Friday, December 25, 2009

What to Pack for a 23-hour Train Ride

Boy, my internet connection has been a big old pile of...lately.

We are embarking on a one-day train trip today. So naturally, my thoughts turn to food. What to pack for the trip? For any long trip by plane, my backpack tends to be a small bit entertainment for my son, and a large bit food. Which comes in handy when you are stuck in Houston for 10 hours and end up flying standby last-minute when your last meal was 6 hours ago.

Now, it's not like they don't have food on the train. They do, and I'm sure we will be eating some, considering that we'll be on the train for dinner, breakfast, and lunch. But most likely we'll only eat 1-2 meals.

My packing strategy is to choose items that will hold up well in a backpack and that are a mix of healthy and special snacks. On that note, here's the list:

satsuma mandarins (and a damp washcloth)

peanut butter filled pretzels
granola bars & Lara bars
dried apples
trail mix
cheese puffs

(My good friend gave us the last two as a gift for our trip.)

With these items, we can be happily fed for at least breakfast and lunch. We'll be at Union Station for dinner time, so might wander off to find something.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Fried Rice

Not a traditional Christmas Eve dinner in either family. For my spouse's family, it's roast pork, red cabbage, potatoes, butternut squash, rice pudding with cherry sauce.

For my family, at some point it became "pick foods", aka, junk food. Cheese and crackers, meat slices, shrimp cocktail, fritos with velveeta dip, cookies, and maybe a veggie tray.

My husband and I have tried many things. More often than not, it's the roast pork. Last year it was chicken and tri-tip because our guests were Jewish. One year, it was failed fajitas because our tortillas were moldy and the stores were all closed.

This year is the final clean-out-the fridge meal: fried rice

1 cup brown rice, cooked: 0.60
a few green onions from the garden
1 onion, diced: 0.20
1 Tbsp canola oil: 0.03
a few diced carrots: 0.30
1/3 bag frozen peas: 0.40
1 egg (the last one): 0.13
soy sauce, sesame oil, pepper: 0.40
Total: $2.06 for dinner for three and probably one lunch serving.

with some leftover green beans...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hash Browns and Burritos

Let's see what's on the menu tonight:

2 avocados: $3.00 (one was halfway brown -boo!)
3 large potatoes: $1.50
1 onion: 0.20
tortillas: $0.15 each
cheese: $1.00
1 cup sliced tri-tip left over from Thanksgiving

I shredded the potatoes in the food processor, diced the onion, threw it in a hot pan with canola oil, salt, and pepper. Put the lid on so that the onion would steam and the bottom would brown. Then flipped (in parts) and continued to cook until nice and brown.

I reheated the meat, made guac, and had spouse heat tortillas and shred cheese.

Dinner: done.

Still left to eat before lunch on the 25th: 1 butternut squash, some carrots, two onions, frozen green beans...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Use it up Pasta

We are in the downswing towards the holidays and a mini-vacation. I'm working hard to eat through all perishables in the fridge. It's kind of fun. Not sure if we'll get to the applesauce and yogurt.

Pasta with Vegetables and Chicken:
1/2 lb. mini farfalle, cooked: 0.60
1/2 c. pasta cooking water.
1/2 lb. broccoli, steamed: 1.00
1 small onion, sliced: 0.20
1 Tbsp canola oil: 0.03
2 cloves garlic: 0.10
1 cup pumpkin puree: 0.50
4 small carrots, sliced: 0.25
1 cup shredded chicken (this was from freezer from Thanksgiving): 1.50
4 sun-dried tomatoes, sliced: 0.25
1/4 c. parmesan: 0.31
a few sliced green onions
salt and pepper to taste

Total: $4.74 for 6 servings, for $0.79 per serving.

Heat canola oil in nonstick pan and cook onion until brown. Add sliced carrots and cook until starting to brown. Add broccoli and garlic and cook a few minutes, until fragrant.

Add pumpkin puree and chicken and stir to heat. Add tomatoes, pasta, salt and pepper, and pasta cooking water and toss. Continue to cook until heated through. Add parmesan and stir. Top with green onions.
On a side note, awhile ago my son was playing with the camera and dropped it. You may notice that my images have gotten fuzzier. It was only a year and a half old, too. :(

Pumpkin bread

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bread

Are you seeing a pumpkin theme? Using up some stuff from the freezer.

I thought that it would be nice to make some baked goods this weekend. Spouse and offspring made some cookies, and I got to thinking of pumpkin cream cheese bread. Which I've never made before.

So Google was such a help, and it popped up this almost 5-star recipe from

I am usually a bit horrified by quick bread recipes that I find on the internet or in most cookbooks such as Betty Crocker. This was no exception. If you look at the list of ingredients (which makes 2 loaves), it calls for 1 2/3 cup of flour and TWO FULL CUPS of sugar. More sugar than flour. That comes out to about 1 Tablespoon of sugar per SLICE (and these are small slices). I certainly don't think this falls into the healthy category of this blog.

So I pretty liberally adjusted the recipe like I normally do with quick breads. I cut the sugar down to about 1/2 cup plus two tablespoons (that's 10 tablespoons instead of 32!!). I also subbed some of the white flour for whole wheat. I often will decrease the oil and sub applesauce or more pumpkin. Didn't do that this time.

It was still quite tasty. But I took the bread out of the oven and took a nap. It fell a little, maybe because I left it in the pan too long.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bread:

beat in a medium bowl:
1 8-oz package light cream cheese, softened: $1.25
2 Tbsp white sugar: 0.03
1 Tbsp flour: 0.01
1 egg: $0.13
1 Tbsp tangerine and/or orange zest (from our trees, I used a mixture): $0

dry ingredients:
mix in a medium bowl:
1 2/3 cup flour (I used a mix of white and wheat)
1 tsp baking soda: 0.02
1/2 tsp salt: 0.01
1/2 tsp cinnamon: 0.03
1/2 tsp cloves: 0.05
1/4 tsp nutmeg: 0.05
1/4 tsp ginger: 0.05

Wet ingredients:
Beat in a large bowl:
1 cup pumpkin puree: 0.50
1/2 cup canola oil: 0.28
2 eggs: 0.25
1/2 cup white sugar: 0.09

Total: $3.10 for two loaves of about 16 slices each, or about $0.10 per slice. Three slices with some fruit makes a good breakfast.

Preheat oven to 325.

Grease two small loaf pans.

Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just mixed.

Pour about half of the batter into the bottom of two pans and spread flat. Spoon the cream cheese mixture on top and spread a bit. Top with remaining batter.

Bake for 60 min, or until toothpick comes out clean.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pumpkin Soup and the garden

So, I have a favorite Butternut Squash Soup recipe, as you well know if you've been reading this blog.

But what about pumpkin? I got a large pumpkin this year from the CSA. And it generated 7 cups of puree. Which I froze. I always seem to find pumpkin soup recipes this time of year. But when I want to find them? Can't.

So this recipe started with a recipe from (I am on the mailing's free!) It's made additionally awesome because I can use up some curry powder and pick some green onions from the garden. Which I planted myself. In April. Yeah, they were slow growers. We're about ready to rip out the rest of the 3x9 feet garden. (Two squares of 3x3). Except we have that stupid cherry tomato plant, planted from a single seed, that is still producing.

What I learned from this first mini garden:

chard (the gift that keeps on giving)
cherry tomatoes
cucumbers (a little bit)
onions (eventually)

Dismal failures

Okay growers:

Anyway, back to the recipe. When I googled the recipe to see if it was "out there" and printable, I realized that it comes from her book. And a couple of reviews on the book found it too mild. I then thought about one of my favorite blogs ( for recipes and found HER recipe. And thus, combined the two. I'm not a big fan of creamy soups anyway (on occasion they are okay, but it's the recipes that call for 2 cups of heavy cream that kind of freak me out.)

Pumpkin soup:
3 cups roasted pumpkin: 1.50
4 cups chicken stock: free (homemade from the Thanksgiving chicken)
1 medium onion: 0.20
1 T. olive oil: 0.11
four green onions, sliced: free
1/3 cup orange juice: 0.09
3 cloves garlic, roasted: 0.15
3/4 tsp curry powder: 0.10
pinch nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Total: $2.15 for about 8 cups, or $0.27 per cup

This was actually quite tasty and curry-licious. I think it would still be good with a little bit of milk or cream.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

Well, the 2-year + anniversary of my blog came and went with nary a post, a recipe, a comment. (Truth be told, I had a different blog before this one, but I don't remember when that one started.) But this one started December 16, 2007. Can you believe that? Pretty crazy.

I managed to catch a cold from my child late last week. Which turned into a RAGING sinus infection. I've never had one before. I don't recommend them. There has been no cooking this week. Right now I am thankful for leftover soup from the freezer, edamame, fruit, nuts, cheese, toast, boxed mac and cheese, and the Domino's pizza guy. And herbal tea. In a couple of days I will hopefully be thankful for amoxicillin. It hasn't kicked in yet. This is awful. No running either, and I'm missing that. They kicked me out of work today! (well, after letting me work 6 straight hours)

Okay, time for bed. Hopefully I'll be better in the morning. My hubby is hoping he has a date for his company holiday party tomorrow night. I'm not so sure.

I leave you with a little math:
If you substitute 1 glass of wine each day with 1 cup of herbal tea with a bit of honey (1 tsp), you save about 100 cals/day or 10 lbs in a year.

Not that I need to lose 10 lbs. I do like my wine, but not lately that's for sure...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Running with Headphones - yay or nay?

So, I started running this year. Further than ever before (prior to this year, I'd done a 10k.) I liberally used my Ipod to keep me motivated, particularly on the early-morning treadmill runs (and even that didn't work so well).

As I got into my half-marathon training, reading the book "The Complete Book of Running for Women", I noticed the suggestion that you should *never* run with headphones, unless you are on the treadmill. For safety reasons - you can't hear traffic, you can't hear people. Now, if I were running at my parents' house in the middle of nowhere with woods and narrow roads, I'd probably leave the headphones at home (and people have dogs. That aren't tied up.)

But I live in Santa Barbara. I run on surface streets and bike paths. I have to cross at exactly one traffic light - and that's running >10 miles. Okay, it's out-and-back, so it's actually two - the same light twice. I try to not have my music too loud so that I can hear what's going on around me.

As my training runs got longer, I experimented with running without the Ipod. I was somewhat successful. The half marathon "highly discourages" headphones. I found that eventually I was able to get up to 8 miles with no music, just the scenery and my own thoughts. At that point, I start getting tired and need more motivation.

It depends on the day though. On actual race day, I couldn't hit my "zone". Too many people, too much noise. Popped the headphones in at mile 5.

At the marathon (I ran the last 8.3 miles of a relay), I waited a few miles to pop them in. At the finish, one of the helpers got my chip, and started yelling at me what to do next. I realized that while my Ipod was on low and I could hear everything, he didn't realize that (oops, sorry dude). He seemed pretty ticked.

So why the hating? I guess I can see the safety point. But I get at least a little frustrated with "real" runners dissing "newbies" or "non-real runners". I consider myself a runner. I've run a half. I have a long run of about 8 miles or 10, and try to run 3x a week total. But I'm not fast. I will probably never be fast. I've heard and read comments about the slow people. Who's to say that a race is only for the sub-8:00, sub-7:00, sub-6:00/mile set? I'm perfectly happy to plug along in my 9:00/mile (for under 4 miles) or 10:30/mile (half marathon) pace.

I can see how it would a little frustrating on a race. But folks? I'm not your competition. You're running a 7:00 mile, you aren't going to be seeing me. Except maybe in the bathroom line at the start. I bring my own water. I bring my own Gu. And I bring my own motivation. And I guess that's part of the thing. If you run a 7:00 - figure your finishing time...and add 50%. That's how much longer it takes me to finish a race than you think you'd need a little pick-me-up if you were running 2 hrs and 17 minutes for half marathon instead of 1.5 hours?

I worry a bit about the running community alienating the rest of us. We do keep the sport alive in many ways. When I read the marathon rule "if you are competing for prizes, you cannot use Ipods", I thought "yeah, whatever, no prizes at a 10:00/mile, that's for sure."

Any runners out there? What do you think?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bean Soup v2

I used the last of that mixed-bean-and-grain mix from Whole Foods to make soup yesterday.

It's been kinda crazy around here. After Thanksgiving my mom decided on spur-of-the-moment to come for a visit. She arrived last Friday, stayed until Tuesday. She arrived with a cold unfortunately. Which she passed on to my son. Who passed it on to me. So spouse and I split our work days Tuesday and Weds. Today I have a bit of a sore throat but I'm doing my regimen that will hopefully nip this in the bud.

Since I was home in the morning and I knew I'd be working late...I decided on the crockpot soup. I soaked the beans and grains this time, for about 4 hours (starting at 6 am). At 10 am, I drained them, put them in the crockpot with 8 cups of boiling water, some sauteed celery and carrots, and italian seasoning. I cooked the soup on high until about 4 pm, at which point my spouse added about a cup of diced leftover beef from Thanksgiving, a veggie bouillon cube, frozen peas, parsley, and diced green onion. I didn't have any regular onion. But those green onions that I planted in the garden in April are actually growing now.

Finished off with salt and was a very tasty soup, and now we've got some for the freezer.

What I learned? Soak the beans and grains first. So far this soup has been better on our digestion than the last one.