What is a “Pantry Challenge” and What Have I Done?

The Saturday after Christmas, I saw a post from someone I follow on Instagram saying they were going to begin a pantry challenge, and asked who wanted to join along.

I had just spent the last couple of days in a bit of a daze, after the blizzard and septic failure, and when the last of the company had returned home, I looked – in total awe – at the copious amounts of leftover food in our fridge.

Continue reading “What is a “Pantry Challenge” and What Have I Done?”

What’s Cooking?

I did something I haven’t done in ages.

It’s been so long, in fact, when I started doing it again I thought I might wither and die from the stress and strain.

My head was spinning, my breathing was labored, and by the end of it all I was pretty worn out.

I created… (drumroll) …a menu.

Hubs had made a Costco run to get our first stash of food for the month, and came home with the biggest pork loin I’ve seen in my life. I’m pretty sure it came from some unknown breed of dachshund pig, for how long it was. There were other groceries as well, but they weren’t near as impressive as the giant slab of meat.

Looking at my countertop covered with fresh bounty, I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility. How could I be entirely responsible, efficient, and effective, with all this food? We’re battening down the hatches with regards to our budget, so keeping a strict reign on our groceries is imperative.

“I know,” I thought. “I’ll make a menu to get us through the next couple of weeks, working around the food we’ve got on hand.”

Brilliant! … Right?

Probably, yes. But also very time consuming. And requiring my brain to function at full-capacity at the end of the day. Brilliant, but dangerous.

I sat down and started to make a list of everything I knew we had on-hand. My initial mistake was thinking we didn’t have much. When I started making a list of all the meat we had (including a pork loin as big as Little Man), the list kept growing. And growing. And growing.

We have so much meat.

It turns out, though I’ve spoken against it for so long, I was approaching my food with a scarcity mindset. Though we had cupboards, freezers, and a fridge full of food, I always told myself we “didn’t have anything to eat”. I’d think of something I wanted to eat, we’d make another run to the store for that meal’s ingredients, and each month we were spending inordinate amounts of money on inordinate amounts of food, and all the while I was thinking we didn’t have any, didn’t have enough, or needed different foods from what we had.

I was wasting my time, wasting my family’s resources, and blowing beyond our budget.

With a list in hand of what we currently had in stock, I started writing down meals I wanted to eat and knew I could make. Before I knew it, I had 10-days worth of dinners planned out.

Since school started last August, my daily routine has been something like this: Around 3:30, I think to myself, “Oh crap. What are we going to have for dinner tonight?” I walk to the kitchen, open a cupboard, and stare. This staring lasts for several minutes. I then close the cupboard and message my husband something like, “Anything in mind for dinner tonight?” to which he rarely provides a helpful answer. By 4:00 I’m in crunch-mode to get something thrown together so we can all eat a hot meal once he gets home from work.

It’s a stressful routine. Most often, we end up having only a main dish with no sides, because I haven’t thought that far ahead in my panic to put food on the table that night.

Hubs has been suggesting for a while we go back to planning a menu, to which I always scoffed in reply. I always manage to get dinner on the table one way or another. I don’t need anyone telling me what to cook my family! Except, I absolutely need someone telling me what to cook my family.

We used to subscribe to a menu service which provided the week’s menu and the accompanying shopping list. Some meals were hits. Some were total disasters. It did save us money each month, though, only buying what we needed for the planned menus.

I had a fresh Costco haul before me, though, with half the month’s budget spent, so I needed to get creative in a hurry. It was an exhausting process, but when I was done, I felt powerful! Capable! Superhuman!

Yesterday was the first day of putting my menu to use. I had dinner ready by 9:10 a.m. God bless the crock pot. We had beef roast, carrots, potatoes, and mushroom gravy. It was delicious. It wasn’t the least bit stressful. We polished our plates in no time.

For the next several days, dinner will be so much simpler. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

Our 30-Day Faith Detox Journey: Days 7 – 12

And the saga continues! This week, we moved on to white/tan foods and detoxing the Endocrine system. I think it’s wise to detox the digestive/urinary/excretory tracts first, followed by the system that manages emotions. Considering how completely crazed and depressed I was last Friday, this week should be looking up. Here’s the daily snippet, typed in the moment.

Our 30-Day Faith Detox Journey- Days 7 - 12

Day 7:

I GOT TO PUT COFFEE BEANS IN MY SMOOTHIE THIS MORNING!  Also… I drank my smoothie with 2 raw eggs mixed in. (Mom, don’t have a stroke…) I wasn’t sure I could do it, but I didn’t even notice. I’ve never gotten salmonella from eggs – only from mushrooms I didn’t even eat. And mushrooms are a staple this week. Joy. But the coffee beans made my body, mind, and spirit rejoice. The smoothie was really good. And I was down another pound when I woke up – that brings me down 5 pounds in 7 days.

I’m hyper-aware of how we’re exposed to food at every turn. Billboards. Signs. Commercials. Flyers in the mail. Coupons. Even pre-youtube-video-ads. All food. No wonder I’m so conditioned for burgers and fries, or cheese on top of everything. It’s all I see!

Drank the juice at church. We also had communion at church so I had a teeny tiny cracker, and the sip of grape juice but WOW was that juice super sweet! I nearly puckered! I had communion in Jesus’ name, so I’m sure it’s covered under the detox…

Lunch is the big test. Mushrooms, my archenemy. And cauliflower, one of my (many) least favorite vegetables. And parsnips. All over spinach, with the olive oil and apple cider vinegar dressing. Sprinkled some garlic powder…and….drumroll…. wow. Pretty tasty, actually.

Dinner was a Superbowl super-sized serving of kale chips, and quinoa with broccoli and onions. I’m feeling like I can actually do this. So different from two days ago! I ate KALE CHIPS. Miracles do happen.

Day 8:

Again with the coffee beans and raw eggs in my smoothie. I don’t even know who I am, drinking raw eggs?! At least they’re in a smoothie and not Rocky-style. Yuck. I was up a pound this morning. Must’ve been the super-size serving of dinner.

We’re using twice as much toilet paper. Drinking half your weight in ounces of water every day has you speed-walking to the restroom pretty often.

I’ve come to a realization of how much I depended on food. It was more than a coping mechanism. It was my savior. When I had a bad day or a good day, I would turn to food to get through or celebrate. When I had a decision to make, I’d have to eat first because heaven forbid I try to think on an empty stomach. I turned to food rather than prayer. I turned to food rather than praise. I turned to food rather than God. That’s exactly how addiction works. And I see how very much I was (am) addicted to foods. Sugars. Carbs. The day before the detox started, I had a triple cheeseburger and onion rings for lunch. One last “hoorah” before this health thing. But really, I was trying to stockpile my drug – food – in my body. And what did that get me? A horrible five days, and size clothing I swore I’d never get big enough to wear.

They say you’re never a “recovered” addict, only ever “recovering”. Because if you slip, you’re right back in the pits you first found yourself. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I don’t want to go right back where I was. I don’t want to invest 30 days simply to prove something – I want to invest them for changing my health for good.

I was a new woman today. I had one sick kid and one teething kid, so it was hard for me to sit at the computer and do any work. But I did nearly all the laundry – including putting it away (#detoxmiracle!), washed the dishes, cleaned up Little Man’s room, and buzzed around here like a true-blue housewife. It felt good. I felt good. I can tell my energy level is getting up to what I always wanted it to be, but didn’t want to have to exercise to get to.

Day 9:

I was down the pound I was up yesterday. Still down a total of 5 pounds. Yay! We got to put a few chunks of dark chocolate (77% cocoa) in our smoothie this morning. I wanted to lick the inside of the blender. It’s not the least bit sweet, but it still tastes like chocolate. I really look forward to the smoothies. The lunches and dinners are more or less the same, switched up by mild variables now and then, but the smoothies change every two days, and I like that. I’ll be sad to see this one go on day 11, though.

I have a painting party tonight with 15 painters, and I feel like I could lead 150 painters. I’m full of energy, and feeling pretty confident, despite the fact I painted the demo like I was a blind monkey. (#noartsmartsnecessary) This is a huge turn-around from where I was a week ago today.

Lunch is stir-fry today, and oh my goodness. My palate is pleasantly surprised. This is really good. Onion, cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, parsnip. I can’t believe I’m eating – and enjoying this. It’s another #detoxmiracle.

On the way to my painting party I thought, “Oh yay, I can stop by Spicy Pie on the way home for a slice!” Then I remembered I couldn’t. But instead of being upset like last Friday, I just shrugged it off. What in the world. I’m a changed person. Goes to show, though, how deep-seated my habits are.

Day 10:

Today marks 1/3 of the way done! I’ve never done anything more than 3 days, so this is pretty incredible for me. Another delicious smoothie, more delicious juice, and I’m enjoying today. Tomorrow’s smoothie won’t be so sweet, and the juice will be green, so it will be a bit different for sure.

This stir-fry is for sure my favorite – definitely love it over the yucky yellows. I told my husband I’ll be making this once we’re done with the detox, and could hardly believe the words came out of ME.

I’ve noticed my face is FINALLY starting to clear up. I’ve been battling some yuck mid-life-crisis acne for months now, and it wasn’t getting better. Today I noticed it is certainly healing, and I’m so happy! I just want my face back.

Quinoa for dinner ten days in a row is a little….blah. Tomorrow we’ll switch it up for sure. I had a fantastic day, though, especially spending time with Little Man. I only lost my cool once, when he went “boneless” twice outside because he didn’t want to walk where we were walking. Crazy to think my food and diet before was filtering my parenting through such a quick-tempered lens.

Day 11:

The smoothie this morning isn’t as terrible as I was expecting. We’ll see what the (green) juice has in store for me later this morning, however. It’s hard to believe I’m on day 11 of this journey.

The soup was pretty bland for lunch. Not something I’m super excited about repeating tomorrow.

I was filling the van up with gas today, and not only were there food stickers plastered all over the pump, advertising deals inside, but the digital screen was flashing text about a deal on hamburgers. Seriously – we are tempted with food at every turn. And today has been kind of a rough day for me. I’ve felt tired and unmotivated most of the day, which hasn’t happened since after I started the detox.

Since we weren’t excited about our foods at all today, we went and gave ourselves something really special for dinner. I made mashed cauliflower, steamed some asparagus, and we split a chicken breast. WE HAD CHICKEN! And it was the best chicken we’ve ever had. It IS allowed on the detox, but we’ve been trying to go pure-vegetable route. We went 10 days without meat. That’s a pretty big deal. But thank you God in heaven for creating the chicken. If I’ve never thanked you for chicken before, I’m so sorry. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I kind of want chicken for dessert. But we’re only allowed 3 ounces, so our split serving will have to suffice.

Day 12:

Down one more pound today! I was holding steady at 5 for a while, so one more is encouraging. Brent is down 10 pounds. I can’t get over that. Today is the last day of white/tan foods, and I’m gonna miss it. The stir fry was amazing, the smoothies the first four days were so good – it’s been a good cycle.

Today was Mother’s Tea at school with Little Miss. So many yummy treats, and I watched her eat all of them. The hardest for me to be around were the Hershey Kisses. Those are were my favorite. It was an adorable program, though, and I wouldn’t have missed it! But we’re gonna have a lot of candy to give away. This detox isn’t just for me and Brent to tool around with health for 30 days – this is to get our whole family on the right track with food. I don’t want my kids to be 35 and never have been equipped to resist anything in a cellophane wrapper.

I wasn’t crazy about the soup yesterday, but was looking forward to it today since it’s -25 outside with windchill. Then I spilled half my bowl of scalding hot soup on my right hand. My fingers are hurting so badly. I’m typing with an ice pack draped over my hand. #dangerousdetox

Had 3 oz of chicken with dinner again tonight, with sauteed mushrooms and onions, and brown rice with broccoli. It tasted like something I’d have at Ruby Tuesday. Maybe I’ll give them the recipe and they can give me the royalties.

Lessons from this week:

  1. Food is everywhere, and its grip on us is almost scary.
  2. Despite the season and chocolate being everywhere, I really miss cheese the most.
  3. Mushrooms are no longer an archenemy.

Our 30-Day Faith Detox Journey: Days 1 – 6

I was listening to the radio one afternoon, as I always do on the way to pick Little Miss up from the bus stop. The topic was intriguing: a detox of body, mind, and spirit. Something in me began to sing its own angel chorus, and I decided I had to order the book, and I was – dare I say – excited, to begin this detox. You can find the book here.

My husband graciously agreed to join me on this journey, and I’m so incredibly thankful. There’s no way I could stay strong doing this on my own. (Thank you, Babe, you’re amazing. For reals.) I decided to jot down my days as I was experiencing them. So… here’s the first 6 days (also known as “color 1: yellow foods”). I’ll see if I can keep a log of this through the whole 30 days. If anyone even cares at all.

Day 1:

Salt water flush was disgusting. Like drinking sweat. Gagged mightily. Couldn’t get the whole 32 ounces down. I prefer putting salt in my body using the vehicle of chips or fries or something. Smoothie for breakfast was really tasty. I could do that often. Was almost a treat! I hope the rest of the detox is like this.

By 10 a.m., incredibly sleepy. Can’t nap, cause I have to be a mom. Crabby. I texted Brent I was sleepy and he texted back, “I feel great!” Ugh. Juice for mid morning snack tasted okay. I’m so hungry. Craving triple cheeseburgers, donuts, and cheese.

Just before lunch, my heart started beating HARD and erratically, then I saw spots and nearly blacked out and felt like that’s what happens right before a person dies. I didn’t die. Lunch was surprisingly tasty. Diced yellow peppers, yellow potatoes, yellow squash, on spinach, sprinkled with cumin, salt, paprika. Started HEAVILY gagging about 3/4 through my meal and couldn’t finish. Gagged so hard, I think I tore something in my stomach. Throat hurt as a result of the gagging.

Snacked on some fruit in the afternoon, but all I wanted was a chocolate granola bar and some meat. Starting to get a gigantic headache.

Dinner time. I am so done with the day. Snappy, but trying to explain (in love) to Little Miss what we are doing and why I was crabby. Cooked fried-rice style quinoa with onions and zucchini. Added a little liquid aminos. OH MY WORD, it brought me back to life. So sleepy. It’s 8:30. I’m going to bed.

Day 2:

Woke up just before 6:30. Felt well rested. Skipped the salt water flush. Couldn’t handle the thought of it. Weighed myself, down 1.5 pounds. Had my smoothie. Good, but not as good as yesterday.

Showered and got dressed for the day. Went to the chiropractor and was happy dancing. Felt GREAT!! Full of energy. I even wanted to buy a house and wait for spring, so I could plant my own vegetables and eat them all day every day. Maybe this isn’t energy – maybe this is some form of mania. Started to get a little tired around 11:30, but nothing a little praise music couldn’t overcome.

Feel great, but can’t focus. Like, at all. Complete brain fog. The water was easy to drink yesterday, today it feels a little much. So bloated, and haven’t even drank only half of what I need to. Brent is having a tougher day today. He wants meat and lots of it. I’d be okay if I could just have a nibble of the SKOR bar I found in the freezer.

After dinner – having huge cravings/desires for dessert. I am so bloated – I feel pregnant. So pregnant. Even walking like I’m pregnant. Brent has a headache still. My head hurts but not anywhere near what it did yesterday. Tonight is much rougher than this morning. Brent took an Epsom salt bath with lavender and peppermint oil. I feel like he’s doing this more sophisticated than I am. I bet he doesn’t feel seven months pregnant.

Day 3:

What. Have. I. Done. This morning’s smoothie almost killed me. Cayenne pepper?! What was I thinking?! My mouth still burns. It took me almost two hours to drink one mason jar of a smoothie. It wasn’t tasty, and it felt like I was drinking fire.

Brent was down 4 pounds this morning. Overachiever. Little Miss told him she could tell he looked skinnier. “In your arms.” What?? She told me, “Mama you look like you’re getting fatter.” At least I have that going for me. Just a fountain of encouragement around here.

Still bloated, and still only down the 1.5 pounds. Am I really going to do 27 more days of this?! The juice is good, but it smells like nature and after the smoothie, I can’t handle it. I have to hold my breath to drink good tasting juice. Pineapple and apple today. My son is eating a tortilla. It looks like the best tortilla in the world. I’m not being a great parent, getting healthy and feeding him a tortilla. Had some amazing play time with Little Man before his nap, though. We ran and tackled and tickled. His giggles made the cayenne pepper incident worthwhile.

Lunch was alright. Too much olive oil, but alright. I am really wondering if I can make it 30 days without meat. What sounds really good is a french dip, with shredded beef, chicken, turkey, maybe some lamb. Who knows. I just really want to dip some meat in some Aus jus.

Hit a wall at 3:00. So tired. Started to come out of it when I was cooking dinner. Quinoa. Again. 27 more days of quinoa. Is this humane?

Day 4:

Down another pound this morning, but I had a hard time falling asleep last night. This morning’s smoothie is less spicy than yesterday’s because I did it that way on purpose. Still can hardly choke it down. Lemon and spinach first thing in the morning isn’t exactly a motivator to get out of bed.

Lunch was better today, too. Less oil. I’m irritable and snippy today, but think I have a bit more energy than normal (saying a lot for 4 days coffee-free) and feel pretty good. So long as no one talks to me, anyway. Have a busy day and evening ahead – hope I can keep it together. My client told me today he liked me better when I was toxic. So maybe I’m a tish more irritable than I’m willing to admit.

At dinner (more quinoa, but with black beans tonight. Fiesta!!) Brent asked me if I’d smelled our bedroom. I giggled and nodded. Little Miss asked, “What does it smell like?” and Brent answered, “It smells like people who have been eating vegetables for four days.” It’s true. Our room smells like a foreign food buffet.

Day 5:

This morning’s smoothie reminded me of fruity pebbles. Oh, how I miss thee. It looked like fruity pebbles, but tasted like spicy fruit salad. Much better than days 3 & 4. The juice today, though…Lord help me. I’m not sure I can do it. Spinach, zucchini, apple. Thankfully it didn’t make much. Still feeling irritable. Mostly, I want to be left alone.

Lunch (soup) was okay. It would’ve been better with ground beef crumbles and melted cheese. Or at least some crackers. This is tough. I’m about ready to throw in the towel.

All day long my head has told me, “You’ve done good. You can quit now and still be proud. You don’t need to do this.” It’s been incessant. I snapped a lot today. I broke down, twice. Shoulder-shaking sobs. This is so hard for me! It would be so easy (and tasty) to quit. But a small part of me doesn’t want to. The stubbornness of that small part is winning above the whining, crying, irritable larger part of me. But wow – I’ve got it bad for sugar. And processed flour. And this is a true-blue drug detox. God bless my husband. That’s all I can say.

Day 6:

Brent brought me breakfast in bed this morning. Day 6’s smoothie. The kids jumped up into bed, and it was sweet. I don’t feel as emotional as yesterday. Yet. I am down a total of 4 pounds since this started, so that’s encouraging.

Soup for lunch was even better today. I think sitting in the fridge and reheating on the stove did wonders for it. Having Brent home all day has helped me tremendously. I’m glad it’s Saturday.

Today has been leaps and bounds better than yesterday. Mentally, I’m in a much better state. Emotionally, I’m actually in a state, rather than just being a complete mess. I would declare this my first “good day” out of this detox experience, and would say I’ve turned a corner. Tomorrow we start a different color, and while I’m glad to see the yellows go, it wouldn’t be so bad for me if I had to keep eating them.

6 days, down 4 pounds, 2 sob-fests, and 100-bajillion food cravings behind me. #victory

Follow my food pics and detox progress on Instagram: nodakval

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Forever ago, when hubs and I walked down the aisle, food was the last thing on my mind. I had salmonella, after all, and had contracted it from food I didn’t even eat. (Thanks, cross-contamination!) When we opened gifts, however, we received this cookbook.

I think. It could have been a shower gift? I don’t really remember. I don’t remember who gave it to us. If it was you, you’ve saved our mealtime more than once. Thank you.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

I’ve owned and gotten rid of so many cookbooks over the years, but I consistently return to two of them. This one, and the Betty Crocker book I stole graciously given to me from my parents.

Growing up, Mom was never excited about cooking. She could make a killer meal, but she never really liked to cook. I enjoyed dabbling in it now and then, but it wasn’t until I took Home Economics in the 7th grade, that my love for food reached an entirely new level. (Mrs. Stubblefield, you’re a saint.) When I started learning I could make food – ridiculously tasty food – and fairly simply, I was hooked on cooking.

I used to ask my parents if we could invite people over, so I could cook a meal. I baked goodies after school all the time. I perfected recipes and loved nothing more than making food people would rave about. Mostly, I loved the attention. But cooking extra tasty food was a great vehicle for said attention. So it stuck.

Brent has always been a fan of my cooking. He hasn’t always loved what I cook, but he loves that I actually cook. A growing family and a crazy schedule later, I don’t cook every single night. But when I do, it’s pretty tasty.

This cookbook, however, has been the inspiration behind many a meal. And dessert. And bread. For the last almost-13 years, it’s been my go-to for recipes and ideas on feeding my family.

Last week I was feeling especially domestic and had all kinds of adventures going in the kitchen. I made pot roast, and apple cake, alongside a couple of apple pies and cooked some pumpkins to use for the famous pumpkin pie I make each fall. This book saved my tail in the way of the apple cake.

Yum & Yes, Please!

It never gets put away – it stays out on the kitchen counter for how often I reference its pages. After we were married, I made my first-ever Chicken A La King from this cookbook and catered our first (of many) Superbowl parties with appetizer recipes from this book as well. It truly has been the gift that never stops giving.

I’m kind of a rare bird when I cook in the sense that I really don’t want anyone’s help. I need the kitchen to myself, else you’ll most likely just end up in the way. I also had to learn to offer my assistance to others in their kitchens, since I want to be alone in my kitchen turf, it took me a long while to realize not everyone else is the same way.

Holiday meals are my favorite to prepare, and I love the fact every time I cook a big holiday meal, my husband puts himself on clean-up duty without being asked. Another reason on the long list of why he is my favorite person on the planet.

I am sorely disappointed I am the only one in my household who has deep love for sweet potatoes, though. They are a holiday staple for me, but my husband and children don’t share the same enthusiasm. Pray for them to be healed from this malady.

One holiday meal tradition for us has been prime rib at Christmas. The first time I made it was for my family Christmas five years ago. I was incredibly nervous. Prime rib is an expensive hunk of meat, and one you can’t really afford to screw up. Thankfully, it turned out deliciously. After a few bites, my brother-in-law turned to my husband and asked, “Did you ask Val to marry you after you tasted her cooking?”

Yes. It had nothing to do with my personality, my hilarious wit, my love of music or not murdering him when he quoted every line before it was spoken during the movie Tombstone. He didn’t really love me until he put a fork full of homecooked goodness in his mouth. And they lived happily ever after.

There is something to be said, though, for people enjoying the fruits of your labor of love in cooking a giant, hearty, tasty meal. It’s a gift I love to offer, a skill I’ve enjoyed mastering, and something I’ve grown to appreciate even more over the years.

This cookbook has become an important part of my kitchen. It’s a wedding (shower?) gift that has kept on gaining. Er, giving. Giving us pounds. Of love.