Sunday, April 7, 2019

Hello April

We are happy you are here!  I love all the seasons for a variety of different reasons and Spring has special qualities as the earth wakes back up sending green shoots out everywhere. It's about coming back to life after the long winter deep sleep. And yet even though it feels like Spring today with birds chirping, warm weather mixed with a little rain ~ Groovy Girl doing homework outside at the patio table ~ we have to be ready for anything as last year we had a heavy snow fall right in the middle of April. I'll wait until May 1st to take off my snow tires.

In my last two posts I've put my thoughts out there about garbage bags and the need to find one that composts everything inside of it. I want to take this idea one step farther and propose that all new plastic items be made out of plastic that already exists. I am a huge recycler of everything the recycling center says that I can recycle.  My family and research shows that our recycling program is a bit broken. Landfills are overflowing and people all around the globe produce way too much trash. Too many single use items everywhere. So my proposal means that all single use items like those stupid crinkly plastic bottles should be universally created from existing plastic already out there. This would give purpose to recycling again.

People could get paid for bringing in pounds of plastic collected instead of it ending up in our waterways and eventually the ocean. This reuse idea would use far less petroleum and while factories would need to restructure to be able to reuse the plastic instead of creating new ~ it would be worth it because there would be a constant influx of old going to make new.  And I still think some plastic items just need to go like plastic grocery bags. Kudos to cities that have already banned them and stores that encourage you to use what you have or what they offer like boxes. Perfect.  I would decree this if I were to be elected president or Queen.

Oh, it just started to pour outside and I love that sound. That is a sound of Spring ~ hopefully not enough to cause any floods.  Groovy Girl and I are on just a major rush of trying to find healthy ways to live our life without being earth destroyers. She's interested in finding sustainable and recycled clothes. It's just good to think about ways we can all be more earth-friendly.

I spent the weekend out of town in the major metropolis of Davenport, part of what is known as the Quad Cities. Groovy Girl had a dance competition event on Saturday. We found a good Asian place to eat and had a lot of good mama/daughter time. I had fun watching all the dancing but it also gives me a good chance to read.  I am almost finished with Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.  Wow. This was my Book of the Month Club selection for March and if this is a sign of what's to come I am very happy. This novel is so good and fun to read. I have about 3 friends in mind to pass it on to after my husband finishes it. It's a lot of sex, drugs, and rock and roll so it isn't for everyone but for me, it took me places I hadn't thought about for years. So beautiful.

Happy peaceful week everyone!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

My search for trash bags...

What does everyone else use for garbage bags?  You probably make the easy decision to just pick them up at Target or the grocery store where you shop.  Here is what you need to know; it takes 1,000 years for that trash bag to decompose.  That's a helluva long time.  I'm on the search for a better alternative.

After learning how much plastic (Ocean Conservancy) is in the ocean and making a mess of  our precious and beautiful land as well I decided to look for a more eco-friendly choice. We ran out of the box of Glad ForceFlex 50-count bags the other day and as I broke the box down for recycling I started thinking about a safer bag. We recycle a lot and think about what goes into our garbage but what if what was surrounding our trash was also a problem. I've purchased other eco-friendly choices before but either they were cost-prohibitive or not easily attainable. So I turned to the internet to see if I could find an answer.

I found this great article posted on a website selling compostable trash bags. Of course they want you to buy their compostable bags yet the definitions make sense to me based on what I know already.  What I learned is not to buy biodegradable bags because regular landfills do not usually have the key ingredients to biodegrade. Unfortunately the notes didn't help me find what I need as I'm looking for a trash bag for my NON- compostable materials; the stuff that ends up in landfills. We compost a lot at our house and we just throw that stuff right outside into a rolling bin and in the springtime we used to spread it out on the garden.  This is our first spring without a backyard garden so we'll still find a new place to spread the compost love back into the earth. I don't know why more people don't compost; its so easy and it's literally like giving the earth a gift back.

In my continued search I found this article from the SFGate from the city that's already banned grocery bags! I like some of Ms. Lovering's ideas of lining trash containers with paper bags or newspaper. According to my husband our trash pick-up is required to be in tied bags so right now I'm using the few grocery bags my husband carries home because he forgets to bring reusable bags.  I have to move forward, knowing I'm working on this issue in my own time, and hopefully along this journey I will find a solution.  It's going to make a difference, maybe not in my life time but for my children and the next generation.

Anyone have a green alternative?

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Too much to think about...

Last weekend I mentioned in my post that I really only thought about cooking and reading books. I have to amend this statement so you understand fully. I think about so MANY things it becomes overwhelming. It makes it easier to narrow it down to cooking and reading. Here is a smattering of other topics I think about...
World Peace

Kids in poverty globally - specifically the dear ones I know here

Donald Trump - just everything about him and his cronies/family

My family: I think about my kids a lot, not always a worry, sometimes just "I wonder how your day is..."

The environment and plastics in the ocean  - just did an amazing research project with Hansen kids on this topic and it is mind-blowing and disgusting how much trash and plastic particles are in the ocean.

My extended family and friend relationships

School, work, lesson plans, my overload of 1,000 + emails, right now my portfolio due soon

Climate Change - I worry about this on a daily basis, really.

Immigration esp. concerning kids, human trafficking, sweatshops

My two gorgeous yet problematic dogs

Awkward conversations

the LGBTQIA and how to make us all one community

My old house and all of it's needs (and wants)

Black/Brown lives matter and how to fix this in our society

and now The College Scandal

This list is a random order - I could be thinking about my school work and suddenly I'm thinking about human trafficking.  One big thing leads to another equally important big thing.

Life is overwhelming often, so yes, it is escapism to think of cooking delicious food for your family and friends, listening to beautiful music,  a simple glass of wine, reading a good book. If you can't let these big things go a bit then we are all going to hell in a great big overpriced Gucci purse. We need to focus on the good positive around us to, to help in whatever ways we can on a daily basis and yet be able to let it all go for our own well-being at the end of the day. I struggle with this and try to overcome it.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

New York Times Cooking

Cooking and reading seem to be always on my  mind. This week I didn't cook at all until inspiration hit me on Thursday. Sometimes after school I seriously have to take a 20 minute nap to keep going and while I was building up to get up I scrolled through my NYT cooking app to find a recipe for dinner. Lucky me, I found two.  And I had all the ingredients  - with a little improvisation thrown in.

Roasted Salmon and Brussels Sprouts was a very easy recipe to throw together and the results were very good.  I didn't have any salmon but I did have 4 pieces of frozen tilapia waiting for the right moment.  In our vegetable drawer I had a leftover stalk or two of broccoli so I cut that into small pieces and added it to the brussels sprout mixture. While this was roasting I cooked a small portion of brown rice and we mixed it altogether.  Quick, easy with a healthy protein.  We don't generally have any red meat here, a little organic chicken and fish now and then and we seem to be staying healthy through this long-ass winter.

Curried Cauliflower Soup from Martha Rose was pretty simple to assembly while I waited for the first meal to cook. This one I had all the right ingredients and I have it for backup meals this week.  This soup is spicy and will taste great with some toasted naan bread.  This next week will be very busy with our Spring (?) Scholastic book fair and conferences. Having a few meals prepared will help us get through the week and make it to Spring Break.

In the midst of more snowfall we are headed to Chicago for the first few days of Spring Break 2019! Road trips mean lots of uninterrupted time to read.  I'm excited to shop on Devon Street - I need to replenish some spice jars and I love looking at the stores in this area.

This week more inspiration hit and I joined Book-of-the-Month Club because as my daughter said "Just what you need! More books"  But seriously ~ I liked the idea of trying some new titles/authors and after showing the list to my husband we both agreed on Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

I'm halfway through Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward and have to hurry to finish because my adult wine-drinking book club meets the Monday after our Chicago trip and our March read is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I've heard a lot of great things about this story so I'm anxious to get started.

Cheers to a good week!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Welcome March!

I hope March ushers in a bit of spring weather-it's at least light later in the day. No longer do I leave work in twilight.  We are still pretty snow heavy making it difficult to drive and while it was bitter cold today THE SUN WAS SHINING!!  Wore my sunglasses to Cedar Rapids and back to have lunch with our son.  We had pizza together and talked for a long time. Just wonderful to be with him. Wish we could have lunch with the oldest daughter-meeting in Brooklyn takes a few days prep and many miles. 

I finished Stay with me by Ayobami Adebayo and loved her writing. This story tells the tale of Akin and Yejide's marriage through both characters. How they meet at university, fall in love, and begin to break away after trying to have a baby and the problems that arise as their communication fall away. Anyone in a relationship that's gone sour can relate to how they begin to pull apart.  The story is sad yet beautifully told and I liked the backdrop of the political turmoil happening in Nigeria at the time. 

And I've started Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones; about a family in Mississippi getting ready for a hurricane.  This is an author that's been on my to-read list and I'm glad I'm finally finding time to read her work.  

In between chapters I managed to make a little food for my lovely little family.   I lovingly created two recipes given to me by friends; a chicken tortilla soup and a corn casserole. Both recipes helped to warm us up last night.  

Here is the soup recipe from my friend Kay:

Kathy's Chicken Tortilla Soup (my notes)

4 chicken breasts halves (buy organic, local, free range when possible)
2 15-oz cans of black beans, drained (I thought ahead and used dried bb, soaking them the night b4)
2 cans Rotel tomatoes with chilies - do not drain (I had one can of diced tomatoes and one can of green enchilada sauce-yes, I improvised so I did NOT have to go out in the cold)
1 can shoepeg corn, drained (I used a bag of frozen)
14.5 oz can tomato sauce
1 cup salsa (I used our homemade)

Optional toppings:
Tortilla chips
Grated Cheese
Sour Cream

1. In the bottom of a slow cooker, place the chicken breasts.
2. Open the remaining cans and pour over the breasts.
3. Add the salsa
4. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. Just before serving remove and shred the chicken and return to soup. 
5. Stir and serve. 

Even with my improvisation the recipe was perfect for a cold Saturday night. It was pretty easy compared to other recipes I love. My brother and I were both cooking at the same time in different cities; his recipes looked so amazing I could almost smell them via his texted pictures.  His were more labor-intensive but you've got to go with what works for you on any given day. 

The corn recipe from Amber was just as easy to put together, rich and textured, and that made my day. I'm pretty sure both these recipes are from church/school cookbooks from the 90's.

Corn Casserole 

1 can creamed corn
1 can whole kernel corn, with juice
1 stick butter (soft to mix)
1 cup sour cream
1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 egg, beaten
onion and seasonings (opt.)

(In a bowl) mix all ingredients together. Bake at 350* for 45 minutes in a 9 x 13-in baking dish.  
Variation: Can put 1 small package of shredded Mozzarella cheese on top and bake another 10 minutes or until melted. (next time I might add goat cheese; I did not add any cheese this time and I added a bit of cayenne and cumin as my seasonings, plus a whole lot of freshly ground pepper)

See what I mean-super healthy!!  We have to stay entertained and warm over these long winter months. What are you reading/creating/concocting?

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Snow Day

I finished reading both An American Marriage, a decidedly sad tale, and Less, an uplifting tale of love and highly recommend both books. I'm now reading Front Desk by Kelly Yang, which won the ALA Asian/Pacific Award this year.

These week I made Khichdi which a friend posted on IG referring to it as comfort food. Mashed potatoes with a slice of real butter melting on the top has been my comfort food for years. I can picture it in the large bowl my grandmother brought to the table for many family meals. I can smell it; the creamy yellow potatoes mixing with the soft butter on top.  Comfort food means different smells and feelings to everyone and I thought this lentil dish was definitely worth trying. All the spices made my kitchen smell amazing, maybe the comfort starts in the making, as I took lots of deep healing breaths while chopping and stirring. When it was finished we soaked it up with toasted naan and cleaned our bowls. It was a perfect dish for a freezing evening.

Last Sunday I made a tomato soup recipe I'd ripped from a food magazine. It was a very easy recipe to put together and it was delicious. Tomato soup pairs perfectly with grilled cheese and I used white cheddar with some yummy sourdough to fry up in my cast iron skillet.  They were a perfect gooey mess to dip into the creamy soup. Here is the recipe for yourself.

Creamy Red Pepper and Tomato Soup

4 red bell peppers, seeded and sliced
4 large tomatoes, seeded and quartered
1 T olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup onions, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, diced
1 can tomato paste
32 oz vegetable broth
1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves, torn
Parmesan croutons *I didn't make b/c no me gusta croutons
1/2 cup shaved Parmesan for topping

1. Add olive oil to large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, chopped red peppers and tomatoes and sauté until tender.
Stir in tomato paste and then add vegetable broth.  
Bring to a boil and then reduce heat .

2. Allow the soup to cool just a tad and then add in batches to a blender or use an immersion blender. Blend until smooth and creamy.

3. Ladle into bowls and add Parmesan shavings, fresh cut basil leaves, and freshly ground pepper to top.

The red peppers added an excellent flavor to the soup.  Also I didn't have 4 fresh tomatoes on hand but I did have a Mason jar of tomato sauce from this summer so I substituted that which worked fine. I even think you could substitute a good quality can of diced tomatoes for this. Fresh tomatoes in the winter are not as flavorful as the summer so it's a fair switch.

Stay warm and drive slow. We are on our 8th snow day.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Freezing temps mean lots of delicious soups

The weather is still chilly here and this morning there were big fat flakes floating down. It looked lovely but I was too bleary-eyed to snap a photo. We made it through the week without one snow day though which will help us in June. We'll see what this week brings with more snow predicted.

[From Minimalist Baker}
I made two hearty dishes to keep us all warm and full this week. On Monday I whipped up Minimalist Baker's Rich Red Curry with roasted vegetables.  We played with the ingredients and added tofu and regular brown lentils and left out the cabbage. This I will make again - the red curry sauce was delicious and would pair well with many vegetables. I used a mix of broccoli and cauliflower and swapped yellow potatoes for the sweet.  We love sweet potatoes here but Groovy Girl does not like them mixed in with other ingredients. This recipe made enough that we had leftovers for the next few nights and even added it with brown rice into a tortilla for an on-the-go dinner.  

[Gimme some oven]
Yesterday I was craving fish and found some raised-in-the USA cod, fresh in the glass case. It's very difficult to find quality fish-I don't want my fish to come from China-sorry China but you're not known for good fishing practices and I like my food to be a little more local. I already have issues about eating fish and pollution  in the ocean and depleting numbers of fish in the ocean and for the most part have stopped buying fish and ordering fish when I'm out just for this reason yet yesterday I guess I was in the mood. I bought $20 worth of nice fat pieces of cod.  It was delicious, tender and flaky with a little cracker crust and a lemon squeezed over the top.  I loosely followed this recipe. 
We had baked sweet potatoes with our flaky cod fillets plus I made this lemon lentil soup for an appetizer but we ended up eating all at the same time. I got held up making the soup as I scoured my kitchen for my immersion blender which is missing.  I love my Hamilton Beach immersion blender and I'm confused as to where it's gone. Anyway we used the big Ninja blender instead (more parts to clean) and this soup, Lemony Lentil Soup, was fantastic.  

To match with my two new recipes I also I have two books to share.  Cold weather always makes it easier to lay on the sofa and read, except lets be honest, any season has me sitting/laying somewhere and reading. I wouldn't be adverse to springing ahead to some hammock-time soon. 

Less by Andrew Sean Greer ( 2017): The comical tale of Arthur Less, an accomplished author, who feels less than all the time. His current lover has left to get married in Sonoma and he takes this opportunity to plan via a few author invites for teaching abroad and odd award ceremonies to get away from his current Bay Area life. What follows is a wonderful travel journey in much the same vein as Kerouac's On the road but with planes instead of cars and gay lovers and wine instead of copious amounts of drugs. This is my first Andrew Sean Greer novel and I'm happy to be introduced. I can't wait to discuss this with my book group.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (2017): Recently I was able to break away from dance mom week to see If Beale Street Could Talk which is a beautifully done film almost in an old noir style, slow and steady with great acting and a good background jazz beat. This book has a similar story line probably all too common in the racist world we live in. We have to realize this happens far more than we can ever imagine. Celestial and Roy, married for one year, find themselves separated by a prison door after one woman's rapid complaint against Roy who is innocent.  Jones' writing is very easy to read and I'll have to go back and read Silver Sparrow. 

Stay warm where ever you might be. I have friends headed to Mexico today and friends who just came back from a cruise.  All I can do is bask in the winter sunshine flowing through the library windows.  

Sunday, February 3, 2019

February Peace

It's here and it's brought warmer weather so I'm happy. I'm not foolish enough to think that the cold snap or #PolarVortex won't return yet for now I'm happy to see snow melting all around us. Drip Drip

(Sally's Baking Addiction)
I made cinnamon rolls for an event yesterday. Insomnia had me up at 5am  and I thought "I should get up and make rolls" for the state speech event we volunteered our time at yesterday morning. We didn't get to try the rolls as they were whisked off for the judges' break room and making them was super easy so I plan to whip them up again real soon. Just maybe not at 5am.

Last week was a crazy school week; we had school on Friday only. I was pretty lazy and did a lot of reading. Some cleaning (Maria Kondo on Netflix is great motivation) but mostly reading.  I have several books to recommend to you.

Heads of the colored people by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (2018): Excellent short stories that lifted me and educated me.  Nafissa has an amazing array of characters in these 12 well-crafted tales including two mothers who sling insults at each other through notes sent back and forth in the backpacks of their daughters, Marjorie, a woman who tries therapy because of her anger issues, Riley, a young man headed to Comic -Con, a young woman obsessed with men who've become amputees, and a young woman struggling with social media likes and suicidal thoughts. Here's a great article form Electric Lit highlighting these stories and an interview with Thompson-Spires. I enjoyed this book so much I'm going to order my own copy and probably give it as gifts this year. Thank you to Verda for bringing this book (and the next one) to my attention.

Black Girls must die exhausted; a novel for grown ups by Jayne Allen (2018): "The day I turned 30, I officially departed my childhood. Not the pigtail braids, devil may care, 'don't get your Sunday church clothes dirty' kind of childhood. At 30, I just knew it was the end of the dress rehearsal. I was officially grown."  So begins our journey with Tabitha as she navigates relationships with her friends and men, and the growing demands of her television reporter position and what it means to be the only one in the office with "black perspective" as she moves up into a lead position. I felt connected to Tabitha and held her pain throughout the book which most affected me when she  argued with her girlfriends and when she was pulled over by the police car.  The raw fear of what might happen juxtaposed against what actually happened was mind-boggling for me and for Tabitha. It made it very real and highlighted, even though her experience was pleasant, very easily can go the other way. good cops/bad cops situation. I loved this casual story and look forward to reading the second.

So make some cinnamon rolls and cuddle up with a good book as February brings us one month closer to Spring.