Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Month: November 2014 (page 1 of 4)

November Food Challenge Accomplishments

My November Food Challenge was so fun, I wish it lasted longer. There is a lot more I had planned, but never got too, like finding more ways to eat healthier and diving into the The Minimalist Cooks Dinner: More Than 100 Recipes for Fast Weeknight Meals and Casual Entertaining. I never even cracked it open. Why? Because as I was organizing my existing recipes, I realized that I have more than enough delicious, easy recipes right now.  Plus, I just plain ran out of time and this wasn’t a high priority.  Realizing that you’ll never get to everything on your to do list and letting the lower priority things go takes practice and this project gives me a lot of practice.

There are a couple things I’m really happy I did accomplish during November’s food challenge:

  1. Analyzed and fixed my grocery budget (parts I, II, and III).  Ever since I cut back on meat and dairy, my weekly bills have come in an average of $20 under budget.
  2. Explored other ways and places to shop for groceries and realized that shopping online (which I was already doing) was the best option for me.
  3. Cut back on disposables, I use far fewer paper towels and switched one kid to cloth diapers this month!
  4. Revisited a couple of sane dieting methods and read up on the diabetic diet. I didn’t write about this, but I gave up sugar for most of November (something I do periodically because it makes me feel GREAT). Now, I usually drink water instead of soda when we go out to eat.
  5. Remembered a sneaky way to cook for two nights at a time and get people to eat reasonable portions.
  6. Took the time to be thankful. This was by far the blog post that made me happiest.
  7. Organized all my recipes (and shared some)!

As far as accomplishing my original goals goes, I give myself a B.

My four original goals

Original Food Month Challenge

I accomplished #1 & #4. I started work on #2 (I’m not being too hard on myself, because this is a lifelong process). For #3, I thought about eating out a bit and decided not to change anything.  We go out once a week as a family and try to stay under $25.  It’s a wonderful time for us to do something together and, while eating out less would be healthier and cheaper, this is a part of my life that I love and want to keep.

So, here’s to food and how wonderful it can make our lives.  In December, I’ll be concentrating on our monthly bills and how to reduce those.

Weeknight Dining Rule & Recipes

Last weekend, I organized all my recipes and developed a single rule for weeknight dining happiness:

Nothing we make during the week should take longer than 30 minutes.

As I sorted recipes, I put them into categories: weeknights, weekends, CSA (all the recipes with weird ingredients we normally only get in the CSA – like broccoli rabe), sides/appetizers, and desserts.  In doing so, I unearthed some long-lost recipes and was reminded of some of our favorites, which I thought I’d share today.

Here are a few of our favorite, easy weeknight recipes:

Cheddar Dogs

Weeknight dining - cheddar dogs

Photo Credit: Pillsbury

8 hot dogs
Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Separate and flatten the crescent rolls on a baking sheet.  Place one hot dog in each crescent roll, add a little cheese, then roll the hot dog and cheese up in the roll.  Bake for 10-13 minutes.



Crunchy Asian Chicken Salad

Crunchy Chicken Salad

Photo Credit: Betty Crocker

This recipe takes about 20 minutes and is always a hit – even with company.  You’ll find it in the Betty Crocker Cookbook, which is one of the few cookbooks I kept, and online here. It’s easy, delicious, and healthy!

Overnight Tuna Casserole

I got this recipe from my mom and it is a fantastic weeknight recipe!  Mix everything together the night before, then heat it in the microwave for 15 minutes when you get home from work.

1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup milk
1 can (6 oz) tuna, drained
1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup chopped green onions (I usually just sprinkle in some onion powder)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided

Combine soup and milk until smooth.  Add tuna, macaroni, peas, onions, and 3/4 cup of cheese; mix well. Pour into a greased 2-qt microwave-safe dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight.  Microwave, covered, on high for 15 minutes or until bubbly. Uncover, sprinkle with remaining cheese and let stand until melted. My mom also adds: “You probably don’t need quite that much cheese if you want to conserve.”

Stir Fry

Stir Fry

Photo Credit:

This is a great way to clean out the fridge every week and you can even cut vegetables ahead of time to make this even faster. Our basic stir fry includes:

Brown Rice (cooked ahead if you want to come in under the 30-minute mark, but this is easy to start as soon as you get home)
Chicken, Pork, or Beef
Sitr Fry Sauce (I like Trader Joe’s Soyaki Sauce)

Cook the rice. Chop everything else up, mix it together and cook until the meat is cooked through and the veggies are tender, but not floppy (10-15 minutes).



Photo Credit:

1 lb hamburger
taco shells
salsa or tomatoes
shredded cheddar cheese
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp hot sauce
1 tsp cayenne pepper

This is another good dish for clearing out the fridge because you can add all kinds of things to tacos (peppers, olives, etc). Cook the meat and sprinkle in the chili powder, hot sauce, and cayenne pepper at the end; mix. Assemble the other ingredients and have everyone make their own tacos!


Gratitude – Nine Reasons to be Happier

Minimalism for me is not the practice of giving up everything I own.  Instead, it’s the practice of elevating the things that mean most to me and getting rid of the rest.  By doing this – by consciously examining everything I have – I am constantly participating in an exercise in gratitude.

Most things we previously thought we needed don’t “spark joy”.  This is how Marie Kondo, a celebrity organizer from Japan describes the thought process behind de-owning in her new book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. This is an extraordinary way to judge your items.  Sometimes, you instantly know that something belongs in your life because it does spark joy and you are incredibly grateful for having it in your life.  Those are the things you keep.

With my journey to minimalism as a backdrop, I’ve thought a lot about the true meaning of Thanksgiving and what gratitude can do to my life year-round.  Gratitude seems to be the straightest path to happiness.  David Steindl-Rast, a monk and scholar, describes the link in his 2013 TED Talk and also gives us a framework for living gratefully: “stop, look, go”.  He says,

Grateful people are joyful people, and joyful people, the more and more joyful people there are, the more and more we’ll have a joyful world.”

So, with that in mind, here is a list of nine things that I’m grateful for today.  I bet you’re also grateful for at least one of these too.

  1. My kids are healthy.  They’re not always happy or clean or acting perfectly, but they’re amazing and if I’m lucky I’ll get to spend a lot of time with them for years to come.
  2. My relationship with my parents is intact.  More than intact, actually.  Though they live 1000 miles away, but I see them often, we talk every week, and I know that they will be there when I need advice – any time.
  3. We live in DC. What an amazing city to be in the middle of!  We have free museums, parks galore, we’re an hour from the mountains, and two hours from the beach.  People enjoy visiting this city and you can meet practically anyone here.  There may be terrible traffic, but it’s a really great place to live.
  4. I work on something I care about. Opower has a double bottom line.  Yes, we need to make money to stay in business, but we also care deeply about saving energy, which leads to a cleaner, more livable planet for all of us.
  5. I can still hike. I’ve never been in any major car accidents, I’m healthy, I eat right, and I’m (relatively) young.  If I want to get out into nature in a nearby park or climb a mountain or explore the woods in my backyard, I can still do that.
  6. Travel. There’s nothing more fun than planning a trip and taking it. I live for discovering new things, especially things that challenge my basic core beliefs. I feel lucky that in this day and age I can get almost anywhere in less than 24 hours.  Not many humans in the history of the world can say that.
  7. Optimism. I’m grateful that I’m able to find the good in everything, naturally.  I just need to be reminded sometimes to do that more often.
  8. Time. I’m thankful that I learned an important lesson about work in my 20’s: don’t work overtime, instead prioritize. It turns out that the more time off you take, the more productive you are at work and the better your performance appraisals are (if you work for a good company that values your achievements over face time).
  9. The fact that minimalism exists.  Think about it.  Minimalism is a solution to the ultimate first world problem.  It’s crazy that having too much stuff is even a problem. That means that what we do have is adequate food, clothing, shelter, water and everything else that allows us to survive.  I’ve never had to worry about that and I am so, so thankful and humbled by that fact.

Black Friday Online (Quick Tip)

If I had to choose one cultural aspect of America that shows just how backwards we’ve become, it might just be Black Friday. Luckily, many (dare I say the majority?) of us don’t ever set foot in a store on Black Friday.  Many people simply choose to opt out of Black Friday and, sometimes, material gifts altogether. Our family is greatly cutting back on material gifts this year, but the kids will still get something they need and/or love.

Black Friday Online

Why buy presents when boxes and gift wrap are usually the biggest holiday hits?

When Nathan and I spent the winters in Medora, ND while he worked at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we were 1.5 hours away from the nearest Target.  With temperatures plunging well under 0 degrees and roads covered in ice and snow, I was forced to find a new way to shop for Christmas presents that didn’t involved physically slogging through Christmas specials at the store.

It turns out that you can get free shipping and many of the same deals ONLINE on Black Friday (and throughout the holiday season) that you get in the stores. Plus, you get to sit around in your pajamas drinking hot chocolate and enjoying turkey leftovers.

I shop ahead of Black Friday and jot down the prices so I have a price baseline and don’t get distracted by the store’s specials online. I find that for specific items, some of them get cheaper on Black Friday – probably fewer than half.

Of course, the best deal is opting out and finding something truly meaningful to get your family, but if you must get a traditional present, I recommend skipping the stores and thoughtfully choosing a gift online!

Cooking Extra Food & Saving It (without Eating it Right Away) – Quick Tip

As Thanksgiving approaches with its glorious promise of leftovers, I find myself wondering whether I could master the art of cooking extra food and saving it for another meal all year round. The main problem we have is that people in our family just eat more if more food is available.

Cooking Extra Food

Stealth Leftovers

Enter a trick I used a few years back when I was the main cook in the house. As soon as I was done cooking, I would package up half of the food and put it in the fridge or freezer — before we dished out the plates for that evening’s dinner. That was the only way I could ensure we’d have enough extra for leftovers. No one goes hungry, but everyone takes more reasonable portions this way. This trick works great for my husband, but only when he doesn’t know about the other half.

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