13. J’s Pearl Barley Casserole (repost)


I’ve been eating badly for a little while here, and it’s about time for something wholesome – something wholesome like pearl barley casserole! A throwback recipe that quickly works up and fills you up.

I have an inherent trust for recipes that begin with a generous cube of butter and chopped onion in a pan, sizzling to brownness. This start, while totally not indicative of whether the rest of the recipe will be good, fills me with a trust that whatever results will be tasty and bursting with the earthy spice of onion.

Pearl Barley Casserole has this going for it – and it starts with a lot of delicious, diced veggies sizzling together before gaining an uncommon grain addition and being baked. This combo is good for me because, despite what it looks like, I’m trying to make 2016 a healthy eating year. Certainly there have been a healthy quantity of bread pudding servings and a few too many triple peanut butter cookies, but my overall goal, as perhaps iterated back when I was writing about A’s lentil soup, is to use my unbridled enthusiasm for food to also fill my home with healthy leftovers that make for easy and delicious packed lunches for work.

So far, this has been very successful indeed – and today, the already meditative stance that cutting and chopping veggies usually grants me was extra helpful as I came home from a morning meeting with a ferocious level of hunger. I knew that this level of out-of-proportion need to feel tended to result in poor consumption choices – read, I just eat everything, usually with cheese on top – so I set to work: chop the onion, chop a shallot (why not?), sautee the onion and shallot while you chop celery, then chop pepper and mushroom while those cook. My hunger pangs abated; not that I wasn’t gonna still nosh through some falafel for lunch, but it was enough to calm me, and I finished a handy side dish. While it includes butter, this dish packs so many veggies and the starchy barley that one could still call it quite healthy: per serving, it is quite low in fats. Barley, while not particularly different in nutritional content from wheat, is a nice variety – after my first experiment with farro, I am now convinced that dishes that sub a different grain in for rice are more than worth they while.


This recipe was given to me by J, one of my husband’s aunts. She’s been present for a lot of the important times that I’ve spent with Husband’s family; she is welcoming and fun. I was especially warmed to know that when my mother-in-law told her about this blog, she wanted to send me more recipes! This is the kind of enthusiasm I cherish in Husband’s family: no matter the project, I know these folks are behind me and behind the goals that Husband has as well.

J lives not too far off, and I’m excited to go visit her soon, not only because she and Husband’s uncle have a hot tub… 🙂 Since I’ve lately begun trying my hand at yeast breads, I’m hoping to be able to bring a loaf or two.

Does anyone reading this have a favorite bread recipe? It seems really fun to make my own with whatever I want to put in it, and I’ll make sure to write about the experience of making it. FullSizeRender.jpg

Pearl Barley Casserole:

3 T Butter

1 large onion, chopped (I added a shallot! Yum!)

2 ribs celery, chopped

1 cup pearl barley

1 package of mushrooms, diced

1 green bell pepper, chopped

2 cups chicken broth

salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 350` – melt butter and cook onion until browned. Add celery and cook about 5 more minutes. Mix barley into vegetables and stir until coated with butter. Fold mushrooms and green pepper into barley mix; season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour low-sodium broth into barley mixture and bring to a boil; cover dish. Bake in oven until barley is tender (approx 30 minutes); uncover and bake until barley absorbs moisture. About 15 minutes – low fat!! Enjoy!


Cutting Off Anxiety at the Roots


This book I’ve been reading, Daring Greatly, talks about two different kinds of stress responses: in one case, people try to manage their circumstances such that all the stress is organized, prioritized, and handled. The other group of people try to seek root causes and remove the problems that cause the stress. The example Brené Brown gives is people who save time at the end of every night and beginning of every day to handle all their unread emails, versus people who make it clear that they may take a while to read emails and delete all unnecessary ones without responses.

I must admit that in everything from cooking to home care to work to gardening, my habit is to try to minimize impact, not eliminate stress from the roots. Something I’ve always felt under my actions was a belief that I should be able to deal with all the things that get thrown at me, and changing the rules of the game (i.e. asking people to email less!) would mean some kind of failure. But I’ve seen how less-stressed people are, and how their lives look more like a celebration than like a failure.

It makes me think that some of the things I need to do in the coming year should have to do with root causes: rather than constantly making time to scramble and cook in the evening, finding a way to enjoy the nights of take-out and also budget weekend time for meal prep. I want to plan our garden ahead of time but also modulate my expectations – we are lucky and our garden is for fun, not for sustenance, so there’s no reason to let it cause me stress. Even little things, like the ways Husband talks about keeping the house neater and more tidy, I need to put in perspective: even he tells me how when he talks about changing our house care, he’s talking about himself doing more, not about me doing more. It’s a good thing to be reminded that some stress is caused by our unrealistic expectations of ourselves, not by externally imposed strain. Now, to remember this next time something doesn’t go my way… It’s always a process!

Back to Reality… and Committing to Whole30 in 2017!

Over the break, Husband and I talked about some big picture changes – things like giving up cheese, dairy in general, sugar, and grains for a month! The very idea of that change grew when I saw how our fridge is, and listened to myself acquiesce to a take-out pizza just so easily yesterday. Sure, we had an 8.5 hour drive, sure, it was cold and we were tired and we just wanted to watch a goofy movie and veg out, but it sure does remind me: Whole30 for a month would be such a huge commitment.

The idea of trying Whole30 strikes me the way that our garden struck me this spring: I don’t (and didn’t) know what I was getting into, I don’t (and didn’t) quite prepare perfectly, and I won’t (and didn’t) get everything out of it that I could. Still, I could never regret starting to garden, despite our crazy tangled tomatoes and the non-starter onions and those insanely bitter tiny bell peppers there at the end of the season. Sure, I can see how parts of Whole30 are going to give me literal and metaphorical headaches, and I’m going to hate some of the foods on the “compliant” list because I eat them so often, and I’m going to roll my eyes a little when I aim for the higher-quality, organic, or grass-fed version of something I normally get at the cheapest, bargain-basement rate. Husband and I are especially vexed about breakfast: our investment normally involves one push of the toaster button. We’re going to have to prep ahead or we’re going to fall into our old bad habits whenever 6 AM rolls around.

Still, I am reading this cool book that gives me some solace, despite the impending cheeseless January. The book is called Daring Greatly, and it’s all about how being vulnerable and taking risks lead to the most valuable experiences of most people’s lives, even if they also open us up to some of the greatest hurt. Not doing the Whole30 is certainly a more guarded way to go – incremental change in our eating habits, after all, would be ideal and not dramatic at all. Still, I’ve lived enough years of my adult life thinking I was making incremental change to healthy eating only to still find myself watching movies with take-out pizza whenever I’m tired… I’ve changed less than I think. Why not dare greatly about food and see if I can develop some totally new habits? The worst thing that could happen would be a few furious days and a return to my old ways in February, and the best is a wonderful vision: not craving quite so many unhealthy foods! I think I’m ready to give it a shot… after the holidays, anyway. 😛

A and J = Gardening Goals!


This is part of a row of fall greens planted by my sister-in-law and brother-in-law – don’t they look luscious? Husband and I got leaves of salad greens, but never big, lush heads of lettuce that we could use. A and J have developed 8 or 9 100 foot rows of veggies behind their house, and they work awfully hard to keep the veggies and fruits coming all spring, summer, and fall – between the three seasons, they provide veggies for their own vegetarian lifestyle, local veggie restaurants, and a tiny farmer’s market they host in their hometown! I don’t want my life to be quite as garden-ful as theirs, but they sure do remind me how much more is possible! Will be spending some of the drive home today daydreaming about how to expand and improve for next spring. 🙂

A Pecan Variation on Muffins


While making Blueberry Cream Cheese Muffins, I separated out part of the batter and mixed in a cup of roasted pecans. These mini-muffins were the result – they were more pecan than muffin, but hey… I really like pecans! Taking the mini muffins to Thanksgiving was a great choice – we’ve had one or two of them as snacks and breakfasts for the past 5 days, and I’m quite happy. I feel like this Thanksgiving was one where we all helped together; we all got to have our moment of sharing and our moment of receiving. Sweet family members helped us celebrate our first anniversary together and for that, I’m extra thankful this year. 🙂

Food Memory: Cauliflower Crust Pizza


My friend M and I wanted to try making something special for dinner while I visited her in her adorable duplex with her cat and N, her boyfriend. We played board games and talked and watched a silly movie and somewhere in there, we created this strange, cheese-and-cauliflower pizza crust. It was tasty but had no real binder; I think I’d have gone heavier on the egg if I did it again. Still, it made for a happy memory to punctuate the night.

Gingersnap Recipe


Husband loves crispy, spicy gingersnaps – the thinner and snappier the better. I wanted to make them for him, so I added it to my pre-thanksgiving baking list, but as I was being overwhelmed with Blueberry Cream Cheese Muffins and having to get finished quickly before the trip, I ended up making another version of soft gingerbread cookies. What gives me hope is that the thinnest cookies were indeed quite crisp and delicious, and the thick ones were still yummy, just not snaps. I’d recommend experimenting with gingersnap recipes to find the consistency you like!

A Foodie Thanksgiving


Normally, there are a variety of Thanksgiving foods that I feel “meh” about – I’m not crazy about the jellied cranberry sauce, wobbling gently on its plate, or plain corn or beans. However, this year, the family outdid themselves, and all kinds of food perfection made it to my plate:

  • The turkey was good, juicy and flavorful, but also had a crispy coat of bacon put on it before being set in the grill to cook.
  • The salad was all picked fresh from my brother-in-law’s garden, and those carrots, radishes, and greens were life-giving in an otherwise heavy meal.
  • The mashed potatoes, stuffing, and green bean casserole got mixed up on my plate, and I have no regrets: everything was creamy and delicious and spiced with simple pepper, salt, and garlic.
  • The sweet potatoes didn’t have extra sugar on them, but they had butter and cinnamon which brought out all the best flavors of sweet potatoes.
  • The pecan pie was almost entirely pecans, with just enough of the sugary binder to hold it all together, and a homemade crust that just tasted like flaky layers of butter… mmmm. We ate at 3pm and so this was also my “dinner” at 9.
  • Treats like homemade chex mix, chocolate toffee, and thumbprint cookies abounded.

One of the cousins, K, talked about how much she’s enjoyed eating on Whole30, a program I’ve heard about and have considered trying. Husband and I are now resolved that January will be our Whole30 month, which will not be particularly easy but we think it could be good for some of our least healthy cravings to die down (many friends have said they just don’t want cheese and grains as much after the experience). Anyone know and like Whole30? Anyone know it and think it isn’t so great? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Food Memory: Cafe Cortado


In Grand Rapids, Michigan, I drank a cafe cortado made with almond milk and was grateful that little bits of my Spain experience were still possible in my journey in the States. Cafe cortado is simple despite the fancy-sounding name – it’s a shot of espresso with just a little bit of foamed milk, which means its smaller than a cappuccino but less harsh than taking a shot of espresso alone. Cortados on break from teaching in Spain were a quick pick-me-up – I don’t make espresso at home but small coffees still make me smile.

The Refreshment of Gratitude


Last Friday, Husband and I helped out with a friend’s pop-up fundraiser; he’s hoping to open his own business and he turned a cool loft space into a real party atmosphere, complete with band. Husband and I were mostly there to be at the party, but we volunteered for one chore: helping to wash out glasses after people finished their drinks. We ran into the back, scrubbed up the glasses, and got them ready to be used again. It was a nice break from socializing with a bunch of people we didn’t know well, but it was also so nice to see R’s face when the whole place was packed and people were enjoying the atmosphere so much.

I remember thinking that rather than being tired, I was enlivened: so energized by the feeling of gratitude we got from having friends like this, from knowing a few folks in town and feeling included. This is how I feel this Thanksgiving: like my gratitude to the world, to friends and family and the school that employs me, propels me forward and keeps me grounded. Gratitude reminds me that everyday problems are solveable, and that by almost any comparison I care to come up with, I have so much more love in my life than I could imagine.

The propelling makes me want others to share the riches of having a growing community, of knowing others deeply and connecting in spite of differences. I am not outgoing every day of the week… or even any day, if it gets bad. I think that so much of what our nation and our world need are people finding ways to connect to each other, finding the common ground they have or, failing that, building some common ground through sharing activities, experiences, and food. A lot of people are getting together with family today who don’t agree with them on much, but hopefully they can agree on the deliciousness of cranberry relish and the satisfaction of a tummy full of turkey. I hope that ground can build some gratitude in a year when we all haven’t been behaving that well; that gratitude can carry us, I hope, into 2017.