Monday, September 13, 2010

Day 4: List 20 Favorite Things

In no particular order:

  1. Kendall, my husband and best friend
  2. My dogs, Maple and Daisy
  3. Coffee, caf or decaf-- it's all good!
  4. Sushi, especially rolls featuring spicy mayo
  5. Apples in the fall ONLY, otherwise they get mealy and gross.
  6. Chocolate
  7. Clean sheets
  8. Driving through the Hill Country on a nice day
  9. Salmon
  10. Herbal tea, especially chamomile
  11. Red wine and dark beer
  12. Country music
  13. Running with my dogs
  14. Yoga pants!
  15. Modern design
  16. Green- the color, the sustainable kind, all of it!
  17. Slow Food
  18. Walks around Town Lake
  19. London and Brighton- we went there for our honeymoon and I totally fell in love with those cities!
  20. My iPhone- sad to say it, but it's true!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Day 3: Your Favorite Quote and Why it's Your Favorite

"Ninety percent of life is just showing up." -- Woody Allen

This is my favorite quote because in my experience, it's absolutely true.  Whether it's showing up to work or class, to a birthday party or dinner party, to a game or a race or to a wedding, birth or funeral, BEING there is what matters.

Sure, there are times when it would be easier to sit on the couch in my PJs and watch "No Reservations" over and over again.  But getting up, getting out and showing up means a lot to people.  It's surprisingly simple.  But think about all the important moments in your life and think about who was there... and who wasn't.  You probably remember a lot about those people on those days, huh?

And even if you can't physically be there, you can still "show up" in other ways, whether a phone call or card in the mail.  When my Brain Sister had her first treatment, I couldn't be there, which was hard.  I wanted to sit by her and tell her stupid stories and make her laugh so much milk shot out her nose, and I wanted to walk her home and then make her a delicious homemade meal or a snack or tea or whatever she wanted.  So I sent flowers, a small token. But it felt good to "show up" in any sort of way for her.

Yep, showing up is important.

So whenever life hands me something that I'm not quite ready to deal with, or don't want to deal with, I put on my big girl panties and remind myself of this quote.

Day 2: Say Something You Dislike About Yourself

I think the thing that I truly dislike about myself is how assertive I am not.  I do not like to feel like I'm bothering people, or that I'm going out and getting what I need.  While it might seem polite, it often leads to a lot of frustration on my part and I still don't have the answers or things I need... simply because I didn't ask for them.

It's something I struggle with and continue to work on.  Starting grad school was a hard exercise in this, and I'm sure I'll encounter more bumps along the road.  But I hope one day to be able to be assertive without being a bother.  I'm sure it's possible!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day 1: Something You Like About Yourself

This topic is a tough one, mainly because most of us would find it hard to talk about the good we see in ourselves.  I often feel too proud or boastful about it.  How easy it is to think of all the things we would change and "fix" in ourselves if we could!  But if you ask for one thing people like about themselves, they clam up and get all twitchy.

But it's a good, healthy thing to do.  And if you can see the good in others, you should be able to see the good in yourself.

And when I think about it, there are several things that aren't too shabby about me.  I'm not a total idiot, nor a loser.  I used to be a bit of pushover, but I got over that and generally stand my ground.  I'm not a supermodel, but I'm not Ugly Betty either.  And I'm generally a nice lady.  But the thing I really like about myself is... that I'm a damn good cook!

It's funny that this post topic just so happens to tie in with food... but for me, the fact that I can rustle up a mess of something spectacular and yummy in 30 minutes is a badge of honor that I wear with pride.  And I really try to branch out in my cooking and conquer cuisines that seemed scary or complicated.  I felt that way about Thai food, and then I just up and decided to learn it.  The internet is a WONDERFUL resource for this and soon I found a gazillion websites and videos from ordinary folks that were instructing on how to prepare Thai food, and it looked EASY!  I am lucky that my grocery store stocks most ingredients for other cuisines and if they don't, there are a handful of specialty grocers in the area that I can check out.

I like the fact that 95% of the time, I can open my pantry, freezer and fridge and make a great meal out of seemingly thin air.  Yep, I'm that good.

Mainly, I love the act of cooking and preparing a meal for others to enjoy.  I love nourishing people that I care about.  I love putting a dish on the table and then digging in as we laugh or tell stories or just eat and talk about food.  Food can change your life, I believe that.  But I think it should still be accessible and casual, not stuffy, elitist and uptight.

I have learned some lessons about hosting people for dinner, and they all are cliches, but they are also true.  Keep it simple.  It's the golden rule of hosting.  I have done the fancy French meals that take forever, but taste amazing.  And I have done homemade guacamole for dinner.   Rule of thumb: it helps to select somethings that you can prep earlier and can sit in the fridge or on the counter until it's time to serve.  Then focus on a few things that can cook unattended, so you can actually talk to the people who just walked in your front door.

Last December, I heard a radio story with Nigella Lawson about how she likes to have people over several times during the holidays and serve simple things, instead of pulling out all the stops for a great big dinner party.  Genius, I thought.  So for Christmas this year, I put on a crockpot of chili, popped some tamales in the oven, and brewed some coffee.  I made some cornbread and cookies the day before, set them out.  And after opening our gifts by the tree with some delicious coffee that morning, Kendall and I set about browning the meat and dumped it in the slow-cooker.  We got dressed, had some more coffee and then shredded some cheese, opened a can of jalapenos and put sour cream in a bowl.  By the time the doorbell rang, everything was ready to go.  I actually got to sit and eat with people on Christmas Day, instead of running around the kitchen like a banshee wearing jingle bells.  And I wasn't worried about the turkey not coming out right or the pie crust being soggy or whatever.  I felt relaxed and happy.  I told jokes.  I was not a banshee.

That sunny December day taught me a lot about cooking for people, whether just my husband and myself, or for a house full of guests.  No one really cares about how impressive the dish is...  It needs to taste good and look appetizing.  People will care if you snap their head off because they aren't putting ice in the glasses the "right" way.  I have done complicated dishes for people.  It is not fun, and the kitchen we eat in looks like a hot mess.  I am usually sweaty and tired by the time I sit down to eat.  It is not a pretty picture nor a good meal.  Sure it tastes good, but what the hell good is that in that sort of situation?

If you can manage to pull off a delicious, simple meal and be jovial and not clammy, then you have hosted a successful dinner.  If you can crack a joke, smile and bottle of wine, and serve something other than store-bought vanilla ice cream for dessert, add fifteen points.  But there is NOTHING wrong with store-bought vanilla ice cream for dessert.

I like that I can usually add fifteen points to my dinners, even if it's just little ol' me at the table.  Remember that time I made out-of-this-world eggplant parmigiana and sat alone "mmm"-ing while my dog thought I was nuts?  I do.  Remember that time I made pecan crusted chicken, rice pilaf, and lemon rosemary green beans for dinner?  It was last Saturday for my family while at my parents' house.  We laughed and talked about my brother's children.

Another few truths I have encountered in the kitchen, and then I'll shut up.

1.  I do not have children, so for a long time, I worried about what to make for them, especially if they are picky eaters.  Should I try to expose them to new delights?  Nah.  Many kids like pizza, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes with gravy, and ranch dressing.  Why fight it?  If everyone likes pizza, including adults, then make some pizzas!  Pizza is amazing!  It's versatile!  Dress it up, dress it down, just like your favorite jeans.  No pizza?  Then try something like breaded baked chicken strips, served with some sauces, yummy-garlic-creamy-little cheesy mashed potatoes with gravy, a lovely vegetable and a simple salad.  You may even find that your little guests will try something new, like purple asparagus.  My friend's kids did and it was proud moment for everyone involved.

2.  Do not put hot liquids in a blender.  Ever.

3.  If the chicken goes up in flames, put out the fire and go out for Chinese.

And there you have it.  What I know about cooking.  And why I love that I'm a good cook.  And that there's definitely one thing that I like about me.

An Effort to Blog Again

In an effort to get back into the habit of blogging again, I am being a total copycat and following the lead of my former professor, Dr. Pam Johnston.  She taught me how to write poetry and write it well.  She's a wonderful writer, and she blogs!  So when I saw this idea on her blog, Lost Little River, I had to copy her.

Here's the deal... To blog about different topics for 30 days straight.  Here's the list:

Day 01 → Something you like about yourself.
Day 02 → Something you dislike about yourself.
Day 03 → Your favorite quote and why it's your favorite.
Day 04 → A list of 20 favorite things.
Day 05 → What’s the best thing in your life right now?
Day 06 → Someone from the past you'd like to get in touch with.
Day 07 → Someone from the past who disappointed you.
Day 08 → The reasons why you love your significant other or best friend.
Day 09 → A piece of art or sculpture that you really like.
Day 10 → A photo that makes you happy.
Day 11 → A photo that makes you sad.
Day 12 → An old photo of you (taken at least 10 years ago) and a story to go with it.
Day 13 → Your favorite song, band or artist.
Day 14 → Your favorite TV show, past or present.
Day 15 → Something you couldn’t live without, because you’ve tried living without it.
Day 16 → Something you definitely can live without.
Day 17 → Something you're a little neurotic/irrational/OCD about.
Day 18 → Your views on a current controversial topic.
Day 19 → Your faith, or your political views in general.
Day 20 → A book that really meant something to you.
Day 21 → A story about your best friend, past or present.
Day 22 → Something you wish you hadn’t done.
Day 23 → Something you wish you had done.
Day 24 → Make a playlist for someone, and explain why you chose all the songs.
Day 25 → A song that makes you think of someone besides your significant other.
Day 26 → Describe your dream house.  Post pictures, if you want.
Day 27 → Something you have to forgive yourself for.
Day 28 → Something you have to forgive someone else for.
Day 29 → Something you still hope to accomplish in your lifetime.
Day 30 → Write a letter to yourself at 20. Offer some advice based on what you've learned in life.

As you can see, these aren't food related.  But I'm hoping that as I blog, I'll also be reminded to post more about food in between these little daily reflections.  And maybe you'll learn a little bit more about me.  

So I hope you don't mind and you don't get bored and you don't disown me.  The end.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Both Sides of the Seasons

Here in Central Texas, we are cooling down to sub-95* temps and today, we're getting lots of rain!  There's a cool breeze in the air most days and not as much of that sauna-like humidity.  Soon, it will be fall!  But until then, we can still enjoy summer's produce.

Today after getting soaked, I was cold and wet and wanted soup.  So I took what I had on hand and made something hearty and warm... black beans, corn, zucchini, onion... it was delicious!

It was warm, hearty and filling.  And it was EASY!  You can do this with whatever you have on hand... which is why I love soup so much.  Whatever vegetables and protein you have, just add some broth, season and heat.  You can also pack in your veggies and if you stick with broth-based soups, you are in for a low-fat, low-cal meal.

Early Fall-Late Summer Soup

1 tsp oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 C diced zucchini
1 C frozen yellow corn
3/4 C black beans
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 C chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in pot and add onion.  Stir until softened.  Add zucchini and let heat.  Add corn, beans, oregano and broth.  Bring to simmer for a few minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir.  Simmer for one more minute, then serve.