The end of October also brings the end of my maternity leave. It is bittersweet. I’ve loved my time with my babe and feel like I’ve made the most of it. I also love working. I’m so grateful for the job I have and feel really at peace to return. I learned with our little boy that working is really right for me.
Once I got my footing with a newborn and toddler, I cooked some fun things and I’m psyched for what I have prepped for the blog! I’m feeling great about one post a week being sustainable. I’m prepped well ahead so I can enjoy the blogging process, have room to keep going, and to not feel stressed. I have a few very seasonal meals up next!
While not made this October, but blogged >365 days after the making, the cutest Pumpkin Shaped Cheddar Cheeseball got to grace the blog!
I also toyed with the concept of a capsule meal plan and fell in love! This season for my life was screaming for some structure while meal planning. Obviously I care a ton about our family eating varied foods together at the table so this bit of structure to plan really helped me. I’ll continue to plan weeknight meals with nights of: pasta or pizza; Mexican; anything goes (aka, leftovers or the easiest thrown together dinners); and whatever else seems good to add in that particular week. Try it. Tell me what you think!
I made a fun Chocolate Mint Smoothie to use the mint that was still flourishing in my garden.
Plus, this month had a French inspired grilled cheese that has a truly pumped up flavor.
The Little Boy:
He’s so interested in rhyming which is funny. He can hear it in books but when figuring out his own words that rhyme is comical. He loves pealing his own banana and has been eating really everything. I got these marshmallows and he has loooved them as treats. He’s pretty psyched for Halloween. We got to go to a few fun events at the library since I’ve been home. He thought the book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was hysterical. I get a kick out of his love for being cozy- me too! He’ll do anything for the prospect of getting cozy- get those jammies on after the tub so you’ll be cozy, put your jacket on so you’ll be cozy, etc.
The Baby Girl:
She’s close to 3 months old and will start daycare soon. We joke she’ll learn to nap there. She’s very smiley and sweet- especially since she really doesn’t sleep much during the day. We are trying to get her to eat more. She’s itty bitty. I swear she’d pretty much sleep through the night if we didn’t have to wake her to eat. Once she gains some weight we’ll be able to stop waking her. She loves the tub when we put her in with her big brother. She hates getting her nails trimmed.
This Year’s Goals:
Year of the candle: I got this Honeycrisp Apple Trader Joe’s one and it is gooooood
Cook more appetizers/snacks: nope
Taking time to blog thoughtfully: ehh. blogging at all at this season is an accomplishment in my book.
Journal the cute moments of my little one: I need to do more of this
What I’m reading: I read Homegoing and Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
What I’m watching: I’m watching Big Little Lies and A Million Little Things
I loooove to jazz up grilled cheese. I want crunch of the bread and beyond-the-average flavors for my grilled cheese. Bread + cheese doesn’t seem to be enough for me. Evidence: this grilled cheese lorraine; or grilled cheese with sweet potato & sage; or turkey & pear grilled cheese; or I could go on…
This time I took some easy tweaks to the basic and think the herb butter spread for the outside is such a win! The outside is super crunchy and flavorful and the inside has 3 cheeses plus rosemary and dijon feel a bit French and just perfect for fall.
French Inspired Grilled Cheese
Ingredients: (for 2 sandwiches)
2 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons mayo
1/2 teaspoon chopped rosemary
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
salt & pepper
4 slices of good quality bread
2 slices gruyere cheese
2 slices white American cheese
1 slice Provolone cheese
Mix together the butter, mayo, rosemary, olive oil, and salt & pepper.
Prep it in advance, or mix and spread onto the outer side of the bread.
Assemble the sandwiches with dijon on the inside, cheeses, then the flavored butter on the outside.
Pan fry on each side until melty and toasted.
How golden and delicious does that look? My bread had even lived a full life and came out of retirement from the freezer and still came out amazing. The herbs on the outside make it even more perfect. Don’t think twice about mayo being on the outside. That’s what restaurants do! That’s what grilled cheese food trucks do! A drizzle of truffle oil would be fantastic to keep that French inspiration.
I made this for lunch in 5 minutes, but it is special enough to make a meal out of for dinner!
Psst: have leftover rosemary? Make this honey rosemary cream cheese and you can thank me later
This adorable (and seasonable) appetizer is a year in the making. I made this forever-ago but didn’t get to blog it soon enough and then it seemed weird to encourage anyone to shape food into a pumpkin shape once the mindset is onto the next holidays! It is so stinking cute, super easy, and delicious.
Pumpkin Shaped Cheese Ball
8 oz cream cheese (room temperature)
3/4 cup orange cheddar
1 cup Cheez-Its (Cheddar Grooves are really great for this)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
salt & pepper
Stem from a bell pepper
crackers to serve
Bring the cream cheese to room temperature.
In a food processor (or pounded in a ziplock bag), pulverize the cheez-its. Then remove most of it, leaving ~1/4 cup in the food processor.
Add in the cream cheese, cheddar, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, and salt & pepper.
Remove and form into a ball, wrapping in plastic wrap. In the wrapped ball, make pumpkin-like ridges from the top to bottom, about an inch apart. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until serving.
Before serving, unwrap and roll it in the remaining cheez-it crumbs.
Add the bell pepper stem and serve with crackers.
I loved this, and it is show-stopping cute. I like the simplicity of it but it isn’t shy on flavor. I brought it to a get together and just rolled the crumbs before serving. I’ll totally make this again. Orrrr make this cute carrot one but shape it like a pumpkin. So festive! This one is so fitting for October AND November.
Capsule wardrobes are definitely a thing so why isn’t capsule meal planning a thing? I’m doing it! Capsule wardrobes are a smaller selection to mix and match to make choosing easier. Meal planning needs some of those same principles! Starting a meal plan for the week can feel daunting but having a plan, getting the ingredients, maybe doing some prep in advance, and sharing the plan with those eating it are all keys to success. I always meal plan factoring in weather, speed/ease of prep, and what we have going on but why not add in a few more guidelines?
I came up with a bunch of themes and categories and definitely think it has made planning and executing meals easier! I decided to choose a few as the starting point to then plan with our favorites. I’m focusing on weeknights since those are for sure the craziest around here. What are your weeknight go-tos? I need to know!
Here’s my running list of weeknight dinner themes:
night of bfast
night of meatless (here are some of mine, and more of mine)
night of international: Mexican/Mediterranean/Italian/Thai/Indian
night of pizza/pasta/calzone
night of panini/soup/salad
night of grilling
night of a grain bowl dinner (some of our favs are here)
night of anything goes (that means fast, not creating leftovers but maybe even using a leftover item, maybe not everyone eats the same thing: often eggs/quesadillas/grilled cheese/pasta)
night of takeout (that’s what we do on Fridays)
Last week, here’s what we did:
Mon = night of calzone: sausages & onions
Tues = night of crockpot: BBQ pulled pork & roasted butternut squash
Wed = night of pasta: tortellini w/ alfredo
Thurs = night of Mexican: pork tacos & fiesta bean salad
Fri = night of takeout
The prior week, here’s what we did:
Mon = night of salads: build your own salad bar
Tues = night of anything goes
Wed = night of grilling: hot dogs & broccoli salad
Thurs = naan pizzas
Fri = night of takeout
This week, here’s what we did/are having:
Mon = night of pasta: spaghetti & tomato sauce and salad
Tues = night of a blogged dinner (coming soon! it is very fall inspired!)
Wed = night of a freezer food recreated (loaded waffle fries with pulled pork, beans, corn, queso, & avocado)
Thurs = night of anything goes (my bookclub night this week!)
Fri = night of takeout
I tried it out a few weeks. I can honestly say it makes creating a meal plan so much easier. I haven’t quite set our themes we’ll do every week, but I’d guess during this busy season of our lives, I’ll keep: pasta/anything goes/takeout and that leaves 2 other weeknights to get creative or do whatever we’re in the mood for. Tacos/Mexican seems like a likely theme we may have most weeks too. Even 3 weeknights covered with a starting point seems helpful!
What are your go-tos for weeknight dinners??
Anyone who grows mint has it in spades. Anyone who buys mint also probably has extra and wants to get their money’s worth. Everyone wins! In the fall, our herb garden goes bananas and I’m seeking all the ways to use the herbs at hand. I hadn’t made a smoothie with mint this whole season, not since last year’s mojito smoothie (which is also a delicious one). The mint flavor is also perfect to go with a green smoothie. Adding the chocolate flavor muddies the color, but it is ohh-so-worth it.
Chocolate Mint Smoothie
1 cup spinach/kale
1/2 cup greek vanilla yogurt
1/2 apple, frozen
1/2 banana, frozen
hand-full of fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
Add greens, vanilla, and milk. Blend throughly.
Then add in the apple, banana, mint, cocoa powder, ground flax seeds.
I loved this one! It tastes like dessert but starting the day with a fruit and a veggie is the best. The mint is nicely refreshing and the chocolate makes this taste like a total treat. If the color turns you off, pop it into a cup with a cover. This is totally a keeper!
Use your mint for these mojito shrimp and in this zucchini/ricotta/herb pasta and then for this smoothie!
September went by in a blur. The babe is 6 weeks old and we’re getting our footing a bit. A bit. I cooked a few things but my priority was hitting all the food groups for everyone and not worrying if meals weren’t my most exciting or inventive. I’m giving myself some grace and always striving for some advanced dinner prep while I’m home for maternity leave, especially since dinner time got wayyy crazier with a baby who hates 4pm-9pm and a toddler who is ready to play.
Some of my go-tos lately have been: sesame noodles & edamame; grain bowls (farro/sausage/zucchini); meatball sliders; eggs/breakfast; and salad bar. I’m 100% still obsessed with a pb&j smoothie I made non-stop while pregnant. I owe you the healthier reboot I took on this smoothie but it is saved on my insta-stories highlights for now. I have a new smoothie to share next month as well as the cutest seasonal appetizer ever.
I made this protein-packed salad as a twist on the Italian tuna and white bean salad.
Because they’re so easy and ohh-so-good, I made these chicken, bacon, cheddar, and ranch turnovers with crescent rolls. After these, the little guy and I made pizza ones with sauce, mozzarella, and pepperoni but we didn’t blog it.
Lastly, dessert is necessary in life and this cheesecake mousse parfait is perfectly packable to bring somewhere or was great mixed to order as you need a little sweet treat.
The Little Guy
I’m thanking our lucky stars that we’ve squeaked out this long (3.5 years and counting) of him in a crib. With the new baby I’m ever so thankful he’s happy in his bed/crib for now. I have a feeling the toddler bed in is in our future but I’m hoping he can hang on until baby sister sleeps through the night. One thing at a time, right? He is such a good big brother. He loves the baby and doesn’t mind that sometimes we divide and conquer. He has confirmed the only deli meat he’s into is salami. All grains are good- this month he really loved farro which I haven’t made in awhile. We’re all still popping cherry tomatoes from our plants as often as we can. He has especially loved pineapple and raw bell peppers this month.
The Baby Girl
She’s about 6 weeks old now. Just like her big brother did, she struggles in the early evening. Around 4ish she can’t sleep and by 6 she wants nothing to do with anything. Nothing helps soothe her until 8 or 9pm when she’ll eat and then sleep. Apparently this is a thing- like sundowning. Our pediatrician says most work themselves out of it at 6 weeks-12 weeks. Here’s hoping it is any day now! It is emotionally draining, very tiring, and so sad. We’re also trying to give the little guy attention and love (as well as dinner & a bath) after his day at preschool so her screaming makes this timeframe even more exciting. Daytime she’s so happy and starting to smile! She eats every 3 hours and I cannot wait until I don’t have to wake her to eat. Ditto for evenings, we’re waking her every 4-5 hours to eat. Since she wasn’t gaining weight we’re not really at liberty to dismiss her doctor’s advice for eating.
This Year’s Goals:
Year of the candle: I got this pumpkin/vanilla-ish one
Cook more appetizers/snacks: nope
Taking time to blog thoughtfully: ehh. blogging at all is an accomplishment in my book.
Journal the cute moments of my little one: I slacked this month.
What I’m reading: I read The Vacationers; The Goldfinch; & The Last Mrs. Parrish
What I’m watching: I’m into The Crown which is fun for some substance
Salads for lunch can be tricky. Sometimes they’re tasty but not filling, or sometimes they’re delicious but full of the add-ons and not the healthy parts. I made this one with a tweak on the traditional Italian tuna & white bean salad by really upping the greens. Balance is the goal right now. The days often end with ice cream so starting with a green-based smoothie and lunch centered around veggies, fish, and protein seems like a good idea.
Tuna & White Bean Protein Salad (for 2 servings)
1/2 cup white beans
1 can tuna, white in water
2-3 cups arugula
Rinse beans, drain tuna, and wash and chop the tomatoes, cucumber, and greens.
Add everything to a bowl.
Mix one part Italian dressing and 1 part Creamy Caesar dressing. Then toss the salad in the dressing.
I liked the heft to the salad with the tuna and the beans with the fresh and crisp greens, tomatoes, and cucumbers. I often have arugula around because I love the peppery flavor, and it has a pretty long shelf-life in the fridge. The dressing gives the ideal alive, vinegar touch with the decadence of a creamy dressing too.
I only tossed half with the dressing and batched the rest up for the next day. I’m home on maternity leave and sometimes have fun in the kitchen come lunch time…other days, I’m grateful to have a no-brainer lunch ready to sneak it in before the next feeding/naptime/etc. I don’t often bring tuna to the office for lunch because of the smell-factor, but it would be a perfect dinner to have ready too. Reducing (and finely chopping) the greens would make this more like the traditional Italian one that would be great scooped onto crackers!
These little buggers are so cute and delicious. Crescent rolls are getting stuffed with, yup, you’ve guessed it, chicken, bacon, ranch, and cheddar. They became an instant dinner with the help of pre-cooked bacon and some rotisserie chicken. Serve these with some salad and they’re dinner like a hot sandwich, or on a big platter with ranch as an app! They are an ideal weeknight dinner or a fun one for kids to help assemble.
Chicken, Bacon & Ranch Turnovers
1 can crescent rolls (8)
4 strips of cooked bacon
1 cup roasted chicken, shredded
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons ranch dressing
1 teaspoon ranch dressing powder mix
Preheat the oven according to the crescent roll instructions, then shred the chicken and chop the bacon.
Mix the chicken with the dressing.
Unroll the crescent dough into the perforated triangles. Top the wide part of the triangle with chicken, bacon, and cheddar. Then carefully roll towards the point.
Sprinkle ranch powder on top and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment, a baking mat, or sprayed generously with non-stick spray.
Bake 10-15 minutes, as directed by the crescent packaging.
These are a great use for leftover chicken if there isn’t a lot of it and they reheat well in the oven or toaster oven. Pop any leftovers into the freezer for another day’s quick lunch or game-time snack….though, I don’t think you’ll have any leftovers!
I’m backkkk! I whipped up these super quick cheesecake mousse parfaits and can see them showing up on occasion since these are so tasty and so simple. They’d be easy to customize. I nabbed the end of strawberry season which made me love these that much more but top as you like your cheesecake- any berry, chocolate sauce, caramel drizzle, or whatever!
Cheesecake Mousse Parfaits with Strawberries
Ingredients: (for 4-6 servings)
1 box cheesecake pudding mix (prepared according to package)
2 cups strawberries
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon sugar
4 oz cool whip (1/2 of a container)
1 cup granola
Mix the pudding according to the package and refrigerate.
Slice the strawberries and stir in water and sugar. Refrigerate until serving.
Before serving, mix in the cool whip. Serve mousse with strawberries and top with a sprinkle of granola.
Swap out the granola for graham cracker crumbles or vanilla cookie crumbles too.
I had this on the brain for awhile but whipped it up (literally, whipped the pudding! Ha!) on a random weeknight. Now I’d be ready to bring this anywhere. It’d pack really well to mix just before serving.
Psssst! Use the rest of the cool whip for this lemon fruit dip!
Baby girl is here! She arrived 6 loooong days late but we’re all doing great and are glad to be a family of 4! She’s so snuggly and sweet. August was so hot and humid and so hard to wait. The little boy was off to the beach for the week while we waited for her. After 15 hours of contractions at home, we went in to the hospital that night not sure if she was really coming and early the next morning, here she was!
I may be back to blogging sooner than I thought. I’m anticipating doing more while on maternity leave than after going back to work so stay tuned! I have a few things lined up and I’m thinking maybe once a week might be the new norm. We’ll see!
I didn’t do meal prep before she was born but I put together some freezer kits to have dinner ideas and ingredients all set. Freezer food in the summer is tricky! I’m also lowering my expectations and focusing on everyone eating all the food groups. Also, the Trader Joe’s staples have helped with dinners- everyone’s favorite is the Orange Chicken over brown rice with edemame.
sausage & peppers: chicken sausages; sautéed onions & peppers; and rolls
meatball sliders: chicken meatballs & beef meetballs; pesto; tomato sauce; mozzarella; and slider rolls
taco kit: shredded pork; cheddar; roasted corn (needs tortillas & lettuce & salsa)
The Little Guy:
He seems so big! He got to go on the fam vacay to the beach while we waited for the baby. He’s adjusting pretty well. Week one was rockier, but it feels a bit better now. I can’t tell if he had a tough week just coming off the beach vacation, or just back to a schedule, or just life as a 3-year-old, or an adjustment to the baby. He is so funny when he talks about the basement reno and when he pretend calls the plumber and contractor. He made slime at school and really loves playing with it. Food-wise, he was thrilled to have edemame in the pods…he LOVES popping them out of the pod. PB&J is still his fav of all time. I have my fingers crossed that he stays in his crib awhile longer- until the baby sleeps through the night. Maybe? That would be awesome.
The Baby Girl:
She’s doing so well! She’s eating and sleeping quite well! Week 2 we got to transition from feeding every 2-3 hours at night to every 4-5 hours. Woohoo! Nursing is going well, and much easier than last time, so far, (knocks on wood!). I forgot that infants can sleep without having been being awake for long. Once a day she reminds us that she’s a newborn and she’ll do what she wants- even when she doesn’t know what she wants.
This Year’s Goals:
Year of the candle: this month it was a citronella
Cook more appetizers/snacks: nope
Taking time to blog thoughtfully: nope
Journal the cute moments of my little one: how he pronounces The Hulk as “the Julk”
What I’m reading: I read a ton! I read Sweetbitter & A Reliable Wife & Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook; & Tender at the Bone & A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
What I’m watching: nothing super special- Bachelor in Paradise, America’s Got Talent, a special about The Royals in preparation for The Crown that I plan to start.