Things I Like to Make for Dinner

January 2

Despite being surrounded by restaurants (I can count eight on our physical block alone), Scott and I eat dinner at home most nights. The reasons for this are the standard ones. It’s cheaper, it’s healthier, and we generate less waste with home cooked food.

As the primary meal planner, I sometimes start to run dry on dinnertime ideas (it happens to the best of us, even those who make a living inventing recipes). Many years ago, a blogger I followed posted a list of her favorite dinners, in an attempt to create a well of ideas that she could turn to when she hit a wall.

After years of thinking it would be a good thing to do for myself, here is my list. The things we like to eat for dinner, in no particular order.

  • Turkey burgers (good side options include roasted sweet potatoes, roasted carrots, steamed and buttered broccoli, or cauliflower puree)
  • Turkey meatloaf
  • Teriyaki salmon with broccoli
  • Joy’s chicken and ricotta meatballs (eat over braised kale when being healthy, over pasta or polenta the rest of the time)
  • Roasted chicken, preferably on a bed of carrots and onions
  • Chicken soup (typically made the same week as the roast chicken above)
  • Ground beef soup
  • Chicken or beef fajita salads (topped with the roasted corn salsa from my first book. So! Good!)
  • Turkey tacos with cumin slaw
  • Oven-roasted nachos (that’s what pictured up at the top of this post)
  • Shredded chicken or ground turkey chili
  • Broccoli or cauliflower and cheese soup
  • Carrot soup with ham croutons
  • Sausage, kale, and white bean soup
  • Quinoa salad with lots of vegetables and feta
  • Beef meatballs with feta and red onion
  • Ranch steaks (they are little, quick-cooking steaks that I get from Meadow Run Farm and keep in the freezer. They defrost quickly and are perfect for nights when I didn’t plan well) with whatever sides are around
  • Broiled turkey kielbasa with braised cabbage with leeks and lemons
  • Pulled pork (braised in one part jam and one part apple cider vinegar)
  • Sauerkraut soup (If you have leftover pulled pork or braised brisket, use that instead of the bacon)
  • Split pea soup
  • Curried red lentil soup (I only make this when Scott is out of town, as he’s not a curry fan)
  • Tuna salad on salad greens
  • Beef stew
  • Pot roast (delicious and when I make it, I use a ton of vegetables and serve it on top of braised kale for extra greenery)
  • Mexican rice bowl bar (best for when we have guests who have different dietary needs. Line up brown rice, beans, crumbed beef or turkey, chopped lettuce, salsa, grated cheese, sour cream, and avocado on the counter and let everyone build their own)
  • Cauliflower mac and cheese (sometimes made without the mac and with a tiny bit of bacon [turkey or otherwise] for a lower carb version)
  • Kale salad with avocado (this is another one I make only when Scott’s not home for dinner)
  • Fried rice with a ton of vegetables (made almost exclusively with leftover rice from Chinese take-out)
  • Spatchcocked chicken with Dutch oven broccoli (that Whole Chicken Project is a gold mine of useful recipes)
  • Tamale pie
  • Chicken pot pie
  • Shepherd’s pie
  • No-cook pasta sauce
  • Pizzas made on a sunflower seed crust (these are a favorite when Scott is avoiding carbs)

And here are some things that aren’t currently part of my regular rotation, but I’d love to pull them in to our dinner hours occasionally. Though I’m not sure any of them will appeal to Scott.

18°F

January 8

It is brutally cold outside. According to my phone, it is currently 18°F and it will drop down to 16°F before the day is done. I ventured out earlier today to meet a friend and pick up a few groceries wearing my second heaviest coat (the very heaviest one is hard wear while walking) and have no intention of setting foot outside again today.

I am drinking hot, milky tea, have put on a heavy, army green wool sweater that has been with me since college, and have even turned the heat on for a little while (the heat that drifts in from our hallways is often enough to keep the apartment comfortable).

I feel intensely grateful for the tea, the sweater, the heat, and while we’re at it, the cozy home. May we all be so lucky.

January 5

much-needed veg

You know all those resolutions I mentioned over the weekend? Forget ‘em. My real resolution for this year is simply to keep up with the dishes. I cook a lot and so the tide of dirty things in my sink seems never to end (and I’m even in possession of a functional dishwasher).

Because my kitchen is small, I have no option but to clean as I work. If I don’t, I quickly run out of places to put things and my ability to make dinner or test recipes for the current blog/book/freelance project quickly grinds to a halt (you have not lived until you’ve seen me spinning in circles with a hot pot and no place to put it. Truly, it’s a sight).

I do a fairly good job keeping up with the daytime flow. The place where I falter is with the final round of dinner dishes. So often, by the time we’ve eaten, I’m just done with the kitchen. One answer might be to get Scott to do some dishes, but that doesn’t always go as hoped (we occasionally have different definitions of the word clean). And so in my late night haze, I leave dishes in the sink to deal with the next day.

Trouble is, I hate waking up to a pile of dirty plates and pots. This comes in large part from my early childhood training. My mom couldn’t go to sleep until the sink was emptied and the counters were wiped. While I’m not as severely afflicted as she, I do end up indulging in a little self-flagellation on the nights when I leave pans to soak.

As I’ve written this, I’m starting to think that maybe the solution is just to come to grips with my imperfections instead of holding myself to an impossible standard. Who knows. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some dishes to do.

January 2

20th Street

It’s the beginning of January, which means it’s the time of year to open fresh journals, attempt to start new habits, and take to the internet to declare the many ways in which you want to change yourself in the fresh, new year.

I am not immune to this instinct to resolve. This blog turns tens years old next month and it includes an impressive archive of hopeful, goal-oriented posts published on the first or second of the year (2008/2009/2010/2011/2014).

I’ve spent the last week or so thinking about my intentions are for the coming year, and I realize that more than anything, I want to keep it simple. I deeper into the specifics I get, the more opportunities for stumbling I create.

  1. Focus on the goodness – I am the type who can get a barrel of praise but still manages to fixate on the one negative comment. I’m working on turning that around.
  2. Let go – Of physical stuff, obligations that no longer serve, comparisons, and shame.
  3. Enjoy – I worked really hard over the last year, had a number of really amazing experiences and successes, and didn’t manage to relish it nearly enough.
  4. Move – Keep walking, running, and stretching. Not to lose weight or get fitter (though if those things happen, great), but simply to feel good and get more oxygen into my lungs.
  5. Create – Writing is my work, but it started as something I did because I loved it. Time to do a little more of it for me (here, perhaps?).

Thoughts on Being Jew-ish

Last Sunday, I participated in a Jewish Food Festival. I taught two workshops, one on making jam with honey, and another about quick pickles (the room overflowed in that one). I also sat in the marketplace and sold books when I wasn’t teaching. And I thought a lot about my own connection with Jewishness.

My mother is Jewish, which means I am too. However, she grew up in a family that was strictly secular and so during my childhood, my exposure to Judaism was limited to the All of a Kind Family books and the Passover Seders hosted by our Unitarian church.

When I was 22, I moved to Philadelphia and started to reconnect with my Jewish relatives. I gathered with them for Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah, and Passover, and learned to make the right food (I am our official brisket maker). I still don’t know any of the appropriate Hebrew prayers, but I have always figured that silence works just as well.

Most of the time, I feel like being Jewish is an established part of my identity. The only time I feel less so? When I’m in a large meeting room full of Jews. This is in part because I don’t have any outward markers of Jewishness. I have straight light brown hair, fair skin, and blue eyes. When my sister and I were young, strangers would often ask our dark haired, olive-skinned mother if we were adopted. My last name is McClellan. There is nothing about me that communicates the fact that I am half Ashkenazi Jew.

On Sunday, after I’d taught my workshops and was back at my table in the marketplace, one of the women who had sat through my pickling workshop walked up to buy a book. She chatted excitedly about how much she had enjoyed the demonstration and how much she was looking forward to going home and making pickles.

After she bought a book and I’d signed it, she looked at my quizzically and asked, “So. McClellan. How did you wind up at a Jewish Food Festival?” I explained, “My mom is Jewish. Before she got married, her name was Susan Klein.”

I could see her scanning my face, searching for features that could back up my claim. She must have seen something that satisfied her, because she let out a small Ah! and gave me an even brighter smile.

Of course, the welcome in that smile raises a whole host of other issues for me (chief among them being the fact that I chafe at the idea of one group being a Chosen People), but in the moment a part of me was soothed by the acknowledgement.

 

Lessons from a Six Month Book Tour

empty jar

Preserving by the Pint has now been out for nearly three months and I’ve been promoting it actively since March 14 (a whopping 11 days before it was “officially” published).

The lessons from this book cycle have been many. As I am perched at the mid-point of the tour, I thought I’d take a few minutes to write down some of what I have learned in the hopes that I don’t have to learn these exact things again.

  • Free grocery store demos aren’t a good use of my time. They take up at least half a day and no matter how much I smile and offer samples of jam, I end up talking to just a few people and selling no more than four copies of the book.
  • People will sign up for classes at grocery stores like Whole Foods, but it’s time to stop doing them for free.
  • Farmers markets, on the other hand, are nearly always a success, particularly in the earlier part of the season.
  • A morning show demo a day before a farmers market is an amazing way to move 40+ books in a 2-4 hour period.
  • Libraries almost always make good partners. Best of all, they often have programming budgets (and even if they don’t, I still like supporting what they do).
  • Whenever possible, include a copy of the book in the price of an event.
  • Contact bookstores at least four months in advance of the tour.
  • Before pulling away from an event, make sure to inventory all equipment. This prevents me from leaving behind frying pans and wide mouth funnels.
  • Unless I’m traveling through a distant part of the country on a dedicated tour, no week should contain more than 4-5 events.
  • If a weekend has events on both days, commit to taking off either Monday or Friday. Otherwise it stops being fun.
  • Remember that it’s okay to say no. It is impossible to make everyone happy all the time. And when I try to please the world, I am the one who suffers.
  • Pay heed to the gut. If someone approaches with an excessively pushy attitude or treats me without basic respect, do not work with them. It will not be fun.
  • Remember that not every waking hour should be a working hour. Leave time to live, read, eat, and move.

On a Crazy Book Tour

on the road

I think about this blog a lot, but I just never manage to get over here. That photo project I started in January became impossible to maintain. At first, it got boring because my wintertime life is so quiet and contained. Then things picked up speed and while my daily life became more interesting (and intense), it became increasing hard to remember to bring the camera along to capture those moments.

So we fast forward three months and I find myself sitting in a relatively swank hotel room in Atlanta, trying to soak up as much possible wifi (because I paid $18.95 for the privilege of getting online) before I have to dash downstairs and check out.

I’m here because I’m on a book tour to promote my new cookbook (if you follow my behemoth blog, you’re well aware of the goings on). Last night I talked to a crowd of 150 people, which was intensely surreal and so much fun. I cracked jokes about botulism and signed more than 100 books. It was a really good night.

More soon. Maybe.

January 26

January 26

My mom taught me to knit when I was seven or eight years old. She had briefly considered sending me to Waldorf school and so I spent a day at one nearish to our house. I quickly realized it wasn’t for me, but I was intrigued by all the crafting and making that the kids did there. And so we went to a knitting shop, picked out some needles and yarn, and after a couple quick lessons, I was off.

I never knit anything particularly useful. I was the queen of long, unblocked swaths that we eventually turned into scarves for my teddy bears and dolls. But I liked it and kept at it until other activities captured my interest.

For the last several years, I’ve been saying that I was in need of a new hobby (since I turned my last one into a career). I had my eye on knitting, but was weirdly hesitant to try it. I think part of it came from the fact that it’s been a long time since I started something new. In most aspects of my life, I’m the expert, not the beginner. And since I was so unaccustomed to being uncertain and a little scared to dive in, I just stayed away entirely.

I decided back in the fall that 2014 was going to be my knitting year and so when a website called Slugs on the Refrigerator announced that they were hosting a month-long online knitting camp this January, I decided to buy the kit and join up.

And honestly, it’s been really great. The basics of knit and purl came back almost immediately (hooray for muscle memory). I used some YouTube tutorials to relearn how to cast on and to figure out some of the new-to-me ways of reducing the piece. And I just keep reminding myself that any discomfort I feel in being a beginner is good for my brain (new neural pathways, and all).

So far, I’ve made two hats (and a long, meandering swatch that was just for practice). The first hat is a little bit of a wreck, but I learned a lot from it and I feel pretty darn good about the second one. I made it for Scott in his chosen colors of blue and orange (there’s no school affiliation there, just an affinity for those shades) and even adapted the pattern a tiny bit to suit.

I don’t think that I’m going to become someone who knits everything, all the time, but I’m really enjoying it at this pace. It’s fun to make useable things that aren’t edible and it’s nice to have something else to do while watching TV besides answering email.

January 25

January 25

The American Library Association held their mid-winter conference in Philadelphia over the weekend and thanks to my publisher, I got a pass to the meetings and exhibition floor. I bought a show floor pass for Scott and we spent most of this afternoon wandering around, meeting authors and picking up review and giveaway copies of new books. I wasn’t particularly discriminating and picked up nearly everything that remotely interested me. Of course, we have enough unread books in our apartment to last us both a decade or more, but there’s such excitement and potential in a new book that neither of us could resists.

January 24

January 24

My apartment used to belong to my grandparents. Through a strange twist of fate, I inherited it and all it contained when I was 23. One of the things that came with it was this roll of plastic wrap. I finally used it up today. It only took me 12 years. I guess I’m not much of a plastic wrap user.