Saturday, July 19, 2014

Catching Up

I just thought I'd get caught up on my blog after a few months of silence. For the most part life has been going well.

Working: I've stayed true to my resolution to not work as many overtime hours as I have in the past. At most I've taken home maybe one project to work on so far this year. Based on my past track record, this is outstanding and, as any sensible person could have told me, I feel much better and less exhausted.

Reading: I've been getting a lot of reading-for-fun in lately. In fact I've done so much that I can't quite list everything here. I did take a break over this late spring and early summer to take care of other things.

New Home: I've recently moved into a new apartment this month. As much as I absolutely loved my old apartment, I just couldn't really afford to live there anymore. They would have raised the rent by $100, and that put it in a price range that was falling out of my comfort level. Either the rent is too damn high or my paycheck is too damn low! So I frantically searched for a new place and found one that's priced at about $200 less than what I was paying. It's nothing fancy, there aren't brand-spanking new appliances, there aren't 9 foot ceilings with crown molding, but it is still nice and in a very good location. I moved in about three weeks ago and I'm still getting settled and adding my personal touches, but it will be charming and cozy in no time. I really miss my neighbor Kitty friend from my old place, but I'm trying to make friends with the cats in my new area.

Deeper Thoughts: This past spring and early summer has been a bit of a struggle emotionally at times. It was the one year anniversary of my dad's passing. The pain of losing someone as close as a parent never truly goes away and it doesn't necessarily get any easier with time. As they say, there are really good days and really bad days. The biggest struggle is when something happens in my life that my dad would have been especially interested in or happy about, and I think, I can't wait to tell him about this, and then realize that I can't.

I realize I'm not alone in my loss, and I think about that a lot too. I've had friends and family members experience losses of their own and I feel for them and share in their pain. A dear friend lost her mother about a month before I lost my dad, and she was going through the same painful one year anniversary that I was going through. Last month, one of my cousins lost his partner after a long battle with Alzheimer's, and another dear friend recently lost her father also to Alzheimer's. And more sad news touched my family after a beautiful cousin passed away on July 4 from pancreatic cancer. All this loss, both the loss that I'm feeling and the loss that loved ones are feeling, has left me a bit sad and shaken over the past few weeks, but the wonderful thing about family and close friends is that we can all find support and strength in one another and that helps all of us get through these difficult times.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Resolution Update

Here is how I've been doing on my New Year's resolutions:

Number of Overtime Hours Worked: Zero

Number of Books Read: Four. Fahrenheit 451, Venus in Furs, Fanny Hill (or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, and The Lightning Thief.

Numbers of Meals Cooked: Several, but so far the most creative was a red lentil and chickpea stew over rice.

So far I think I'm doing pretty well.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

New Year's Resolution, Education Confessions, and My Strange Brain

As I mentioned in a previous post, I decided to make a set of New Year’s resolutions this year, and I tried to keep them to manageable goals that I could actually achieve. One of my resolutions was to read more. As I said, I don’t read that much anymore because I spend almost all of my day reading, and lately when I get home the last thing I want to do is read. I also said that I always used to love reading. Well, that isn’t actually true. If you talk to anyone who has majored in English or anyone who works in publishing, they will probably tell you that they always loved to read. They will probably say that they devoured books or that they were a voracious reader. Yes devoured and voracious are pretty much the same word, but big, proud readers like those two words in particular. My big confession that shocks most people is that when I was young, I hated to read and I honestly don’t remember reading that much. Throughout school I read because I was forced to read, but I never read on the side as a hobby or as a pleasure. I didn’t fully enjoy reading until I hit college.

To stay true to one of my resolutions, I managed to read a book this weekend. In fact I read the whole book on Sunday. Granted, it was only about 145 pages, but still it’s an accomplishment. This weekend I read Fahrenheit 451. It is such a popular and important work of literature, it’s on so many high school reading lists and it’s even on some junior high reading lists, that I’m honestly surprised that I haven’t read it already. Or maybe I did read it but just can’t remember reading it. Or maybe I was supposed to read it and just blew it off.

People who know me today and people who know my most recent history probably think that I was an outstanding and exceptional student my whole life. That is far from the case. I was an average student in elementary school, if it’s even worth going back that far. I was a great student in junior high. I was an average student again in high school. And I was an outstanding student through community college and college. I don’t really know why I had these ups and downs in how I performed as a student. I had moments when I was incredibly dedicated and focused, like in junior high where I first discovered my love of history and mythology. When I got to high school I suppose I lost some dedication and focus, and can’t really remember why. It’s not like I was always out at parties or always hanging out with my friends. I was always more of a recluse and antisocial. In high school, most of my friends were in honors or advance placement classes and already starting to study for the SATs in their sophomore year. Meanwhile I was getting B averages (with an occasional C in math classes) in the “regular” level classes. For some reason I was just less focused and less dedicated and not invested in my classes. I’m sure I must have studied through high school, but I honestly don’t remember actually doing it. Maybe I have ADD and just don’t know it…

At any rate, things turned around for me when I started community college and made my way through two additional colleges and graduate school. And it was a complete 180 turn. I went from being lazy and unfocused to incredibly dedicated and focused. It was like I couldn’t learn enough and maybe the difference was that I had the opportunity to choose what I wanted to study. I wasn’t limited by the subjects we were required to take in high school. Sure, in college I was required to take a science class, but I could decide what kind of science class I wanted to take. While I generally have a hard time understanding basic science, chemistry, or biology, somehow I managed to do really well in physical anthropology or geology. I’m generally bad at most forms of math, but did pretty well in geometry. I went from hating reading to loving reading. And somehow I managed to study Greek and Latin at the same time, something most departments discourage because it is often too difficult to do at once. And I managed to excel at both. I suppose once I was in college, I managed to figure out how my strange brain works and what it’s good at. And maybe I was lucky enough to find the right professors who gave me the inspiration and encouragement that I needed. And fortunately I had the family to support my odd and extended educational choices.

Anyway, I started this post to congratulate myself for reading an awesome book, and then went into a retrospective on the history of my education and how my strange little brain works. I take a year off of blogging, and this is what you get. Take what you will of it.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

New Year's Resolutions

For a long time I would make New Year's Resolutions every year. In recent years, I would be horrible about keeping them. Then eventually I got to the point of not making any at all. What's in a resolution, after all. In a sense, most resolutions for most people are a declaration of what they don't like or hate about themselves. Some of the most common resolutions are to eat better, lose weight, manage money better, quit a vice like smoking or drinking. I suppose it is noble to admit your faults and to recognize where you can improve your life. But it a way it's also somewhat depressing, because your essentially listing all the things you're doing wrong in your life. Oh well. I suppose the best way to start a new year is with a positive attitude that you can fix whatever is bothering you or holding you back in life.

I'm giving resolutions another shot this year and my goal is to try to make them positive and hopefully these are things that will make my life this year better than what it was last year.

Resolution 1: Work Less. My name is "Tenth Muse" and I'm a workaholic. I don't need to explain why this is my number one resolution. My pathetic posts of the past are explanation enough. I declared this on New Year's Day. Since getting back to work, I have worked my 8-hour day and I haven't taken work home with me at night or over the weekends. I also haven't checked work e-mail while I'm "off the clock." So far, so good. And it has felt great. Do I feel like I should be catching up on or getting ahead on projects? Do I feel guilty? Not one damn bit.

Resolution 2: Cook More. I cook all the time. I suppose this resolution really means cook better, cook healthier, cook more interesting. When things get busy (see blog history and what's behind Resolution Number 1), I often feel too tired to cook when I get home from work. So I make an easy dinner or microwave some frozen dinner. It's not the healthiest thing to do every night. I really enjoy cooking and I love experimenting and trying new recipes. It has often been like a hobby for me. So one of my resolutions is to force myself to cook actual meals, real meals, that are good for me and that I enjoy preparing and eating.

Resolution 3: Read More. This one might be hard to pull off. Now that I'm in my ninth year working in publishing, a job where you're looking at text and reading for a living, I can't stand reading. I used to love reading. It was always such a joy to pick up a new book—or, as is the case for me, an old book—and lie on the couch or in the bed and just read it for an afternoon or evening. Being a book person, I should probably read them more often.

Resolution 4: Learn More. I could probably tie this into Resolution 3. I have an associate's degree, two bachelor's degrees, and a master's degree. Education and learning is in my blood. When I'm not learning something new, I feel like a lazy, ignorant slob. I don't like feeling like a lazy, ignorant slob. So my goal is to "study." So this "studying" might mean reading some books or watching some documentaries. Whatever the form, I just want to learn something. Maybe I'll pick up my Greek and Latin textbooks and get back to reading Greek and Latin. I've gotten so rusty in those languages over the years.

So those are my resolutions for the year. I've limited myself to four goals, and these seem like goals that I might actually be able to accomplish.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Return to the Blog

It has been a very long time since I've last posted something here. It's been well over a year, I think. So, why did I stop writing? Why did I disappear? I suppose a big part of me just got tired of myself. I was tired of what I was writing day after day, then week after week, then month after month. Somehow I found myself stuck in a rut and in what seemed like an endless cycle of doing the same exact thing day after day. Work got incredibly busy and unfortunately it managed to take over my life. I would work long hours, take work home with me, and work over the weekend. In the free time I had, I really felt no motivation to do anything. I posted on my blog because I, for some reason, felt compelled to, but at a point I was getting depressed about what I was writing. How exciting and interesting is it to constantly write about how tired I was because work was always busy? At the time absolutely nothing inspired me and I didn't feel moved or motivated to write anything interesting or clever or creative. So I just stopped. I doubt the world felt a great loss by my disappearance, but for whatever reason I feel compelled to write here.

So, what has happened in the past year? Well, things with work haven't changed. It's still busy and there were a few months ago where I was working about 50 or 60 hours a week. Because I don't get paid overtime, because we only get a 2 percent cost-of-living raise every year, and because we don't exactly get recognized for working long hours, my New Year's resolution was to NOT work so much. I'm going to try to force myself to keep my work-life balance, and ideally I'd like the scales tipped more toward the "life" end. But I don't really want to talk about work, because I've done enough of that over the years.

The real life-changing event happened last year when my father passed away. His health had been failing for the past few years, and he would have periods when he was ill, but then he would "bounce back" and get better. Toward the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, his health really started to decline. He was in and out of hospitals, spent time in emergency rooms and ICUs, and even spent time in a nursing home, before my mom and brother decided to bring him home in May 2013 for hospice care. Selfishly speaking, living so far from home was incredibly painful because there was nothing I could do to help him or to help my mom and brother who were taking care of him. I went home on May 29, and he passed away the next day. My mom, brother, sister and her family, and I were all with him when he passed. My other brothers and a nephew came a few days later, and we were all together for his memorial service. As difficult and as painful as the time was, we were all fortunate to be together. We could laugh and cry together as we remembered him. Some day I will write more about him and about the man he was, but I'm crying a little too much to do that right now.

Thus begins my return to my blog. We'll see what I can manage to pull together for 2014...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Updates

It is becoming a very sad pattern that I so rarely update this blog. I'm slightly mortified that it's September and I've only written 9 posts this year. I always say that the reason why I've been so absent is because I've been busy. That's not just a line or an exaggeration. It's very much a reality. It seems like my working career has always been on the busy side, but this year has felt busier than most. It all started early this year in February when my boss was let go, and that was enough to cause quite an upheaval because of all the changes that followed. in spite of all the extra work we had to take on and in spite of the emotional blow of it all, I think we all handled it exceptionally well. The only frustrating and somewhat sad thing is that no one else is telling us that. People might think it or feel it, but it would be nice to hear it. But, to echo a popular cliche these days, "it is what it is." In the end we all have to be grateful that we still have jobs.

To add to the disruption, for lack of a better word, we've also had three people quit in the past month and half. Naturally this puts pressure on the rest of us to pick up the workloads, and, again, I think everyone is doing a great job of doing this. And we honestly can't begrudge the people for leaving for other opportunities or better offers. In the end, it's still a business and people still need to do what they love or make the money they need to get by. Again, it is what it is.

I do my best to not feel sorry for myself and to be grateful for what I have, because I am genuinely grateful for what I have. But I'm just downright tired and exhausted. The most frustrating thing is that I've been so unmotivated to do the things that I normally love to do. I'm not writing as much as I like to. I'm not taking pictures as much as I used to. I think I'm just tired and ready for the year to end so that hopefully it will be a fresh and better start next year.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

This and That - It's Been a Long Time Edition

It has once again been a long time since I've last written, so I thought I should give some kind of update. So here goes.

Work: Work continues to be busy. Shocking, I know, but I suppose that is a good thing. Ever since my boss was let go in February, we've been down an editor who could take on a full load of projects. Then we were down a second person who went on maternity leave. So without two people in our department, naturally things have been busier than usual. But the woman who was on maternity leave is now back and we were able to hire another editor to bring us back to a full staff. I'm hoping that things will slow down a little bit now that we have that full staff.

Vacation: Because I've been working so hard and because I have so many vacation days available this year, I decided to take an extra vacation later this summer. I decided that after working so hard and so many extra hours for these past few months, I deserved some extra time off, so I gave myself a little reward. Plus, I've been homesick lately, so it will be nice to go home for a week.

Random stuff: Other than work and my upcoming vacation, life has pretty much been status quo. The neighborhood kitty continues to visit me on a regular basis. I'm still cooking a lot, but I haven't really made anything new or exciting, so I haven't been posting any new recipes.

So far the most exciting thing that's happened over the past few weeks, if you can call it exciting, is that I got new tires for my car. During the winter it started to feel like I didn't have much traction on my tires, but fortunately we didn't have many days were the weather was so bad that I was constantly driving in snow. I was planning on getting through the spring and summer and then I was going to buy new tires in the fall. But, unfortunately, I think my tires were at the point when they really needed to be changed. My steering wheel would vibrate whenever I drove over 45 miles per hour, so I should have known. One day after work, I was ready to leave, but then I noticed that one of my tires was flat. I might have been able to change my tire myself, but I decided to ask one of my co-workers for help. He's a volunteer firefighter and therefore really strong, and I knew that he could probably change it faster than I could have. So he was nice enough to help me and the next day I bought some new tires. It's amazing how nice it feels to drive my car now! I can now drive over 45 mph without feeling like my steering wheel is going to rattle off in my hands!

Other than that I don't have much to tell. Hopefully when things calm down at work, I'll have more time to write and more interesting things to say.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Cooking Adventures - Carrot Soup

For the past week we’ve had beautiful, warm weather, but today the weather took a different turn. It started to rain last night and it has been raining off and on for most of the day today. With the temperature being only around 50 degrees, I thought that tonight would be a good night to make some soup.

A few years ago when I went to a friend’s house for dinner, she made a wonderful carrot soup that she served over some couscous. It was so good that I decided to try to make it tonight. The carrot soup recipe came from one of the original Moosewood cookbooks, and I was lucky to find the recipe online and I just altered a few things and cut the original recipe in half because I was just cooking for myself tonight.

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 pound carrots, peeled and chopped into about 1/2- to 1-inch pieces.
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped cashews
1 teaspoon each of thyme, basil, and ginger
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup prepared couscous
Optional additions: sour cream, plain yogurt, heavy cream

Directions:
1. Put stock, carrots, and salt in a pot and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. When you can pierce the carrots with a fork, turn off the heat and let it cool.
2. In a separate pan, saute the onions, garlic, cashews in butter until the onions soften. Add thyme, basil, and ginger and saute for a few more minutes. Add to pot with carrots and stock.
3. Prepare the couscous according to the package directions and set aside.
4. Puree the soup in a blender until you reach your desired consistency. You might have to work in batches. Add the pureed soup back to the pot and gently reheat on low. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Serve the soup on top of couscous.
6. Add any toppings you'd like or stir in some heavy cream. I chose sour cream.

The picture shows a pretty small bowl of soup, but, trust me, it was really filling and it definitely hit the spot on a chilly evening!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

100 Foods to Try before You Die

Lately there has been a little quiz going around Facebook about the "100 foods you need to try before you die." They say that the average person tries only about 20 of the 100 items on the list. I have tried about 39. There are quite a few I still want to try, and also quite a few I can probably live without.

Update: I've updated this and added a star (hopefully the html code works!) to the things that I still need to try, and I'll check them off when I have them. I don't even know what a few of these things are, so I'll need to do a little more research to see if I want to have them or not.

1. Abalone
2. Absinthe ✔
3. Alligator
4. Baba Ghanoush ✔
5. Bagel and lox ✔
6. Baklava ✔
7. Barbecue ribs ✔
8. Bellini ✔
9. Bird’s Nest Soup
10. Biscuits and gravy ★
11. Black Pudding ★
12. Black Truffle ★
13. Borscht ★
14. Calamari ✔
15. Carp
16. Caviar ✔
17. Cheese fondue ✔
18. Chicken and waffles ★
19. Chicken Tikka Masala ✔
20. Chile Relleno ★
21. Chitterlings/Chitlins
22. Churros ✔
23. Clam Chowder ✔
24. Cognac ✔ (duh!)
25. Crabcake ✔
26. Crickets
27. Currywurst
28. Dandelion wine
29. Dulce de leche ✔
30. Durian ✔
31. Eel
32. Eggs benedict ✔
33. Fish Tacos ✔
34. Foie Gras ✔ (I think I had this on a plane, at the end of a flight from Amsterdam, when we happened to be flying through a lot of turbulence. Not an especially good food memory.)
35. Fresh Spring Rolls ✔
36. Fried Catfish ★
37. Fried Green Tomatoes ★ (not a big fan of tomatoes unless they are in a sauce or salsa, but I'll think about trying it...)
38. Fried Plaintain ★
39. Frito Pie ★ (this is basically just chili on top of Fritos. I can make that!
40. Frog’s Legs
41. Fugu
42. Funnel Cake ★
43. Gazpacho ✔
44. Goat
45. Goat’s milk
46. Goulash ★
47. Gumbo ★
48. Haggis
49. Head Cheese
50. Heirloom Tomatoes ✔
51. Honeycomb
52. Hostess Fruit Pie ✔
53. Huevos Rancheros ★
54. Jerk Chicken ✔
55. Kangaroo
56. Key Lime Pie ★
57. Kobe Beef ★
58. Lassi
59. Lobster ✔
60. Mimosa ✔
61. MoonPie ✔
62. Morel Mushrooms
63. Nettle Tea
64. Octopus
65. Oxtail Soup ✔ (At first I wasn't sure if I've had this before, but my family confirmed that I have.)
66. Paella ✔
67. Paneer
68. Pastrami on Rye ✔
69. Pavlova
70. Phaal
71. Philly Cheesesteak ✔
72. Pho ★
73. Pineapple and cottage cheese ★
74. Pistachio Ice Cream ✔
75. Po’ boy ★
76. Pocky ✔
77. Polenta ✔
78. Prickly Pear
79. Rabbit Stew
80. Raw Oysters
81. Root Beer Float ✔
82. S’mores ✔
83. Sauerkraut ✔
84. Sea Urchin
85. Shark
86. Snail
87. Snake
88. Soft Shell Crab
89. Som Tam
90. Spaetzle
91. Spam ✔
92. Squirrel
93. Steak Tartare
94. Sweet Potato Fries ✔
95. Sweetbreads
96. Tom Yum
97. Umeboshi
98. Venison
99. Wasabi Peas ✔
100. Zucchini Flowers

Monday, April 09, 2012

This and That

It has been a long time since I have last written, so I thought it would be a good time to write my monthly "I've been really busy lately" post. Yes, to replay the old broken record, I've been busy...really busy, actually.

Work: After my boss was let go, everyone else in my department had to absorb the workload. Now another one of my co-workers is on maternity leave, so that means we're down two people. And to make matters worse I've also just had a long string of really awful and complicated projects. Fairly simple tasks that would usually take an hour or two on a normal project have sometimes taken several days. A long time ago when I was working at another company, I would often bring work home with me or go into the office on the weekend and put in a lot of overtime. After a while that just got too exhausting, I wasn't hanging out with my friends as much as I wanted to, and, at the time, there wasn't really any reward to doing that. Sure, at the time I was on hourly wages, so I got some overtime pay, but that was it. No one really cared otherwise. So I made a promise to myself to not do that unless it was absolutely necessary. I've been pretty good about honoring the promise I made to myself, but lately I've had to take a lot of work home with me. It was the only way I'd be able to get things done, but lately I've also been getting a lot of headaches and migraines—a side effect I always get from too much stress and work—I know I need to ease off a little bit. It has just been an incredibly busy and crazy time. Fortunately, though, we are finally interviewing to bring a new person in our department. Once we get someone new, hopefully that will help ease everyone's burden. We'll see...

Weather: On the bright side, the weather has finally started to turn to spring. Usually March is our snowiest month of the year, but this past March was the driest March on record. On the one hand, it's bad because the dry weather increases the fire danger in the mountains. On the other hand, it has been nice to not have to worry about driving to work over the snow and ice. I also like the warmer, beautiful weather because it gives me a chance to go on longer walks outside.

Other than all of that, there really isn't much else to report. In a nutshell, the weather is becoming beautiful and work has been busy.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Raspberry Vinaigrette

In previous posts I talked about how I wanted to try to cook and make more things from scratch. Buying things straight from the grocery store is a wonderful convenience, and it is a convenience that I have indulged in and will continue to indulge in. But every now and then I want to control the ingredients that go into my food. Unless you buy foods that are all natural or organic you often put things into your body that you don't really need, things like high fructose corn syrup or all of those ingredients that you can't pronounce. I've realized that many of the things I buy are easier to make from scratch, and in some cases it's also cheaper. So far I've been successful with making my own croutons and I've had one success with making my own lentil vegetable soup. Tonight I tried to make my own raspberry vinaigrette for a spinach salad. I have to say that it was a success.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup (1/2 pint container) fresh raspberries
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
3-4 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:
Put the raspberries, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, salt, and pepper in a blender, food, processor, or mini-chopper and puree. Stream in olive oil and continue pureeing until smooth. If you don't have the equipment to puree the vinaigrette, put the raspberries in a bowl and mash with a fork, then whisk in the other ingredients. Adjust the seasonings as you see fit. I prefer my dressing on the sweet side, so I added more honey. If you prefer tangy dressing, cut back on the honey.


I put the vinaigrette on a spinach salad with toasted walnuts and goat cheese. It was delicious.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cooking Adventures - Spicebox French Toast

Recently one of my really good friends has been talking about a new whisky she discovered, Spicebox Whisky. I know of several brands of whisky but I have never heard of Spicebox, so naturally I was curious. I was fortunate to find it in a local liquor store, so I bought a bottle and had a sip (or several) later that evening. I was so happy that I decided to try it, because it is so delicious! It has a bit of sweetness to it, and it is incredibly smooth.

As the name suggests, this is a spiced whisky. There are a variety of spices in it, but what really comes through is vanilla. As I was drinking it, I suddenly realized that it would taste great in French toast. I've made French toast with rum before, but I just knew that the vanilla notes in the Spicebox would really enhance the French toast. I was so happy with how it turned out.

Since I made the French toast just for myself, I just threw the ingredients together for one portion. But here is a recipe that gives some measurements if you're cooking for a larger crowd. This makes about 4 servings.

Ingredients:
4 eggs
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup Spicebox Whisky
salt, just a pinch
8 slices of bread
butter
maple syrup

Directions:
1. Whisk the eggs, milk, whisky, and salt.
2. Dip the bread into the egg mixture and cook on a buttered skillet or griddle pan.
3. Top with maple syrup and any other toppings of your choice.

I didn't even remember to take a picture, but I can say that it looked good and it tasted delicious!

Cooking Adventures - Lentil Soup

One day at work a few weeks ago we had the unfortunate luck of losing water in our building. Apparently a water main broke and affected most of the office park. People in other companies seemed to go home once that happened, and considering the problem lasted for four hours, that was probably a good choice. We, however and foolishly, continued to keep working. People who had to use the restroom had two choices: they could either continue to use our broken bathrooms or they could drive to a gas station, grocery store, coffee shop, or home if they lived close enough. A co-worker and I decided to go to her house to both use the bathroom and to have lunch.

For lunch we had lentil and vegetable soup. The soup she made came straight out of a can but it was delicious, and naturally I started to wonder if it was something that I could make from scratch. I found a recipe in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and, with a few adjustments, I made a batch. This soup yields about 4-6 servings.

Ingredients:
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup dried lentils, rinsed
1 bay leaf
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
6 cups low sodium vegetable stock
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon cumin
salt
pepper

Directions:
1. Coat bottom of large soup or stock pot with olive oil and saute onions and garlic over medium heat until they soften. About 3 or 5 minutes.
2. Add lentils, bay leaf, carrot, celery, vegetable stock, tomatoes, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.
3. Remove bay leaf and serve.



The soup had a brownish-greenish color when I finished cooking it, but, trust me, it was very good. I was also surprised at how filling it was. I have a fast metabolism and I'm usually hungry again after a few hours, but this soup kept me filled up for a long time.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

This and That

It has once again been a long time since I've written something, so I'm checking in to give a brief update on what's been happening since my last post.

Work: Work continues to be busy. That's a good thing, I suppose. Last week it came as a total surprise to everyone when my boss was let go. I won't go into details of how or why it happened. For one, I really don't know why it happened, and, two, I think the less I say, the better. All I can say is that it was a total shock. The rest of us had to scramble to pick up the workload and add to our already heavy loads. Unfortunately I did not get promoted, which I thought would be the natural progression of my career, but I'm just grateful to still have a job and to keep the same salary. Needless to say, this has been a chaotic and unsettling week, but the most we can do now is try to move forward as best as we can.

Resolutions: I think a few people might have noticed that I haven't made any New Year's Resolutions this year. I haven't been very successful with my resolutions, so I decided to not be overly ambitious this year. This year, I think I should just keep things simple and doable. One of the important resolutions I have is to get back into my workout and healthy eating routine. I always let go of the workout and healthy eating routine once the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays come around. I always know that I'm going to be enjoying good food, so I never want to be too strict or hard on myself. And I also know that I'm going to pig out during the football playoffs and Super Bowl, so I never start my resolution until after the Super Bowl. So I suppose that now I need to get back on track.

Another one of my resolutions is to get back into some of my hobbies. Photography has always been one of my hobbies, and I used to go out a lot to take pictures. I think this is something that I need to start doing again. I always used to keep my camera with me in my purse or bag so that I could take a picture of anything interesting that I happened to see. For a long time I kept forgetting to do this and I missed out on a lot of wonderful opportunities. So I need to remember to start doing this again.

The other hobby I want to keep focusing on is cooking. Frequent readers will know that I love to cook and I love to experiment with new recipes. I want to try to make more homemade soups. Even though I just love the convenience of canned soup (and I have plenty of canned soup in my cupboards to prove it), I want to start making my own soup so that I can control the ingredients. Frequent readers will also know that too much sodium freaks me out and canned soup is full of sodium, so I want to make my own healthier versions of the various soups that I like. I also want to experiment a little more with baking. Baking has always been more difficult for me because it has to be so precise; you can't just throw the ingredients together without measuring and expect to get a perfect result. I'm at the point where I'm getting pretty good at muffins, but now I want to try to make cookies and breads. We'll see how it goes.

Current mood: relaxed
Current drink: coffee
Current music: Loreena McKennitt "Mummer's Dance"

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Happy New Year!

It has once again been a long time since I have written here. And, yes, I have been busy because of work. October through December were incredibly busy at work. Yes, I know that I always say that work is busy, but the past three months have been busier than most, if you can believe that. In addition to working on a lot of projects, I had been working on a lot of incredibly messy projects. It seemed like there wouldn't be an end to the problems I was having, but, fortunately, and an end is finally in sight to some of those projects. Once I finish a few projects this month, I'm hopeful that things will slow down a little bit.

On the bright side, I was able to take two long vacations home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and that gave me a chance to get in a lot of rest and relaxation. The time off and away from the office was wonderful and it was great just to be home. It was a much-needed vacation, and I enjoyed every moment of it. I wonder if it's too early to start planning my next vacation. . .

Monday, November 07, 2011

This and That

I haven't had a whole lot to report lately. As usual, things have been busy at work, but I'm sure that's not a surprise to anyone. Fortunately, though, I will be taking a long vacation at the end of this month, and I'm already counting the days until I can step on that plane and get away for a few weeks. I will probably still have to check my work e-mail and maybe do a few things while I'm on vacation, but at least I'll be able to do it from the comfort of home.

Pumpkin-Cranberry Muffin
Baking Adventures: I continue to experiment with baking. A few weeks ago it was my turn to bring in treats for our office food club. It was the Friday before Halloween and my partner for the day and I wanted to bring something that fit the holiday and the season. My partner, who was a little busy that week, bought some candy and caramel apples. But I got a little ambitions and decided to make pumpkin-cranberry muffins. I found the recipe on the Betty Crocker website, and it looked pretty simple. I haven't made those specific muffins before, but I have made other muffins in the past and I've been pretty successful (after a few failures), so I thought it was something that I could handle. The muffins turned out great and were very well-received. So this is another treat that I can have in my arsenal for future use. I'll post the recipe later in another post.

Weather (and Kitty update): For the past few weeks, we've had a few tastes of winter. Two weeks ago, the meteorologists were predicting a bad snowstorm. It was a Tuesday, and the skies started to get dark and cloudy in the afternoon. That night we happened to have a work happy hour to celebrate someone's birthday, so we spent most of the evening at one of the local breweries. At about 7:00 when we all started to go home, it started to rain and the temperature was dropping fast. I only live about three or four miles from the brewery, but by the time I got home the rain was already falling harder. I ran to my apartment, and Kitty was outside on my fence meowing loudly like he was upset with me. I let him in, dried him off with a towel, and gave him a few treats. Because I knew that the weather would be bad all night, I took Kitty to his parents apartment (just across the hall) to turn him over to them. The first time I knocked, they weren't home, so I grabbed Kitty and went back to my apartment and we hung out and watched TV for a few hours. By about 9:00 it started to snow. At the same time I happened to hear Kitty's parents come home, so I brought him over and knocked on their door. I told them that he sounded upset and was meowing on my patio, so I let him in for a few hours because I was worried about him being outside when the weather was getting so bad. His dad said that Kitty actually loves being outside and that when he used to live in Germany, Kitty would love to play in the snow. (Still, I was worried because it was going to snow all night and the temperature was going to drop to about 14 degrees.) Kitty's dad thanked me for bringing him over and he didn't seem to mind that I let Kitty in my apartment (which I have been doing for a few months anyway), so that's a good thing.

View from my dining room window
The weather started to get worse from that point on. It was snowing really hard when I went to bed, and when I woke up, I looked out the window and saw that we got about six or eight inches of snow and the snow was still coming down. The office was still open, so I went to work as usual and fortunately the roads were not that bad at all. They were wet and a bit slushy but not at all icy or snow-packed. We were fortunate to have really warm weather the previous days, so I think that helped to keep the roads warm and keep things from icing over. Still, only about a quarter of the office came in that day and most people decided to work from home. The snow pretty much melted off the next day. That was our first storm. We had another storm last week and again it was over a Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. The second storm was exactly like the first. We got about eight inches, but the roads were still in good shape. I, however, had already planned on working from home that day, so I got to avoid the roads anyway.They are predicting more snow for tonight, but the worst of it will probably miss us, and if we get any snow at all it probably will not be that much. So far I've been grateful that even though we've been getting snow, the road conditions have been easy to deal with.

Current mood: tired from a busy day at work
Current music: iTunes on shuffle, Loreena McKennitt "Penelope's Song"
Current drink: Gabbiano Chianti

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Banana Bread, Take 2

I tried to make banana bread a few weeks ago and it was a complete disaster for probably a number of reasons. Because I don't like to give up when it comes to cooking and baking, I decided to give it another shot. This time I used a different recipe from the Joy of Baking. One of the great things about this site is that several of the recipes include videos so that you can actually see how the recipes are made. Because I'm still learning how to bake, it really helps me to see what things are supposed to look like at each stage of the recipe. It also helps that the recipe was explained and demonstrated in a simple and straightforward way. The banana bread that I made turned out really good.



As it was making it, I could tell that the batter felt much different from what I made with the first recipe. Granted the first recipe used whole wheat flour in addition to all purpose flour, so that might have contributed to the dryness of the batter. And the second recipe I used had melted butter instead of softened butter, so that probably helped too. As the bread was baking, I could immediately tell that it would be better. When I pulled it out of the oven, it was golden brown and the crust was like a normal crust. In other words, it wasn't dry and hard. When I cut into it, the inside was nice and moist. And most important, it tasted great.

The only thing that seemed a bit off was that the bread didn't rise as much as I thought it would. I didn't make any adjustments for the altitude, so that might have changed things. I just need to experiment a little more to figure out what works. Either way, it was still yummy.

Homemade Croutons

After several failures in the kitchen a few weeks ago, I was determined to get my groove back. I was also determined to eat a little better after several meals of takeout or frozen foods. Last night I made pork chops marinated in soy sauce, kecap manis (a sweet Indonesian soy sauce), and garlic. For my side, I had sweet potatoes that I roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper. And because I've been needing more vegetables, I made a simple salad.

I've had croutons on my shopping list for a long time. Well, it's been on the shopping list in my head for several weeks, but I just kept forgetting to write it down. So after another shopping trip and after forgetting to buy them once again, I decided to try to make my own. I've seen people do it on cooking shows on TV and it looks so simple so I thought why not. Most of the "recipes" I've seen call for day-old french bread, which I didn't have. Instead, all I had was regular white bread. The bread is called "Premium Italian" from Oroweat and I'm not sure what makes it Italian. The only major differences is that the slices are a bit thicker than regular sandwich bread. Either way all you need is some kind of thick-sliced white bread.

Ingredients:
White bread, diced in cubes
Butter
Seasonings of your choice

Directions:
1. Melt the butter in a pan on low or medium-low heat.
2. When the butter is melted, add the bread and toss until the bread is coated with butter.
3. Sprinkle seasonings over the butter and toss to coat.
4. Cook, tossing occasionally, until bread is toasted on the outside

For my croutons, I simply used garlic powder and parsley, but you can add any seasonings you want. You could probably add a little bit of salt, pepper, oregano, and/or thyme. You can even add some grated Parmesan cheese. These croutons turned out great. They were flavorful and had the perfect texture. Sometimes the problem with boxed croutons from the store is that they are so hard, I'm often afraid that I might break a tooth while eating them. These homemade croutons were perfectly crunchy. Now that I know how simple it is to make my own, I doubt I'll ever buy a box again!