Saturday, August 31, 2013

Getting Focussed

I am on the cusp of a big breakthrough.  Do you ever feel like that?  Like you are cresting the hill and you feel at odds, or anxious or jumpy and you don't know why?

That's me.  Today.  This has been one really incredible week.  Really good work week, really good family week.  I even took a day off to celebrate the wonderfulness of the week.  Then this morning... I woke up and was just a little off.  No reason, nothing really going on...  Just a little off my game.

As the day has worn on, I feel at times agitated and anxious.  I'm having a hard time sitting still.  I even tried to watch one of my favorite movies, but no go.

It's easy to think this is worry or stress and focus on something not great and convince myself that is what is going on.  But, I know it isn't.  Don't ask me how I know, because I won't be able to explain it, just the voice inside my heart that says "All is Well".

Since I trust that voice above all others, I know that what is up is something good and wonderful and life changing. I don't want to resist the momentum that is flowing within me and so trying to squelch these feelings is out of the question.  What I will do, is focus my energy. Hence, this blog entry. Writing is a wonderful focusing tool.

Now that we are becoming empty nesters, it's time to re-evaluate my goals, I think.  There is a big change that happens when your kids transition to adult hood, that not one single person ever mentioned to me, ever. Really, no one, ever. Oh sure, I've heard the term empty nester and some comical stories of things people tried or what they turned their spare bedrooms into.  But, I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the fact that for 18 or 20 years you've always made decisions holding your children and their needs on a separate plain from you. From the moment they were born, they've taken priority and occupied a large portion of your thoughts 24/7.

For lots of lots of years, my husband and I celebrated our anniversary on bleachers because May is prime baseball time. In the entire 25 years we've been married we only went on one vacation by ourselves. I was so traumatized by the end of the week I couldn't do it again. Even during the teenage years, when those rotten stinkers drove me to the edge of madness.

So, this is a big, hairy deal. I really am not equipped to be a SMother.  I've never been a smother-er and I'm not about to start now.

Here is what is hard... Not considering the kids in every single decision. I've been a mom for nearly 24 years. That's a lot of habit to break.

I have a lot of extra time. Time I used to spend cooking or cleaning or picking up or watching an event or driving to said event. It's disconcerting a little.

What I will say, is this: I enjoy my husband and I enjoy the extra time we have together. There were times when our kids were young that I felt lonely for him, with all the activities, responsibilities, exhaustion... So this is a welcome change.

I'm having a hard time not buying extra groceries. What is that? Anyone?

Anyone else with kids... Let me say this to you, when you feel frustrated or overwrought or stretched thin, the part of your life that feels like that is gone in a twinkling. There will come a time when you have peace and quiet and five minutes to yourself and you will want to remember those stretched thin days with humor and with love.

Thank you dear blog. Thank you. I feel relaxed for the first time today.

I'm big into lists. I think lists are another way to help you focus. We make goal lists in our house. Well, we also make to do lists and shopping lists, but the kind of lists I'm talking about here, are what I call the Big Three. They provide a way of prioritizing and more importantly, they give you a visual cue to what is really and truly important to you. The Big Three are things we want to accomplish - short term or long term.  And the number is less important than the list, though I do think one is too few and 7 is too many.  If a thing hits your list, but never gets done, chances are it isn't all that important to you. Sometimes a thing hits your list and it just takes a while to come to life, but it might also not be a thing you really, really want.

I spent some time today thinking about ways to focus, which led me to thinking about the list. Mine is pretty old and there are some things on there that I don't think I really, really want. So this week, I'm going to make a new Big Three.

Would you like to join me? Here is my suggestion: Give yourself some time to think about it. Don't rush and don't feel pressured. This is your list and whatever you put on it is fine. It's not a Miss America list - there's no need to put world peace on it. Only put things on the list that make you feel good. If the item makes you feel guilty or sad, DON'T include it. Only things that make you smile or feel happy anticipation. It genuinely doesn't matter what you choose.

It might even be helpful to make a long list the first time out. Write down everything that pops into your head. Once you've exhausted all the ideas, start crossing some things off. Whittle down the list until you get somewhere between 3 and 7 items that you really, really want and that you feel good thinking about. Write a new list and make at least one copy of it. Put the first copy somewhere that you look every morning - the inside of the medicine cabinet, next to the coffee, in your unnie drawer.  Put the 2nd copy in your car.

The idea is to look at the list every day, as a reminder of the things that you are working toward.  I keep my car one in the visor and I can pull it out and look at while waiting for a red light. Again, it's important that you feel good or excited or happy or hopeful about the items on the list. If you find yourself not feeling good about an item, it's time for a new list.  Get that downer off of there!

If you decide to make a list this week, I'd be excited to hear what's on yours.

Dang, this is a long post. Thanks for hanging in!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Tomatillo Salsa

Let me just start by saying this:  Food Bloggers, my hat is off to you.

I wanted to post about this salsa, planned going into it that I would.  I started off well, but, as you will see, the wheels came off the bus.  Anyway, on to the salsa.

I love Mexican food.  When I was young, we lived in Southern California and several times we went to Mexico, where we had real Mexican food and that is where my love affair with Mexican began.  You know and I know that a lot of what is sold has been "Americanized", which is not to say bad.  But, when we went to Mexico and ate, the food did not all taste like taco seasoning.  Just saying.

This year, in the Mondrian garden, we grew one Tomatillo plant.  It's the first time I've grown one.  It's been interesting to see it progress.  Something in the garden really likes the tomatillos, so we only get about 1/2 the crop.  Oh well.  Yesterday,  I decided to try making a tomatillo salsa.  After perusing many a recipe, I decided to roast the veggies first.  It would seem that traditionally, the tomatillos are boiled in water, but knowing I really didn't have enough tomatillos to make the salsa two ways, the idea of roasted veggies won out.  Next time I'll try without roasting.

I started with these ingredients: tomatillos, jalapenos, and one onion.  Have you ever worked with tomatillos before?  Me neither.  The husk is papery and pulls away to reveal a stickiness on the tomatillo.  I rinsed that away, then quartered each one.  I placed the cut vegetables on a small cookie sheet.  For the jalapenos I just cut off the top and left them whole.  The onion, I peeled and cut into chucks of a similar size to the tomatillos.  All of these went on the cookie sheet with a small amount of vegetable oil which I used my hands to toss and coat.  Then a sprinkling of salt and a heavier sprinkling of pepper and into the hot oven.  I started out on a low broil, then high until the veggies were slightly charred.  At this point, I forgot to take a picture.  Arrgh.  This is also the point where I once again marveled at food bloggers.  How do they do it?

I let the veggies cool, then slipped them all inside the magic cup that came with the stick blender.  It's just the right width and just about as long as it takes to say bibbidy, bobbidy, boo, you have salsa.  It was a little thick, so I added the juice of one small lime.  It was at this point that I thought to myself...  Where's the garlic? Dang. I didn't remember to add it to the roasting pan and I really wanted it.  So, I peeled a clove and put it in the magic cup and blended again.  The cup, being clear, allows you to look at the whirring action as it's happening.  Fun!

In the end it's still pretty thick and I think I could add water to change the consistency, but it tasted so good that I didn't want to fool around with it.  The seven tomatillos ended up making a pint sized jar of salsa.  These are not big tomatillos - some were medium and most were small.  So, you get a lot of bang for your buck.

How did it taste?  Well, in a word fantastic.  Roasting the veggies adds a really great grilled flavor (even though they were oven roasted).  It also calms the jalapenos down.  I put three in here, which I thought was going to be hot, but it was just medium warm.  So this means you get great jalapeno flavor without setting your mouth on fire.  The lime juice was a needed hit of tart.

I say, try making your own salsa.  It's fun and can be made to your particular tastes.

btw ~ did you see my toes sneaking into one of the pictures? bad toes!  hee hee, ha ha, whew i am soooo funny.

Have a great day, people.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Several things, no connection...

Heart Cloud
It's Friday. This has been a great week - for no particular reason. It's been a lot of little things strung together and I'm very thankful.

Work has been challenging for a while and I've been kind of down about it. This week I may have finally crested the hill. I am actually totally current in one aspect and that hasn't been true in months. CURRENT. Woo.

One day last week, I was talking to my co-worker and I said "Look at the sky the clouds are just beautiful." She came over to the window to look and said "Do you see the heart?" And there it was.  This is the photo I snapped with my phone.  There is the big heart and below to the left is a small heart.  Life is really amazing.

I've been seeing signs of love everywhere, lately.  I took a rubberband off a stack of mail a couple of weeks ago, set it down on my desk and sorted through the pile.  A couple of minutes later I glanced around to find a pen when I noticed the shape the discarded rubberband created. Both of these are unexpected, yet tangible proof that love is all around and we only have to be aware and open to it.

Everything I've pickled so far has turned out amazing. It's such a giant high. Two nights ago we tried the 2nd batch of fermented pickles, the spears. My oldest said, "Did you have any idea when we were stuffing cucumbers into jars that we were making the best tasting pickles in the world?" It really was a laugh out loud moment. He is naturally funny and has this way of phrasing things that really makes me giggle. Anyway... They are delicious. Sour, salty, crunchy, spicy. I may have mentioned the Dilly Beans and Spicy Grape Tomatoes, so I'll skip those. I also made pepper rings. The thing about canning your own peppers is that they are crunchier than anything you might find in a jar from the store. I'm not exactly sure why, but they are not mush and I'm enjoying it immensely. Also, canning your own peppers means they can be as hot as you like them. I put mild banana peppers in with a couple of jalapenos, which give all the peppers heat, but not as hot as just jalapenos. Another reason I think we find the canned items so great is that we are only putting in things we like. When you buy from the store, you have to take the spice combos as they are. But, not if you're canning. If you don't like star anise you leave it out. If you like it dilly, you have three ways to add it. Like garlic, add. Don't like garlic, skip. So, because our canned items are customized to us, they really are "the best ever".

Do you know people who fictionalize their life? I'm not talking about keeping private things private or even mis-remembering the occasional detail. I'm talking about the systematic re-writing of their personal history. It's puzzling to watch. That's really all I have to say about it. It's puzzling.

Yesterday I put a chuck roast in the crock pot on low before I left for work. I added a cup of beef broth, some black pepper, and a sliced onion. Oh, and couple cloves of garlic. I left it on low all day. When I came home, I shredded the beef with two forks and smashed the garlic and mixed it all together with the broth. I made mashed potatoes (peeled, diced, boiled, drained, etc). We had a scoop of mashed potatoes, smothered in the shredded beef and broth, surrounded by buttery peas. (I love peas and mashed potatoes, do you?). What would be really good here is a picture. Dang. Anyway, I promised to share my successful dinners and this is one. It was ready in under 30 minutes and was a hit with all.

Well, after working so hard on this post, I needed a little sustenance, so I had a pickle. Fermented pickles rule!

A family member had a mishap with a riding mower and though fine, was a little banged up. In telling the mower's sibling about the incident, the sibling starts complaining about the mower and the work that will have to be done and what was so and so thinking and isn't this a fine mess. Oh, there was more, but you get the idea. It's the sort of response that makes the sibling look like a GIANT weenie. Rather than identifying and owning true feelings, the sibling was raging about the mower. As if the mower is anything at all to the sibling. But, it was easier and habit to be pissed and pissy about the mower, thus avoiding the fear or worry that your sibling could easily have had a serious accident or worse. So, the lesson in there for all of us, when you catch yourself emulating the GIANT weenie, stop. It's okay to be scared or worried. It's okay to cry. Heck, it's even okay to say nothing.  By witnessing the weenie up close and personal, I get a chance to choose something else. And for that, I'm grateful!

Well, that's about all there is for this Friday. I'm considering dusting off my sewing skills and making something fun. Happy Friday!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes

The Spicy Pickled Grape tomatoes are the bomb. One jar from the first batch didn't seal, so it's been in my fridge taunting me and on Saturday I could withstand no longer.  They are tart and spicy and totally great. The garlic I put in the jar to flavor the tomatoes is awesome, too.  Yes, I ate it.  I told you I'm a nerd.  Not only was it delicious, it now protects me from werewolves, too.  ;-)

Have a great day!

"Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one's own sunshine." 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, August 16, 2013

Un-stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Remember when I mentioned the need to uncover some quick dinner ideas?  Well here is a winner:  Un-stuffed Cabbage Rolls!  Unfortunately, I did not take a picture, so you will just have to trust me.

1 c. uncooked long grain rice
2 c. water or chicken broth
1 T. butter
1 head of cabbage, chopped

1 T. olive oil
1 med onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 28 oz can tomato sauce

Disclaimer: I'm a very casual cook.  I almost never follow a recipe for savory foods.  Even writing out these instructions, I waffle because you can add as much or as little garlic or onion or tomato products. You can use fresh from the garden, you can add other veggies...  Anyway, this is what I did to make this tonight.

I put the water, rice, and butter into a pan.  While it was coming to a boil, I chopped the cabbage.  When the water started to boil, I put the cabbage in the the pan, but did not stir it.  This technique allows the cabbage to steam above the rice.  Put a lid on, turn the temp down to simmer and set the timer for 20 minutes.

While the rice is doing it's thing, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add tomatoes, sauce and meatballs (as many or as few as you like). You can also make this by browning ground beef or turkey or chicken in place of the meatballs, but as I had meatballs that's what we used.  Add spices here - again, use what you like - I used black pepper and cayenne pepper.  Let this simmer together until the rice is ready.

When rice is cooked, empty entire contents into skillet and combine.  It's ready to serve immediately.

It was really good and ready to eat in less than 30 minutes.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Harvest Bisque

It's that time of year again and this is the first Harvest Soup.  See this post for my "technique", which I really made up after seeing a similar picture on a facebook post.  I thought to myself, "Hey! I can do that!" and I did.  I've made it half a dozen times and every time it's a little bit different because of the veggies added and because I don't use a recipe.  But it's never bad.  I've been using chicken stock for the liquid now and I no longer fill it full of liquid, like the original post.  I put as many veggies into the pot as I can, then add liquid about 2/3 of the way.  The veggies begin to soften and condense immediately so there is more than enough liquid.

I don't know if you've had the Tomato Bisque at Brio, but my youngest loves that soup.  We also had a stellar one on vacation last year.  This Harvest Bisque is as close as I've come to either.  It's actually easy to do and everyone in my house raved about it.  LOVE when that happens.

What's the difference between Tomato Soup and Tomato Bisque you are asking...  Well as near as I can tell it's cream.  The cream gives the soup an orangey color and (no pun intended) a creamy texture.  You can add as much or as little as you like, I think.  Everybody has definite opinions on cream.  Very volatile topic. But, it's undeniable the benefit of adding it to soup.  I just choose to add enough to get the benefits, but not so much as to end up with a white soup.  I ended up using just less than a cup in a pot with 12 servings in it.   Will the soup stink if you skip it? Not a chance.

Here is the beauty of this soup, you get to make it the way you want.  Put in the veggies you like, skip ones you don't.  I recommend adding carrots because their sweetness balances the acidity in the tomatoes.  I do wait to add salt or pepper until after it's simmered a couple of hours and been blended (with the stick blender).  There is salt in the stock and you just can't know if it will need any more until it's had a chance to condense.  The only seasoning I put it are a couple of bay leaves until after it's blended.  Then you can take it any way you want by the herbs you put in.  It is also great to package by one or two cup measures in zip bags and freeze.  You can add these to spaghetti, chili or a clearer soup, like minestrone.

By the way, every time I reach into the cupboard and pull out one of the new dishes I'm tickled.  They are cute and fun and happy and make the food look better!  Nerdy I know.  Definitely, one of my most favorite things to come from the whole kitchen remodel.

If, like me, you are harvesting by the tonnage these days, give the soup a try.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pickling, two ways!

It's been a pickling kind of weekend.  A serious amount of things harvested yesterday were cucumbers and tomatoes.  So today, with the help of my son and his girlfriend, we set out to do some pickling.

First up:  we pickled Spicy Grape Tomatoes, using this recipe as a jumping off place.  I used small jars. They are beautiful and I'm looking forward to testing them in about 10 days.

The other kind of pickling we did today is two more batches of fermented pickles.  The first crock is still working, so I purchased two glass jars for these batches.  One will be very spicy.  One will be mildly spicy.  I hope.  As I mentioned before, fermenting is a trial and error.  Also, you just never know how hot any pepper really is, unless you eat it, which makes it tough to get it into your brine!  The glass jars will mean I can watch the fermentation!  I'm excited, can you tell?  These cucumbers we quartered, so they will process quicker than the whole pickles in the crock.  I'll keep you updated, if you're interested.

Turns out I just couldn't pickle the amazing garlic we grew.  It is seriously delicious and I want to use the heads we have for meals and such.  In fact, I made my Mom's Famous 8 Makes it Great Salsa today and used some of these cloves.  Woot!

I really do love pickles.  I peruse the pickle section of my favorite grocery nearly every time I'm in there, looking for something new. Being able to make my own is pretty amazing!

Next up on the schedule are Zucchini Pickles. Gotta do something with the pounds and pounds of squash!

Big thanks to my most excellent helpers today.  They cut, hefted, measured, harvested and consoled - all in perfect measure.  ♥

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Random thoughts from Harvest 2013

Wait til you see the pictures.  It's amazing what one little plant can do!

First:  I planted a bunch of Okra and not one plant grew.  Not one.  I just had to say it, first.  I'm bummed a little bit and wanted to get that out of the way.

Next, these two pics are what I harvested today.  WOW!  This is a lot of produce for one week.  I harvested a very similar amount last week.

I am totally overwhelmed by the summer squash.  What on earth can I do with it all?  I already shred and froze either 36 or 38 cups.  That's more than enough for the year I think.  I've made zucchini bread and yellow squash bread.  We've had stir fry, zucchini and yellow squash oven fries, and what is it called when you alternate rounds of zucchini and yellow squash and onions and cover the whole thing... well whatever that is called, I've done that, too. You get the idea... we've had a lot of zucchini.  I like zucchini. I really do, but this one little plant has produced a tremendous amount of zucchini.  And the Yellow squash!  Worse.

A friend at work suggested dicing and freezing, but I'm not a huge fan of mushy squash.  It's why I like it best in stir fry or oven baked.

Anyway, and much more importantly... isn't it an amazing testament to the wonder of this world that one little plant can produce so many delicious, healthy, beautiful items?! Each time I'm in the garden I'm blown away.

I've started my first crock of fermented pickles...  Here's a little peek. They've been in two weeks today. I left them whole, which takes longer for the middle to catch up with the outside. You will find a lot of people telling you a lot of things on the world wide web about how long to leave something. My advice, keep taste testing and decide what you like and what you don't.  Every single batch of fermented food depends on every factor, from temperature, to water hardness, to ingredients you included.  Just be patient. Kids all walk at different times and ages and we love them for it. Think about the pickles that way, too.

We grew garlic over winter and I harvested last week.  It's been sitting for a week to let the papery outer skin dry out.  Should make it easier to get the dirt off, too.  I've already tried one head and let me just say - so worth the long wait.  I used a head purchased from the grocery, divided into cloves and planted last fall.  I waited through spring, until the leaves started to die back and fell over, then I harvested.  This is another one of those items that everyone who has tried it has advice.  Just like the pickles, you will have to see what works for you.  This worked beautifully for me.  The garlic isn't bitter in the least, but does have a nice, strong garlic taste. I'll definitely be planting again this fall.  I'm going to try pickling this garlic. Just another way I'm a big nerd, I love pickled garlic.  mmm.... mmm...

And finally, here is the promised picture of the Dilly Beans.  Of course, I've sampled them.  I declare them really good!  Okay, confession, last week, cause I couldn't wait, I tried them and they were so-so.  Today I tried that open jar that's been hanging out in the fridge and they are FABULOUS!  Sour, garlicky, super great crunch!  If you haven't tried these before and like pickled things, Do it!  Go with your gut.  Add the things you like, leave out the things you don't! Just don't fool around with the pickling liquid too much, I'd hate for anyone to get sick!  The liquid is the preservative, so just adjust the flavorings, capisce?

A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust. Gertrude Jekyll

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

I am smarter today!

Last year I took on a new role where I work.  Part of this role is a software program that was written in the dark ages where computer mouses didn't exist.  Not kidding.  It uses "F" commands and prints to a dot matrix printer.

The time has come to move us into a new era and I'm currently in training.  My mind is whirring with all the possibilities.  I almost want to skip tomorrow's class to try out some of the great things I learned today.  But, I won't.  Tomorrow we've been promised things that are equally as, or possibly more, exciting than today.

It's been a while since I've taken a formal training class and I'm loving it.  I really enjoy learning.  My trainer is good and the material is good and I'm actually getting the help I need.  I'm a big nerd.  I admit it.  I genuinely like school.  I was an adult college student.  I started my degree in my twenties and between husband, kids and work earned my bachelor's 20 years after I started.

Unconventional, yes.  Would I choose differently? No.  I (as I might have mentioned) was an angry teen.  I had an interesting childhood, that I simply did not know how to deal with.  Angry is no way to experience university.  Luckily it took me a couple of years to figure things out.  By the time I started, I was calmer and, dare I say it, more grown up.  I LOVED college.  LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it.  Well, except economics.  Bleh.

Anyway, enough remembrances.  My point here is that I'm in a training class.  I'm learning a lot.  So much, in fact, I'm smarter than when I started.  Now that's a good day!

“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” Robert Frost

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ahhh, today I want one!

Well, it's happened.  Today I want a Diet Coke.  The fizz, the tingle, the unmistakable taste that makes you go "Ahhhhh".  Yep.  Today I want a Diet Coke.  I'm not going to have one - it's too soon - but I want it.

The best part of this is that I'm not crazy or cranky or driving somewhere to get one.  All things that may or may not have happened before!  This time, I'm just aware that I want one.