Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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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!

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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.


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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.


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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.


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Tomato Thursday

What?  That’s not a popular concept?

Huh.

After years of no crop we almost gave up and didn’t plant any tomatoes this year.  Still…it’s hard to give up on the hope for fresh homegrown tomatoes.  So husband planted 6 plants.

Guess it worked out.

Yum!

Yum!

Katie loves tomatoes.  She heads right out to the garden to see if she can pick any for herself whenever we’re outside.  She’s feeling a bit put out that her dad picked so many for us.  If any were to accidentally fall on the floor she wouldn’t complain about cleaning them up.

She’s still waiting.

waiting....

waiting….


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Foggy Saturday

This morning my drive into town for my weekly Weight Watchers meeting looked like this:

But the sun was trying to burn off the fog, and I had high hopes for the rest of the day.

By the time I got out of my meeting the sun was shining triumphantly.  It is a beautiful day!  I went over to the farmers market, a beautiful place to visit even if you aren’t going to buy anything.

But who can resist buying something! Maybe some of these purple eggplants?

Or peaches?

Maybe the peppers or tomatoes?

I, of course bought corn and tomatoes and peaches.  It’s going to be a good weekend.  Tomorrow is Aunt V’s 96th birthday.  I’m taking her a dahlia from our garden, a tomato and a peach.  They don’t even need wrapping!

 


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Our tiny little farmer's market

I live in a tiny little town, and this summer the township decided to start a local farmer’s market.  It’s every Sunday morning out at Katie’s favorite park.  So far I haven’t taken her there but this morning I saw several dogs, so maybe next Sunday we’ll both go.

It’s a tiny little market with a half dozen vendors.  I don’t think they’re really local to our township, other than my neighbor who was there selling his crafts.

But the corn and tomatoes were from a farming community not far away.

And when the heritage tomato lady’s bigger tomatoes come in I won’t care where she’s from because they will be delicious!  I bought green beans from her this morning.

I think as more vegetables come into season we’ll see more people stopping by.

I hope so, because there’s nothing better than fresh Michigan corn and tomatoes.  And I wouldn’t want our local market to have to end for lack of participation.

Cause August in Michigan is corn eatin’ time!

 

 


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Ambushed by cardinals

Today after it stopped raining I got up the courage to go and inspect my small vegetable garden. I knew I had neglected it for the past couple of weeks while I was moving wood chips and I was a little afraid of what I’d find. Did the ground hog leave me any green bean plants at all? Would the tomatoes be falling all over themselves? Did I have any peas ready for harvest? Rounding the corner of the house I saw that the poor garden was totally overgrown. But there were some bean plants left, some peas down among the weeds, and the tomatoes had set some fruit.

As I settled in to at least get the weeds pulled from around the plants I noticed a male cardinal yelling at me from one birch tree, and a female doing the same from another birch tree on the other end of the garden. As I worked they got more and more riled up, the male flying over my head and landing next to the female, as in chorus they increased the volume and speed of their comments. They obviously have a nest somewhere near, and they wanted me out of there. After a bit I took my half filled weed bucket down to the weed pile and then stood there and watched the two of them. They cried for some time, then settled down. Mama cardinal came out of the tree and waked the split rail fence that surrounds the garden, then hopped around in the yews planted next to the fence. I waited for as long as I could, until the mosquitoes found me.

I really needed to get the garden weeded, so eventually I went back to work on it. The cardinals started up screeching at me again. I tried to keep my head down as they flew back and forth over me, and I began to weed faster, the sooner to be out of there. The garden wasn’t weeded nearly enough when I gave up, bent to gather my weed bucket handles and happened to glance up into a privet bush. There a mere yard from me was the nest, one young bird sitting inside it, with topknot just beginning to develop, chest heaving in fear. I quickly gathered up my stuff and retreated. As I glanced over my shoulder before I rounded the corner, mama cardinal was flying into the privet bush to reassure her youngster. Daddy sat up in the tree and continued to give me what for.

I’m not sure I’ll be allowed to go back into my garden until the young one flies. That’s OK. I can wait.