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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Another Year Bites the Dust

The year 2011 has been full of ups and downs. My sister got married to a great guy, connecting our family with a phenomenal family. That was most definitely an up. My mom died on December 17th, leaving a big void. That was most definitely a down. I left my weekend job in June (up), but the resulting loss of income has strained my finances to the breaking point (down). I’m looking forward with anticipation to 2012. Let’s see what the Universe has in store for us this time around!

In the interest of self-betterment, I have developed a list of goals for 2012. The word “resolution” grates on my nerves, as it suggests that there was something wrong with me to begin with. Since we all are constantly learning and changing, I don’t think it’s the word to use. So here is my list of goals for 2012.

1. Spend More Time with Family and Friends

This sort of speaks for itself. 2011 hammered home the fact that family and friends are of paramount importance to me. To that end, I would like to spend more face-to-face time with the important people in my life. Not Facebook time, not texting time, real time. I would like to visit with my sister at least once a month. I would like to visit my Dad twice this year. I would like to take my daughter out for dinner once a month. I would like to have a date with my husband every month. It could be as simple as curling up on the couch, watching a movie while munching on popcorn. But we have to do SOMETHING together.

I am also in the early stages of planning a road trip this summer to visit family and friends around the country. From elementary and high school friends scattered around the country, to my Dad in New Mexico and cousins in Oklahoma, North Carolina and Ohio, I want to see them all. It will be great fun to sit down and share a meal and lively conversation. There are a lot of really interesting people in my life and they add a vibrancy that I appreciate. Life is short. What am I waiting for?

2. Create a Reasonable Budget

Money is always an issue for me. Working as a teacher’s aide, I bring home about $100 a week after taxes. That’s not a whole lot of disposable income. My husband contributes to our household account once a month, but it always seems like the money is all gone a good week before the month ends. I am going to sit down today and figure out a way to economize on groceries, which is a HUGE chunk of our monthly expenses. I know it’s all in the planning, so I’ll create weekly menus. I used to do that. Then I got all cocky and started buying $3.99 half pints of fresh raspberries. I also need to remember the phone bills, the Netflix account (which I’ve already cancelled half of), birthday presents, etc. There’s a way to do this; I just have to write it all down and stick to it.

3. Get in Better Shape

On 11/11/11, I began a weight loss journey that has me feeling GREAT. I started doing a workout from Team BeachBody, and eating healthful meals. There’s also a nutritional shake that I am drinking, although I’ve had to cancel autodelivery of that, due to finances (see #2). I’ll use my shake supply until I run out. So far, I’ve lost 12 pounds and nearly 12 inches, which is GREAT!

The challenge is now to continue on the journey while staying within a reasonable budget. I have two workout DVDs, so I’m set on exercise. I also have a yoga workout series on VHS that I use. I can always strap on my beat up old sneakers and go for a walk or stack wood or rake leaves. Lots of opportunities to stay active, which was the missing component in my life. The food part – no problem. Plus, my good friend Jolie has motivated me to stay the course. Her perseverance and enthusiasm are inspiring.

#4. Stay Ahead of the Dust

Ugh. Cleaning. I hate it. Always have. There’s something so incredibly distasteful about cleaning. The end product is WONDERFUL. I love being able to see through the windows and walk around the house in my bare feet without stepping on grit that came from unknown locations. I’ve long maintained that gravity is stronger in our house than almost anywhere on the planet. Everything winds up on the floor. Dirt, dust, pencils, papers, rubber bands, plastic bags, clothing, plant matter all mysteriously leap to their doom in this house. I bet there’s some convergence of cosmic energy right below our foundation that causes this phenomenon.

Whatever the cause, I vow to stay abreast of cleaning. That means a schedule must be created. Mondays will be floor day, Tuesdays –  laundry, Wednesdays – bathrooms, etc. I think that’s really the only way to get it done, since maid service is not in the budget.

#5. Live an Adventurous Life

I love adventure. From traveling to new places, to learning new skills and trying new foods, I love it. This year I would like to dip my toes back into adventure. My road trip – perhaps solo – will be one. Rick has an art show in Florence, Italy in March. I might go with him. That’s another. I want to develop a new income stream. Many people have said I should cater parties. That’s a possibility – I was a food vendor at one event this past year and loved the experience. That would be another adventure. I would love to sit in on a session of Congress when I’m in Washington, DC. I would like to learn to scuba dive. I want to eat poutine and fois gras in Montreal. Teach myself to make tofu and corn my own beef. Go on a kayak trip in the Adirondacks. Climb a mountain – a real one. Go zip-lining somewhere. Start writing a book. Attend sacred ceremonies in religions I have only a nodding familiarity with (Buddhist, Muslim, Pagan, Hindu, etc.). There’s so much to do and learn and experience. It’s well past time to get moving.

So, those are my five big goals for 2012. There are other, smaller goals (like trying one new recipe a week, going through the bookshelves and weeding out all those books I “had” to have, etc.), but if next year ends and I’ve accomplished these five things, it will have been a smashing success.

I wish you all a wonderfully healthy and happy 2012. Blessings and light for the new year. So mote it be.

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On Being Thankful

It’s been 3 long weeks since I posted anything. A busy 3 weeks, to be sure. Today is Thanksgiving and I am incredibly thankful, but not exclusively for the usual things. My gratitude list is a little odd, but it is mine just the same. I like to think of myself as a “glass half full” kind of person. Actually, I like to think of myself as a “glass totally full if you factor in the air” kind of person.

So, here are some things I am thankful for this year…

I am thankful for my mother’s cancer. I am not glad that she is dying, but the cancer gave me the time to get right with the fact that she will not be on this earth much longer. I am now celebrating her life, and what a beautiful life it has been.

I am thankful that my feet and knees and back ache. This means that I am working to get my body in shape, and being forced to confront 20 years of sloth and bad living. Moving forward, always moving forward.

I am thankful that my coworker is finally taking care of herself. It is giving me the chance to get to know our students better and is giving her the chance to recharge her batteries so she can come back to work better than ever.

I am thankful that our cat Buster was in our lives for 14 good years. Even though a tragic accident took him from us recently, he was, and remains, a joy in our lives. He even comes to visit sometimes.

I am thankful that so many Republican debates are being televised. It’s about time some of these whack jobs were exposed.

I am thankful that my house is cluttered. It means I have enough to use and enough to share.

(F-bomb alert!) I am thankful for the Occupy movement. It is bringing to the front of people’s consciousness that gross inequality and greed are not good things. It is also highlighting that our “representative” government does not really represent most of us. It represents corporations and the wealthy more than you and I. (Seriously, pizza was just classified a vegetable because the tomato companies wanted it so. That’s obscene, but I am grateful for it because it highlights the insanity of the corporate/government clusterfuck. Thank you Congress, ConAgra and Schwan for giving our children the shaft.)

Of course, I am grateful for the standard things – my home, my family, my friends, my job, the presence of the US military forces around the world, the food in my fridge, the shoes on my feet. But in this somewhat unusual and volatile  period in world history, I am grateful for the weird stuff, too.

Wishing you and your families a healthy and sane holiday season. Remember, presents don’t matter, feasts don’t matter. Having your loved ones around you and making peace with the not-so-loved ones is more important. In the end, Love is what really matters.

Be well, be compassionate, be kind.

Namaste.

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Thanksgiving

Call me organized; call me crazy. This morning I sat down and wrote out a rough menu for Thanksgiving. It is mostly vegan, with one small piece of turkey for my husband.

Here’s the preliminary menu for Thanksgiving:

Maple roasted turkey breast

 

 

Maple roasted seitan

 

 

creamy vegetable soup (vegetable to be determined)

 

 

picture it with spinach...

spinach, orange & red cabbage salad

 

 

 

 

mashed potatoes & carrots

 

 

 

roasted butternut squash

 

 

roasted, balsamic-glazed brussel sprouts

 

 

corn, lima and red pepper succotash

 

 

groovy onion gravy

 

 

vegan pumpkin cheesecake

 

 

 

When I was growing up, the Thanksgiving menu never changed. Turkey, bread stuffing, pan gravy, cranberry sauce, some sort of vegetable in Campbell’s soup sauce. The thought of eating so heavily now that I’m older is repugnant to me, so every year I try new recipes in the hope of creating new traditions that I can pass on to my daughter. I hope this menu is a step in that direction.

Wishing you all a compassionate Thanksgiving. Be kind to one another.

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Earth Day

As a Taurean, I feel a strong connection with the earth. I love to feel the rhythms of Nature, to watch as animals and plants go through their annual cycles. It makes sense that Earth Day is in the early Spring, during the time of birth and rebirth. Yesterday I saw a robin fit to bursting with eggs – she was VERY territorial. I imagine today she’s sitting on those eggs in her nest. I also noticed that the Queen Anne’s lace is aggressively pushing up in the flower beds – it’s a survivor weed, for sure.

Here are some fairly painless things you can do to honor Mother Earth every day.

  1. Switch out those lightbulbs and be vigilant about your electrical use! Using compact fluorescent bulbs is an easy way to save electricity. Some people say the light from cfls is too harsh. However, they come in all sorts of strengths, so there is one out there for you. Turn off lights when you leave the room. You don’t save electricity by leaving a lightbulb burning – that’s an urban myth. Unplug your cell charger and coffeepot if you’re not using them. Get a power strip for your computer and turn it off when you’re done with the computer. Hang your clothes on a clothes line. The less electricity we use, the less is generated and the less pollution from that generation. This is especially true in the US, where 70% of our electricity comes from coal and natural gas. Now that hydrofracking is a real and awful way to extract natural gas, we have to be especially vigilant in our use of electricity, because we are now polluting our water supply to feed our hunger for electricity. Another 20% of our electricity comes from nuclear, which is a whole other Pandora’s box.
  2. Compost your food scraps (not animal based scraps, though)! Even if you can’t have an actual compost bin with worms and everything, make a pile in the woods and cover it periodically with dead leaves and grass clippings. Put coffee grinds, egg shells and vegetable peels in your flower beds. The less that is discarded, the less goes into landfills.
  3. Reuse, reuse, reuse. Wash out the Ziploc bags that didn’t contain meat products and use them over again. Keep your takeout containers and use them to store EVERYTHING. Make cloth napkins from old clothing and stop buying paper ones. Use cloth kitchen towels instead of paper towels. Cut up junk mail and use it for scrap paper. (I keep a supply of this near the phone.) Stick used dryer sheets in your sock drawer or in the shoes of the stinky-footed people in your house. You can also use them to scrub the bugs off your car! Donate your used magazines to schools or libraries – art teachers LOVE old magazines. Donate clothing to a thrift shop or the Salvation Army so someone else can use it. Use that cute little tote bag from Bath and Body Works as a lunch bag until it falls apart. Then recycle it. Before you throw ANYTHING away, ask yourself if it has another use. Chances are, the answer is “yes”.
  4. Recycle, recycle, recycle. Everything. Plastic, paper, metals, cardboard, glass, motor oil, cell phones, computers and printers, plastic grocery bags, tires. They are ALL recyclable. Seek out the places where you can do this. Check with the Family & Consumer Science teacher at your local high school to see if they have any ongoing recycling projects.
  5. Trade in your car for a more fuel efficient one. I drive a Honda Fit. It averages 40 mpg. It replaced a van that got – max – 25 mpg. I didn’t really need a van anymore, because I sold my harp. It feels good to drive this little car.
  6. Buy recycled products. Get the recycled all-purpose printer paper. Buy recycled Reynolds aluminum foil. Get toilet paper and tissues made by Marcal or Seventh Generation. There are so many products made from recycled materials on the market these days, it only helps to buy them and increase the demand for recycled products. It puts less in the waste stream.
  7. READ LABELS on your cleaning products (including personal grooming products). Go with the ones that have little or no sulfates. Go with ones with biodegradable surfectants. Eliminate petroleum usage wherever you can. This is hard, because a HUGE amount of personal grooming and cleaning products contain petroleum in one form or another. Laundry soaps, shampoos, makeup, body washes, moisturizers, lip balms, all have petroleum bases. Find ones that don’t and use them. The less oil we use, the better.
  8. A little discomfort goes a long way. In the summer, use fans in your house instead of air conditioning. We have 3 super strong fans that circulate the air in our house and one up in the attic that sucks the hot air out of the attic. Close the windows and shades on the east and south sides of the house in the morning, then the south and west in the afternoon. Yes, you’ll sweat and eventually turn on the air conditioning, but every minute you can put it off is a gift to the earth. On super hot days, we go into the basement in our house. It’s underground, has a tile floor and is always at least 10 degrees cooler than upstairs. Don’t use the oven in the summer! Rely on your crockpot and toaster oven that use much less electricity and generate much less heat. If your house is well-insulated, it can be hard to get rid of the heat in the summer, especially when the temperature is above 80 for weeks at a time. Here in the Northeast, we open all the windows on breezy days and get the hot air out.
These are only a few of the things that you can do to effect a positive change in the health of our planet. Consider the fact that billions of people are sharing the same resources you are. Homo Sapiens is the only species on earth that takes and uses more than it needs. We are wasteful and should correct that. We determine the future health of our planet.

Nibbles for Company

This is one of the times of year when we find ourselves doing lots of visiting. People come to your house and stay for a few hours, you go to an Easter church potluck dinner, or your family winds up at Grandma’s for Passover. You’re running and often need something easy and portable to take along as a gift or as part of a buffet dinner.

This first recipe is from the 1960s. My parents used to have lots of cocktail parties. Their friends would get dressed up and come over for food and drinks. Most of the food was nibble-and-circulate finger food; I don’t remember too many sit down dinners in those days. My sisters and I were always banished to the basement, but could (and would) sneak up the stairs to snatch bits of food off the tables. I loved Mom’s rumaki and curried tuna turnovers, but this recipe remains one of my favorites.

This is a great recipe for large gatherings. It doubles and triples well, and makes a lovely gift if put in a mason jar with a fancy lid or a tied with a ribbon. This is the original Chex party mix, and does NOT contain mini cheese crackers or bagel chips – they didn’t exist back then! It is MUCH less salty than the commercial mix available today. I pour the cereals with a generous hand, and frequently substitute onion and garlic powder for the salts, but that’s your call. Enjoy!

Cocktail Hash

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. celery salt
  • 1/4 tsp. seasoned salt
  • 1/2 tsp. onion salt
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic salt
  • 1 cup plain Cheerios
  • 2 cups Rice Chex
  • 2 cups Wheat Chex
  • 1 cup Corn Chex
  • 1 cup Kix
  • 1 cup pretzel sticks, broken in half
  • 1/2 cup mixed nuts
  1. Preheat the oven to 250F.
  2. Put all cereals, pretzels and nuts in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a saucepan and whisk in the worcestershire and all the seasonings. Pour over the cereal in the bowl and mix well. Pour onto two half sheet pans (12″ x 18″). If there’s any butter or spice left in the bowl, drizzle it over the mix on the sheet pans. Bake in the center of the oven for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes to redistribute the mix. (If you use two shelves, be sure to switch shelves after half an hour to ensure even cooking.)
  3. Let cool on pans and store in airtight containers.
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This next recipe is adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe. It’s a simple, yet delicious recipe that doubles or triples easily and travels well. Throw it in a plastic container or Ziploc baggie and you’re good to go. If you are driving, get cut off in traffic and the container goes plummeting to the floor, no worries. It’s still good (unless, of course, the container splits open and the pasta goes everywhere. Then you have a problem.).

You can use this as a basic pasta recipe. Substitute any sausage (the first picture I show uses turkey sausage), chicken strips, ground lamb, etc. for the Italian sausage. Use ziti or fusilli instead of gemelli (as in the second picture). Substitute any green for the chard (although chard is my favorite). Any dried fruit can fill in for the raisins – diced dried apricots are a great choice. Pine nuts are interchangeable with slivered almonds or chopped walnuts – whatever you like. As always, parmesan and romano easily substitute for each other. You just need a hard, grate-able, salty, aged cheese. If you can find queso anejo, use it! Play with this until you find a combination that suits you.

Pasta with Sausage, Swiss Chard and Pine Nuts

  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 1 pound gemelli or other short pasta
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 12 oz. sweet Italian sausage (or any sausage you like), casings removed
  • 1 pound Swiss chard, tough stems removed, cut into thin strips
  • 2 cloves smashed or minced garlic
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted in a dry skillet
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
  1. Soak the raisins in 1 cup of boiling water for 15 minutes to plump them. Drain and set aside.
  2. While raisins are soaking, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta water before draining. Drain pasta and return to the pot.
  3. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage, breaking it up as it cooks, until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add chard and garlic and season with black pepper. Cook, tossing, until chard wilts, between 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add sausage mixture to pot with pasta. Add raisins, pine nuts, Parmesan and 1/2 cup reserved pasta water. Toss to combine. Add enough additional pasta water to create a thin sauce to coat the pasta.
  5. To serve, divide among four pasta bowls and top with more cheese. Mangia!
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Happy Easter, y’all!

Groundhog, my foot!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, tomorrow is Groundhog Day. A useless “holiday” if ever I saw one. In Punxsutawney, PA, grown men dress in top hats and long coats to commune with Phil. This overfed rodent telepathically communicates whether or not there will be more winter or if Spring will miraculously come on February 3rd. And everyone cheers. Guess what, folks, there are ALWAYS 6 more weeks of winter after February 2nd. The Spring Equinox isn’t until March 20 this year and right now we’re in our 48th snowstorm of the season. So what Phil says doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are other groundhogs that predict the remaining winter. I wonder if their “predictions” are predetermined, or more accurate. I wonder if there’s a groundhog handler conference in January in some secret Pennsylvania location. Wouldn’t surprise me in the least. After all, if the groundhogs all started saying different things, they might run into some credibility issues… Not that THAT is possible… So Smith Lake Jake (sounds like beer), Staten Island Chuck (my personal favorite), General Beauregard Lee (too pompous), Schubenacadie Sam (huh?), and Wiarton Willie (not touching that one) all say the same thing on February 2nd and everyone’s happy.

Groundhog Day proponents say that the rodents are accurate 75% to 90% of the time. However, the National Climactic Data Center puts the accuracy at 39%, which sounds better to me.

So, in the spirit of Groundhog Day, I offer the following. Share a bowl with your family and know that Punxsutawney Phil finally did something right.

 

Groundhog Stew

1 groundhog

2 onions, sliced

1/2 cup celery, sliced

1 carrot, peeled and sliced

1 potato, peeled and cut into chunks

Flour

Vinegar and water

Salt and pepper

Cloves

Clean woodchuck; remove glands; cut into serving pieces. Soak overnight in a solution of equal parts of water and vinegar with addition of one sliced onion and a little salt. Drain, wash, and wipe. Parboil 20 minutes, drain, and cover with fresh boiling water. Add one sliced onion, celery, carrot and potato, a few cloves, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until tender; thicken gravy with flour.

– adapted from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Agency website. I can’t make this stuff up!