Friday, May 30, 2014

Commander Sisko Needs a New Dog Bed

Commander Sisko, bless his heart, has a thing for chewing and one of the latest casualties was his dog bed. Rather than buying him a new bed from the pet store, I have decided to crochet him a basket and put his pillow in it. The basket and pillow approach worked well for the upstairs dog bed, so I am hoping for repeat success. (Yes, you read that correctly. Sisko will have two dog beds.)

For this project, I am starting with a pattern that I found for a "spa basket" (linked here). This particular pattern calls for 5 balls of scented Lily Sugar & Creme, but I found 10 skeins of Bernat Handicrafter Cotton (you can purchase here) in my mom's basement. Not one to say no to free yarn that I can use, I am making the substitution with 6 balls of ecru colored yarn. I'm sure that the Commander won't mind. Another small change that I made is that I used a size F (3.75mm) hook instead of the size D that the pattern called for. This will result in a slightly larger basket and I won't need to buy another hook.

The finished basket measures 10" by 5" by 5".  I'm not sure what I was thinking when I set out for this basket to be a dog bed because my little dog won't fit inside this basket. In order for Sisko to use the basket as a bed, it would need to be at least 10" by 10". Whoops!

On the upside, the basket only used four balls of yarn, leaving me with six left over in this color. I think I'm going to re-purpose the basket for something else and make Sisko a larger bed out of the remaining yarn. I can almost always find a use for yet another basket. It would probably look nice holding the rest of my crochet supplies or in my bathroom for toiletries. I'll need to think on where it's final rest place will be.

Best wishes!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mac-n-Cheeze, Baby!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014: Which food makes you feel happy when you eat it?

For the most part, I try to eat in moderation. Too much of a good thing can make the good thing lose its specialness. One of those foods for me is macaroni and cheese. I don't know why, but a big bowl of mac-n-cheese makes everything better, even if everything is great.

I am not talking about the yucky boxed macaroni and cheese that comes with powdered cheese stuff. The bowl of tasty goodness I am referring to has gooey cheese bits and is more like cheese gravy. This is the stuff of artery clogging consistency. As I've mentioned before, I finally figured out how to create a non-dairy version of this dish. It took quite a bit of experimentation, but the cheese sauce is just right. My macaroni and cheese doesn't use macaroni noodles. Instead, I like shells because the sauce can coat the entire shape without any pockets of exposed pasta. In a pinch, I'll use bow-tie pasta though.

Then, of course, there are add-ins. Sometimes I'll stir in some crumbled bacon, sauteed onion, or diced chicken. Not that this meal needs any additional flavor, but bites of crisp bacon or sweet onion make the rest of the bowl just pop.

I'm off to make a bowl now. Funny how just writing about it makes me start craving it.

Best wishes!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Project 333 Wannabe

I have a confession to make: I am a Project 333 wannabe.

Project 333 is an exercise in dressing with less. Participants are challenged to dress with only 33 items for three months at a time. I keep toying with doing this project, but am running into difficulties that I didn't think would happen.

1. I keep going through my closet and picking out 33 items and then fail to follow through. For the record, I have about 50 pieces of clothing divided between work, causal, and crossover pieces. I know that this doesn't seem like a lot, but most of my articles of clothing are rarely worn -- especially the pieces that I wear to more formal events such as conferences.

2. I have a hard time creating outfits out of the 33 items that I pick. I have an array of neutral bottoms, but somehow ended up with a closet of blouses and cardigans that only go with specific items. For example, I have a red cardigan that only goes with my red flower blouse. Both should probably go to the donate pile since I'm pretty sure that red looks much too harsh on me, but haven't been able to let go. The answer may be to invest in a couple (literally two) lightweight neutral cardigans that can go with more of my tops.

3. The idea of a uniform both scares and excites me. I like the idea of having a go to style, but I don't want to be seen as the person who always wears the same thing. This might be the most challenging part of the project for me because I am still struggling with what other people link of how I look. For example, I keep track of the outfits that I have worn to teach in so that I don't wear the same outfit too often. When I teach twice a week this is a sustainable model, but there is going to be a point when I teach 4 or 5 days a week. Does that mean I expand my closet to with more items? I think not.

As a result, I've decided to take some baby steps. Starting May 21st, I have been taking pictures of my outfits. Knowing that I am going to forget to take pictures some days, when I acquire 30 photos I will do a mini-review of my closet. The questions that I am trying to answer are:

  • How much of my wardrobe do I actually wear?
  • Are there pieces that would help me style my outfits differently?
  • Do I have a uniform and don't know it?
I'll be sure to follow up with what I find out.

Best wishes!

Avoiding Bugs

Tuesday, May 27, 2014: Do you prefer eating outside or inside?

While we have an amazing outdoor space that I like to drink tea and read a good book at, I actually prefer to eat indoors. The simple reason for this is that I am terrified by bugs and the thought of accidentally eating a bug grosses me out.

Our dining room is a casual gathering space that I enjoy eating at. We have a square bar table that technically seats four, but we've gotten eight people around it in a pinch. I am still working on decorating the dining room though. So far, I have painted the room a very warm orange, hung a photo from our wedding, and installed the wine rack. Future improvements will include updated window treatments and potentially a buffet table to store wine glasses and such. It's the sort of dining room that encourages people to hang out and talk.

What about you?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Tasty Goodness!

Monday, May 26, 2014: Tell us your favourite summer food.

My favorite summer foods are sorbet (pretty much any flavor) and fresh lemonade. Sweet, tart, and cold are the qualities that I look for in summer drinks and desserts. Of course I prefer that both be made from scratch.

For my first summer shindig at the house, I made an assortment of appetizers and had non-alcoholic and adult beverages on hand. Of course the non-alcoholic beverage of choice was lemonade. I like to use fresh lemon juice for it. I don't know about you, but I think the bottled stuff has an off-putting after taste. In the past, hubby would dutifully squeeze lemons for me. He's a good sport and likes the end product. Luckily for him, we decided that a citrus juicer would be a good addition to our kitchen. We decided to buy the attachment (here) for our mixer. It was the right price and was not another appliance. Basically, I have yet another reason to use the mixer on an almost daily basis. Since buying the juicer, I've made three gallons of lemonade. Tasty goodness!

I've talked about making sorbet before (here) and it's still one of my favorite cold treats. All it really takes is some water, sugar, and fresh fruit to make a delicious desert. I like to know exactly what goes into my food, so I rarely buy sorbet from the store. Plus, mine usually turns out better. (If I do say so myself.) Recently, I did finally figure out how to make non-dairy ice cream. This has been a work in progress for several years. 

The recipe for the base is:
  • 1 can coconut milk (I like this brand)
  • 1/4 cup honey or sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 egg yolks
Heat the coconut milk and sugar over medium low until the milk is liquid and the sugar is dissolved. Then add the vanilla. While the milk mixture is coming together, separate your eggs. I usually save the whites for making frosting or an egg white omelet. Beat the egg yolks. While constantly stirring, slowly add 1/4 cup of the milk mixture to the eggs. Continue until all of the milk mixture is incorporated into the eggs. Then transfer the contents of the bowl back to the pan. Continue heating, while stirring slowly until the back of the spoon stays coated when you pull it out. Cool the mixture in the fridge and then freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions.

Note: The egg heating up process (or tempering) is very important because you don't want to end up with chunks or scrambled eggs. Yuck! Some recipes tell you do cook the base in a double boiler, I've tried without success. 

Once you have the base, you can add other flavorings to the liquid or stir in other tasty treats when you've churned the ice cream. For the record, hubby and my mom -- my two most loving and harshest critics -- say that this ice cream could be sold on the market.

Best wishes!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Solace and Respite

Friday, May 23, 2014: Do you like attending religious services?

**Warning: This is a raw post.**

This may surprise most people that I know, but I actually do enjoy going to religious services. I am an atheist. I came out to my mom, so to speak, when I was 17 years old. It was a pretty rough discussion. I stopped believing in a god or higher power when I was 14, but the reasons for my atheism are for another post. My grandparents didn't know about my beliefs, which they are beliefs contrary to popular opinion, until I was 24 years old when my mom told my grandma. 

Until I was 17, I went to weekly mass and went through the motions of the good Catholic girl for my mom. I continued going to mass with my grandparents until it was no longer necessary. You might wonder why I kept up the charade for so long, but I have my reasons. Much of my life has been about keeping up appearances. You don't talk about what's going on at home with anyone and if anyone asks you're "fine." Going to mass was respite from home. No one is allowed to talk to you during and you can be alone with your thoughts. I appreciated and enjoyed the solitude and community of it. Mass was safe.

I no longer attend Mass or any religious services at all. The solace that it once afforded me is no longer required and I have found other ways to move on. This is probably for the best. Now when I need to clear my mind or find inner peace, I do yoga. Like I said in a previous post, yoga provides all of the inner peace I need without any of the inner guilt. In many ways, Catholicism is a religion based on triggering that one particular emotion. One is never good enough for god and, by simply living, one cannot simply be happy with one's choices. I made a choice to be happy.

Content Kitty

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Yoga Blues

Tuesday, May 20, 2014: Have you ever tried yoga or meditation? Tell us about your experience.

There was a point in my life where I did yoga 3 - 4 times a week. I was an undergraduate and found that doing yoga eased the stress of my senior year and helped me become much more toned. I continued going to yoga throughout my master's program to help main a modicum of sanity. Unfortunately, I haven't consistently done yoga since moving to Michigan and I sort of miss it.

For me, yoga is similar to going to church. I grew up Catholic and would attend mass on a weekly basis. While I am no longer religious, the feeling that I have post-yoga of inner peace and calm is reminiscent of my post-mass feelings. All of the inner peace, but none of the inner guilt. 

Why did I stop going to yoga? Well, there are a few reasons. First, I attended yoga for college credit which meant that, even though it was a pass/fail course, I was required to show up. Also, it meant that I had pre-paid for a semester's worth of classes. I wanted to get my money's worth. When we moved to Michigan I had two options for yoga: (1) pay to go to a studio or (2) sign up for classes at my new school. Neither option appealed to me. Paying to go to a studio is more expensive than paying for credits (in comparison to my old school). Since I wasn't required to go, it was easy to blow off with excuses such as, "I'll go later," "I don't have the time today," or "I'm too busy." Taking yoga classes through school wasn't a good option either because I commute 80 miles to campus and out-of-state credits are quite expensive. Unlike my prior school that charged for a block of full-time credits (once you hit full-time status additional credits were free), this school charges per credit so any credits above the required nine were coming directly out of my pocket.

The other reason I stopped going to yoga, aside from scheduling and finances, was the lack of community. In the past, I would usually attend class with a few friends and it sort of became a ritual with accountability. I would do Sunday yoga and breakfast with one friend, meet a couple of friends for weekday sessions, and so on. It's sort of like going to a movie where you're next to your person in general silence for an hour, but are having a shared experience. I haven't found a yoga buddy in Michigan yet and am not likely to any time soon. I tried going to yoga with hubby, but it's not really his thing. 

Super sad his/hers yoga mats in the closet patiently waiting for my return.
I guess I need to put on my big girl yoga pants and just get my butt to the studio. Maybe I'll make some new friends and find some much needed inner peace.

Best wishes!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Nourishing the Soul

Monday, May 19, 2014: What do you do to nourish yourself apart from food?

This is such a good question! While food is required to feed the body, the things that feed the soul differ from person to person. When I think of activities or behaviors that nourish what comes to mind are the things that we do when no one is watching that give us inner peace and calm.

In no particular order, here is my list of things that nourish my soul:

  1. Quiet:  When my mind is clear of all distractions I tend to feel the most at peace. Sometimes I might look like I'm staring off into the distance and doing nothing, but really I am just being. I guess you could say that I am meditating, but I don't like all of the hype that comes along with the idea. So I just sit, quietly. Most of my really good academic ideas and insights come from when I just sit and let the world wash over me.
  2. My cats -- Cali and Scooter: These two critters were my first fur-kids and I love both of them dearly. Cali is the aloof, chunky monkey that likes to love on her terms; Scooter is my lean, stodgy machine. Both have very strong personalities and always know when the right (and very wrong) time is to jump in my lap and cuddle.
    My three fur-kids bring a lot of joy to my life.
  3. My dog -- Commander Benjamin Sisko: Our chihuahua mix has been in our lives since November 2013. Hubby and I rescued him from the humane society and he snuggled his way right into our hearts. Neither of us was really prepared for the amount of time it would take to properly take care of Sisko, but we wouldn't give him up for anything. I love how happy he is to see me in the morning or when I come home from school. I love throwing his ball or playing tug with him. I love dressing him in cute outfits. I even love the way he runs in tall grass. This little dude completes my day. I always thought that I was a cat person, but I think I have room in my heart for our Sisko Nabisko.
  4. Books: I have a lot of books. Most of them are on my Kindle now and I have downsized considerably over the last few years, but a life without books seems like a sad life indeed. I am not one of those people who insist on owning physical books or even keeping all of my books. Unless the book is particularly good and I know that I'll read it over and over or if I cite the book on an almost daily basis, I don't feel compelled to keep the book on my shelf. There are an infinite number of books in the world, which says to me an infinite number of ideas. The more books I manage to read, the more ideas I can mull over. While non-fiction is the bulk of my library, fiction is where I get to let my mind roam. Instead of discussing concepts concretely as non-fiction does, fiction illustrates concepts through themes, characters, and stories. For example, I have studied inequality and privilege for most of my academic career, but reading the Hunger Games and talking it over with my sister brought those ideas to her in a new way.
  5. A really good conversation: I really do love talking to people and sharing ideas. The best conversations are when both people are completely engaged and participating in the discussion. In my experience, a really good conversation can have a maximum of three parties. If there are more people, the discussion tends to be dominated by one or two people while the others remain silent. I see a good conversation as one where when you walk away you feel energized or rejuvenated -- that euphoria that comes from having all of your brain cells on fire. It doesn't happen very often, but when it does I feel like I know my purpose.
  6. Crafting: I spend so much of my day in my head that I often feel disconnected from the "real" world. Making things is one of my ways of reclaiming some of who I am and finding myself in something tangible. Recently, I took up crocheting and I am loving the quiet peace that comes from hooking along. I have tried many hobbies over the years including knitting, scrapbooking, sewing, and cross-stitching, but all of them bring out the inner perfectionist in me. I like crocheting because it is easy to pull out any mistakes and try again. Also, there are several online communities that make doing this solitary craft a much more social event.                                                                                               
    Crocheting my breaks away. 
  7. A cup of tea: Every afternoon, around 2 or 3 PM, I start to feel the afternoon slump. It's too early to think about stopping work and too late to contemplate changing the course of the day. At this point, I usually make a cup of hot tea and a light snack. When it's nice outside, I have my tea on the deck. It's my mini-vacation that lets me reflect quietly on whatever project I am working on or what I need to finish in the remainder of the day. Often, this is when my really good ideas come to me. I always feel centered after tea time and ready to address whatever comes my way.                                                
    Tea time on the deck

How do you nourish your soul?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Favorite Restaurant

Friday, May 16, 2014: Tell us about your favourite restaurant.

If you haven't guessed from the last few posts, I actually love to eat and would consider it to be one of my main hobbies. Yes, humans need to eat to survive, but I eat for the experience. (I should probably consider writing reviews of the restaurants that we go to in future blog posts.) I actually have two favorite restaurants in our town. Neither of them are chain restaurants and for good reason. I truly think that if one wants to experience food for all that it has to offer, then mass produced bland food is not the way to go. Don't get me wrong, I'll go to a chain restaurant now and again if the group I'm with has many differing tastes or if I'm on vacation and want something "safe" to eat. Now on to the restaurants!

My first favorite place to go is Soup Spoon Cafe located in downtown Lansing, Michigan. Soup Spoon Cafe is a great little restaurant with an upscale, foodie vibe. Hubby and I usually try to go at off times since this place is always packed. We like to meander through our meal and don't want to feel like we're inconveniencing anyone. The service, no matter what time of day, is impeccable. All of the staff is very knowledgeable about the menu and will go out of their way to make sure that I won't be accidentally "dairied." I don't have a favorite menu item and the reason for that is that the menu is constantly changing. I appreciate being forced to try new things since I'm a creature of habit and will normally order the same thing every time. Soup Spoon always has vegan offering available and they are always delicious. Their beer and wine selections are also always changing and always delicious.

My second favorite restaurant is Pablo's Old Town. Pablo's is, in my humble post-Arizonan opinion, the best Mexican food in the area. We moved to Michigan from Arizona three years ago and I was finally able to find a restaurant with authentic Mexican food. It was quite the challenge! Pablo's is even smaller than Soup Spoon Cafe and is always busy. I have tried a few things on their menu, but always gravitate back to the Mexican taco dinner (as opposed to American tacos). Their Mexican tacos are traditional street tacos with two corn tortillas holding the meat, onion, and cilantro. They are amazing. The only thing missing at Pablo's is the appropriate Mexican beer to go with my tacos. Unfortunately, Pablo's does not have a liquor licence and, therefore, does not serve beer. Pablo's is an inexpensive restaurant as well.

I would encourage anyone coming to the Lansing area to visit either of these restaurants as you will not be disappointed.

Best wishes!

Eating Out

Thursday, May 15, 2014: How often do you eat a meal from a restaurant? How do you decide when to cook or when to eat out?

Hubby and I usually eat out once a week. Both of us enjoy spending some quality time together sans fur-kids and going out to eat is a relaxing way to do it. In the past, we would schedule "date nights" for each week that meshed with out schedules. We're much less structured about it now since hubby is working full-time and my schedule is my own.

Deciding on when to cook at home or when to eat out depends on a few things. First, there is the time factor. If we are pressed for time we're more likely to eat in so that we can be on our own schedule, but if we aren't on a schedule might decide to eat out. Second, is either of us craving anything in particular? If I am craving Mexican food, we're heading out to our favorite restaurant. The same goes for if hubby is craving Thai food. I'm a pretty solid cook, but my forte is in Southern food. I've tried to cook Mexican and Thai at home with limited success. Finally, how are we feeling financially? Hubby and I are pretty frugal folks and we like to conserve our financial resources. Eating out is usually a treat for us and we want to keep it that way.

There you have it about how we decide to eat out. How about you?

Best wishes!  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Eating Unhealthy

Wednesday, May 14, 2014: What makes you eat something unhealthy?

When it comes down to it there are a few things that might motivate me to eat something unhealthy such as my mood and how close we are to grocery day.

I am much more likely to eat unhealthy if I am in a bad mood or had a particularly trying day. I've noticed that I crave carbs most often when I'm unhappy or stressed out. For example, the week leading up to finals week is always a bad eating week in Smith Land. This is normally the result of a confluence of events. Hubby almost always seems to have an exam around finals time, so he is a bit stressed. Both of us are abnormally busy with work and study and neither of us "has it in us" to cook. This normally results in us ordering in pizza or Chinese food.

The other major thing that affects whether I am going to eat healthy is the proximity to grocery day. The closer we get to grocery day the more likely we are running out of things and the more likely that nothing in our pantry is going to sound appetizing. Again, the typical solution to "nothing sounding good" is ordering in. Thankfully, hubby and I are pretty good about keeping the fridge stocked with ready-to-eat snacks, so this doesn't happen often.

Finally, I eat unhealthy things as a reward for surviving tough days. I commute 1.5 hours to school twice a week. This means that I have to deal with crazy highway drivers and the weather for 6 hours a week. Depending on the traffic, my drive can either be very pleasant or extraordinarily ugly. The more trying the drive is the more likely I am to want some ice cream. Also, it isn't uncommon for me to have a glass of wine or a beer to unwind at the end of the day. Of course studies have shown the health benefits of wine, but I am pretty sure that neither are actually healthy for me. That being said, my relaxed state of mind after a sweet treat or an adult beverage is well worth the exchange.

I have an emotional connection to my food. Often, just cooking dinner or baking something special is enough to change my perspective. I find it to be relaxing to chop veggies, give the mixer a whirl, or dig into some dough with my bare hands. Unfortunately, the busier I am, the more likely I am to push cooking to the wayside in favor of doing more work. This year of dissertating will hopefully help me to balance my work and life with room for creating academically strong work and room for creating a balanced home.

How do you unwind at the end of a tough day?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Defining "Bad"

Tuesday, May 13, 2014: How often do you eat foods that you know are bad for your body?

The simple answer to this question is: Every day. But since that's not an interesting answer, I think the real question here is: What does the word bad mean in the context of nourishment?

Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines bad as "low or in poor quality; not correct or proper; or not pleasant, pleasing, or enjoyable." In each of these definitions, bad takes on a particular context. I'll tackle each of these in turn.

One could say that overly processed food is of low or poor quality. Similarly, canned or frozen food could be viewed as being of poor quality. I'm generally not a fan of processed food (think from a box) because I find that there is often too much salt for my tastes or there is hidden dairy. My pantry does not contain anything of this sort currently. In my opinion, the quality of the frozen food depends on what is frozen. For example, we keep frozen strawberries and other fruit around for our morning smoothies. By using frozen fruit we are able to buy more at a lower cost and don't have to use ice cubes in our smoothies. So, by some standards this could be bad, but I think it goes in the "good" column.

As far as "not correct or proper" goes, I think we do a good job of avoiding these foods. In our house, food that fits this part of the definition would be any form of dairy. We eat a mostly paleo diet, so mass produced grains and sugars are out. However, we do splurge sometimes. If we're having guests over for dinner, I may use that as a cheat meal. For example, a few weeks ago I made chicken and dumplings and apple pie for a dinner party. Both of those recipes call for all-purpose white flour and I have yet to find a non-grain substitute that tastes good. It was good to be a little bad.

I like to say that one of my major hobbies is eating. I love to bake and cook tasty food. There is the occasional misfire though where things don't turn out how I wanted them to. I haven't ruined a meal to the point where ordering take-out is the remedy, but that doesn't mean that I'm not prepared to call for help. Life is far too short to waste one's time eating bad food. We've been getting a fair amount of beets in our weekly veggie deliveries lately. After cooking beets a few times, I've decided that I don't like them and will not have them included in our boxes any more. At first I thought I was being a little silly for declaring a vegetable bad, but if it doesn't bring me joy, why bother?

You may have noticed by now that I think words really do matter. The sociological term for the analysis that I just proposed for the word bad is called social constructionism. This is really just a term that sums up that meaning is imputed to concepts and things through interaction between people and by the signs and symbols attributed to the concept. Of course there is more I could say about social constructions, but I'll leave it there for now.

Best wishes!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Moderation is the Way

Monday, May 12, 2014: How do you balance good nutrition and good taste?

This seems like a silly prompt to me, but let's go with it. Personally, I don't think that good nutrition and good taste necessarily need to be "balanced" because one should be able to have both in a meal. However, I do recognize that some foods are more nutritionally deficient than others and that one probably should indulge every craving that comes along. There are a few things that hubby and I do to keep our diet in check.

Don't keep temptation foods in the house.

Since hubby and I rarely eat out, the best way to stick to a healthy eating plan is by not letting junk food in the house. In December, hubby and I decided to try out the paleo diet that basically cuts out all processed food. We can eat anything that a caveman (or woman) would have access to so all-purpose flour, white sugar, and pre-made boxed food is out. I'm still working on reconciling why packaged coconut flour and almond flour is acceptable, but I digress.

The first thing that we did was move all of the non-paleo food to a separate cabinet that I called the "naughty" pantry. All of the super tasty, but terrible for us foods went there. We didn't throw them out, but realized that we were having cravings and acknowledged the lifestyle that we were (and still are) trying to cultivate. We aren't perfect paleo eaters, but we're happy with the progress we've made towards a healthier diet.

Keep tasty snacks prepared and ready to go.

Part of changing our diet was recognizing that we like to snack on carb heavy foods such as tortilla chips with salsa and pita bread with hummus. Since both of these are quick snacks that we could just grab and munch on, the challenge became finding alternatives that satisfied our craving for a snack, but that wouldn't destroy our diet. Now we keep prepped veggies in the fridge with dressing, jerky in the pantry, and the occasional baked good available.

Know when to give in.

Not everyday is going to be a perfect diet day. Once we came to grips with that life in Smith Land was much better. Neither of us wanted to give up the occasional alcoholic beverage, so beer and wine are still in house to be enjoyed. I wasn't about to give up my morning coffee with creamer or oatmeal. And let's not talk about our shared love of deep fried veggies and boneless wings. The way we see it, if we're on the right path more often than not then we are good to go.

When we do decide to eat out, we get whatever sounds good off the menu. I don't let my self-imposed restrictions affect other people -- the non-dairy thing is a different story. So, if you're eating at my house don't expect to eat junk food, but I'll eat it if I'm at your house. 

Best wishes!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Celebrity Dinner

Friday, May 9, 2014: If you could have dinner with one celebrity chef whom would it be?

Yesterday, I wrote about how my favorite cookbook is the Internet and that I can usually Google an ingredient and happen across a very tasty recipe. When I think about it, most of my recipes come from the Food Network. When we had cable, I would put the Food Network on for background noise and found a few different celebrity chefs that speak to my inner person. I could watch/listen to Robert Irvine, Paula Deen, and Ina Garten for hours on end.

Of these three chefs, I think that I would enjoy having dinner with Ina Garten the most. She seems so down to earth in her shows and two of her recipes are featured in my annual Christmas dinner (linked below). Also, I get the feeling that she doesn't have children and focuses on her career and life with her spouse. As a childfree couple, hubby and I are often the odd couple out at functions and it would be nice to have adult time with others who have made the same choice as us. Ms. Garten's Wikipedia page indicates that she is a former White House nuclear policy analyst. I always had a feeling that she is an incredibly smart woman and now I know why I am so drawn to her.
The other thing that I like about Ina is her focus on entertaining. It never seems like a forced production for her which is something that I hope to be able to emulate. I love having people over to the house for dinner and enjoy preparing, but I'm often overwhelmed by everything that goes into it and forget to enjoy myself. Maybe I'll get better at this with practice.

Whom would you dine with?

Best wishes!

P.S. Hubby said he would pick Alton Brown.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Skinny Bitch in the Kitch

Thursday, May 8, 2014: Tell us about your favourite cookbook.

First, does the Internet count as a cookbook? I cannot tell you how many times I have thought, "Huh, how do I cook this ?" and with a quick Google search found a potentially tasty recipe. It's like magic.

If the Internet doesn't count, I do actually have a favorite cookbook, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch. For the record, I did not discover this cookbook on my own. I found a copy, oddly enough, at my mom's house. I still don't know why she owns this book since it's a vegan cookbook and she is many things, but definitely not a vegan.

The nice thing about vegan cookbooks is that they have all sorts of delicious non-dairy recipes in them. This is the book with the vegan ricotta recipe so I can still have lasagna and stuffed shells. It also has some pretty good ideas for condiments and sauces. Since I'm not a vegan either, I just use meat when meat substitute is called for. Yes, I realize that the authors of this book are completely against meat because it is a rotting carcass and they would probably have some colorful things to say to me, but I do love their tasty recipes.

Best wishes!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Coloring inside the Lines

Wednesday, May 7, 2014: Do you follow recipes to a T, or do you play around with recipes, making adjustments?

My approach to following recipes depends on several factors: 

(1) Does the original recipe contain any dairy? 
(2) Have I made this dish before? 
(3) Do I have all of the ingredients on hand?

The answers to these questions shape whether or not I am going to follow the directions to "a T." 

If the original recipe contains any dairy, there are a few things that I can do to still make a version of it. My most common substitutions are coconut milk (sometimes called beverage) for milk, margarine for butter, coconut milk (from the can) for cream, and fake cheese for real cheese. The main issue is the original purpose of the dairy in the recipe and deciding if it's worth the attempt.

Now, if I have made the recipe in the past chances are that I will change it up the second time. I like to make note of what I liked (or didn't like) about a recipe for the next time. For example, I made avocado egg rolls last week that had some sun dried tomatoes in them. If I make the egg rolls again, I 'll cut the tomatoes into smaller pieces so that they'll be less overwhelming. If the recipe is new to me, I'll usually follow the directions as closely as possible to make sure that it turns out as originally intended.

Lastly, I am more likely to try a recipe if I have everything at home to make it. It's the pits when you want to try something, but have to make a special trip to the store for the ingredients. Sometimes, you just really want to try something new and don't have the time or inclination to go to the store. That's when substitutions occur, but not too often at our house.

Best wishes!

You have been Chopped

Tuesday, May 6, 2014: Have you ever invented your own recipe? Tell us about it (or your favourite one).

I'm a pretty adventurous cook, but I prefer to have a recipe lead the way. Hubby's meals are often described to me as a Chopped basket dream. If you've never watched Chopped, I strongly suggest it. The basic premise is that four cooks are pitted against each other in timed rounds. For each round they are given a mystery basic of ingredients and they must use each ingredient (either a little or a lot). Sometimes the dishes look amazing and other times I'm a bit horrified. No matter which reaction, I am always impressed with the fact that these chefs were able to come up with something on the fly with ingredients that they have often never used before. Hubby fits this style of cooking exactly with similar results. Unfortunately, I was not blessed in this way.

My favorite thing to eat, as horrible and childish as this sounds, is Velveeta shells and cheese. I love this stuff and could honestly eat it everyday, BUT due to a severe dairy intolerance this is out of the realm of possibility.

For a few years, I just gave in to the craving and suffered the consequences. Unfortunately, this is no longer an option, so I had to come up with a less destructive way of dealing with things. I mentioned in a previous post that the mainstreaming of veganism has helped to bring a lot of new products to the market. (A capitalism positive is a rare sight to be had.) Hubby and I started to experiment and I think we came up with the perfect recipe for non-dairy shells and cheese.


  • 1/2 box shell pasta
  • Handful (or so) Go Veggie! Cheddar & Pepper Jack Shreds
  • 2 tablespoons non-dairy margarine
  • 2 - 4 tablespoons non-dairy milk (I usually use coconut milk or whatever is in the pantry) 


  1. Prepare pasta per the box instructions
  2. Return the pasta to the pan after straining
  3. Add the remaining ingredients (cheese, margarine, and milk) to the pasta and stir on medium-low until margarine and cheese are melted
  4. Pepper to taste
The brand of cheese that you use is pretty important. After trying a few as they came to the market, I have found that the veggie shreds melt well and taste pretty close to the real thing. Sometimes when I'm feeling adventurous, I'll add chopped bacon, some sauteed onion, a sprinkle of paprika to change things up. Also, I'll note that Amy's macaroni and soy cheez is a reasonable alternative for those of us who don't have time to cook or the desire to fiddle with a non-recipe.

Best wishes!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Bring in the Professionals... or Not

Monday, May 5, 2014: Would you ever want a personal chef, or do you enjoy cooking your own meals?

I have mixed feelings about the prompt. On the one hand, I would jump at the chance to have a personal chef. On the other hand, I do enjoy cooking and my inner minimalist would frown at the expense of a personal chef.

I think the middle ground between these two reactions is learning how to be a better home cook. I am a fan of the Food Network and have tried out quite a few recipes from their website. The problem with teaching myself how to cook is that I don't know if what I made tastes correct or not. On the upside, most of my cooking experiments turn out well.

Now, if we were to talk about the time saving features of a personal chef, I might be easier to persuade. Hubby and I, particularly during exam season, often do not have the time to cook. This results in one of two things: (1) we order delivery or (2) we have a completely uninspired meal of leftovers. Neither is really satisfying, but you do what you have to do. Now that I am done teaching and commuting for the foreseeable future, I will have more time to cook and this should be less of a problem.

There are a few things that we do in order to streamline the cooking process.
  • We do a "loose" weekly meal plan that normally has a "big" meal and several dinners.
  • Hubby does all of the grocery shopping on Saturday morning from a list.
  • We have a medium box of fruits and veggies delivered every two weeks by Door to Door Organics (linked here).
  • Many of our recurring groceries are set to be auto-delivered by Amazon through their Subscribe and Save Program (details linked here).
By being a bit proactive, we always have fresh fruits and veggies available and a well-stocked pantry. This doesn't really solve my cooking problems, but I think that having the materials and ingredients available certainly helps with providing the motivation and inspiration to cook.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Alternate Reality

Friday, May 2, 2014: Tell us how you wish you ate if it's different from your day-to-day reality.

While yesterday's prompt was about the doing of eating, today's prompt is about how I wish I could eat. I'm not normally one to traffic in wishful thinking, but here goes nothing. In a perfect world, I would not be lactose intolerant. I would be able to eat any of the yummy things that come along without being hyper vigilant about ingredient labels or interrogating my friends about how they prepared particular dishes. I would not need to educate the world that eggs are not dairy. Yes, eggs usually go in the diary section of the grocery store, but they do not include milk in any way.

I started my downward spiral into lactose intolerance 12 years ago. At first it was just mild tummy trouble when I ate dairy. Nothing that a tums couldn't fix. However, I am not one who appreciates feeling yucky so I started to cut dairy out of my life. First, milk went.  This was a pretty easy thing to give up since there are so many milk substitutes available. After cutting out milk, I started feeling better which only indicated to me that it was time to give dairy the ax completely. All dairy had left my house by 2007. Unfortunately, my lactose intolerance has only gotten worse over time. If I accidentally consume dairy I turn into a giant rash and have much more painful tummy trouble. Hence the interrogations of ingredients lists and my friends and family. So, I wish that I could eat dairy, but I cannot.

As a result of my dietary issues, I have become much more understanding of the needs of others. When I invite people to my home for meals I always ask if there are any dietary restrictions that I should be aware of and often will discuss the menu with folks ahead of time just to be on the safe side. I really like to cook new food and will ask for help with substitutes if needed. For example, one of my vegan buddies taught me that 1 tablespoon of water mixed with 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed makes an excellent egg replacement in many recipes. Sometimes it's not about wishing you could change things, it's about making the best of what you have.

Being lactose intolerant had lead to some pretty entertaining conversations:

Q: If you're lactose intolerant, what do you eat?
A: The same things as you, just not dairy.
Friend: You pick the restaurant since you have the dairy issues.
Me: Where do you want to go? I can find something any where. You have the "picky-eating" issues.
Friend: I could never give up dairy!
Me: I'm sure you would consider it if you turned into a walking hive...

All of the above frustrate me often, even though I know that my friends and family are trying to be helpful, because they imply that my dietary issues somehow affect them or that I have chosen to not eat dairy. Trust me, if the stuff didn't cause me problems I would subsist entirely off carbs and dairy.

And my personal favorite from my then boyfriend, now husband:
Is bacon dairy?
I guess when push comes to shove, I've come to accept and embrace the fact that dairy is not for me. Luckily, with veganism going mainstream the availability of non-dairy alternatives have increased greatly in the past few years. There is now coconut yogurt, flavored non-dairy ice cream, cream cheese and sour cream alternatives, and the list grows daily. I even made a non-dairy cheese cake that was to die for!

Best wishes!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

How I Eat

This is the first post in my May 2014 NaBlopoMo challenge. The theme of the month is "nourish" and all of the posts will relate to this theme in some way. I am writing from the provided prompts that are often not things I would normally discuss. By writing from the prompts may you'll learn something about me that you didn't already know. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014: Tell us how you eat: do you sit down to three meals, eat several small meals, or grab a granola bar on the run?

Today's prompt is about the doing of eating, a topic that I don't normally give to much thought to. How I eat often depends on my schedule for the day, whether I am working from home or going to school. No matter what my plans for the day though, every morning starts with a cup of coffee.

Most mornings hubby wakes up before me. He's a much lighter sleeper than I am and Commander Sisko wakes him up to go outside around 6 AM every day. Once hubby is up and around he makes coffee for the two of us and breakfast for himself. I'm not normally ready to eat breakfast until a bit later. He does spoil me though. My cup of coffee is normally waiting for me next to my computer by the time I amble out of bed. While drinking my coffee I normally read the news, catch up on Facebook, answer any student emails that have come in during the night, and write my to-do list for the day. My morning routine is one of the few habits that carry consistently throughout my days.

If its a school day for me, hubby normally packs my lunch while getting his breakfast ready. Packing lunch normally consists of gathering several mason jars from the fridge. Hubby and I normally prepare our main course and salads for the week on Sundays. Don't think that I just let him do all of the cooking for me. My "lunch" is usually a smoothie, main course, snack, and salad. I drink the smoothie for breakfast as soon as I get to the office, scarf down the main course during my office hours, inhale the salad between meetings, and munch on the snack before heading home. It seems like I am constantly eating while I am at my desk and that eating is more of an afterthought. When I put it this way, my lunches seem pretty sad. I usually call hubby as I am leaving school and he has something ready for me to eat when I get home. Since I commute over an hour to school, the last thing that I want to think about when I get home is making dinner.

As much as eating is an afterthought on school days, the days that I work from home are a bit different. After coffee, I normally make myself something for breakfast around 10 AM. Breakfast, depending on my mood, can be anything from basic oatmeal to eggs and bacon to freshly baked muffins. A lot of the decision is based on what we have in the pantry and how hungry I am. Lunch usually happens around 1 PM with me eating some sort of leftovers. By lunch time I am elbow deep in work and normally only stopping because my body is demanding sustenance, not because I am ready for a break.

Dinner on these days is a much more involved affair. Based on the last few paragraphs you would think that I dislike cooking, but I actually love to find new recipes to try out on hubby. On the days that I work from home, all work stops by 5 PM so that I can start working on dinner. For example, tonight I am making bacon and chard quiche for dinner. We have some rainbow chard leftover from our veggie delivery and I need to use it before it goes bad. 

I guess dinner is where the housewife bit comes in as I suspect I will be cooking dinner more often during the next year of dissertating. I guess we can blame my work for making me a better cook, but only time will tell.