Thursday, September 8, 2016

This week's new recipes

See the "Goal" tab.  Last week I made a new carrot salad (a lot like some prior salads that I've made), and I also made a brown rice and broccoli casserole with a cashew/ parmesan topping.

The carrot salad was from Still  Life with Menu by Mollie Katzen

The casserole was from The Glycemic Index Diet for Dummies by  Meri Raffetto, RD.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Goal: use my cookbooks

I have a ton of cookbooks.  I like to sit and read them for fun.  So, inspired by 100 Dollars a Month and her crazy year long goals, here is one of my goals:

Make at least one recipe from every cookbook that I own.

No time limit.

I'll be tallying on the "Goal" page above.

Wish me luck.

(I reserve the right to alter the recipes based on what I have on hand, natch.)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Instant Pot Baked Beans

So...I got an Instant Pot.  I need another kitchen gadget like I need a hole in the head. But it's a rice cooker!  A slow cooker! A pressure cooker!  A yogurt maker! (Um, yeah I already have all of those two, including TWO pressure cookers).  But it was the Amazon Prime deal and I *had* been thinking about it before it was on sale half price.

So now it lives on my counter.  So far, it's been great. First weekend, I made:
Spanish rice (which I've done on the stove and in the rice cooker also).  It's much faster in the instant pot.  Word of warning, most recipes call for 1-to-1 liquid to rice.  I generally do closer to 2-to-1.  So in this case, I think I did 1.25 to 1.5 to 1.  And it was soupy.  Listen to the manual!!

Salsa chicken.  Frozen solid large chicken breast.  Water.  Salsa.  Done in 30 minutes.  (Well, 30 minutes at pressure, took a little longer total).  If I can get my shit together, it might be a mid-week game changer.

At some point in the last two weeks I was perusing one of my cookbooks from a vegetarian author, and saw a recipe for barbecued baked pinto beans.  What??  All baked beans recipes I see call for northern white beans.  But you see, the 10 lb bags of pinto are only $6.  So how do I use up the pintos, aside from refried beans and bean burgers!!  I've been searching for other recipes.

Sunday morning after my run I put on the beans to soak for 4 hours.  I still hadn't quite decided what to do with them.  I looked through the cookbook that I was SURE had the recipe.  No luck.  Then went through the next two candidates.  Nope.  By #4 I realized that I'm getting old, and maybe it was on the web?

So I googled.  I got nothing.  By then I gave up and decided to wing it.  I googled some more. Here's what I wanted:
1. Information about cooking pintos in the Instant Pot (how long)
2. How to make baked beans (what flavors to add)
3. Information about which spices you can add to the pot (will you get sticking, etc with the sugar?)

So I found this pressure cooker recipe for baked beans and this pressure cooker recipe for pinto beans and this recipe for sweet and spicy pintos on the stovetop.  And I combo'd.

Instant Pot Baked Beans
3 cups dried pinto beans (I only used 3 cups because I felt like it.  Most recipes call for 2)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp dry mustard
1/4 c ketchup (It was the last of the bottle and I didn't feel like opening another)
2 Tbsp molasses
1/4 c unpacked brown sugar
3.5 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp soy sauce
cider vinegar (I didn't measure!  Maybe 1/4 cup)

Soak the beans in enough water to cover by an inch, for about 4 hours.
Drain and rinse the beans

In the instant pot, turn to saute.  Add the oil.  Saute the onions until soft and beginning to brown.  Add the garlic and stir.  Cook until fragrant.  (This will only take about 30 seconds to a minute).

Add the 3.5 cups of water and stir.  Add in everything else (chili powder, mustard, molasses, brown sugar, ketchup, salt, soy sauce).  Add in the beans and stir.

Turn instant pot to off.  Put on the lid and lock.  Turn on cooker to "beans".  Set at 30 minutes.

Let it run.  After 30 minutes let it do natural pressure release.  I have no idea how long this takes.  The beauty of this thing is that you can walk away from it.  It was surely done by 45 minutes.

Check the beans.  Mine were cooked but were a little soupy.  So I turned it on to saute for about 10 minutes, stirring, because that stuff will boil like crazy.  Then I let it sit to thicken.  It was delicious and very easy.  We took the beans to our potluck in the park.

I was tempted to add some pork fat...because of course.  Pork fat and beans!  I have pork fat in the freezer.  But there's a lone vegetarian teenager at our pot luck and his mom doesn't really do pork.  So I left it out.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Road Tripping and Plane Tripping and thoughts on Country Life

Oh my poor little neglected  blog.  How life gets in the way.  These days, I still love to read a few blogs, and follow some bloggers on IG, but aside from that, I'm just living life.

What makes me want to come back today and write?  A little time, and some inspiration.  This year we opted to head to the east coast again to visit family.  It was to be only a week in upstate NY.  Birthdays, graduation, fun time swimming in the lake, family time.  Indeed, we all had fun and it was go go go.  I indulged in a stop at a farmstand, where I kept my purchases to salsa and strawberries.

On the way  home, there was a detour - with my first solo road trip since the 1990s.  (Does a 6 hour drive count as a road trip, if it takes 8.5 hours?)  It was a beautiful trip, rolling green hills abounded through southern NY state, and then lots of forest in my home state of PA.  I even got to stop and have coffee with a high school friend, whom I hadn't seen in -ahem- 28 years.  Her son was there too, and he was excited to tell me about Minecraft.  (What is it with kids and Minecraft? My boys are the same.)

The detour was just for me though - my stepfather was having a difficult recovery from surgery.  I thought "why  not?"  I have the money, I had my computer so that I could work from wherever, and my husband was completely willing to head home with the little guy on his own (big boy was staying with cousins for another 1.5 weeks).  Working "from anywhere" is easier without the little ones.  I didn't turn the computer on once in NY.

Part of his recovery requires him to take short walks during the day.  For him, this means feeding and watering the critters (literally, the chipmunks, bunnies, and squirrels).  And from there, surveying the yard, fruit trees, and garden.  Do you see where I am going?

I grew up here, just a few miles down the road.  We had a garden, and a large yard.  We canned during the summer.  We picked apples from the tree in the back.  We picked strawberries at a local farm.  We wandered through the woods and fields to find fields and fields of tiny, wild blueberries.  Every year we picked for hours until we were tired, and still only got enough for one pie and a few handfuls.

But I left all that.  College, military, jobs out in sunny California.  My land is 1/12 of an acre.  Most of it house, parking, and driveway.  We have "gardened" - a tangerine tree, a few tomato plants.  At one point, we had two 3x3 square foot garden plots, until the gophers got them.  The weather is fantastic, the rain - not so much (literally).  I have friends who garden, but I don't.  Why is that?  Time I suppose.  A full time job, two children, activities - it doesn't leave much time.

As I wandered today, my mind was racing with thoughts.  Jams or smoothies from the wild raspberries or blackberries (too soon to tell which), growing along the path - former "rail", now "trail".  The blueberries growing along side the property.  The six different apple trees, of different types (apple sauce, apple pie, apple butter...)  The grapes (wine?) The garden plot itself is actually small this year.  Corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins.  Rarely has my mind had such time to wander.  I guess because I have time.  A little walking (to the post office, or with my sister). Cooking and dishes.  Work.  The occasional nap.

The trail to the post office (0.6 miles away)

Occasionally I think about hanging it up and moving.  Back to the North East, where houses and life is cheaper.  Upstate NY, PA.  The ability to have a garden and relax a bit.  But then winter hits, or the humidity and mosquitoes of the summer hit.  It seems like a great idea, but in many ways I've become a California girl.  The lifestyle, the fitness, the food, the politics.  It's so much harder in this area of the country.  It's not that you cannot live a fit and healthy life.  Many people do. But it's not the norm.  So you are swimming upstream. It makes me appreciate so much more my friends who manage it.  The ones who do crossfit, or the ones who do races and 1/2 Ironman Triathlons.

It's hard here though.  Small town life is hard life.  The jobs are scarce.  The towns are shrinking.  The schools are broke  (just like in CA). Meth is becoming a big problem, on top of the alcohol and smoking problems that have been around for ages.  When I come home, I feel like I straddle two worlds.  In my home town, I don't belong anymore.  I'm a CA girl now.  But in CA, sometimes I feel like I'm faking it.  I'm still that poor  country girl in many many ways.

One of the funniest parts of the trip this far is about a cantaloupe.   My stepfather's sister brought him groceries (he cannot drive after the surgery).  I cut it up when I came.  It's delicious.  Every person who has come by (my sister, my aunt) has asked "where did you get it?  I haven't been able to get a good one."  Finally we asked the sis, and she said "the farmstand at the corner of route X and route Y".  Of course, a farm stand!

It makes me appreciate my CSA and farm delivery box that much more.  On the trip out, I'd packed a fresh cucumber/ tomato salad (the first tomato of the season).  It was glorious! And the woman next to me on the plane was jealous.  On the drive down, my lunch was carrots and peppers and hummus (and  KIND bar).

Well, I have a couple more days here.  Despite the garden, it's still early in the season.  My vegetables are from Walmart, my beer from Latrobe (when in Rome...)

Wild berries along the trail


More wild berries along the forest edge


Here's one almost ready to pick!


Early girl tomatoes





Monday, May 16, 2016

Menu Planning Monday

One of my very favorite bloggers has a menu planning Monday post series, and I *love* reading it and getting ideas, even if I rarely use the ideas.

As I spent hours this weekend (and every weekend, really), cooking and doing dishes, I decided - maybe I should start posting what I am cooking and eating.  So I can look back on it.  Yesterday, and this weekend, I swear I made no fewer than 8 different things...and kept doing dishes all. day. long.

So here's a little taste of what we are...tasting.

FIRST - what I cooked & prepped this weekend:
Rice.  That I mixed with crockpot pinto beans, and scooped into individual containers (burrito bowls)
Tofu and roasted vegetables
Salad dressing: lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, parsley, garlic
Cheesy rice and vegetables
Roasted beets
Chard, onion, and goat cheese frittata (we got such a huge bunch of chard this weekend)
Cheese quesadillas and tacos

On to the menu plan

- Chocolate banana peanut butter smoothie, coffee (for me).
- Husband: raisin bran.
- Kids: peanut butter toast (big boy), jam on bread (little boy).
- tofu with roasted mixed vegetables (me).
- Husband: beans and rice.
- Big kid: pb&j, carrots.  Little boy: carrots and hummus.
- at a birthday party, some pizza.
Dinner: (potluck in the park):
-I made the rice/ cheese/ veggie casserole: sauteed mushrooms and onions, and added microwaved mixed broccoli/ cauliflower/ carrots.  Made a white sauce and added cheese.  Baked, with cheese on top.  It was good, with plenty of leftovers.  I also took the steamed beets, and a nice bottle of merlot.

- Chocolate cherry smoothie.  Is it terrible that I like this one because I don't have to share?  Boys don't like the cherry version.
- Hubby: raisin bran.
- Kids: strawberries and yogurt.

Lunch: (kids eat at school/daycare)
- Salad with beets, goat cheese, sunflower seeds.  Piece of the chard frittata. Slice of veggie pizza (free from someone else's meeting).
- Husband - bean/rice bowl, frittata

Snack: apple and cottage cheese

- Steamed broccoli, leftover rice, last of the tofu
- Rest of the family gets the same, except they get chicken

Breakfast &Lunch &Snack: see Monday
Dinner: Fish, roasted potatoes, stir-fried green beans

Breakfast &Lunch &Snack: see Monday
Dinner: Sauteed polenta rounds with meatballs and marinara

Breakfast &Lunch &Snack: see Monday. If there is frittata left!!
- Me: dunno. I have a school function
- Husband/ kids: frozen pizza.  They have a playoff baseball game

I don't think I've gotten that far in my planning.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Two New Recipes! Zucchini Fritters and Egg roll in a bowl

I was on fire this week!  Well, we got zucchini in the produce box, and with it came a recipe for 5-ingredient zucchini fritters.  So I decided to give it a try.  I realized that while I planned to make them for dinner Wednesday, I'd forgotten that I had a PTA meeting.

So I made them Weds morning before work and after my workout.  But I made the mistake of getting dressed for work first.  So then, I smelled like fritters (oil) all day.  Hm.

Apparently the kids (big one especially) thought they were delicious!  I did too.  Pretty easy and great.

The other recipe I'd been reading about is "Egg Roll in a Bowl".  I found many versions, and started with this one.  I decided to try it because we got green cabbage from the box. It was a definite hit!

I used sliced steak for the meat, because I had it.  I think the key to this recipe (and a good stir fry), is getting the balance right of the spices - in this case, green onion, garlic, and fresh ginger.

For the Zucchini fritters, I used the recipe that came with the box - they have a newsletter. I don't have a picture of the actual fritters, because we ate them.  But maybe I'll take a picture later this week.

5-Ingredient Zucchini Fritters
4 cups shredded zucchini (the food processor is your friend!!)
2/3 c. flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup sliced scallions (green & white parts) - I will have to sub regular onion this week
Vegetable oil (I used olive oil)

Put shredded zucchini in a colander over a bowl and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Allow to sit for 10 minutes.  Or in my case, the length of a shower + getting dressed.  Using your hands, squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

Put zucchini in a large bowl and mix with flour and eggs and scallions, plus 1/4 tsp and 1/8 tsp pepper (you know I eyeballed that).  Stir until combined.

Line a plate with paper towel.

In a non-stick skillet, heat a generous amount of oil.  Put over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, scoop a 3-Tbsp mound of the mixture into the pan, pressing lightly into rounds and spacing 2 inches apart.

Cook 2-3 minutes and flip, and cook 2 more minutes until golden brown.  Transfer to paper towel lined plate.  Repeat until done.  I think I made 15 of them.

They are delicious with sour cream, or just plain.

Marcia's Famous Salad

Next up!  Not a recipe.  It's not a surprise if you know me, but I eat a lot of salad.  Like every day.  I get a free lunch at work tomorrow (sandwiches) so I get a break from making a salad.

My husband is getting tired of sandwiches.  So I offered to make him one of my salads.  He used to eat sandwiches for lunch (for decades), then he started taking leftovers (and was competing with me for them).  I used to work that into my meal plan - however lately I've been giving him sandwiches. (because if he eats leftovers, then I have to cook dinner more often, KWIM?  And: baseball.  So many nights away from home.)

The risk here, though, is that he wants me to make him salad more often.  Hmm...

Monday, April 4, 2016

On Traveling with Children

So I'm on vacation and I have time to think and relax and think some more.  So I was thinking today about traveling, and about how traveling with children is different than traveling alone.

Now, you will always find people who swear that having kids won't change their travel habits.  Maybe they lie, maybe it really happens.  I dunno. But I do have to say that traveling with kids is different for us.  Let's examine that.

- Air travel

Shortly after we had our first child, we continued with our travel habits.  We were flying to visit family 2x a year (once to each family), and once on a real vacation (like Hawaii, or New Mexico, or DC).  We continued this schedule for a couple of years, so that our older son had flown 5x by the time he was 1.5.

Air travel changed for sure.  Instead of a single bag and a backpack filled with a book, my iPod, a few snacks to eat - it was now filled with many  more snacks, kids books, coloring items, diapers, a change of clothing for the kiddo.  Traveling with a single bag was definitely more of a challenge, but was do-able when he was small.

As time went on and he got bigger, it just got more expensive.  3 trips x 2 plane tickets was now 3 trips x 3 plane tickets.  We started cutting back - our trips to visit family were cut back to every other year, and we combined them together with a rental car in between.  The advantage was two-fold:
1.  cheaper (less airfare)
2.  longer trip (2 weeks).  I realized, for the first time, how much more relaxing long trips are - even with kids.

Plus, traveling with kids kinds of sucks.

- Car travel

The vast majority of our travel these days is by car.  This has additional challenges:
1. My older child gets car sick. While he's never actually barfed in the car, we have to drug him.  (Dramamine.)
2. My younger child has a small bladder.  An 8.5 hour drive can easily take 11 hours.  For this reason, we've set a limit of about 6 hours (with the exception of the trip between families, which is 8).  An 11-12 hour drive is torture!
3.  I'm old.  Sitting is hard.
4.  Driving hours are limited (time of day).

Contrast this to the "old days".  Pre-kid we took a driving tour of the Southwest over 9 days, with stops in Kingman, AZ, Grand Canyon, Sedona, Santa Fe, White Sands NM, Tucson, Joshua Tree National park.  Single day drives of 8-10 were not uncommon, and almost every day was packed with an activity.  Camping was pretty easy - put up the tent, heat up some dinner, explore, go to sleep.

Now, some folks will recommend driving with kids overnight, or early in the morning.  With our sleep schedules, we cannot do that - even if it would work for the kids.  We arrived home by plane after a long bout of weather, with a 2 hour drive, and had to pay $179 for 5 hours in a hotel room to sleep. Because we didn't want to die.  Overnight may work if your kids sleep in the car, and if they are the type to need to run every 1.5 hours.  And if you are a night owl.

Our method is to break up longer trips into multiple days.

- Miscellaneous travel

When we visit family, we have an 8 hour trip between the two places.  We often rent a car and drive.  However, twice we have taken the train.  The advantages:
1.  We aren't driving and can nap
2.  The kids can move around.  They are much happier
3.  It's a shorter trip (6 hours)
4.  It's about the same price as renting a car

1.  The train leaves at 7 am.  So we have to go up the night before and stay in a hotel

Pre-kid days, we would just drive, no question.

- Camping

So, I started getting into camping when my husband was getting over it.  Of course, he bears the brunt of packing it, so I understand.  Pre-kid we would pop up our tent, roll out our pads and sleeping bags.

Now, we are older and have kids.  We have a small car.  So, in order to pack, we use a Thule box on top of the car.  It has to be carefully packed (stuffed).  The kids get the sleeping mats, and we have cots.  Because we are old, and the ground is  hard.

Setting up takes longer. Only one of us can set up (maybe with help from the older kid), and the other one (me) has to chase the toddler.  Cooking is reverse - I can cook while husband chases toddler.  Camping trips have to be at least 2 nights to make it worth it.  But a maximum of 3, because it gets old.  And then you have the difficulty in getting the kids to sleep, and my own insomnia.

- International Travel

We haven't done it with kids.  Enough said

- Timing

Pre-kid, you can go when you want.  This can save buckets!  Spouse and I traveled to Hawaii 4 times.  Maui in October and Feb. Kauai in Jan and April (or thereabouts).  Some of times we just randomly decided to go one month out, and got killer deals! One Kauai trip we traveled with one of our friends - three of us got a 2 bedroom, newly renovated condo overlooking the ocean.  $180 a night.  (Normal price: $450/nt).

Once you are on the school schedule, be prepared to open your wallet.  Hotels, air fare, gas prices - all can easily be double due to increased demand.  (Just ask my aunt how hard it is to get her daughter, SIL, and grand babies over from England in summer.)

Likewise, there is "peak pricing" in places like Disneyland.  Summers, weekends, and spring break simply cost more.  We went to Disney 2 years ago and lucked out - our Spring Break did not coincide with most of So Cal, so the peak pricing did not take effect until the following week.

You also have to be prepared for crowds. (See Disney, above.) We were recently visiting National parks in Utah.  I did my research and found that it was best to get there before 10 in order to find parking.  While Bryce wasn't terribly busy (got there at 10, found parking just fine), Zion was PACKED.  Zion is very close to Springdale and therefore gets more visitors.  We arrived at around 9:30 and found parking pretty easily.  The shuttles were running within the park, but from noon until 4 (when we left), they were standing room only.  We were lucky that someone was always willing to give up a seat to whichever one of us was carrying the 3-year old.

All of the hikes had hordes of people.  If your desire is to be one with nature, and avoid people - spring break is not the time to go.  And spring break is about 6 weeks long, as different school
systems have different schedules.

For the record, I don't mind hordes of people while hiking.

- Activities

I have found that I simply cannot pack our days full like I did pre-kid.  You know, drive 6 hours, see place A.  Stay overnight.  Drive 6 hours, see place B, stay overnight.  You can see SO MUCH this way!  I know people who do this still - they tend to have campers that don't require setup.  Your home is with you!

For one thing - I prefer to cook instead of eat out.  In this case, an endless string of hotels or camping will not work.  See above on how much harder it is to tent camp with kids - one night stays are impractical.  And cooking in a hotel is work.  One night in a hotel is sometimes necessary.  A string of them is a pain.  You are paying $100 to $200 for only 21 hours, really.  If the hotel has amenities like a pool, you probably won't get to enjoy them.  If you check in too late, you cannot go. Then check out can be early morning if you want to get on the road.

For this reason, I like condos/ houses.  I recently had my first experience with Air-BNB, and I really liked it.  Until now, we rented condos that were vacation condos - so sort of "hotel-like".  These are nice too.  The issue with condos or houses is that many have a minimum stay of 2-3 days.  The owner does not want to pay a cleaning fee daily, and they don't have a staff like a larger vacation condo place.

Thus, we try to stay in a particular place at least 2 days, longer if possible.  Our recent Utah trip was 5 nights in Utah (plus one night hotel stay in each direction due to the long drive).  With 5 nights, we could have theoretically seen four things: Bryce, Zion, Lake Powell, Grand Canyon.  And then we could have swung by Death Valley on the way home.

Um, that's too much "on the go" with the kids and us. We need down time.  For our five days, we checked the weather to determine our "big days" and just relaxed at home and "winged it" on the other days.
Day 1: Bryce.  Not ideal after the "should have been 5.5 but was really 8 hours" drive the day before. (It's 1.5 hour drive one way.) But weather dictated it because...
Day 2: Snow.  We hung out at the townhouse, played with snow, ran errands, did a little work, watched TV, hiked behind the house.
Day 3: Zion (45 minute gorgeous nail-biter drive)
Day 4: Hang out near the townhouse, and saw a close-by park (Coral Pink Sand Dunes).  Start packing.
Day 5: Check out and drive to Barstow.  Leave early enough to grab a quick dinner and go see a movie.  Vacation is not a vacation for my husband without a movie.

Have your vacation methods changed with time or with kids?