1/30/2012

its like invasion of the body snatchers

So. I learned a couple food things this week.

First, for me, it is not wise to buy a Giant Cabbage and a Giant Bag of Kale in the same week. Trying to manage all this produce (The stuff just expands when you shred it. Yowza!) into our meals a clear game plan was not so good. A cabbage yields a lot of food for just the two of us, so if I buy one, I need to know what I'm going to do with it, or it just goes bad.

I think I've figured out a plan for cabbage, at least:
 - 1/4 steamed/roasted with meat and veggies like the Good Irish Girl that I am.
 - 1/4 shredded for tacos and adding to various sautes, soups, or salads
 - 1/4 shredded with other goodies (green onion, bell pepper, carrot, mushroom) to make spring/eggrolls and/or asian salad
 - 1/4 turned into sauerkraut*

That's a ton of meals, and even with that, we may have to invite people over to help us eat it. Cruciferous veggies for everyone! The good news is that everyone likes tacos, and my eggrolls rock. Or, at least they would, if I could keep them from exploding in the pan when I heat them up.

* This is a new one for me. I'm slowly adding different probiotics to our food, and sauerkraut is all trendy now. Got some tasty-sounding recipes from Martha Stewart and online. Just need to get a couple jars, new spices, and the fermenting ingredients.

Second, how to make potsticker soup and eggrolls - all by myself. So, the kale is just out of control. There's too much of it, and I'm not sure what to do with it. Our blender is not mighty enough to make green smoothies, so mostly I have to add it to salads, soups, sauces, and sautes. This week I needed to use up some stuff, so I made potsticker soup and added kale. Here are all the sordid details.

MM loves potstickers, so I'd bought a bag of frozen ones in September, and every now and then I pull a few out when I make Asian food. In an unfortunate freezer incident they thawed slightly and then re-froze into a giant glob of potstickers. We still had half a bag full. I didn't want to throw them out, but I couldn't pull them out a few at a time. Saw a recipe for potsticker soup on the back of the bag. And voila!

Another thing floating around in our freezer has been the extra bits and bobs of chickens that we don't cook with the bird (gizzards, etc.) and a couple frozen chicken carcases from roasts gone by. I plopped all of it into a big pot filled with water, simmered it all day, and by evening I had a hearty chicken stock. Strained all the bones, bits, and bobs out. And basically ditched the recipe and went "off roading" instead. I added carrots, mushroom, green onion, garlic, and ginger and got things nice and aromatic. Then I dumped in the Giant Glob of Potstickers. And after it had simmered and the potstickers had separated and were bobbing happily in the broth, I tossed in some kale. I let it go long enough to wilt, but not enough to get mushy. Freakin' good.

While all this was happening, I made my very first lumpia/eggrolls all by my very own self. (Usually have a more experienced chef with me.) Half of them exploded during frying, but man, were they good.  And I got to use some more cabbage. It's half gone, now! Go me! But, of course, I still have a giant box of kale to figure out. 

So yeah. Cabbage and kale. That's all I got. If you have some ideas, friends, let me know.

1/26/2012

thursdaybook - a quiet moment

For today I am:

Seeing... The pale, blue and silver light of a misty winter day... candles flickering... a fire in the hearth.... steam rising from freshly poured coffee and ginger banana bread just pulled from the oven, a pat of butter sliding across a slice...

Hearing... The crackle of the hearth fire... Classical music. Winter and spring make me want to listen to lots of classical music.

Tasting... The ginger banana bread turned out much more gingery this time. Yum! And I get a free pass on weekday coffee when I have it with a friend. hee hee. Double yum.

Working... Lots of hospitality this week - friends for coffee, friends for breakfast, friends for dinner, friends for drinks and conversation after dinner, a family birthday dessert buffet tomorrow night - so I'm cleaning and prepping for all that.

(PS - I did manage to clear out the boxes from the guest room, so we've been using it to do our stretches and exercises in the morning. Booyah!)

Reading... Re-started Non-fiction: Salt (My brain just couldn't handle new information last year. This year, I'm hopeful). Continuing Non-fiction: On Writing (My bathroom book these days. Somehow, I think Stephen King would get a kick out of this.) Read-aloud with MM: The Eagle Has Landed (We took a long break over Christmas and have gotten back into it, lately. Getting to the exciting part!) New-to-me Fiction: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Yeah, so I never read this. And it seemed a good follow up to a Jasper Fforde.) Continuing with MM: Changes that Heal and Hearing God (Lots of good conversation from these.) Morning "quiet time" books: The Divine Hours (ahhh, yes), A Diary of Private Prayer.

Learning... My brain power seems to be going to researching things these days... Meh.

Creating... Valentines. :) I like to make Valentines. Especial for the single gals I know. I received a lot of thoughtful Valentines during the years I didn't have a special someone. Reminded me that I was loved and lovable on a "holiday" that could have felt pretty bleak.

Oh, and for tomorrow, I'm making Rice Krispie treats. I don't know why I'm so tickled by this, but for some reason I'm just really looking forward to making these. :) They are sort of in the same realm as snickerdoodles for me. A simple childhood treat.

Dreaming... MM and I have been spending this week looking into this year and thinking about how we can be intentional in certain areas, money, career, relationships, pursuits, etc. So fun and energizing to do that kind of dreaming with him.

Pondering... Some of my dear ones are suffering right now. I'm deep in thought and prayer about the darkness and pain of this world and how some are able to find light and life in the midst of soul-crushing devastation (cancer, betrayal, abuse, rejection) and others are broken. Flat out broken. And how helpless any of us are, really, in the face of most things. Can I cure my friend's cancer? Heal another's broken heart? Renew another's mind, replacing destructive thought patterns with life-giving ones? Bring the dead back to life?

No. I have no answers. No magic formulas. Sometimes it all just sucks or falls apart, and there's nothing we can do.

The best I can do is sit nearby and try to listen more than I speak. Light a fire. Brew some coffee. Pour a glass of wine. Create a quiet moment. Offer some pampering, an afternoon of play, a meal, a good story, some beauty... And hopefully, in all that, communicate, "I see you. You are not alone."

Thankful for... A fire during the day... banana bread and coffee... soft, cozy sweats... jojoba oil... the Internet... public radio... The hambone left over from Boxing Day that will go into a big pot of beans this week... My marriage... My amazing (and dead sexy!) MM... Our growing game collection (got Uno, Phase 10, and a card-based version of Clue last weekend)... leftover Advent candles that make our bedroom smell like Christmas... my new shoes... The Original Star Trek.

1/19/2012

thursdaybook - undone

For today I am

Seeing... Cloudy skies, heavy with rain. At last!... Candles flickering in mason jars... Bright yellow and orange gerbera daisies that practically glow in this new, overcast light...

Hearing... The kitchen clock ticking... a faucet dripping somewhere (gotta go see to that)... Blackie the Space Heater clinking and hissing... distant freeway noise... soon, rain, I hope...

Tasting... Black tea. Back on my tea/water alternating throughout the day.

Working... Oh, Scary Wedding Room aka Guest Room, I will organize you yet. See if I don't! Also, want to wrestle Giant Pile of Paperwork to the ground. I need some kind of world heavyweight belt...

Reading... The Fourth Bear. :) Dude, I love Jasper Fforde. This weekend I read Mindy Kaling's book. Cute and funny. She sounds like such a sweet girl. Lives in Hollywood and calls her mom every day. I want to email her and tell her that marriage does rock, and to not give up on that dream in the midst of wounded cynics.

Learning... Hmmm. I want to study something, but keep lollygagging on this. This weekend MM and I are doing our beginning of the year "retreat" where we think about this coming year and figure out what we want to do. This weekend I will come up with some kind of game plan. (See if I don't!)

Creating... Yesterday I created a happy me by taking a long, soaky afternoon bath. Today, I think I'm going to work on a knitting project. (In between all the organizing and wrestling, of course.) (I kind of suck as a knitter.)

Dreaming... Doing some pre-thinking for this weekend. I'm also having fun planning out little surprises for MM for Valentines Day, his birthday, and St. George's Day (April 23).

Pondering... The Old Man vs. the New Man... The renewing of a mind... "Behold, I make all things new."... How Life can emerge from chaos and darkness and nothingness... How the oppressed and enslaved can truly be set free... How those who have been abused, neglected, pushed around, beaten down and broken, hearts and minds shattered, soul-wounds raw and bleeding, can be healed, soothed, comforted, and made strong again. Like new... Freaking. Amazing.

Thankful for... Sweaters... candles... the coming rain... MM who is spoiling me rotten for my birthday week, with sweaters, champagne and dessert, flowers, fancy chocolate, a home-made dinner on Friday, and breakfast out Saturday, and words that shine light and joy into my soul. I can hardly take it in. How the heck did I get here? Grace upon grace, and I am undone.

1/17/2012

winter fun

I swear I will get back to the advent/Christmas posts. Also, hello! It's 2012. Time to talk about this year's word.

Oh, and I have some rants saved up about how our culture uses fear to get women to buy products that don't help/harm themselves. (The people who sell your bras do not care if they fit you and support your health. The people who make your moisturizer will be happy to dry out your skin so that you will buy more and more. Afraid of looking old? Slather this stuff on! Cancer? What? Noooo. Look! Something shiny!)

But today, I'm just thankful. And peaceful. Today is not a day to rant. It is a day to look out at another impossibly blue, glorious, sunshiny sky, and - even though we desperately need rain - smile out thanks and drink in that beauty, because soon, all will be dark and grey and wet. So - some things:

~ ~ ~

MM gave me birthday money, and I bought four much-needed sweaters. ON SALE! (Seriously, three of them were only $4.99 a piece!) I don't buy clothes for myself very often. (Another post for another day.) And I seriously need a wardrobe overhaul. I don't know if its middle age, or married weight, or what, but I've put on some poundage. All my old (way old, piling, stained, shrunken) sweaters are tooooo small. So I didn't like wearing them. Blegh! Even layered I'd tug, tug, pull, stretch - maybe cuss a little.

Our house is old. And drafty. And our heater doesn't really work. And I'm always freezing. And I hated wearing my sweaters. Felt gross in them. MM and I have had some talks lately about him wanting me to feel beautiful. (Yet another post for another day.) He doesn't want me to have to choose between comfort/practical and beautiful. He enjoys the way I look, and it makes him sad that I feel ugly most of the time. (It will be quite a post.)

So. New sweaters. They are warm, warm, warm in this drafty old house. And fit me. And they are cozy, soft, and pretty. And, did I mention warm? Oh, yum! It's literally freezing today, and I am toasty. I look like an ad for hot cocoa. Or whatever it is that skiers drink when they sit by the fire back at the lodge.

~ ~ ~

We broke our bed. Twice. Well. I don't know if we broke it so much, as it just broke. (Although we like to tell everyone we broke it. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.) We have a ginormous, extra-high Cal King, and the little legs on the inside of the frame that hold the center of the box springs gave out. (Soft wood, and elevator bolts extended way to far to provide real support.)

It was kind of fun, in some ways, b/c we got to camp out in the living room on the blowup mattress. For a couple days we piled up our whole living room with quilts and comforters and pillows and books. Took a couple of excellent naps and read a ton.

But - I got a neck ache, and MM's pillows kept sliding off, and it was freaking cold. Wow. So, despite not having optimal tools - MM constructed and installed three new hardwood legs and repaired the other two (with some creative supports placed under the elevator bolts so they don't have to extend fully.) Five legs and tightened screws and bolts all around - so far so good.

The whole time I've just been thankful. For the giant, original, broken bed. For having a blowup mattress. For having tons of blankets and comforters and long johns to offset the cold. For a husband to repair the bed. For friends who helped out with tools. For the chance to camp in the living room (it's not quite a fort, but close.) For the great naps and the hours spent reading together. And for the newly repaired bed.. There are people who sleep alone on the cold ground in the dead of winter. I've got it so, so good.

~ ~ ~

I'm trying to create something each day. This was today's creation.





Happy Tuesday, folks.

1/13/2012

fake friday fave five - research

1 - I made an amazing dinner the other night. There. I said it. It's true though. I made Pioneer Woman's porkchops and Smitten Kitchen's brussel sprouts, and quinoa using homemade turkey broth. Served it with a green salad and a cheap red wine. Delicioso!

2 - The adventure to see the beautiful moon. I still see the shimmer of the city lights and the glowing moon over the water. Delight!

3 - Finding some good sources of info on cosmetics and skin/hair care stuff. I'm about to go get new makeup and a haircut, but before that I want to revamp my skin/hair care system so that it fits better with my values, priorities, age, and station. I am particularly looking for good sunscreens, which are tricky. Here are some places to go:

Beautypedia - Paula wrote Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me, and provides reviews on products.

Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Cosmetics Database - reviews cosmetics in terms of chemicals that can cause harm.

Vitacost - Dude. Cheap stuff. Found some great, organic soaps and lotions for, like 40-60% of what I'd pay in a regular store. Woohoo!

Naturallycurly - I go here for info on dealing with my hair and for their product reviews.

4 - Bubble baths. I've been able to indulge in some long, soaky baths lately. Helps with the cold house, and makes me nice and sleepy.

5 - Space heater. Our house is cold. We need rain and even colder weather, but I will be sad when that finally happens, cuz this house is cold enough already. It's been so good to have Blacky to haul around with me. He makes the office toasty warm, so that paying bills, etc. is not so daunting.

There you have it. Head over to the real Friday Fave Five if you want. Or don't. Whatever. I'm not the boss of you.

1/11/2012

stuff and things

I'll get back to the "what we did for" series soon, but its the beginning of the year, and my mind is full of thoughts and plans and observations, so today seems like a good day to just throw up some random.

So. We used part of MM's Christmas Bonus (which always makes me think of Chevy Chase) to get a portable dishwasher. Cue angel chorus. Holy mackeral, does that make a huge difference in our lives! Not waking up to dishes (clean and dirty) piled up on our teeny, tiny counters makes us feel lighter and inspires more productivity. We had friends over on Friday, and had all the dishes done the next morning. Normally after a party, we spend 3 days catching up. Yahooo!

Also. The dishwasher was such a good deal, that we were able to use the rest of that portion of money to get a bunch of odds and ends for the house: clothes hampers, storage bins, various hooks, hangers, and racks. We hung curtains, tightened all the screws in our bed, finally put the riser on the Desk of Awesome, hung a hook in the closet for my bathrobe... After this surge of nesting, we both feel so much better about our house. All those little annoyances grate on my nerves, small irritations that add up to... what? ennui? blerg? Something. Anyway. It feels good have a place to put a dirty dish or hang a towel or a broom or a bathrobe. It makes our whole house feel more restful.

And. Resting is the name of the game, this month, I think. You'd think we'd gotten enough of that over the holidays with Boxing Day's Couch Potato-a-thon, followed by January 2nd's, "Pretend Boxing Day 2, The Return of the Couch Potato". But, no. And, that felt like a different kind of rest. Vacation rest. Lounge like it's your job, rest. January rest feels more like stillness and quiet and thinking long, deep thoughts, kind of rest. Hibernation. I long for big, fat books. Perhaps with footnotes. And words I don't know, so I have to look them up. And yarn. I crochet (kind of) and knit (kind of) when I watch movies (sometimes), but I think I want to do those things just to do them. Or when I sit chatting with someone. Books and yarn.

Oh! And adventures! MM is a passionate, spontaneous artist, and will occasionally, on a random Tuesday, bust out with, "We should..." Sometimes we can't go on these wild tears. But sometimes we can! Last night, after work, we filled thermoses with tea, our pockets with dollar bills, and headed to the ocean. The plan was to get there without taking the two major highways that run through our town. We twisted our way past rivers and lakes and small towns and hills (mountains?) and farms and vineyards and orchards... And groves of spooky oak trees, dripping moss over the country roads. Lit from underneath, they glowed greenish-grey against a black sky sprinkled with stars. When the full moon rose behind them, woooo-ooooo. Creepy. And awesome.

The night was perfect. Perfect. No fog. No clouds. Just warm ocean air, which felt delicious after the cold valley, and that glorious moon over the bay. The water was just rumpled enough to look like fabric below, and the city lights shimmered. Breathtaking. Romantic. A great adventure.

We did not have enough dollars in our pockets to drive into the shimmering city for a glass of wine. So, we ate our traditional road-trip snack (orange hostess cupcakes) in a Safeway parking lot instead. Still, romantic.

We paid for it of course, by being home late, to bed late, up late, and out the door late this morning. But that exact moon will never rise again, so I'm glad we went to see it. And I'm thankful for a husband who, occasionally looks at me with the twinkle of adventure in his eyes and says, "Hey, we should..."

Well. I should go. That dishwasher won't load itself. Happy Wednesday, folks.

1/06/2012

what we did for advent - part 3

Hey! I'm only a month behind with holidays. Today, we're celebrating Epiphany (January 6) and a belated Twelfth Night. I'm trying to catch up, but all this partying is rough on an old girl!

This has been a fun season. We got to try out lots of new things, and learned a ton. But I am very ready to pack it up, clean it out, scrub it down, and then put on a pot of beans to simmer while I hunker down with a good book.

This is part 3 in a series on what we did for Advent. (Part 1 and Part 2) One more post after this oughta cover it, and then maybe I'll tell you (briefly) how we celebrated the Twelve Days of Christmas. But now, without further ado:

St Nicholas' Day

One of the things that came up in our pre-Advent readings involved other holidays that happen during this time: St. Nicholas' Day, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, The Feast of the Holy Name, etc. Trying to do all that stuff, seemed like too much, so we decided to to something for St. Nicholas' Day (December 6).

The actual St. Nicholas was a 4th-century Greek Bishop of Myra (Demre, part of modern-day Turkey) in Lycia. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself from a series of elisions and corruptions of the transliteration of "Saint Nikolaos". You can read more about St. Nicholas, here.

In some places in Europe, St. Nick comes on the eve of December 6, so that's when they do stockings (or shoes, or presents at the foot of the bed, or whathaveyou.) We talked about doing our stockings on December 6, but I got too sad at the thought of not doing stockings Christmas morning, one of my favorite traditions. So we decided to keep the American Santa Claus, and celebrate St. Nicholas in other ways.

We decided that, in keeping with our goal to lessen the consumerism of the season, we'd honor Nicholas' generosity by setting aside money to give away, focusing on today's "orphans and widows" as recipients. We gave anonymously, without tax receipts, and tried to make these donations both generous and sacrificial. We cut our entertainment money into thirds and only kept a third. We reduced our food budget. We put off buying things for the house or for our personal use.

The amazing thing - and certainly thought-provoking - is that we were able to "sacrifice" hundreds of dollars without much pain. We still paid our bills, heated our home, hosted friends, went to parties, gave gifts, and stuffed our faces just fine, even with all the extra giving. And all this "comfort and joy" stood in stark contrast to the hungry, lonely, and grieving people we saw around us.

(One particularly poignant moment for me was when I sat at the giant window in Starbucks sipping my eggnog latte and working on our Christmas craft. As I people-watched and hummed along to the funky music playing, a homeless guy in ragged clothes, wrapped in an equally ragged blanket, shuffled quickly past the window, eyes downcast. I am warm and full and feasting; he is cold and hungry. My heart hurt and my eyes prickled, but I felt stuck. The place was jam-packed and I'd spread out such a bunch of papers and glue sticks and scissors and piles of things that I couldn't gather my stuff, buy the guy a hot drink, and run out to get it to him in time. I watched him pass and felt lame and hoped that someone else could react faster than me.)

This was a good exercise. We are both grateful and sobered. What abundance we have! We continue to refine our budget, seeking to be responsible and still give more.

I think we'll do this again next year. Maybe we'll get some of our friends to go in on something together. I read how other folks celebrated by having a Mediterranean meal after dropping off various donations (St. Nicholas was Turkish.) I love me some Mediterranean food, and that might be a fun way to end the day.

Next time: Our weekly Advent Family Gathering. Oh, boy. This was a hoot!

1/05/2012

what we did for advent - part 2

Happy New Year!

We got our deposit on the old house, so we splurged on a fancy hotel party package for New Years Eve. We got to get all dressed up in our fancy duds. (MM looks so fabulous in a suit!) We ate, drank, and made merry. We got down with our bad selves on the dance floor. (We knew we'd chosen the correct band for us, when we walked in to them playing Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'") We did not manage the champagne toast, because we were too busy kissing in the new year. MM dipped me as the balloons dropped. Another dream come true. What a blast!

We're still Christmasing (happy 12th day of Christmas, y'all!), so blogging's taking a back seat, but here's part two in a series on what we did for Advent/Christmas/Epiphany this year. (Part 1 here.)

House Church

Our little house church kept meeting throughout Advent, but it was mostly informal. We'd sit by the pellet stove and catch up on how our weeks went, talk about our Advent/Christmas plans and experiences, share communion, and pray.

One really cool thing we did was, starting in October, each household determined an amount of money to set aside in a jar. On the week of St Nicholas' Day (more in the next post) we took the donations to Target and bought socks and underwear for a children's clothes closet at an elementary school in our neighborhood. We had a blast picking stuff out (oh, the teeny, tiny socks!), and it was fun to see the surprise on the staff's face. "Oh! We need these so much! These will be gone in two days, I guarantee."

We're a house church, so we don't have a bunch of official programs and ministries and all that. We all just do our own thing, contributing to the causes and organizations that move us. But it was cool to do something together this time. And to do something in our neighborhood. And to just show up unexpected. Staff for these organizations get weary of asking for donations all the time. I hope this encouraged them to keep at it.

And I got bonus hang out time with the other gal in our group, since we were the ones to go buy the stuff. It was good to sit and talk a little deeper over coffee. A quiet morning in the midst of a busy season.

This next year will look different for us as far as church goes, so we will probably do something else next Christmas. But this was a peaceful, simple Advent with folks we love. Good times.

Hospitality -Small Gatherings

The Pink House is tiny, so we can't have as many people over as we used to. Bummer for folks who love to do hospitality. But we managed to have smaller gatherings throughout the season, which worked out better, I think.

Early in the season we had a post-concert appetizer and cider party for some family and friends. A cool mix of people from different parts of our lives all nibbling and chatting and laughing. At max we had 14 people, and that seemed about right. People came and went, grabbed food and cider/wine from the kitchen, found seats wherever, and just hung out.

We had a couple different dinner and game nights with different people. My husband learned to play Yatzee, which has turned out to be awesome. He is loud! Much yelling and arm waving and high fiving and fist bumping. A sight to behold. So fun!

One of my favorite times was having one of my best friends come over for brunch and present wrapping. Usually we're both scrambling at the last minute to do gifts, but for whatever reason, this year we had our acts together enough to sit and eat and chat and wrap and listen to Christmas music and eat candy cane Joe Joes... After a stressful December for her family, it was nice to just have a quiet afternoon.

We didn't get to connect with everyone we wanted. The discipline for us this year was to not over-schedule. MM and I are both introverts, which means we both need down time to recharge. And this season puts a lot of physical demands on the immune system, so we wanted to make sure we didn't get overtired and worn out. MM especially, is working full time on top of all this holiday hooplah. So we just had to plan a few events and be at peace with the fact that we couldn't see everyone, and we'd just have to have folks over at other times.

If all goes well, we will still be in this house next year, so I imagine we'll stick with several small gatherings over the season.

Next: St. Nicholas' Day.