9 Easy Weeknight Dinners for Your Family

One of my goals for this New Year is to add some new recipes into my family’s weeknight rotation of meals. My three qualifications for these recipes are 1) quick, 2) easy and 3) healthy. Maybe you have this goal, too, friends.

Here are some quick, easy and healthy recipes that Stanton, the girls and I have been enjoying lately. I hope you and yours also enjoy. Dig in!

1) Tortellini, White Bean and Turnip Greens Soup

Winter is a wonderful time to make soup, isn’t it? I found this recipe while flipping through the current issue of Southern Living. As written, this recipe is vegetarian, but I used prosciutto and cheese tortellini instead of plain cheese.

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I didn’t see turnip greens at my grocery store, but collard greens worked just fine. And instead of chopping a carrot, I used pre-chopped carrot chips to save time. I served this delicious soup with fresh fruit (those red grapes, pictured!). Grace, my picky eater, opted for leftovers from the night before, but Stanton and Anna lapped up this soup. It is really good, friends.

One change for next time: I’ll add another 14.5 oz. of vegetable broth to make it a little “soup-ier.”

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2) Bucatini with Winter Pesto and Sweet Potatoes

Here’s another seasonal, vegetarian recipe for you to enjoy, compliments of the Country Living website. (P.S. Check out this Seasonality Chart, an excellent resource from a sustainable agriculture nonprofit.)

Some changes I’d recommend to this recipe: Use a different, kid-friendly type of pasta (such as penne or cavatappi)—bucatini, spaghetti and the like can get messy with kiddos! (I love this handy Pasta Shapes Dictionary, which details which pasta works best for different sauces, etc.) I also found the kale to be a bit too hardy for my food processor (although yours may work better!); next time, I’ll chop and mix everything myself.

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3) Chicken and Green Bean Stir Fry

Confession: I intended to make a different stir fry recipe—this one, 4) Chicken, Broccoli and Mushroom. But I forgot to buy broccoli at the grocery store. So I Googled for a stir fry recipe with chicken and green beans, which I already had on hand. This one from The Lemon Bowl came up, and it was delicious.

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I very much appreciated The Lemon Bowl’s link for “Stocking Your Pantry for Asian Cooking.” If you have soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce and a few other essentials on hand, you pretty much can combine any protein with veggies and a side of rice for a quick, healthy and satisfying Asian-inspired meal.

5) Black Bean Quesadillas

Let’s move on to Mexican cuisine. Eating Well has this amazing and oh-so-easy recipe for Black Bean Quesadillas (also vegetarian!). I was shocked—truly—that even Grace loved them.

One tweak I recommend to the recipe: Use a full cup of cheese, not just ½. If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll appreciate the extra boost of gooey flavor.

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6) Easy Beef Enchiladas

I love any recipe that begins with the word “Easy.” 🙂 Everyone in my family loves this recipe. One recommendation, though: Skip the can of diced green chiles if your kiddos don’t like spicy flavors.

7) Beef Tacos

I love this beef tacos recipe from Blue Apron. I make it all the time now, minus the cucumber-avocado salsa (I buy store-prepared guacamole instead, which saves time). Simply skip to Step 5 of the directions, friends, and you’re all set—all you need is thinly sliced beef and some Mexican seasoning (any brand will do, or you can make your own), plus tortillas and your toppings of choice (guacamole, lettuce, shredded cheese, etc.).

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8) Pasta Bolognese

The Italian-American in me would be remiss not to include an Italian specialty on this list. 😉 I love this recipe for Pasta Bolognese, which I found in the weekly flyer from my local grocery store, Hannaford. It is incredibly easy to make, and incredibly flavorful—the yellow onion, I think, is the key ingredient.

Of course, use your pasta and pasta sauce brands of choice.

Please note, in the following documentation, Anna digging in to a big bite of this delicious Pasta Bolognese—spinach included! You go, girl.

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9) Chicken Tikka Masala

I haven’t had, or made, Indian cuisine in a while and thought it would be fun to give it a whirl again. Chicken Tikka Masala is a delicious yet traditionally time-consuming Indian/British favorite. The time-consuming part is gathering and then working with all the ingredients for the sauce, which usually include yogurt, ginger, tomatoes, garam masala—to name just a few.

Luckily, I stumbled upon this jar of Tikka Masala curry simmer sauce at the grocery store, and used the recipe on the label to make an easy, three-ingredient version of Chicken Tikka Masala: this sauce plus vegetable oil and boneless, skinless chicken breasts. This is taking the easy way out, but…ta-da!

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Stanton and I loved this. (The girls opted for the rice with leftover black bean quesadillas, again—their new favorite weeknight dinner!)

I’ve included nine recipes here, friends, and I hope you’ve found one or two (or maybe even more!) that you and your family can dig in to in this New Year. Here’s to easy weeknight cooking.

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

Sometimes, Our To-Do Lists Can Wait

A few days ago, I told my husband, “I really need to write on Saturday.” I’d been working on a magazine article, and had to finish it and submit it by the approaching deadline. Stanton completely understood and encouraged me to take whatever time I needed. He would take care of the girls, which is what I do during the week when he’s working.

Saturday came. In the early afternoon, Anna was napping. I got my car keys. Stanton and Grace were reading on the couch, the sunlight streaming in from the window behind them. In that moment, I realized I hadn’t talked with Grace lately.

Yes, I always ask her how school is. I give in to her request for a cup of Scrabble Junior Cheez-Its as I’m on the phone with her dentist’s office. I plead with her to play quietly in her room while I rock Anna to sleep in hers.

But we hadn’t really talked lately.

So, car keys in hand, I said, “Grace, why don’t you come with me?”

Grace perked up. “But you have to write a story.”

“I can always do it later tonight. But now, would you like to come to the coffee shop with me?”

“Just me and you?”

I smiled. “Yes.”

Grace grinned.

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A bit later at the coffee shop, Grace and I sat across from each other at a table for two. Grace was eating a cookie. I had a cup of coffee and a muffin. We chatted about her classmate’s upcoming birthday party and which present he might like, and her ice skating lesson the next day. I remembered something I wanted to include in my article, and scribbled the idea down in the notebook I always carry in my bag.

This notebook of mine has scribbles galore—countless stories waiting to be told, someday.

“Mom, I know a great story you can write,” Grace said.

I put my pen down. “What is it, honey?”

Grace finished chewing. “Me and Grace went to Perfect Blend together…and that was a very special day,” she said. “The end.”

I felt a lump in my throat.

“Do you like my story, Mom?”

“I love you, Grace,” I replied instead.

We have so many things we have to do every day. Some are nonnegotiable. But sometimes, our to-do lists can wait.

I meant to write a magazine article that Saturday afternoon. I had a date with my daughter instead.

As it turns out, we wrote a meaningful story together anyway.

“‘Me and Grace went to Perfect Blend together…and that was a very special day…The end.'”

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

36 Things I Want to Tell You

One afternoon recently, Anna was uncharacteristically cranky. I had a cold, Stanton was traveling for work, and Grace kept telling me she was bored.

“I am so bored, Mom.”

“Waaahhh.”

“Everything is boring.”

“WAAAHHH!”

I closed my eyes.

“I wish Dad was here. Everything is fun when Dad’s here.”

“DADA! DADA! DAAADAAA!”

“OK, that’s it.” I tossed two granola bars, two sippy cups and my cell phone in the diaper bag. “Let’s go.”

Grace peered at me. “Where are you taking us?”

“For goodness’ sake, Grace…” Anna yelled as I buckled her into her car seat. “We’re just getting out of the house for a little bit.”

A few minutes later, we arrived at our local library. The library has a spacious children’s section that the girls love: a reading corner, lots of toys, an aquarium. Best of all, we usually bump into other kids and parents we know from around our community—instant play dates for the girls, and grown-ups for me to chat with.

Sure enough, that afternoon the girls built train tracks and worked on puzzles with other kiddos. I didn’t want to spread my germs, so I hung back but very much appreciated everyone’s improved moods.

At one point, Grace gave me a hug. “I’m happy we came here,” she said. Then she added, “You just have to walk out the front door, right, Mom?”

I blinked. “Grace—that’s something I say.” Whenever the girls, or I, are feeling cranky or a little down, I usually say, “Walk out the front door”—by which I mean, we’ll feel better if we get out, get some fresh air, interact with the greater world.

“Yeah,” Grace agreed, “that’s what you tell us. Walk out the front door.”

I’ve known this for a while now, that 5-year-old Grace hears everything I say. What I didn’t realize, though, is that these things have started to stick with her. And that they could make a positive difference in her life as she grows up.

“Walk out the front door” is one of my biggest philosophies. Experience life. Make the best of everything.

Here are some other things I want to tell my children. What do you want to tell yours, friends?

Girls, in case you’re still listening…

2) Say yes to new adventures.

3) And don’t be afraid to say no. Respect what’s right for you.

4) Be thankful. You have plenty.

5) Say, “Thank you,” especially to people who are serving you.

6) Ask for help when you need it. Don’t be ashamed.

7) You never have to pretend with me.

8) Reach out to the kids who are alone at the sidelines on the playground, or in the school cafeteria. Smile. Say hello.

9) If you don’t like the way something is, don’t whine. Fix it. Solve the problem.

10) Exercise daily. You don’t necessarily have to run six miles, or go to the gym for an hour. But move. Stretch. Dance.

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11) Drink lots of water. Eat whole foods. Save room for dessert.

12) Don’t stare at people or situations you don’t understand. But do ask me or Dad or someone you trust to help you understand them.

13) Tell the people you love that you love them. Call them. Keep in touch. Send cards, and make time to get together. One day you may not have the chance.

14) Don’t have regrets. Mistakes, yes—although I like to call them “learning experiences.” But regrets—no.

15) You will have “learning experiences” long after you think you should be done with all the learning. 🙂 That’s OK, though.

16) You aren’t better than anyone. Maybe you’ve had better luck. Or made better decisions. But you are not better than anyone. Treat everyone respectfully.

17) Believe in the goodness of people, and in the goodness of life.

18) Believe in something bigger than yourself.

19) Do your best.

20) Any goal that means something to you will take longer to achieve than you think it will. And it will be harder than you imagine. Hang in there.

21) In general, transitions are hard. So ease into them. Take your time.

22) True love is not spring break sex, or beautiful jewelry, or big houses. It’s sacrifice and sticking together—all the things that happen after every romantic comedy and wedding reception ends. It’s taking care of each other. It’s visiting your 89-year-old grandmother with you on New Year’s Day. True love is deep, quiet moments of joy.

23) Don’t make fun of anyone.

24) People have more in common with you than they do different from you. Seek out the common ground.

25) Be cautious with credit cards.

26) Just because you can afford to buy something doesn’t mean you have to, or should.

27) If you want to sleep well at night, live well within your means.

28) When you hear your favorite song on the radio, turn it up. And sing along.

29) Turn off the TV. Put your phone down. Open your eyes to the world around you; be present.

30) Go to your doctor and dentist for regular checkups. Preventive care is less expensive, in the long run, than treating health issues.

31) Things I know about money: It comes. It goes. You need a certain amount to be comfortable. You can’t take it with you.

32) Things to splurge on: Good food. Experiences. Travel. And things not to: Stuff.

33) Some of my favorite places I’ve ever been: the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia; La Jolla, California; Capri, Italy. If you get the chance, visit them too.

34) The best boxed brownie mix: Ghirardelli Double Chocolate. I’ve tried them all, girls, from generic brands to top-of-the-line organics. Nothing’s as yummy as Ghirardelli Double Chocolate.

35) It’s hard to say goodbye. Try saying, “Until next time.”

36) Basically, what I know about life is…it’s beautiful. It’s humbling. It goes on.

Keep going on, even during your most difficult moments.

Because life is beautiful.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

18 Signs You’re Home

Earlier this week, I was at my neighborhood Hannaford, a regional grocery store chain in upstate New York and New England. Anna was sitting in the shopping cart, munching on Goldfish (contentedly, but not for long), while I zipped us up and down the aisles, finding what we needed and tossing everything in the cart. Clementines, green beans, tortillas, red enchilada sauce, macaroni and cheese (always macaroni and cheese).

Stanton, the girls and I have been living in the Albany area for six months now, and after these six months, I have a pretty good feel for this grocery store—where everything is, which cashiers are fastest, the girls’ new favorite deli meats (who knew Grace would discover she loves salami?).

I was feeling more and more “home” every day. Then in the soup aisle, I recognized a familiar face: one of the pastors from our church. “It’s great to see you,” I told her—and it was.

One of the hardest things about moving to a new city is not knowing anyone yet. Not having friends, or people you can turn to for doctor recommendations, or any sort of community—yet. So for me, that morning at Hannaford was special, in its extraordinary ordinariness. 1) I knew my way around the grocery store aisles. 2) I bumped into a new—dare I say—friend.

I was home.

Here are a few more signs, friends, that you’re home.

3) You have new local favorites at “your” grocery store. These days, I can’t imagine not having Against the Grain Gourmet three-cheese frozen pizza, which I discovered at Hannaford, in my freezer, or Dominick’s Gourmet Pasta Sauce in my pantry.

4) You have usual orders at some favorite local stops: your neighborhood coffee shop, the pizza place, the deli outside your office building. You don’t need to study the menu before you walk in or call ahead; you already know what you like.

5) You know where the light switches are, and which lights they’re for.

One of the hardest things about moving to a new city is not knowing anyone yet. Not having friends, or people you can turn to for doctor recommendations, or any sort of community—yet.

6) You have some tried-and-true “things to do” with out-of-town visitors. We’ve been lucky that already, quite a few family and friends have come to visit us in our new hometown.

We’re still learning the ropes, but we feel pretty good about taking summer guests to the nearby Five Rivers nature trails and TwisT ice cream shop; folks in fall to one of the many beautiful surrounding apple orchards; and winter travelers to the New York State Museum downtown for a ride on the historic carousel.

We have yet to experience spring, but look forward to the annual Tulip Festival in Washington Park and whatever else may be in store.

You have some tried-and-true “things to do” with out-of-town visitors.

7) You’re home when you have a driver’s license and corresponding license plates for your current state.

8) And when you can enter your ZIP code at the gas station from memory, rather than consulting a Post-it stuck on the back of your credit card.

9) You’ve figured out other logistics: your primary care physician, your kids’ dentist, your older daughter’s dance studio, your younger daughter’s library story time, an auto repair shop you can trust (thank you, Broadway Auto Clinic!).

10) Your wallet contains membership cards for some of these places (e.g., the local library, fitness center, figure skating club).

11) You can get around without needing to Google Map every move.

12) A place’s roads are cool symbols of local culture, I think. I see a lot of Vermont license plates in my community, reminding me that the border of the Green Mountain State is just an hour’s drive away. Along with these license plates come bumper stickers with sayings such as “Eat, Sleep, Ski, Repeat” and “Go Vegan.”

Back in my San Antonio neighborhood, on the other hand, I saw many Nuevo Leon license plates (Nuevo Leon is a state in Northeastern Mexico, about 250 miles from the Alamo City). In my seven years there, I’m pretty sure I never saw a “Go Vegan” bumper sticker in South Texas. 🙂

Your mental pictures have readjusted.   

You can get around without needing to Google Map every move.

13) You can chat in a semi-knowledgeable manner about local life. For example, I was happy to pass along to another “new-to-here” mom that kindergarten registration is happening now, which I had heard about from my dance studio mom friends. It really does take a village.

14) You have new local websites to check in on (www.timesunion.com, www.alloveralbany.com, New York State Writers Institute).

15) You have a feel for the local lingo. When people tell me they’re going “downstate,” I now know they’re referring to New York City—which is worlds different from “upstate” (although there seem to have been conversations about what exactly “upstate” entails). And in winter, when neighbors mention they’re spending the day at “Maple Ridge,” I know they mean the local ski ridge as opposed to the local park of the same name.

16) You know your mail carrier and UPS guy. And they know not to ring the doorbell around 2 p.m., when your toddler is napping.

17) You’re stocked up on gear. By which I mean, I haven’t owned a pair of snow boots since before age 22, when I graduated from the University of Richmond and then spent the next 11 years in Virginia and Texas. Neither has Stanton. Thanks to L.L. Bean, however, we’ve got new winter gear, and we’re prepared (hopefully!) for everything from snow shoveling to sledding and snowman-building this season.

Your mental pictures have readjusted.

18) Stanton, the girls and I were lucky to have a wonderful holiday season, and I hope you did too. We spent Thanksgiving in Texas with his family, and Christmas in Pennsylvania with mine. We got to catch up with lots of loved ones—share happy times together—everything was great, and very special.

Late on New Year’s Day, we got the girls to sleep. We had just driven back to Albany that afternoon. So after the past few weeks of holiday traveling and several rounds of bedtime stories, we were alone together in the living room.

We got comfortable on the couch. Stanton opened a bottle of Saratoga lager. I had my evening cup of tea. We turned on an old episode of “Parks and Rec.” Lamplight glimmered across the TV screen, and on the beer bottle.

Stanton stretched. Sighed. “It’s good to be home,” he said.

It made me happy to hear him say that.

And I agreed.

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Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

Check Out My New E-book, Grace Notes!

grace-notes-cover-1-1-17Confession: I’m not a morning person. Maybe you aren’t either. Or maybe you are, but you could use another boost of energy as you sip your favorite blend from the “World’s Best Mom” mug your preschooler hand-painted last week.

This is the purpose of “Grace Notes: Start Your Day on a Positive Note.” “Grace Notes” is my new e-book, and I hope you’ll check it out!

Part creative nonfiction, part personal growth, “Grace Notes” brings together some of my most-viewed recent blog posts, each with a message of positive energy. I hope that these pieces give you the momentum you need to start your day with a hearty, hope-filled, “Yes!” Here’s to a truly “Happy” New Year, friends.