Friday, January 30, 2009

Winter reflections

I have officially hit a slump. Call it the mid winter blues if you will but I have hit hard. I used to love winter back when I could actually snowboard. Two kids and no money makes that pretty hard these days. Everything seems harder in the winter. Putting on and taking off all the necessary layers multiple times a day, trying to find a way to exercise the dog, and trying to find a way to exercise me are adding up to my hatred of winter. I am a summer gal. I am a garden goddess. I need to spend at least part of every day digging in the dirt. I love taking breaks from working by sitting in the warm sun in my backyard with a cup of tea.

Now I sip my tea indoors, looking out my back slider at the mounds of snow covering my garden beds, covering my backyard living space, covering up my release. I feel stuffed. Stuffed inside this tiny cottage with no privacy, no air, no movement. During the summer my living space expands and I finally have more room to breath. My deck becomes my night time hang out - giving my husband and I space if we need it. I can talk on the phone in peace or build a backyard fire to relax and get away from the computer and TV.

I love my backyard. Every winter around this time I start planning my garden. What to plant in the existing beds, where to put some new beds, what part of the yard I can dig up and transform this year. I enjoy making a garden journal with my children. We list out what we want to plant, make a map, and then we take before and after pictures each season. It is also a great way to record what worked or didn't work in your garden.

Winter isn't all that bad I guess. I do welcome the slowness and reflection it brings each year. I am not quite sure I would actually want to garden all year long. It is nice to take a break from yard work and get refreshed for the next season. I love watching my kids playing in the snow. There is something priceless about the simple act of sledding, building snowmen, and sticking you tongue high into the air to catch a fresh flake.

I guess instead of letting the winter blues take over I will choose to enjoy the last few months where it is ok to slow down and reflect. Summer will be here before I know it and so will raking leaves, entertaining two kids on vacation, daily yard work, bike rides, trips to the lake, park adventures, camping, house projects - and the list goes on and on. See, I'm exhausted already just talking about it. Instead I will go start up the wood stove, make a pot of tea and enjoy the winter stillness.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

25 things about me

I was tagged to do this on facebook but I thought I would share the list here for my non facebook readers.


1. I suffer from daily chronic headaches. I am good at hiding it. You may see me acting normal but almost every day my head is throbbing.

2. My husband and I only knew each other for one year before getting married.

3. I love talking on the phone

4. I have been writing poetry since I was in elementary school. One of my dreams is to self publish books of my stuff.

5. I have never been to NYC

6. I miss living in San Francisco so much but I can't imagine ever leaving VT again.

7. All of my friends are from random times in my life. I hate how spread out they all are.

8. I love beer. I can't stand liquor or drink wine but the taste of beer is oh so fine.

9. My mother was diagnosed with MS this year and my nephew had his second brain surgery for epilepsy. It has been a tough year.

10. I love gardening. It is like therapy for me.

11. I love staying home with my kids but sometimes I do miss adult interaction.

12. Since having my kids I can no longer drink coffee. I used to drink it daily but now my body can't take it.

13. Sometimes I think the internet has killed my ability to write in my journal. When I pick up a pen now it is hard to actually write with one. I have been keeping a journal since high school but the pages are not filling up like they once did. It bothers me because blogging is such a filtered view on things. I am too afraid to be completely honest on my blog in fear of pissing people off.

14. I am very sensitive to music. A certain artist or song will bring me to tears.

15. I wear an eye mask to bed because other wise I see things in my room at night.

16. I haven't eaten meat in 17 years.

18. I am an Italian, Irish, Gemini who is typically fiery and loud.

19. I wear my heart on my sleeve.

20. I hate watching sports

21. One of the most delightful things in my life is when my two boys climb in my bed on weekend mornings and snuggle until we all get up.

22. I love my two kids more than anything in this world.

23. I have a super close relationship with my mother. She is my best friend and we talk almost daily.

24. I had an emergency appendectomy when I was 7 months pregnant with Sal.

25. I have had 4 different operations and have 5 scars on my body from them.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Playdates make me scream

I can't stand the term playdate. It really bugs me. I don't know what it is about that word but it makes me cringe. A playdate is a scheduled time of supervised play arranged at someone's house, the park or other family friendly place. It's not that I don't want my kid socializing with others it's just that it all feels so forced. I was introduced to the world of playdates once my oldest child started Kindergarten last year. Before that he just hung out with any kid that my friends happened to have. Once we hit Kindergarten the rules change and playdates begin.

I have been lucky so far that the friends he has made and wanted to hook up with outside of school we have approved of. The families are great and the kids are great so it has worked out well for us. He is in 1st grade now so we have a little bit of experience with play dates under our belts now. The problem is I suck at them.

I am not good at inviting kids to my house. I know it and I was reminded of it yesterday when I received an email from a mom who basically asked me if her child could ever be invited to our house since they have had my son so many times. At first I was taken aback by her honesty but she is right. I am totally behind in keeping up with my end of the play date circle. I owe a few people some dates at my house.

I can't really explain it and I know I will be better about it during the summer months but right now it is just hard for me. We are not an over scheduled family. We don't play organized sports. I like the kids to come home after school, do their homework and chill. Perhaps it is the way I was raised. My sister is the complete opposite though. Her family never stops. School days, weekends, whenever, those kids are maxed out with sports. They are always coming and going and just hearing about makes me not be able to breath. Every family is different though and you have to do what works for you. It works for them, but it could never work for me.

I am sorry to anyone who might feel our playdate circle has been uneven. I promise to try harder.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Just make it happen

When I was in high school in NH back in the late 80's early 90's Martin Luther King day was not celebrated. There was no day off from school or work. We didn't do much of anything to honor the day at all. One year on MLK day when I was junior or senior, a group of students including myself decided to hold a sit in to protest the fact that the school did not recognize the holiday. We skipped classes all morning and sat outside of the administration offices. By afternoon the administration decided to listen to what we had to say. They asked us to move into the library and gave us the chance to speak. Students stood up and spoke about why they thought the day was important and should be recognized. Some spoke from the heart and some read passages from books. I stood up and read a poem I had written. The school decided to listen to us and from that point on they held an assembly every year with speakers to honor the day.

Now the school has the day off as does most in the country but I can't help to feel a bit proud that a group of us decided to speak our voices and stand up for what we believed in. I was reminded of this event yesterday as the country celebrated Martin Luther King day and today as President Obama spoke to the American people about hope, change, and how it takes all of us to stand up unafraid and make that change.

I am sure I speak for so many people when I say that today was truly an inspirational day. I haven't felt this kind of pride for my country in a long time.

My 7 year old son watched the inauguration in school today. When I picked him up he said "Do you know what my favorite part was mommy? His speech. He is a really good speaker."

He might not fully understand the magnitude of today but I feel he walked away with a piece of something. I wish for him a better world. I hope we can all work together to make it one.

"We will extend our hand, if you are willing to unclench your fist" -President Obama

Monday, January 19, 2009

Garbanzo Bean Tacos

My family used to enjoy taco night by substituting meat for the Fantastic Foods Taco mix. In an attempt to cut out processed soy proteins and most fake meat products we have been going without tacos for some time now. I finally have a new reason to bring taco night back. I was a bit hesitant about whether this bean mix would fly with my kids but they devoured them up like crazy. Everyone seemed to agree these were far better than the ones we made with the boxed mix.

This makes a super quick and healthy meal. Garbanzo beans are packed with protein.

enjoy.

Garbanzo Bean Tacos

Ingredients:


2 can garbanzo beans
1 packet taco seasoning (try to find a natural version like Bearitos taco seasoning mix)
2/3 cup water
lettuce
hard taco shells or lard-free tortillas
tomatoes
onions
salsa or taco sauce
any other items you like on your taco

Directions:


Drain and rinse garbanzo beans. Stir together the garbanzo beans, water and taco seasoning pack to a skillet and heat on medium until sauce begins to thicken. Let simmer for about 10-15 minute or until sauce has thickened to your liking. Add more water if you so desire.

While the beans and sauce are simmering begin warming up your taco shells in the oven and prepping your toppings. Once the bean mixture is done it needs to be served right away so you want to make sure you have everything else ready to go.

Take a large spoon or fork and mash the beans while still in the pan. They shouldn't be as mashed as refried beans. Leave a bit more chunky.

Add bean mixture and other ingredients to your tacos, burritos or salads.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Rockless night out

Each year I feel my age creeping up on me. Each time I go out I feel it more and more. Last night JB and I went out on the town together. This is a big deal because we go out together maybe twice a year. We can't afford babysitters so we rely on the good will of our favorite neighbors who offer to hang out in our house for free. Because we don't pay them we feel we can only ask a few times. It was our friend's 30th birthday and her husband set up a surprise gathering at a local watering hole called the Red Square. Many locals don't like this establishment because the drinks are over priced (totally), and it gets super crowded with drunk college kids (it is a college town you know). I myself really like Red Square. The decor is dark and artsy, it always has live music, and the two outside seating areas it has in the summer months rock.

Yes I like the Red Square. Even though when you look at the drink menu whether you order local brews such as Switchback or Magic Hat, or you order Labatt Blue - you pay $4.50. I can look past this unfortunate pricing structure and still have a good time.

Last night was filled with good friends, good beers, and so so live music. The plan was to hang out at Red Square until 10:00 and then head over to Nectar's to watch a friend's band play. I knew the band really wouldn't go on at 10:00 - they never do. So we headed home without being able to follow our friends to the second location. Why can't bands just play when they say they are going to play? You know damn well when they say 10:00 show that really means 10:45. That's not right. It's not right that I can't stay up past 11:30 or I will have a massive headache the next day. It's not right that I am no longer able to see live music except for the free concerts in the park that start at 7:00 in the summers.

Do I have to give in to the masses and indulge in Rockband or Guitar Hero in an attempt to artificially feel the sensation of music rushing through my blood? I refuse, I refuse, I refuse

Monday, January 12, 2009

Asian delight

Peanut noodles, baked tofu, napa cabbage salad and green beans.


Have you ever wondered what to do with a head of napa cabbage? I just discovered the yummiest recipe that I want to share. Every two weeks I pick up a slew of veggies from my winter CSA farm share. The winter months are slimmer pickings of veggies they are able to store through the winter. I get carrots, potatoes, onions, root veggies, winter squash and cabbage every two weeks. It is so nice to be able to enjoy Vermont grown veggies all year. I have to admit though that when it comes to picking a cabbage I either don't or I do, and it goes bad in my fridge. This week I vowed to choose a napa cabbage and learn something new.

Napa cabbage salad seemed like the clear winner so I set out to make a meal around it and chose to serve it with peanut noodles, baked tofu, and green beans.

Napa cabbage
salad (adapted from a recipe I found on all recipes). I had to change the measurements of the original recipe because the amount of butter was about a triple the amount of what I list here and was just not needed. I also cut the sugar way down too. Here is my modified version.

Ingredients
1 head napa cabbage
1 bunch minced green onions
2 tablespoons butter
1 package ramen noodles, broken
1 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Directions


1. Finely shred the head of cabbage; do not chop. Combine the green onions and cabbage in a large bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
3. Make the crunchies: Melt the butter in a pot. Mix the ramen noodles, sesame seeds and almonds into the pot with the melted butter. Spoon the mixture onto a baking sheet and bake the crunchies in the preheated 350 degrees F oven, turning often to make sure they do not burn. When they are browned remove them from the oven.
4. Make the dressing: In a small saucepan, heat vinegar, oil, sugar, and soy sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, let boil for 1 minute. Remove the pan from heat and let cool.
5. Combine dressing, crunchies, and cabbage immediately before serving. Serve right away or the crunchies will get soggy.

**side note - Spoon the dressing over the salad in small amounts. The original recipe made way more dressing than I ended up using. I just spooned some on until I like the consistency and the flavor. I think too much of this dressing can spoil it. Even though I cut the measurements down for the dressing I wouldn't go dumping the entire amount of the salad. This was a damn good salad. Even my kids liked it.

Peanut noodles
This is an adapted recipe. The original is called Karen's Sesame Noodles from one of my favorite cookbooks Feeding the Whole Family. I changed this up a bit to have more peanut butter and less tahini.

Ingredients


8 ounces whole grain noodles (thin spaghetti or udon noodles)
1 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons peanut butter (you can also use almond or cashew butter)
1 teaspoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1-3 tablespoons water to desired consistency.

Directions


Cook noodles in boiling water according to directions on package. While noodles are cooking put ingredients for sauce in bowl and blend until creamy. When noodles are cooked, drain and rinse. Pour sauce over noodles and toss well. **These are good warm and cold.

Baked Tofu

Ingredients

1 package of Extra firm tofu
Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki sauce
Garlic powder

Directions


Drain tofu. Cut the tofu cake making two cakes and place on a plate with paper towels under and over the cakes. Press down to get as much water out as you can. I usually put a heavy book on top to help the process for about 10 minutes.

Next cut the tofu into chunks and place in a bowl. Add the enough Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki sauce to cover tofu and mix so all the chunks are covered with sauce. Sprinkle with garlic powder and mix again. Put tofu in a baking dish and place in oven on 350. Cook for about 20 minutes or so flipping the tofu every so often. Tofu should be brown when ready.

*Excellent warm with your meal and enjoy cold the next day with the left over peanut noodles.
** Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki is one of the ways I cheat in the kitchen. This stuff is so good and it makes it easy to spice up a lot of different foods. I use it a lot as a marinade on tofu, drizzle on rice and stir fries but I am sure it would be great on fish or other meats as well. It is pretty pricey in the store - over $4.00 a bottle but I have actually found it for half the cost at the Christmas Tree Shop. Check out the food section of the store and see if yours sells it. I have been buying mine there for a few years now. It is worth checking.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Rockin' Granola


I have been trying to wean my family off of store bought breakfast cereal. It is so expensive and the options are limited. I refuse to buy most store brand cereals because they usually contain a preservative called BHT that I am not a fan of and high fructose corn syrup which I think is one of the most evil ingredients ever to be added to our food. If we could remove that from our food I think our country would be a lot healthier. I won't go off on that now. Sorry for the rant. Ok back to cereal. So the other option is to buy the more expensive health store versions which I like a lot better but at almost $4.00 a box which only lasts in my house for two days it gets quite pricey. On the weekends I make eggs and pancakes but I can't manage to cook that much on school days. I have tried oatmeal and my kids won't touch it. John used to make batches of granola for us several years ago so I decided to give it a try. We love granola but again the store bought versions are even pricier than boxed cereal.

I made the following recipe this morning and tested it on the kids (and myself) for our afternoon snack. They both gave it the thumbs up while spooning mouthfuls of it mixed with rice milk.

The following recipe which I call Rockin' Granola is adapted from a recipe called Classic Crunchy Granola from the The Vegetarian Family Cookbook. My version adds combines honey and maple syrup and adds a bit more, plus I omit a few things and added a few things.

One last thing to note about my recipes. I am one of those people who don't always measure things so I will give an approximate measurement of somethings but I will keep it on the small side so you can add more (as I usually do). I will note these items which are not exact.

Ok ok here is the recipe

Rockin' Granola
makes about 6 cups

Ingredients
4 cups rolled oats (don't buy the quick oats)
1 cup wheat germ
1/2 (+) cup chopped pecans. ** I used a little bit more than 1/2 cup. Depends on how nutty you like your granola. I just happened to have pecans in the house leftover so I used those but you could use sliced almonds or cashews too. I might try more than one kind of nut in my next batch.
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup of honey
2 + tablespoons safflower oil
1/3 cup chopped up apple rings (optional. I personally don't like a lot of dried fruit in my granola so I stick with a smaller amount of the dried apples and I chop them small.)
Cinnamon to taste. I use probably almost 1 tablespoon of Cinnamon. I am a Cinnamon addict though.
Nutmeg - 1 to 2 dashes.

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 275. Lightly oil a baking sheet.
2. Combine oats, wheat germ, and nuts in a large mixing bowl. Stir well.
3. Combine the maple syrup and 2 of the tablespoons of oil in a small container.
4. Combine the honey and just enough oil to thin out the honey a bit. No more than 1 tablespoon in a small container.
5. Drizzle the maple syrup mixture into the oat mixture, stirring constantly as you go until well covered.
6. At this point I felt it needed more so this is where I add the honey mixture as well. Drizzle some or all of this mixture mixing as you go.
7. Spread on the baking sheet and bake, stirring every 10 minutes 30 minutes or until golden.
8. Let the granola cool on the baking sheet. Transfer to glass containers for storage.

**experiment with the amount of honey you add. I like how it binds everything together so I thought it needed some added to it instead of just the maple syrup. The measurement of the honey is not exact however. I wouldn't do more than I listed but you could do a bit less.

enjoy