Dear Coconut Oil

My Dear Friend Coconut Oil,

Hi, there! Just a quick note, since I don’t think I’ve ever taken the opportunity to chat. How ya doing? Everything cool enough up there in the cabinet for ya? Your neighbors treatin’ ya nicely? Good. Good. That’s good.

So…yeah. Let me get to the point.

Dude. You’re an effin’ miracle. Seriously. Cooking. Cleaning. Wound-healing. What DON’T you do??

Oh, and I wanted to thank you specifically for saving my favorite boots recently. You know the ones — brown, over-used, super dulled leather riding boots. Remember?

All I did was take a teeeeensy teensy amount between my fingers, rubbed it into the leather, and buffed off any of the white residue that appeared. Quick, and soooo satisfying.


It doesn’t look like much, but they look like the perfectly-worn, gorgeously-colored boots that I fell in love with. And you did it. What can I say? You rock.

And I’m not the only one who thinks so. As you know, Dave uses you as his daily hair “product”, and about a billion other people have found the wondrous plethora of uses you provide. I’m sure I haven’t found a fraction of these uses, but I look forward to adding them to my arsenal over time.

Lots of love!

– Meg

P.S. You’re awesome!

Simplify Your Dinners, Guys

There’s been a lot of chatter about whether or not cooking dinners at home is worth it. This Slate article has been debated online from the moment it went live, and rightfully so. While I won’t add to the onslaught of negative mud-throwing, I will add my tiny voice to the sensible bloggers I’ve read (many of them moms in the trenches, themselves).

While much of the article is absolute incite-filled bunk, there is a sliver of truth in it. No, we shouldn’t expect poverty-level families to eat all higher-priced organic produce, grass-fed meat, and other expensive natural, non-processed foods. And, regarding the general purpose of the article, no, we shouldn’t attempt to achieve these incredibly intricate, Pinterest-worthy meals on a daily basis.

But, that’s pretty much where my agreement ends. When we switched to mostly “real foods” (we still get some processed organic items, admittedly, but put tons of thought into why we use them), our budget essentially adjusted. We were buying SO many processed and boxed stuff, it was insane how much we could’ve been spending on more veggies, fruits, and meat. And while it doesn’t always work this way, I love this post on how to eat healthily when you can’t afford organic and this one about how to shop for healthy food at Aldi. Can you tell I love The Humbled Homemaker?

So, who says that meals need to be these overly complicated, intricate things? If you’re taking your guidance from Michael Pollan himself, at its essence he suggests we “eat more food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Pretty basic, really. And even those words are stated in a casual, loose way. I take it as meaning: “Eat as well as you can. Don’t beat yourself up.” Give or take.

And that’s where a lot of this pressure comes from. No, not everyone LOVES cooking, and I can guarantee that even the most famous of chefs grows weary of cooking for his/her family every. Single. Night. Everyone burns out, and when you’re doing it 3+ times a day, 365 days a year…um, yeah. The odds are very good.

But, when “perfection” is thrust down our throats like an impeccable three-course meal, the pressure becomes harder to take. So, just take today’s post as a reminder – to all of us.

Seriously, guys. Let’s take a few deep breaths here and repeat some Stuart Smalley affirmations. Take it from a chick who tries her best to dole out three healthy, real food meals to three very different eaters every day. It’s overwhelming, but if you remember a few things, it helps:

1. Okay, we’ve heard it all before, but planning is your BFF. You don’t have to download a month’s worth of meal plans (but, if that helps, go for it!), but having at least a general idea of what the upcoming week brings (schedule-wise) and knowing a meal that will fit each day (like, I don’t advise cooking a meal on-par with Thanksgiving on a night when the kids have a million things going on).

2. Share the duties. We don’t do this a lot, honestly. We share other duties, like the fact that Dave handles driving to/drop-off/pick-up/bringing home from Hadley’s sitter. But, yeah, I do a ton. I’m the modern Donna Reed, which really just means that I cook/clean/do laundry/keep the house upright, but I do it in sweats instead of pearls. So, when things start to get overwhelming, I reach out to him and let him know that the dinner part of things is nuts. And guess what. He’s always willing to take on a couple of meals himself — and usually enjoys doing it! (No, seriously.)     

3. Simplify, simplify, simplify. If you have a hard time planning ahead and thawing the meat or prepping the Crock Pot first thing in the morning (I feel ya), then keep your weekday meals super simple and quick. Why do you think Rachael Ray’s first hit show was “30 Minute Meals”? Seriously. Look up a bunch of her old recipes and see if you can make any of them work for you and your family (or Google “20” or “30 minute meals” and see what you find).

4. Use leftovers to your advantage. That is a trick out of my mom’s game book. She always made us a HUGE meal on Sundays (sometimes a good-sized one on Saturdays, too). Say she made roast beef with all the trimmings. Monday, she might make beef and gravy and pair it with the leftover mashed potatoes or bread (some might call it “$%&# on a shingle”) and some veg. She’d get two or three additional meals out of whatever she made, but Wednesday was always soup and sandwich night. It helped cut the monotony a little bit (not that it really was monotonous to us kids). Oh, Wednesday nights leads me to my next tip!

5. What the heck’s wrong with soup and sandwich, anyway? Or the occasional pancake night? Or a salad for you, PBJ and carrots for the kiddo? I don’t advise this every night, but we all have those “what the hell are we gonna eat?!” nights, don’t we? Where you didn’t thaw something or you had a horrific day at work or you’ve been sick and don’t have the energy? Give yourself a break and make some scrambled eggs. Or something you would usually deem “only suitable for lunch.” Food is food.   

6. It’s not always about what you eat; it IS always about who you eat with. This whole “come to the table” concept is part trying to get consumers to re-focus on cooking. It’s incredible to think about how many FEWER people know how to cook today compared to fifty years ago. At the same time, I feel that the methods we use are tons easier, and often create tastier meals (not kidding, check out the unappetizing recipes in some of the old cookbooks…how may methods for making Jell-O?!).

BUT, I also think that the movement is as much about bringing families back around the table as it is about knowing and thinking more about food. And, y’know what? I’m a bit of a hypocrite. During winter months, we’ll often eat at the dining room table, but lately we’re totally in an “eat around the TV” slump. It is what it is. We’ll watch one Hadley show, then one episode of “the Mommy Daddy Show” (“The Dick Van Dyke Show”).

What I really mean here, though, is that it doesn’t matter how fabulous or grandiose your meal is. Focus on the family, guys. They don’t REALLY care, do they? I find that my “breakfast for dinner” nights are just as welcomed and appreciated as my glazed pork tenderloin with roasted vegetables nights. Usually. 😉

——————-

On a final note, I thought I’d share a quick, simple recipe that I just threw together last night.

When I say “sub”, I mean do it up! If you don’t have apples, try blueberries, strawberries, dried cranberries, etc. Use whatever lettuce you have on hand. Try sunflower seeds or walnuts or pecans or whatever. No Parmesan? Use cheddar or bleu or mozzarella or…let’s just say I don’t say “no” to any cheese. And vinaigrette can be as simple as oil and vinegar or as slightly-less-simple as the warm apple cider vinaigrette that I whipped up.

And, for full disclosure, here’s what Hadley had:


An all-natural, nitrate-free hotdog with organic cheese melted on, apple slices, and yogurt. He also got a “treat” of a handful of “cookies” (actually organic graham bunnies). And guess what? He loved it. And I’m not guilty, especially knowing that his lunch was leftover homemade chicken “nuggets” with roasted sweet potato wedges and veggies for lunch.

Jarred

Hey, homies! I’m finally posting again! Been home sick with a sinus infection that went untreated too long. Long story short, glad to be on the mend!

I’ve recently realized my favorite little buddy in the kitchen (aside for Jasper begging for scraps – yes, he’s a cat – and Hadley wanting to “help”). While I’ve probably mentioned the beauty that is a mason jar before, it’s time to declare my undying love for them, along with a bunch of things you can use them for. Come. Let’s chat.

We’ve currently got a few sizes of mason jars floating around, but our all-time faves are minis (4 oz.) and half pint-sized wide mouth Ball jars. They’re perfect for storage (well, duh, that’s why they were invented), but you might be surprised as to how many ways that we use them. And, guess what! We don’t jelly/preserve a damn thing in them. I think I’m kicked out of the club. (One day, my friends. One day.)

Salad dressing – The tiny ones are perfect for transporting dressing for lunch. Seriously, just pour in your favorite or do what we do: olive oil, some vinegar, and seasonings.


This also deters anyone from sneaking your salad topper from the fridge at work. Seriously, a couple of weeks ago, I observed someone who had forgotten their salad dressing perusing the row of dressings others keep in the fridge, as if shopping. So, bringing one serving of dressing is perfect AND super easy.

Dry spice mixes – We don’t buy spice packets for things like tacos, chili, and salad dressing (Dave’s a fan of Good Seasons, but he hasn’t quite perfected the recipe yet). So, we double or triple the recipe and store the rest in our tiny jars. I use a dry erase marker to make a note of what’s inside, then just spoon it out as needed.

Mmm. Tacos.

Lunch packin’ – This is especially an awesome one for toddlers. We send breakfast and lunch to Grandma’s for Hadley, so we’re lucky that she’ll hear stuff up as needed. Most days I’ll pack his whole lunch in a glass container with a silicone-lined lid, but I’ll often split it up and give, say, his peas and carrots or corn in a tiny jar. They’re also a great size to fill with applesauce. Just like those little plastic cups at the store, only eco-friendly, reusable, and you can control what goes in. It’s also super cheaper to buy or make organic applesauce in large amounts and dole them out.


Yogurt keepers – Similar to the applesauce idea, yogurt is a great snack that is the perfect match for mason jars. The little ones are awesome for the little guy (just check out that link!), and I use the slightly-larger size for my own. Again, cheaper, reusable, and easier than you’d think!

Snack ‘n dip – Half-pint jars are a great way to make a tasty, healthy snack alternative. Just put whatever dip you like in the bottom and the fruit or veg spears of your choice standing up on top of it. Carrots sticking in ranch, apples in almond butter, celery in peant butter. Really, the combos are endless, and make otherwise boring snacks something to look forward to.

On-the-go snacks – Speaking of snacks, the 4-oz. size is awesome for toddler treats on a little trip. Fill ’em with raisins, mini crackers, pretzels, or dry cereal and skip the baggie.


Serve up some fun – Use mason jars (plain or decorated) to serve appetizers or little snacks for company. I even like the idea of creating a salad or taco bar by filling separate jars with toppings and just scooping out your favorites with a spoon or fork. Simple, rustic, fun.

Bank it – Hee hee. While Hadley has an incredible robot bank for his millions (uh, no), Dave and I use a few jars, labeled with simple cut-out paper rounds on the top, to sock away for future goals. It’s cool to look and see our change filling up these jars that have super happy connotations. Just seeing the vacation jar brings a smile to my face.


Oh, and surprisingly, none are swear jars. Knowing me…one probably should be. 😉

Coconut oily goodness – Dave and I both use coconut oil for different (and wondrous!) uses. He keeps a tiny jar of it nearby to style his hair with, and I have some mixed with essential oils (namely, peppermint and an “alignment” combo) for occasional aches and pains. Like, now. On top of getting stupidly sick, I pinched a nerve in my shoulder/neck. *didn’t say I was smart*

Decorating – Pinterest has a million awesome decor ideas using mason jars. I used the large ones to display fruit skewers at Had’s second birthday shindig and they provided some “height” and purtiness (totally a word) to the table. I’m dying to try one of the painted jar crafts, too!

Gifting – This is a great tip that I hope to use for the holidays, but you can use it all year long. Fill a pint jar with some candy, a favorite product, or something homemade, like granola or a “recipe in a jar” layering dry ingredients, and tie on a tag (I suggest printing something quirky/dorky like “we mix you a merry Christmas!” for a recipe mix). Embellish with ribbon or raffia…or don’t. Either way, the jar acts as a beautiful presentation, so you may not even have to put it in a gift bag.

Flower “vase” – Looking for a no-nonsense, sweet, rustic alternative to those flower shop vases? (Sometimes they’re okay, but mostly outdated or too frilly-looking.) Well, mason your vase game! The cool thing is that you can split up a mixed bouquet and use various sizes of jars to create a tiered, layered look. 


Holding collections – We have one jar that stores rocks and sticks that the little guy “collects” on walks. I’m sure that, as his “collections” grow, we’ll be splitting them up into organized items, too. And, not only does he feel that the things he finds are validated in their special containers, but they look cool all lined up. Which I can’t say for most of his toys. Ahem.

So, that’s just some of the ways we use our beloved little jars! Do you have any awesome ways that you utilize them that you’d like to share with the class? Go ahead in the comments!