This Week’s Menu: Strategic Shopping

Japanese golden curry with chicken & vegetables

Chili pork sauce with rice is back on the menu again this week because we didn’t have it last week. Why? Because when I went out the freezer to get the pork chops . . . there were no pork chops (so we had noodles with pork sauce instead). We also didn’t get to have the Shakshuka last week (fried rice got bumped to Sunday) so will have it on Sunday.

This week’s Big Shop will be strategic, not just because we are out of so much, but because the small freezer we keep out in the garage started shutting down this past weekend. We have no idea why, but something seemed to be tripping the GFCI plug – our hypothesis is that it was the higher than normal humidity we experienced last week, but until we know for sure if it’s a temporary problem with the outlet, or something going haywire with the freezer, we’re going to buy less this week and store it in the limited freezer space we have inside.

So, this week’s menu will use up as much as possible of the little we have leftover from last month’s shopping and our Big Shop won’t be so big this time. If the freezer is shot, we’ll most likely be doing Small Shops at Costco once a week instead of our usual once a month trip.

Here’s what’s on the menu this week:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Spaghetti w/marinara and meatballs; roasted mixed vegetables
  • Wednesday: Grilled fish tacos with mango salsa; yellow rice
  • Thursday: Chili pork sauce; steamed rice; coleslaw
  • Friday: Grilled chicken wings; onion rings; wilted cucumber salad
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Shakshuka; couscous; cucumbers
  • Monday: Chicken & vegetable curry; steamed basmati rice

We’ll be shopping for zucchini, cucumbers, and tomatoes this week at the farmers’ market, as well as bananas and a papaya. We’ll be picking up other fresh vegetables when we’re at Costco.

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This Week’s Menu: An International Week

Shakshuka (no olives or cheese for us though)

This week our menu features dishes from around the world, or at least from several different cultures. I didn’t start out planning any such thing, and was surprised when I realized what I had done.

Mabo dofu and fried rice are both Chinese dishes, but we make the mabo dofu Japanese-style, using Cook Do sauce, from Japan. The fried rice, which YaYu makes, is more authentically Chinese, and contains minced vegetables, diced ham, and scrambled eggs and is flavored with oyster sauce. The Polish sausages and cabbage are eastern European, but our dinner is probably more American style, with the sausages grilled and the cabbage roasted. The Spicy Steak Pizzaiola is Italian, although the recipe I use actually comes from Weight Watchers. I usually make the Mexican chili-pork sauce for burritos, but since we don’t have tortillas right now I’ve decided to serve it over rice instead. Shakshuka is a north African egg dish, with the eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. Finally, we’ll finish the week with all-American sloppy joes!

It’s going to be a very tasty week! And, with YaYu home all week, I’ll have help in the kitchen, and most likely no leftovers.

Here’s this week’s menu:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Grilled beef Polish sausages; roasted cabbage; country bread (no bread for me)
  • Wednesday: Mabo dofu; steamed rice; cucumbers (I’ll just have the sauce and cucumbers)
  • Thursday: Spicy steak pizzaiola; garlic bread; grilled zucchini (I’m skipping the bread)
  • Friday: Chili pork sauce; yellow rice; cole slaw (no rice for me)
  • Saturday: Fried rice with vegetables and ham (not sure what I’m having)
  • Sunday: Shakshuka; couscous (no couscous for me)
  • Monday: Sloppy Joes; chips; coleslaw (just sloppy joe and coleslaw for me, no bread or chips)

We’ll hopefully be able to get zucchini this week at the farmers’ market, along with cucumbers, parsley, jalapeños (for the Shakshuka), and a papaya.

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Farmers’ Market Finds

Even though we always go to the Kapaa farmers’ market every week with a list, we can’t or won’t always find what we’re looking for or need. For example, the farmer that always has zucchini has not been at the market the past two weeks, and no one else sells zucchini. Yesterday we wanted to buy mung bean sprouts but the “sprout lady” wasn’t there.

Our weekly budget for the market is $20. We used to budget and spend more, but finally figured out we didn’t need so much, and that if we did buy a lot things would often spoil before we could use them. So, we started only bringing $20 with us each week, which has been more than enough. Whatever is leftover each week from the $20 goes into our change/$1 bill jar.

Last week we were able to find everything we wanted, but yesterday we had to get a bit more creative as many farmers were no-shows for some reason. Still, we made some great finds and got some great deals.

Here’s what we bought the past two weeks:

Week 1:

  • 2 bundles bok choy: $4.00
  • 1 bundle Japanese eggplants: $2.00
  • 1 dragonfruit: $2.00
  • 1 papaya: $1.50
  • 2 cucumbers: $2.00
  • 1 bag of small tomatoes: $3.00
  • 1 bundle winged beans: Free, a gift from the farmer
  • 1 bunch carrots: $2.00

Total: $16.50

This is a pretty typical shop for us. We bought most of it from one farmer, who gave us the winged beans as a thank you. The dragonfruit and papaya were purchased from other farmers – we always check around to find the best price when we buy fruit because it’s pretty much all the same.

Week 2:

  • Giant bunch of fresh edamame: $5.00
  • 1 small kabocha pumpkin: $4.00
  • 1 papaya: $1.00
  • 2 bunches apple bananas (9 total):$3.50

Total: $13.50

The old woman at the stand where we bought the pumpkin tried to charge $5 for it, but her son walked over and told us it was just $4.00 (like it said on the sign). The fresh edamame was a surprise – very few farmers grow it here. The farmer yesterday told us her friend had given her some seeds a few years ago and now the edamame was growing like crazy! Five dollars for as much as we got was a steal. We’ll have some along with the grilled teriyaki chicken and simmered pumpkin this week, and the rest will be for snacks. We were disappointed that the “sprout lady” wasn’t there because we need mung beans for Sunday’s dinner, but we will stop by Big Save on Saturday and pick some up there. They’re the same price, but we like buying directly from the farmer.

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This Week’s Menu: Pasta Overload

Kabocha no nimono (Japanese simmered pumpkin)

We’ve got a LOT of leftover cooked pasta to use up this week. YaYu and a teammate made w-a-y too much last Friday evening for the number of people who came to the XC team dinner here at our house, which left us with all the leftovers to use up. YaYu will be taking pasta for her lunch a couple of days this week (there was also lots of leftover marinara sauce), and it will be used in a couple of dinners as well. I’m going to make chicken soup in the slow cooker next Monday, but instead of adding noodles or rice I’ll slip in some pasta at the end for Brett and YaYu. Brett has been doing his part as well, and has already had a couple of pasta lunches.

I’m very excited about buying a kabocha pumpkin this week at the farmers’ market. I’ve seen them for sale the past couple of weeks, and have been dying to make kabocha no nimono, or Japanese-style simmered pumpkin. Our daughter-in-law has fixed this for us in the past and we loved it, so this will be my chance to try it on my own. A great thing about kabocha is that you don’t have to peel it – as it simmers the peel softens and can be easily chewed.

Lots of Asian-y dishes are on the menu this week, so YaYu is thrilled. She’ll be making the egg drop soup next Sunday, one of her favorite things to make and eat, but the rest will be up to me.

  • Tuesday (this evening): Mabo nasu; steamed rice; cucumber salad (I’m skipping the rice)
  • Wednesday: Grilled Italian sausages; sauteed peppers and onions; pasta (just sausage and peppers for me)
  • Thursday: Lumpia; steamed rice; Asian-y coleslaw (no rice for me)
  • Friday: Leftovers (spaghetti dinner for YaYu)
  • Saturday: Grilled teriyaki chicken; Japanese simmered pumpkin (kabocha); zaru soba (I’m going to have zoodles instead of soba for dipping(
  • Sunday: Egg foo yung (with chicken instead of shrimp); egg drop soup; steamed rice; cucumbers (no rice for me)
  • Monday: Slow cooker chicken-vegetable soup with pasta (I’ll serve mine before the pasta is added)

Besides the kabocha, we’ll also be picking up some more cucumbers, zucchini, bananas, papaya, and mung bean sprouts. Everything else we need for the week we already have on hand.

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This Week’s Menu: Cooking For a Fussy Eater

Slow cooker barbecue pulled pork sandwiches – both Brett and YaYu add coleslaw to their sandwich.

There is no way to get around it: YaYu is a fussy eater. She’s a good eater, but she has become very outspoken in her preferences lately and it’s frankly beginning to drive me a little nuts. It seems that unless I am fixing spicy Asian food, there’s always something wrong with whatever I fix.

YaYu is lactose intolerant, and I work hard to make sure there’s no dairy in any of the food she is served. We also know that because she didn’t join our family until age five, her taste preferences were already set, unlike the other girls, including her love of very spicy food. She has also chosen food preferences as a means of expressing her Asian identity, which both Brett and I support. Still, this is something new for me because both Meiling and WenYu have always eaten anything you put in front of them, as does Brett. Our son was a somewhat picky eater when he was young, but not to this extent.

I’ve told her that I will try to accommodate some of her food preferences, but that there are other times I am going to cook things her dad and I like, like the slow cooker chicken adobo that’s coming up later this week. I know I’ll also catch some grief over the turkey Waldorf salad and the grilled chicken skewers . I’ve told her I’m not a short-order cook and will not be preparing anything special or different for her – if she doesn’t like what’s for dinner, she is welcome to not have any. So far she hasn’t taken advantage of that offer.

This is a whole new thing for me though, dealing with a fussy, critical eater. It may be just a teenage thing, and will pass once she heads off to college. I’d love any suggestions you have for how to deal with this!

Here’s what for dinner this week:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Stir-fried broccoli and tofu in spicy peanut sauce; steamed rice (skipping the rice)
  • Wednesday: Turkey Waldorf salad; country bread (no bread for me)
  • Thursday: Grilled chicken and vegetable skewers; pilaf (no pilaf for me)
  • Friday: Leftovers for Brett and me (spaghetti dinner for YaYu)
  • Saturday: Slow cooker barbecued pulled pork sandwiches; cole slow (just pork for me, no bread)
  • Sunday: Omelets; bacon; blueberry muffins; fruit (no muffin for me)
  • Monday: Slow cooker chicken adobo with bok choy; steamed rice (skipping the rice)

We didn’t go to the farmers’ market last week, but this week we’ll be getting bok choy, zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, a papaya and anything else that looks good and fits into the budget.

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Conveniently Eating In Japan

A fun, but often overlooked place to find tasty and affordable meals in Japan is at neighborhood convenience stores (7-Eleven, Lawsons and FamilyMart are the top three). Called konbini in Japan, these small markets are seemingly located just about everywhere and are easy to find. Besides the typical convenience store offerings of drinks, snacks, medicines and other items, convenience stores also have a large selection of freshly prepared foods at very reasonable prices. If you’re traveling in Japan on a budget, a meal from a convenience store can be had for $10 or less.

The biggest difference between the  foods found in Japanese convenience stores and those found in the U.S. is the quality and the variety. In Japan, prepared foods are for the most part stocked fresh every day because they have to be – go into a convenience store in the late afternoon or evening and your selection will be very limited as most everything in the that section will have already been purchased. The quality of the food is also much higher than what you’ll find in a U.S. convenience store.

Here are some of the best and tastiest items or meals (IMO) you can find at Japanese convenience stores:

Oden is a hearty and filling stew filled with various items such as potatoes, boiled eggs, fishcakes, and other items that are served in light dashi broth. It’s usually only available in cold weather. You’ll be charged by the number of items you select.

Karaage is fried chicken Japanese-style, with bite-sized pieces of tender thigh meat twice fried in a lightly-seasoned batter. You can buy it on its own or as part of a bento. Karaage and potato salad is my all-time favorite convenience store meal.

Potato salad all on its own can be a pretty tasty meal as well. Potato salad in Japan traditionally includes very thinly-sliced cucumber and carrot, and the potatoes are nearly fully mashed. It’s amazingly delicious.

Nikuman are Chinese-style steamed buns filled with savory pork and vegetables. They’re big enough on their own for a meal. Pizza- or curry-flavored buns are also popular. Nikuman are kept warm in a steamy case located next to the cash register.

Maybe the most popular food item in any store, onigiri are triangular Japanese rice balls wrapped with seaweed, but inside are different fillings, such as pickled plums, salmon, tuna salad, etc. They’re very popular and very convenient, and more filling than you might think. The plastic wrapper folds back to use as a holder.

Sandwiches range from ones Westerners can easily recognize to some many would find quite weird (like a hot dog roll filled with yakisoba noodles). Dessert sandwiches are now a thing, and are made with whipped cream and fresh fruit. YaYu had one on our last trip and proclaimed it extremely delicious.

Korokke (croquettes) are tasty and satisfying fried mashed potato cakes with other ingredients added which can include cheese, vegetables, seafood and so forth.

Gyoza are Chinese potstickers, typically sold in groups of five. They’re wildly popular in Japan, are found in any market, and can be eaten hot or cold (hot is better).

Convenience markets carry a huge array of bentos, too many to name here. They usually run around $7 or $8 dollars, but can cost more or less depending on the size of the bento and what’s included. Most come with rice, but some have noodles for the starch.

There are lots of higher end places to eat sushi in Japan, but the packages found in convenience stores are perfectly good if you are wanting it.

Yakisoba is fried noodles which are tossed with a Worchester-like sauce. They are usually fried with cabbage and onion, and sometimes have a small amount of protein like shrimp or chicken, but the noodles also available plain, like in the above photo. They’re always served with slivers of red pickled ginger called beni shoga. A small serving of yakisoba noodles is also sometimes included as a side dish in a bento.And of course, convenience stores are where you can pick up all sorts of snack items, Japanese candy (including KitKats!), and all sorts of amazing cold and hot drinks!

Convenience stores also always carry a big selection of ice cream treats, and what’s available will vary from store to store. They are affordable and always worth checking out!

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This Week’s Menu: If I Only Knew

The thrill is gone (actually, my stomach would hate me if I had some of this).

I’m not sure if this has anything to do with menu planning, but here goes . . .

I have struggled with my weight for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, keeping my weight down was all about appearance, but in the last couple of decades weight control has been less about being thin and more about feeling good. When I’m carrying around too much extra weight I don’t feel good. When I’m overweight my joints ache, the bursitis in my hip flares up something fierce, and I just generally feel sluggish and out of sorts.

Over the years I have counted calories and counted points in an effort to shed pounds. I’ve followed the Atkins plan, eaten a lot of grapefruit, and tried the Scarsdale plan and Jenny Craig meals without any noticeable results. Nothing lasted for very long, and any weight I lost quickly reappeared when I went “off plan.” I was obsessed with food and eating, always trying to find the “right” formula,.

And yet here I am now losing weight at a rate of around two pounds a month, and I’m not even trying. After all these years, why now? I gave up carbs/starches early in the year because of a stomach issue (GERD) and a rapid weight gain (three to five pounds per month no matter what or how little I ate). I expected to lose a few pounds at first, but the continued steady weight loss has been an unexpected but welcome side effect. I have no idea how long it will last.

Losing weight, or wanting to lose weight, is a curious thing. It’s also a very personal thing, unique to each individual, and what works for one person doesn’t for the next. My weight has been a frustrating struggle for most of my life. but in this past year it seems I have finally made peace with my body, both inside and out.

OK, back to menu planning . . .

This week for dinner we’re having:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Grilled chicken thighs; broccoli-raisin salad; bread (the salad has been requested again. Also, no bread for me)
  • Wednesday: Turkey divan casserole (turkey, cheese and broccoli for me)
  • Thursday: Hot turkey sandwiches; stuffing; steamed broccoli (I won’t be having bread, but I will have 1/4 cup of stuffing because I have to)
  • Friday: Leftovers for Brett and me (team spaghetti dinner for YaYu)
  • Saturday: Slow cooker honey-sriracha chicken wings; steamed rice; Japanese cucumber salad (I’m skipping the rice, and hoping the wings aren’t too spicy)
  • Sunday: Breakfast for dinner: scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, fruit (no toast for me)
  • Monday: Slow-cooker beef & broccoli; steamed rice (no rice for me)

We’ll be needing cucumbers, bok choy, papayas and bananas at the farmers’ market. We’ve gotten broccoli at the market the past couple of weeks, but we can’t count on it so are going to buy a big bag of the florets at Costco tomorrow.

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This Week’s Menu: Cucumber Salads

Cucumber & Dill Salad – I love the look of red onion with the cucumbers.

If you’ve been reading our weekly menus for a while, you’ve probably noticed that cucumbers show up A LOT, either on their own or in salads. Not only are they one of our favorite vegetables, but the cucumbers we buy at the farmers’ market are unlike any we’ve eaten elsewhere. They’re always sweet (you can eat the peel), crispy, and very, very delicious. We usually buy at least three cucumbers every week at the market, and they’re available year-round.

Sometimes all I do is cut them up and we have them plain with dinner, but other times I’ll make them into a salad. The easiest salad to pull together is one we call Japanese Cucumber Salad. Sliced cucumbers are tossed with thinly sliced onion, rice vinegar, a little dark sesame oil, salt, pepper and allowed to marinate for at least a half hour before eating.

Japanese cucumbers are the variety most often found at the farmers’ market.

Another favorite salad along this theme is this one from Mavis at 100 Dollars A Month: Cucumber and Dill Salad. This is another easy salad to whip up before dinner and goes well with savory foods, grilled chicken or sausage. There’s usually none of this left over, but I made it once when our son was visiting and his comment was that I had ruined a perfectly good bowl of cucumbers with the addition of the dill (not his favorite flavor). Wilted Cucumber Salad is another favorite, and has a tangy sweet & sour taste, but it needs to be prepared earlier in the day if we’re going to have it with our dinner because the pickles not only need to wilt but have time to chill. These cucumbers basically become pickles, and besides eating them as a salad, we also like to tuck them into sandwiches. I actually use the recipe from Molly Katzen’s Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook, but the one I’ve linked to is very close (and without the dill).

One salad we’re not eating these days is cucumbers mixed with sour cream, a little vinegar and salt & pepper. It’s one of my all-time favorites, but with Brett allergic to dairy, and YaYu lactose intolerant, sour cream doesn’t come into the house any more.

Anyway, here’s what we’re having this week:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Grilled cheeseburgers; onion rings (sadly no roll or onion rings for me)
  • Wednesday: Grilled chicken & vegetable kabobs; pilaf (I’m skipping the pilaf)
  • Thursday: Asian-flavored pulled pork sandwiches; cucumbers (no sandwich roll for me)
  • Friday: Leftovers for Brett and me (YaYu will be at the team spaghetti dinner, carbing up)
  • Saturday: Grilled Polish sausages; roasted cabbage; cucumber & dill salad
  • Sunday: Scotch eggs; fruit; toast for Brett & YaYu
  • Monday: Noodles with pork sauce; cucumbers (zoodles for me)

Cucumbers, zucchini, cherry tomatoes and ginger are the only ‘must buys’ at the farmers’ market this week; otherwise, we’ll buy whatever looks good!

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This Week’s Menu: Back In the Saddle

There won’t be cashews in our salad – YaYu doesn’t like them.

I have not menu planned for the past two weeks, and while we managed to get food on the table in one way or another it has not been easy. I had several days during jury duty where I came home and rolled into a ball on the sofa, and let Brett try and throw something together. A couple of days it was just too hot to do anything in the kitchen. And, on other days I got everything ready to go and then discovered neither WenYu or YaYu was going to be home, so that meal would fall apart (there was no need to prepare so much for just Brett and me).

But, I am ready to get back at it again. Planning our meals makes life easier, and not just for the evening a meal is being served. I can think about the leftovers that will be available for YaYu’s lunches. Meal planning makes it easier to plan our shopping, both for the big shop and our weekly trips to the farmer’s market. It helps me know when I need to do what in the kitchen, like defrosting food or preparing sides. Brett tracks his daily calories, and knowing in advance what we’re having for dinner helps him plan his other meals and snacks. And of course, meal planning helps us save.

So, here I go again!

This week we’re having:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Grilled chicken thighs; broccoli raisin salad; pilaf (no pilaf for me)
  • Wednesday: Mabo nasu; steamed rice; cucumbers (I’m not having rice)
  • Thursday: Spaghetti with marinara and meatballs; grilled zucchini; garlic bread (zoodles for me)
  • Friday: Leftovers for Brett and me – YaYu has her first cross-country team spaghetti dinner (we always provide the garlic bread)
  • Saturday: Grilled jalapeño-cheddar bratwurst; sauerkraut; mac salad (I’m going to pick up a small container of salad at Pono Market, enough for Brett and YaYu)
  • Sunday: Chinese stir-fried tomatoes and eggs; steamed rice; cucumber salad (no rice for me)
  • Monday: Grilled chicken and apple sausages; coleslaw; bread (I’m skipping the bread)

Other than tomatoes, cucumbers and a papaya, I’m not sure what we’ll get at the farmers’ market this week. We’ll just see what looks good!

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No Menu Plan Today

I spent an exhausting day yesterday at the courthouse, and have to go back again today. Jury selection is still going on, and I won’t know until the end of today whether I’ll be chosen for the jury or not. Over half of the original jury pool was dismissed yesterday, but there are still plenty of us to go through. On the plus side, the chilly courthouse was delightful.

The trial is going to be very complex and will probably last more than a week. It will be exhausting for those selected. If I am seated I am going to turn the cooking duties over to Brett and the girls, and they can fix what they want for our dinners. If I’m not chosen I’ll try to get a menu plan up on Wednesday.

By the way, there is no cafeteria at the courthouse – just two vending machines, one with water and sodas, and the other with candy bars and chips. There is no place to eat or buy food within walking distance of the courthouse either, and no place to store food. I about starved yesterday because all I brought with me was a small container of mixed nuts. Another juror took pity on me and gave me some teriyaki beef from the plate lunch she had gone out to get (Brett had the car so the girls could get to work, etc.). I also didn’t know we could bring bottled water into the courtroom, so I ended up buying two bottles of water from the vending machine, at $2/bottle – ouch!! I will be better prepared today, will bring along something more substantial that I can tuck into my bag, and will refill the water bottles here at home with filtered water before I go.

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