Mindful Eating in a Rushed World

Today, I’m grateful that someone else is cooking – namely, the school cafeteria. Many of the people at the school where I work gather for lunch on Wednesdays, and it’s a wonderful morning when I don’t have to, in a tizzy, see if there are leftovers in the fridge. I didn’t appreciate at all what I had going for me as a child and when attending college; other people made my food, and I didn’t have to spend hours a day making or thinking about the food I would eat.

No lie, I love taking time to cook (really, you think?) – I think mindful cooking is one of the most wonderful experiences, when you are letting your worries go and thinking about food as a nourishing part of life. The problem comes when cooking isn’t mindful at all – you don’t really have time to cook anything so you choose something fast that doesn’t nourish you well, or you cook something with resentment in your heart because you wish you weren’t so rushed. No one can help having these times once in a while, and I’ve had a lot of them lately with school starting up again.

However, the one nice thing about experiencing these difficult moments of non-mindful cooking is that it makes me so much MORE mindful when I have time to sit down to a meal prepared by someone else. The folks who work at our school cafeteria are so kind and good, so accommodating of the staff and students, and I am always a little honored to eat the food they make. Plus, in this case, by not having to cook myself, I’m winning a few minutes to really enjoy every bite of salad, every forkful of potatoes, and definitely the dash of whipped cream on top of dessert. I know it would have taken me ages to make even the most simple of cafeteria food spreads, and getting to eat them quickly and in good company is a blessing.

Do you have a favorite memory of a meal prepared for you? It can be a restaurant or a particular person, but what meal really makes you grateful for food and for those who make it?


Growing Food versus Solar Cells… Investing in Sustainable Living

This year’s produce isn’t all in, but it’s really not too shabby:

  • a huge pile of basil, thrown into every pasta dish this season.
  • sprigs of cilantro here and there
  • enough strawberries for a cobbler and one tiny pot of jam
  • a big bag of potatoes (maybe 8 or 9 pounds?)
  • 7 butternut squash of between 2 and 5 pounds each (and some tiny ones that might yet beef up)
  • 15 or 20 pounds of tomatoes, eaten by us constantly while also being given away and frozen for canning experiment.
  • a dozen salads worth of greens.
  • One lonely green bell pepper (we’ve still got green plants, though, so maybe they’ll flower in September. We had some great pepper plants last year in September, the only 2015 crops at the house).

While quite wonderful for my brown-thumb, this isn’t much compared to the total food that I eat, or that Husband and I eat combined. However, I saw a comment the other day on a blog that basically pointed out that the impact of growing your own food, even a little, is much higher than getting solar cells or other alternative fuels for your house. I have often been seduced by the thought of solar cells, wondering if we’d ever have sunny enough days that we’d be “selling back” energy to the grid. But thousands and thousands of dollars have always made me forget that idea, no matter now much subsidy the government might give for such cells.

On the other hand, if I think about how much energy goes into planting, fertilizing, growing, harvesting, and transporting my produce, how much effort and care goes into making sure it isn’t bruised (and how many peppers are bruised and thrown away, or thrown away for not being pretty), I realize that gardening does make a difference: while there was fossil fuel energy to transport the bags of compost that we use to enrich the soil, the lone pepper to emerge from my garden didn’t require nearly as much fossil fuel, total, as the ones in the grocery store. I can’t calculate the difference (and we’re probably talking pennies of worth, really), but every bite is something.

I’m also heartened as I look to a future season, where I’ll learn from my mistakes, and maybe grow more food or be able to harvest it better. It’s an effort to do something fun with my hands and something kind of magical with my backyard, but it’s also just a little more sustainable than buying elsewhere… (or at least it is trying to be!) It’s only little impacts, but those can be really good for one’s mind and heart.

The Little Blogger who Can… Can.

This weekend was when we hit a lot of milestones – I had three ripe butternut squash sitting on the counter and more than 11 pounds of tomatoes in the freezer, so I decided to take the kitchen that Husband so lovingly cleaned and cover it in canning equipment and tomato guts. I also did some cooking and roasting of butternut squash, but I’ll save that for another day.

I knew I was starting at a disadvantage with the whole canning process, because I had too large jars and too small a pot, but I managed to fit 3 jars into my pot at a time, which was good. I cooked down the tomatoes with a little water for hours, maybe 3? because I hadn’t taken the skins off or cut them up much to begin with. I figure, when I want to use the sauce, I can chop up the sauce a little in the food processor if I don’t want it chunky. Then it was the old standby: clean jars and lids, sanitize jars and lids, add sauce, put lids on to finger tight, and process for whatever amount of time multiple blogs say is right (45 minutes was the consensus for mine).

For my first batch, I forgot the lemon juice until I realized they were already processing with the lids on, so I decided those would get used in the next couple of weeks and could live in the fridge. No one said your first canning experiment is perfect. But for the second batch, I mixed in tablespoons of lemon juice to get the acidity up and I think that will be enough. I really recommend following some old-school directions (from a box of mason jars, or from a canning cookbook) on this – there are so many steps in the process that could introduce germs/bacteria/something else into your tomatoes that it’s good to follow to the letter. I would prefer to throw more tomatoes into my next few meals than to save them all winter and find them moldy or full of poisonous substances.

Overall, I see the accomplishment people get from canning, but I also understand the impulse to just give away ripe tomatoes if you have too many, so that others can enjoy the garden flavors. It really isn’t a money saver, at least not this first year, but I liked the sense of accomplishment on what was otherwise a pretty lazy Sunday for me.


New best bread ever – easy-to-make Peasant Bread

I have unsuccessfully wrestled with many  bread recipes. This one, in particular, may not be the best bread in the world, but it is such a thorough recipe, with such simple ingredients, and such a good chance of success… I’ll say it. It’s my favorite bread recipe ever. And you make it in a BOWL. How cool is that? (pyrex only; something oven safe!)

The recipe is from Alexandra Bakes, and her whole site is basically food blogging goals; check it out here: https://www.alexandracooks.com/2012/11/07/my-mothers-peasant-bread-the-best-easiest-bread-you-will-ever-make/.

The romantic feeling of making your own bread is often undone by the flour everywhere, the stickiness of your fingers when you are kneading, and the sadness of not good rising bread. This bread, by being no-knead, means that one less variable is up to the poor baker (me, in this case), so I was able to see reliable rising and not accidentally leave it too long. I didn’t get big yeast bubbles like so many other people making homemade bread, but I did get airy dough.

I really love the crust that forms from the liberal coating of butter and the use of the bowl as the container for the bread; the amount of dough for me was perfect for my large pyrex bowl. Flipping it out of the bowl was so easy, and the bread is very slicing-friendly so it will be useful for sandwiches…

I’m just basically in love with this bread. I wish I had more of a romantic story about it, but if you have seen any of my sorta-didn’t-rise breads, or the hockey-puck style french bread I made one time, you would understand the sense of triumph I have eating a piece of bread that is actually good the next morning. I made it with one cup of wheat flour to three cups of regular bread flour, which makes it just a tiny bit healthy and slightly earthy/chewy, but mostly it’s just like any bakery-style white bread boule. As long as the yeast actually foams, your bread should be just as good as mine using Alexandra’s recipe!

Curried Butternut Squash Soup… Because the Squash doesn’t end.

I know stories of bounty, of how zucchini plants take over gardens and the owners become desperate zucchini gifters… but this is the first time I’ve experienced it. I swear, butternut squash is the most beautiful veggie in the world until it is all just sitting there in front of you, 20 pounds of it, and you have no idea what to do with it all!

Well, one thing you do is roast it and put it in soup. Duh.

I was inspired by this recipe by blogger How Sweet Eats, but because husband cannot do coconut anything, I subbed in chicken stock for most of the coconut-y things (I had some on hand, it’s also got a depth of flavor, and it added a bit of richness to an otherwise thin soup). In the past, making butternut squash soup made me feel so wholesome – like I was really taking care of myself and anyone who shared the soup. This was no different; and this time, I really brought a lot of curry flavor to bear, compared to a few sprinkles as a garnish in the past. It goes so well with the sweet veggie.

This soup is totally divine when pureed, but I was making it on a night that I was utterly exhausted and I also was rebelling: butternut squash does puree up really nice, but it’s tasty with chunks too. So I lazily took a potato masher to the larger bits of this soup, and once everything was comfortably bite size or smaller, I just let it simmer till I was ready to eat. There is so much vitamin A and C in soup, you can just feel it fortifying you when you’ve got long night shifts or just a general lack of sleep.

You haven’t seen the last of the butternut squash recipes, but this is definitely up there among the tastiest!

Apple Cake with Strawberries and Walnuts

Some recipes come into your life for no reason at all, at the moment you need them. I’d been trying to find a way to vary our bagel habit, wherein I keep trying to get us to eat something other than bagels with cream cheese for breakfast but we always return to it. So when the recipe for “the best apple cake ever” came up on the internet while I was searching around for food blogs, per usual… it just seemed right.

It has apples, which made me think “sustanence! good for you!” and it has cake, which screams “we’ll actually eat it all!” and it truly delivered. The directions aren’t so difficult to follow, and when I saw that I didn’t have enough raisins, I threw in some slightly-thawed frozen strawberries and it ended up a wonderful combination. The proportions of fruit are good, such that every single bite will have fruit pieces in it and you won’t have to worry about feeling like you are just a person eating cake for breakfast… even though you totally are.

We’ve now eaten much of the cake and the think I like best is that the crustiness of the top has held up – cooking it so long but not at super-high heat allowed it to get really golden and caramelized, but it hasn’t gone soggy in the fridge this week. I bet this same cake structure would hold other fruits… maybe peaches? Regardless, let me know if you have had any luck with easy, quick breakfast foods that you make ahead of time!

The recipe: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/7474-teddies-apple-cake – I will definitely be writing this one out on a card as soon as the crazy beginning-of-school is over and I have a few minutes to do so. 🙂

A New Feature: Written-Out Recipes

So, it’s the school year again and it’s just too much for daily posts to happen around here. For one thing, I don’t cook something every day… which is no shame, but also just the situation. So I’m starting a fun project that I’ll share with you all a couple times a week.

I’m going back through old posts where I linked to someone else’s recipes, like the recipes that fellow bloggers have suggested, or recipes I’ve found online that remind me of experiences in the past. I’m going to write them out on my own blank recipe cards and post them here; I know I like having the actual recipe in front of me when I cook, so you all might like that too! I’ll be sure to attribute and link back to where I found the recipes still, but this way I will have an actual, physical recipe box from this big old blog experiment.

I’d love to know if you post pictures of your physical recipe cards as well; it seems like it’s more common to have a pinterest board than a recipe card box any more, but because J gave me one at my bridal shower, I am excited to fill it up with evidence of this year of culinary experimentation. I’d be excited to see all the variety in recipe card designs over the years, so if you have a favorite recipe on a physical card, feel free to send me a snapshot (or a link to the snapshot on your own blog). Thanks!

Seasons Changing, Seeds for the Future

My friend N recently mentioned that she likes having two new years, because she’s still in school and gets a new school year and a regular new year. My job operates on the school year calendar, and so I get that too. Strangely enough, the weather has gotten the first whispers of cool in it the past couple of days, and school begins tomorrow. The tomatoes are still coming in strong, though less strong than last week, and two more squash are still on the vines, but five have already come in. We’re past peak summer, we’re into ebbs and drips of remaining heat.

I’m excited to pull out the tomato vines when they stop yielding and I hope to put in a few more spinach plants to make salads for us till first frost. I’m excited to save the squash seeds I’m painstakingly rinsing and use them in the spring to create another lush bed of vines that will, eventually, be pulled out so that Husband can actually mow the yard again. I’m excited to drop a few more carrot seeds into the ground and just see if maybe, some of them will grow.

But I’m also pretty happy, today, with where I am. I haven’t been good at that, most of my life, but gardening, especially what I would call a bounteous harvest season, has taught me that all the steps seem to be joy-full. I don’t need to be looking to fall crops to be happy, or looking to winter to construction of a window box for herbs, or to spring for new sprouts. Now is good enough – soup on the stove is good enough, the heavy smell of curry and squash mingling. The hum of bugs outside, and the knowledge that tomorrow will be a very busy day, are all enough. I’ll enjoy these first gulps of fall weather and not hurry myself to whatever comes next.

A Strawberry Lemonade for a Summer Day

I have so many favorite memories of lemonade – my first business was a lemonade stand at my grandfather’s yard sale when I was 7. I remember how thirst quenching lemonade was when it came out of big orange Gatorade jugs at summer camp. Lemonade for me is mixed from a little container of lemon-flavored powder, even if it is better when it’s made from real lemons.

I made myself a glass of lemonade on a hot afternoon and was reminiscing about how this particular sweet and tart drink got into our psyche and made us think this was the way to beat the summer heat. My special touch this time was throwing some frozen strawberries in instead of ice, which cooled it down and made condensation run down the outside, and a splash of tonic water, which took the sweetness down a notch. While not following the recipe at all, I was inspired by Cooking Classy’s sparkling raspberry lemonade – I have to agree that a mid-afternoon drink you can reach for and then, after a nice break, get back to whatever you need to get to is good. It’s not a pick-me-up like coffee but it does pick up your spirits!

Got a favorite lemonade recipe or just a refreshing summer drink? Share!

Fresh fruits and veggies taste better by the lake

We didn’t have plans, for once, on a Sunday. I figured we’d do what we always do – some puttering around the house, some cooking, some home repair and lawn maintenance. But it was perfect outside: breezy and sunny after a week and a half of nearly constant rain.

We knew there was a state park less than an hour away that we have been meaning to visit for a camping trip, and I figured we’d be more likely to get there and actually budget time for a trip if we saw how nice it was on a day like today. So we threw whatever food seemed reasonable at the time into the car, along with swim gear and headed down to the park.

We swam for what must have only been an hour but which felt like so much more; the bottom of the lake was delightfully sandy and no creatures touched my legs, which made me quite happy. We dried off in the sun and turned to snacks, and realized we’d only brought two apples, two purple peppers, and a whole, enormous cantaloupe. Well, also some bratwurst to cook on a mini grill, but those took a little time.

Sometimes I think that the reason kids don’t grow up learning to love fruits and veggies is because they eat them indoors; if you sit down at a picnic shelter and hack a cantaloupe in half, then spend the afternoon digging bits of it out with a spoon and drinking the accumulated juice straight out of the cantaloupe bowl… you just can’t help but love it. The purple peppers had been an impulse purchase at the farmer’s market, and they were a bit more bitter than most bell peppers, but they were a nice contrast to the cantaloupe. Slices of crisp granny smith apples added another texture, a tart flavor.

I’m facing down a real doozy of a week, and we came home to more work and a few chores that still need doing, but today, like that wide cantaloupe half, was very sweet indeed. Though eating the bratwurst was far more filling, the fruits and veggies eaten in the late summer sun were the highlight of my day.