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empty nest cookingIn early September, I officially became an empty nester when both of my kids flew off to college. Actually, neither of them flew to school, but instead, Hubby and I drove them across multiple state lines in stuff-filled cars.

As a mom who works from home, I knew that this was a big life transition for me, too. While I readied my birds for school by stockpiling linens and towels from Target and Bed Bath and Beyond, I readied myself by stockpiling information off the Internet on what life would be like when both of my children left my carefully tended coop. I found article after article on what to expect when your nest empties.

According to other parents, I could anticipate an eerily quiet house, unscheduled (unmoored) days, static silence from the baby birds, which meant dwindled texts and phone calls. Some empty nesters claimed to be sad, depressed, and quick to cry. On the opposite side of that were parents who took an immediate shine to their new freedom, so much so that they literally threw off their clothes and danced around their homes naked simply because now they could.

I moved into this transition well-informed, but then I realized one thing that none of the articles, or friends, had mentioned—for me an empty nest also translated into an empty pantry.

As a self-proclaimed foodie, I was surprised and saddened. I love to cook and for years I’d tinkered with new recipes to produce dishes my husband and kids would enjoy. I am a writer, too, and concocting new culinary treats was another creative outlet for me.

Back when my family was young and growing, I always made dinner together a priority, and preferred home-cooked meals. From the time my kids moved out of high chairs, our family dinner table sported flatware and dishes resting on pretty, or playful and kid-friendly, placemats. We ate family-style and shared details from our days along with fresh-from-the-oven plates of food.

By the time my kids had entered their teen years and nights filled with homework and extra-curricular activities, family dinner times were a challenge and took more planning. My modus operandi was to cook in bulk, doubling and tripling recipes, after which I froze the extras for future meals. It was how I managed to carpool, help with homework, volunteer at school, carve out writing time, and still feed my family.

Once the kids left for college, my doubling-and-tripling-recipe days jerked to a halt. For the first few weeks of my empty-nest life, I barely cooked at all. My husband traveled some for business, and on nights he was away, I tossed together a salad, or instead, I met friends at restaurants.

The difference in my food habits became instantly apparent at the grocery store, too, where I stocked up on fewer chips and snacks, and the overall volume in my cart shrank. I was glad for the newer mini-carts most supermarkets offered.

My empty-nest dining habits were brought glaringly into focus when my youngest returned home for fall break. One night for dinner, I happily made his favorite dish—beef stir-fry and rice—and when it was time to eat we sat at the kitchen table. The funny thing about where we ate was that for the past two months Hubby and I had exclusively shared meals at our kitchen’s bar counter.

“It felt strange to be sitting at the table,” my husband said while we cleared and cleaned after dinner.

“I was thinking the same thing,” I said.

Of course, with our youngest home, it was wonderful, too. Still, after he went back to school, Hubby and I went back to eating at the bar counter—it was our new normal.

Now, a little over two months into this empty-nest thing, I’ve gotten back into testing new recipes—things Hubby and I want to try—and I chop, mix, and measure in smaller quantities than before. Two of my favorite recipes in couple-sized proportions are marinated ahi tuna and cauliflower crust pizza.

This healthy Ahi Tuna recipe for two is from http://www.muscleandfitness.com/nutrition/healthy-recipes/gourmet-marinated-ahi-tuna-recipe:

Gourmet Marinated Ahi Tuna 

  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce (or 2 tsp of wheat-free tamari for gluten-free option)
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 green onion (scallion) thinly sliced (optional)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 6-8 oz fresh, sushi-grade ahi tuna steaks (3/4-inch thick)

Directions:

1. Mix balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, green onions and lemon juice together in a large bowl.

2. Place tuna steaks in bowl with the marinade, cover tightly and refrigerate for at least an hour.

3. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high to high heat. When the pan is hot, remove tuna from the marinade and sear them for 1 minute to 1½ on each side for rare tuna (keep on heat longer if you want the tuna cooked more thoroughly).

4. Remove from pan, and slice into 1/4-inch thick slices. Serve alone, atop a bed of lettuce or with brown rice.

And this cauliflower crust pizza is from http://12tomatoes.com/glutenfree-recipe-cauliflower-pizza-crust-1/

Cauliflower Pizza Crust (30 mins to prepare 1 crust)

  • 4 cups raw cauliflower rice (about one medium head)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/3 cup goat cheese or ricotta cheese
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, then begin to make the cauliflower rice.

2. Cut the cauliflower head into florets and add them, in batches, to a food processor. Pulse each batch until the cauliflower turns into a rice-like texture.

3. There are two ways to cook the cauliflower rice on the stovetop or in the microwave. To cook on the stovetop, fill a large pot with an inch of water and bring it to a boil. Then, add the cauliflower rice, cover the pot, and let it cook for about 4 to 5 minutes draining it into a fine-mesh strainer afterward. To cook in the microwave, place the rice cauliflower in a microwave-safe bowl and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, letting it rest after for a few minutes but fluffing the rice every so often.

4. After straining the cauliflower rice, transfer to a clean, thin dishtowel and twist the towel around the rice to get all the excess moisture out or, pat the rice firmly with paper towels until all the excess moisture is gone. There’s a surprising amount of moisture in there, but it’ll be worth it to make sure the crust is dry.

5. Put the drained rice into a large bowl and add the egg, cheese, and spices. Mix together thoroughly.

6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (a must) and then press the dough onto the baking sheet into the shape you’d like. Try to keep the dough about 1/3-inch thick, and a little thicker around the edges if you’d like a traditional crust shape.

7. Bake the crust for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until the crust is firm and golden-brown. Then, remove from the oven and add sauce, cheese, and your toppings of choice before returning the pizza back to the oven for about 5 to 10 minutes (cook until the cheese is bubbly).

8. Let the pizza rest for a few minutes, then cut into slices and serve.

9. Enjoy

(Recipe adapted from Detoxinista)

I’ve even grown to accept the empty space in my pantry. It’s not so bad to spot an ingredient without first juggling boxes and cans.

The Internet articles I’d read were on target in a lot of ways.

My house did become quiet and I’ve had some teary moments. Thankfully though, my two sweet birds have been good about texting and calling the nest.

And while I’m adjusting well to this new phase of life, I haven’t tried dancing around the house in my birthday suit—at least not yet. So be advised: if you’re planning on popping into this empty nest, make sure you text or call first.

 

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