Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lisa - Inspiration Thursday

This Inspiration Thursday finds me in Washington state with my sister, Lisa.
Photo credit goes to my brother-in-law, Alex.
She's so resourceful and creative that she is always teaching me new things when we are together...which is, unfortunately not often enough.  She sews, bakes, knits, gardens, cans, raises children, hikes, sings, reads, and tries to live a kind, loving, and eco-conscious life.  I am SO looking forward to this week with her and all I will learn and be inspired to do.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Hook To Hang My Kettle On

We're still getting settled in the new house.  Moving this or that.  Rearranging a cupboard to bring regularly used objects into closer reach.  Perhaps we always will be.  It seems to change with the seasons.  What is conveniently located in summer could be needlessly in-the-way during the snowy season. 

Sometimes the little, tiny adjustments that I make around the house seem to have a positive effect that seems almost too large to accompany such a small change.  Like the tea kettle.  We'd never really been satisfied with the fact that the kettle had no permanent home aside from the stove top.  We were frequently having to move it to a different burner to get at the one we wanted to cook on.  It seemed to be in-the-way.  It was always needing wiped down, too, as it so often got splattered with oil or sauce as we cooked.  It just wasn't ideal.
So, we mounted a little hook on the wall right near the stove.  Now when the kettle is not all heated up and in use it has a happy home that is not so in-the-way, yet still quickly at the ready for when a nice cup of tea is desired.  A simple solution to a simple problem.  Sometimes its these little things that make my day.

In Flight

I am flying on an airplane tonight.  Five years ago when I looked down on the tops of the Rocky Mountains I told myself I wasn't going to fly ever again.  I think there is something freakishly unnatural about looking directly down on the peaks of those giant mountains.  It felt...wrong.  It doesn't seem like you're not supposed to look down on mountains like that....   But, still, I'll be sitting in my window seat soon enough.

I am taking the plunge once more in order to visit my sister and her family out on the coast.  Its been too long and I miss them so often.  The price to fly was cheaper than the Greyhound bus (my usual mode of getting to the coast) and it goes without saying is considerably faster as well.  I am so very, very much looking forward to it.   Not the flying bit, but everything else about the trip. 

As a matter of coincidence I came across these photos today of Canada Geese in flight and landing.  I took them a few weeks back on one of our Riverfront Park walks.  It seemed fitting.
 
I like how the goose on the right has angled her/his neck in this photo.
 
Banking left!
 
 
 
 
Touching down.
 
Here is hoping I have an equally gentle landing and a lovely, uneventful flight through the clear, blue skies.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Kidney Bean Kiev

Its crazy to say, but when I first became vegetarian I didn't like beans.  Not at all.  Well, obviously that had to change.  So, as a delicious way to teach me that bean are, in fact, very tasty (not to mention cheap, easy, and versatile) Matt found this recipe for Kidney Bean Kiev.  That is, kidney bean patties with scrumptious garlic butter in the middle that oozes out wonderfully with every bite.  That was where my love of beans got its roots. 

We don't make full fledged Kidney Bean Kiev all that often, but we do eat basic kidney bean patties with regularity.  They are good on a bun or just as a "meaty" centerpiece to a meal.  They, of course, are good pressed together with garlic butter in the middle, too.    Or even just garlic butter on the side for dipping...a kind of shortcut Kiev.
Basic Kidney Bean Burgers

1/2 C onion
1 clove garlic
2 C kidney beans, cooked
2 T cornmeal
3T flour
2 t Italian herbs
salt to taste

Process onion and garlic in food processor until well chopped.
Add remaining ingredients and process until it starts to form a thick mixture.  This will take several minutes and you also want to be sure that the bean skins and onions are broken down enough for your liking.  You may have to scrape down the sides as you go.
It should result in a thick mixture that is able to be formed into balls that don't stick like crazy to your hands.  That is Matt's little test to make sure they are the right consistency.
Put into a bowl and cool in the fridge for at least 30 minutes as it is much easier to form the patties when the mixture has been cooled.
Form and fry.

To make the actual Kidney Bean Kiev you form the patties as above, but before you fry them you take two patties and press them together with a little garlic butter in the middle.  That makes the thick, delicious, buttery, double patties of the Kidney Bean Kiev.   See photos below.
Matt, forming the patties around the garlic butter.
 

I like beans in just about every way, shape, and form now (except refried which I still cannot get on board with)  But, these fried bean patties will always be one of my most favorites.  But, they are fried after all...so that is probably not too surprising.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Planning A Menu

I think that one simple step to take in the interest of eat more filling, satisfying, healthy, home-cooked meals is to plan a little menu.  Nothing major, just a little guiding list
See, I've never been able to stick to a Monday-We-Will-Have-X, and Tuesday-We-Will-Have Y, and so on type of menu.  It was too rigid.  What if I didn't feel like cooking X on Monday?!  What if I was more up to the effort of Y?!  Or what if X isn't what sounds good at the moment?  Or what if something comes up and cooking X on Monday just isn't possible?  These things always derailed my attempts at menu planning.

But then a couple years ago it occured to me that just because I couldn't stick to such a specific menu plan didn't mean I couldn't come up with something that actually did work for me and our household.  And so I did.
 
 So, Matt and I plan menus like this:
We grab a piece of scratch paper and a pen.

We check the fridge/pantry/cold storage for ingredients that need used up sooner rather than later.  The bulk of our meal ideas spring forth from this.   It goes something like:  "We'll we've got half a pot of rice and a bunch of veggies so why don't we unthaw a block of tofu from the freezer and have stir-fry.  What kind of sauce should be make for it?" or "We've got all those potato skins from making gnocchi.  What should be have with potato skins?  Chili?"

We also ask ourselves if there is anything in particular that we've been hankering for.  Something like:  "You know I've really been wanting sloppy joes.  We've got beans, veggies, and tomato sauce.  That would work, right?  All we'd have to do is whip up some rolls."  (And we make a note about needing to bake rolls at the bottom of the paper.)

Lastly, we think about whether or not we marked any new recipes in cookbooks that we'd like to try out.  Something along the lines of:  "There is a potato, peanut, and garlic curry in that 660 Curries book from the library that I think sounds good."  We try to include the name of the cookbook and the page number for ease.


 
 Something that we really strive for in menu planning is that we don't want to have to go out and buy anything special for any of the meals.  Case in point the Baby Potato and Garlic Curry recipe called for a couple spices we didn't have, like whole curry leaves.  So we just adapt as needed.  Curry powder worked just fine.  Or when we made a stir-fry recently with the Kid's Stir-Fry Sauce and didn't have any orange juice around the house we just used a few cubes of frozen grapefruit juice and it was just as tasty.  I think lime or lemon juice would also have been a great substitute.
 

We occasionally fall off the menu-planning wagon, but we always note soon enough that we're eating more poorly.  Not enough fruit and veg.   Too much grain.    Meals put together without the usual care.   Cooking becomes more of a chore.   We can get by like that for a while, but eventually we do notice the difference.  I think that food is so important to daily function and the quality of that function.  Food is fuel and comfort and community.  I think that is worth planning for.

I like the type of menu planning we do because when we start thinking about cooking dinner we just check the list and see what we feel like making that particular night. 

If its a busy night (say, we had a Community Garden meeting or a concert to attend) we might pick whatever is fastest or easiest.  If we have more time we can choose the most in-depth or delicious-sounding recipe.  We cross if off when we're done and the next night pick from the remaining meal ideas.  Sometimes we don't cross off everything on the menu list before we make a new menu so we just transfer over any remaining to the new menu plan.    Or sometimes a really good dish might end up on the list a few weeks running even if it has been crossed off! 

We don't plan lunches as we just tend to eat leftovers from previous dinners for lunch.  Breakfast is dictated by how much time we have before work--larger, more in-depth meals on the weekends, quicker ones on the weekdays.

Planning menus like this is such an easy thing to do that we have found really improves the quality of our meals and makes cooking easier and more pleasant for us.

For Linda: The "Old Lady Church Dress"

After my Second-Hand Is Super post a couple weeks ago I promised Linda from Practical Parsimony that I'd show her a photo of the dress that was described by my friend as the "old lady church dress."  So, here ya go, Linda!  I think its the sheer sleeves more than anything else that earned it such a description.

Its Beginning to Look a Lot Like....

Christmas!  

My dad had called to say he was passing through town and wanted to drop off some gifts.  That was all it took to prompt me to get out the holiday box and get to work setting up the tree.  I mean, if I was going to have packages to put somewhere it seemed directly under the tree was the only way to go about it.
I don't have much in the way of Christmas decorations, but I think it is just the perfect amount for Matt and I.  We've got a small tree, which came from my great-aunt Mary Ann, which I lovingly adorn with bubble lights (my favorite) and all the Christmas ornaments that I acquired during my childhood, plus a couple which I acquired in adulthood.  Each and every one is special and unique and tied to me with happy memories.  I love that.
The above and below photos show my two favorite ornaments, both of which were handmade by my mother.  My sisters and I all have the bears with our names on their bellies.  They are the oldest in my collection.  My entire life I had woman, Penny, who is like a second mother to me.  She gave me an ornament every year until I moved off to college.  Most of them still note the year in which I received them.  There are a lot of special memories in the ornaments on my tree.  Even this lights, too, for that matter.  I have three strands of bubble lights.  One came from my grandmother.  One from Matt during one of our first Christmases together.  And the third just this year as an early present from my step-mother, Dana.
I used some fabric from my stash for the tablecloth and tree skirt.  The blue and red plaid is older than I am and was given to me by my mother.  She never found the use for it and so far I hadn't either until this year.  Someday I think it would make a swell heavy winter skirt.  But, it makes a good holiday table dressing as well.  I'm not sure where the red fabric came from.





More ornaments line the windows in the front door.  I can quite vividly remember painting the Santa on the left at a card stamping party I went to with my mother at one of her friend's houses in my youth.  It is covered--and I mean covered--in glitter.  It makes me smile with glad fondness at my sweet childhood self.
Even though it has been so incredibly warm recently we did get enough snow at the end of November to make everything very lovely in that clean, bright, wintery way.  Matt and I set out around the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights a few different nights.  I think that snow makes the lights look all the more beautiful.  The snow add a softness to everything and reflect the lights adding to their happy, twinkling effect.  I especially like the way it looks dusting the pine boughs, back-lit by the strands of lights.  That seems so quintessentially Christmas to me.  The snow is gone now, but I'm hopeful that it will be back in time for a white Christmas.  Living my whole life where I have on this great planet, for me, Christmas just isn't the same without it.



Monday, December 3, 2012

Duck Fights and a Swan

Its been so nice.  I feel it should not be 60 degrees on December 1st, but it is so darn pleasant that it is!  So, when its unseasonably warm that just means its pretty much required that you get out and enjoy it to the fullest.  Who knows.  It could be snowy again any minute. 
We've been to walk at Riverfront Park both the last weekends .  Its just lovely.  The ponds are frozen over, but just melted enough that the waterfowl are all over.  The Canada geese were walking from one melted swimming hole to the next, but kept crashing through the thin ice up to their bellies over and over and over again.  It was pretty hilarious.  I laughed...and felt a little bad for laughing at them.  They seemed shocked each time they fell through.  The sunshine takes away any chill from the moist air along the banks of the pond and the birds were thick in the trees. 

We saw some ducks really going after each other--ripping out feathers and thrashing about with much racket.   It was really something.   In the middle photo you can even see where a chunk of feathers is missing on the one bird's neck!  I don't know what started it, but someone was not happy!
 
 
And we saw our first wild swan--a tundra swan.  It was a rather brief sighting as a gaggle of Canada geese took off and prompted it it into taking off as well just as we arrived in the vicinity.  I saw it running across the surface of the water.  It was huge and white and so rather hard to miss.  It was so big!  Then up and away, circling over once, and it was gone.    So lovely.
 
 
Bird Sightings:
Bald Eagle

American Coot
Dark Eyed Junco
Downy Woodpecker
American Robin
Northern Flicker
American Crow

Canada Goose
Mallard Duck
Ring-Billed Gull
House Finch
House Sparrow
Tundra Swan

A Coot's Feet

Matt and I have seen many, many an American Coot in our birdwatching adventures.  Sometimes there are hundreds of them it seems--certainly more than I've ever been able to count--floating along the surface of a body of water and diving underneath for a bite to eat.  They are small and sleek little grey-black waterbirds with contrasting white bills and a red spot on their face right above the bill. 

But, for all the coots we'd seen we'd never seen them outside of the water until recently.  And consequently we had no way of knowing just what sort of incredible and odd feet they had hidden under that water!!
At Riverfront Park the shore of the first big pond is usually covered with rather tame domestic waterfowl.  I say "rather tame" because people like to go there to feed the ducks bread and so the ducks will walk right up to you.  We never bring any handouts for them and they always seem disappointed...but I may be reading too much into it.  So often times when we go to the park for birdwatching we don't even stop at this first pond because its not the sort of birdwatching that we're into.  But, for some reason on this occasion I suggested we start there and walk through the trees all around the ponds.

Mixed with the ducks and Canada geese were a good number of coots--on land.  That was a first.  This was new and exciting for us.  So we stopped and watched them a good long time (and were approached by the mallards who eventually drifted away again when they realize they've struck out on bread).
The coots have very interesting feet.  First off, they are huge in comparison with the rest of their body.  Their feet are bigger than their heads.  And they are blue-green-grey in color.  That was super interesting, I thought.  What an odd color for feet!  (I later learned from my bird guide that the juveniles have these strange colored feet whilst the adults are orange colored).
Even more interesting than the color though was that they have wide pads along the lengths of the toes that I assume help with swimming.  They're lobed toes.  They're not webbed like ducks' feet and they walk instead of waddle.   They may look sort of like ducks in the water, but out of it you can easily tell these are not ducks.  I've read they are actually more closely related to the sandhill crane than to mallards.

Matt thought their feet looked more like a gecko's than a bird's.  I thought dinosaur, myself.

I never cease to be amazed by the sights and sounds and wonders of this world. Even something I've seen countless times can be like the first time all over again.