Get on the Meal Train Train: Why to Join and What to Bring

When a coworker first offered to set up a meal train for our family when HEB was born, I was hesitant. Sure we had a new baby but I wasn’t incapable of making meals. Tyler wasn’t either. This brand baby honestly didn’t do anything. He just slept, cried, ate constantly, pooped constantly and all the other baby past time faves. Sure, we were changing diapers every hour and each feeding lasted 45 minutes and occurred every 2 hours but I wasn’t exactly busy per se.  I felt like we were taking advantage of people’s generosity and excitement over our new cutie.

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Haines on Christmas Day, 11 days old

Still, I’d never passed up a free meal and this didn’t seem like the time to start. Thank goodness! When it comes down to it here’s the deal:

  • Yes, new parents, you are capable of making meals. BUT even the simplest of meals is easily derailed by baby. For several weeks I really didn’t know what to do with Haines during meal prep. I couldn’t wear him while I cooked at the stove and we didn’t have a swing so I just kept him in his bed or his car seat when I needed my hands. There’s nothing (hopefully) wrong with this but I constantly questioned it. Plus every movement and sound he made was new and unnerving to me. Is he okay? Is he mad? Is his brain developing properly? Will he need therapy one day from how I’m ignoring him to make pasta right now? In the end meals were made. So far he doesn’t seem to resent me for my need to eat. But the burden and stress of getting fed greatly eased by the twice a week delivery of food we received.
  • More importantly, this is a time period that you can never get back. It will never again be you and your partner and this tiny baby, all brand new, figuring this out together. As much as I have struggled during this time I also know that I need to soak up every baby cuddle, every coo and giggle, every new discovery, every pool of drool because this just happens once. You’re only young once and so are your babies.

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Sometimes you end up on the other side of the meal train which means it’s your turn to repay the favor. Last week I was delighted to bring food over to a friend’s brand new baby and this week I’m setting up a meal train for a coworker. I’ve discovered that meal planning for others is stressful! I can’t help but worry if I’m bringing over something they’ll like. At the end of the day, every meal is appreciated but I’ve learned from my own experience the types of meals that were the most helpful.

Nutritional: Many of the meals we received were centered around carbs and cheese. Carbs and cheese represent the best things in life so this is not an issue, but it was really nice when someone also brought over a salad or a dish that centered around vegetables. Since I wasn’t being very active it helped me feel less slob-like.

Wine & Desserts: I gotta admit those kind folks that included a bottle of wine or a box of cookies with my meal were true winners. It was a total novelty to see alcohol and know I was allowed to drink it! I appreciated all those who understood how much I missed it and brought it directly to me.

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If you choose to bring over fancy doughnuts, they will be decimated before a photo can be taken. 

Take-out: Obviously not everyone can do take-out meals from restaurants. It’s certainly not within my meal train budget for others, but it was a huge treat when others did this for us. One person had a pizza delivered to us while two other individuals brought us take-out from some of our favorite restaurants. Since going out to eat is hard to do on a maternity leave budget, we really appreciated this!

Breakfast: The beginning of the day was always the hardest for me. I always had Tyler in the evenings but in the morning I was typically on my own for eating. I’ve heard of people bringing breakfast casseroles, muffins or other options that make for easy eating in the morning. I will definitely be gifting this to someone else down the line!

Snacks: While all the meals we received were wonderful, the best night was when a friend showed up with individually packaged snacks along with dinner. She brought over a bag with Ziplocs of pretzel sticks, snap pea crisps, mini-cookies, and homemade energy balls along with a few protein bars. It was heaven. I’d been struggling with foods that I could easily eat while nursing or holding HEB. The answer had arrived! It was something easy for her to do that was enormously helpful to me.

 

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The Best Time of the Year

I love most holidays. In general, I love any day that is out of the ordinary. This means I embrace holidays that seem created by Hallmark (Valentine’s), and fraternities (no offense, St. Patrick’s Day). I equally love my birthday and yours. Any reason for fun food and beverage is worth while to me. If we get the day off the work? Then it’s the absolute best!

Regardless Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Its focus- being thankful- is hard to argue with. It’s safe to say that each of us has something or someone in our lives that we take for granted, even despite our best intentions. Maybe it’s our health, our spouse, our parent, our home, our job, a friend, our hobbies. It doesn’t matter. Being grateful and thankful on every day often escapes us. A reminder really couldn’t hurt. Plus we celebrate the day with the two best things in life: family and food.

Often the people we spend Thanksgiving with aren’t related by blood. Although my family will most likely be annoyed by me saying so….I like Thanksgiving this way. I celebrate with my family every Christmas. Thanksgiving is my opportunity to be thankful and spend quality time with the other family in my life- those I choose to make a part of my life.

After 4 years of Friendsgivings in Texas, I didn’t know what we’d do when we moved back to North Carolina. Would we start going home? But last year we hosted our first Friendsgiving/Thanksgiving potluck (with my mother which was an added bonus!) with many new friends. This year, we’ll do it again.

I’ll have to control myself and my urge to make a thousand different dishes. I’m doing my best to limit it to 2. With only 3 weeks until baby’s arrival, I’m not having to work too hard to convince myself to take it easy. My back and legs do that pretty well.

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I’ll just do this instead.

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Clara’s getting her cuddles in pre-baby arrival.

Tyler and I already got the week of Thanksgiving off to the right start with our annual tradition of watching The Last Waltz. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing then check out:

A Little Trip to the Lone Star State

This past week I got a chance to travel for work. It’ll be last non-local travel until I’m back from maternity leave so I had to take advantage of it. I’m not often given the opportunity to travel outside the state (but when I do it’s dangerously close to my due date and I have to refuse- er!) so making the most of each trip has been key.

This time I was being sent to Fort Hood (Killeen) Texas for a career fair. In case you don’t know that’s delightfully close to Austin. To make the most of a trip to Austin you must do two things. 1. You must eat very well. 2. You must go swimming. Otherwise you may not survive. And you just don’t know what you’re doing.

Austin Eating:

Snooze-

Snooze is a relatively new “A.M.” eatery which basically means it’s a breakfast/brunch place. I thought it was delicious and adorable but my eating companions did order various types of eggs Benedict and they were all- tiny. So just don’t get that.

Black’s BBQ-

Eating BBQ was a priority for me this trip. After an afternoon of swimming we weren’t interested in driving all over the countryside. Luckily since I’ve left Austin some of the best hill country restaurants have opened up locations in town, including Black’s! We all ordered way too much food and ate until our eyes bulged. It was totally worth it. This is the BBQ way.

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Juiceland-

So many delicious smoothie and juice options in Austin! Why don’t we have this in Wilmington?

Kebabilicious-

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Sa-ten-

I worked here one afternoon and really enjoyed it. By chance, my brother-in-law was also working remotely there. I sampled his lunch and it was insanely delicious. I have to figure out how to recreate it.

Vera Cruz-

We ate from the Vera Cruz food truck at Radio during bluegrass night which was delicious but didn’t rock my world or anything. The music and beautiful outdoor area there is awesome though.

Via 313-

So glad I didn’t leave Austin without a ladies night out dinner with Via 313. I would have certainly regretted it. That is a pizza with balsamic reduction and PROSCUITTO. Get overwhelmed.

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Swimming:

McKinney Falls is a nice, although more expensive alternative, to Barton Springs. We weren’t prepared for the line or the crowds so we headed east instead of into town for this swim time. I’ve gotten a little spoiled now that my swimming life is almost entirely in the Intracoastal Waterway or the ocean but this dip saved me from insanity. Texas, you are too damn hot.

Baby Love:

The best part of my trip? I experienced my very first baby shower as a mama-to-be! It was incredible. I can’t express how loved I felt.

There were peanut butter chocolate cupcakes, baby rubber ducks floating in mocktails, only ONE game and it wasn’t embarrassing in the least AND it was co-ed. Perfection.

I wish Tyler could have been there and that I could have spent more time with everyone who came. It was incredibly special.

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Celebrating Togetherness

You may already know that I am a sucker for certain things. These things include: books, ladies night, book clubs where books are actually discussed, excellent food, and adorable decorations. Evidence of such love can be found here, here, and here.

Sometimes when you are very lucky you are able to combine all of your favorite things in one delightful evening. This month was the one year anniversary of our little, lovely book club. It was an anniversary that went mostly unnoticed but it was wonderful to realize that our group was still going strong. Previously I’ve been in book clubs where wine trumped the book but each time I am pleasantly surprised to find that everyone has read the book and everyone genuinely wants to talk about it. My book club email chain is basically the only reason I read my personal email. Except to obsessively enter giveaways, but that’s another story.

Another one of the perks of our group is the food. It’s been a fantastic, unexpected perk that everyone likes to cook or bake. Even this week when we were “only having pizza” (delish!) the side dishes included kale chips, a fantastic kale salad (recipe here), breadsticks (be still my heart!- make your own), fresh fruit and NUTELLA STUFFED COOKIES. Since you will die unhappy without this recipe, I will provide it for you. You have been warned though- a cookie coma is possible.

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This past Monday book club was elevated to a new level when Mel of Tabled sent us some goodies to perk up our table. You may remember reading about Mel when I described how I want to live vicariously through her. Even though I only met her and her fiancé, Carson, briefly for a weekend it was such a wonderful encounter and I’ve been lucky to stay in contact with them. When Mel kindly volunteered to share some of her wares with us, I couldn’t have been more excited!  Her table accessories are all handmade by local artists and craftsmen from throughout the country. Tabled’s philosophy comes down to every meal being a celebration. I couldn’t agree more.

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Photo credit: Chrissy Hennessy

Meal times are special, whether there’s an occasion to celebrate or not. My husband and I sit down for dinner together most every night because that is our time together. It was the same with my family. Whether it was when my parents were together or after their divorce, it didn’t matter whose house I was at- we always ate dinner together. It’s also the hardest part of living in Wilmington. Our weekly supper club was family night. It was a meal time that could be fancy or could be pretty basic but it was a celebration of our friendship, of new friends and of being together.

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Having Tabled’s little touches to our book club dinner was a fun and special touch that we all really enjoyed. I’m excited to incorporate them into my every day dinners too!

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Even nacho night is looking extra fancy!

Dogs and Gardens

One of the disappointing parts of moving when we did, in the early fall, was that we weren’t able to see our garden through to the full season. We left green tomatoes and ripening peppers and a basil bush just waiting for pesto. We invested a lot of time and money into a project we weren’t able to see all the way through. Despite that it was still a good experience and we learned a lot. Mainly we learned there is a learning curve in gardening. A big one.

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Beware squirrels.

This year we’re approaching things a little differently. I refused to consider the possibility of an in-ground garden after the insane amount of weeding I did last year. Also, we thought our old yard had sandy soil but we might as well be at the beach in this house. In the end, after a lot of back and forth, we decided on two 8′ x 4′ garden beds. I was talked down from making them 24″ high like the ones we built at LINC last year for Work on Wilmington. Those were some awesome garden beds. When I actually saw how high 12″ is though, I was on board.

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These are not the exact boxes we built but we did base ours off these. Photo Credit: K.J. Williams 

We lined the boxes with weed cloth and put a layer of leaves in before we piled in our compost/top soil. We bought it all mixed up already from Seaside Mulch. We bought it in bulk instead of bags which saved us a lot of money.

What we should have done differently: Our very next action after building the beds should have been to protect them from their number one enemy- our dog. Clara was delighted to leap through the bed on her way to the fence where she chats with other dogs and also to dig up my seeds and freshly planted baby broccoli plants. So much fun!

After SOMEONE insisted there was no way Clara was going to dig in the garden again after she’d gotten in trouble for it, she did it again many more times. I won, he built me a fence. It’s pretty basic, just plastic mesh zip-tied to rebar poles. We* used sod staples to secure the fence to the ground.

*Please note when I say “we” in the same sentence as “build” or something similar I typically mean Tyler. “We” built garden beds, “we” used sod staples, etc. On the flip side when I say “we” planted or “we” weeded, I just mean me. 

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Fence Day!

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Finally these plants can rest easy. Whew. 

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There’s the culprit now, eyeing her prey…

Now we’re down a few broccoli plants (but how much broccoli can you really eat anyways?) and I’ve planted new spinach and beet seeds, along with tomato, pepper and herb plants. We’re trying not to plant so many different things this year. Trying is very hard for me.

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Whoops. 

Domestic Goddess Over Here

At some point since I started blogging recipes and posting an insane amount of meals and food on Instagram some of my friends and family started acting like I know what I’m doing. It seems ridiculous I know, but it keeps happening! I don’t want to dissuade anyone from this incredible idea that I DIY well but… let’s be honest here. I just look to my trusty resources.

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This stawberry rhubarb pie is by far the most attractive pie I have ever made. 

Baking Go-Tos:

Minimalist Baker is vegan but I love her style. She does not post any recipe that has a lot of ingredients or can be remotely connected with the word complicated. Thank goodness!

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Girl versus Dough’s blog is an awesome resource for both staple recipes and more adventurous forays. Her sourdough recipe is my fave!

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The Kitchn is my number website for baking and cooking. Their recipes always provide a lot of instruction that’s aimed at the beginner. Whether I’ve made a similar recipe before or not, I appreciate the very plain-spoken, foundational steps.

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Canning Go-Tos:

With canning, you need to really trust your sources. For example, I’ve found a lot of recipes for canning pumpkin butter but if you go on USDA’s website, they state that it is unsafe to can pumpkin better. You see what I mean?

A Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking is a great website and book for canning (along with other domestic things). I was fortunate enough to take part in Kate’s fruit butter canning class in Austin which gave me the confidence to make our apple butter wedding favors last year.

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Food in Jars is very reliable and has a great selection of recipes. Some may be too adventurous for you (me too!) but after making her peach jam, I totally trust her judgement.

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Ball Jars website has a good list of basic recipes. It may seem boring but for the beginner, it’s probably all you need.

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When in doubt you can always refer to USDA Canning Guide.

Pinterest: For me wanting to do a lot of DIY requires a lot of time on Pinterest (it’s research, not an addition). These are the Pinterest Boards I’ve created to sort my edible projects and adventures.

Eating is My Number One Hobby: It’s true.

Make Ahead Cooking: For your crockpot and freezer meal exploration

Breakfast is Best!: This is by far my favorite meal of the day.

Party Foods!: I love to host!

Boozin’: Clearly a very important board

Breads, Sweets and Treats: Sometimes the lines between breads, sweets and treats get blurred so let’s just mix them up.

Happy baking and creating!

 

Ice Cream is the Best Thing

Once upon a time, in a state about half a country away I decided to fulfill a life long dream and visit the Blue Bell Ice Cream Factory. It was only a short drive from Austin and I took three ice cream lovers with me to round out the experience.

Best ice cream pals ever.

Best ice cream pals ever. 

It was a beautiful day. We were very excited to take a free factory tour and sample to our hearts’ delight.

I cannot say anything bad about the experience. Our tiny, young tour guide obviously thought we were silly (sort-of) grownups but gave as good of a tour (if not better) than you can expect from someone who can’t drink legally. The ice cream samples were plentiful and the giant scoop I enjoyed as part of my tour left me more than fulfilled afterwards.

This makes me really happy.

This makes me really happy.

The tour did; however, completely change the way I approach ice cream now. Our tour guide enthusiastically showed us a room where milk (or cream?) was shooting through pipes and getting prepared for deliciousness when she mentioned the number of cows needed for to make their cold sweet treats each day. In my memory she said 100,000 cows were milked within 200 miles of Brenham, Texas and shipped to the factory. The Internet tells it’s more like 60,000. Either way it’s a lot. All I could think when she said that was, “That’s a lot of cows. Probably not a lot of happy cows.”

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Let me be clear. I have absolutely no way in knowing how Blue Bell’s dairies/dairy partners treat their cows…but the realization of how many animals have to be involved to make Blue Bell or any large ice cream producer really bothered me. For an ice cream addict like myself, it also really affected the way I shop. Now I deliberately seek out small batch and/or organic ice cream. This may seem like an obvious choice to some wise shoppers but my love of ice cream had always outweighed my ability to shop environmentally.

In Wilmington I have access to a couple good options. Front Porch Carolina Churned Ice Cream is sold at my local Harris Teeter (although I wish they had more flavors there!) and for a scoop on the town I can stop by Tar Heel Creamery. A pint of the strawberry is in my fridge now and I tasted the apple pie flavor. Both delish. I definitely wish there were more options (mainly because I specifically NEED Peanut Butter Chocolate ice cream almost daily) but beggars shouldn’t be choosers when they’re still eating tasty cold treats all the dang time.

When I traveled in Europe after my semester abroad, we decided we could eat a scoop of gelato every day. Yes, I did get to my heaviest weight ever. It was totally worth it.

When I traveled in Europe after my semester abroad, we decided we could eat a scoop of gelato every day. Yes, I did get to my heaviest weight ever. It was totally worth it.