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Out with the Old, In with the New

And lo, we have arrived. Twenty fourteen. Which, among other things, means that Josh and I have been engaged for two years now. We should probably add “get married” to our list of things-to-do this year, yes? Yes. Let’s work on that. But that’s not all. I’m still trying to be more intentional about the way I spend my time, and so I like to make some resolutions every year that line up with my free time priorities. Here’s a list of what I’d like to accomplish this year (in addition to matrimonial knot-tying), along with a quick report on how 2013’s resolutions went.

Eat Food

2013 Resolution: Limit ordering take-out to once per week.  I was pretty successful here, at least during the week. The weekends? We still ate out a lot. BUT we were eating in the restaurants rather than taking out. So I totally nailed this one, technically speaking.

2014 Resolution: Resurrect the garden. Josh put in raised gardening beds in 2012, and then we had an unusually unsunny summer and our yield was kind of sad. So we showed the sun who was boss by not bothering to plant anything in 2013. And that year, when we had no seedlings poised to benefit from it, the sun shone and shone and shone all summer long. Because the sun is an asshole. This year, we’ll make some modifications to the beds and try again. We will plant. We will harvest. We. Will. Eat!

Be Green

2013 Resolution: Make a batch of homemade deodorant. Done and done. And it works GREAT. The recipe is here (my most popular post of 2013, so I guess that means you guys like it too). I made one batch, and it lasted me the entire year.

2014 Resolution: Homemade shampoo. In addition to 2013’s homemade deodorant, I starting washing my face with oil. Both changes were wildly successful (and saved money to boot). I already use eco-friendly shampoos, but this is the year I’ll be brave enough to test out some homemade recipes. I’m mentally preparing myself for the terrible hair days ahead – and you should too, since you’ll be subjected to the photodocumentation.

Make Stuff

2013 Resolution: Pick a project and make it. Success! I made some things. Mostly to give to other people for Christmas presents, but that still counts.

2014 Resolution: Make 6 lovely things, at least one of which requires a sewing machine. I don’t have anything specific in mind yet, so I just gave myself a quantity of made items to work toward. I will consider them lovely if I want to show them off when they’re complete. This may not mean that they actually are lovely, but good enough to inspire shouts of “Hey World, look what I made!” should count for something.

Get Out

2013 Resolution: Have one adults-only outing every month. Fail. Fail. Fail. Oh, did I suck at this one. I’m trying to recall how many times Josh and I had something even sort of resembling a date night, and I can only think of two: one in February (a concert) and one in December (a play). I also squeezed in a couple rushed coffee dates with friends, but all in all it was an abysmal year for adult time.

2014 Resolution: One. Adult-only. Outing. Every. Month. I’m just re-upping this one.

Read Books

2013 Resolution: Finish reading two fiction books and one non-fiction book. Nailed it, plus extra credit. Books finished in 2013:  Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson, Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins, Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.

2014 Resolution: Don’t buy any new books. That sort of feels like an anti-resolution, but I have stacks of books I already own that I haven’t read yet. I’m trying to get through that stack before adding to it. I am still perfectly willing to accept new books as gifts, however. Just so we’re clear.

Learn Stuff

 2013 Resolution: Learn to open a bottle of champagne, for chrissakes. This was the first resolution to get marked off my list, since I opened the New Year’s bottle of champagne precisely one minute after 2013 began. I’m pretty certain I’ve since forgotten how to do it, and I’m entirely certain it still makes me shriek because I’m convinced the cork is going to take my eye out. But still, I’m considering this one complete.

2014 Resolution: Participate in a writing workshop. Along the same lines as the champagne, I’d originally resolved to learn to use a drill. But, really, I know how to use one, I just don’t know how to use one well. (My drill holes are always wobbly and drunk looking.) I just need practice, and that’s a lame resolution anyway. Instead: a writer’s workshop. I already signed up for this YEAR-LONG one, before I had time to think too much on it and lose my nerve.

Get Involved

2013 Resolution: Finish my PTA Legislative Chair position off strong. Done. It was a semi-strong finish, at least. And then I started a new term as the Legislative Liaison at Riley’s new school. So there.

2014 Resolution: Bring the kids along. We’ll do some sort of volunteery thing as a family. A beach clean up. A weeding party at a park. Organize donations at West Side Baby. I don’t know exactly what yet. But we’ll figure it out, and do it. All of us.

Raise Citizens

2013 Resolution: Teach Avi new songs and guide Riley through a summer service project.  Done and done. Avi learned most of his new songs at preschool rather than directly from me, but it still counts. And Riley raised and donated over $400 to World Wildlife Fund to help endangered gorillas. Because he’s awesome.

2014 Resolution: Have the kids complete one Good Citizen Deed each week. This has been a trickier project to put together than I anticipated, but I’m giving the kids 52 assignments to complete throughout the year. The assignments vary from simple (pick out a can of food at the grocery store to donate to the food bank) to more involved (research a topic important to your community and write a letter to your state reps about it). All of Avi’s are pretty simple since, you know, he’s only 3.

Be Well

2013 Resolution: Complete three workouts/week. Didn’t happen. Me and exercise just aren’t getting along regularly right now. I squeeze it in when I can. I know it’s important for my physical health. But you know what? So is sleep. And on those rare days that I have a little extra time to spare, sleep wins. Moving on.

2014 Resolution: Go to the doctor(s) and write one day/week. I haven’t been to the doctor in a long time. I’m overdue for a pap, breast exam, glaucoma screen (family history there), glasses that actually correct my eyesight. And the dentist? Haven’t been there in over a decade. Don’t give me that look. I’ve had the shit shitty shittiest insurance that only medical emergencies have been dealt with. But now? Obamacare, yo. I can finally afford this. And for my mental health, I vow to get myself away from children once a week for some focused writing. Wish me luck on that one. I’ll need it.

Life List

2013 Resolution: Go to the dentist. Nope. No money. Shit insurance. We’ve covered this.

2014 Resolution: Give new life to an old piece of furniture. I have piles of old furniture in the basement that I refuse to sell/donate/take to the dump, because I am convinced I can rehabilitate them. This is the year that I try, at least once.

Lighten Up

2013 Resolution: Ride in the Fremont Solstice Parade. Yeah, the naked part.  I did it! I did it! I did it! It was fun. You should do it too.

2014 Resolution: Yell less. Like, waaaaaaay less. This one’s for you, Avi.

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This post’s song: Best Year by Elk and Boar

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Simple Real Food Recipe: Split Pea Soup

PeasCoverPhoto

There are three primary oppositions I hear from people regarding what I term a “real food” (aka whole foods) diet:

  1. It’s too expensive.
  2. It’s too complicated.
  3. It takes too long.

This split pea soup recipe is one of my go-to real food recipes, and proves that at least two of these assumptions are NOT always (or even often) true. It’s inexpensive and it’s super easy. It does take a while (cook time is about an hour), but most of that is just the soup simmering. Active time is about 15 minutes, depending on how quickly you can chop your veggies. When I was working full-time, this soup was reserved for a weekend meal because I just didn’t have an hour of cook time during the week. When I started working from home, it was an easy dish to get going in the evening and then return to work while it simmered. In either case, it reheats well – so cooking a double batch meant the family could eat off of it for several meals.

And it’s vegan, if you’re into that (just skip the optional bacon topping, obviously).

Simple (Vegan) Split Pea Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 cups dried split peas, picked over (Honestly? I’m pretty lazy about the picking over. Be like me, and save yourself some time.) 
  • 1 small (or 1/2 large) bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp – 1 tsp white peppercorns (feel free to sub fresh black pepper if that’s all you have, but the white is really delicious)
  • 1 tsp quality salt, plus more for seasoning at the end
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp mustard seed
  • 1 or 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 small potato, halved or quartered and thinly sliced  (I usually use a red potato, skin on)
  • 1/2 large yellow or sweet onion, diced (about a cup-ish)
  • 2-3 medium cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3-1/2 cups water (feel free to replace some or all of the water with chicken stock if you’re not veg)
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar (more, to taste)
  • Optional toppings: chopped bacon (obviously, it’s no longer vegan if you go this route), chopped tomatoes, snipped fresh parsley, or whatever you have that might be good
  • Wine, for sipping while you cook

Put on some music. Cooking is always better with music. Gather up your veggies.

VeggiesBefore

Place the bay leaf, white peppercorns, and mustard seed into a reusable spice bag (or tie up in cheesecloth). If you’re using black instead of white peppercorns, don’t add it yet – you’ll just season to taste at the end. Add water (or stock), peas, spice bag, and 1 tsp salt to a large stock pot and bring to a boil.

Water

(If you don’t have a spice bag or cheesecloth: add the bay leaf directly to the water along with 1/2 tsp dry mustard powder in place of the mustard seed. Omit the peppercorns, and add freshly ground black pepper at the end, to taste.)

Lower the heat to a low simmer, partially cover, and set the timer for 20 minutes. Now is a great time to chop your other veggies. Or pour yourself that glass of wine. Whatever.

VeggiesAfter

When the timer dings, add in your veggies: celery, carrot, potato, onion, garlic. Here’s the part where you remember that you should use the bigger pot when you make this soup.

FullPotEdit

Stir it all up. Add a bit more water (or stock) if you’re running low. Partially cover again, and continue simmering for another 40 minutes.

You’re basically done, so now’s a great time to get started on whatever accompanying dishes you’re planning for the meal. Maybe cook up a few slices of bacon if you’re planning on adding some at the end as a topping. Check your pot occasionally and add small amounts of water if you’re getting low.

Every once in a while, for no particular reason, lift the lid and scowl at the cooking soup. I’m not sure what this does exactly, but it’s what I always do and the soup is always yummy. I thought I should include the scowling just in case it’s the secret to really great split peas.

When the timer goes off, taste it. (The soup, not the timer.) But blow on it first so you don’t burn your tongue like I always do. Add vinegar and additional salt and pepper to taste. Remove spice bag. Dish up, and top with chopped tomatoes and/or parsley and/or chopped bacon and/or whatever you think sounds yummy (or nothing at all).

All Done Edit

Makes about 6 servings. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. It’ll thicken, so you’ll probably want to add a bit more water when you reheat it.

Enjoy!

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AwShuckedEd

Real Food Recipe: Simplest Fava Beans

The fava beans (aka broad beans) are going CRAZY at the farmer’s markets right now (at least in Seattle), but I think they often get left behind because of their intimidating gigantic pods.

Do not fear the fava.

Although they’re a bit time-consuming to prep, their mild flavor and buttery texture makes them far more palate-pleasing than, say, a lima (read: most kids will eat them). And, although a quick Google search will give you a bazillion delicious recipes, you really just need a bit a salt and butter to turn them into a perfect side dish.

Simplest Fava Beans

Ingredients:

  • Butter
  • Salt
  • Many handfuls of fava beans (Get twice as many as you think you need. The beans inside are much smaller than their mammoth pods would suggest. And avoid bulging pods, which indicates older – and possibly slightly bitter – beans.)

Shuck the beans like you would peas.

Discard the pods; reserve the beans. I feel like that last sentence is insulting your intelligence, but whatever.

Put a pot of salted water on and bring to a boil. Dump the favas in and boil for 60 seconds. SIXTY SECONDS. No longer or they’ll end up overcooked; no less or the skins won’t peel. Remove from heat, drain water, and submerge beans in ice water to stop them from cooking further. Drain water again and (here’s the time-consuming part) peel the outer skin off the beans.

Grab a saute pan and heat some butter over medium-ish heat. How much butter? However much you feel like. (Just make sure it’s real butter. None of that margarine crap. And if you can afford it, butter from grass-fed cows is way better.)

Again. I feel like that last picture is insulting your intelligence (like you couldn’t figure out how to melt some butter without a visual guide?), but whatever. Add beans and cook for 2-4 minutes.

Throw some salt in there if you want it. Eat.

I added in some carrots since I neglected to get twice as many favas as I thought I’d need, and piled the buttery mess atop a bed of cous cous alongside parmesan crusted talapia. Both the cous cous and the fish are SUPER quick to prep, so it sort of balanced out the extra time spent on peeling beans.

Et, voila! Fava!

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Source

Jesus, stupid

Me: “Cilantro.”

My Phone: “Salon TRO”

Me: “CILANTRO.”

My Phone: “Salon TRO”

Me: “You try.”

My kid: “Cilantro”

My phone: “Salon TRO”

Me: “Ciiiiiiiilantro.”

My phone: “Still on patrol”

Me: “Jesus! Stupid phone.”

My phone: “Jesus, stupid.”

And that’s how condescending religion ended up on my grocery list, and how I forgot to pick up cilantro for last night’s dinner.

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Real Food Recipe: Salted Kale Chips

I’m still surprised that my kids gobble up kale chips. My toddler has a delightfully refined palate, relatively speaking, but generally turns up his nose at green leafies. And my tween would prefer to subsist on a strict diet of burritos and scrambled eggs. And yet, whenever he realizes that kale chips are on the menu, he dances a little jig and says something along the lines of “Oooh, I like those things! At first. Unless they’re in my mouth too long ’cause then they get a weird flavor.”

And that’s why it’s so surprising. Kale chips have a distinct flavor (and they do have a bit of an aftertaste). And while that distinct flavor isn’t bad (quite good, I’d say), it certainly would not be described as anything even remotely like “sour cream and onion” or “cool ranch” or “nacho cheese” – and yet, my kids (and, seemingly, children everywhere) love ’em. Go figure. Some crunch and a bit of salt go a long way, I guess.

The recipe below is for basic salted kale chips, and can easily be expanded on to include the seasonings of your choice. I’ve made it using both lacinato (or “dino”) and curly kale, though I suspect just about any variety at the store would work. The tween and I prefer the curly kale, which bakes into a lighter, crunchier, sweeter chip (but is easier to overcook) than lacinato. The man of the house, however, prefers lacinato, finding it to be the less bitter of the two. Because he is crazy, clearly. At any rate, either variety will work and you can decide for yourselves which is the least bitter. (Curly.)

Basic Salted Kale Chips

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch kale, any variety
  • 1 tbsp olive oil, more or less
  • Salt, to taste (good salt of your choosing, though I suppose regular table salt will do if you must)

Preheat oven to 350. Separate the leaves of the kale from the tough center stem, and tear into bite-sized pieces. Rinse in cold water. Dirt can get trapped in the curls of the leaves, so be thorough. Leave in a collender to dry.

Or stick it in a lettuce spinner and let your toddler go to town.

(I usually wash the kale before I start the rest of my dinner and let it drip dry for a while as I prep the rest of the meal.)

Press the leaves between paper towels to soak up any remaining water. They don’t have to be completely dry, but it definitely helps with the crispness of the resulting chips.

(Disregard any carrots that may appear on your cutting board. They have nothing to do with your kale chips.)

Place the kale in a large bowl and drizzle with enough olive oil to coat the leaves. Toss the leaves with your hands to ensure even distribution. Add more oil, if needed (but they shouldn’t be sopping in it).

Spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Parchment paper is helpful for cleaning up after, but not necessary. Don’t crowd the kale. I usually find that I need to do two batches per bunch of kale.

Bake for about 10 – 20 minutes until crisp, depending on your oven. I start checking at about minute eight. Keep an eye on them. You want them crisp but not browned – they’ll start to bitter up as they brown. Remove from the oven when crisp and transfer to serving bowl. Sprinkle with salt to taste and serve. (Or put into a warming drawer while you bake up a second batch.)

(Disregard any chopped spinach that appears on your cutting board. Much like the carrots before it, it also has nothing to do with your kale chips.)

Add additional seasonings if you’d like. I usually also sprinkle our chips with a bit of parmesan cheese, if there’s any in the house. Try other seasonings at your whim. Some onion or garlic powder or fancy infused salts might be nice.

Enjoy with your family. They’re great as a healthy snack, or as a nutritious side dish.

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