The Monthly Menu: A Week of Meals in September

The month has been a very distracting kind of crazy busy, so I have not been successful about my normal strategy of weekly meal prep. I still faithfully create a weekly plan, but I have not been able to do the week’s prep over the weekend, resulting in the dinner time rush each weeknight, or, worse still, the white flag of surrender called Eating Out. Continue reading “The Monthly Menu: A Week of Meals in September”

Baked Ziti

I am in no way a food blogger – my photography skills are far too slim for that! – but every once in a while I tweak a recipe enough to need to write down the changes so that I can recreate the effect again, and this happened recently when I made baked ziti. So, to be completely honest, this post is really for my own benefit, but if you’d like to try it out too, our family can affirm its yumminess! Continue reading “Baked Ziti”

Marinara Sauce – Recipe and Freezer Tips

I like tasty, healthy, homemade food, but I also like convenience and timeliness in the kitchen, so when the two things can harmonize perfectly, I am a happy camper…er, cooker.

This sauce is easy to make, freezes wonderfully (I share my freezing process below), and tastes great. I use it anytime a recipe calls for marinara sauce (or makes its own as part of the recipe), and we use it as a pizza sauce as well.

 

I estimate this batch makes about 3 jars of sauce; I often double the recipe.

I began with this recipe from Thriving Home (they have some other great freezer recipes you should check out too!), and then made a few changes in true Planned Spontaneity style…

Marinara Sauce
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1-2 cups of chopped vegetables…my favorite is a mix of onion, zucchini, bell pepper, and mushrooms, but I’ve also successfully used carrots and celery and have thoughts of spinach, parsnips, summer squash and broccoli, among others; just be sure you use smaller quantities of strongly-flavored veggies, like the broccoli, and have fun cleaning out your fridge!
  • 1 T. (at least!) chopped garlic
  • 4 – 28oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 c. water
  • salt and pepper to taste (start with about 1 tsp. each and then adjust near the end of cooking)
  • 3 T. total (i.e. 3 T. Italian seasoning, or 1 T. each parsley/basil/oregano, etc.) dried parsley, basil, oregano, Italian seasoning, or a mix and match
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

Melt butter in a non-stick skillet and saute all veggies until softened. Allow to cool slightly and then process in a blender or food processor until mostly smooth.

Add veggie mixture and all remaining ingredients to a big crock pot (at least 5 quarts, but I love my 7 quart-er for this!) and cook on low 4-12 hours…4 hours if you’re following the original recipe; 12 hours if you have an exceptionally tiring day at work and accidentally take a 4 hour nap when you get home; 6-8 hours for that sweet spot in between.

To freeze, allow to cool slightly and portion out into muffin tins and freeze. This is approximately 1/4 c. sauce each. If you are smarter than me, you’ll remember to spray the muffin tin with cooking spray first and the little sauce blocks will just fall right out. If you forget or have a few stubborn ones, simply flip the whole pan and run a little warm water over the stubborn cup. Toss your cute little sauce muffins into labeled freezer bags and store for later use.

I will use one “muffin” if I’m making pizza, or 4-6 “muffins” for something like spaghetti. I might also add a little extra water to the sauce during cooking to stretch it a little further, but don’t worry, it has plenty of taste to stretch.

*Just a note regarding Thriving Home’s caution in the original recipe on purchasing tomato products in glass jars: since their original recipe was published, most companies have begun using a bpa-free liner in their cans, so I choose to save my pennies and purchase the canned variety.

Continue reading “Marinara Sauce – Recipe and Freezer Tips”

Fall Anticipation and {FREE} Printable

Oh, how I LOVE fall. It is far and away my favorite season! (Ok, maybe not far and away, since winter is a really close second; I’m weird, I know.) Much like the retailers with Christmas decor, I get so giddy for fall that I start planning, preparing, and celebrating long before the official season gets here.

However, I want to say that I’m very proud of myself for reining in the plan overload this year and selecting a (more) sensible number of items for my 2017 fall bucket list. And, of course, I couldn’t wait to share!

In truth, the list itself doesn’t really change much from year to year, and my goal is not to check off every single thing. That effort leads to burn out and frustration. Not that I have first hand experience with that! *ahem* What I wanted was something to serve as an encouragement to take time to savor the delights of the season. This is a pretty reminder as I plan out my fall weeks to incorporate time for fun and memories in the midst of all the busy. You can click here to download your own copy!

The first weeks of September have obligingly managed to be cool and rainy, so I have been delighted to break out my flannel shirts and boots. We’ve also already taken a trip to the apple orchard to load up on apples, cider, and cider donuts! And I’ve started to do a bit of fall decorating as well; I hope to share the results here on the blog very soon.

Happy {FALL} planning, everyone!

Goals and Progress: September

“Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time.” Zig Ziglar

 

I am passionate about setting and achieving goals, both big and small. Having a direction and a purpose, being able to measure progress, and of course putting that glorious check mark in the little box on my to do list are all extremely motivating for me. In this monthly series, I share my progress on last month’s goals and set goals for the month ahead. Not only is this good accountability for me, but since I have always been inspired reading about the goals and progress of others, I hope that this will also encourage you to set a goal for this month!

 

August was definitely a challenging month, I think largely because I was not feeling well for the better part of two weeks. I am thankful I was still functioning enough to get through my day-to-day tolerably, but not well enough to make as much forward motion as I would have liked.

 

Here’s a quick recap of my August goals and outcome:

 

Spiritual
– Complete current study on the book of Esther through First 5 App…..Done!
– Complete 2 segments of the Romans study with Mr. Planned…..No progress.
– Develop prayer binder and implement at least one section daily…..One segment of it completed and implemented; I’ve decided to take this project a lot slower than I had initially thought. 

 

Family
– Work on back-to-school routine, esp. bedtime for Ms. Spontaneity…..Bedtime continues to be a bit of a struggle for us, but we are getting there. In terms of general routines, we are starting to figure out what works and what doesn’t, making tweaks along the way.
– Enjoy our upcoming family outing…..Huge success! We went to Lego Brick Fair and had a blast!
– Implement new lunch prep routine….This worked so well, I wrote a whole post about it here! I confess that the last two weeks I have not been diligent to do our prep work on Saturday, and, wow, do I feel it throughout the week. This weekend I am determined to get back on track.
– Plan and enjoy one date night for August…..This was definitely not elaborate as we just went out to eat and ran a few errands together, but the point was that it was intentional time carved out for just the two of us, and we enjoyed talking and laughing along the way.

 

Personal
– Read 2 books…..I almost completed this one. For my “junk food” book, I read and enjoyed “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” I’ve nearly finished the other book, called “Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family” by Paul David Tripp. It offers a macro-view of parenting, which is both inspiring and just a little bit overwhelming if you don’t take it in small bites. 

 

Health
– Complete waist trainer challenge…..True confession: I have been working on this 30-day challenge for the last three months! I did make it through another week of the challenge. One more week to go.
– Drink at least 4 cups of water each day…..Nope, complete bust on this one. I’m actually drinking less water and more pop than when I started August. 

 

Home
– Complete 1 chore for each cleaning zone…..Another no. 
– Complete Kitchen projects: build and install drawer, build and install at least one cabinet door, finish painting cabinets and trim…..And, a big fat NO.

 

Financial
– Limit eating out to no more than two times this month…..Nope.
– Stay within budget on all general categories…..Uh uh.

 

I definitely learned a little something about being overly ambitious in my goal setting. It’s not that I didn’t know that before, but boy is it a lot more humbling when it’s public.

 

I also was reminded (again!) of the need to give myself grace. Goals and to do lists are there to provide direction and motivation. They are NOT tools or reasons to beat yourself up.
Coming up this month…
This month I’ve decided to break my goals down a little differently. So with that in mind, here’s what my September looks like:

 

Goals:
– Complete Monthly Planner Spread
– Plan Date Night
– Read 2 books (plus finish parenting book from last month)

 

Projects:
– Kitchen Drawer (router sides, assemble frame, add slides and install into cupboard)
– Hang Bathroom Curtains (on my to do list for over a year!)
– Clean up side porch (power wash, new decor, fall craft)

 

Habits: 
– Bedtime at 10:30pm. One small habit I impulsively incorporated in August was to shut off my electronics at 9pm. This ended up having a snowball effect, attracting more good habits, which led to better sleep and less stress. This month, I want to keep up the good work!
– Daily move. This is also something I stumbled into this past month. On days when I felt like I didn’t have time to do the official challenge for the day, I chose instead to simply do some kind of intentional movement, whether walking the dog or doing 20 jumping jacks at random intervals while cooking dinner. What I discovered is that exercise can – and should! – become a habit. This month, I want to be intentional to get movement of some kind in each day and slowly build up my habit muscle.

 

Attitudes:
– Contentment. I do not need more; I need to savor and enjoy what I have.

 

Be sure to stop by at the beginning of October for a progress update!

 

What are your goals for the month of September?

 

August Menu and Food Prep

I’ve been honing my menu planning skills for the past ten years, but like so many things in life, you must constantly make adjustments as your seasons and needs change. My newest strategy for menu planning incorporates elements from many theories – from theme nights to freezer cooking and everything in between!
My current menu criteria is that it must be affordable, reasonably practical to cook, and of course, tasty. I am inconveniently not someone who likes to eat the same things over and over again, so there is a lot of variety – particularly at dinner time – and I often incorporate at least a few new recipes.
In this monthly series, I’ll be sharing one week’s worth of the dinners our family is really eating, the strategies I use to keep from losing my mind during the witching hour of dinner time, and a quick review of the new recipes and outcome. (Posts on lunch and breakfast strategies coming soon!) So here we go!
Dinner
Please refer to the links above for the complete and/or original recipes. What follows is my process for streamlining our meals for the week and any substitutions or prep changes I made (I often tweak recipes to suit our tastes and budget or to make them easier to prepare or freeze). I also include information on the sides I served with each entree and a quick review for any new recipes I try.
Prep Ahead
I try to pick one day to tackle my prep ahead for the week. This usually takes me between one and two hours (including multiple interruptions from pets, kid, and husband), but it saves me both the time spent prepping, cooking and cleaning up the same things each night, as well as my sanity so I don’t come home from a busy day and feel like making dinner is a bigger mountain that I can climb. With this strategy, I’m able to throw a few things in a pan, make a side dish and have my family sitting down to eat in short order!
Raspberry Pork Chops, Roasted Cauliflower, roasted red potatoes
Prep: Mix vinegar, jam, and mustard together and refrigerate until cooking day. Chop cauliflower and add to storage bag with oil and seasonings.
Serve: Season and brown pork on both sides. Stir reserved sauce to combine and pour into skillet. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook about 10 min. Remove lid and allow to cook a few minutes more to allow sauce to thicken. Meanwhile, wash and chop potatoes and toss with seasoning and oil. Spread potatoes and cauliflower on sheet pan and roast at 450* for approx.30 minutes or until tender.
Review: I subbed blackberry jelly because it’s what I had on hand. These were amazing and met with rave reviews from the family!
Philly Steaks
Prep: Mix all ingredients in ziplock bag and freeze until cooking day.
Serving: Place (preferably) thawed ingredients in slow cooker and cook on low 6-8 hours. Toast serving rolls lightly, then load up with meat and pepper mixture and top with provolone cheese. Broil for a few minutes to melt the cheese. Serve with chips and sliced veggies.
Review: This is by far my favorite Philly Steak recipe to date. Most turn out rather boring in my opinion, but this had tons of flavor. Only thing I’d do differently is drain the meat mixture in advance of sandwich assembly since I hate soggy bread.
Scalloped Potatoes w/ Ham, Salad
Prep: Parboil potatoes to reduce cooking time. Prep casserole according to recipe directions and refrigerate until serving day. Chop salad and all veggies.
Serve: Bake casserole according to recipe directions. Toss desired salad ingredients in a bowl and serve.
Review: We didn’t care for this one very much. The texture and cooking process were fine, but the flavor was just lacking. If I made it again, I would add in a variety of seasonings during cooking to make it pop more.
Tilapia, Sautéed Summer Squash, Rice
Prep: Combine parm cheese, butter, mayo, lemon juice, dill, salt, and pepper and refrigerate until cooking day. Chop zucchini, yellow squash, and onion and add to bag with garlic and seasonings.
Serve: Prepare tilapia according to recipe directions. Prepare rice. If possible, thaw and drain squash mixture for improved texture and taste. Sauté in a bit of butter until browned.
Review: This was super easy and super tasty. We all snarfed our dinner down with relish.
Noodles and Zoodles
Prep: Chop and fry 4 slices of bacon and set aside. Sautee shredded zucchini in bacon grease; stir in reserved bacon, paprika, turmeric, salt, and pepper. Store until serving day.
Serve: Warm reserved mixture in pan; add cream and cook until heated. Toss with cooked spaghetti and parmesan cheese. Toss desired salad ingredients in a bowl and serve.
Review: This was planned and prepped and then life intervened and we never ate it. I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t even freeze it and had to throw it away. It is still on my list to try, though.
Nachos
Prep: (I have to be honest, my incredible husband, Mr. Planned, has offered to take over dinner prep on Thursday nights so he made this one and I had no hand in it other than grocery shopping. However, it would still be easy to prep ahead; here’s what I would do.) Brown ground beef and add taco seasoning. Store until serving day. Chop lettuce and onion for serving.
Serve: Fill a cookie sheet with tortilla chips, cover with cheddar cheese and bake in a 350* for a couple of minutes until chips are warm and cheese has melted. Meanwhile, reheat beef mixture, warm refried beans, chop tomato, and set out sour cream, onion, lettuce, extra cheese, salsa, and guacamole. Allow everyone to build their own nacho plate and enjoy.
Pizza
Prep: Pick up the phone and dial your favorite pizza place. Just kidding (mostly)! Prep pizza dough, sauce, and toppings. Store until serving day.
Serve: Assemble pizzas and bake according to the directions for your dough recipe. We do pizza once a week, so I will try to go into more details on the recipe and process I use in another post.

How I’m Planning: I KISSed My Planner {and I liked it!}

I have a confession: I’m addicted to planners. I know, you’re shocked.

One of my dreams is to create my own planner. Shh! Don’t tell anyone, but that is in the works and I’m hoping to begin the release in October right here on the blog!

At any rate, keeping it real and authentic during the journey is what I’m all about here, so I want to come clean and say that in the process of creating and testing the different planner pages, designs, strategies, and ideas….I’ve gotten a little stressed. I know maybe that seems odd, but one of the things I love about planning in general is that it helps keep overwhelm at bay. With my pages mis-matched, unformatted, and falling out, and my planning strategy in limbo, I have been feeling the crazy!

So I made a difficult decision for a planner addict and designer: I put the planner away. When the tool starts to manage you, it’s time for a system reboot. And that’s how I decided to KISS my planner.

In case you happen to be unfamiliar with the KISS concept it stands for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

Now, I find calling myself stupid to be a bit unhelpful, so instead I imagine the voices of my Heavenly Father and my amazing husband whispering through my chaos, “Keep it simple, Sweetheart.” Isn’t that much nicer?

Regardless of what term of endearment (or lack thereof) you assign to the last “S”, the Keep It Simple part is always the same, and is really the main point.

So I pulled out a cheap little notebook I had stashed in a drawer, flipped to a blank page, and wrote out a to-do list in blue ink. Nothing fancy. No labeled boxes, color coding, special pens, decorative borders, or colorful pages. And do you know what? Within just a couple of days, my overwhelm subsided. I am sleeping more, feeling more productive, and the crazy brain fog has dissipated.

This is a picture of my actual to do list yesterday:

There’s nothing wrong with the fancy stuff. But sometimes we get so lost in the strategy that we miss the real point.

Whether it’s your planner, or anything else in your life right now, I encourage you to take a moment to breathe deeply and hear and embrace the whispered words of those who love you – and most of all, the One who loves you best: “Keep it simple, Sweetheart.”

Goals and Progress: August

“Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time.” Zig Ziglar

 

I am passionate about setting and achieving goals, both big and small. Having a direction and a purpose, being able to measure progress, and of course putting that glorious check mark in the little box on my to do list are all extremely motivating for me.

Continue reading “Goals and Progress: August”

Back to School: Packing lunches the easy way!

Back to school is here yet again, and with it brings a flurry of preparations. One ongoing challenge I personally deal with is packing lunches. Oh, the lunch box – my nemesis. Actually, I suppose my nemeses are monotony and my exhausted brain before coffee; the lunch box is just an innocent by-stander. But this year, I think I’ve finally landed on a winning strategy.

Continue reading “Back to School: Packing lunches the easy way!”

Welcome to Planned Spontaneity and a Free Printable to Kick things Off!

 

Welcome to my little piece of the internet! I am so excited to be launching my dream of writing and creating, and looking forward to sharing all of this with you.

My heart’s desire is to live a life that reflects a personal relationship with God, blessing others with a sense of His presence and love through me. Along the way, I want to remember to stop and savor the living in life – those things that truly make life rich. For me, that includes: making memories with my family; coffee; successes and failures; the color yellow; coffee; pretty planner pages; colored pens; trying new things; coffee…and so much more!

So what will you find on the pages of Planned Spontaneity?

Well, lots of planning. I am passionate about planners, planning strategies, goal setting, and generally giving your life direction. I want to live my life according to my priorities – rather than whatever is making the loudest demands on my time and attention in any given moment – so you’ll also find posts on my personal strategies for intentional living in the areas that are important to me.

Of course, there’s also just a bit of spontaneity. You just never know when I’ll wake up and decide to repaint the kitchen, try something new, or bake something delicious. I believe in being real and acknowledging the messy side of life with a smile, so you’ll get to see both the success stories of my wild ideas and laugh along at the flops.

To kick things off right, I wanted to share a quick little freebie with you: notes pages in six lovely colors! Simply click on the link below to download your copy and print any and all of them.

Notes Pages Printable

The adventure is just beginning. I am honored and thrilled to have you join me for this delightful and crazy journey!