“Ok, what should we have for dinner?” Possibly one of the most frustrating questions. After spending a long day working, sometimes figuring out what we are going to eat for dinner is one decision too many. It can be exhausting.
Sometimes I wish I just could snag someone else’s weekly dinner plan. I mean, our family isn’t the only family eating dinner. Why not take a page out of someone else’s book?
Here is what we had for a week of dinners:
Sunday– Steaks on the grill, baked potatoes with sour cream, blistered shishito peppers.
Ok guys, it has been exactly 9 years since we bought our house. 9 years ago today Matt went to a title company and signed a bazillion documents to become a homeowner at the age of 23. I still remember this night 9 years ago so vividly. We got takeout from Culver’s and sat in the living room floor since we had no furniture (where I am sitting as I write this except on a couch) and we talked about how wonderful life would be now that we owned a house.
And life has been wonderful since we became homeowners. Buying this house has been the best financial decision we have ever made. We bought this house after the real estate market had crashed so we have been lucky to have an incredibly low mortgage payment. This place holds so many memories. This is the house I moved into after Matt and I got married. Where we brought home Pancake. Where we found out that we would be parents. Where we brought home our three children. Where JR, Maxie, and Eloise said their first words, took their first steps, had their first laughs. Where Matt started his YouTube channel. Built a sawmill. Where we dug ditches in the rain for our patio. Where we ripped down walls and walls of wood paneling. Where Matt and I have had our biggest fights and our biggest laughs.
But this house is now too small for us. And it has been for almost 3 years. Three years ago we started to look for our forever house. A house on 10 plus acres. Acres that aren’t just a flat field or tillable land. Two stories. Three bedrooms on the top level. That is it. That is our “must have” list. After three LONG years, we had not put an offer on anything (minus one house in the first month).
Until this weekend. This weekend we found 20 wooded acres in Lino Lakes which would be perfect to build our forever house. It has woods. It has cleared areas. It is only 20 minutes to downtown St. Paul. It is located in the town with the most lenient ordinances for accessory structures we have ever seen. The mayor called me back in under a half hour when I called to get some information about the town (and he was quite nice). We put an offer on it. For the first time in three years, we finally had found a place worth moving to.
Today, on the anniversary of buying our current house, our first offer in three years was rejected. The buyers of the lot decided to accept another offer.
It hurt. The denial made me sad, of course. But honestly, it really just made me feel exhausted. Because there is no doubt that our house is too small for us. The boys literally share a bed. Eloise sleeps in a crib tucked away in a corner of our bedroom. Every corner of our basement is filled with stacked wood. The driveway has a freaking sawmill on it. We are trying so desperately to move. Yet, it feels like we are forever trapped in this tiny house that needs so many updates that we put off doing for three years because we were going to move.
So today, I let myself wallow a bit over the reality that we are going to live in our current house for the foreseeable future. But I also made myself play over the memory in my head this day 9 years ago. Right after we closed on this property. When Matt and I sat in this living room and dreamed of our future in this house as we ate Culver’s french fries. It’s been much longer than we both anticipated. But it’s been way richer and way happier than we could have ever imagined.
There are some little things about raising our babies that I never want to forget. Like our bedtime routine. When we put the boys to bed, I will tell them a bedtime story that I make up. Every story starts the same: There once were two little boys. And they were so beautiful. And so kind. And so smart. And they were brave. And they were strong. And they went on an adventure…”
The boys typically ask that the story revolve around looking for pirates, that they find a pirate ship and eat ice cream, and that they go back home and tell me all about their adventure. I have told some version of this story hundreds of times. Some nights it is too late to tell the little boy story, and sometimes I am so tired from a day of crazy, wild boys refusing to listen for the majority of the day that I want to skip it. But I know someday that JR and Maxie will go to bed, and they won’t beg for me to tell the little boy story. And then someday I won’t even remember what the little boy story was even about. And I’m not sure which make me more sad. So most nights, I tell the little boy story.
JR and Maxie’s obsession with pirates has extended to most areas of our life, including mealtime. Forks and spoons are now swords. Then one day they asked to eat the same food that pirates eat. I had already planned to make something with ground beef. I just didn’t know what. So I decided to find something new that I had never made. That way, the boys would get their pirate food and I could branch out with ground beef recipes. And that is how I ended up making Greek meatballs. Yes, I am aware that Greek food is not pirate food. But Greece is on the water so close enough for my toddlers.
These meatballs are an excellent twist to my typical Italian ones. I paired them with Greek-style rice (ie: white rice cooked with white onions doused with lemon juice and sprinkled with oregano and garlic) and the Mediterranean bean salad. And dipped everything with hummus and tzatziki sauce. It may not be an authentic pirate meal. But my two pirates cleaned their plates.
1 pound ground beef
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup milk
1 yellow onion grated (yep, grated)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons oregano
1.5 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoons pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grab your cheese grater and grate the onion over a plate so you can collect the juices. Then mix the grated onion with its juices with the breadcrumbs and milk in a large bowl.
Combine with egg, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper. Toss beef into the bowl and then form into golfball sized meatballs.
Place each meatball into a baking sheet.
Drizzle the melted butter over the meatballs (if you have any fresh herbs, toss with the butter. I didn’t so no herb butter for us).
Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Serve with the butter from the pan.
This weekend we walked 40 acres that is for sale. Matt had been eyeing this property for quite a while and finally convinced me to see it. Within the first couple of minutes, I got why Matt wanted us to see this. The land reminded me so much of the walking trails and bluffs in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where Matt and I met. The property is a great mix of forest, ravines, and open spaces. Matt, the boys, Ellie, and I walked the land, and Matt showed me where the house would be built, where the shop and sawmill would go, where we would build a treehouse. It felt like the land was destined to be ours.
But then we started reading the township ordinances. And holy hell, there were so many. Ordinances mandating that you can’t build an accessory building before a primary residence. Ordinances about not allowing you to run a business from your property. We would need so many variances. Honestly, it makes me crabby. People should not be jerks and be considerate of their neighbors. People should also be able to do what they want with their land.
Based on what we heard from the township, it doesn’t look good that they would give us any variances. It feels like we may be back to the drawing board. After 3 long years of looking for a new house, it’s exhausting. So many people have accused us of having too high of expectations but honestly, our “must have” list consists of very little: 2 stories, at least 3 bedrooms on top level, on more than 5 acres, acres are not just an open field. That’s it. I don’t feel like we are asking for too much. It just feels like it isn’t out there. Which seems unreasonable. Sigh.
So sometimes you just need an easy win. Everyone likes chicken. And an excuse to open a bottle of wine on a Wednesday. This recipe checks both those boxes, tastes incredible, and can be made in under 30 minutes.
1 pound chicken, tenders or breast, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, unsalted
1-2 leeks, sliced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/6 cup white wine
If you are using chicken breasts, slice them down the middle so they are thinner. If you are using tenders, those should be thin enough. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper on both sides.
Grab a large skillet and toss 1 tablespoon of butter and 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil into the skillet. Melt over medium heat. Once melted, add in chicken. Cook for 3-4 minutes and then flip and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Do not clutter the skillet so you’ll want to probably divide the chicken, cook it, remove from skillet and place into a covered plate to stay warm. Then cook the second half. Remove second round of chicken from skillet and keep warm in the covered plate.
In same skillet, add in the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter to melt. Add in leeks and mushrooms and cook until mushrooms are soft and leeks are limp–around 5 minutes.
Add in wine and cook for about 2 minutes. Mix in heavy cream and cook until sauce gets thicker. If you want extra thick, add in another tablespoon of butter. Place chicken back into the skillet and toss until chicken is warm and well-mixed with sauce and veggies.
Serve chicken covered with the sauce, leeks, and mushroom. Enjoy!
Thanks to the pandemic and stay-at-home orders, I am working in the basement these days. So the commute has reduced from a 30-40 minute drive home to 30-40 second walk up the stairs. I could use the extra half hour to make a more labor intensive dinner. And sometimes I do. But honestly, I don’t always have it in me. Sometimes I need an easy win that still feels like a solid meal.
Enter: sheet plan meals. Single sheet pan meals are all over Pinterest and for good reason. They are so gosh dang easy to prep. Outside of cutting veggies, you can toss all the food on a pan, swoosh it around, and pop it in the oven–all while a baby is glued to your hip.
We tested out this shrimp fajita sheet pan meal and it was a huge hit. We will definitely making this again–especially once I go back to work in the office. This entire meal can be made under a half hour, which is a game changer when you walk in the front door around 7:00 p.m. each weeknight. Give it a try and let me know what you think!
1 1/2- 2 pounds of shrimp, peeled (I just grabbed a bag from the frozen section and dumped the entire bag in)
3 bell peppers, thinly sliced (mix between red, yellow, and orange)
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
squeeze of lime
any and all taco/fajita toppings–for us–guacamole, salsa, and sour cream are musts
Preheat oven to 450 degrees
Grab a large bowl and toss together everything but the lime, tortillas and toppings (so the last three ingredients)
Once well coated, distribute across a sprayed cookie sheet.
Cook for 8 minutes. Then turn to broil and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until shrimp are done.
Once out of oven, squeeze the lime juice over the cooked fajita insides.
Toss insides into tortilla shells and top with all the delicious toppings you have.