Meal plan: Week of 01/05/14-01/11/14


A work in progress

It’s meal plan time! This week, I’m attempting to balance my needs as a practicing Weight Watcher (so, lean proteins, whole wheat pastas, brown rice, lots of veggies) with the varied palates of my family (and oh, are they varied — the rainbow of pickiness among these people is vibrant indeed). I’m also delving into my new copy of Best Lunch Box Ever for the BK’s lunches, as he goes back to school this week. I’ll probably make some sort of wholesome treat to go in his lunch — perhaps some oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies?

Sunday: Dinner out with my folks

Monday: Chicken tortilla soup from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker cookbook

Tuesday: Coconut curry noodles with tofu
BK’s lunch: kiddie cobb salad, crackers, fruit

Wednesday: Grown-up Tuna Noodle Casserole
BK’s lunch: Annie’s stars, crudite, fruit

Thursday: Shrimp fried rice
BK’s lunch: Turkey and veggie dagwood sandwich (from BLBE), veggie straws, maybe the jewel box fruit salad from BLBE.

Friday: Baked salmon (perhaps this one?), whole wheat couscous, veg of some sort
BK’s lunch: BLT rollups from BLBE, chips, applesauce

Saturday: Leftover bonanza OR dinner out.

What are you having this week? What types of wholesome desserts do you pack in your kid’s lunchbox, apart from fruit?

Oh hai! Happy 2014. Let’s read a book.

[Insert obligatory language here about neglecting the blog, etc. etc.]


There are changes coming to this blog not soon, but now. How soon is now? Now is now. 

I turned this blog into a food blog a little over four years ago, when I had hit a pretty low point in the dissertation-writing process. I didn’t want to run the risk of whining about my project and pissing off my advisors, and I needed a non-academic outlet. So, I started posting recipes and meal plans and other food-related bloggy goodness. 

But then I kind of lost interest in food blogging. Partly because I felt (and still feel) like food blogging has gone about as far as it can go, and partly because I do a lot of writing about food in my professional life (both here and in the academic realm. Oh, and I guess in the book, too). 

As such, I’m branching back out in terms of the content of this blog. There will still be food-related posts, but I’m also interested in writing about the movies I’m watching, recapping Downton Abbey again, and embarking upon a project that will probably either blind me or drive me insane. 

You see, I can only name about three or four books that I read last year. For someone with a lifelong love of books (not to mention a PhD in literature), that’s an abysmal record. So, the goal that I’ve set for myself for 2014 is to read a book a week. That’s 52 books over the course of the next year. I have watched the tide of contemporary literature come and go, time and again, over the past couple of years but haven’t had my head above water well enough to keep up with it. Along those same lines, there are gaps in my literary education — I’m naming no names of the Major Books I haven’t read — and I intend to fill those in. There are lots of food titles I’m looking forward to reading, plus books by my friends, and poetry. Ah, poetry! You are the biggest gap in the reading list of my life. 

I’ve got a big stack going, plus a running list of books I plan to purchase or check out from the library. Every Wednesday, I’ll check in here about the book I just finished. I am open to your suggestions for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, memoir, and essay collections that you think I should include. 

Here’s my January syllabus: 

Jan. 1: Failure and I Bury the Body, by Sasha West (who’ll be reading and speaking at BookPeople on Wednesday, Jan 8!)

Jan 8: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson (a book club book)

Jan 15: Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (upon the recommendation of Bill and Dena’s daughter Ella)

Jan 22: Homeward Bound, by Emily Matchar

Jan 29: Vampires in the Lemon Grove, by Karen Russell

Keep checking back and feel free to read along with me! And send in those suggestions! 

Baked Sunday Mornings: Good Morning Sunshine Bars


Life has been hectic of late, forcing me to curtail my baking projects. Even my meal plans have fallen by the wayside, although I’m working on getting back on that. As usual, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew and am looking for ways to simplify and slow down.

Lucky for me, this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings project was a very simple recipe, requiring very little actual cooking and minimum cleanup. We are a peanut butter-and-chocolate-loving family, as well as a cereal-dessert-bar-loving family, so this one was a no brainer.

Hoo-boy, are these things rich! A cup of brown sugar and a cup of corn syrup create a thick sauce, the sweetness of which is tempered by a cup of peanut butter. (Thank goodness I used natural, unsweetened peanut butter, otherwise these bars would put anyone on the fast track to DIABEETUS.) I cut the pan into about 16 bars; I think I’ll go back through and cut the larger ones in half because in the case of these treats, a little goes a long way.

I think these bars would be great to bring to any upcoming holiday potlucks; I plan to send a *tiny* square in the BK’s lunchbox once or twice this week. My husband didn’t care for them (he’s not a sweets guy), and I’m counting Weight Watchers points, so the bulk of them will go to work with my guy tomorrow.

Check out the other Bakers’ experience with this recipe here. There are a lot of cakes and highly involved projects on the bake-along calendar for the next few weeks, so this may be my last Baked Sunday Mornings post for a while. We’ll see where the day takes us!

Meal Plan: Week of 11/3/13-11/9/13

beef stew

I write this on Monday afternoon, perhaps one of the crappiest Mondays in recent Mondays. I mean, it’s like the Universe is saying, “HERE’S THE MONDAYEST OF ALL MONDAYS. PLEASE DO ENJOY.” And yes, the Universe writes in all caps because sometimes the Universe is a dick.

Let’s start with the good news first, though. First piece of news is that tonight is my book launch party! I am so excited about it, especially since it kicks off an avalanche of events between now and the end of the year. I am so thrilled that the book is taking on a life beyond my kitchen table, where the bulk of it was written. People seem really excited about it, which is very gratifying indeed.

The other piece of good news on this Monday is that I’ve had a paper that I’m really excited about accepted to the Popular Culture Association’s national conference, which takes place in Chicago in April.  It’s about Orange Is the New Black  and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

The bad news is that my car is apparently a death trap and it’s spending the night at the mechanic’s and I’ll have to pay a pretty hefty ransom tomorrow to get it out. This on top of us having to shell out one large to the plumber last week when our 22-year-old hot water heater failed. Also, LK is really sick, and I’m really worried about her. (Every fall, her allergies and asthma go berserk. October was very quiet, but the snot really hit the fan last night.)

I know, I am going all Job on y’all. I don’t mean to. Let’s talk about food. Fittingly, before all of this crap blew up, I had planned a comfort food-heavy menu, as the forecast calls for gloomy skies and snuggly temperatures for the bulk of the week. I’m really going to have to work for it at the gym over the next couple of days, but these are some of my favorite fall dishes and are totally worth every calorie/Weight Watchers point.

Sunday: We had pie and other treats at a preview event for Royer’s Pie Haven, so we came home and had veggies and cereal.
Monday: Goulash and roasted broccoli.
Tuesday: Casserole Queens chicken pot pie with a drop-biscuit topping instead of the puff pastry sheet.
Wednesday: Beef stew (recipe below). This is one of the husband’s favorites. I just made it a few weeks ago and when I asked him what he wanted from the slow cooker on Wednesday, this was his request.
Thursday: Husband is in charge of dinner, as I have a book event. Maybe leftovers? But probably tacos.
Friday: Husband will be at Fun Fun Fun fest, so the kids and I will have dinner at Phil’s.
Saturday: Husband at FFF, kids will want McDonald’s, but I will try to steer them toward homemade pizza. But probably tacos.

Mom’s Beef Stew
Recipe adapted minimally from Not Your Mom’s Slow Cooker

10-12 small Yukon Gold potatoes, halved
4 large carrots, cut into 1- inch chunks
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon chile mole pipian
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1- 1/2 pounds stew meat (I buy it pre-trimmed and cubed to save time)
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, as needed
1 large onion, cut into a total of 6 or 8 wedges
1 large rib of celery, sliced 1/2 inch thick
6 to 8 medium sized mushrooms, cut in half
2 cups beef broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of ground cloves
Salt and pepper to taste
1 small bay leaf

  • Place the potatoes and carrots in the slow cooker.
  • Place the flour, mole pipian, salt and pepper in a Ziploc bag. Toss half of the beef in the mixture, shaking off any excess, and transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining meat.
  • In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium high heat. Add the meat and brown on all sides. Once the meat is brown, transfer it to the to slow cooker.
  • Add the onion, celery and mushrooms to the slow cooker, nestling them gently among the chunks of meat.
  • In a separate bowl, stir together the broth, tomato paste, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and cloves. Pour into the cooker. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the bay leaf and cover. Cook on LOW for 8 to 9 hours or HIGH for 4 to 5 hours.
  • When it is time to serve the stew, discard the bay leaf and ladle the stew into bowls. I like to serve it with hunks of crusty bread.

Meal Plan: Week of 9/29/13 (and other things)

I am crazy busy this week, with a glut of papers to grade and freelance deadlines and meetings and whatnot. This weekend was incredibly busy with family and birthday stuff, so I kind of threw together a meal plan on the fly. I say all this because I really want to process the Breaking Bad series finale here, but I just don’t know if I have the time. I’ll see if I can dump something at the bottom of this post.

OH! And Barb K has still not claimed her prize, so if I haven’t heard from her by the end of the week, I’ll draw another winner.


Sunday: My birthday party, so chips and salsa, charcuterie, cheese, crackers, green bean pate brought by a friend, wine, and the amazing cake pictured above. That cake, made by Kendall Melton (pastry chef at Contigo), was a total fetish object at the party. It consisted of supermoist chocolate cake, perfect peanut butter buttercream, and was topped with candied cashews. Incredible. I may have the one remaining slice for lunch. :)
Monday: Sloppy joes, sweet potato fries, broccoli. (I’m the only one in the house who likes sweet potato fries, so I’ll probably throw some regular potato fries in there.)
Tuesday: Coconut curry with rice noodles and tofu.
Wednesday: Leftovers (we’re still miserable at leftovers, and I’m throwing away too much food).
Thursday: The BK has baseball, so I will charge The Husband with feeding himself and the boy. LK and I will dine out with friends.
Friday-Sunday:  I’ll be covering ACL fest, so I’m not sure what the meal plan is for the weekend.

Ok, here is what I will say about the Breaking Bad finale [SPOILER ALERT]: My heart was in my stomach the first time I watched it, and I was so anxious that it didn’t really sink in. And then I watched it again, listening very closely to the closing song (“Baby Blue” by Badfinger), and I’m devastated. Yes, much of it was inevitable and unsurprising — just like we knew Hank wasn’t going to make it to the end, it was also clear that neither would Walt walk off into the sunset. But that final scene was so profoundly devastating, to think that after everything and everyone who was sacrificed in Heisenberg’s wake, Walt died alone with his one true love: an unfinished batch of his blue meth. He forfeited his right to say farewell to his son, his baby daughter would never know him, his genial boor of a brother-in-law paid with his life, and his protegee spent months as a meth slave (and I really hope that Jesse made it to Alaska or Portland or whatever and is making a fortune with his artisanal wooden boxes). So much ruin and misery and in the end we see that he always loved the meth and making more than he loved his family, friends, and community. And that, to me, is deeply, deeply sad. So I don’t see it as a victory that Walt went out on his own terms because, on balance, his terms were crappy. And that is why Breaking Bad is such a devastating morality tale.

(And now I’m crying again. Which means it’s time to grade papers.)

Baked Sunday Mornings: Brown Butter Snickerdoodles

Here I am, finally jumping back into the Baked Sunday Mornings sandbox, and there’s no better time to do so than a.) on my birthday and b.) with some of my favorite cookies.

I love goodies with brown butter in them. I think brown butter can elevate even the most mundane dessert. I also love snickerdoodles. So, this recipe from Baked Elements should be a no-brainer, right?


You would think so, right? But these are … not my favorite. They’re not BAD — in fact, they’re pretty tasty and pleasantly chewy. However, I had some problems with the cook time that I feel compromised the final product. The recipe says to bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, or until they were set (but to give them a couple of extra minutes for less chewyness, but don’t overbake them!).

My oven, I think, runs a bit cool, as things tend to take longer to cook than most recipes indicate (except when they don’t). I didn’t want to overbake these, but they were vey much not ready to take out at 10 minutes. I let them go for 13-14 minutes before pulling them and … they had raw spots in them yet. UGH. (See the pocket in the top cookie in the photo? Raw spot.) I wonder, too, whether I should have brought the dough close to room temperature before baking off the cookies; it was quite firm after a few hours’ chilling.

Again, these aren’t terrible, but they don’t have the consistency that I look for in a snickerdoodle. I have adopted Smitten Kitchen’s recipe as my go-to when I want snickerdoodles. They’re crisp on the outside and pillowy on the inside and, well, perfect.

Be sure to check out all the other participants’ thoughts on the brown butter snickerdoodles here.

We have a winner!

The winner of the Cake Boss flower cakelette pan is …. 


Congratulations, Barb! I will email you for your mailing address so that you can receive your prize. 

Thanks, everyone, for participating! I hope to be able to offer another giveaway soon. 

Have a great weekend!

Meal Plan: Week of 9/22/13

This week is the crazy. I can’t even begin to tell you how busy it will be; shall try to do so by glossing each night’s meal entries.

A programming note regarding last week’s meals: We REALLY LIKED the chicken tamale casserole. The Husband even asked for leftovers of it for his lunch the next day, which is unheard of. I might make a thinner “tamal” layer or double the enchilada sauce, though, because it wasn’t as saturated as I would have liked/was expecting. The slow cooker bolognese was a little too runny and greasy. The runny part was probably my part because I was in a hurry and I didn’t let the liquids reduce as much as I should have in the prep process. It was greasy because the recipe didn’t include a “drain fat from hamburger meat” step and, while I paused and thought, “hm, maybe I should drain this fat … but the recipe doesn’t say to do that so maybe it’s incorporated into the flavor.” Pro tip: if you make that recipe, drain the fat from the beef. The slow cooker balsamic chicken was a failure in that while the instructions said to cook the breasts on low for 3-3.5 hours, but because I had two extra kids in my house and was distracted I cooked them on HIGH for 2.5 hours and they were dusty, nasty chicken jerky. Gross. READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. You’d think I’d have a grasp on that by now.


Why not bookend a week with pizza every now and again?

Sunday: Dinner at Bufalina with friends. VERY GOOD PIZZA.
Monday: Beef daube provencal with egg noodles (I teach, BK has baseball practice)
Tuesday: Sandwiches/leftovers/cereal (BRING ON THE CRAZY. BK has baseball, LK has swim, then dance, then soccer.)
Wednesday: Pork tenderloin with sauerkraut from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook (actually maybe a quiet night)
Thursday: Trader Joe’s fish nuggets or Mandarin chicken (We finally got a Trader Joe’s in Austin!!! And there was much rejoicing. BK has baseball, LK has swim, plus we have a big PTA thing at school, which we may or may not attend.)
Friday: Dinner with friends at Umami Mia. (#pizzaresearch)
Saturday: We are hoping to have a babysitter so that Husband and I can go out on a date for my birthday (I’m thinking dinner at Arro, maybe a movie, hopefully some browsing time at BookPeople). The kids will have … something.

Individual Roasted Apple Spice Cakes (Review + GIVEAWAY)

Fall has always been my favorite season. I’m sure it has something to do with having a fall birthday, plus all the best holidays happen in the final quarter of the year. But I also love the cooler weather, the crispness of the air, the crunch of the fallen leaves underfoot, and the earlier sunsets. I like how the earth seems more still, quieter, more revealing of its secrets.

Another thing I love about fall is its flavors: apple, pear, pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, spiced chocolate, earthy greens, and warming stews rich with root vegetables.


I tend to do a lot more baking in the fall and winter than during the rest of the year, and try out lots of new recipes. (Tis the season for putting on one’s winter coat, yes? I have probably aided hundreds of people in the winter-layer department over the course of the past few years.)

So, when I was approached by the folks at Cake Boss asked me to review one of their new products, I agreed, since not only would I have an excuse to try something new, I would also be able to share one with one of my readers.

Disclaimer: I was given this product to review. All opinions are my own.

Disclaimer: I was given this product to review. All opinions are my own.

I chose the molded Flower Cakelette Pan because I have a little lady who LOVES all things flowers. And I chose to make this apple cake because it’s the first day of fall and it’s high time I made something with apples.

ImageI’ve got to say that I am extremely happy with both the recipe and the cake pan. (Recipe follows below.) The cake pan, which makes six individual cakes at a time, performed beautifully. Because I am a paranoid baker, I used cooking spray AND flour in the molds to prevent sticking (even though the pan is nonstick). I didn’t really need to do that, because the cakes released beautifully and had cooked evenly. My only complaint (and I think this is user error, really — it will just take more trial and error) is that my cakes puffed up like muffins and I had to trim about half an inch off the bottom of each so that they would lie flat on a plate. (The Husband gladly batted cleanup on the cake bottoms, though.)

What’s more, the LK was so enchanted by the flower cakes that she has already asked that I make some for her birthday next month. SCORE.

If you’re interested in learning more about the new Cake Boss line of products, you can check out the launch event at your nearest Michael’s store on Saturday, September 28 from 10am-noon. (There’s more information on Twitter and Facebook, too.) You’ll get a chance to spin the Cake Roulette, maybe win some prizes, and pick up a few recipes and baking tips.

If you’d like a chance to win a flower cakelette pan of your own, leave a comment describing your favorite fall flavor/food/meal by 5pm Thursday, September 26. I’ll select a winner at random on Friday, September 27.

Roasted Apple Spice Cakes with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted minimally from Smitten Kitchen
Yields 12 individual cakes

3 apples, peeled, cored and halved
3 3/4 cups flour
3/4 t salt
3/4 t baking soda
1 T baking powder
1 T cinnamon
3/4 t ground ginger
1/8 t ground cloves
1/8 t nutmeg
1/2 c honey
2 1/4 c applesauce
1 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature
3/4 c packed brown sugar
3 large eggs

1. Place the apple halves face-down on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Roast at 375 for about 20 minutes. When they are done roasting, set them aside to cool. Reduce the oven to 350 degrees.
2. While the apples are roasting, whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the honey and applesauce and set aside.
4. Using the paddle attachment on your electric mixer, blend the butter and sugar together until fluffy.
5. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition.
6. Beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, alternate adding the flour mixture and honey mixture into the mixing bowl. Blend until just incorporated.
7. Chop the apples into 1/2-inch chunks and fold them into the batter.
8. Spoon the batter (a little less than 2/3 cups per mold) into the cake pan.
9. Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.
10. When a tester comes out clean, remove the pan from the oven and let the cakes rest for about 10 minutes.
11. Transfer the cakes to a cooling rack, wipe down the pan, and cook the second half of the batch.

Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

2 8-ounce blocks of cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1 T vanilla extract
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1. Blend the butter and cream cheese in the mixer until smooth and fluffy (lumps are gross; make sure all the lumps are gone).
2. Add the vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg and mix until incorporated.
3. Add the powdered sugar gradually, taking care not to let it fly all over your counters and floors. Mix until fully incorporated and the frosting is nice and airy.
4. Place a generous dollop of frosting on top of each cakelette.
5. Eat and enjoy!

Meal Plan: Week of 9/15/13

I find myself enjoying — finally — some “down time” in that I have met all my immediate deadlines for both the book and freelance work for the time being. (That doesn’t mean I don’t have deadlines, it just means that, as of right now, I have a whole week ahead of me with NO DEADLINES.)

This weekend has been dedicated to baking, shopping, reading, watching the BK play baseball (Saturday), and finally dusting off my sewing machine. Today will be all about sewing. I’ve got tons of fabric for skirts (me) and dresses (LK), as well as napkins and aprons (which I plan to pop into my Etsy shop very soon).


I’ve also done a lot of research around lunchboxes and meal planning, trying to clean up the BK’s lunchbox (fewer chips and sweets, more fruit and veg!) and plan dinners that accommodate everyone’s extracurriculars (BK’s baseball, LK’s swim and dance, my Monday and Wednesday evening classes) as well as my newly reinstated Weight Watchers membership.

(Side note: I recently went in for my annual checkup with my GP and mentioned that I’m — still — not happy with my weight. She suggested I’d be a good candidate for Optifast, since I’m motivated and am good at maintaining my weight. I considered it for a little while, mentioned it to The Husband, who said, “Yeah, because living on a chemical slurry is SO MUCH HEALTHIER than eating real food.”)

So, I’ve been trolling Pinterest and Cooking Light magazine for recipes that meet all the criteria mentioned above, and I think I’ve struck a pretty fair balance with this week’s options. My biggest challenge so far is that sometimes we just end up making another plan for dinner (like when we ended up at the new Lucy’s Fried Chicken instead of having the homemade pizza I’d planned to make for dinner with the BK last Thursday). Most of the time, though, I can roll that over into the next day or week. Oh, and leftovers. We are and always have been MISERABLE at managing leftovers. I welcome any tips or suggestions y’all might have on how to reduce leftovers-related waste.

Sunday: Chicken tamale casserole, veg, fruit
Monday: Slow cooker bolognese, pasta, salad, fruit
Tuesday: Burrito bowls, fruit
Wednesday: Slow cooker balsamic chicken, veg, fruit
Thursday: Italian wonderpot, salad, fruit
Friday: TBD. (If we could have a standing Friday-night dinner at Torchy’s, I’d be a happy woman.)
Saturday: TBD. We’re going to see the new Forklift Danceworks show that evening, so it might just be sandwiches.


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