER!  Our itty bitty apartment sized freezer is really putting a damper on my efforts to have Shabbos ready by mid-day on Friday!  

The ladies over at the Chatzos Google Group are forever talking about cooking early in the week "l'cvod shabbos kodesh" and freezing.  Come Friday, they just pull everything out.  That means when I am trying my hardest to get a start on the cooking on Thursday night after the kiddos are in bed, they are setting their tables.  When I am dragging my bleary-eyed self to the oven to pull out the chicken at 2 am, they are sound asleep.  And when I am setting my kitchen on fire on Friday morning because I am too tired to notice that I turned on the wrong burner, they are doing their nails (or saying tehillim or taking a bubble bath or something). 

I have decided that I am not going to let my tiny, over stuffed (the picture above is on a good day-- I am almost out of challah and I used most of my stash of broccoli, so I have room!) freezer get in the way of my efforts to get my cooking done early!  No!  I will experiment with new ways to freeze items!  I will beg, borrow, steal, and lease freezer space from my neighbors at the Onion Gemach (more on this in a later post, but these are the neighbors in my building... who all have found closet space for a real freezer... I envy them)!  I will make it work!

Last week, my menu had two different kugels.  My plan was to freeze a smaller version of each and store it away in the freezer.  I have found that if I make the kugels small enough and slam the door hard enough, everything will stay in (until I open the door again). True to form, I forgot to buy the smaller aluminum pans for the freezables.  Of course, I didn't discover the oversight until the everything was ready to go into a pan.  That is fine!  When life gives you lemons, you find a way to freeze them!
Experiment 1: Freeze uncooked dishes (or components) in freezer bags. 
I was staring at my freezer trying to decide if I really had space to freeze a big pan of kugel something caught my eye-- all of my packets of mommy milk, frozen flat and then lined up standing on end to fit more.  If I could do that with 4 ounce bags of milk, I could do that with kugel fixins'!  I cleared out some of the million gefilte fish loaves (more on why so many later) to get a flat surface and froze my ready to cook kugel (ideally flat and thin).  I then stood the flat, thin bags upright. See them there on the right hand side of the freezer (they are a little wavy with this first attempt)?  POOF!  I have room for ALL SORTS of things if I can freeze like that!  All I have to do to make the kugel is defrost the bag and put it in a pan!  I can do that on Thursday night, no problem!  The question: will this taste (as) good?
We shall see this week!  I plan on making  my famous chicken cholent verde (the rest of my menu will be up later this week) for Shabbos lunch.  Tomorrow, I will make the tomatillo sauce for the cholent and freeze it flat.  That will be one thing nearly ready to go! 

What are your freezer strategies?  What have you found that freezes well?

Shaky Beginning Part II: I really DID set my kitchen on fire

When we left frazzled-never-made-chatzos-before-me, I was crying over challah that wouldn't rise and wondering if my family would notice if I served matza for Shabbos.  After I tossed all five pounds of challah dough, pouted about my first attempt to be early, and ate a lot of babka, I thought through what I was really doing with this whole chatzos thing.  Was it really worth it?

A very wise rebbitzen told me once that the yetzer hara works the hardest against the most precious mitzvos.  That is to say, sometimes we encounter more obstacles (internal and external) when we are doing something truly worthwhile (you know, "a good deed never goes unpunished" and all of that).  Why?  That is the yetzer hara's way of keeping us from doing great things. 

A concrete example: Bob REALLY wants to keep kosher.  He takes all of the steps-- stops mixing milk and meat, stops eating shellfish, bacon, even switches his kitchen over.  But Bob has a LOVE for Jumbo Jack combos* (with curly fries and a coke)** from Jack in the Box.  But Bob WANTS to keep kosher!  Bob decides that he can do this whole kosher thing, he only need to make every effort to avoid Jack in the Box.  The problem is, Jack in the Box starts showing up EVERYWHERE.  At work.  At friend's homes.  He can't escape the yummy smell of the perfect curly fries.  Bob is forced to make a choice: give in to the temptation ("it is just ONE french fry! What is inherently unkosher about a fried potato?") or stand up to the challenge (which seems insurmountable-- this is his all time favorite food!).  And that is how the yetzer hara wins-- only one little thing that, really, isn't THAT bad v. a MAJOR challenge. 

When I was sitting in front of my dead dough, I knew that this is how the yetzer hara wins.  I knew that, in order to make another batch of dough before Thursday night, I would have to make an extra stop at the grocery store (easier said than done with two small kids and a resident husband).  I knew it would be worth it and I resolved to get it done.  I would overcome the yetzer hara!  And then the "one small thing" popped up: it started to rain.  Not just any rain-- real HOUSTON rain.  Well, that was it.  I couldn't possible drag the baby out in the rain for an extra shopping trip when I would also have to go out the next day to get the rest of the Shabbos food.  That just wouldn't be fair to her.  No.  I would just make the challah early in the day on Thursday.  That would have to be good enough.

Perhaps getting it done early in the day would have been good enough, but I didn't.  I waited.  And waited.  I didn't even get to the grocery store until mid-afternoon.  I didn't start cooking until after the kids were in bed (challah included).  And I didn't go to bed until 3 am (and I didn't even finish cooking everything; the challahs DID look lovely, though).  So much for getting things done early. 

On Friday morning, I found myself in a typical position: two salads to make, a cake to bake, a kitchen to clean (BIG time-- dishes everywhere), and all of the other random house chores to get done.  Yetzer hara: 1, me: 0. 

The fire came about mid-morning.  I had a cake cooling on an oven mitt that was sitting on a burner.  Because I was exhausted and because it was yuck out, I decided that I needed a cup of tea.  I put the tea kettle on, turned on the burner, and sat down at my computer to try to get "some things done" (read: check Facebook).  I smelled something funny coming from the kitchen, but didn't think anything of it.  Maybe I got food on the burner when I was cooking?  But then, when my water wasn't whistling and the house was filled with smoke, I realized what I had done.

B"H, the only casualty was the oven mitt (a lot of scrubbing later, the bunt pan and stove top were as good as new).  Somewhere in the middle of scrubbing the ash and soot off of everything in my kitchen, I thought to myself, "You know, this wouldn't have happened if I had Shabbos ready by chatzos." 

Watch out, yetzer hara!  I am not going to let you get by me again!  

* No!  I am not speaking from experience!  Even pre-kosher, I never STOOPED to Jack in the Box!  I mean, ew.
** Okay.  You got me.  I am Bob.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Maybe cupcake decorating was not such a great idea.

You don't want to see the floor.
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Even faster this week!

50 (that is right 5-0!) minutes to chatzos, and I am all ready to go!  Actually, I found myself inventing things that needed to get done.  Really, I don't need to alphabetize the cereal boxes before Shabbos.  After stepping back to prioritize, I realized, I actually did it!  All done!  WOO HOO!

So, before Shabbos, I need to decorate cupcakes (no-nap activity) and bathe kiddos.  The calm is setting in.  I am starting to get it.  Oh wait.  Baby crying.  No more calm. 

Table set!

With an hour and a half to spare! Kitchen needs some work, though. We are going to make it this week!
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Blog Hop

Working on getting everything together! 

Have some time to kill?  Go check out the "Blog Hop" link at the top of the page. 

About 10 and a half hours to go

We are all cooked!  I even pre-chopped veggies for salad!  It is a chatzos miracle (considering how much I was playing online tonight)!  I made a few adjustments to my original menu: notably, I made cupcakes instead of brownies (just in case we need a post-chatzos activity).   

On the agenda for tomorrow is some general tidying, cleaning the hallway bathroom, set the table, and floors.  I think I can handle that... if I stay OFF of the computer!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cooking on Thursday night is a bad idea.

Something always comes up... Today: family date, followed by mini-date (reading AAP News together?), followed by total over tired meltdown (DS, not me). I am hiding from the meltdown in my room (DH is working on it). Will I ever start cooking?? Will I get to bed before 3??
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Chatzos on the Cheap: Why it pays to price match

Andy Warhol, Dollar Sign ($250-350k) $446,500
Last night, I posted Houston grocer deals.  "Those prices all look great," you may be saying, "But I REFUSE to go to 7 stores to get my shopping done!"  I agree.  There is NO way that I will have anything done before chatzos if I go to more than one or two stores.  So, here is the problem: we are under a TIME crunch and a MONEY crunch.  What to do?

Surprise!  Wal-Mart price matches weekly advertised prices at their competitors.  Yes.  This includes the non-national stores with the insanely low prices.  Yes.  This includes prices on vegetables.  Yes. You can use coupons with the match-ups, but Wal-Mart will not match double or triple coupon deals from other stores.  It is an added bonus that Wal-Mart tends to have the lowest prices on non-sale/non-matched goods. 

How does this work? Just bring your weekly ads to the store.  When you are checking out, tell the cashier that you have price matches on some items.  I keep my price matches together at the end of the rest of my purchases-- and then I separate them with a divider bar.  Then I tell the cashier that everything on the other side of the bar has a price match.  I don't forget anything that way and the cashier doesn't get too annoyed with me.  

Example 1 (no double coupon): Kroger has Cheerios on sale for $2/box.  You have a $1/1 coupon for Cheerios. You have two options for this deal:
Price match at Wal-Mart: Wal Mart's price is $2.50/box.  Bring your Kroger ad to Wal Mart.  When you are checking out, tell the cashier that you have a price match on the Cheerios at $2/box.  At the end of the transaction, give the cashier your coupon.  Final cost for the box: $1.00.  A $1.50 savings over the Wal Mart price (typically the lowest in town).
Buy the deal at Kroger: Get the $2 deal at the source and give the cashier your coupon.  Kroger will NOT double the coupon (they double anything $.50 and under). Final cost for the box: $1.00.  And you may have to make other stops because Kroger IS NOT the cheapest in town on MOST goods.
Example 2 (double coupon): Kroger has Cheerios on sale for $2/box.  You have a $.50/1 coupon for Cheerios. You have two options for this deal:
Price match at Wal-Mart: Wal Mart's price is $2.50/box.  Bring your Kroger ad to Wal Mart.  When you are checking out, tell the cashier that you have a price match on the Cheerios at $2/box.  At the end of the transaction, give the cashier your coupon.  Final cost for the box: $1.50.  A dollar savings over the Wal Mart price.
Buy the deal at Kroger: Get the $2 deal at the source and give the cashier your coupon.  Kroger will double the coupon (they double anything $.50 and under).  Final cost for the box: $1.00.  In this case, I would make a special trip to Kroger.  
But what does this have to do with my shabbos prep this week?  I got all of the (non meat) shopping done (with some stockpiling items, as well) this morning at Wal-Mart for $20.63 in about 25 minutes.  Frugal with my money!  Frugal with my time!  The breakdown on the price matches:
 Wal Mart PriceCompetitor PriceSavings
2.03 lb of Yellow Squash1.42/lb * 2.03=2.880.77/lb*2.03=1.56$1.32
1 Cucumber.74/1*1=.74.33/1*1=.33$0.41
1.27 lb Sweet Potatoes.74/lb*1.27=.94.50/lb*1.27=.64$0.30
8 Duncan Hines1.16/1*8=9.280.77/1*8=6.16$3.12
1.67 lb Tomato1.18/lb*1.67=1.97.66/lb*1.67=1$0.97
2.67 lb Onion.78/lb*2.67=2.080.33/lb*2.67=.88$1.20
1 Green Bell.64/1*1=.64.33/1*1=.33$0.31
Not a small savings!  And I didn't have to run all around town to get the best price.  We are one step closer to making chatzos!
Off to the kitchen to get started!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Menu time!

I set myself up for failure yesterday by putting too much on my plate.  Nothing got done.  Today, I set more realistic expectations for myself: get the menu and the shopping list done.  Mission accomplished (and I got a head start on preparing the kitchen for my massive cooking push tomorrow)!

We will be having a quiet Shabbos this week-- just our family for both meals.  While I love having guests, it is so nice to have the family time (especially when DH is on tough months at the hospital).  I know it is comforting to him to have a refuge of a quiet Shabbos when he is so busy and it is comforting to us to have the alone time with him.

So, in the spirit of comforting family time, we are doing a Comfort Food themed Shabbos.  YUM!

TIP: Even if I am having guests, I only cook one meal for Shabbos (with more or less dishes, depending on who is at the table).  Sometimes I will add a deli roll for lunch (if we have guests).  Sometimes I do make cholent (and then I add a protien for dinner).  But, all in all, I serve the same dishes at lunch as I do at dinner.  I can hear you all now, "WHAT?!?  THE SAME MEAL?!? GASP!!"  Maybe it isn't the fanciest, over-the-top, amazing, wow thing to do, but it is efficient (financially and otherwise).  Plus, while everyone else is busy making ANOTHER meal on Friday afternoon, I hope to be reading Dr. Suess.

Matza Ball Soup (dinner)/Gefilte Fish (lunch)
Onion Chicken (Quick & Kosher)
Double Layer Kugel: potato/carrot & zucchini
Broccoli Kugel (Spice & Spirit-- I make the second one, but I substitute a fried onion/corn flake mixture for the solo corn flake crumbs)
Caesar Salad (Quick & Kosher)
Roasted Zucchini & Squash

Non-cookbook recipes will be posted soon. 
Tip:  Make two of "freezeables" (ie kugel) for next week (or the week after... or the week after... the point is, it is already made!).  This seems obvious, right?  Not in our house.  Here, freezer space is at a premium [more on this in an upcoming post].  Until recently, freezing anything was a joke.  I have started making "just for us" sized portions for our freezer.  These smaller versions are great for quiet Shabboses, like this week, or for bringing as a part of a chesed meal.
Last week, I mentioned that I make my menu with the local ads in front of me (a great way to find deals on veggies, ect).  I was asked if I would mind posting my match-ups/some great deals I noticed on the blog.  While I can't post every sale in Houston, I have posted some amazing-don't-pass-me-up deals (like the $.77 zucchini and squash at Foodarama!) on my Facebook page (Like the FB page!).  Please add any great deals that you find! 

What are you eating for Shabbos?

Great Expectations

All of the Chatzos ladies over at the Google Group say that you have to start early to be ready for Shabbos by chatzos.  "Start your menu planning motzei Shabbos," they would say.  "Cook and freeze!" [side note-- post forthcoming about cooking and freezing].  "It is never too early to start!" 

Well, it is Tuesday night and I don't know if I am having guests, let alone what those guests will be eating.  The house is a disaster and there is the lingering smell of tonight's tuna patties in the air.  I know what the Chatzos ladies would say: "Start with something small!  Make a first step!  Make a kugel!  Shabbos is only 3 days from tonight!"  Not a lot of time anymore.

I DID expect to have some little thing done today.  Maybe a head count?  Or a general sense of a menu (in anticipation of tomorrow's ads to fill in the rest)? 

My inability to make any progress toward chatzos today got me wondering: do we have fair expectations of ourselves?  Was I realistic when my "to do" list today included finish the laundry, pay the bills, organize the hall closet, pull the too small clothes from the baby's drawers, have a play date for DS, make dinner, and learn with my chavruta before getting down to business on my Shabbos plans-- all on a day when DH is at the hospital for 30 hours?

I am plagued by the "expectation beast."  I would always like to see myself get done about twice as much as I realistically have time to do.  Often, my goals are so unrealistic that I know that I will not meet them, so I waste time doing other things ("I am not going to get ALL of that done.  What is 5 more minutes on Facebook?").  The solution, I think, is more realistic expectations.  I need to set goals that are easily attainable and then get more done than I planned.  My accomplishments will provide motivation to keep working and meeting and exceeding my goals for the next day.  The chatzos snowball, if you will. 

Tomorrow, I will attack the expectation beast and start with a small step-- the menu. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

"I meant what I said, and I said what I meant!": What would YOU do after chatzos?

When I finished setting the table on Friday (about 10 minutes before chatzos!), I wondered out loud, "What will I do this afternoon?"  The kids would be napping.  DH was post-call (read: awake for 30 hours taking care of critically ill children) and would be napping.  All of that time!  Just for me!  Would I read or do my nails?  Maybe I would put on a mud mask?  Maybe prepare some words on the parasha?  Or MAYBE a mommy nap!

And then I heard the dreaded words coming from the kids room, "MOOOOOMMMMMMMMMYYYYYY!   I don't WAAAAAAANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNAAAAAAAAAAAA NAPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!"  Okay.  Fine.  No nap. I am well aware that the afternoon nap is an endangered species for the toddle-bug.  I am not going to ruin the baby's nap to prove a point (what is the point?  Mommy needs to do her nails?).  So there I was, a grumpy kiddo and HOURS before Shabbos to kill.  I needed a strategy-- fast!  What could I do to keep DS occupied and happy that didn't include undoing all of my hard work to get the house ready? 

Strategy number 1: read as much Dr. Suess as possible.  The boys checked out "Six by Suess" at the library and DS LOVES it.  It is a collection of six great stories by Dr. Suess.  That is a lot of Suess, people.  Somewhere around the 150th hat of Bartholomew Cubbins, I began to think that Dr. Suess was a sadist.  Would the book ever end?  Were there REALLY 4 more to read after that?  WAS IT SHABBOS YET?!? 

Strategy number 2: go visit DS's friend and partner in crime downstairs.  Friend doesn't nap either and I knew that his mommy would be going NUTS on a snow day (with a three year old and a two week old!  yikes!).  That plan worked well-- the boys kept each other company until the time DS would NORMALLY wake up from his nap and I was able to drink a cup of tea and shmooze with the cute new mommy. 

But all of this strategizing got me thinking: is it realistic to expect that erev Shabbos will be a blissful time of pure mommy indulgence?  Moreover, is it realistic to think that that time can exist at all (after Chatzos or otherwise) when there are small kids around?  My friend, Houston Ima, says, "Yes!  You have to make time!  Take care of yourself!  Take a Break!" 

She is right!  We need to find time to take a break and indulge ourselves a little.  Even if that means eating a few M&Ms while we read about Horton sitting on his egg and drink a little tea while chatting with a good friend.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Holy Chatzos, Batman!

We made it-- with 10 minutes to spare. There are a few non-essential things to do and baths to take, but we could easily light candles right now!

Naptime for me.
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Making chatzos on a "snow" day

DS and I are working hard to get everything done. 

Cooking is done!  Kitchen is clean!  Working on folding laundry, setting table, and vacuuming.  And then we are going to make brownies as a "snow" day treat.

The question is: WHERE IS THE SNOW?!
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Thursday, February 3, 2011

B"H!! Chicken is in the oven. I think chatzos will happen, after all!

Man Plans...

G-d laughs. 

I was prepared to write a fabulous post this evening about how I got all of my cooking complete during naps.  I was going to write how lovely it was to sit back and think about setting my table tonight.  But then life interrupted.

To give myself credit, I did get the sweet potatoes almost done (they are the most time intensive thing on my menu) while the toddle-bug was at school.  My plans post-pick up went something like this:
  • School
  • Store for meat (and some cheese for quesadillas for dinner.. and some whipped cream... the good kind! for a hot chocolate treat for said toddle-bug)
  • Home
  • Feed the little one, snack the toddle-bug
  • Naps for everyone under 3
  • Finish cooking for me (and if I had time, a blog post about how AMAZING I am)
Everything went according to plan until "Naps for everyone under 3."  I won't bore you with the details, suffice to say, I think that DS is weaning his afternoon nap (which is cool with me, but REALLY not cool with DD... who shares his room... and doesn't sleep when he is screaming about not wanting to nap).  No one slept.  DD didn't eat well (distracted by the incessant whining that comes with  no nap for her brother).  No cooking happened.   Every little thing turned into a battle with the almost three year-old.  To quote my husband, "You are never going to win a battle of wills with a toddler." 

And so, here I sit, 7:35 on Thursday.  Matza Challah was done last week, sweet potatoes are so close to being done, mushroom pate is in freezer-- just need to pull it out, nothing else started.  School closed because of snow tomorrow. I am going to be up awhile, but at least I have good whipped cream to drink in my coffee!  And I haven't set the kitchen on fire again (post coming soon)!  

Anyone want to bring me sushi to cheer me up??
I would love to say I am getting so much done for Shabbos. But no one is taking a nap... And tomorrow is a snow day?!?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Shabbos Menu!

DS decided that he wasn't going to nap today.  After he informed his sister of his choice (by screaming), he thought it would be a good idea to help his mommy with the shabbos menu.  We are one step closer to chatzos!

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, we were invited out for dinner.  If I can't do it this week, I am in trouble! 

AND THE MENU IS.... drum roll...

First Course

Mushroom Pate (2008-2009 Jewish Woman's Weekly Planner)
Salmon Salad

Second Course

Chicken Primavera (Kosher by Design-- Short on Time)
Quinoa Salad with Za-atar Dressing
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with caramelized leeks (2008-2009 Jewish Woman's Weekly Planner)
Avocado Corn Salad (Quick & Kosher)


Pistachio Chocolate Chip Cake

A few notes:
  1. No Cholent.  We aren't so much a cholent family (maybe because we live in Texas and it is RARELY cold enough to eat cholent?).  It might be cold enough for cholent this week, but we aren't having guests, so no cholent.  
  2. Make chatzos AND stay on budget?  Yes.  It is possible.  One way I stay on budget (and still include all of the light, fresh, salads that my family loves) is to make my Shabbos menu with the grocery ads in front of me.  The random, non-local stores always have great produce specials.  This week, for example, zucchini and squash are on sale at Seller Bros for $ .88/lb... so I am making chicken primavera.  Rather than run around to 20 different stores to get cheap produce, I take my ads to Wal Mart.  They will price match-- as long as you have the ad.  Even veggies!  Even from the cheapy stores!  
I will try to post the non-cookbook recipes this evening.

Tomorrow is shopping and cooking day! 

If at first you don't succeed... eat matza

Okay, okay, I admit it.  This week was not my first attempt to get all of my Shabbos preparations done by mid-day on Friday.  I tried last week.  Let's just say, the results were not stellar.

All of the ladies on the Chatzos Google Group say that the best way to get this done is to start early and have a plan.  Made sense to me.  My plan last week: get the challah done on Tuesday, menu and list done on Wednesday, shopping Thursday morning, cooking during afternoon naps on Thursday, set the table after everyone is in bed Thursday night.  That meant that Friday would only have some tidying up around the house and baths.  Totally doable.

I started with challah because (1) it takes the most time and (2) it is my biggest procrastination problem
(the mess… the kneading… the baby crying JUST as I am elbow deep in dough… best to put it off until 3 am Friday morning, right?).  I dropped my almost two year old at school, got home, fed the baby, got her down for her nap, and headed straight to the kitchen.  Do not pass go.  Do not collect $200.  Do not open the computer to check Facebook "only for a minute!".

Everything was going just dandy.  Got the yeast proofing, sugar, oil, salt, water… all ready to go!  Cracked the eggs.  Oh no!  I was 2 eggs short.  Normally, this is not that big of a deal.  I would just go knock on the door of my downstairs neighbor and borrow two.  But she had a baby just three days before.  How nice would that be?  "Hi!  Welcome home!  Mazel tov!  Can I borrow two eggs?" I weighed waking my baby up to take her to get eggs v. being that neighbor.  And down I went to borrow the eggs.  Glad that her sister-in-law was there and I didn't wake anyone post-partum.

Once back upstairs, I looked at my yeast.  Looked a little not-so-bubbly.  But it was a little bubbly.  It should be fine, right?!?  I mean, my yeast had to work!  I am making extra efforts to be ready for Shabbos early!  Hashem will see that and make sure that everything goes so smoothly!  Nope.  Dough didn't rise.  At all.  Not even a little bit.  Yep.  The oven was on to make the kitchen warm.  The dough was on top of the oven.  Everything was exactly as I always do it (only it was the middle of the day on Tuesday, not the middle of the night on Thursday). 

I cried, wondered if I could make the 5 lbs of flat dough into matza, cried some more, ate some chocolate babka, and contemplated the meaning of it all.  Maybe I am not cut out for this whole chatzos thing?  Maybe this was Hashem's way of telling me to quit it?  I resolved that, no, this was a minor set back!  I could do this!  "Tomorrow," I told myself, "I will start again with the challah!" 

And then I set my kitchen on fire.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What the heck have I gotten myself into?!?

Shabbos is the highlight of my week.  The glowing candlesticks bring a sense of peace over me and my home.  The beautifully set table, white tablecloth, china make me feel regal.  The sounds of my husband and son singing-- and dressed in their handsome Shabbos clothes-- awaken parts of my soul that are hidden during the week.  They are like angels.  I relish Shabbos.  I need Shabbos.  I crave Shabbos. 

But I dread getting ready for Shabbos.

Fridays are a disaster!  The candlesticks won't glow if they aren't polished!  Of course, the table is goregous, but I need FOOD to go on those plates! Challah!  Fish!  Chicken!  Kugel!  Cake!  Cook, cook, cook.  Vacuum.  Mop.  Dishes.  Set the table.  Bath the kids.  Feed the kids.  Bribe the kids to not make a mess of the just barely cleaned house.  And all of this on a deadline-- because when Shabbos comes, Shabbos comes  And that is it.  My pulse starts accelerating, just thinking about it.

This can't be the only way to usher in the holiest day of the week!  Certainly, Hashem didn't intend for us to turn ourselves into crazy, frenzied, maniacs right before Shabbos.  There must be a better way. 

Enter Chatzos.  I read about a group of woman that make it a point to have Shabbos ready by mid-day on Friday.  That means that they have all afternoon on Friday to... well... I don't know!  Do their nails?  Drink hot coco?  Recite tehillim?  Ponder the meaning of it all? 

I want THAT!  I want my Friday afternoons to be calm and relaxed.  I want to greet Shabbos with a serenity that is befitting the greatness of the day.  I want to sit down to my Shabbos dinner rested and alive, not exhausted and falling asleep in my soup (it has happened).  I want freshly painted toenails to match my Shabbos robe.

It is worth a try, right?  My goal is to have Shabbos ready by chatzos on Friday, every Friday, for a year.  I hope to blog how it goes, things I learn, tricks, recipes, ect.  I would love it if you would like to join me!  We can do this together!