Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

I hope everyone is enjoying Christmas as much as I am so far. After being in a bit of a winter funk this year, it has been wonderful to celebrate the joy of our Lord's incarnation and spend time with family. We are now smack dab in the middle of the twelve days of Christmas, and we are still firmly in the throws of celebration at our house. We have spent time with my family in Southern Indiana and Cincinnati and as well as a day with James' family in Ohio. Today his parents and sister will be arriving to spend several days.

I have been on vacation since Christmas Eve and don't go back to work till the 4th. It's lovely to have most of the Afterfeast of the Nativity off of work. I generally don't have as much time off and find it kind of sad to feel like the holiday is done well before Theophany. It's easy to feel a bit robbed of the feast when the radio stops playing Christmas music on the 26th, and all the Christmas decorations disappear by January 1st. (It must feel even more off kilter for those on the old calendar.) This year I'm looking forward to enjoying several more days of delicious holiday food, games, movies, hanging out with family and several more chances to attend Holy Liturgy in the next week.

Pascha is far and away my favorite holiday, but I love all the family time at Christmas. The Nativity of the Lord is also special at our house because we were Chrismated three years ago on December 23. It both seems like a lifetime ago and also just a blink of an eye. This year we were blessed to attend the Chrismations of some friends of ours the weekend before the Nativity, which was a beautiful reminder for us of our own Christmation. Blessed feast to everyone!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Happy Feet, Happy Fingers

I wanted to share these with you to prove I don't have second sock syndrome. I've been loving them so far! I've worn and washed them several times. They are warm and cozy, but very breathable and not too hot. In fact, I'm enjoying them so much I've cast on yet another sock in another colorway, and I'm flying through it. I got a lot done in the car on the way to and from Southern Indiana for a family wedding reception, but I slowed up a little this past week fighting the flu. I seem to be totally recovered now, so I'm hoping to pick up the pace again.

I promised to show the other project I've been working on, and it's off the needles, so here it is. (It could still use some blocking.) This is a Christmas gift for a special someone, but I haven't told her about my blog, so I feel pretty safe sharing it here. I chose this yarn especially for her, because she doesn't like wool. Good knitter that I am, I've lost the ball bands at this point, so I don't remember what the yarn is. I'm pretty sure it was a cotton blend. Maybe cotton-nylon? This color is totally tailored to the intended recipient too, so I hope she really likes it. I adapted this from the Cross-Stitch Scarf pattern in Designer One-Skein Wonders. I loved the stitch, and I thought it would be good and warm for a non-wool scarf, but I wanted a wider scarf than in the pattern. I checked the book out from the library, so I don't remember the pattern exactly, but I think mine is about two inches wider. I had three skeins of this yarn, so I didn't have to worry about making a skinny scarf to keep it to one skein. I really liked this stitch. I think it showcases the variegated yarn really well, and it looks interesting on both sides.

I know I'm getting into prime knitting season now, because James has built the first fire of the fall. However, I have a sewing project in mind which I think will keep me busy for the next week, and I'm on a deadline for that one. It involves a melding of East and West, and I'm hoping it will be part of a family tradition for many years to come. Hopefully I'll be able to post the results in about a week.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hello, Fall

It feels like fall has come on really hard and fast. We have been having unusually cold weather, and every day I revel in seeing the leaves changing a little bit more. I am particularly enjoying the burning bushes, because they seem especially vibrant this year. I love spotting those bursts of scarlet red everywhere I go, and my drive to and from work has been my favorite part of the day lately. This week has been sunny, and everything has been bathed with golden light. I'm savoring it, because soon the world will be grey and bare.

At the end of the year, I start to feel like time is coming unspooled. For most of the year it seems to come at a measured pace, but in November and December everything seems so hectic and busy that time just seems to slip away. This year that feeling has come early. October has flown--I can't believe it's two-thirds gone already. It's been lovely. My parents and brother came to visit the first weekend, and the next we spent the whole weekend working in the yard. We had perfect, beautiful weather for it. We planted two boxwoods, a hydrangea, a couple of mums, and lots and lots of bulbs. Something to enjoy in every season. We also transplanted a bunch of hostas from various parts of the yard, mulched everything and tore out the stump of a big juniper bush that James chopped down this summer. We were really sore afterward, but it was well worth it. We had a good time doing it, and it's nice making our home a little more ours.

This past weekend was even more fun. We went to Grand Rapids for a special event. I will share more about that later. For now, I will leave you with an autumnal soup recipe that I made up last week to use the odds and ends I had in my refrigerator.

Autumn Leftovers Soup

1/2 cup diced onion
1 Tbs olive oil
3 cups baked winter squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
4 cups water
Vegetable bouillon concentrate for 1 cup
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/4 tsp dried rubbed sage
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp paprika
1 cup chopped, steamed kale

In a large saucepan, saute the onions until translucent. Add the water, squash and bouillon packet. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and blend with a stick blender until fairly smooth. Stir in the rice, tomatoes and seasonings, and simmer for 20 minutes or so. Add the kale and serve when it's heated through, about 5 minutes.

You could easily vary this based on the odds and ends in your refrigerator. I think white beans would be a really good addition.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Farewell Summer

I'm a warm weather kind of girl, and I'm not too keen on winter. But I must admit, I enjoy living in a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. I like the changing of gears, the refocusing that occurs at during the seasonal shifts. We start to focus on new pursuits and eat different foods. I like being a little more aware of the passing of time.

That's one of the things I love about the liturgical cycle as well. It establishes a rhythm of life, daily, weekly, and seasonally. I like noting the shift of tones from one week to the next and singing the different Resurrectional troparia. The feasts of the Church mark the passing of the year. While the Nativity of the Theotokos on September 8 still falls firmly into summer to my mind, by the Exaltation of the Cross one week later on the 14th, I can't help but start to think of fall. St. Thekla is the patron of our ladies society, so this week our parish celebrated liturgy on Wednesday evening for the Feast of St. Thekla. On Wednesday evenings our parish has vespers, dinner, and Bible study. We usually take a short break from this during the summer, and this Wednesday also served as sort of a kickoff for the fall inquirer's class and adult Bible study. The Feast of St. Thekla on September 24, falling as it does so close to the autumnal equinox, has become one of the markers of autumn to me.

So we're saying goodbye to summer around here. We got the last box from our farm co-op last week, and we're savoring the last of the warm weather vegetables. We recently enjoyed this "snacky dinner" as we call it at out house. (It doesn't sound quite as sophisticated as calling it tapas or meze, but it tastes just as good.) Snacky dinner is very simple, and we both love it. It feels very relaxed. It involves setting out a variety of snack-like foods. For us, it almost always includes hard-boiled eggs. Often it means cheese and crackers, olives and fruit, and usually something dippable. It tends to be seasonal--in the winter there is often dried fruit and citrus. On this night it was sliced tomatoes with feta and basil, a very delectable local pear or two, and the usual hard-boiled eggs. The unappetizing looking grey stuff was the star of the show. That's baba ganoush. I had a lot of eggplants hanging around. Mmmm, it was yummy. It would have been lovely with some fresh pita, but even with the last of the bag of tortilla chips it was delicious. It was a really good way to say farewell to summer.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Soup, Salad & Bread

I love soup. The combination of soup, salad and bread is my favorite meal. There are infinite variations on the theme, and we eat a lot of different soups. Three seasons of the year we eat it at least once a week. I especially love to make it for fasting days, and I have several in the rotation. Minestrone is a good, basic vegetarian soup for those nights. It's one of those soups that takes well to variation. You can throw in whatever vegetables you've got, but this is my standard version. It's based on a recipe out of the Betty Crocker Vegetarian Cookbook, which I bought when I was in college and still getting my feet wet in the kitchen. It's quite quick to make, and is based around some of my favorite vegetables.


1/2 Tbs. vegetable oil of your choice
1 cup diced onion
1 bell pepper, diced
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
2 cans diced tomatoes (or equivalent chopped fresh)
4 cups vegetable broth or water (Water actually works just fine, but the flavor is a little richer with broth.)
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed (Home-cooked beans are fine too, of course. Any white bean or chickpeas are also good in this. )
1 small zucchini or summer squash, cut into half moons (or quarters if you use part of a bigger squash)
1/2 cup small pasta (like shells or ditali--I usually use plain old elbows)
Salt & pepper to taste

Heat the oil over medium heat in your soup pot. Add bell pepper and onion, saute until onion is translucent and veggies are tender. Stir in spices--you could substitute a tablespoon of Italian seasoning for the individual spice if you want. Add tomatoes, broth and beans; bring to a boil. Simmer for twenty minutes or so. (If you want to make this a day in advance or to freeze, stop at this point and add the pasta and squash when you reheat. The water version is better if you make it ahead to let the flavors meld overnight.) Bring to a boil again and add the pasta and zucchini. Boil for the time required to cook pasta. Season with salt and pepper as desired. You can double (or even quadruple) this recipe if you have a larger crowd to feed.

And now my very own recipe for Flax Seed Fridge Rolls. We love these. They are yummy, and they are so easy and convenient. And I made up the recipe myself! Several years ago my grandmother gave me a recipe for refrigerator rolls. I loved the idea, but the recipe was not really my style. So I came up with this recipe, which bears no resemblance to the one that inspired it. We eat these all the time. If I ever cook more than a couple of meals for you, you will likely eat these.

Flax Seed Fridge Rolls

2 cups lukewarm water
2 1/2 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1/3 cup oil--sometimes I use olive, sometimes canola
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt

Put the water, yeast & sugar in a large bowl. I usually use a 2.5 quart Pyrex. Let it sit about 5 minutes until it gets bubbly. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. It's important to make sure you scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and get it well mixed. You will have a really wet, sticky dough. Cover your bowl with a damp dishcloth/towel or plastic wrap.

If you make this in the evening and you want to eat rolls that night, leave the bowl out on the counter to let the dough rise while you make the rest of your dinner. Otherwise, stick your bowl in the refrigerator to let the dough rise overnight, or all day if you make it in the morning. The photo above shows dough which has been in the fridge for a couple of days and has had some of the rolls baked.

When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 400. Grease a muffin tin (for however many rolls you wish to make) and fill them about 3/4 full with the batter. Bake about 20 minutes, until they're a nice golden brown. (As seen in the top picture.) There you go, fresh homemade rolls with dinner! So easy! I usually bake six at a time for us. This makes around 16-18 rolls, and you can keep the batter in the fridge for up to a week, baking rolls as needed. At the end of the week the rolls tend to have a kind of sourdough tang to them. I hope you find this recipe as useful as I do. We love to have fresh bread with dinner, and this makes it really easy to do.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Knit One, Almost Two

Usually, I don't do a lot of knitting in the summertime. I tend to get the urge to curl up and work with yarn when it gets cool outside. I guess it just feels like a cozy craft to me. This summer, however, I've been doing a lot more knitting than usual. Perhaps that's in part due to the unseasonably cool summer we have had. And I've knitted my way through four seasons of Northern Exposure from the library, so watching such a wintry show might have had something to do with my desire to knit as well.

I remember enjoying this show when it originally aired back in the nineties. I was in high school at the time, and it has been interesting to watch it again from a different perspective. The thing I like most about it is the strong sense of community between the people of the town. Although they don't always like each other or even get along very well, for the most part they are very supportive of one another. They always seem to be there for each other when they need it. I have been a little disappointed that despite being set in Alaska, so far the only reference to the Orthodox Church has been a throwaway line about the Russian influence on the state. At one point in the fourth season I got my hopes up, because Chris (the radio show guy played by John Corbett, who among many roles also stars in My Big Fat Greek Wedding) decides to visit a monastery, but it turns out not to be Orthodox. I have two more seasons to go, so maybe there will be something yet.

I have two knitting projects that I've been working on, and I'm getting close to completing both of them. I thought I'd share my progress on this one so far. I'm about to turn the heel on the second sock in the pair. I used this pattern, and the yarn is Tofutsies. I don't have the band anymore, but my guess is that the colorway is 802. I bought the yarn last Christmas to knit a pair of socks for my dad. It was the first pair of socks I ever knit, and I bought two skeins thinking I might need one for each sock. My dad kind of has a thing for crazy socks, so I chose this really colorful yarn for him, and he was quite pleased to get them in his Christmas stocking. Since I had the extra skein, I thought I would knit a pair for myself as well.

I've found I really enjoy knitting socks, and I liked this pattern a lot. I suspect I will use it many times again in the years to come. There is plenty of mindless knitting in the round, so it's perfect for watching movies (0r TV shows on DVD.) They've also come along to Bible study and on long car rides. I like that just when I can't take any more knitting in the round, it's time to turn the heel. Once the heel is done, I get to go back to knitting in the round, and when I start to lose interest again it's time to start decreasing for the toe. This pattern has a round toe, which is perfect for my narrow-footed, long-toed family, but it also gives an alternate kitchener toe. My unusual summer knitting spurt has been well timed, since it means these will be done just in time for sock weather. I think my other knitting project will be off the needles pretty soon, so that will likely turn up here before too long.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Desperation Dinner

OK, this is my pantry staple dinner. It's the one that I pull out when I'm in one of those situations where I really need to go grocery shopping, or it's been one of those days and I just have no interest or energy in cooking. Sometimes I fall back on this one if James isn't going to be around, and I don't feel like putting a lot of effort into a dinner for just me. It comes in handy if the dinner plan fell through for some reason. By keeping just three little ingredients around, you can save yourself from resorting to that other kind of fast food.

This makes enough for 2 people--you could easily double or triple it for a bigger family.

1 can of chili beans in sauce
1 cup of salsa
1 cup of corn (can be frozen or fresh, or even canned if you drain it)

Pour them all into a pan, stir and heat.

It's that simple. It's not gourmet, but it's better than Taco Bell and just as cheap. I've been making this since I was in college, and I was pretty pleased recently when Kroger started carrying organic chili beans. Since I live in corn country, at this time of year I have plenty of locally grown corn that I cut off the cob and freeze, but I had this floating around the freezer from when last summer's supply ran out, so I wanted to use it up.

You can easily jazz this up, if you like. In this case, I stirred in chopped fresh tomatoes. I like to sprinkle green onions on top, too. You can use any kind of salsa your family likes, and I heartily endorse using homemade. You could add more vegetables or even a side salad to actually make it a balanced meal, if you were so inclined.

Depending on what I have on hand and my level of energy and time constraints, I serve this over baked potatoes, with tortillas (seen here) or tortilla chips. Crackers, rice, couscous, quinoa or biscuits would be fine choices, too. If it's not a fast day, sometimes we eat this with fried corn bread, and top it with cheese or sour cream.

And I really like it with polenta. Polenta only has two ingredients! And one of them is water, which doesn't even really count, so this is great if you're in an Old Mother Hubbard kind of situation with your cupboards.

1/2 cup cornmeal (not a cornmeal mix with flour, just straight up cornmeal)
2 cups water (divided)

Whisk together the corn meal and a 1/2 cup of water. Bring the remaining water to boil, then stir in the cornmeal slurry. Reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes until it's thick and creamy. Season it any way your heart desires.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Tofu Part Two

Tofu and veggies are sort of the meat and potatoes of fast days at our house. We often have some kind of combination of the two, although we also eat many bean based meals or tempeh. Since I'm a vegetarian, I don't like to eat meat substitutes, chik'n patties, soy crumbles, and the like on fast days, though those can be quick and easy dinner solutions if you need something to fall back on.

In the summer, we love to grill. Or I should say, I love to chop things up and give them to James to grill. We mainly grill lots of fresh vegetables. I chop them up, marinate them in Italian dressing, and James grills them in a grill basket. I make my own dressing. I make a mix of dry ingredients and keep it in a jar in the cupboard, then I add it to the wet ingredients to mix up a batch as needed. I thought I'd post the recipe, but I looked at it and realized I don't use half the ingredients listed, so the next time I make the mix I'll pay attention to what I actually do and post it later. You can use any vegetables that you like. We especially love onions, cherry/grape tomatoes, and mushrooms. We typically do squash and peppers as well. Sometimes eggplant makes an appearance. Really it's whatever we've got from the farm share lately.

We recently tried a new (to us) method for grilled tofu. The twist here was I froze the tofu first. This changes the texture of the tofu, and makes it really spongy. This is great for grilling, since it really soaks up sauce that way. Here's what I did: I froze a block of tofu in its original package (which is a handy thing to do if you have some that's about to expire). At some later date, I took the tofu out of the freezer and defrosted it. I drained it, cut it into four chunks, and squeezed the water out of each chunk. Then I put the chunks in a dish with some barbecue sauce, squished them around and turned them over, so that they were well infused with the sauce. Then I handed them over to James, and he grilled them up.

It was pretty good. I'd welcome other sauce ideas. I always like barbecue sauce, but James isn't too crazy about it. He really liked the texture of this tofu, though.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Brightening the Bedroom

I love having company. Of course, I really enjoy the chance to hang out with friends and family in the comfort of my own home, but I also love that it's such a great motivator to clean and get stuff done around the house. Aside from the normal clean up preparation before our recent company, James and I were inspired to do some more decorating projects.

We rearranged our bedroom, and I really love the new layout. Now I can lie in bed and look out the window. James hung this stained glass piece that I bought for him several years ago, and which we hadn't had the chance to display in previous homes. I love it there! It looks so pretty against the tree outside the window. It's a copy of the rose window at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in New York. It's quite lovely; that's Christ in the center, of course, and he's surrounded by a heavenly host. Angels radiate from the center, the four Evangelists are at the cardinal points, the four Great Prophets at the ordinal points, and cherubim all around.

James also hung up the wedding shadow box he gave me for our first Christmas, with our Wedding at Cana icon, which was a wedding gift, and this crucifix which was a wedding gift to my (Roman Catholic) grandparents from the priest who married them. It is a sick call kit, like this, and it's over sixty years old so the candles and holy water are long gone.

The shadow box contains: the program from our wedding ceremony, the church wedding certificate, one of the little tissue packets that my mother and I made to pass out to guests (this was a joke on me because I cry at everything), a wedding picture in one of the little frames we gave as favors, and the service book the pastor used to marry us (he gave it to us as a wedding gift). We had yellow roses at our wedding, and these little ones also indicate our wedding date: August 9, 2003. 8 vertical, 9 horizontal, 3 vertical. You can tell we're converts, since we married during the Dormition fast.

Our bedroom feels so much more comfortable. We had really done less with it than any other room. We're planning to put new flooring in all the bedrooms sooner or later, and we had been holding off on painting our bedroom until then since it had been painted more recently than any of the other rooms. But the floors are on hold on right now, and I loved changing things up in there, so I'm starting to want to get in there with paint. But what color...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Roommate Reunion

For my junior and senior years of college, I shared a four bedroom apartment with three other girls. Almost ten years later, we are now scattered far and wide. We had last all gotten together three years ago in Dallas, where we went to school. One of the roomies still lives in the metroplex, another has lived in Germany since graduation, and the third is in the foreign service. She has spent the past three years in India, and is now back in the US for a stint in DC. With me here in the Midwest, you can see why we don't get together very frequently.

This past weekend they all converged here for a long weekend at my house in Indiana. We had a wonderful time, although it was the hottest it's been in this unusually cool summer. They arrived late Thursday evening and we stayed up talking until four in morning. We had a lot to catch up on, and we just couldn't stop! Naturally, we slept in on Friday, and then went out to lunch at a local market that I love. It has a focus on local foods, and features locally made gelato and sorbetto, a big draw for an ice cream lover like me. We then went to the Children's Museum, since as far as I'm concerned that's a can't miss for first-time visitors to Indianapolis. Plus, we got to see the King Tut exhibit. We had so much fun. It was a great time to visit the museum since most Indiana kids had gone back to school, so it wasn't very busy. We actually had the King Tut exhibit virtually to ourselves.

The next day, I snuck away for Dormition Liturgy while they slept in again. We wandered around in Zionsville in the afternoon, checking out the little shops, and topped it off with ice cream at Trader's Point Creamery. I didn't ask them if I could post their pictures here, so below is a barn at TPC. I love going there: for one, the ice cream is out of this world; the farmer's market on Friday is great, with lots of organic produce and foods; plus, it's fun to see the cows and chickens. I think they all really enjoyed it as well. Afterward, we went back to my house, played cards and relaxed, and made dinner.

Coking together was just like old times. One night we made veggie fajitas with homemade pico de gallo and guacamole, which was delicious and easy with all those hands to do the chopping. My sweetie grilled up the veggies for us--he was such a great host. He gave us plenty of space for girl time, but was really helpful and fun when he joined in. The next night we made pizza, which was also yummy, but wow, we were worn out at that point! All that catching up can be exhausting. We talked non-stop the whole weekend. Thankfully, we'll all get to see each other next summer when our German roommate gets married. I'm sure that will be even more of a whirlwind, but I'm glad to be able to look forward to seeing them all again so soon.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tofu Fingers

I know, appetizing name, but that's what we call them. And we actually quite like them, plus they are super easy to make. The original recipe was by Nava Atlas, and it's posted online (Scroll down or do a page search for tofu). She calls it Shake and Bake Tofu, which sounds somewhat more appealing, but it just didn't stick around here. I've since tweaked the recipe somewhat to suit us, as I tend to do.

One of the reasons this recipe is so quick and easy is that there is no need to press the tofu first. If I think of it, though, I like to do it while I'm preparing the rest of our dinner, since I don't usually use extra firm tofu. Another thing that's great about it, is that it's basically two ingredients, wheat germ and tofu, which I pretty much always keep in my fridge. Even if you don't normally buy wheat germ, it's worth it to stock in your fridge for this one recipe, since it keeps really well.

1 19 oz. block of firm tofu (This is the size block I get at Trader Joe's. You can use a standard 1 1b. block with only 1/4 cup wheat germ and dial back a little on the seasonings)
1/3 cup of wheat germ
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. or so of seasonings of your choice. Use whatever floats your boat. The original recipe called for a seasoning blend like Spike or Mrs. Dash, which works great as well.
For instance:
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp dill
1/4 tsp basil

If I press the tofu, I slice it into 8 slices, lay a kitchen towel on my cutting board, put the tofu on one half, fold the other half over, and then top with a cookie sheet and a couple of heavy cookbooks. I let that sit while I do any other prep work for dinner I need. This is really not necessary though, so if I'm in a hurry I just slice up the tofu and blot it with a towel.

Then mix the wheat germ, salt and seasoning. I just mix them together on a plate. Slice your eight pieces in half the long way, and dredge the tofu pieces in the wheat germ mixture.

Arrange them on a lightly oiled sheet pan. Bake them for about 20 minutes at 425 degrees, flipping halfway through. Or just bake for 20 minutes, but I find the coating tends to stick to the pan when I do that. When they are done, they will be golden and crispy, unlike the picture immediately below, which is before baking.

Then serve them up with your favorite dipping sauce. I usually offer a variety. Our favorites are probably honey mustard and tahini-lemon. Barbecue, sweet and sour, and marinara are fine choices also, and you could go with plain old ketchup if that's your style.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fast Food Friday

If you are an Orthodox Christian, you know that we are currently observing the Apostles' Fast, so I thought this would be a good time to begin a series of posts on meals for fasting. I especially want to focus on meals that are quick and/or very easy to make, and I thought it would be appropriate to post these on Fridays. Since I had been a vegetarian for years before I was Orthodox, I think the discipline of fasting was an easier thing for me to incorporate into my life than it is for many converts. Having an array of vegan foods already in my cooking repertoire made it fairly easy to settle on meals for these days, and I thought I'd share some of our favorites.

Since I'm a vegetarian, I don't eat fish or shellfish whether during a fast or not. During fasting periods, basically I eat a vegan diet. If you're not Orthodox, fasting typically refers to refraining from all meat, dairy, eggs, and usually fish, wine and olive oil (some consider these to mean all alcohol and oils). Shellfish is permitted. Actual observance is personal, depends on one's one spiritual journey, and should be undertaken with consultation from one's priest. Fasting is accompanied with prayer, almsgiving and confession. I freely admit that the spiritual aspects of fasting pose a greater challenge for me than the physical discipline, but if I'm slack on the physical discipline, of course that makes the spiritual discipline that much harder. Being unprepared, busy, tired, sick, etc., can be a obstacle to observing the fast, so having some easy fall-back recipes is really useful. If you are a recent convert, you may not have built a list of reliable stand-bys, and if you're not, it can be nice to add new ones to the rotation.

I've noticed that popcorn for dinner is a popular concept around blog land. Some serve it with cocoa, some serve it with wine. At our house, it's popcorn and smoothies. Sorry about the blurry picture. We were in a hurry to move on to some Harry Potter and Scrabble. Popcorn and smoothies is one of our go-to meals when the meal plan falls through, we don't feel like cooking, we run short of time, we've gotten back from evening church services during Lent, or we just want something kind of easy and fun.

For most of my life my mom made popcorn at 9 pm as a bedtime snack. I grew up eating popcorn made on the stove top, so I don't really like the microwave kind, and in fact, we don't currently have a microwave. Stove top popcorn is very easy to do. I pour enough canola oil into a sauce pan to give the bottom a good coat, then I cover the bottom of the pan with a single layer of popcorn kernels. I put the lid on the pan, leave it vented, and turn the heat to medium high. After a few minutes the popcorn will start to pop. When the rapid fire popping dies down, I pour it into bowls. We salt it, and I like to add nutritional yeast. Mom never buttered the 9 o'clock popcorn, so to me there isn't anything missing, but of course you could add margarine (hopefully a non-hydrogenated one) if you really wanted. Or you could go the other direction and make this a totally oil-free meal with an air-popper.

We don't really have a smoothie recipe. Basically we toss whatever frozen fruit we're in the mood for into the blender, add enough juice to cover the fruit, and blend. This time I think we had mango, pineapple and strawberries. We meant to blend that with orange juice, but we didn't realize we had run out, so we used grape. Not our favorite smoothie ever, but still tasty. This simple meal is surprisingly satisfying, and it's very easy to always keep the ingredients on hand. I have a feeling it would go over well with kids, too. Watch for actual recipes on upcoming Fast Food Fridays.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Frugal Frippery

I went to a family wedding over Memorial Day weekend, and I really felt like it demanded a cotton sundress. I have owned and loved many a cotton sundress over my lifetime, but it just so happened my wardrobe had a bit of a gap in the cotton sundress department. And new dresses really weren't in the budget, especially since I had plenty of other things I could wear to said wedding. But something in the back of my mind was whispering "cotton sundress" pretty insistently.

So on the Thursday afternoon preceding Memorial Day, I stopped off at Goodwill on my way home from work. There happen to be four (yes, 4!) thrift stores that don't really take me out of my way between home and work, but I only had time to stop at one. I pegged this one as the best sundress candidate. I told myself if I didn't find one, it wasn't meant to be, and I'd just have to wear something else. So I went in, and my eyes were immediately drawn to a particular dress on the dress rack. (Naturally, a certain shade of green was involved.) Remarkably, it looked to be my size, and I nabbed it. I pulled about four more dresses off the rack and went to try them all on. The eye-catcher dress fit! But it was strapless, which I wasn't too keen on. I stood in the dressing room and hemmed and hawed. None of the other dresses worked at all. Then I realized the dress had a wide fabric belt. Inspiration struck. I bought the dress and went out of Goodwill four dollars poorer.

On my way home from work on Friday I stopped at a craft store and bought a spool of ribbon for $2.50. I could have bought the amount I needed by the yard for about .75 less, but the spool was on sale and actually cheaper by the yard. I thought the ribbon was something it would be handy to have on hand, especially in that particular green.

Then the work began. I wish I could say it was a snap, and I whipped it up in no time at all. But first I had to reacquaint myself with the sewing machine, which had been packed up since we moved to Indiana. Then there was lots of pinning and basting, sewing, judicious use of the seam ripper, readjusting and sewing again. I'm sure someone with more sewing experience, or even with my experience who wasn't totally out of practice could have done it much more quickly, but it was well worth the effort. I used the original fabric belt to make straps, and a replaced the belt with a length of ribbon. I'm quite pleased with the result; I got a cute new cotton sundress for under seven dollars. I think Katie would be proud. Plus, if anyone invites me to a luau, I'm ready.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

New Gallery

In my very first post I mentioned that we still had very few pictures hanging on the wall of our home. I've recently made a little progress toward correcting that by finishing this project. I turned our hallway into a picture gallery. I purchased these frames oh, long about eleven years ago when I was in college. They've held a few different pictures, hung in a few different hallways, and I believe there has been some attrition when frames have been smashed in moves. But over all they've served well, and I still like the style of these frames quite a bit.

This was a particularly fun picture project. My mother-in-law had given me stacks of pictures of my husband's childhood, so one day I hauled them to my parent's house. Then I spent an evening paging through the endless albums of photos from my own childhood, and I picked out matching sets of photos--one of him and one of me. I paired first day of school photos, pictures of each of us with our grandfather, with our mothers on our birthday, with new baby siblings, wearing silly hats, etc. Then, since we are currently without a scanner at our house, I took the pictures to Target one day and used their picture scanning/editing machine to print copies and crop the photos, blow them up, or rotate them as needed to fit the required slots in the frames.

I know some people don't care to display lots of family pictures in their home, but if you are the scrapbooking sort, I think this idea would translate really well to a scrapbook. In fact, maybe I'll turn this project into a one eventually, when I'm ready to give these frames their next iteration in life. In the meantime, we are enjoying the added layer of coziness that our once stark hallway has acquired.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Crock-Pot Granola

After a long (Lenten and Paschal) interlude, I find myself once again in a blogging mood. I feel like I've actually been doing some stuff lately worth blogging about, and I'm trying to remember to take pictures. I know I could write blog entries without pictures, but I find I love looking at the photos in other people's blogs so much I want to include them in mine. I'm trying to ignore the desire for a new camera and work with what I have.

We had a very busy holiday weekend, that included going out of town for a family wedding and graduation party. We came back Sunday, and I was pleased that I managed to get quite a few things accomplished yesterday, including making granola. In the winter time, I eat oatmeal for breakfast nearly every day. In the summer, I like to eat granola, but this involves advanced planning, or buying pricey boxes of the stuff. I'm very much a grab and go breakfast person. In the evenings I pack both my lunch and my breakfast for the following day. I eat breakfast at my desk first thing while I read my email, so if I don't plan ahead and make granola it's usually a piece of fruit and an handful of nuts, or peanut butter and crackers.

I made the granola in the Crock-pot, which is handy for a couple of reasons. First of all, it doesn't heat up the kitchen nearly as much as using the oven. Secondly, it's much harder to burn that way, so you can do other things while you leave it to get all toasty. You just have to give it the occasional stir when you pass through the kitchen. Make sure you get right into the edges when you do that, because that's wear it gets the toastiest.

I consider granola recipes to be more of a formula or a guideline. I take the basic framework and substitute whatever I have on hand, am in the mood for, or think will go well together. It's pretty hard to mess up. I got the original recipe from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson. It makes a cereal style granola, not a big, chunky trail mix one. I'll start with the broad outline, and then give the specifics of what I did this time.

Crock-pot Granola

5 cups rolled oats
3 1/2 cups add-ins (dried fruit, seeds, and nuts of your choice)
2/3 cup maple syrup (I think I've also used honey, or part honey before.)
1/4 cup oil (I use canola)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon (opt.--feel free to leave this out and change or add seasonings to suit yourself)

Lightly oil your crock, then add all your ingredients and stir together. If you don't want your fruit and nuts toasted, leave these out. I like them that way, but I know some prefer them raw.

Cook on high, uncovered 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Reduce to low, cook an additional 2 hours, uncovered, until your granola reaches the desired level of crisp toastiness. If you left out your add ins it might not take so long.

Spread it out on a cookie sheet or other relatively flat surface to cool. Stir in your add-ins if you left those out. Once cool, store in an airtight container. Serve with the milk or yogurt of your choice and enjoy.

For this particular batch I used: 1/2 cup sesame seeds, 1/2 cup chopped almonds, 1/2 cup broken pecans, 3/4 cup dried blueberries, 3/4 cups chopped dried figs, and 1/2 cup chopped dried pear slices. I left the pear slices out and stirred those in and the end because I think they get a bit burnt tasting and too chewy if I toast them with everything else. I also used only 4 cups of rolled oats, plus one cup of quick cook, because I ran out of rolled.

The main drive behind my choice of add-ins was that this is what I happened to have. I think this is the first time I've ever made granola without some unsweetened coconut. I was out of that, and I decided to forge ahead. This batch is still really tasty. Even though I'm a big coconut lover, I don't really miss it. Other things I commonly include: walnuts, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, raisins, chopped dried dates, apricots, peaches, etc.. Really any mix of nut, seed or dried fruit that you take a fancy to will work. Crock-pot granola is pretty forgiving, and tasty, so try it!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Life Interrupted

A virus is certainly an inconvenient interruption to daily life. Around here we have been fighting both the virtual and real-world variety. I have been bogged down with a bad cold that has left me with no energy and frequent sinus headaches to boot. I thought I had it kicked, but I woke up Friday morning with sore throat and light-headedness. Hopefully, I really am on the mend since I'm approaching the two week mark now. Peppermint tea and clementines are a panacea, right?

February sunshine helps, too. It's a definite bonus to get home in time to enjoy a little bit streaming in from the west-facing windows. Mostly I come home from work and curl up somewhere to read. Not a lot of cooking or homemaking has been going on. Since Lent is rapidly approaching, we've been enjoying plenty of quick and easy, cheesy dinners, and I doubt James has minded when my lack of desire to cook has led to the chance for take-out of the meaty variety for him. Easy comfort food has been the order of the day. Grilled cheese and tomato soup is a perennial favorite. I don't generally buy a lot of prepared foods, but I like to have a few in the the cupboard for dinner "emergencies." We both love the tomato soup from Trader Joe's. I think it's organic creamy tomato. I add a little basil and fresh ground pepper and call it a night.

Aside from the cold I've been fighting, our computer also succumbed to a bug. James bought new anti-virus software and wiped the hard drive. Twice. But all seems to be well now. Plus the computer is a little faster thanks to the clean-up. Now if I could just say the same about myself, we'd be in good shape.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Paring Down, Stocking Up

My parents are planning to buy a condo and are getting their current home ready to sell. It is a fairly large house with a lot of storage space, and they have lived there for 18 and a half years. In that time they have, as might be expected, accumulated a lot of stuff. Since the beginning of this year, they have been sorting through their many belongings and paring them down. One of the basic tenets of house-staging is to remove as much stuff as possible to make the house seem visibly more spacious. Naturally, they will also benefit from the clearing out when they move into their much smaller new space.

When they first mentioned this project to me, my dad told me that he had called someone to get an estimate on hauling off a lot of things they no longer needed. As I recall, the estimate was $800, which included disposal fees for a bunch of working but outdated computer and AV equipment. My immediate response was, "Dad, have you heard of Freecycle?" And I proceeded to tell him about it. The particular assortment of stuff my parents were trying to shed also included old Christmas trees, a punching bag, and a dead refrigerator. Dad was a bit doubtful that people would actually want this stuff, but I assured him it was desirable junk.

A week or two later, he called me to inform me that Freecycle was the "best idea ever!" He was thrilled that for very little effort, people came and hauled away the stuff he no longer needed. Even better was the fact that the people were actually pleased to get these things, would use them and not toss them. Someone even wanted the broken refrigerator. "You understand it doesn't work, right?" Dad asked. "Yeah, I just like to tinker," the guy replied. Dad was so glad this stuff would get some more use before being land-filled.

In addition to passing stuff along through Freecycle and AmVets, Mom and Dad have been getting rid of excess belongings in the time honored way of sending it home with the kids. My brother and I never leave their house empty handed. Lately when I speak to Mom she'll ask, "Do you think James would like those Legos?" or "Do you want me to save the children's books?" Often the answer has been yes. So the as the tide of stuff ebbs at their house, it is flowing into ours.

Last week I brought home these books, and I've been flying through the Nancy Drews. I can tell which were my favorites, because I can remember them clearly, whereas others I have no idea what the resolution would be when I start reading them. I'm glad to have them, and hope Mom will find some of my other childhood books. The bench upon which the books are perched and the tied quilt, by the way, ended up in our home as the result of a similar purge by the in-laws a couple of years ago. I have a feeling I'll continue to bring things home until my parents have settled into the new place and figured out how much they actually have room to keep. Now I just have to find places for all these treasures here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


My husband James and I bought a house this past summer, and we have ever so slowly been making it our own. With each change we make we feel a little more content. It begins to feel more and more comfortable and homey, a place where we can relax. But there is that bit of tension between the desire to sink in and revel in a place that is ours, to be still and enjoy, and the niggling knowledge that there is still so much that we want to do. When we delight in the changes we have made, especially after completing a particular project, we feel proud and pleased of the mark we have made on our home. But we can't help notice the last few boxes that still sit tucked on the bookcases, waiting to be unpacked, the pictures leaning against the walls, waiting to be hung, those random items that have been stuffed out of the way, but which haven't found a permanent home.

Frequently in the evenings and on the weekends we find ourselves bustling about, tackling a new project, tying off the loose ends of previous ones. This is such a satisfying kind of busyness. Every day we get to enjoy the fruits of our labor. A newly organized closet, a freshly painted room, a clock rendered useful again by being hung in a prominent place; all these things make life a little easier or a little more pleasant. This week J has been hanging curtains. We've marveled over the difference it makes in the feel of the rooms and exulted over getting rid of the torn, broken roller shades.

Often as we complete one task, the next project presents itself. When the curtains were hung, we immediately noticed how blank the walls look. After nearly six months in our home, somehow we haven't managed to hang much more on our walls than these icons. And I already have some plans in mind to adorn the plain curtain panels, including a total refashioning of the one we have hanging at an awkwardly sized window. I guess I finally need to finish getting the sewing room into workable shape. I can tell that documenting our projects with photographs will lead me to look at our home from another perspective, and will probably inspire some changes around the house in the future as well.