Monday, February 1, 2016

Quick & Easy Dinner After Pruning Marathon

On nights when we are both tired, it's tempting to make a run to a nearby Subway sandwich shop or Chinese take-out place for dinner. However, with no income at present and the need to eat up what's in the pantry, I am striving to just knuckle down and force myself to make dinner at home. Luckily, I still have some foods on hand that can be put together for a relatively quick and easy meal. Often I manage to keep it healthy, too.

In the past week, I have put in a tremendous number of hours on yard work. I wasn't able to do any pruning for the previous two winters and could not let the trees go another year. Two winters ago, it didn't stay cold enough for long enough to do any pruning. Last winter's plan for pruning went by the wayside with my mother-in-law's heart attack and subsequent moving in with us. This winter has been a chilly one, which is the perfect time to get the pruning done.

A storm several weeks ago was the driving factor in pushing pruning to the top of the to-do list as the wet heavy snow broke four large branches on a palo verde tree. It only took about an hour to remove the branches but it took much longer to cut them up for disposal. The next day, I tackled our terribly overgrown olive tree. That one took me two days because I also had to remove some old barbed wire and fence posts to clean up the area, while also being careful not to get poked by the nearby cholla cactus.

On Friday and Saturday, I tackled some mesquite trees. Not only were they overgrown from two years of pruning neglect, we also wanted to prune them higher than we prefer in order to give a better view of the house from the road. We are working to increase curb appeal factors on our property since we hope to get it on the market sometime this spring or summer. I am usually quite good at looking at a tree and seeing exactly what branches need to come out to give the tree a nice shape. This week, though, I found that I was overwhelmed by the overgrowth of branches and kept losing my vision of the best shape. I had to enlist my husband's help in shaping the trees.

I also enlisted his help in cutting up the large branches once they were down so that we could put them out with a "Free" sign. Mesquite burns nice and hot once seasoned; the neighbor that picked them up will have some great firewood for next winter. With the exception of a couple of branches my husband removed with his Skil saw, I did all of the pruning with manual saws. Although it would be far quicker with a chainsaw, I am clumsy enough that we've agreed that I should avoid their use.

Dinner, on the other hand, can be quick and easy with little risk of cutting off limbs. Last night, I was able to put together a surprisingly delicious dinner that took no longer to make than it would have taken to drive to Subway and get sandwiches. I apologize for not taking a photo of the food. I was very hungry and it didn't occur to me until I was almost done eating.

My pantry is dwindling because we have been trying to use up food that I've purchased when on sale. I still shop for produce because we don't have much in the garden now except for lettuce. I used to keep quite a bit of frozen food on hand, but we ate it all up in order to sell my beloved chest freezer. Last night's side vegetable was some asparagus I'd purchased on sale and then forgotten about in the fridge. I was able to salvage about half of the two bundles. The rest had to be composted. We are still maintaining the compost bins as we hope that the garden set-up will be an appealing part of the property once listed for sale.

The main dish last night was just a simple pasta dish. Pasta keeps a long time if stored in a cool part of your home so I always bought plenty when the price was right. This box of medium shells had a 'Best By' date in 2013 but still tasted perfectly fine. (Note: whole grain pastas do NOT store well for the long-term because the oils go rancid.) For the sauce, I mixed two cans of tomatoes together, one with green peppers, celery, and onion, and the other with basil, garlic, and oregano. No additional seasoning was necessary, which was a good thing. I was too tired to even chop up an onion or dig out the jar of Italian seasoning! I added some Daiya mozzarella shreds when I heated everything together. The advantage of the non-dairy Daiya is that it has the flavor but not the stringiness of real melted Mozzarella cheese. It simply made the sauce nice and creamy.

The meal was simple, colorful, healthy, and filling. And the pantry is cleared of two more cans of tomatoes and one more box of pasta. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that we were able to harvest some fresh basil from the Aerogarden to stir into the finished dish.

Why are we planning to sell the house? And why did I have to sell my chest freezer? I promise to tell you in the very next post!

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