Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


29 Comments

In between. And food.

My laptop died almost three weeks ago. Though I’m relying on my phone to stay in touch I feel a bit adrift without the laptop’s warm weight on my lap in the evenings. Luckily my husband was able to save the contents of the laptop’s brain, and the pictures and documents are now resting comfortably on a external hard drive. A new laptop has been ordered and might show up next week. Or not. I don’t know how to download the photos I have on my camera to the desktop, though I think I did that back in 2014 when I was also without a laptop for an extended period of time.

I have figured out how to download to the desktop photos I’ve taken with my phone and posted on Facebook.

There is comfort in that, because long gone are the days that I seem to be able to write without photos. Hence the lack of posts lately. The requirement for photos in a blog is kind of thought provoking. Have we lost the ability to read without pictures?

When I first began to blog, in 2006, there were only words. I took more time over what I posted back then. I chose my words more carefully, let them paint the picture. Now I just place the fingers on the keyboard and see what happens. Most of the time it’s the images that inspire the words.

Occasionally it’s the other way around.

Speaking of inspiration, it’s been more than a year now that I’ve been attempting to cook vegan or at least vegetarian for a few of our meals each week. Sometimes (OK, often) I post pictures of the dishes I make. One of my favorite things about cooking this way is the color in the food.

I post on Facebook about a lot of things. Katie the dog, family, seasons, weather, truck safety. But the pictures that get the most comments, and the most discussion among commenters are those of the food. Day before yesterday I had over 30 comments over a meal I made that my husband didn’t like. People were on both sides of the argument. I even copied the recipe and mailed it off to someone. I hope she tries it.

Why do you think that food is such a conversation starter? Why not gun control or mental health? I get that those got lots of conversation too this past week, but food seems to guarantee a comment, a conversation, a reaction from my FB friends.

So until I can come back and blog again, hopefully on my new laptop, with my archive of photos at my fingertips, here’s a picture of food to get you talking.

Enjoy!

Advertisements


17 Comments

Late to the table

“Doesn’t anyone cook anymore?” I asked my husband as we stood in a long restaurant line after 7 p.m. on a Monday evening. We were, actually, there because I didn’t want to cook. Apparently not a unique position.

“But you usually cook,” he replied and I felt better somehow.

Now I wonder if cooking could have more than just health benefits. If you stretch your imagination a bit, think outside the box, maybe cooking could help fix what ails our country.

From the garden.

Don’t discount me immediately. That’s one of the problems we all have right now; we make instant decision about what’s right and what’s wrong before we hear a person out.

I have lots of time to think as I’m chopping and dicing, stirring and folding, preparing food for dinner. Today I’m making the marinara sauce for tomorrow’s eggplant parmesan.

And I’m thinking as I’m chopping onion and garlic that the problems facing our country, and the world, are so huge, so unsolvable, so much bigger than me. That I really have nothing to say that could change anything.

And yet.

I’ reading the articles and listening to interviews that point out people who stay silent are in fact condoning the hate and violence we all witnessed via twenty-four hour news this past weekend. Incidents that we’ve seen on other days too, prior to this weekend, and what we will likely witness in the days ahead.

I know I’m late to the table, but I don’t condone those hateful, racist, violent actions. I’m quiet because I don’t know what I, an individual, someone who hates politics on a good day, can do? What difference can my voice make?

It’s clear to me that the talking heads on television and on the radio aren’t going to fix the problem. The panels of people they bring in to ‘discuss’ the issues are entrenched in their own opinions, are spewing out the party line, give nonsensical answers to hard questions. Nothing is going to get resolved by watching their arguments.

And no one watching is going to change the minds they have already made up.

As I continue to chop and stir I contemplate the hateful events of the weekend, the political responses. The lack of response from me. And I realize that the only thing to change a person’s mind is talking, really talking, to another person.

And what better place to talk than over the slow preparation of a healthy meal?

One person listening to another person without forming judgement. And then having a chance to quietly, with logic and care express an opposing opinion. And continuing that discussion over the meal thoughtfully put together.

Getting to know someone who is different than yourself takes time and work and sometimes the overcoming of fear. But that’s the only way to make change in the world; getting to know people who are different than we are.

Chopping and thinking.

Oh I know the hate filled members of many white supremacist groups aren’t likely to have a calm discussion with anyone. They’re looking to escalate the hate. But there are plenty of people sitting on a fence about many of these issues, people that maybe voted in a different way than you or I might have. People who might feel strongly but may also feel a little doubt creeping in.

There are people from different religions with different ideas, people from different cultures, or just different upbringings who have ideas that deserve to be shared. Everyone has a story, and each story adds to the strength and value of all of us if we only listen.

There is actually much a quiet person like me can do.

So as I put the eggplant dish together I think I’ll push myself outside my comfort zone. I’ll try to stand up for that person getting bullied, voice another opinion when I think it needs to be heard, invite someone I don’t know to engage in thoughtful debate. I’ll stop reacting to Facebook politics, for either side, because that’s too easy, too anonymous and only reinforces opinions deeply held on polar opposite sides of any issue.

Lots of different flavors all stirred together in one pot.

And while I’m trying to understand the other side of some argument, maybe I can put together a simple meal and sit down and talk about it . Without rancor, without despair, without judgement.

Maybe a discussion held over a healthy meal won’t change anyone’s mind. But maybe it will. And at worst I’ll get a good meal, one I don’t have to stand in line for on a hot summer Monday night.

Maybe what our world needs is a food revolution of a different kind.

Summer hope.


22 Comments

How to peel a butternut squash

Basic ingredients.

Every week, before I head to the grocery store, I thumb through my vegan cookbooks, looking for something interesting to make. This week I thought I’d make a “Vegetable Stew with North African Spices” from a recipe in Forks Over Knives. I bought all the ingredients and then they sat in the fridge for almost the entire week. And do you know why?

Because one of the main ingredients was peeled and cubed butternut squash.

Let me tell you, I’ve peeled squash before and it’s no fun. The skin is tough, the shape is challenging and my vegetable peeler isn’t up to the task. So every day I’d think about making that stew and then I’d choose to do something else. Something that didn’t involve peeling a butternut.

None of these tools really worked well.

Today I finally decided to stop procrastinating and get it done. Plus I had no other food in the house.

It took a variety of knives as well as my vegetable peeler. It was hard. I stopped in the middle to go online to see if there was a better way. Two YouTube videos later I realized that there are no secrets. Except that you can buy this stuff already peeled and cut up. It costs a bit more the guy on the video said.

Really.

Back to work for me. I’m struggling with the bottom half of the squash, peeling off chunks of skin when suddenly the whole thing squirted out of my hands and flew across the kitchen slamming into the floor over by the fridge. Katie looked at me, frozen in place and then started toward the potential snack.

I screamed “NO!,” and racing around the wastebasket, I beat her to it. There were seeds splattered everywhere. She hovered near as I scrambled to pick them all up. I didn’t want her to ingest the sharp seeds and she’s a good girl, especially when her mama’s screaming at her, so she held her ground and I got it all cleaned up. Don’t tell anyone, but I rinsed that squash off and kept on going.

I wasn’t about to start over.

Finally I got the squash peeled and began to slice it up. Thirty minutes had passed. I was hungry and the sliced squash looked a lot like cheese. I wished it was.

Cheese…right? No? Rats.

After the hard work of peeling squash the rest of the recipe came together easily. Chopped onion, celery, carrot to start.

Looks like the beginning of every soup I’ve ever made.

Add the spices – paprika, cumin, coriander, cinnamon. Grate the ginger, mince the garlic. Peel a potato and a turnip, chop those up. Pour in some vegetable stock and at the end add a little mint.

Pretty except for those floating turnip pieces.

I was worried as it simmered. It didn’t really look like a stew, it resembled soup at best, with slices of turnip floating on the top. I don’t even like turnips. I had nothing else prepared for dinner, so it was this….or go get a sandwich from Subway.

Did we?

I held out hope.

And guess what? I liked the flavor even though I didn’t put in the pinch of saffron because I couldn’t find it in my spice drawer. I know I bought some because I remember how expensive it was! Eventually I looked online to see if there was a substitute but couldn’t discern anything about it other than it had a ‘subtle flavor.’ I figured maybe if it was subtle no one would miss it and I was right.

Yummy!

But who knows, maybe it would be amazing with saffron.

In the end it was OK, just like it was, but I kept thinking that the flavors would really compliment beef stew meat. And once I mentioned that, my husband enthusiastically agreed. What to do. Should I stay true to the vegan recipe? Or supplement it with…gasp….beef?

All I can say for sure is that I will never, ever, peel another butternut squash. Next time I’m buying that stuff already cubed. No contest. As for the beef…well…what would you have done?

Sorry, my vegan friends.


20 Comments

The great sweet potato black bean chili experiment

One of you, I’m unsure who, gave me a recipe for sweet potato and black bean chili. It was a long time ago, long before the latest trip, maybe even before my adventures in Florida and Alabama.

The recipe is handwritten on a scrap of paper that I’ve saved from the trash numerous times. It’s become crumpled and worn, and I can hardly read my writing.

Finally, this week, I bought the ingredients (except for chipotle powder, what is that??) and included it in my weekly meal plan.

Chili fixings

And here is where I need your help. If you gave me this recipe I have a couple of questions. Obviously I copied it down in a hurry because there are a couple things that make no sense.

My list of ingredients doesn’t include garlic powder, but the instructions say to add garlic powder…so I’m wondering how much? I had already used the 4 cloves of garlic, which was in my ingredients list, but then wasn’t mentioned in the instructions, so I just tossed that in with the sweet potato and onion at the beginning. The recipe called for 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and since I had some garlic salt in my spice drawer I used that, hoping it work work in lieu of the garlic powder.

And then there was the ‘stock.’ Once again I must have skipped that in the ingredients list…but as I’m going putting the chili together the instructions said to add the stock. What stock? Assuming vegetable, but how much? I poured in a half cup, and then added a bit more later to thin the whole thing out a bit.

All in all the final result was amazing. Though I wonder what it would taste like if I had chipolata powder. But I guess given it’s a chili I can be flexible.

Yummy and good for you too!

Still…I’d like to correct the recipe, because I think this one is a keeper.

Thank you to the person that sent me the recipe. I look forward to clarifications!

Pretty good start.


27 Comments

Still experimenting

I think it’s been more than a year now that I’ve been trying to cook meatless meals. We started out eliminating red meat, and that’s been a constant ever since, except for an occasional night out.

I’ve talked about trying to cook vegetarian and even vegan on this blog. How it was a learning curve and a slow process. How I felt clumsy, how worrying about meal planning and the actual preparation seemed to take up the entire day.

In the beginning there are tomatoes.

You’d think after a year it would get easier. But it hasn’t, though now I have most of what I used to think of as odd ingredients stocked in my pantry, so shopping is easier. The actual searching for recipes and the chopping and stirring and roasting, well, it all still takes a lot of time.

Tonight I made eggplant parmesan. It was supposed to be vegan, but I used real parmesan cheese and cow’s milk, so it was only vegetarian. I have to say, it was better than any eggplant parmesan I’ve had in any restaurant. I’ll make it again for sure.

Yummy.

We’re trying to eat meatless meals about half the time. Sometimes we’re doing that even more than half our meals. I haven’t really seen a difference in our health, but I have to believe we’re better off eating like this than consuming heavy meals with meat as the main course.

And another benefit I just noticed today; all that produce piled up on the kitchen counter sure is pretty.

I guess we’ll just keep on experimenting.

Colorful and good too!


31 Comments

Garlic learning curve

Headed to the oven.

Headed to the oven.

I’m still working through new recipes intended to lower the amount of meat we eat. I’ve rarely prepared the same thing more than once, and to be honest, I’ve probably already forgotten some of the meals, especially those I made at the beginning of this journey a few months ago, that we enjoyed.

I’ve had successes and failures. Sometimes both in the same meal, because, of course, there are two of us here, each with our own opinion, our own likes and dislikes.

For example, this week alone we struggled with the mushroom, brown rice, refried bean burritos and the baked falafel pita with green sauce sandwiches. I loved the burritos, but husband thought the canned enchilada sauce I used over the top was too spicy. On the other hand, he liked the baked falafels, but I thought they were dry, and the raw garlic in the green sauce topping was way too much for me to handle.

But I’m learning. I’m learning that raw garlic is not my thing, though cooked is fine. And that I can stretch my assumptions about what my husband will try.

We’re not truly vegans, nor even vegetarians. We’re just trying to make meat less important in our diet. So once a week or so I cook a meat and potato meal, though never red meat. I enjoy the simplicity of those meals, the feeling of familiarity while preparing them. I enjoy not having to look at the recipe eight or nine times, of just throwing something together.

I guess someday the vegetarian and vegan meals I make will be the same. Familiar. Easy. Tasty. Predictable. But I hope not right away….not the predictable part anyway. It’s a challenge right now, and on good days I’m happy to be puttering in the kitchen. Especially when it works. When it doesn’t, and I’m still hungry after a meal, I long for a simple burger that doesn’t require chopping and sauteing and toasting stuff.

Some people have told me they are amazed at the things I’ve attempted to do. I guess I just don’t know any better. I’m following the recipes, asking people what ingredients are when I don’t recognize them, looking stuff up online. I feel like I’m gaining skills.

It is true, however, that most of the recipes take me a long time to complete. And some of them do seem complicated. There are often recipes inside of recipes. Somewhere within each seems to be a reference to a sauce or toasted something or other that requires another pan and process, the result to be included in the original recipe as an ingredient.

And please. Always have cooked brown rice available in your fridge or you have to start there and add half an hour to the whole event.

But all in all I think we’re doing pretty OK with this change to our diet. I have to say, though, that my hands smell like garlic. All the time.

It’s becoming sort of familiar.

Falafel beginnings

Falafel beginnings


8 Comments

Food relationships unrelated

I suppose one of the downfalls of a vegan wantabe is learning what all this stuff is. At the beginning of the experiment I enthusiastically roamed a health food grocery store, buying this and that, scooping things into plastic bags, filling out the tags on the twist ties with product numbers so the cashier could ring them up. Odds are the cashiers didn’t need the numbers, but I should have written the names on the tags. For me.

Wonder what these are?

Wonder what these are?

Weeks later I know that the dark one is chia seeds but I don’t remember if those little white things were in there before or if they are…ummm…eggs? And the lighter brown I know is steel cut oatmeal that I keep meaning to try. But the medium brown? I went to my regular grocery store, located much closer to home than the natural store where these were purchased, and I think that brown stuff is ground flax. Maybe.

I visited Aunt Vi this week. She’ll be 101 at the end of September. She was feeling OK but not great. I took her homemade cream of broccoli soup because she loves brocolli. We laughed about how few people like the little green trees, including the first President Bush. I noted as I was leaving that she didn’t have anything sweet to eat. No cookies, no cake. No pie. She likes something sweet at night.

I believe a woman who is almost 101 deserves to have something sweet available. So this morning I got out the bowl and my grandmother’s spoon and made old fashioned molasses cookies, thinking about Aunt Vi and my own grandmother. I’ll take them to her this afternoon on my way down to that natural food store for more healthy stuff.

Yum.  Ginger and cloves and cinnamon.  And molasses.  Of course.

Yum. Ginger and cloves and cinnamon. And molasses. Of course.

And while I was making the cookies I reached into the silverware drawer for a smaller spoon, something to scoop a little sugar into a bowl to roll the cookies in before baking. My fingers closed around my mom’s spoon, one of several she had with a distinctive corn motif. They’re split up among all of us ‘kids’ now.

Hey Mom.

Hey Mom.

As I looked at the spoon I paused, the loss suddenly so overwhelming that breathing was all I could do. And then it was OK again and I finished rolling the cookies. They’re cooling now, getting ready to make a 101 year young lady smile tonight.

Food and relationships and memories all moving forward into my new world of unidentifiable ingredients. Food. It’s not just for eating. Sometimes it’s for reminiscing.
imported-photos-00298


16 Comments

Healthy menu report

My husband and I have been exploring the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle this summer. It’s not an easy transition, and I’ve written about it before. This week we really made an attempt to eat more plant based food, so I thought I’d tell you how our experiments turned out.

I worked mostly from two sources, the China Study Quick & Easy Cookbook and the Thug Kitchen Cookbook*.

First up was wholewheat penne with fresh herbed tomato corn salsa.

Fresh corn and tomatoes.

Fresh corn and tomatoes.

Looks pretty doesn’t it! The salsa was made with fresh corn cut from the cob and tomatoes out of the garden. A perfect meal to make this time of year up here in Michigan.

The salsa was good on it’s own; tossed with the hot pasta it made a nice meal – but it wasn’t filling enough. I was hungry a couple of hours after we ate. I think this dish would be good cold and as a side, along with something else to make up a meal.

Then we tried quinoa for the first time. The recipe, also from the China Study Cookbook, included white beans and kalamata olives and lemon juice.

The recipe made a huge amount. Next time I’d halve it, and probably double the amount of navy beans. But it turns out this stuff is good cold the next day so I managed to make a dent in it. We both liked the quinoa and I’ll be looking for more recipes that use it.

Pretty yummy!

Pretty yummy!

For this meal I also made carrot fritters, from a recipe I’ve had for a few years, and fresh local corn. It was a great meal.

Midweek we noticed that our garden had produced one eggplant. We had one plant with multiple blossoms, but only one developed into a fruit. It was getting pretty big and I decided I needed to do something with it.

So I googled ‘eggplant recipes’ and found one for eggplant lasagna from Real Simple magazine. It looked a bit intimidating, using fresh tomatoes and broiling the sliced eggplant.

Eggplant in place of noodles.

Eggplant in place of noodles.

But I followed along and it turned out great. Next time I might double the recipe (though that would take a long time, to broil slices of two really big eggplants!) so I could make it in a 9×13 pan v.s. the 8×8 pan that only really made 4 small servings. Either way I’ll definitely make this one again even though I’ll have to buy the eggplant at the grocery store.

Tonight we had black lentil tacos with jicama slaw. That had to wait until I could find jicama. I had never heard of it before, though lots of people seem to enjoy it regularly. I finally found it at a local grocery store, one I don’t normally visit – I guess it pays to change up your habits.

Jicima slaw and herb salsa.

Jicima slaw and herb salsa.

Anyway…these tacos were somewhat complicated. The slaw, made up of jicama, carrots and cucumbers plus rice vinegar and lime juice, needed to be made ahead and refrigerated for a bit before dinner. And I made the herb salsa which had cilantro, green onions, basil, orange juice and rice vinegar, ahead too, just to be safe.

I couldn’t find black lentils…so I used green that I found at my local Kroger store. They seemed to be the same size as the ones in the photo that accompanies the recipe in the Thug Kitchen Cookbook, so I hoped they’d cook similarly, and they turned out fine. I think regular lentils would have worked too.

Looked kind of scary.  But it was good!

Looked kind of scary. But it was good!

The “meat” for the tacos is made up of the lentils, mushrooms, a little soy sauce, apple juice and sesame oil. Add a little cabbage, the jicima slaw, and the herb salsa, roll it all up and enjoy!

They were a bit messy eating, but really really good! There was a tang from the slaw and salsa that went well with the mushroom/lentil combination. I might add just a pinch of salt next time.

So….we had a good week. I’d make most of these dishes again. They weren’t really all that difficult, though I’m noticing I’m really slow at this type of cooking. It’s just a lot more chopping of fresh vegetables than I’m used to. Plus I stop to review the recipe more frequently than I would on things I’ve made for years.

And it takes a ton more planning. I need to know at the beginning of the week what we’re eating in order to make sure I have the ingredients here. I can’t just wander the grocery store and see what looks good if we eat this way. I did find it interesting that the last time I shopped I didn’t go near the meat counter, nor up and down most of the aisles. I was in produce and the aisle that has dried beans. I was in and out in what felt like moments.

At the moment, on days we’re eating plant-based, the meal seems to be the focus of my day as I plan and worry, chop and stir, check and recheck. Worry some more. I’m sure I’ll get better at this, and we’ll find our favorites that I’ll make more than once. Each time will be easier. Right?

Broil the egplant, puree the tomatoes.  Lick the spoon on the ricotta cheese.

Broil the egplant, puree the tomatoes. Lick the spoon on the ricotta cheese.

We’ll see how this all turns out. I don’t think we’ve totally converted to vegan. After all, that eggplant lasagna had loads of cheese. I love cheese. Still, those tacos tonight were pretty darn good…and there wasn’t a bit of cheese anywhere.

I think if we eat plant based a couple of times a week we’ll be improving our health. And moving forward maybe the number of vegetarian or vegan meals will increase. Either way, red meat has taken a vacation around our house.

Mostly anyway.

Garden goodness.

Garden goodness.

*Note: The language in the Thug Cookbook will probably be offensive to many. Just a warning.


18 Comments

My hands smell like garlic

I’m still exploring the vegan lifestyle. Slowly.

So many recipes seem complicated. I’ll be reading along, nodding my head, yes, yes, those are all good ingredients, and then there will be something that I don’t recognize. A single ingredient or a sauce that would have been made days ahead. I sigh and close the cookbook.

Cooking seems to take a lot longer, and I feel clumsy, rereading the recipe over and over as I work. I need to be more organized, no waiting till the last minute and throwing something together.

So far I’ve had some successes and some failures. I guess that’s natural. But there’s so much chopping invested in most of these recipes, so much work, forethought, planning. When something fails I’m very disappointed. Especially when the ingredients seemed like a good fit for us.

I worked most of an afternoon on this vegetable stew.

I like all the stuff in this bowl.

I like all the stuff in this bowl.

It had fresh corn, cut from the cob, pinto beans, butternut squash peeled and cubed, garlic, and was topped with fresh basil. That all sounded good.

But after figuring out how to peel and cut up a butternut squash (you can find anything on YouTube), after cutting corn off six cobs, kernels flying everywhere (Katie loved that part), after watching it simmer for a good long time, it turns out I don’t like the combination of basil and butternut squash. I liked the basil with the corn and beans, but not with the squash.

Looks promising.

Looks promising.

The recipe made a huge lot and I tossed most of it.

On the success side, today I made a side dish – Moroccan spiced couscous. I’ve tasted it, but am letting it sit overnight in the fridge. It looks and tastes promising.

Looks like modern art.

Looks like modern art.

Just couscous, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, salt, with strips of spinach and chopped up orange folded in at the end. It’s supposed to be served at room temperature or cold. I think cold might be the way to go.

I used twice as many oranges.  Because why not?

I used twice as many oranges. Because why not?

And tonight I made a summer pasta, whole wheat rigatoni with tomatoes, zucchini, red bell pepper, garlic and onions. I thought it was pretty good.

Lots of chopping.

Lots of chopping.

It was filling too. I cheated just a bit and put a tiny bit of fresh Parmesan cheese on top. Guess that made it no longer vegan.

Pretty yummy.

Pretty yummy.

Baby steps here. Baby steps.

Pretty veggies.

Pretty veggies.