Yesterday, I shared my mom’s Pepper Jack Pasta recipe and it is delicious. It’s also super easy. Because I’m all about making things even EASIER, however, I have an even quicker, simpler “pantry” version for you today. It relies on canned and dried ingredients in place of fresh, meaning that this is one you can make in a pinch with little to no prep.
Note: Because there are no CHUNKS of tomatoes, this version is actually preferred by the boys in my house.
Many, many years ago– back when I was in college, I think– my mom started making this recipe. I loved it. Right after C. came home from the hospital, my mom came to stay with us for a few days to help out with A, mainly. She also cooked some things and left the recipes for me– this was one of the things she made.
It’s a keeper, for sure! It can also be made meatless, if that’s important to you or if you’re looking for some great “meatless Friday” recipes for Lent. I usually make it without any meat, but it’s tasty with added chicken or shrimp, too. (It is shown with chicken in the pic below.)
Today, I’m sharing the original recipe, as it is written on my index card from my mama. Tomorrow, I’m going to share a quick, lazy, cheater version that is not quite as good (in my opinion), but is actually preferred by my husband and kids.
(Yum, right? Disclosure: this is NOT my picture. But it is most definitely my recipe! I shared this recipe with my dear friend Mone years and years ago, and she and her husband still enjoy it– this is his pic, which he kindly let me use. Thanks, Rob!)
When it gets cold and dreary, I have to admit I’m not the kind of girl who starts craving meatloaf, roasts, and lots of potatoes. I don’t yearn for gravy and cream sauces. Nah, I’m the kind of girl who starts pouring copious amounts of red pepper flakes on her pizza and looking for more and more ways to add salsa and guac to my foods!
When I get chilled? I like some heat in my food! This is reflected in this week’s menu plan through lots of meals that contain abundant flavor and spice.
I admit it. I saw the man grab the frozen french bread pizzas and I kind of wondered what he was doing. I know it was none of my business, but I’d be lying to say I didn’t have a fleeting thought about it.
You see, the man who was grocery shopping at that early hour was one of our town’s known homeless. I see him frequently as I pass through my days and our paths cross on a pretty regular basis. It’s not that I’d never seen him in ALDI before– it’s just that I usually see him buying more shelf-stable type things. Things that don’t require a bunch of heating.
Anyway, I really didn’t spend much time worrying about it and I went about my business.
I wound up behind him in line.
I watched as the young male cashier greeted him as he started ringing…
“Hey, Jack! Been waiting for you. What kind of pizza we having today? . . . Meat lovers, eh? Sweet. Sounds great. Lemme grab a five and I’ll get you all set, okay?”
“Nah, Robert. Not this time. I got this.”
“Jack, you know it’s all good. I think it’s my turn.”
(chuckling hoarsely) “Robert, you’ve said it was your turn the last four times. I got this. A guy gave me a few bucks for helping him change a tire on Tuesday and I’ve managed to hold on to most of it just for this. I got it.”
“All right, Jack, all right. Thanks. You’re a good man. Good man.”
Jack smiled, then paid for his small purchases.
Robert set the pizza box aside and pointed a finger at Jack, “Okay, then. I’ll see you at 11:30, okay? 11:30. That’s when I’ll be looking for you. I’ll toss this sucker in the toaster oven about 11:15. Can you keep track of that or do you need to take my watch with you?” (unstrapping the band)
“Nah, nah, that’s okay, Robert. I’m goin’ to the library. They got lotsa clocks there. I’ll keep track.”
“Okay. I’ll see you at 11:30. Don’t stand me up now, Jack, you hear? I’ve got two cokes with our names on ‘em and I want to hear all about your week.”
Brrrr… January sure feels chilly! In reality, I think our temps have been pretty normal, but December was so darn mild that we’re all shivering and fussing.
We’re back in school now and that means that, from time to time, no one is home here all day. As a result, it behooves me to some meals up my sleeve that don’t require a whole lot of hands-on work since I’m not around to do that part.
This week’s menu plan is a reflection of that– I spent several hours on Sunday in my kitchen, just getting all this (and a few more meals, actually) prepped and in the fridge or freezer, ready and waiting for me!
*I’ve noted what I did ahead of time next to the appropriate meals.*
So, here’s the prepped-ahead meal plan for the week!
B–Cereal, Apples, Milk ( before 7:30AM Mass)
Brunch– Pancakes, Raspberries, Bananas, Cheese
D–Sunday Supper at Bama & Papa’s (lasagna, salad, fruit, corn)
B–Shredded Wheat Cereal, Apples, Milk
D–Cheesy Beans & Rice (*soaked and cooked beans, cooked rice <– mixed and put in fridge with bag of shredded cheese; made homemade salsa and put in fridge)
B–Egg Wraps, Grapefruit (*made the egg wraps ahead and put them in the fridge so they just needed a quick heating)
D–Burgers w/ the works, Baked Beans (*made burger patties ahead and froze; attached bag of frozen buns, prepped veggies and toppings ahead in fridge)
B–Pancakes, Apples, Milk (*made pancakes and froze)
B–Pancakes, Cheese, Juice (*made pancakes and froze)
D–Tomato, Beef, & Veggie Soup; Garlic Bread (*browned meat and veggies and completely assembled soup– except pasta– and froze in large freezer bag— the whole thing can go in the slow cooker; made bread and froze)
B–Cereal, Eggs, Fruit
D–Large Sausage Pizza, Medium Mushroom Pizza (*made dough ahead and froze)
D–Buffalo Chicken Burritos (*made ahead and froze)
A few days ago, I was having a happy, lively conversation with a woman I greatly admire. She is loving, charismatic, authentic, and faith-filled. She falls in that generation between my mom’s and my own– it’s nice to have friends in that range, you know?
Anyway, we were talking about how hard it was for some children to get “back in the groove” following the holiday break. Some of that is just personality. Some of it was related to the hot, hot inside air making us all sleepy after the cold, cold outdoor air. And some had to do with bedtimes getting all whack-a-doodle while school was out of session.
I told her the truth– my kids’ bedtimes do not shift overly much, whether we’re in school or not. They never have. Even in the summer. As a result, that’s one readjustment we don’t really have to make. That doesn’t work for every family– this I know. But, for us, it really does simplify matters and I’m always heaving a deep sigh of relief come August when I watch other parents face the upcoming school mornings with dread.
This topic led us onto a whole discussion about bedtimes and sleeping and “good sleepers” and, ultimately, sleep training.
She told me, smiling brightly, about her firm convictions that, if a baby is fed and dry (and at least three months old), he can, and should, learn to cry himself to sleep. That’s how they learn. That’s how you get good sleepers. This worked for all her children and for many babies before them, so there you go.
Here’s the thing.
That’s not actually how we did things around here. For us, “cry it out” wasn’t a good fit and so we found methods that worked for our family. We still wound up with good sleepers, by luck or design, I’m not sure, but we didn’t achieve it the same way.
But you know what? She was sharing her story. Her children are grown, happy, and well-adjusted. She is comfortable and confident in her choice and, really, why shouldn’t she be? She wasn’t really telling me what to do with my own kids (they’re past that point, anyway) anymore than she was asking me for advice.
It was her story. And that was good enough for me. I didn’t need to affirm or debate her. I could just listen and, if it wasn’t something I could add to, move on in the conversation.
None of this is earth-shattering– you likely have this sort of experience all the time. I know I do. And, time and time again, I smile or nod or just listen and then move on with my life. Unless I feel strongly that a child is iminent danger, I really don’t need to judge or criticize someone’s story or experience.
But why is that so tricky online? Why do people have such a hard time moving on? Posts must be written delicately and with great consideration. It’s important to reread and scrutinize and attempt to anticipate backlash. Even if you don’t ask for opinions, people are at-the-ready to spit them at you.
Later that evening, I was recalling the conversation and I was imagining if her words had been shared via a blog post or, even worse, a Facebook status. Oh my! I can only imagine the response. The judgments. The criticisms. The generalizations.
I sometimes question in-person etiquette, for sure. Sometimes I fear that good manners are going the way of the typewriter– becoming archaic and obsolete.
But I will say this– the art of recognizing when there’s no need to comment? Is still alive and well in real life, but fading fast online.
It’s just something I’ve been noticing and thinking about lately…
I was able to run to ALDI yesterday morning, thankfully, so we now have a LOT more food around here. Woo hoo!
I had to squeeze that trip in between getting my kids off to school and then heading in to volunteer in the kindergarten classroom and, well, that didn’t give me much time. I just barely made it home before having to leave again, so my sweet husband (who was off for the day) traded me cars and unloaded, unpacked, and put away ALL of my purchases. What a happy surprise! I did worry that you all might be annoyed with me for not having detailed photos for a post due to my husband’s diligence, but you all proved yourself to be the most awesome readers in the world once again when you told me a list was A-OK in my informal Facebook poll– thank you!!!
4 boxes “premium mac & cheese” (marked down) ($1.56)
bottle 100% apple juice ($1.49)
1 can “energy drink” (<– I was glad I got that for my guy, especially after all the work he took off my hands! ) ($1.04)
ranch dressing ($1.29)
4 bags tortilla chips ($4.76)
1 can baked beans ($1.39)
GRAND TOTAL: $177.99
I was pretty pleased with that total for all that stuff. Eggs were on the pricey side this week, but everything else was pretty standard, ALDI-wise. I cannot tell you all enough times what a difference ALDI makes for our grocery budget. Connecticut has a HIGH cost of living. Gas is expensive, houses are expensive, food is expensive. ALDI saves my bacon, I tell you!
The last time I really grocery shopped was the week before Christmas.
Sure, I snagged a gallon of milk or bunch of bananas here and there, but, really? I’ve been out of the stores for a LONG time, now.
This is very evidenced by my pantry and fridge.
I realized on New Year’s Day that we were already scraping the bottom of the barrel around here, but ALDI is closed that day and I didn’t really want to shop on the holiday, anyhow. The next day was Friday the 2nd and, to be honest, it was our first day of holiday break that didn’t involve SOMETHING on the agenda, so I really wanted to just let the kids loll around in their PJs and be lazy if they wanted. And then the weekend arrived. Let me just tell you– I am NOT a weekend shopper, for the most part. Crowded chaos really, really affects me and makes me feel overwhelmed, so I try hard to shop on mid-weekday mornings. Finally, I worked from 8:00 – 3:30 in the school yesterday, then took G. to gymnastics from 4:00 – 5:00, then rushed home for supper and off in the other direction to do karate with my bigs from 6:30 to 8:00. Needless to say– shopping didn’t happen!
So, here we sit. It is Tuesday morning and the food supply just keeps dwindling. I *do* plan to get to ALDI today before volunteering in kindergarten and teaching church school, but, still, this menu plan was made based on what I could do with what I have.
It is a “Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures” Menu Plan. Now, I really kind of want to put “desperate” in quotes because, obviously, we aren’t really in terribly dire straits here. Still, these are meals that rely on some creativity and flexibility and I find they are my go-tos when the pantry runs low.
So, here’s the meal plan for the week along with added reasons why these meals are perfect for desperate times:
B–Cereal, Fruit, Breakfast Shakes ( before 7:30AM Mass)
Brunch– Pancakes w/ homemade cinnamon vanilla syrup, Cranberry Sauce (*Pancakes are inexpensive and popular. I’ve found I can be very flexible in the amount of egg or milk I use, by adjusting water, oil, and baking powder quantities, if neccessary.)
Snack– Cinnamon Roll Bread (*This recipe is crazy easy and uses nothing fancy. It’s yummy, though!)
D–Sunday Supper at Bama & Papa’s (scalloped potatoes and ham, salad, broccoli, fruit)
B–Pancakes, Bananas (+ 2 pieces of PB Toast for my bottomless pit of a 9yo boy)
D–Chicken & Veggie Soup, Braided Breadsticks (*Soup in the slow cooker is PERFECT for using up small quantities of meat or veggies. In this batch, I even threw in a little bit of leftover spaghetti sauce. It’s all good. ***I made my pizza dough recipe with some added oregano for these breadsticks and then simply braided them in long strands and shook on some garlic powder. They were SO popular. And easy. And cheap.)
B–Cranberry Muffins (Muffins are so flexible! These have fresh cranberries and lots of vanilla in them, because that’s what I had. I don’t even really use recipes for muffins– it’s basically flour, sugar, baking powder, a little baking soda, and salt + some eggs, oil/butter, and milk or water. Then add stuff. These are yummy and I’m so glad I got to use those cranberries– they were really on their way out.)
D–Chicken & Rice Burritos (*Burritos are a fantastic way to get by with stingy amounts of meat, when needed. Rice and/or beans are cheap, pantry-stable fillers. The flavor possibilities are really endless– tonight’s are a cheesy ranch, but any taco sauce, salsa, salad dressing, etc. can be mixed in for seasoning.)
B–Muffins, PB Toast w/ Raisins
D–Cheesy Beans & Rice (This one’s a staple around here for a reason– it is well-loved and uses NOTHING fancy!)
B–(I don’t know yet, but I will have shopped by then, so no worries. )
D–Hot & Sour Peanut Noodles (*Peanut noodles are SO flavorful, they can totally stand on their own with no added meats or veggies, if neccessary. Don’t get me wrong– I prefer some other things mixed in, but they really don’t need it to be hearty and satisfying.)
D–Large Cheese Pizza (As long as I have cheese, I can pretty much make pizza. Honestly, the possibilities for sauce and toppings are so vast, this is a fantastically flexible meal idea. Salsa, barbecue sauce, ranch dressing, spaghetti sauce, alfredo sauce… almost anything can be used for a new take on pizza and it’s fun to try new combo!)
. . . . . . . . .
And that’s what I’ve got for now! As you can see, no one is starving around here. We’re all doing just fine and I will soon have the pleasure of filling my pantry and fridge with a whole new supply of food. In the meantime, we’ll happily eat our simple meals and I’ll enjoy knowing that I’ve wasted nothing in the pantry.
I tried to do that one year and I was bored with it by January 15th. What can I say? I’m super good at commiting to a man, but not so good at commiting to a word. Or a topic. Or a favorite color.
Instead, “pause” is just a reminder to myself and a commitment I am trying so hard to make in this year.
To better explain, let me walk you through what a day is like in my brain and heart…
I wake up and post something cute or clever or captivating on Facebook. And nothing happens. I start to fret. I check back. My heart pounds a little bit as I reread and reconsider and, sometimes, delete.
My husband gets annoyed by something I say and gives me the silent treatment for a few minutes. Tears burn my eyes, my hearts starts to race, and my mind becomes full of frantic images of what this means. I concoct responses and replies and defenses in my head that I’m sure will somehow make a difference but, in the end, I never say them.
Someone at church is short with me– not mean, just abrupt. Maybe they’re distracted. Maybe they have other worries. Maybe they didn’t even notice. But I did. And I feel personally insulted. Dejected. I wonder if they’re mad at me. My mood drops dramatically.
I receive a text message and it’s curt. No punctuation. No emoticons. No detail. I’m puzzled and confused. Is she mad at me? Did I say something wrong? Maybe I shouldn’t have texted her in the first place?
I see I have a comment. Yay! Those are rare these days. I read it. It is critical. Or challenging. Maybe accusatory. I feel attacked. My chest hurts. My eyes tingle. Then I get angry. I get on the defensive. Smart, sharp replies fly from my fingers and I maybe hit publish or maybe hit backspace, but my temper is on fire. I struggle to rein it in and I fear that I am unliked.
This is what it’s like.
I am so emotional and sensitive and I feel things so intensely. I both overanalyze and overreact and it’s exhausting. I love people and interraction so much that I’m constantly putting myself out there. But then I manage to get my feelings hurt and it just overwhelms me. It’s craziness.
But here’s the truth that I am learning very, very slowly…
If I just wait a minute… if I step away and breathe a little bit… if I PAUSE, those wild, overactive emotions of mine settle down. Without fail. Every time. Even when, in the throes, I can’t believe I’ll ever feel okay again. If I wait– I do.
My heart stops racing. My brain relaxes. My wild imagination calms down.
And I can respond with ease.
This is hard for me, to be honest. I don’t like to wait. I like to react. I’m a quick thinker and a MAJOR feeler, so it’s natural for me to want to jump right in.
But it’s not good for me. And it’s not really good for others. I overreact and jump to conclusions when I don’t take time to pause.
And, so, for this year, I am hoping, if not resolving, to pause more. To simply back away until those BIG, GIANT, overriding FEELINGS of mine can settle down a touch.
Even though blogging has changed immensely in the six+ years since I started, I still very much love this community. The increased focus on images over writing is hard on me, since I’m more gifted with words than photos, but I keep soldiering on and, blessedly, so many of you put up with me and my old-school ways. Thank you!
Commenting has dwindled even more, but it helps to know that engagement on other parts of social media still exists. I thrive on community and conversation and I love to hear your opinions and stories!
Looking up the most visited posts of 2014 wasn’t all that helpful, since some are four years old or even older! So, instead, I dug through the archives to dredge up the posts that got the most feedback and inspired the most conversation from the year.
Here’s what got you all talking and sharing this year!