Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ratatouille

This was the first year that we grew eggplant, as I've mentioned.  Since we also grow tomatoes and peppers it was only natural that it is also the first year we'd make Ratatouille.  Actually other than a cute full-length cartoon I'd never really heard of it before this year and certainly didn't know what it was comprised of.  One of my Bunco group made the suggestion when I mentioned growing eggplants.  The following recipe is our modification of a recipe from one of the Moosewood cookbooks.

We ate it as a soup, as a pasta sauce, as a pizza sauce, and as a dipping sauce for cheesy potato boats after we made gnocchi.  The last was, apparently, the only one I took a photo of....for some reason.  It was really darn tasty and filling in all capacities.  The eggplant gives it such a unique texture and flavor.  Eggplant is so awesome!


Ratatouille

3 T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 onions, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed
1 1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t basil
1 t oregano
1/2 t rosemary
1/2 t thyme
2 red bell peppers seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 C tomato sauce  (or more to your liking)
black pepper
fresh minced parsley (optional)

 Heat olive oil in a deep pan. Add garlic, onion and bay leaf and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes.

Add eggplant, salt and herbs and stir. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes until eggplant is soft.

Add peppers, black pepper, and tomato sauce. Cover and simmer for about 10 more minutes, or until zucchini and bell peppers are tender.

Top with fresh parsley if desired.

Starting

This has come up numerous times in my ramblings here, but I think it is so critical it is worth repeating often.   Its a good reminder for me as I continue to simplify and live a homemade life.  I hope its inspiration for those who might be considering such a life.   Start small.    Its wise--and perfectly good--to start small.

I think just about everything starts small.  Its one step taken, that in and of iteslf is not so remarkable, but which leads you to another step and another and another until looking back its amazing to see how far has been traveled.

I think people forget that.  I have been known to forget it myself!  I find it so disheartening to hear people talk about wanting to change, to improve, to learn, to grow, but how they feel they just can't.  They don't know where to start.  Or they don't think it will stick.  Or matter.  Change can sure be tricky...its new after all...but that doesn't mean its impossible.  Not at all.  And it doesn't mean its not worth doing.

If a person want to do something...all it takes is to just start the first steps.  If it seems too out of reach I like to break down the goal into smaller, more achievable ones.  Its easier when viewing each step (I will make one homemade cleaning solution) rather than the entire vision of the goal (I will use no chemical cleansers in my home).  And once one step is done it is easier to take the next (I've been using homemade Windex.  Next I'm going to make Soft Scrub).  Eventually the no chemical cleansers goal doesn't seem too far off.

Here is the real life example that lead me to write this post.

When we stopped eating dairy nearly seven years ago we discovered our favored brand of bread crumbs contained whey.  It also contained genetically modified corn and soy, partially hydrogenated oils, and chemical preservatives all of which I prefer to avoid.  But, that was years before I even knew about those things so I was pretty much concerned about the whey at the time.  We looked at other commercial brands and they either contained whey or were way too expensive (I can't resist: "whey too expensive!").  So we decided to learn to make our own.  It was astonishingly easy.
Matt just made up some breadcrumbs the other day which brought all this back to mind.  He'd organized the freezer and discovered we'd stashed a few nubby ends of loaves in there as they'd gone stale.  Run them through the food processor and whamo-- you got homemade bread crumbs.  We spread ours out on a baking sheet after processing and let them sit out a day or so to make sure they are good and dry. 

This is just a perfect example of a little step that can add up when put together with other similar small steps.

Its brilliant.  We don't waste stale bread.  We don't have a disposable container to throw out or recycle when we use up all the bread crumbs.  We know exactly what is in our breadcrumbs--no preservatives or unpronounceable bits.  It cheaper than store-bought breadcrumbs.  And it is so easy!

But, maybe you'd say "Sure its easy...if you make your own bread."

This is just a perfect example about how you don't have to start out all gung-ho.  You can ease your way in...one step at a time. 

Before we started making our own bread we would hit up the day-old products on the bakery rack at the grocery store.  We'd buy a loaf for $.99 and let it dry out.  Then we'd run it through the food processor just the same way.    In fact, that is still listed on the label I made to fancy-up our breadcrumb container although we haven't been doing it that way for a number of years.
So, it doesn't have to be all or nothing.   Baby steps--taken one after another--have taken me places I could have never thought possible.  I hate to think that anyone is discouraged by thinking its all "too much" for a person to do.  It isn't.  Its just a matter of practice and experimentation and allowing for a learning curve. 

What A Beautiful World! (Inspiration Thursday)

If you've been reading here long enough you might remember when I posted about the documentary Playing For Change: Peace Through Music where they recorded street performers and created, essentially, a global band.  That movie was beyond heartwarming and inspiring (not to mention featured some amazing music!).  So, I happened to get the notion recently to check to see if there were any new videos from this group.  And there were!  Just perfect for Inspiration Thursday!

I certainly think its a wonderful, beautiful world and I think this video is proof of that.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A No Food Shopping Thanksgiving

We couldn't let the no-food-shopping challenge deter us from making a veritable feast for the Thanksgiving holiday.  We just gave it some thought and poked around in the cupboards tossing out ideas for what our main, centerpiece dish should be (you know, since we don't eat turkeys). 
Success!  Matt's goal for this year was to extend the growing season enough to have fresh greens at his thanksgiving dinner.  Next year the goal is Christmas.


When we found a can of coconut milk it sealed the deal.  Caribbean Au Gratin Casserole.  The coconut milk makes it feel super decadent and special which we thought would be perfect for a holiday occasion.  We had potatoes, thyme, and fresh greens from the garden and even a couple yams that my mother gave us weeks back because she wasn't going to use them up.  We used lentils instead of beans because we already had some cooked up in the fridge.


Corn, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, Caribbean au gratin casserole, and rich, brown gravy.  Yummmmmmmy!
We typically share Thanksgiving with Matt's family since they live here in town.  Sharon cooks--and is a great, great cook.  Matt cooks, too.  We play games--cards, Apples to Apples.  The TV is tuned to football.  This year the boys even got a blast-from-the-past dish washing session in since currently the dishwasher is broken.  There was much joking about how Ryan always dried and how there certainly was no dishwasher when they were growing up...or there was and it was them!  I took pictures--and certain individuals made silly faces in them mid-snap.  Sharon got out one of the embroidered table clothes made by Matt's grandmother--and announced when she spilled on it so we didn't feel the pressure of being the one to stain the pure, white, heirloom table cloth.  Ryan didn't even fall asleep on the couch five minutes after dinner--but Roger and Matt did...though it might have taken a little longer than five minutes.  We ate too much and yet still found room for desserts...yes, desserts plural.  A wonderful, blessed occasion to get together and share and laugh and love.
Silly sister in law!
Ryan looks like he might be questioning Matt's washing skills.

There is so much we have to be thankful for.
Ryan showing us all how to play the version of solitaire where you lay the cards out like a clock face.  I'd never heard of it before.

Monday, November 26, 2012

No-Food-Shopping-November

Matt and I have undertaken a little challenge this month.  The challenge is to not spend any money on food in the month of November.
We were taking stock of the food we had at the house and realized that we thought it was a very, very possible challenge for us.  We've got a freezer loaded with garden-fresh goodness and pre-made staples: sweet peppers, spicy peppers, pesto, carrots, gnocchi, pancakes, bread, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, etc.  We've got seemingly years worth of dried beans and non-dairy milk (we stock up whenever there is a good price).   We've got shelves full of tomato sauce, tomato sauce, apple sauce, apple pie filling, apple juice, grape juice, pickles, jellies, etc.  We've got baskets and bags full of fresh potatoes, carrots, and onions in storage.  All we had to do was make sure we had enough oil and flour and we figured we'd be set.  (As it turns out we should have also made sure we had enough oats, but we didn't... so its been a nearly oat-free month, but that's okay.)
Before I go any further I will say that there were two caveats to this challenge.
First, we allowed ourselves an $8 per week beer allowance.  Basically, we like to have a nice beer on our Friday night and forgoing this simple pleasure we thought would be possibly the least enjoyable aspect of our non-spending month.  Since we don't make our own beer (yet!  Our first batch is fermenting as we speak though!) we didn't see any way around it other than to allow ourselves that beer budget.
Second, we take part in a local food buying club that only has food delivery dates quarterly...and the delivery date for this quarter fell in November...so we spent a bit less than $30 on 16 pounds of onions, and 20 pounds of potatoes--grown locally without synthetic chemicals.
But, that's it.  Other than those two things we've done no food shopping since the last week in October.  Matt's decided he could really get used to not running to the store every week!!  We even made a scrumptious thanksgiving meal with only what we had on hand.  Its been a fun and interesting challenge.  It made us reflective about where our food dollars would normally go.  Its inspired us to get a little creative in the kitchen.  And we've certainly saved money without feeling like we are missing out on anything.
While I know no-food-shopping cannot last forever--I like to have a stockpile of dried good and when things are on discount one must strike while the iron is hot, so to speak--I think we may have had a slight epiphany on how little we can spend on food and still eat well--very well, in fact.
This challenge had also made us all the more appreciative of the gifts from our garden.  Gardening really is the bee's knees!  Matt is figuring out the cost savings from our garden bounty, but I can tell its more than paid off already.  And its so convenient to just run to the pantry than to the grocery store!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

An Attitude of Gratitude

"Sunrise on the Hill"
In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday I've decided that this week's installment of Inspiration Thursday should be about gratitude.  I can personally attest that increasing my level of gratitude--trying to appreciate all the small wonders and gifts of my life-- has made me find even more in life to be grateful for.  It is an attitude that builds on itself, increasing itself.  Even on a bad day there is always something to be grateful for...even if its hard to see it at the time.  It might be at those times that it is most critical to find that gratitude, too.   Once I realize all I have to be grateful for it makes my bad day better.  It makes a great day better, too.  

My yoga teacher, Elizabeth Klarich, always used to say, "An attitude of gratitude brings you joy."  And I think she hit the nail on the head.  Gratitude improves everything.  Here are a few other quotes--from a wide range of speakers-- that caught my attention.  May you find lots to be grateful for this Thanksgiving Day and every day!

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”  -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." -- John F. Kennedy 

"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." -- Epictetus

"Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough."
-- Oprah Winfrey

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. " -- Melody Beattie
  
“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”  -- Maya Angelou 

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”  -- Marcus Tullius Cicer

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Mixed Dozen

There are always photos that I want to share, but that don't seem to warrant a post all their own.  Hence, the mixed dozen.
Matt's brother and sister-in-law gave us their old backyard fire pit.  We've just used it once, but I am super stoked.  I mean, really, a camp fire in your backyard?!  That's pretty darn awesome.

I adore having a craft room.  I've gotten so much more sewing done its just unbelievable.   So much better than having to pack it all out, set it all up, sew, and then pack it all back into storage again.   I am almost done with my second dress.  I think I'll be finishing it this weekend during my Thanksgiving break.

Its a little hard to see, but this ear of corn was growing a second ear of corn inside the husk with it.  Its the bit sticking up in the middle.  It had little kernels and everything.  The second ear is very wispy and wouldn't really have amount to anything, but I thought it was pretty interesting.

We're still eating fingerlings every day.  So far we've not had any go bad.  We have a couple crates of larger potatoes, which keep much better, in the cool of the basement.  Next year we're growing less fingerlings though.  They are a pain to harvest and store in comparison with a big potato.  They are sure tasty though.

We've dried a number of herbs for use over the winter.  We're pretty new at this undertaking.  Matt made himself a little tea-towel toga and oregano crown....very Roman, no?  He is so fun.
I love the freaks that come out of the garden, like this twisted double carrot.  These beauties never end up in the grocery store so unless you grown them you might never know how varied and interesting food can be.

Creamy potatoes and peas with corn--all the vegetables coming from our own yard.  I am thrilled by meals like that.

Last month I had some family visiting.  It was awful sweet to see my mom reading bedtime stories to my niece that I used to read as a little girl.  Oh, how I love Mother Goose and The Unicorn Who Had No Horn!

Matt is pretty enthusiastic about his garden, as you can tell.  This was taken during the big, end of season harvest of the tomatoes.  It was a good year for us.  I think we ended up with 170lbs of them.

A couple Make-It-Youself postcards which I've sent out.  Sending postcards is fabulous, if you ask me.  I dropped five in the mail today, in fact.

Two of Matt's aunts came to town last month.  They are a hoot.  We (Matt, me, the aunts, Matt's mom, Matt's brother and his wife) went out and hit up a couple local breweries, ate some tasty food, and laughed and had fun together.   Matt and I realized afterwards that because we almost never "go out," either for dinner or for a glass of beer, it is a really special treat when we do.  That makes me glad.  If I did it every day I don't think it would be so fun.  It would be more ordinary.

A fried, homegrown eggplant smiley face.  Again, Matt is so fun.  And a heck of a cook, too!

Second-Hand Is Super

I have a rather limited number of first-hand clothing--undergarments, a few pairs of silken women's long underwear, a hooded sweatshirt, a number of souvenir concert t-shirts, a couple garments I've sewn myself.  But, the vast, vast, vast majority of my clothing comes from the second-hand shop or clothes swaps with my girlfriends.  As a result, I may not have up-to-date fashions, but that really isn't me anyways. 

In fact, over the years I've discovered that it is more likely that I'll think something is awesome if most people think its ugly or old or both.  I've had some...interesting....comments, like when my friend told me that she thought it looked like I was wearing an old lady church dress....which it very well may have been before I owned it for all I know.  Or when my cloths-swapping girlfriends decided to take a photo of everyone wearing the most ugly/ridiculous thing they could find and then after the photo was taken I took home one of the dresses and a floral flannel nightgown worn in the photo.  But, I don't mind and it doesn't matter.  I like what I like and I am thankful that most people don't.  Otherwise I'd have more competition at both Goodwill and the clothes swaps.  I guess what I see as unique and timeless might be seen as weird and dated. 

So it was really nice today when a library regular told me "Gosh, I really like what you've got on." and I said "Thanks," and he continued on to say "Don't tell me you got all that second hand!"  To which I had to reply that every single bit of it was, indeed, second hand (socks and underwear excluded).  A light, black sweater (free), a long black scarf (free), a homemade paisley-floral skirt ($3), leather hiking-type boots (free).   After taking that little mental inventory I was all the more pleased with his compliment on my look.  It is so thrifty, so uniquely me.  And second-hand garments are much softer on the planet than the majority of first-hand clothing.

Hooray for second-hand shopping.  That seems quite timely with the insanity of Black Friday and Christmas shopping descending upon us. 

(Here I also have to mention that at the bank on Tuesday the teller asked if I was going Black Friday shopping and I laughed.  She seemed surprised by that response, and I didn't mean to insult her if in fact she was going Black Friday shopping, but the idea of me fighting the crowds, standing in line, going to the store in the middle of the night just to get a "good deal" just was too funny.  I didn't mean to laugh.  It just happened.   It would just never happen.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Childhood Homes



The last of my childhood homes is being sold.  They sign the papers today.  Its a bittersweet thing for me, as could be imagined.  My dad and stepmother have decided to sell it and have had a new home built.  The will be nearer the mountains.  Nearer to grandchildren and their own grown children.  Away from the hustle and bustle of the oil boom that has taken over my formerly quiet little hometown.  I am happy for them.  I think it is exciting.  I hope they absolutely love their new town and new house and all the possibilities open for them.  But, I am a touch sad to think of never returning to that house again.  Never sleeping in “my” room in the basement again.  Never eating again in that dining room where I ate so many meals.  I lived so many formative years there its strange to think its not ours anymore and that I won't go back through those door again.    
Photo by my sister, Sarah.

I’ve had what I consider to be three childhood homes.  The little green house where I spent my early childhood.  The house on 9th street which I’ve come to think of as my mom’s house because after my parents divorced my mother kept it and my dad first rented an apartment, but then got a house of his own—the third of my childhood homes.  I lived with both parents after that point so I had two simultaneously.  

We left the little green house when I was young and I don’t really remember the move itself and any real emotion about it.   My mom sold her house on 9th street years ago when she remarried and moved from my hometown as well.  (And I was only really sad to think that my Dark Side of the Moon wall mural in my former bedroom was going to be painted over.)  Maybe the reason it wasn’t so poignant was because I still had my dad’s house to go home to.  My dad’s house was the last one.  And now it too will become someone else’s home.  Its interesting how things change, but I suppose that is the very nature of existence—change.  I just hope the new folks to live there make as many happy memories there as I have.
Photo by my sister, Sarah.

I can remember my dad saying that as a kid he could never get kites to fly and I took him to the empty lot out back back and up and away it went and he was flying kites with a smile.  I can remember having my kite land on the far side of the parked trains on the tracks beyond the same empty lot behind our house and having to break the string and dash under the trains to retrieve my kite.  I didn’t like it.  I can remember countless games of darts in the basement.  I always had terrible aim.  I could hit the board, generally, but if I had to hit any particular number it was a lost cause.  I can remember before the bedroom adjacent to the kitchen was remodeled into a dining room—and there were still three kids at home—the kid who sat on the end by the fridge, usually my sister Sarah as I recall, was referred to as “Fetching Girl,” and made to retrieve anything (ketchup, iced tea, etc) that was needed from the fridge.  I can remember the first time I ate real homemade fried chicken was at that house.  Dana makes the best fried chicken (and even though I don’t eat chickens anymore I still know that to be true.)  I can remember playing James Bond video games with my stepbrother and my dad.  My dad always thought the game was cheating him.  I remember toaster strudel for breakfast which I always thought was just the best breakfast ever.  I remember how my dad babied his cat, aptly named Baby.  Baby regularly got a little treat at the dinner table, but had special requirements which my dad accommodated such as Baby didn’t like breaded meat so the breading had to be removed.  He also didn’t like saucy meats so the sauce should be removed, too.  I remember playing with my niece Savannah when she would come to visit from the time she was a little baby and now she is so grown up.  I remember there were little plastic candles lit in the windows every Christmas. 
Photo by my stepmother, Dana.
Even though I said it is bittersweet I know that I don’t need the physical house to remember all that.  I’ll remember it just the same.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

KV Wisdom - Inspiration Thursday

I have lots of favored authors.  I so enjoy books and so enjoy reading and learning that this is just bound to be the case.  Working in a library really doesn't help narrow it down either.  If anything its been the opposite.  There are so many gifted authors out there that I could never list all those who have helped shape and change me and my thoughts and my perspective of the world I live in.  But, there is one man who I know to be my most favorite--the one that jumps to the very top of the list without any hesitation on my part--the late, great Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.  I've read everything I could get my hands on by him and only once has his writing made me think "I don't know...that was only okay..."   (And even that book I feel I should read again because maybe I misjudged it as a 16 year old) It is smart, sometimes sharp, almost always chuckle-inducing satire that really resonates with me. 

“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.”

This afternoon, as the sunshine is melting the snow and allowing me to walk about out of doors without a coat on--in November, I had to pause and say to myself "If this isn't nice I don't know what is."  This is a habit that Matt and I share thanks to Kurt and his uncle who originally gave him the advice.  There is so much to be thankful for--even on a seemingly bad day--that I think it is very important that we take the time to note it.   

And related to that--we should be kind.  Thankful and kind.  Kurt has a quote about that, too.  (Well, actually one of the characters he created said this one, not Kurt himself.)

"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."