A few Autumn changes

September 26, 2014

It’s been hard for me to put words in this space since school began for the girls in late August. Things have been busy, that’s for sure, but if I’m honest with myself, there are times when I could have been working/writing this past month and I’ve chosen not to. I’ve chosen other things, like taking Mozz-man for another walk or cleaning out the junk drawer in the kitchen or watching The Pioneer Woman on the Food Network–even though I find her voice grating and I am perfectly able to cook a steak or a burger or a club sandwich on my own, thank you very much. I don’t think I’ve learned how to cook one thing from that show–the things she makes are so simple and basic, and yet I still watch the damn thing! Argh! Why do I do that?

Anyways. I haven’t been here much. I’m going to try to do better, because as busy as things are right now, I need to be busier. We are rapidly approaching what I know to be a dangerous time for me. Once October starts, and the winter months are hot on its heels, I know trouble’s brewing. I don’t do so well emotionally once the days shorten and the nights get cold. Last October landed me in Fuck You Linda territory and so I know that starting right about now, I am going to have to be very, very careful. Because I really don’t want to end up in Fuck You Linda territory again.

This means treating myself not only with kindness, but with discipline and vigilance. I need to make sure that I do the things that keep the wolves at bay–basic but essential things like taking vitamins and eating good things and sweating every day and avoiding crap habits and sleeping a lot. Those things take time, and they should fill the cracks in my already busy schedule, but I’m still nervous.  In truth, I’m really, really nervous.

I need to be so busy that I don’t have time to think. Thinking gets me deep in the thick and tangly weeds.

It sounds a little nutty, but my little dog helps. He does. Mozzy demands at least six walks a day, and our electric fence experiment backfired (more on that later), so it’s still up to me to keep him happy and out in fresh air with the falling leaves and the dashing-about rabbits. He also needs cuddles and belly rubs and little nibbles of delicious things during the day, so I certainly am not without company while the girls are at school.

A crazy October schedule helps. October is the month of birthdays–Miss M., my husband and Daddy-o all have October birthdays. So does the Mozzerator, turns out, and yes, we’ll be celebrating it because Miss M. has already told me that we’re making homemade dog biscuits in honor of his first year. That should be an adventure. We’re also making a quick trip out to San Antonio for my husband’s medical school reunion this month, so there’s that.

Another change is afoot that should help keep me occupied this fall and winter, and it involves cooking, so I’m excited on that front. A friend of mine is returning to the workforce next week, and she hates to cook. When I met her for lunch this week, she said, “I know it’s awful, but I just dread dinner. The kids are little and still in the picky phase, so they don’t eat the kinds of things my husband and I like to eat, and no way am I surviving on grilled cheese and chicken nuggets, so dinner is a pain in the butt (to figure out/plan/make).”

I completely understand, because I’m kind of in the same place. Miss D. is a pretty good eater, but Miss M. is finicky and petulant. Heck, I like to cook and even I think, “Fuck You, Dinner!” on a regular basis.

My friend is worried that once she starts working full time, they’re going to get stuck on the Takeout Train, and that’s both expensive and ass-busting.

So we talked about it, and I think we came up with a pretty good idea. A couple of nights a week, I’m going to make a little extra of what *most* of us are having for dinner at my house, and on her way home from work, my friend’s going to pick it up, and she and her husband can enjoy that. And she won’t have to think about it. At least a couple nights a week, anyways.

This will keep me busy, and give me a little pocket change, and it will inspire me to be a little more creative in the dinner department, because in all honesty, I’ve kind of been in a rut lately. Even I am getting sick of the running rotation of stir fry, fajitas and chicken salads.

It will also, hopefully, give me stuff to write about in this space. Stuff to write about is good.

Change is in the air, Readers. I’ll let you know how it goes.

** About the electric fence. It worked too well; Mozz-man got shocked once, since, he cowers in fear whenever we put the collar on and he won’t go outside. If we manage to get him outside, he just sits on the porch looking suspicious and forlorn. So I’m still stuck walking the little dude 6-8 times a day. Argh! Anyone else had this experience? It’s beyond frustrating and I’m so sad for Mozzy, because all I wanted was for him to be able to roll around in the grass and sniff around and be happy out there. Is there an electric fence whisperer out there?

*** Is it weird to think, “Fuck You, Dinner?”  I think it probably is weird, but I think it.

 

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Curried Lentil Soup

September 22, 2014

 

Nobody really sings the praises of the lowly lentil. They just aren’t very sexy, are they? They’re cheap. They’re easy. They’re (usually) brown. And they taste like…well…sorta nothing, right?

That’s sort of a legume problem in general–beans are a blank canvas.

I’d argue, however, that maybe that’s the hidden charm of legumes. Those little devils are just daring you to break out your creative juices.

“Hi there, it’s us again,” they wave from the pantry shelf. “Your little kitchen workhorses. What’s it going to be this time? A Southwestern chili? Some Cajun one-pot wonder? Something with coconut milk and a little Peruvian flair? Let’s fuel up the old imagination, shall we?”

Often, when it’s lentils I’m looking at, I’ll choose some sort of soup-type concoction. I was particularly lucky this week, when I was in a soupy frame of mind and realized that I had red lentils on hand. Red lentils (often used in Indian cooking) are the supermodels of the lentil world–small and bright and pretty. Not boring at all, trust me.

I decided to veer a little off the beaten path and use Thai curry paste in this soup, but I used ginger and cumin and coconut milk, so the resulting soup still had sort of an Indian flair.

It was full of warm spice and flavor without being spicy at all; you won’t need a fire extinguisher with this one, although you can add red pepper flakes for extra kick if you like. I actually ended up doing that with the leftovers, which I served with rice later in the week.

While I won’t say this dish is drop-dead sexy, I will say that it’s lovely and comforting and well, maybe just a little sexy. And super easy. Easy is good for this family right now, because we are full-throttle crazy with beginning-of-school activities and meetings and adjustments.

I think the one hardest hit by all of the hustle and change is this poor little guy.

He misses the girls terribly during the day and as late afternoon hits, he begins pacing around the front door, waiting for their return.

Ah, who am I kidding? I’m waiting, too.

March on, Fall. March on.

Curried Lentil Soup

serves 4-6

1 large clove garlic

1 tablespoon peeled fresh ginger, coarsely chopped

1 carrot, peeled and cut into chunks

2 ribs celery, sliced into chunks

2 shallots, quartered

2 cups fire-roasted canned tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil or butter

2-4 teaspoons red curry paste (you can find this in the Asian section of your supermarket)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 cup red lentils, rinsed and picked over to remove any pebbles

1 quart reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

1/2 cup coconut milk

Salt and pepper to taste

Cilantro leaves and/or plain Greek yogurt for garnish, if desired

In a food processor, pulse garlic, ginger, carrot, celery and shallot until coarsely chopped.

Heat oil or butter in a heavy 4-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable mixture and cook, stirring, about 3 minutes or until softened. Add the curry paste and cumin and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add tomatoes, lentils, chicken broth, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bring the soup to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook until the lentils break down, about 30 minutes.

Depending on the texture you prefer, puree half the soup in a blender (in batches) or use an immersion blender OR puree entire batch if you like a creamy soup with no chunks.

Season with salt and pepper. If soup is too thick, thin with water or broth.

If desired, top with chopped cilantro and a dollop of Greek yogurt.

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New Jag Salad

September 15, 2014

“People have tried and they have tried, but sex is not better than sweet corn.” -Garrison Keillor

 

Many moons ago, I wrote this post, confessing to being a “jag eater.”  If you don’t feel like plundering the archives, I’ll give you the basic jist: a “jag eater” is someone who gets a little obsessed with a certain food for a period of time. As in, wanting to eat it daily obsessed. In my teens and twenties, I was a serious jag eater; I could make a huge pot of ratatouille or red beans and rice and eat it daily, week after week.

As I’ve gotten older, the jags have gotten fewer and farther between, but once in a while, I’ll fall in love with something and Bam! Just like that, I’m on a jag.

At the beginning of summer, I made this salad, and after the first bite, I immediately boarded the Jag Wagon.  I’ve been making huge batches of this salad and munching away on it all week, all summer long. I’m even eating the stuff for breakfast, much to my husband’s horror.

His horror won’t have to last much longer, since the success and deliciousness of this salad depends on summer ingredients like farm-fresh green beans and corn, and let’s face it, the end is near (sob!) for those sorts of things.

For some of you, it might be over already–parts of South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado have already seen some snow! Hopefully, though, most of you have a few more blessed weeks of summer produce.

So get crackin’, people! Make this big bowl of yumminess while you still can. I can attest that it keeps well in the refrigerator for several days, so if you become  a little enamored with this salad, like I did, you have some happy eating in store for you.

 

 

Green Bean, Sweet Corn and Feta Salad

serves 4 (but recipe can easily be doubled or tripled, if you are on a jag)

 

8 ounces very thin, fresh green beans

2-3 ears of fresh sweet corn, shucked

1 small shallot, chopped

1/2 cup good-quality feta cheese, crumbled

3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

2 tablespoons toasted pecans, chopped (optional)

a good glug of your favorite raspberry vinaigrette (I actually use Brianna’s Blush Wine Vinaigrette, one of the few bottled dressings I like)

 

Cook and Shock the Green Beans:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the green beans and cook until just crisp-tender, about 5 minutes, depending on the size and freshness of the green beans. Remove the green beans from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge into a big bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Remove with a slotted spoon and pat dry. Cut the green beans into bite-sized pieces.

Add the corn to the boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes. You just want to blanch the corn; it should still be crisp. Plunge corn into the ice water. Drain, pat dry, and remove kernels from the corn cobs with a sharp knife.

Combine beans, corn kernels, shallot, feta, parsley and pecans in a large bowl. Toss with vinaigrette and season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Boom, Clap

September 9, 2014

Pork with Peach and Dr. Pepper Sauce

September 2, 2014

It’s Raining Peaches!

August 27, 2014

The Electric Fence

August 22, 2014

Oddball Tomato Salad

August 8, 2014