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  1. Tuesday, January 29, 2019

    2019 New Year’s Resolution: More Plant-Based Eating

    Each year I pick a New Year’s resolution that ties what I do in the kitchen with some sort of positive environmental impact. (Click here to see past years’ resolutions and related posts.) My 2019 resolution is no different: more plant-based eating. This goes beyond just eating less meat and I have lots of ideas for making this year’s resolution a success!*

    Fresh produce, oat milk and canned beans for the 2019 New Years Resolution for This Week for Dinner More Plant-Based Eating kick-off post

    Over the past year, due to some health reasons, I’ve really changed how I eat (there’s another post about that experience coming soon!). One of the changes has involved finding dairy substitutes. I haven’t given up meat completely, but I have started looking at more plant-based options. Looking for milk alternatives kicked that process off for me and really got me thinking about more plant-based eating overall.

    So why should we care about plant-based eating? Bottom line: animal-based food takes more of a toll on the environment (especially food coming from cows). When you talk about vegetarianism or veganism, many omnivores get nervous and feel like it’s just too hard to make that kind of switch. But focusing on more plant-based eating doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go vegetarian or vegan. There are lots of ways to incorporate plant-based foods and ease yourself into a new way of eating. In addition, looking at where the highest environmental impacts are in the food system and then adjusting from there can have a really big impact, beyond just plant-based foods.

    For example, take a look at the chart below (data taken from an article published in Nature assessing land use changes and climate change). It is both surprising and unsurprising. First, a vegan diet clearly has the smallest negative impact on the environment. But what pops out at me is the impact foods sourced from cows have. A vegetarian that eats dairy has a larger carbon cost than a person who eats poultry and eggs but skips dairy and beef. That is excellent food for thought.

    Chart showing the carbon costs of different diets, with vegan having the smallest carbon footprint

    As I was getting ready for my resolution, I came across a journal article published in Nature. I turned to my friend Dr. Megan O’Rourke, Assistant Professor of Sustainable Food Production Systems at Virginia Tech, with some questions I had. Megan and I have known each other since middle school (in fact I introduced her to her husband of 20+ years!). As Assistant Professor at Virginia Tech, Megan examines the value of biodiversity in agriculture and the environmental impacts of different food systems. Megan’s interest areas include sustainable agriculture, organic production, international development, land use change, and agroecology. She has extensive international and policy experience working with the Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service as the organization’s climate change advisor. In addition, Megan studied farming systems and deforestation in Cambodia where she worked for the United States Agency for International Development as their senior climate change advisor.

    Dr. Megan O'Rourke of Virginia Tech in CambodiaThat’s Megan on the right! This is a photo from when she was in Cambodia. Image Source: Virginia Tech

    As Megan and I got to talking about food issues, I felt like I just couldn’t keep her to myself and, lucky for us, I convinced Megan to contribute to the blog. Now I get to share Megan and all the awesome stuff in her head with you. Welcome, Megan!

    Over the next year (and hopefully longer) I will share tips and tricks for more plant-based eating and Megan will offer her expertise. I’m really excited about this year’s resolution and for you all to join in on the journey.

    To kick things off, here’s a little something from Megan (she does a good job of filling in between the lines of the chart above):

    Recent research is showing how eating a plant-based diet may be good for slowing climate change. You may be thinking, what does a plant-based diet have to do with slowing climate change? Everything we eat has a carbon cost and some foods have lower carbon costs than others. Too much carbon in the atmosphere is what traps solar energy and causes things to heat up. The total carbon cost of food includes how much carbon is directly emitted during production from inputs such as fertilizers, tractor fuel and pesticides. It also includes an opportunity cost for using the land for agriculture.

    The carbon costs of agricultural inputs are pretty straight forward to wrap our heads around; growing stuff takes energy and releases carbon. But understanding carbon opportunity costs is a bit trickier. Think about a forest and a corn field. The forest has much more plant mass than a corn field and stores more carbon, so cutting down a forest to grow corn has a large carbon opportunity cost. If you think about how much land and inputs are required to produce beef (about 2 acres per cow) compared to corn (2 acres for about 20,000 lbs) you start to realize that eating beef requires a lot of land and has a much larger carbon cost than eating a plant-based diet. In fact, one pound of beef has a carbon cost almost 75 times higher than a pound of corn and 40 times higher than a pound of rice. In addition, not all animals are created equal.  The carbon cost of beef is 14 times higher than chicken and nine times higher than pork.

    When we start to compare different diets, we also come up with vastly different carbon costs.  If we compare a typical western diet with a 50% less meat, vegetarian, no beef or dairy, and vegan diets, we find that a vegan diet has the lowest carbon costs.  The total carbon costs of each diet are about 9, 6, 5, 3, and 2 tons of carbon dioxide per year, respectively.

    Now does this mean that everyone should run out and become vegan?  Well, maybe. Climate change is one of the most serious environmental threats facing our planet. But there are, of course, many other things to consider. Lifestyle and proper nutrition are important personal choices. Preference for local foods is another. Animals can be produced on dry hilly grasslands in places like Oklahoma, which are terrible for growing many plant-based foods (remember the dust bowl?). Environmental impacts besides carbon should also be considered. Many more species of birds and plants and insects can coexist with livestock on grazing lands compared to in the typical monoculture crop field. While this new research makes a compelling argument to shift to a more plant-based diet, it’s one more data point to help us make informed choices and navigate our complex food system. — Dr. Megan O’Rourke, Virginia Tech

    *In case you’re wondering. Last year was the first time I completely failed at my This Week for Dinner new year’s resolution. I had planned to learn how to can food. Well, I did not can one piece of food last year. Not one. Nate canned some peppers, so at least a little bit of canning happened in our house. So, nevermind, I totally completed the resolution…by proxy! 😉


  2. Sunday, January 27, 2019

    Week 609 Weekly Menu

    Time for the weekly menu! And I’m sharing a gluten-free Super Bowl menu with you for Sunday! (Yep, I’m officially allergic to wheat. Fun times!)

    Week 609 Weekly Dinner Menu

    MONDAY:
    – Pot roast leftovers

    TUESDAY:
    Chili

    WEDNESDAY:
    Grilled Salmon Tacos with Zesty Slaw

    THURSDAY:
    – Baked Potatoes with toppings

    FRIDAY:
    – Leftovers

    SATURDAY:
    – Eat out night

    SUNDAY: Gluten-Free Super Bowl Menu
    Southwestern Layered Bean Dip with Tortilla Chips
    Gluten-Free Baked Buffalo Wings (use the recipe I linked to but use your favorite 1-for-1 GF flour)
    – Classic onion dip (sour cream + Lipton onion soup mix) with Potato Chips
    – Tossed Salad
    Football-themed Casheweroos

    Side landscape view of football cashew rice Chex treats

    One, two, three, Go! Share your own menus in the comments! And have a great week! And GO PATRIOTS!


  3. Casheweroos: Cashew Rice Chex Treats with Sea Salt (Gluten-Free)

    A few weeks ago, the team from Big G Cereals at General Mills sent a cute football-themed package, complete with Rice Chex and ingredients to make treats for Super Bowl Sunday. I recently learned I have a wheat allergy, which means I can no longer partake of all the delicious baked goods I normally make. As a result, I’m now on the lookout for great wheat-free desserts to try to soothe my wheat-free sorrows. When Nate saw the Chex package, he was like “You should make those scotcheroo bar things.” And I was like, “Remember, I’m allergic to peanuts, too?” UGH. Can I eat nothing??? But then I had a thought: cashew butter. And thus Casheweroos were born! And, while casheweroo is fun to say, it’s super hard to spell, so you can also just call these babies cashew rice Chex treats with sea salt, which is kind of a mouthful, too, actually. I’m apparently really good at naming things.

    Side view of a serving platter with Cashew Rice Chex Treats

    Cashew rice Chex treats are a lot like scotcheroos, except you use cashew butter instead of peanut butter and you sprinkle the top with coarse sea salt to make them extra tasty. Cashew butter is a bit more expensive than peanut butter, but it’s worth it. These treats taste awesome, similar to scotcheroos but without an overpowering peanut flavor, which some people don’t love. This recipe is perfect for people with peanut and/or wheat allergies, too!

    One serving of a cashew rice chex treat

    For the topping I used one bag of chocolate chips. If you want a thicker chocolate layer on top, feel free to double that amount or do a combo of one bag of semisweet chocolate chips with one bag of butterscotch chocolate chips (which will taste more like scotcheroos). No matter how you decide to do the topping on these cashew rice Chex treats, I promise it will taste delicious!

    Top view of cashew rice chex treats topped with coarse sea salt

    Also, if you are making these for Super Bowl Sunday, you can turn the treats into little footballs with a bit of white frosting. Just buy the frosting in a tube to keep it super simple and fast and draw lines on top of each treat like so. Thanks for the great idea, General Mills!

    Top view of Football Cashew Rice Chex Treats, decorated with white frostingSide view of super cute football cashew Rice Chex treatsSide landscape view of football cashew rice Chex treats

    Without further ado I give you Casheweroos!

    Casheweroos: Cashew Rice Chex Treats (Gluten-Free, Peanut-Free)
     
    Prep time
    Total time
     
    These casheweroos are inspired by scotcheroos, that classic treat recipe that uses peanut butter. With no wheat or peanuts to be seen, this recipe is great for people with those allergies.
    Author:
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Serves: 18
    Ingredients
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1 cup corn syrup (light or dark, doesn't matter)
    • 1 cup salted cashew butter
    • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt (if your cashew butter is unsalted, use ½ teaspoon salt instead)
    • 8 cups Rice Chex
    • 1 12-ounce package good quality semisweet chocolate chips (like Ghirardelli or Guittard)*
    • Coarse sea salt
    Instructions
    1. Butter a 9" x 13" baking pan and set aside.
    2. Add Rice Chex to a large mixing bowl and set aside.
    3. Mix the sugar and corn syrup together in a large pot. Cook over medium heat until sugars are melted together. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
    4. Add the cashew butter and ¼ teaspoon salt to the pot and stir until well mixed.
    5. Pour sugar-cashew butter mixture over the cereal in the mixing bowl and stir until well and evenly coated.
    6. Pour cereal mixture into the baking pan and press firmly and evenly into the pan. Getting your hands wet with water helps with the process so the treats don't stick to your fingers as you press.
    7. Place chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl. Cook chocolate chips on high for 30 seconds at a time, stirring at each 30-second interval, cooking until chips are fully melted.
    8. Pour chocolate over the top of the Chex bars, spreading evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle coarse sea salt evenly over the top.
    9. Place in fridge until chocolate hardens, about 30 minutes. Remove from fridge and store at room temperature, covered.
    10. It is much easier to cut the bars if you remove them from the pan and place on a cutting board. Using a knife, cut all around the edge of the pan then carefully lift the treats out of the pan onto the cutting board. Cut into 6 rows by 3 rows.
    Notes
    Optional: If you want a thicker chocolate topping, use two bags of chocolate chips. If you want the topping to taste more like the original scotcheroo treat that inspired this recipe, use one bag of chocolate chips and one bag of butterscotch chips.

     


  4. Sunday, January 20, 2019

    Week 608 Weekly Menu

    Hi everyone! Just gonna be quick and drop by dinner menu for you. Here we go…

    Week 608 Weekly Dinner Menu: Monday Disneyland; Tuesday Tortellini; Wednesday Leftovers; Thursday Pesto Chicken Salad; Friday Disneyland; Saturday Club Sandwiches; Sunday Pot Roast

    MONDAY:
    – Second to last trip to Disneyland (passes expiring soon and we have two days off school this week, so perfect!)

    TUESDAY:
    Bertucci’s Tortellini
    – Salad

    WEDNESDAY:
    – Leftovers

    THURSDAY:
    – Pesto Chicken Salad Sandwiches

    FRIDAY:
    – Last trip to Disneyland with our annual passes!

    SATURDAY:
    – Grilled Turkey Club Sandwiches

    SUNDAY:
    – Pressure Cooker Pot Roast
    – Potatoes and Carrots

    You know the drill: PLEASE post your own meal plans in the comments below! They are so appreciated by myself and others. Keep it coming! And have a great week!


  5. Sunday, January 13, 2019

    Week 607 Weekly Dinner Menu

    Hello, everyone! Just now getting to my weekly menu planning because I’m still on my konmari kick. It feels good to clean out and organize but man am I sick of cleaning out and organizing. 😉 ANYWAY…time to get this week’s dinner plans in gear.

    Week 607 Weekly Dinner Menu from This Week for Dinner: Red beans and rice, chicken soup, asian salad and more

    MONDAY:
    Red Beans & Rice

    TUESDAY:
    – Chicken Soup with Rice

    WEDNESDAY:
    Pat’s Asian Chicken Salad
    – Nate and I are going to see David Sedaris! Can’t wait!

    THURSDAY:
    – Leftovers

    FRIDAY:
    Pesto Chicken Salad Sandwiches

    SATURDAY:
    – Eat out night

    SUNDAY:
    Pressure Cooker Pot Roast
    – Potatoes and Carrots

    You know the drill…please share your own meal plans in the comments! Thank you! Have a great week!


  6. Friday, January 11, 2019

    Friday Show & Tell: I Caught the Tidy Bug and It Feels Great!

    Marie Kondo and her magical tidying-up ways are all the rage…again. AND WITH GOOD REASON. Have you seen her new show on Netflix? It’s wonderful, both because there are tons of great tips and inspiration and Marie Kondo is the cutest human and you’ll totally fall in love with her.

    Photo of Marie Kondo from Netflix's new show "Tidying Up" | Photo Credit Denise Crew/NetflixPhoto credit: Denise Crew/Netflix

    Last week the kids and I visited two of my aunts while we traipsing around the West in our minivan. Both of these aunts have very tidy homes (I know for a fact at least one of them read Marie’s book years ago). Stepping into their homes and finding my way around their kitchens/cleaning supplies/whatever was no problem because everything was so organized, logical and easy to see. While all of it was inspiring, the thing that really stuck with me was my Aunt Barb’s pantry shelves. Sure, they looked great, but more importantly I noticed that she very clearly only stocks the foods she uses on a regular basis. I know, DUH. This should be obvious, but I had so much food I’ve kept for years (and even moved from house to house) that I was never going to use. So, I came home and immediately started cleaning out my food drawers and shelves.

    Photo of my newly-organized kitchen food shelves

    Then Nate told me that Marie Kondo had a new show on Netflix called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. We bought her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up years ago but I never read it. It seemed the fates were trying to tell me something, what with the tidy aunties and the tidy TV show converging on me. Anna and I watched a few episodes over the weekend and, well, I’ve been an organizing Tasmanian devil all week.

    I didn’t do any before-the-tidying-frenzy photos, but I did take some after shots! (On my iPhone so my photography is, well, not awesome…but whatever, this isn’t a photography lesson, amiright? I’m tired after all this cleaning, too tired to pick up my heavy camera.)

    Organizing The Kitchen

    Newly-organized canned goods shelf as inspired by Marie Kondo

    Most every shelf, cabinet and drawer got cleaned out and organized this week. Previously all my canned goods resided in the drawer you see below. Which means I couldn’t see all the cans easily. But also I hardly ever used anything that was in that drawer, the drawer that happens to be the most accessible in my kitchen. Out all the cans went (holy crap some of them were old…you can see the rings from a leaky, rusty can in the drawer that I couldn’t clean off!), and I put the good cans of food on a shelf in the garage, where everything is super easy to see and, therefore, actually useful. I put things in drawer-previously-known-as-the-useless-canned-food-drawer that we use on a regular basis and even ended up with room to spare. (One of my favorite things in life are empty spaces in closets and drawers!) This is only one major change that happened in the kitchen this week…I won’t bore you with the rest, but needless to say using my kitchen is now 100% easier.

    One of my food storage drawers, newly organized and much easier to use

    Clothing

    We’re not quite done cleaning out everyone’s clothes, but most of it is done. The way Marie Kondo folds clothes is fantastic. Owen knows how to do it now and was super excited to organize his drawers. As I went through all his shirts with him there was one that he never wears and I was surprised when he said he wanted to keep it. When I asked him why he never wears it he said, “Because I can’t ever see it.” Now he can see all his shirts, again making the things we have more useful! I am really hoping as we get into the normal routine of life we can maintain this folding technique when doing laundry because it is awesome. I’ll keep you posted!

    My son's t-shirt drawer, with all the clothes folded the Marie Kondo way

    Bathrooms

    Every single drawer and shelf in both our bathrooms was completely emptied and then organized. Like food, there was stuff in there we hadn’t touched in ages (sometimes over a decade!). We went from completely stuffed cabinets and drawers to having room to spare. Again, everything is viewable and therefore more useful. Here’s our medicine cabinet, organized by category. It’s like a pharmacy!

    Our newly-organzied medicine cabinet, one that would make any pharmacist happy!

    Everything Else

    I cleaned out closets, linens, shoes, you name it. Here’s my cloth napkin drawer, where now I have room for dish cloths and my vacuum attachments. This drawer is like a whole new person (you know, if drawers were people).

    Cloth napkin drawer after going through the Marie Kondo method

    We kept the things we use regularly as well as those things that spark joy, we recycled/tossed/donated everything else, and then we tidied up. And it was the best use of my time in our home in a long time. Thanks Aunt Sue, Aunt Barb and Marie Kondo!

    Happy New Year and Happy Tidying!


  7. Sunday, January 6, 2019

    Week 606 Weekly Dinner Menu

    Happy New Year! Might I suggest meal planning as a resolution? I’ll share my own food-and-the-environment resolution in the next week or two!

    Week 606 Weekly Dinner Menu for week of 1/7/19: Monday - Tacos; Tuesday - Fajita Rice Bowls; Wednesday - Crispy Coconut Chicken; Thursday - Leftovers; Friday - Chicken Soup with Rice; Saturday - Hors D'Oeuvres Night; Sunday - Fettuccine Alfredo

    MONDAY:
    Cora’s Ground Beef Tacos

    TUESDAY:
    – Fajita Rice Bowls

    WEDNESDAY:
    – Crispy Coconut Chicken (stealing this idea from Vicki’s menu last week!)

    THURSDAY:
    – Leftovers

    FRIDAY:
    Chicken Soup with Rice

    SATURDAY:
    – Hors D’Oeuvres Extravaganza (have a few friends over that night, details TBD)

    SUNDAY:
    – Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo
    – Salad

    Your turn! Share those weekly meal plans in the comments below! (Remember, it’s the best new year’s resolution ever, and posting your menu here each week is a great way to stay accountable. Just sayin’.)