Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cheap & Easy

by Susan Sey

Okay, it's late summer. It's too hot to think hard. School won't start again for a month but I've already trotted out all the kid-distracting tricks I know. The excitement of summer travel wore off about six weeks ago but there's still at least one road trip on the old calendar. The novelty of the grill wore off a month ago but there are still dinners to be fixed.

At this point, I'll do just barely enough to get by. I'll continue to feed the family but it'll be absolutely without ambition or pizazz. That grilled pizza thing I was so into a while back? Yeah, that was June. That smoothy jag? July.

It's August now, & I'm all about cheap & easy.

Last night I fed the family a big bowl of baby spinach covered with chopped up garden burger, cottage cheese & salsa. I called it a salad. They ate it but were dubious. I don't blame them.

Here are a few of my shortcuts this month that are going to save my sanity:

1) No More Mommy Martyr. Our roles in the family go something like this: My husband suggests outlandish things we can't afford--anything from a big screen TV to eating out seven nights a week--and I say, "What?? No way!" He gets to dream big & I get to be a control freak. It works for us. These days, however, at the merest suggestion of eating out, I say, "Absolutely! What a great idea!" I generally produce a coupon, or insist on someplace cheap, but I'm all about not cooking dinner.

2) Playground Group. I'm a stay at home mom, & I resent paying for childcare. I *am* childcare. That's why we don't pay for it. But I'm on page 74 of the first draft of my most recent masterpiece & I'm aiming to have it done by December. I need to get a move on. Therefore, in spite of my moral objections, I paid for the kids to go to an organized playground thing a couple hours a day, a couple days a week this month. I drop them off, take my computer to my beloved Bruegger's & work without interruption. It's bliss. I totally get why lots of women view work as a cherished respite rather than a hassle. I never had a job I liked that much before, but I like writing enough to finally understand.

3) Precut veggies. Okay, I'm embarrassed about this one but hell, I'm among friends. I'll admit it. I'm a big fan of natural foods, foods in their rawest format. The less processed the better. I'm one of those shop-around-the-perimeter-of-the-grocery store freaks. Even under duress, I'm not going to buy my kids those Trix yogurt tubes that have as much sugar as a can of pop. But I recently discovered that my beloved Sam's Club carries a ginormous bag of pre-cut, pre-washed broccoli florets. I can grab a handful & shove them in the steamer five minutes before dinner & voila! Fresh veggies for the family. And all I had to do was pay like twice as much for it as I do a regular old head of broccoli.

But desperate times & all that.

So how about you? Are you cutting any corners here in the dog days of August? Confess them here & make me feel better. If they're particularly good, I'll probably use them myself. So thanks in advance.

49 comments:

Helen said...

Is he coming to my place today

Have Fun
Helen

Christine Wells said...

Hey, Susan! Great blog, as usual. Totally identify with the 'over it' time you're going through. When you're under deadline pressure you really do need ways to make domestic chores easy. Just because writing a book doesn't pay much doesn't mean it doesn't take up an awful lot of time!

I buy pre-cut vegetables and jacket potatoes in a plastic container that you just have to microwave for 6 minutes and they're perfect. I also use bottled spaghetti sauce, since my dh says he can't tell the difference between that and something I've slaved over for hours. I do enjoy cooking when I have the time but I value shortcuts when I don't. I'm also buying a lot of fresh pre-made low fat soups that they have in supermarkets now. And for times I have to 'bring a plate' to something, I buy rather than bake. If that gets me kicked out of the mothers' club, so be it! I refuse to feel guilty any more!!

Congrats on the rooster, Helen!

Helen said...

Well we are going to have a quiet day today although a couple of the kids will be here for dinner and seeing as how it is winter here still in Oz we are having curried sausages for dinner tonight quick easy one pot and then I only have to cook some rice to go with it yay.

Way to go Susan on making things easier for you I always try hard to make it as easy as possible for me after all I work 40 hours a week and I need my reading time so the easier the better and buying things already cut up I say great idea LOL.

I am almost finished Money Honey and I am loving it thanks for a great story Susan I will be finishing it tonight. Barbara was sitting next to me at my PC when I got the GR today we have bought an e book reader each and were working out how to use it LOL.

Have Fun
Helen

Jane said...

Congrats on the GR, Helen.

Hi Susan,
My cousin buys those pre-cut broccoli florets, too, but I think she gets them from Costco. I don't see anything wrong with taking it easy during these hot summer days and sometimes it's just too hot to cook in the house.

Kirsten said...

Oh man, we want to eat healthy, but it take so much damn time to CHOP all those vegetables! I am all for the precut (but you probably guess that).

I called a babysitter to help out this week and I'm only three weeks into my stay at home gig. But I've got a synopsis to crank out this week and darling daughter is sick, so I can't foist her off on a friend for a playdate.

Other short cuts? Hmm...I use an online service called Relish (web site is www.relishrelish.com) to do menu planning. They have recipes for you to select a weekly menu from, and then it pulls it all together and spits out printable recipe cards and a shopping list.

Kirsten said...

Apparently one of my short cuts is not checking my posts for grammar and spelling. Ha!

Kim in Hawaii said...

Aloha! After spending two months in Florida, my family made a mad dash home after RWA because school started yesterday. My kids were excited to see their friends again and I'm excited to have some time to myself to sort the 100+ books from RWA that I lugged through 3 airports (will be given away to military spouses at a joint conference). And I may wander over to the commissary to buy food since our fridge is empty - thank God for school lunch!

Christie Kelley said...

Susan, wonderful blog that made me laugh. I'm heading deep into the cave for the rest of the month because my revisions are due 9/1. And the more I look at this story, the bigger the revisions get.

I'm completely ready for fall and school to begin. Thankfully, school starts in 20 days (but who's counting). I need my schedule back and a touch of coolness to the air!

This week is sailing camp for my 13 yr old. Great, except, I have to drive him there and then later in the day, bag his newspapers for him so they're ready when I go pick him up.

Twenty more days! Twenty more days!

Claudia Dain said...

I only have one thing to say: men can cook.

:)

Susan Sey said...

Congrats, Helen! Have fun with the GR today!

Susan Sey said...

Christine wrote: And for times I have to 'bring a plate' to something, I buy rather than bake. If that gets me kicked out of the mothers' club, so be it! I refuse to feel guilty any more!!

Amen!!! I find that when I confess to a terribly undomestic shortcut, usually women just lean in, lower their voices & confess to something equally terrible they do. :-)

Welcome to the Real Mommy Club. Come on it--we don't judge here.

Susan Sey said...

Helen wrote: seeing as how it is winter here still in Oz we are having curried sausages for dinner tonight quick easy one pot and then I only have to cook some rice to go with it yay.


Oh, I envy you guys winter! Not that I want winter weather or anything but a one-pot dinner I can throw in the crock pot in the morning sounds so wonderful right now! I have a feeling I'll be doing a LOT of soups & stew this fall.

And, Helen, I'm so glad you're enjoying MOney, Honey! Hope the ending holds up--I hate when books start strong then whimper to a finish...

Susan Sey said...

Jane said: I don't see anything wrong with taking it easy during these hot summer days and sometimes it's just too hot to cook in the house.

Yeah! It's not that I'm lazy, it's that it's too hot! I'm totally using that excuse next time--plus the restaurant is always so beautifully air conditioned...

Susan Sey said...

Kirsten wrote: Other short cuts? Hmm...I use an online service called Relish (web site is www.relishrelish.com) to do menu planning. They have recipes for you to select a weekly menu from, and then it pulls it all together and spits out printable recipe cards and a shopping list.

Oh my goodness, how did I not know about this?? I'm totally trying this out. Thanks!

Susan Sey said...

Kim in Hawaii wrote: I'm excited to have some time to myself to sort the 100+ books from RWA that I lugged through 3 airports (will be given away to military spouses at a joint conference).

100+ books? You're a saint! I dragged one suitcase & a laptop through two airports & I felt extremely sorry for myself. I salute you, Kim--you're a better woman than I! Plus, you're giving away books. I'm in awe.

Susan Sey said...

Christie Kelly wrote: I'm completely ready for fall and school to begin. Thankfully, school starts in 20 days (but who's counting). I need my schedule back and a touch of coolness to the air!

Twenty days?? Oh, I wish. MN has a state law decreeing that school may not start before Labor Day. (Can't screw with State Fair revenue, of course.) So I've got a whole month to go.

But I'm totally looking forward to that crisp air, throwing something in the crock pot, re-introducing myself to jeans & sweaters....

Hope your 13 yo has fun at sailing camp & good luck with your revisions! Pop out of the cave every so often to say hello!

Susan Sey said...

Claudia Dain wrote: I only have one thing to say: men can cook.

And this is why I take notes when you talk. :-)

Joan said...

It's always a challenge to cook for one so I'm into take out and pre made items at the Kroger.

Hormel/Tyson make meats....pork loin, roast beef etc. that you microwave for 4 min. Tasts GREAT!

If all else fails, I eat peanut butter and crackers.

Lee Lopez said...

Hell I'm retired, and still cut corners with or without the grandkids running around. I'm the cut corner queen. I didn't work all my life, to get to retirement and have to really work at stuff. I did that, so cut corners, believe me, I'll do it anytime...

Susan Sey said...

Joan wrote: It's always a challenge to cook for one so I'm into take out and pre made items at the Kroger.

See, there's the irony, right? I long for the freedom to eat pre-made items, but the minute I have it, I bet I'll long to cook elaborate meals. Surely there's some middle ground?

Peanut butter & cracker does sound pretty good right about now, though. You think the kids'll eat it for lunch? :-)

Susan Sey said...

Lee Lopez wrote: I didn't work all my life, to get to retirement and have to really work at stuff. I did that, so cut corners, believe me, I'll do it anytime...

I think I want to be you when I grow up, Lee. :-) I just started Victoria Dahl's latest (Crazy for Love, which I'm loving) and the heroine seems to subsist on Lean Cuisines. Every time she throws one in the microwave & has dinner four minutes later, I sigh with envy. Are they really any good, Lean Cuisines? Anybody know?

Pat Cochran said...

Cutting corners! That seems to be
the way of life for all of us in
this day and time!

All the food websites (allrecipes,
Food Network, Recipe World, etc)
have a quick and easy section that
I consider a "good friend" to all
of us. Whether it is time or money
that constrains us, these sites are
there to give aid to the housewife
in need!

Pat Cochran

Joan said...

Lee-Lo? Is that you?

This is "Just Joan" (Waves madly)

It was great meeting you at lunch!

Joan said...

Yes, Susan. Most Lean Cuisines are pretty good. I prefere them to Healthy Choice and Weight Watchers (WW meals are REALLY blah)

They have a good baked chicken with mashed potatoes and their chicken fettuicine is great.

I think the kids would like PB and crackers. Course I just ate one of PJ's turtles...Hey! I washed it down with Diet Coke!

Keira Soleore said...

I'm all for shortcuts. Like Kirsten, I find setting up a weekly menu Sunday night and grocery shopping Monday helps eliminate the "OMG-it's 5pm now what're we gonna eat in an hour" panic.

And yes, I rarely bake myself to take to potlucks. Some cooking sometimes, but mostly I buy. Less stress.

I also bought an electronic food chopper, especially good for onions.

jo robertson said...

Great post, Susan. In the heat of August it's all about the coolest, fastest thing you can whip up, isn't it.

Grilling, although even that takes some effort. Not from me, of course, but the boys in the family have to actually go OUTSIDE and fire up the grill and tend the meat. All I do is put water on to boil the corn.

Janga said...

Joan, I use the Tyson meals too, and I don't even have cooking for one as an excuse.

Susan, I refuse to turn the stove on when the heat index is over
100. Rotisserie chicken from the supermarket and a green salad from precut veggies with tomatoes from the garden added is a good choice. Dinner slices of Black Forest ham from the deli with broccoli salad and fresh fruit salad is another fave. School starts Monday for one set of grands and the following week for the others, so visits will be mostly weekends until Christmas break. But we likely still have another six weeks or so of hot weather, so I don't expect to spend much time at the stove for some time.

Pissenlit said...

I'm all about not slaving away over a hot stove during the summer so on really hot days, we sometimes just pop a frozen pizza into the oven and then run away from the kitchen. I find that meals like subs or tacos or whatever else that offers choice and involves each individual putting their own food together is a good kid-distracting trick. Sub ingredients are cooking-free and tacos only involve minimal cooking time...and if you're extra lazy, you can spring for things like pre-grated cheese. :)

MsHellion said...

I have nothing shortcutty or brilliant to add. I don't influence short people; and if I don't feel like cooking, I'm content to eat ice cream for supper and not round it out with broccoli.

I am intrigued by the relishrelish website though!! I wish I could try a week trial offer or something to make sure I liked it--I don't know if I want to commit to the whole 3 months. *LOL* But the flexibility of it looks amazing. Are the recipes good?

Donna MacMeans said...

I have an adult daughter who lives at home who attended culinary arts school. I don't charge her rent or anything, but she does all the cooking, food shopping, and (thank goodness) menu planning. Otherwise, we'd be at a restaurant seven days a week! Heck the chinese guy already knows when we're on vacation by my lack of phone-in orders (Grin).

I like to cook - hate to clean - but at this age I figure I've done that once too often.

TerriOsburn said...

I'm sure this will not be a shock as we have stood side by side, but I do not eat veggies. None. Unless cole slaw counts as a veggie. Bakes potato?

I've paid dearly for my summer shortcuts. Kiddo spends the season with her dad three states away. That means I can make/eat anything I like with no child to stuff with nutrients and no food police to enforce common sense. For that reason, I've eaten Haagen Dasz chocolate ice cream for dinner more times this summer than I want to count.

I now have proof that the old "nothing eaten standing up has calories" thing is bunk, and being a grown up doesn't always mean acting like one.

Susan Sey said...

Pat Cochran wrote: All the food websites (allrecipes,
Food Network, Recipe World, etc)
have a quick and easy section that
I consider a "good friend" to all
of us.


You know, all I really need to get fired up again is some new twist or angle. My husband went low carb a month ago & for a while I was all jazzed up about cooking low carb. Now if I see one more egg--just one more--I'll go postal.

Susan Sey said...

Joan wrote: I just ate one of PJ's turtles...Hey! I washed it down with Diet Coke!

Awww, you got turtles? I didn't get turtles! [pout] But I did get a lovely little blue box of goodies that I wolfed down immediately, so I'm not complaining.

And the restorative value of Diet Coke is not to be underestimated. If I could live on Diet Coke & pretzels, I would.

Susan Sey said...

Keira wrote: Like Kirsten, I find setting up a weekly menu Sunday night and grocery shopping Monday helps eliminate the "OMG-it's 5pm now what're we gonna eat in an hour" panic.


I was so good at this during the school year. But I got off the routine due to summer travel, & I KNOW it'll make my life easier if I get back on it but...I just can't seem to get cracking. All I want to eat is peanut butter sandwiches. Or I should say all I want to MAKE is peanut butter sandwiches. I'd be more than happy to eat something else if somebody else made it for me...

And this is where I hear Claudia Dain in my head saying, "Men can cook..."

Susan Sey said...

Jo wrote: Grilling, although even that takes some effort. Not from me, of course, but the boys in the family have to actually go OUTSIDE and fire up the grill and tend the meat. All I do is put water on to boil the corn.

Now THAT'S what I'd like. Why isn't my husband one of those grill master types? Wah!

Then again, I like corn. I'd be happy to eat just that for dinner. And then all I have to do is boil water. :-)

Susan Sey said...

Janga wrote: Susan, I refuse to turn the stove on when the heat index is over
100. Rotisserie chicken from the supermarket and a green salad from precut veggies with tomatoes from the garden added is a good choice.


So wise! I'm thinking we have a winner for dinner! Rotisserie chicken it is!

Susan Sey said...

Pissenlit wrote: Sub ingredients are cooking-free and tacos only involve minimal cooking time...and if you're extra lazy, you can spring for things like pre-grated cheese. :)

Oh, the wonders of pregrated cheese! How did I live before pregrated cheese?

Tacos is a huge favorite around here. I do believe I'll be opening a big can of black beans this evening & calling it cooking.

Susan Sey said...

MsHellion wrote: I am intrigued by the relishrelish website though!! I wish I could try a week trial offer or something to make sure I liked it--I don't know if I want to commit to the whole 3 months. *LOL*

AWw, it's one of those committment deals? I hate decision making. Especially of the committment variety. So much pressure! Especially when I could be eating ice cream (without broccoli!) for dinner. If I pull a Joanie & wash it down with Diet Coke, do they balance out?

Susan Sey said...

Donna wrote: I have an adult daughter who lives at home who attended culinary arts school. I don't charge her rent or anything, but she does all the cooking, food shopping, and (thank goodness) menu planning.

Oh, heavens, do you lend her out? I need me one of those. :-)

Susan Sey said...

TerriOsburn wrote: I now have proof that the old "nothing eaten standing up has calories" thing is bunk, and being a grown up doesn't always mean acting like one.

Oh, honey, I hear that one. I've had to explain to my kids numerous times that being an adult doesn't mean making good decisions (though one hopes), but it's more about paying the consequences of whatever decision you make.

Though I'm heavily in favor of ice cream for dinner, just for the record. I do envy you the freedom, if I don't envy you the miserable jogs or workouts that inevitably ensue.

Beth said...

Susan, I'm all for cutting corners but mostly, I'm for making Mom's life easier *g* Which is why each of my kids have to cook dinner once a week. Plus, they do all the dishes AND the laundry. And on weekends, they clean bathrooms. It's all true.

I am a very mean mom ;-)

One thing that helps us is planning a week's worth of menus. Saves on trips to the store and staring into the fridge or freezer for an hour at 5pm trying to figure out what the heck to cook.

Beth said...

And I just want to say THANK YOU ALL so much for the RITA congrats! I'm still trying to catch up while working on my latest WIP (due Labor Day *g*) so things have been crazy here but I really appreciate your support!

Love you all :-)

Beth said...

Dianna, thank you so much for my gorgeous award!! Love it :-)

Louisa Cornell said...

Yay, Helen! Wonder if the GR knows any ways to beat the heat and take a short cut to dinner?

I'm so glad my kids all have four legs and fur! They are so easy to please!

It is hard to draw the line between eating healthy foods and preparing something in a hurry with minimum use of the oven. I spend all day dealing with an oven. I really don't want to once I get home. I eat a lot of sandwiches. I try to add an out of the ordinary cheese to the mix or an exotic mustard.

I also make great use of the microwave!

Nancy said...

Helen, congrats on the rooster.

Susan, I also am into easy. This is why no one here dusts. Except when company is coming, when we run around frantically and try to make the house look as though we kept it clean all along.

Even your shortcuts are more methodical than mine. So I have no tips. Sorry, but you go!

Susan Sey said...

Beth wrote: Which is why each of my kids have to cook dinner once a week. Plus, they do all the dishes AND the laundry. And on weekends, they clean bathrooms. It's all true.

I am a very mean mom ;-)


Beth...may I sit at your knee and learn? I would be very quiet & simply absorb your greatness. Please?

Susan Sey said...

Beth also wrote: And I just want to say THANK YOU ALL so much for the RITA congrats!

It's our greatest pleasure to congratulate one of our own on such a wonderful achievement! Have we discussed putting a trophy room in the Lair yet? We should. :-)

Susan Sey said...

Louisa wrote: I spend all day dealing with an oven. I really don't want to once I get home. I eat a lot of sandwiches. I try to add an out of the ordinary cheese to the mix or an exotic mustard.

See? I'm totally down with the concept of a Sandwich as a Meal. My family? Not so much. I will attempt to snow them with fancy mustards & cheeses in the future. That's inspired. :-)

Susan Sey said...

Nancy wrote: Susan, I also am into easy. This is why no one here dusts.

And this, Nancy, is why I love you. Thank you for admitting this. I also never dust except when company comes. I try to invite people over at least twice a year just for the cleaning.