6.23.2015

Baked falafel: attempts at vegetarian-ish-ism

When some dear friends visited us from Petaluma - vegetarians, all - earlier in June, they presented us with a jackpot of Rancho Gordo beans. I was so thrilled to try these for myself after hearing so much about them. Between that gift and thinking only in terms of non-meat dinners that week, I felt myself get back into the veggie groove. Sometimes I forget how many flavors I have at my disposal when meat is out of the equation. To be honest, I would be perfectly happy eating a plate of beans, Rancho Gordo (which are, in fact, all they're chocked up to be) or otherwise, with a smattering of herbs for dinner, or fresh tomatoes and cheese on toast, but I also know someone else in this house might not find it substantial enough. A vegetarian dinner that both of us can enjoy definitely is not impossible, but right now it's mostly limited to pasta and soup. And hot soup loses its appeal when the temps are in the upper 90s (i.e., mid-80s in the house).

Aside from the ethical and health reasons I've believed as good ones for eating less meat, the thing I'm realizing as one of the best things of vegetarianism is the economy of it. A pound of dried beans is enough to feed a couple people for at least two nights with leftovers for a lunch or two.

Feeling inspired and well-equipped with bean varieties, I charged on in my quest to build my vegetarian-for-two repertoire. My latest inspiration came from a Mark Bittman recipe for baked falafel - something I'd only made for myself until now - which I presented with confidence to my dining companion. "Do I like tahini?" he asked. There was only one way to find out, I replied. To my delight, we both enjoyed this dish and the tahini sauce that accompanied it.

The link to the Bittman recipe is here, though I must note that I un-veganized his tahini sauce. When I whisked the tahini paste with the water, there was just too much separation and I had trouble emulsifying it without a spoonful or two of Greek yogurt. I also added lemon juice for flavor. You can use this sauce - my version - as a yummy vegetable dip or dressing on hearty romaine salads, too.

We made pita sandwiches with lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Are you as frustrated as I am by store-bought pita bread when it comes to actually using the pocket function?  The only time I got a pocket was when I made them myself (and I wasn't about to do that this time around). These were too gummy to wiggle a knife into without ripping, so we just split the whole thing in half and made a sandwich that way. Still good.

5.27.2015

Monique's Orzo Salad Formula


In a resourceful, conscientious effort, I have spent many a Sunday afternoon putting together a new recipe for a grain salad to enjoy during the work week - mostly to take the frantic lunch assembly out of my morning routine. On Monday, I pat myself on the back during the lunch hour because this looks so much better than peanut butter and jelly. By Wednesday, though, things change. I don't always know why exactly, but I slightly cringe at the thought that I've got this thing for two more days.

So a month or so ago, after enduring another revolting but lovingly made lunch, I made myself a list of the tastes and textures that always taste good to me, things I always look forward to come lunch time. Through that process, I made the freeing decision that I should not put onions in things, because they were one of the primary culprits in making my salads less desirable as the days went on, as were grains pre-dressed in vinaigrettes. From there, I made a list of things that I will actually eat after four days, like taco and greek salads, or a tomato soup with chickpeas. This sounds really basic, but I can't tell you how much it's helped. While my grain salads have always been aspirational - the things I should be eating - I've decided that most are best left as one-offs, or better yet, side dishes, complements to what I REALLY want to eat.

Hooray, this orzo salad made the cut. It's great as a side, but I also love it as my main sustenance, sometimes on a bed of greens and/or with an orange. My friend Monique brought it to a party and when I asked her for the recipe, she just gave me a basic formula that can be altered to whatever I have on hand. That's what makes it impossibly easy and almost always doable.

Ingredients:

Toss in a large-ish bowl:

1 c. orzo, cooked al dente
Olive oil - just enough to keep the orzo from sticking together
Salt and pepper to taste

Then add, in quantities that look reasonable to you...

Goat cheese (or another soft/salty cheese, like Feta or Gorgonzola)
Dried cranberries (or raisins, currants, cherries, sliced grapes, even)
Chopped parsley (or even basil)
Toasted almonds (or pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts)

Stir well and enjoy over however many days you need!


5.25.2015

Oof

Upon the purchase of our house, my eldest brother told us - in a congratulatory way, I'm sure - that we would never have a free weekend again. Ha, ha. I went away for a few days earlier this month for a conference, and when I returned, Joel had done all these little projects that brought me much joy - everything from hanging up a coat rack to touching up paint inside and out. A new doorknob for the bathroom, too. He repainted the front steps this past week. And me? I'm doing the one thing I know how to do right now: weeding. And looking up how to right all the wrongs of sprinklers, landscape lighting and deck railing...and the number of my nearest handyman. But let's not bore you, eh?

Joel aglow from the reflection of primer.
In the midst of all this, I have been very careful to not let my life get too consumed with my new to-do list. Here are some non-house things I can share that might have some morsel of intrigue for you. Maybe not.

Knitting this Strathcona scarf, in turquoise. This will be my summer scarf.

No more stovetop kettle for me!
Making hot water for coffee and tea with my Bonavita electric kettle, which I bought with birthday money - one of those where you can set the temperature - with a gooseneck spout for dainty pouring. Joel says I'm becoming a temperature snob (and he's right), but truly, I love drinking green tea now because of it.


Making desserts from this gem of a cookbook called Flourless (so far almond-butter chocolate chip cookies and strawberry rhubarb maple cake, which we consumed so fast that I didn't think to take pictures) - thanks, Mom!

Poppy surprise!
Between Two Lilacs

Mourning William Zinsser. Since first reading his On Writing Well in high school, the mere mention of his name reminds me to cut the clutter from my writing. He is also the primary reason it takes me as long as it does to compose an email. Or anything, really. This tribute is touching.

Working out at the bar, which is a really fun thing to tell people. But seriously, it's a workout.


Watering my plants, and recycling my wine bottles, with Plant Nannies


4.29.2015

A house with a name



This house is now our house. It's a very fine house. With one cat in the window (not visible), one dog on the front steps (visible). Built in 1909, part of the historic Booge's Second Addition (we just learned!) in Spokane, Washington.

On the day we closed, the thing I anticipated to be the most difficult - the part where I get a giant cashier's check from the bank - was, in fact, the easiest. No, the hardest thing about closing was signing my name with my middle initial. Boy, that really threw me. And signing my name while the closing agent was still talking was also difficult. Signing my name 15+ times is just plain difficult, no matter how you look at it. But, it happened. Everything is signed and the documents are presumably at the courthouse now, and we already have the keys, the same keys we've carried for seven years. But now we can change the locks, I guess.

It feels special, surreal, responsible, and weighty, like we've really invested in something, because we have, and not just in this little piece of property. Time will tell what this moment means for us.

***

Considering that cashier's check, it was fitting that it was on this evening that I made what Joel called a genuine hobo meal: franks and beans. We celebrated beforehand with bubbles, of course, but I had been craving baked beans for a good number of months. The beans were cooking on the counter all day and only needed to be doctored up with sweet and spicy ingredients. I started with a recipe from Melissa Clark for fake baked beans with crispy bacon, but substituted some links of grilled Aidell's chicken andouille sausage for the bacon. I also added smoked paprika, per the recommendation of the Wednesday Chef. I loved it, and even went so far as to say I'd eat this for breakfast.

We are storing up our energy for the months ahead, when those home shows I used to watch on PBS as a kid (Home Time, This Old House, etc.) gain new meaning, and friends with tools and trucks become our best. This will be fun.

Smoky Fake Baked Beans with Chicken Andouille Sausage

Original inspiration - Melissa Clark
Secondary Inspiration - Luisa Weiss

1 lb. pinto beans, soaked overnight and cooked all day in crock pot with:

  • 3 smashed garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1/2 yellow onion, kept in tact
  • enough water to cover by 1 inch
When the beans are tender (i.e., when you get home from work), transfer to a large pot on the stove. I removed a little bit of the liquid; it wasn't scientific, but there was still a lot of liquid, so I just took out a cup or two.

Heat the beans back to a simmer while you add...
  • 1/4 c. ketchup
  • 1/4 c. molasses
  • 3 T. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Coleman's mustard powder (I just like their packaging; any variety will do)
  • 1/4 tsp. Tabasco, or to taste
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • Salt to taste (I added a couple teaspoons of Diamond Crystal kosher salt, if not more, which is less salty than other salts)
Simmer for 45 minutes or until it's to the thickness you enjoy and it is unbearably tasty. When you're about ready to serve, go grill those pre-cooked sausages and get them a little charred. We served up the beans in a shallow bowl and cut up the sausages into coins and mixed it all together, sliced some baguette and assembled a simple salad on the side. PERFECT. If you're the literary type, go read Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat and learn why eating beans is vital. 



4.12.2015

Quotidian things

The 1940s-ness of this auditorium is my favorite thing about it.

 Homemade pizza dough.

 View from the (college) president's office.

Breakfast companions.

 This is Margot's favorite place to hang out - under my sewing desk.

With the combo of clouds and late-evening sun, it's a pretty lovely world out there.

Pretty much the best dog's best friend around.

4.08.2015

Long overdue

I've missed this blog, this place where I air out my dreamy thoughts and record nice moments. It's all been overtaken by the internal processor that is my brain, the little devil that induces nightmares about real estate and makes it difficult for me to concentrate on the rosier sides of life. It would be impossible to document all the mental tangents of late, but anyone could get a good idea if they only looked through my Google search history. In times like these, when life-changing decisions are in process, my imagination makes me lose perspective. So far this year, I've only read one book, I've barely knitted anything, and this is my fifth blog post of 2015. But I think things are turning around! I've been cooking from a new cookbook, I started a new knitting project, and I am reading a new book - all of which probably means I am finally getting back to using my five senses to take in the world around me, and to my attempts at blogging. A warning, though: This is the first blog post that hasn't remained in draft mode in weeks, and it is likely to be a ramble-fest. Notice there are no pictures. Sorry.

In a nutshell, we're in the process of buying the house we've lived in for the last seven (six for me) years. It's great in most ways: it's truly a charming house in a desirable neighborhood and, after looking at other houses in our price range, it is even more evident just how great we've got it. But it's still a century-old house, and we've lived through many of its problems. As current tenants, we had the luxury (if you can call it that) of having the time to schedule pretty much every sort of expert to check out our place and tell us what we're really getting into: everything from a structural engineer to a mold guy to a roofer to an arborist, not to mention the actual inspection. It gave us a tiny bit of peace of mind about the big stuff we've been wondering about all these years, but lingering anxiety all the same. I'm not exaggerating when I say that we changed our mind about what we were doing about 80 times.

Also adding to the stress level was being first-time home buyers without representation. Our landlady is the kindest woman and we never felt we were getting scammed - on the contrary, we probably saved some money doing it this way - but we still had to learn a lot on our own about how real estate works, and make sure we were looking out for our best interests. (Again, my Google search history is probably hilarious.) I will say that in pretty much every circumstance, our interactions with the involved parties affirmed our faith in humanity. The people we have worked with have been kind and charitable, and in many cases have gone above and beyond what we needed them to do.

We started this whole process back in January, so needless to say I'm ready to begin my new normal. This deal should close - knock on wood -  right around my 33rd birthday later this month. I know that in the years to come, I'll look back on this brief moment in time and feel nostalgic about it, or be glad I'm not that naive homebuyer anymore, or smile when I think about driving around Spokane at night with Joel and the dog as we looked at other neighborhoods and sang along with the oldies station. For now, though, I'm grateful that we've arrived at spring and things are turning into my favorite colors. I have felt a bit dormant around here, storing up whatever energy I had for dealing with my tumultuous mental state, but now I'm ready to get out and have some f-u-n.

Best of all, the thought of being homeowners is finally starting to make me feel happy. I think the loveliest part of going through big decisions and life events like these, as difficult as they can be, is that they serve as a new basis of kinship and empathy with others. You suddenly have this new connection with people you never had before. Trading horror stories and tips and tricks and all this stuff that never mattered to you is now so much more fun and interesting. So, I'll take it.

And now it's time to remember how to use my camera again. Stay tuned!

3.09.2015

This place

Walking around the woods along the Spokane River on one of the warmest days of the year, we headed into some shadows and instantly felt cold, as though we had entered a cave. The smell of the pine needles in the brisk air transported me back to that one time I went camping, back in junior high, in Oregon. It was the first time I'd ever slept in a tent, the first time I felt so saturated with nature. I have never been a particularly outdoorsy type, but it's in those moments that I feel I could just remain where I am for a spell, inhaling deeply like some hippie, communing with every living thing around me. It's beautiful around here. I love these outdoors.