Thursday, November 20, 2014

Afternoon snack

Every single day for the last several weeks. 

afternoon snack

1 oz cheese + 5 crackers + 1/2 apple. Although it's usually packed in a to go container. 

I used to convince myself that my afternoon snack should be super healthy, like carrot sticks, even though all I really want in the afternoon (always, really) is cheese and crackers. 

I try to avoid eating wheat on a daily basis because too much of it makes my joints swell like crazy. If we have pasta and bread for dinner, I'm resigned to the fact that I'll wake up with "pasta knuckles" the next morning. I choose to work around this because I'm not interested in giving up gluten. So we don't keep bread in the house on a regular basis anymore and I try to keep my pasta intake low(ish) even though I'm in no way gluten-free.

But I've decided that 5 little crackers a day aren't going to kill me and it's been lovely. I'll admit that the first time I brought home a box I ended up eating half of it on the bus, but I blame that on terrible traffic combined with post work hunger. Now that I have them around all the time I don't have an issue sticking to my small serving each day and my joints seem fine, knock on wood.

Speaking of cheese (we were, weren't we?) - am I the only one who gets excited for the holidays in large part because of the cheese platters? Trader Joe's caramelized onion cheddar, I am coming for you. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Black bean burgers revisited

I'm still using my standard recipe for black bean burgers but I've gotten a little better about making them so I'm jotting down my notes.

peppers and onions

black beans

burger mix

I use the pastry cutter for mashing the beans. The original recipe called for a fork, but mashing things with a fork is not a lot of fun. I used to use the food processor, but it does TOO good a job and can make it smoother than you want. The pastry cutter is perfect. (I also use it for guacamole and for egg salad, but not for pastry, oddly enough).

The dough (batter?) is still really soft, and shaping it was always a pain. I now treat these like pancakes and just use my largest scoop (it's a #12 which is 1/3 cup) to put the batter directly on the griddle. I flatten out the mounds a bit with a spatula. They're delicate, so you have to be careful on the first flip, but they'll firm up a bit as they cook. I don't use a non-stick skillet anymore, just my cast iron griddle with some oil on it.

In addition to the cumin and the coriander (about 1 - 2 teaspoons of each), I also add in a bit of chili powder.

I've also tested out a couple of variations that were good. Sometimes I'll finely dice sweet potatoes and saute them with the onion mixture to get them tender. If you happen to have leftover caramelized onions on hand, those are a great addition. I'm planning to do a version with diced jalapenos for some extra heat. It's a good recipe to play around with.

** I have a lot of information about the kitchen equipment I use the most in this post, if you're ever wondering. **

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pitcher palomas

I love margaritas as much as the next person (okay, maybe more) but there are times when all I want is a paloma. Palomas are sort of like stripped down margaritas, consisting mainly of grapefruit and tequila. You can make them in various ways, the least fancy of which is just silver tequila and Squirt.

On Saturday we were going to a party so I wanted something relatively quick that I could pack up and take as a pitcher cocktail. I started with this Rick Bayless recipe but because we were using fresh grapefruit juice (I get it from the Trader Joe's refrigerated section) that has basically no sweetness, I knew we'd need to play with it. I swapped in a little bit of tangerine juice to balance out the grapefruit juice and then made a basil simple syrup instead of just using regular sugar, which I find never dissolves well.

pitcher palomas
{pitcher palomas}

This cocktail will take a bit of adjusting because so much depends on your juice. Have a tasting glass nearby and take tiny sips as you go along so you can get it where you want it.

Pitcher palomas (makes enough for a crowd, about 15 large drinks)
1 1/2 cups lime juice
3 cups fresh grapefruit juice
1 cup tangerine juice (or OJ, or just more grapefruit juice)
4 cups silver tequila (basically a full 750 ml bottle)
~ 1/3 cup basil simple syrup, or regular simple syrup
~ 24 oz sparkling water (I used Le Croix grapefruit flavored water)
Ice, for serving
:: Mix the juice and the tequila together. Add simple syrup to taste. I think I ended up using about 1/3 cup, just enough to take the edge off the grapefruit. If you are using bottled grapefruit juice, which is sweeter, you might not need any syrup at all. If you prefer a sweeter drink, you may need quite a bit more.

:: You can either top with the sparkling water or have it available for people to add to their liking. How much water you add will mostly be determined by the setting. If I were pouring a round of cocktails pre-dinner at home, I might add just a splash of water. But when I make pitcher drinks for parties I tend to use more. People drink more at a party and they drink faster so I find it's better to make the drinks a little lighter so they can sip longer. If you taste as you mix and stick with flavored water, you'll ensure that it doesn't end up tasting watered down, just refreshing.

Basil simple syrup (makes about 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
Large handful of basil leaves
:: Bring the water and sugar to a gentle boil, stirring to make sure the sugar dissolves. Toss in the basil leaves, stir, and turn off the heat. Allow to cool before straining.

You can keep the leftovers in the fridge for a week or two. If you don't have basil, leave it out and just make regular simple syrup.

I always use my flip top bottles when I bring drinks to a party. I write on them with a black sharpie, including a short description of the drink so that people hunting through the cooler can decide if it appeals to them The sharpie will come off with soap and water when you're ready to wash it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fall meal planning update

I'm still mostly using my meal planning system, although the actual cooking definitely fell by the wayside for most of the summer due to the heat. Instead I tried to plan as many fast, preferably oven-less, meals as possible.

meal planning tweaks

Now that it's starting to cool down I tweaked our meal planning a bit. Soup is sounding more appealing, so I'm subbing out our usual large salad meal for a hearty soup meal. I've also reduced the total servings I aim for each week from 16 to 12. This is because I've been cooking my lunches separately so I don't need to factor them into our planning. When my cooking was sporadic during the summer I couldn't rely on leftovers (quesadillas aren't great the next day) and I kept purchasing lunch, which I hate to do. So much money, so little enjoyment. If I could actually go out to eat I might see it differently but I don't like paying $7 for a lackluster sandwich to eat at my desk.

So, new lunch plan: brown rice + frozen stir fry veg + protein (usually tofu a few times a week and fish or meat a couple times) + stir fry sauce. It's a fake stir fry. And yes, the microwaved frozen vegetables are not nearly as good as fresh would be but this is the fastest, most consistent lunch I've been able to come up with. It takes virtually no effort and hits all the key nutritional groups I need to feel good. All I really have to do is remember to cook a batch of brown rice on Sunday evening and purchase some tofu. I don't even bother pre-cooking the tofu most of the time. This is where it really comes in handy that I can eat the same lunch every day and not get bored.

And my new meal planning structure looks like this:
Soup - 1x per week, 4 - 6 servings
Meat/lentils/pasta - 1x per week, 4 - 6 servings
Easy meal - 1x per week, 2 - 4 servings

I just need to round up some hearty soup recipes, preferably including a few that can be done in the crockpot. I've been searching around and hopefully I can share some as I try them. I love the crockpot, but the most common recipes you find are usually meat based and we try not to eat meat all the time. I'm hunting for vegetarian recipes as well and there are some that look pretty awesome.

More meal planning posts here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The weekend

If I had realized it was going to be 90 degrees on Saturday I probably wouldn't have committed myself to spending all day in the kitchen.

kitchen saturday
{kitchen saturday}

sundried tomato pesto
{sundried tomato pesto}

pumpkin ginger bread
{pumpkin ginger bread}



It was still nice to get back in there so I won't complain. We had a family birthday party on Sunday (not pictured, because it was a whirlwind) so I was prepping for that by making carrot cake cupcakes and my favorite picnic food, pressed sandwiches (grilled veg + pesto and prosciutto + mozzarella + sundried tomato pesto). Since I was already in there I tested out a pumpkin bread recipe I hadn't tried before. It had a lot of pumpkin flavor but not nearly enough spice for me. I'll hunt out a new one.

Saturday evening we were veritable social butterflies, at least compared to our usual standards. We went to Brendan Ravenhill's new studio opening and ogled over light fixtures. Then we headed to Lily's gallery opening and ogled over her gorgeous paintings. Then we went to a party at our friends' house and hung out until midnight at which point I cried uncle. My stamina has gone way down, guys.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Care package

Way back in August we took that last minute trip up to the bay area to help my sister and her husband move into their new place. What I didn't share at the time is that the reason we ended up going up with them was because my poor sister was suffering through the most miserable morning (and noon, and night) sickness I've ever seen and we didn't want her to make the long drive.

I also wanted to put together a little care package for them, since moves are the worst, even when you aren't feeling terrible. We might be completely grown up, but I'll still never get over the impulse to be an overprotective older sister.

care package

I am far from an expert but I dug around on the internet and then just winged it. All the ginger goodies I could pick up (chews, cookies and tea from Trader Joe's) plus some lemonheads in case the sweet-sour thing could help. Ritz crackers, which I don't think she ended up being able to eat, but hey, you have to try everything! Pretty sure the ginger thins ended up being the biggest success.

I wanted them to have a couple meals in the fridge so I put together my favorite orzo salad, then panicked because I realized it has a lot of garlic which might be super unappealing to a pregnant lady so I added a giant tub of baked mac and cheese. Brownies and candles for her husband, since his birthday was the day after we left and I knew there was no way they'd have a functional kitchen yet (seriously, the timing of this move was rough in all kinds of ways). I packaged everything in a set of the glass snaptop containers that I'm completely obsessed with. Seriously, they are the best and Macy's puts them on sale regularly, so keep an eye out.

I'm happy to report that she's feeling much better now and I'm over the moon with excitement to meet the new baby in March! Expect to see a lot of weekend Oakland trips in the spring.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Year six

I didn't want to write this year either. I actually thought I had a draft where I'd been typing my notes, but no, just this blank page that I need to somehow wrangle my thoughts onto. I thought maybe I'd just skip it, but I can't quite do it. I'm grateful to have posts from each year to look back on even though writing them is hard - years one, two, three, four and five here.

Today marks the sixth year anniversary of Dave's bicycle accident. Last year I had just finished dealing with a crisis and was so, so angry. This year I feel pretty defeated. Nothing is getting better and I'm starting to realize that I have to let go of it a little if my life is ever going to move forward. I've been trying to take steps towards letting go, but it's a terrifying, guilt ridden process. Looking back, I realize that I said I was going to do this last year and I've only been partially successful.

Here's the thing - my default mode is to be a "fixer" in all situations. I can google like a pro, I can make lists of action items and resources and steps to take. But I can't fix this and not only have I exhausted myself trying, I've ended up in a position where all my energy and resources over the last few years have gone towards trying. I just haven't had anything left to invest in myself or my career or my relationships with people I care about, including my parents, which seems ironic, since I spend so much time thinking about them. But a relationship based solely on problem-solving isn't really a relationship, and I'm starting to feel it.

Fixing is comforting. It keeps me busy and distracted. I don't have time to feel sad often because I'm constantly going over a to do list in my head. Appointments and phone calls I should make (when the hell do people who work full time make phone calls when most offices are only open during the hours you are also working? it's a dilemma), places I should check out, strategies we maybe haven't tried yet. My mind is always going and it numbs me out a bit. Sure, I feel frantic and stressed and angry that I have to do all this. But sad? I haven't let myself feel sad in a while. Sad is depressing. Sad is admitting defeat. Sad is something that you can't just fix and I have a hard time accepting that.

So this summer I decided to try just letting myself feel sad. Or angry, or whatever. I would sometimes come home and just lie on the floor in the dark for 30 minutes and listen to music and actually let myself think about my feelings. It was a little bit like being 13 again, but with fewer zits. And yes, it was sad. I was essentially throwing myself a long overdue pity party and not even attempting to distract myself from it. It was uncomfortable and awkward. I am not a lie on the floor and cry type of person but eventually I needed to stop banging against a wall and actually lean into it. Honor the sadness and hope that I could start to move on from there.

I wish I could tell you that I had an amazing breakthrough and am now totally in touch with my emotions and also magically found a solution to this situation. I didn't. I still backslide a lot, and catch myself putting up walls because it's so much easier, this habit, even if it leaves me cut off and angry. I still feel responsible for fixing my parents' lives or at least finding solutions to make them more livable. I'm still terrified because I know that at some point in the near future the burden of taking care of Dave 24/7 is going to break my mom down completely and we should be coming up with a solution in advance of that and we haven't. I don't have the energy. I need to spend a bit of that energy on myself, because I've been paddling in place for the last six years, barely able to get myself to move into a new apartment, let alone contemplate my own future. I keep telling myself that I'll pick up the pieces of my own life later, once I've resolved everything. But this isn't going to resolve. It might only get worse. And I don't know how many years the rest of my life can wait on hold.

I don't know how to get over the crippling guilt I feel when I make the decision to cut back on family time in order to have more time with Dustin, or with our friends, or just by myself. I've tried to do it this year because it's the only way forward I know. The first Saturday I woke up and realized I was going to spend the entire weekend in my own apartment, without any trips down to my parents or any major events, I actually felt at loose ends. What do people do with free time? And had I really had so little of it that I couldn't remember how it felt? The enormous, unbelievable luxury of waking up slowly and doing normal things, cleaning the house and drinking tea and walking the dog and reading a book and doing laundry. The lingering anxiety that surely I was forgetting something because not following a complicated schedule of obligations seemed unbelievable. I'm trying to make sure we keep at least two weekends a month free. It's harder than you'd expect and it's still never really enough time, but it's something.

So this is where I am, moving forward in starts and stutters, trying to rebuild my relationships as best I can, trying to honor the sadness without letting it consume me. I need to spend a little time fixing myself before I can keep on with fixing anyone else. I can't really see my way forward right now but I'm trying to believe that there's a path somewhere. I have to start taking some steps in the fog and just hope that I find it.