After a whirlwind, wonderful weekend in New Orleans, I’m itching for spring more than ever.  I flew down Friday to photograph a cookbook, and was greeted by blooming wisteria and azaleas, green grass, gorgeous old oaks and warm sunshine.  It was exactly what this Midwestern girl needed.

Food Photography

While I can’t say too much about this current project, I can tell you that the book I photographed last summer, The Best Homemade Lunches on the Planet,  is on pre-sale now, and will be released in July.  My kids have been loving the recipes from this book, it has added to much variety to our lunch packing routine.

The Best Homemade Lunches on the Planet

For today, I’m over on The Creative Mama sharing my installment of our series, Food Photography 101.  Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing a little about how to take pictures of food and the tricks and tips I’ve picked up along the way.  Come on over!

Not once, but twice last week, I found myself in a conversation that centered around the art of lingering.

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The first was a conversation with a food writer friend, that shared with me her experience of interviewing a man that told her about how he laid the foundation,  with his children, to linger at the table after dinner.  This intentional act laid the ground work for intimate conversations, laughter and growth that ultimately led to an idea for starting a family business.
Over this past weekend, I visited my parents.  We filled ourselves with family time, shed hunting, shopping and good food.  Over one of our meals, I found myself in a similar conversation with my dad about taking the time to linger, to slow down.  He told me that he had read somewhere recently how the quality of relationships between mothers and daughters fell into decline with the invention of the dishwasher.  Their time in the kitchen became less to do with the casual, intimate conversations that took place as they cleaned, and more to do with efficiency and moving on to the next task.
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My own childhood was effected with the addition of a dishwasher to our household.  Up until that point, my job each evening was to help my mom clear the table and then dry dishes while she washed.  As we went about our tasks this became a time to share, to discuss our days and other topics that came to mind.  The conveinence of the dishwasher changed everything.  The whole process moved much quicker, leaving little time for visiting.  After a couple years, our dishwasher met its demise.  For whatever reason, my parents chose not to replace it.  The absence of the dishwasher brought the return of our evening ritual.  As my brother got older, I shifted to washing, he took up the drying.  Those evenings of what once felt like a chore, are now some of the most treasured and vivid memories of my childhood.  Meaningful conversations, sharing the triviality of our days…along with a few really good soap sud fights.
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Learning the Art of Lingering
While I know that we won’t be giving up our dishwasher anytime soon, for us, these moments are still found in the kitchen, but more in the preparation of the meal, versus the cleanup. It is where I spend much of my time photographing, recipe testing, creating our meals, nourishing body and soul.  My children are easily drawn in, and ask what they might do to help.  As the meal preparation unfolds, so do our conversations, with the same ease and rhythm of a chopping knife.  It’s one of the best arguments I can think of for cooking at home…conversation, learning how to prepare food, togetherness, a well laid foundation.

I feel as though I should apologize for the quietness that has fallen upon this place the last few months.  While I just about physically cringe at the word, ‘busy’, that’s exactly what life has been.  Good busy and bad busy.  The kind that fills your cup, and drains it just as quickly.  I keep looking for things to eliminate each week, to make breathing room (both literally and figuratively), some weeks it’s easy…and others not so much.  What I have found is that being organized seems to help, especially when it comes to my kitchen.  Outside of that, I’m still trying to figure it all out.

How to Meal Prep

Confession:  I am a dismal failure when it comes to meal planning.  In concept it is wonderful and efficient for your  family as well as your budget.  No matter how many times I tried to be successful, it just hasn’t worked.   I craved flexibility.  While I confess to being pretty organized in most areas of our household, the kitchen is not one of them.  I’m a pretty ‘fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants’ kind of girl when it comes to meals.  What all my failures at meal planning taught me is that we eat a lot of different variations of the same meals.  I keep things pretty simple with my cooking, as it seems to be what works best for us.  We have lots of mexican dishes, pizza, pasta, egg dishes, breakfasts for dinner, soups and one bowl suppers.  The running theme is that we have our main item and it’s built upon with whatever fresh fruits and veggies are in season.

How to Meal Prep

All of this insight led me to food prepping.  Each week, I make a rough outline of what I have on hand for meals.  This includes produce, staple items like beans, eggs, or grains as well as ingredients for any baked goods.  From there I fill in the holes by making a list of what needs to be picked up at the grocery store.  Usually, this is largely produce items.  From there I start the prepping…

  • Wash and drain beans…usually black, pinto and garbanzo
  • Wash and chop veggies for snacking, salads and packed lunches
  • Cook any pasta we might be eating that week…be sure to toss it with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking.
  • Bake a sweet treat or two, we especially love these, very simple bites.  For the cookies I will only bake a dozen, then scoop out the cookie dough onto baking sheet, freeze and bag to use for other weeks (I only do this every 2-3 weeks).
  • Make jam
  • Make a jar of green tea or herbal tea concentrate
  • Roast veggies for salads or side dishes
  • Wash and bag lettuce
  • Make any salad dressings, vinaigrettes, salsas, sauces or veggie dips

After all the food baked, washed, cooked, drained and laid out, then I set to labeling.  This may seem a bit over the top, but there is good reason behind it.  My boys are famous for opening the fridge and saying, ‘there’s nothing to eat in here!’  Once I would point out what was in the various fridge containers they were able to assemble whatever snack they were craving.  Now, with the label system, they can see exactly what their choices are and get what they need.

How to Meal Prep

While this may sound like a lot of work, it really isn’t that bad.  I think the most I’ve ever put into it is 90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon.  I start with items that will take longest first (roasted veggies, baked goods) and while they are in the oven, I work on everything else.  I pull the boys in to help too.  Not only does it get them in the kitchen, they are able to contribute their suggestions about our meals for the week.

You may be wondering, is all this work actually worth it?  The times I haven’t taken the time to prep for the week,  regretted it.  I just didn’t realize how much time that little bit of work on Sunday afternoon, was saving me during the week.

What’s the best part about meal prep?  You can completely customize it to your family and budget, and it’s flexible enough for busy families on the go.  I love that if we are headed out the door to a night of soccer games and activities I can throw a quick dinner in one of our lunch containers and take it on the road.  Less nights eating out is always good…for our bodies and our pocketbooks.

How to Meal Prep

Below are a few other tips that have been helpful to me in getting started.  I especially loved the post Tracy over on Shutterbean did on Meal Prep as part of her High Straightenance series.

Invest in some good containers.

I bought a few sets of these.  I like the glass because it’s clear, but also can go right to the microwave.

Start small.

I didn’t add any baked goods until I’d been at it for a couple of weeks.  This is supposed to be a helpful process, not an overwhelming one.

Bag your lettuce.

The first couple of weeks I tried to chop the lettuce for our salads.  It never lasted.  Now I wash it, wrap it in a paper towel and put it in a large ziploc bag. It lasts well over a week, if we don’t polish it off first.

Try it for a month.

It takes time to find your groove with this, and develop your own system.  Give yourself the chance to make it truly work for you.

Do you food/meal prep for your weeks?  I’m still working on perfecting my method, and would love to hear your tips!

 

 

 

Today we woke to another dusting of snow.  While I know many of you have had more snow than you ever thought possible, we have had very little this winter.  For whatever atmospheric reason, snow has passed us over.  Usually, we have 3+ good snows storms a year, sprinkled with a few smaller ones, but this year our grand total is about 5 inches.  Not good.

Chocolate Dipped Clementines

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