Roasted Acorn Squash Soup

When the temperature starts reading in the single digits, there’s no doubt that it’s soup weather. This roasted acorn squash soup is great because it makes use of winter squash, of which we have an abundance. But winter squash is also great because it keeps forever, so we don’t feel a whole lot of time pressure to use it.

Will the Kids Eat It?

One of them will! Our youngest really loves just about any soup we make him, and we’re thankful for that. The other two are at least very creative with their soups, as our tablecloths will attest. It’s a losing battle to get them to not make a mess with the soup they’re not eating, but it’s one I still can’t help but fight. One of these days I’m going to get them to try soup, any soup, and they’re going to apologize for the years of resistance. I swear this will happen.

Roasted Acorn Squash Soup

Ingredients:

1 large acorn squash
2 Tbsp vegan butter (or regular butter, if that’s your thing)
1 red onion, sliced
1 large apple, cored and sliced
2-3 cups vegetable stock

Preparation Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until nice and soft. Set aside to cool. Melt the vegan butter and sauté the onion until starting to turn brown. Add in the apple and cook until the outside of the slices are starting to caramelize. Add in the squash flesh and stock and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the flavors are blended. Puree. (If you have a vitamix, just stick everything in there and throw it on the soup setting.)

Packaging Directions:

We like to use Mason jars to package leftovers as much as possible. They’re the workhorses of our kitchen. We split the soup up into 16-oz pint jars and refrigerate. When packing for lunch, we put one serving of soup with one quarter cup serving of sweet and spicy pumpkin seeds.

Meal Planning – Write It Down

At the beginning of the year you may see journals and planners in the aisles of Target. You may wonder, ‘In this age of digital wonders, who on earth is still buying a paper journal?’. The answer, for the purpose of meal planning, is me. On a related note, before Christmas we saw some Teletubbies merchandise at Target and wondered who was still buying that. The answer is my mother-in-law, as I am now painfully aware from the sounds coming from the kids’ room. They got four talking Teletubby dolls for Christmas and our son decides nightly that he actually hates them and wants them out of his room.

Journals: Your Best Friend for Meal Planning

Anyway, back to this whole journal thing. Every year I buy a planner because the day I don’t write down what we’re supposed to eat is the day I decide we have nothing in the kitchen and stuff my face with every kind of junk. We’re more lenient on the weekends, but during the week our meal planning falls apart if we don’t write it down. I write down everything we should have with us in our lunch bags, everything we should eat at home, and what the kids should have. A typical day might look like:

Us: Breakfast: Oatmeal

Lunchbag:  crackers and hummus, leftover chili, apple, pear, energy ball

Dinner: Stir fry (Vegetables, tofu, noodles, peanut sauce)

Kids: Breakfast: Oatmeal or frozen waffles

Lunch: Peanut butter sandwiches, apple sauce, pretzels

Dinner: Stir fry, grapes

Meal Planning Journal

If the kids don’t eat what we send them, daycare will give them chicken nuggets, so we try to send something they’ll eat. For dinner, however, they have to have some of what we’re having. The only exception is if I’ve made something spicy, in which case we make a modified version. Like on taco night, they still get a tortilla and a less spicy taco filling. We always give them fruit at dinner and they can have seconds of that.

Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Seeds

These sweet and spicy pumpkin seeds are a favorite in our house. They can be sprinkled on soups and salads or just eaten as a snack. A lot of times I make them as a garnish and end up eating at least half as a snack while cooking. They’re that good. Double or even triple the recipe for extra deliciousness.

Most of the time we wind up buying pre-made snacks at the store and portioning them out ourselves. This works pretty well for the most part, and we wind up with tasty stuff like granola and dried chickpeas and crackers. But we’ve also started making a bigger push to make our own snacks. These sweet and spicy pumpkin seeds are healthy and delicious and quite unlike most of the snacks we can get at the store.

Sweet and spicy pumpkin seeds

Ingredients:

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 Tsp ras al hanout
1/4-1/2 Tsp salt, depending on how salty you like them

Preparation Directions:

Toast the seeds in a dry pan for about a minute, then add the rest of the ingredients. Stir to mix and stir occasionally. Once the sugar is melted, pop seeds in a bowl lined with wax paper. Try not to eat all of them immediately.

Packaging Directions:

If you’re making these for snacks through the week, you’ll probably want to at least triple the recipe. Once they’re done, split them up into small snack cups or sandwich bags in quarter cup servings. If you’re like me, you’ll end up with fewer servings than you expect because you’ll be unable to resist snacking as you pack.

Creamy Roasted Mushroom and Eggplant Risotto

If given the choice, I would probably never voluntarily opt to eat mushrooms or eggplant. Neither has ever been a favorite of mine. Jocelyn, however, is a big fan of both, so we’ve had to learn to compromise. In practice, that compromise looks a lot like me eating a bunch of mushrooms and eggplant. When I heard that she was planning to make an eggplant risotto topped with roasted mushrooms, I adopted my bravest fake smile and nodded in what I fear was not a very convincing manner.

But guys, get this: eggplant risotto with roasted mushrooms is good. Like, super good. The mushrooms are crispy and the eggplant puree is mixed in with the risotto and it’s creamy and delicious. Some nutritional yeast gives the whole dish an umami kick. I suppose I should really rethink that aversion to mushrooms and eggplant, because this dish is one of my favorites now.

Creamy Mushroom Eggplant Risotto

Ingredients:

1 medium eggplant
1 head of garlic
6 oz mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
5-6 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup white wine
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast

Preparation Directions:

Preheat the oven to 450° F. Lightly score the eggplant and pop in the oven along with the garlic. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until everything is nice and soft. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, toss the mushroom slices in 1 Tbsp of the olive oil and a little salt and roast while you make the risotto.

Heat the stock in a small saucepan on medium high heat. Once the eggplant and garlic are cooled, peel and puree with a couple ladlefuls of stock. Heat the other Tbsp of olive oil in a heavy pan and sauté the shallots until golden. Add the rice and toast for about a minute. Pour in the wine and cook until absorbed. Add the stock a little at a time and stir as the rice absorbs it. Stir in the veggie puree and once the rice is cooked through and creamy, toss in the nutritional yeast. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Packaging Directions:

This one’s pretty easy. The only trick is to pack the mushrooms separately to preserve maximum crispiness. Pack the leftover risotto into 1 cup containers and split the remaining mushrooms into the same number of containers. Take and enjoy!

Meal Planning and a Fool-Proof Make-Ahead Breakfast

January 2018: Meal Planning Month

This year instead of making a long list of resolutions at the beginning of the year, we’re sharing a different goal each month. Each month we’ll share the tips and tricks we learn on the way as well as some recipes to go with each theme. This month we’re going to get better about meal planning. Our meal planning game has definitely improved a lot since last year, but there’s still room to get even better. We want to eat better to keep up the health goals we’ve achieved over the last year. We also want to save money. Meal planning helps with both of these things.

This month we’ll be posting recipes as usual, with ingredients and directions for making the dish. We’ll also be posting directions showing how we pack up leftovers to make healthy meals a snap throughout the week.

One of our favorite breakfasts to make ahead, especially in the winter, is slow-cooker oatmeal. It’s super easy, fast, and lasts for 2-3 days depending on how many children are in the mood to eat it.

Meal planning - Slow cooker oatmeal

Ingredients:

1 cup steel-cut oats
4 cups water
1/3 cup almond milk (coconut milk is also delicious)
1 Tbsp nut butter (we used cashew)
Chopped fruit (this time we’re using kiwi; you can do one kind or a combo of different fruits)

Preparation Directions:

Pop the oats, water, and almond milk in the slow cooker. Set on low for 8 hours. Go to sleep. Wake up and top your delicious oatmeal with nut butter, fruit, and anything else you want, with kiwi and cashew butter we added a little maple syrup. In the summer we love to do berries, almond butter, and granola.

Packaging Directions:

For later in the week, package the leftover oatmeal in 1 cup or 1/2 cup portions. Place a tablespoon or two of nut butter in another small container and some chopped fruit in one more container. Pack a portion of oatmeal, a portion of nut butter, and a container of fruit into a freezer bag until you’ve portioned out all of the oatmeal. Then you have all the components for a delicious breakfast whenever you want it.

Keeping as Healthy as Possible Through the Holidays

This is undoubtedly the hardest time of year to keep up a healthy diet. It would be that way no matter what, with foods getting heavier in the winter, holidays coming up, people dropping baked goods in the work break room, etc. We’ve also got three birthdays in the span of a week and a half in December, so we’ve got to throw birthday cakes and special meals (read: pizza, always pizza) into the mix. When it comes to staying healthy, we’re starting from a pretty huge deficit. Here’s some things we try to do to stay as healthy as possible.

1) Don’t sweat it too much

This may seem counterintuitive, but I think the more you worry about whether you’re doing it all right, the better chance you have of doing it all wrong. Accepting that there are going to be some slips gives us license to focus on the things we can do better at going forward, rather than beating ourselves up for having slipped up in the past. I know I’m going to have a cupcake and some pizza at my son’s birthday party, and that’s ok. It’s a special occasion, and I don’t have to officiously refrain from treats to prove my commitment to health.

2) Don’t let occasional slips justify further slips

We’ve all been here, right? Maybe we’re having a busy morning and we run to the drive through instead of making a healthy breakfast. After that, the decision to have gotten an unhealthy breakfast means the day’s already written off, so why not grab some fast food for lunch and take out for dinner? Maybe we haven’t all been there. But I know I go there sometimes. My mind is always looking for excuses to get treats. These excuses seem reasonable to a mind that’s just looking for any reason to get some unhealthy food in me, but seem laughable afterwards. So we try to make sure to pack lunches in advance, have easy on the go breakfast options available at home, etc. We want to let ourselves know that there is always an easier option than forgetting all of our own rules.

3) Keep eating a ton of vegetables

Whatever else, just keep putting a ton of vegetables in everything. If nothing else, they’re super good for you, and you’ll feel better about yourself for having eaten them. Even if we’re making a heavier dish, we’ll usually try to load it up with some extra veggies. It helps make more servings of the meal, and each serving is a bit healthier than it would otherwise be.

4) Be that guy: leave cupcakes in the work break room

Don’t be afraid to leave sweet treats in the work break room. Turnabout is fair play. If Kevin from Accounts Receivable can leave a whole damn box of truffles on the table where you have to prepare your lunch, taunting you, mocking you, then you can bring some pirate cupcakes from your son’s birthday party to sing their siren song to Kevin.

Pumpkin Donut Holes

The other day made pumpkin bread, and we had some leftover batter. We decided to experiment a bit and make some pumpkin bread bites. Once we tasted them, we realized quickly that they were actually more like pumpkin donut holes. Also our very pedantic daughter told us they were donuts, and who can argue with a stubborn two year old who is busy licking chocolate off as many treats as she can get her hands on?

Pumpkin Donut Holes: A Treat Whose Time Has Come

It’s pumpkin season, as we all know. I’ve heard that being into pumpkin stuff is “basic,” but those scare quotes should tell you that I’m old enough to not fully understand what basic means. Also, I don’t care because pumpkin stuff is delicious. Please also hold off on criticizing yoga pants and scarves and whatever else you might feel other people are enjoying too much.

Where was I? Oh, right: pumpkin donut holes. If the name isn’t enough to convince you that you want these, then just look at a picture of Jocelyn putting some chocolate on them.

Pumpkin Donut Holes

These came out great. They’re soft and crumbly and delicious. If you like pumpkins or chocolate or things shaped like acorns (note: do not eat actual acorns, they’re pretty gross), then these are for you.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup pumpkin purée
1 cup coconut sugar
1 Tsp vanilla
1 Tsp pumpkin pie spice
2/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1 Tbsp chia seeds mixed with 3 Tbsp water
1 1/2 Tsp baking powder
1/2 Tsp baking soda
1/2 Tsp salt
2 1/2 cup spelt flour

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Mix all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Place into a prepared tray (ours was a fall-themed cakelet/mini-muffin pan). Bake for 30 minutes.

A Reminder to Practice Kindness

The other night we were out running errands and we got a little peckish. We decided to stop for dinner at a new pizza place. It was pretty casual, seat yourself, and honestly, we’ve taken our kids to much less casual places and not had a problem. We’ve been taking the kids out with us since they were tiny babies so they know how to behave. Even now that they’re out of high chairs, they know not to get up and run around and yell and scream. Occasionally we bring coloring books or things to keep the kids occupied, but most of the time they’re just happy to chat. As we sat down, a couple at the table next to us rolled their eyes, mouthed “Three kids?!?!?” to each other, and walked away to another table.

Small Cruelty Can Have a Big Impact

So I spent what was supposed to be a nice meal completely miserable. I committed the unforgivable sin of taking three kids out in public instead of just locking ourselves away until they’re 18. I snapped at the kids more than usual because I was obsessing over any infringement on perfect behavior, which was completely unfair to them. They weren’t on their best behavior, but they were sitting reasonably quietly and not running around or screaming. They didn’t ruin anyone’s meal or hurt anyone.

I get that kids aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. I don’t think everyone should have kids. Some people aren’t meant to be parents and that’s fine. Some people don’t want to be parents, and that’s fine too. People don’t have to take their kids out either, if they don’t want to. You know best what works for you and your family. That’s the thing. These people don’t know us, and they don’t know our kids. All they know is that we’re a slightly bigger than average family and felt that that gave them permission to judge us cruelly and openly.

Kindness Matters, and It Has to Go Two Ways

Mom-shaming is hurtful, and there’s no reason for it. We’ve become a society full of people super eager to judge parents at every turn. Let’s be real: we’re all just doing our best to raise good kids in a tough world. We should all cut each other some slack and try every day to be a little kinder than the day before, or at least a little less judgmental.

We all judge other people. None of us can help doing so. But we can control what we say to people, with our words or our looks. We can extend understanding to people who may be having a tough day. A kind look, a held door, a smile, these gestures are small and easy, but they can help make people feel better as surely as a snide remark or a pair of rolled eyes can make them feel worse.

Black Friday – Daddy and the Young’uns

Grandpa and Mommy hatched a plan to take Watson to see Coco today (in accidental cosplay, since Watson basically always wants only to wear skeleton clothes). This was a good plan, but it also involved me finding a way to occupy Vivi and Freddy for several hours in suburban New Jersey.

Let me go off on a tangent for a hot second about driving in New Jersey. I’m allowed to do this because I lived here for a decade. I earned this. Anyway, in short, driving in this state is uniformly a nightmare. This is the only place in existence where you can pass within 100 feet of your final destination but still be 2 jughandles, 3 traffic lights, and 10 minutes away. Drivers from here will defend this state against these criticisms, but have no answer for why their purportedly superior system has gained no currency outside of the Garden State’s borders.

So anyway, Vivi and Freddy and I have wound up having a super lo-fi, still very fun afternoon. We walked around Target for a while and marveled at the fact that every department had televisions for sale. Vivi pointed out Santa Claus and Christmas trees and Star Wars. Fred leaned on Vivi for moral and physical support in the cart. Then we picked up a pair of happy meals (not the healthiest, but it’s a nice treat for the kids), and we’ve spent the last hour or so just hanging out in the back of the van being silly and laughing and eating food that’s not great.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that kids aren’t hard to please. If I need to kill a couple of hours, there are worse ways than this. We’re gonna go pick up the rest at the movie theater in a few minutes, and while I’m sure they’ll have had a great time, they also won’t have a couple of cheap happy meal toys, so who’s the real winners?

Tips for a Waste-Free Thanksgiving

1. Downsize the Turkey

We’re not turkey eaters anymore, but obviously a lot of people are. When we did eat turkey, we always got one that was too big and ended up throwing away at least half of it. Either we couldn’t eat it all and it ended up going bad in the back of the fridge, or we’d freeze it and forget about it until it was covered in freezer burn. Whichever way our leftovers went bad, it was just a super sad situation. If you don’t have too many people, there’s no requirement to roast a whole turkey. You can roast a chicken, or if you really want turkey, you can just pan roast a breast.

2. Amp up the Veggies

If you’re not wedded to turkey, you can also just make a million sides. Let’s be real: the sides are the best part of Thanksgiving! We get our vegetables from Hungry Harvest, so we avoid waste by rescuing produce that’s too ‘ugly’ for stores (but honestly, most of the produce is perfect). We find out what we’re getting a few days in advance, and then we plan how to make the most of our box. Last year we made mashed potatoes, corn pudding, green beans, sweet potato gratin, fried brussels sprouts, and the obligatory cranberry sauce. Since we were using the produce we would have gotten anyway, we also didn’t spend any extra money for our Thanksgiving feast.

3. Save your scraps

We keep a bag tucked in the freezer door to save veggie scraps. Once it’s full, we put the scraps in a big pot, cover them with water, add herbs and garlic to taste, and simmer on super low for a few hours until we have a perfect veggie stock. You can use the stock right away or freeze it to use later. Thanksgiving is a perfect time to do this, and you can even throw scraps in the slow cooker and have stock ready in time to make gravy. If you have a turkey, do this the next day with turkey bones instead of veggie scraps.

4. Leftovers Can be for Anytime

I know some people don’t love leftovers. It definitely gets old eating the same meal over and over again for a week. That can drive anyone to give up and order a regrettable amount of Chinese food that just makes the leftover problem worse (not that we’re speaking from experience, we just heard this from a friend). One way to repurpose Thanksgiving leftovers so they still feel fresh and fun is to have them for breakfast. Toss some turkey in an omelet, make mashed potatoes into cakes and top them with a poached egg, or make one of our favorites: sweet potato pancakes topped with cranberry sauce. Just pop ¾ c mashed sweet potatoes with 1 ½ c pancake mix, 2 T oil, and 1 c. water.

We hope these tips help you and your family and friends have a beautiful zero-waste Thanksgiving! Keep the tips coming and let us know how you’ll fight food waste this holiday!