$5 Dinner: Smoked Tofu Loaf

>> 3.29.2012

Another $5 dinner for two tonight. This time, a tofu loaf. Of course, if you aren't vegetarian or very pro-tofu, it might sound strange or not terribly appetizing. I assure you skeptics, though, it's worth a try. The tofu soaks in all the flavors of the vegetables and spices.


DOLLARS AND CENTS:

Tofu: $1.99
Oats & almonds: $1.00
Onions, carrot, mushrooms: $1.00
Condiments/spices/oil: $.50

TOTAL: $4.50

Of course, these are mere approximations. But I always tend to shoot high. Plus, if you don't eat as much as we do, you could easily get two dinners out of it. So, you still have money left for some mashed sweet potatoes on the side!


SMOKED TOFU LOAF

What you'll need . . .
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cooking onions (small), chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 cup white mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 (14-ounce) package extra firm tofu, drained & pressed
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup dry roasted almonds
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil cooking spray

Method . . .
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Spritz a 5" x 9" glass loaf pan with some olive oil.
  2. Drain your tofu and cut into about 5 pieces. Press with paper towels to get out as much moisture as possible. Set aside.
  3. In a large frying pan, heat your olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped onions and carrots, thyme, paprika, and brown sugar. Cook for about 5 minutes, until softened.
  4. Add mushrooms and cook another 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from heat and leave in the pan for the time being.
  5. In a food processor, pulse the almonds and rolled oats until they resemble coarse meal. Then add your tofu, ketchup, salt, and pepper. Pulse until mixture is smooth.
  6. Then pour tofu mixture into the pan with the onions and carrots/etc. and mix well.
  7. Pour this mixture into your glass baking pan -- spread evenly.
  8. Then bake for 45 minutes until firm. You may wish to bake longer depending on how solid you'd like the loaf to be.
In other news, we've successfully stuck to our $50 a week grocery budget for the last two weeks. I can't even begin to describe how accomplished I feel being able to share that with you all. It's definitely not easy, but it's much less difficult now that we're learning which meals work and which don't. I plan to give some more specifics soon, but just wanted to put it out there.

OTHER $5 MEALS:

Lemon-Garlic Pasta with Asparagus and Caramelized Onions

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Wednesday

>> 3.28.2012

I've given up forcing Ada to nap in her crib. (Given up forcing things in general, really -- but more on that another time.) Usually we end up in some horrifying struggle. She cries. I cry. She laughs. Hours pass. Nothing gets done. So, she slept her first nap in the swing. The second, we took a walk through the neighborhood.

In between snoozes, Ada was my little helper. We froze bananas. Baked Bittman's yogurt biscuits. Folded laundry.


But that's not what I'm writing about today. Today is Ada's 19 week birthday. (I lost track, so I had to count!) I guess each Wednesday, I think back to that crazy day in November. When the contractions started getting intense so very early in the morning.


I wanted to ask you all, just as I did on Twitter and Facebook, if you'd be interested in a series on natural, med-free childbirth in the hospital setting. And -- more importantly -- if you have specific questions you'd like me to answer. A lot of the information I gathered and took in during my pregnancy vilified hospitals. I had a positive experience.

If so, please leave a shout or email us at writingchapterthree [at] gmail [dot] com. We're also looking for stories from women who have delivered at a hospital med-free. If that's you and you want to share your experience, please let us know!

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Almond Butter Oatmeal Chippers

>> 3.27.2012

My new favorite cookie. It's somewhat labor intensive, but still simple in its own way. I'd describe the texture as somewhat sandy and a little crumbly. As much as I love peanut butter and chocolate in a similar recipe, the almond butter is irresistible.

Well worth the extra steps. File this one in your "Sunday Recipes" folder. Though if you're like me, you'll be making it most every night you have a little extra time.


ALMOND BUTTER OATMEAL CHIPPERS

For the almond butter . . .
  • 1 cup dry roasted almonds
  • 1 tablespoon organic cane sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut oil
For the cookies . . .
  • 2 cups rolled oat, processed into flour*
  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance (or butter)
  • Your almond butter from above
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon flax meal + 1-1/2 tablespoons hot water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • handful chocolate chips

Method . . .
  1. In a food processor, combine all the ingredients for the almond butter. Let process until smooth. It will likely take a few minutes. Patience. Patience.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. *In your food processor again, pulse the oats until you don't hear a grinding noise. When it is flour-like, it's done.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, use the paddle attachment to cream together the Earth Balance, almond butter, and sugars.
  5. Add in the flax mixture and vanilla. The mixture should be light and fluffy after a few minutes on high.
  6. Add the oat flour and baking soda. Mix until everything is moistened.
  7. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  8. Scoop heaping tablespoonfuls onto a cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, until golden. Then let cool before eating.
NOTE: If you want to use store-bought almond butter, you'll need to use about 1/2 cup and increase the oat flour until you reach a dough that isn't too wet.


We're feeling we had too much of a good thing too soon with the last two weeks of summer-like weather. It's been hard to pack it up and stay indoors again. Ada loved it.

Check out that drool.


Well. Maybe she just likes us. I'm sure we'll be out again soon enough.

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Raspberries

>> 3.26.2012

Things on the blog have been dark and twisty lately. (Yes. That's a Grey's Anatomy reference.) But when we really think about it, things -- in general -- are pretty great. Though the screams and cries seem constant, they only punctuate the cute stuff. Like blowing endless raspberries.

Ada's asleep. And I think I may have watched this video 30 times in the past hour.


In other news, Ada and Sophie are now friends. Thankfully.

She doesn't like to chew on much else. Something about those giraffe legs is appealing, I guess. I think the shape is easier for her to hold than some of her bulkier chew stuff. Teething-mode has cranked up several notches. We did cave in tonight and give her some baby pain reliever (that Little Fevers brand).

(PS: I get that we need to know, but does anyone else find the warning stickers on our car seat a little intense?)


I wonder when we'll see our first tooth in this gummy smile. The official countdown begins . . .


For more about our weekend, you can head over to (never home)maker.

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Sunday Morning

>> 3.25.2012

I've read that parenting can feel a lot like riding on a roller coaster. I certainly see why. However, when you're on a roller coaster, you have absolutely no control over your situation. I happen to think it's a bit more like riding on a seesaw. You go up and down, up and down. For a while, it's fun. You get the hang of it. You learn to control parts of your ascent and descent -- relying on the other kid (in our case, baby A.) to participate. To help out and keep the ride going.

On the ups, it's all smiles and giggles.
The downs are made bearable because you've learned together how to go up again.

Sometimes when you're up . . . that other kid jumps off without warning. You crash to the ground. You're rattled. Your butt hurts. You cry because whatever just happened happened so fast. But you walk it off. The next day at recess, you forget all of that. You ride the seesaw again with that same kid.

That's where we are today.


Thanks for all of your helpful comments on the post where I had a near-meltdown. I'll respond to you soon and have taken your suggestions to heart. Yesterday was equally rough. We're having an OK morning, but soon leaving grandpa to deal with it while we go run at 15K.

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Only Words

>> 3.23.2012

The last time I logged miles after 9PM was years and years ago -- in my senior year of college. Exams, relationships, and impending "real world" jobs were too much for me to process without the added endorphins. I'd often run myself to the point of exhaustion to sleep. Somehow the cool, dark air could blow it all away. The stress. I was most often completely alone on the streets. Breathing in the quiet and turning it into some inner sense of calm.

I found myself returning to the darkness this evening after a particularly trying day week. Ada's schedule changed drastically when we returned from NJ . . . and has gotten progressively worse since her shots Wednesday morning. I'd call it the sleep regression I've read so much about, but it's a total day thing, amplified by extreme fussiness. She wakes in the night loudly babbling, ready to play. She wakes for the day hours earlier than before, thrashing around and unhappy. She won't eat without fighting after every single swallow. She won't nap without screaming herself to near-hyperventilation.

Tonight, something new and even more frustrating: We found ourselves b.e.g.g.i.n.g her to fall asleep for the night. Swaying, singing, and bouncing her two straight hours after "normal" -- to which she returned to us several smiles, kicks, and squeals. Totally awake. Everything today totally, totally, totally off from "normal" . . .

There I was.
9:00 PM.
On the brink.

And I told Stephen if I didn't leave at that very moment, I might lose it. Like for REAL lose it, because I know I say that often. I pulled on a sports bra, laced up the first shoes I could find (some fashion Nike pair -- ridiculous for running), and literally ran out the door as fast as I could.

I would have kept going for hours. Yet, I only managed four or so minutes before I cramped up. After all, I had just consumed half a large homemade pizza, four peanut butter oatmeal cookies, and a much-needed Yuengling. I also thought about Stephen. I visualized our inconsolable baby. In fact, at that point half a mile away from our house I swear I could hear her. I turned around.

When I returned, Stephen had somehow soothed Ada to sleep. Not that she's stayed that way. We're still fighting that battle as I type this post, so I should probably get back to it. I imagine this won't be my last late-night run. Not this year. Not this month. Not this week.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Happy weekend, folks.

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Nursery Decor Info

>> 3.22.2012

There are several things I've been meaning to write about regarding Ada's nursery. But not one of them would require a lengthy post on its own. We didn't make this clever stuff up -- book slings, spray-painted animals, colorful garlands -- they're all over the internet.

So, here are some odds and ends . . .


We didn't want a mobile, but still wanted something fun for Ada to look up at during nap-times. For the tassel garland above the crib, we followed a super easy, no-sew tutorial over on Prudent Baby.

How we made it ours: We made our tassels smaller by half. So, instead of 24" x 30" -- we cut our squares to 12" x 24" -- perfect for hanging in a little one's room. We got our fabric on a whim at Walmart one day. It was on the clearance rack.


These book slings are all over the place. I don't even remember where I saw the first one, but it was probably on Apartment Therapy. (By the way, what happened to Ohdeedoh? I was obsessed during my pregnancy, and now I think it's lumped into Family on the AT site?) The tutorial I followed specifically is on Penny Carnival.

How we made it ours: We used a thick duck cloth versus a thinner fabric to make the slings extra durable. We also made the pockets deeper to accommodate larger books. The only thing I'd like to change is the opening the book slides into. I feel like it could be wider, but don't know if any double curtain brackets would do the trick.


There's no tutorial for these projects. It's the whole spray-paint-something-old to make-it-seem-new-or-more-exciting trick. I chose metallic paint to contrast with the bold colors we have going on in the room. Honestly, I couldn't be more happy with how these things turned out. We found the birds at a thrift store and Stephen's mom gave us the letters.

So, I hope this helps! And if you have yet toured it, you can check out Ada's nursery by clicking here or on the bar below the header on this page.

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Crusty White Potato & Ricotta Loaf

>> 3.21.2012

I f.i.n.a.l.l.y made a good loaf of bread. With all that free time I have lately, I have no idea why it took this long to whip one up. Right? Hah. Right.

What makes this loaf great is the ricotta. It creates this irresistible texture that's chewy and moist. A perfect compliment to the crusty, well, crust. The dill is an added bonus, and you can feel free to substitute whatever herb you'd like better. Chives would be tasty.


WHITE POTATO & RICOTTA LOAF

What you'll need, or in this case, knead . . .
  • 1/2 cup mashed white potatoes (instructions below)
  • 1 tablespoon dill
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Couple tablespoons milk or substitute
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 2-1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2-1/2 to 3 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Method . . .
  1. If you don't have any mashed potatoes (who really does this time of year?), scrub & peel 3 or 4 large white potatoes, then boil them until they are mushy. Mash and add in the milk, dill, and black pepper. Set aside.
  2. Combine 3/4 cup warm water with the yeast. Let sit until frothy. About five minutes.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix yeast with 1/2 cup of the potatoes AND the 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese.
  4. Using a bread hook, add 2 cups of bread flour. Then add the rest 1/4 cup at a time (perhaps more) until you have a somewhat sticky ball of dough. I didn't need to knead with my hands, but you can do so if you'd like more control.
  5. Then spray some oil in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 2 hours in a warm space.
Long process, yes.
But well worth it.
Power through!


To bake . . .
  1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. If you have a baking stone, now's a perfect time to toss it in the oven.
  2. Divide dough into two equal balls. Toss each in a bit of flour and shape into a loose round.
  3. Once the oven is preheated, bake one round for five minutes.
  4. Then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes. Until loaf is golden.
  5. Let cool before slicing.
And enjoying.


Repeat process with other round or freeze for up to 2-3 months. Tomorrow will be an Ada-update from her 4 month appointment today. Three words: Shots. Tears & Screams.

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$5 Dinner for Three

>> 3.20.2012

Alright. Technically only two of us ate the meal, but it WILL feed three eventually very, very soon. I've never been a huge pasta fan. In fact, noodles and red sauce might be my least favorite kind dinner. But with keeping our grocery bill low, I've learned to make some exciting meals with the stuff.

Tonight's being no exception.


DOLLARS AND CENTS
  • Thin spaghetti: $1.99 (but we only used half a box, so $1.00)
  • Asparagus: $2.99
  • Lemon, onion, garlic, and Earth Balance: $1.00 (combined)
TOTAL: $5.00


LEMON-GARLIC PASTA WITH ASPARAGUS AND CARAMELIZED ONIONS

What you'll need . . .
  • Half a box of thin spaghetti (we used the Wegmans Super Pasta variety)
  • 5 tablespoons Earth Balance (or butter)
  • 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 1 purple onion, sliced
  • 20 (or so) sprigs of asparagus

Method . . .
  1. Prepare your pasta to the box's instructions. Set aside.
  2. In a medium fry-pan, combine the Earth Balance, garlic, and lemon juice. Add some pepper and let simmer for a couple minutes over medium heat.
  3. Add in your onions and cook for a couple minutes over medium-high heat. Then add in the asparagus -- snapping each sprig in half before tossing into the pan -- and cook for another 10 or so minutes. Stir occasionally. The veggies should be browned.
  4. Then portion out your pasta and place half the veggie mixture over each. Recipe yields two generous meals.

Perfect for balmy spring nights. (Well. Tomorrow we can call it spring.)


THEN (early January):


NOW:


PS: Tomorrow is her 4-month appointment. And another round of s.h.o.t.s.

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Ada's First Overnight

>> 3.19.2012

Our first overnight trip went surprisingly well. On the ride down, I felt like a one-woman circus trying to keep Ada occupied. The ride back? She slept the entire time. I'll get more to the specifics in a minute. But the biggest downside to a long car ride this weekend was definitely wasting the gorgeous weather.

We made sure to take advantage of the sun and warmth the minute we got home.


Back to our trip. We have always prided ourselves on our ability to pick up and go at a moment's notice. Packing with a baby has proven challenging even on short trips.

We try our best to resist bringing all the gear -- but with a spitter who wears cloth diapers, there are a few thing we have to bring with us that we wouldn't necessarily need to otherwise.
  • 5,000 extra changes of clothing for both mom and baby.
  • Several bibs and multiple burp rags.
  • Enough cloth diapers for approximately 2 days (16 or so) and a wet bag.
  • Special sleep arrangements (chair so she's elevated at night)
With breastfeeding, we had both pros and cons. PRO: I didn't have to pack bottles + accessories or remember to bring formula. CON: We had to stop along the way to fill Ada's tank. It was more than cramped in my tiny car. And we parked next to the garbage cans in a McDonald's parking lot with staff walking by every five minutes.

When we arrived, Ada was cranky because she was still hungry. So we did some nap-nursing for an hour before getting back into the car for another half-hour to head to the party. (Stephen's great uncle was turning 80.)

I swear Ada was trying to make me look like a whiny mother. The entire time we were at the party, at least in public, she was adorable and hardly cried at all. She acted like the ideal infant. Cooing and flirting. Smiling and letting strangers hold her. However, behind the scenes, she was being a fussy nurser, making me all stressed out and annoyed.

Then we left and she immediately started screaming. She didn't get her usual afternoon nap, and I could see it in her face. She was way over-tired. The entire ride back to Stephen's parent's house, I let her suck on my pinky because we couldn't find a good place to pull over so I could feed her. She was near sleep the entire time. It'd be boring to recount the whole night. But we got back. She ate. Fell asleep like a champ. Then was great the next day for our return home.

(Before I go on, more photo. Breathe in. Breathe out.)


How are things today? Oh, today.

Looks like she saved all her bad energy for me. (Any other parents feel like that sometimes?) She has been crying and unhappy with most EVERYTHING we've done. A constant struggle of doing something she usually likes . . . then it gets old after five minutes . . . then trying something else she usually loves . . . then it gets old after three minutes . . . and so on. Plus, I think with the teething, she's in pain while eating. Something is wrong there.

I'm absolutely exhausted. And though I say that often, I truly mean it. I'm so much looking forward to a weekend free from obligations. Only four more days, right?

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