Sunday, August 30, 2009

Triathlete, Officially

Guess what? Yesterday's triathlon (my first!) was so much fun. Really! As soon as I arrived, Best Husband Ever by my side, my nail-biting nerves smoothed into anxious anticipation. It helped learning that at least a full third of the event's participants were first-time triathletes just like me. I was able to take a breath, cross my fingers, and then let loose and enjoy. And, wonder of wonders, I did!

I'm still waiting for the official results to be posted (there was some sort of increasingly frustrating mishap with the timings), but my [very imprecise due to forgetting to start the darn thing at the beginning of my swim] Garmin record clocks me in at around 1:33:00. My swim took just over 16 minutes, the bike leg about 50 minutes, and the run was 26 minutes. How do I feel about that? Well, I'll let the Best Husband Ever's photo do the talking:

Yes, I really was this thrilled as I started out on the running leg of my premiere triathlon. I'm so glad I tri-ed, and really surprised myself with what my body could do and how I measured up against my competitors (especially in the bike portion, which saw me riding a Wal-Mart mountain-ish bike against super sleek and snazzy road bikes). Now my only question is -- when can I do it again?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Triathlon Morning

It's here -- triathlon morning. In two hours, I will be starting the swimming leg of my premiere tri-sport event. And I'm not nervous. Nope. Not me. Not a bit.

Or something.

I'll be honest -- I'm trembling with anxiety. Me? In a triathlon?! The thought keeps running through my head, "What was I thinking?!"

At the same time, though, there is excitement threaded through the nerves. I'm not sure why I'm getting so anxious about the event. After all, it's not the Olympic trials. I'm not even competing in a moderately fast heat. I am entered in the beginner's "Try a Tri" heat, which has a time limit of 30 minutes for the 500 yard swim. Seeing as I completed a 1,000 yard time trial in just over 26 minutes last week, I'm not worried. In fact, it should be rather fun.

So what am I worried about? Well . . . that my sports bra will fall off in the water . . . that my bike will break when I'm a 6 mile walk from assistance . . . that I'll look doofy dashing from the pool to the bike transition area . . . that I'll look fat . . . that I'll have a dire need of a bathroom and none will be available . . . that I'll freeze as I bike soaking wet . . . that my electrolyte replinishers will make me sick . . . but mostly, that I'll disappoint myself.

But see, I don't think that last fear is possible. I mean, whatever happens, today is a PR day. There is nothing disappointing about a personal record! I'm sure that when I show up for the pre-race meeting in a short (gulp!) 50 minutes, I will find myself bitten by the bug of sportsmanlike camaraderie, a sense of community, and a spirit of adventure.

I'm packed. I'm dressed. I'm fueled. Now all I can do is show up, breathe, and tri my best. The rest is in God's hands.

Current weather conditions:


Humidity: 56 %
Wind Speed:N 6 MPH
Barometer:30.06 in (1015.70 mb)
Dewpoint:46°F (8°C)
Wind Chill:62°F (17°C)
Visibility:10.00 Miles

I'm feeling timidly excited. Triathlon, here I come . . . !

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Book Review: Confections of a Closet Master Baker

An online foodie book club that I'm participate in, Cook the Books, recently offered its members the opportunity to read and review an advance copy of Confections of a Closet Master Baker. It is a memoir on the life of a Hollywood career gal turned small-town baker written by Gesine Bullock-Prado (yes, Bullock, as in the sister of Sandra). I jumped at the chance and soon received my proof in the mail. Book junkie that I am, I began to read at once.

My first impression of the memoir was less than stellar. I found Bullock-Prado's style clunky and lackluster. It's not that the writing was bad -- it just was not all that great. Also, she tends to go off on rants. I don't take issue with the rant itself. However, I think that they can be done well, and in this book the rants come across as self-indulgent whining sessions instead of well-crafted criticism. Still, Bullock-Prado has a sharp sense of wit and expression which amused me. The following passage, for example, had me cracking up while I read mid-stepmill workout at the Y, earning me some concerned glances from fellow exercisers:
I was so consumed with passion for the flour arts that I was starting to slip at work. At meetings, I'd bring up baking at the strangest moments.

STUDIO EXECUTIVE: "I'm not buying this whole 'meet cute' scenario we've got in the current draft of the script. It feels contrived. Not the least bit romantic."

ME: "You're right. It's like making an apple pie. You start adding things to make it fancy and 'new' and it just tastes like crap. Instead of keeping it simple, letting the humble apple take center stage."

EXECUTIVE: "What?" (27).
Funny, right? I thought so.

However, I had some concerns about Bullock-Prado's interest in baking. I think that it is fine to enjoy the act and the results of the art, but the author seems to look for something more in her pastries. Even in the sweets she simply eats carry a heavier importance than seems appropriate, especially when read by someone with my eating disordered background. The memoir was full of passages like this one which set red flags off for me:
Back in the wee hours in Vermont when I'm alone in my kitchen, I work full of anticipation. Every pastry has the potential of making someone perfectly happy, of momentarily stripping them of adult worries and baggage. . . . With a little caffeine magic ripping through my veins, I'm conjuring, not baking, creating pastry spells for your every ailment (30-31).
Pastry can make you "perfectly happy"? I agree that a treat is a lovely thing which does have the power to lift the spirit. However, even I, with all my love of the cream cheese croissant or decadent brioche, cannot expect my indulgences to make me perfectly happy. Even when I stumble and I do engage in emotional eating, there is a part of me that remains cognizant of the fact that what I'm eating will not heal my wounds. In my opinion and experience, only God can do that.

Despite our differences of opinion in the power of pastry, however, I slowly began to warm to Bullock-Prado's tales. She presents the lovely sense of community that can develop around the making and sharing of food. Food is something that can bring people together for the author, that can help them remember things worth remembering, remembering and honoring the loved one's we've lost, and I agree. There is something special and sacred about gathering around a table with other human beings, and there is catharsis in cooking. Bullock-Prado writes, "It's the act of making the cake that brings me contentment" (86).

Besides, she runs. She runs as a way to honor her late mother, and because she enjoys the sweaty work of it, and because it is a meditative act. Plus, Bullock-Prado is not advocating the mindless scarfing of treats in her memoir. Instead, she urges the reader to indulge and to savor that indulgence, not to immediately look for another. She bakes with butter, for sure, but she refuses to bake with artificial dyes or sweeteners. She bakes to nourish, not to encourage eating for eating's sake. I respect that and I agree with that. She says, "Moderation, education, and a healthy dose of respect for what you're chewing makes for healthier children, not an all-out ban on sweets" (105). Moderation, eh? Now that's something I can get behind.

While Gesine Bullock-Prado's Confections of a Closet Master Baker contained some flaws for me, I enjoyed this memoir overall. It is warmly written with heaping handfuls of heart and sass, and is downright laugh-out-loud at times. If you'd like to learn more about the author and her arts, check out her sweet blog. Just remember, if you ever meet her in person, her name is Geh-SEE-neh, not Ja-ZEEN.

Her book will be available on September 8, 2009, and is available for online order right now. While you're waiting for the book's September release, why not try your hand at some baking to get yourself in the mood? The memoir is full of delicious recipes that you'll want to be warmed up for. In spite of my dislike of the notion of comfort food, Bullock-Prado's book did inspire me to let loose a little and bake for the first time in ages. What did I make? Muffins, of course! What else? Yes, they were comfort food, but I only ate one with great intention and then froze the rest for future nibbling. Bullock-Prado writes, "It's wise to practice restraint and patience" (195) around pastry, and I think that that kind of eating made these muffins all the more delicious. Happy baking!

Comforting Pumpkin Peach Whole Wheat Muffins

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp powder
1 tsp soda
3 tsp cinnamon
dash of ground nutmeg

1/2 cup liquid egg replacer
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 peach, peeled and diced
1 chunk premium crystallized ginger, diced
1 T sunflower seeds

1/4 cup brown sugar
3 T maple syrup
2 T almond extract
1 T vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350*F. Grease a muffin tin(s) with non-stick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, mix the first 5 ingredients. In a second, larger bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Mix well. Slowly add the flour mixture to the larger bowl, stirring only until just combined. Be careful not to over-stir!

Distribute the batter into the muffin tin(s). Bake for 25-30 minutes, until slightly browned on top. The tops of the muffins should spring back into form when you press gently on them. Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes. Remove the muffins from the tin(s) let cool on racks completely.

Serve with cream cheese and pumpkin butter, regular butter, or your favorite spread.

Makes about 15 normal-sized (i.e., not jumbo) muffins.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Papaya Surprises

What's the deal with papaya? I love the stuff -- but only if it's dried. Last summer the Best Husband Ever and I visited my native New Jersey. Before we arrived, my mom asked whether there was any food that I'd like her to stock up on for our stay. One of the items I requested was dried papaya.

Apparently, there was none to be had, so she substituted canned papaya. Never having tasted papaya outside of its dessicated form, I helped myself to some of the canned fruit, game as ever. I took a bite -- and promptly spit it out. I thought it tasted like vomit. Not even sort of like vomit, or vaguely reminiscent of vomit. No, to me, canned papaya = vomit vomit.

A few months later, I found myself standing before an amazing array of fresh fruit at the breakfast bar of the hotel I stayed with for the first few days of my missions trip to Malaysia. Fresh papaya was nestled between the mango, melon, and sliced apples, so I decided to try a few pieces. After all, I knew that papaya contains a natural digestive aid that helps break down protein and clean out the digestive system. (Read more about papaya's amazing nutritional properties here -- apparently it's quite the power house!) I ate some, and tried not to wince with every bite. You guessed it -- I tasted vomit again. Not as strong as with the canned stuff, but still unmistakable and unpleasant. I continued to eat the fresh papaya whenever it was available in Malaysia (we all needed a little extra digestive help!), but never enjoyed it.

So you can imagine how I felt upon discovering that the required ingredients for the current round of the Royal Foodie Joust are tarragon, cheese, and papaya. When I read that, I threw up my hands in immediate defeat. With my distaste for papaya, I simply did not want to even attempt a recipe to enter in the event.

Until I got to thinking. And Googling. Surely there must be some way to enjoy papaya without being overwhelmed by its aftertaste, I thought. And you know what? I think that must be true. Through my web searching, I discovered quite amazing-looking recipes, like a shrimp and papaya stir-fry, papaya coconut ice cream, papaya salsa, and even a write-up on papaya bread, all of which call for fresh papaya.

So I let my misgivings go and gave fresh papaya a chance. I settled on making one of the easiest, healthiest, and yummiest summer dishes that I know -- fruit gazpacho! I thought that papaya, combined with another fruit or two, would make a brilliant tropical chilled soup. I took my inspiration from Abby's Kitchen, and of course suited it to my tastes, plans, and the Joust ingredients. This took about 10 minutes to prepare, not counting the chilling time, and was fun and easy. There were also plenty of opportunities for shenanigans on the part of the pups, aided and abetted by the Best Husband Ever.

Don't worry, Lio didn't get a lick! But the hubby and I did as part of that evening's dinner. To my great surprise, the papaya, peach, and melon (a farmer's market Crenshaw -- this was a "melt in your mouth" melon, folks!) melded perfectly. The quark cheese added a lightly creamy texture, while the tarragon gave the gazpacho a refreshing bite. Still, in spite of this soupy success story, I'll choose dried papaya over fresh by its lonesome any day.

Summertime Gazpacho

3 cups ripe melon of your choice, seeded and chopped
2 ripe papaya, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 ripe peach, pitted and chopped
1/2 T honey
1/4 cup fat free quark cheese
1/4 tsp tarragon
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of lavender
tarragon sprigs and shredded coconut to garnish

Place the papaya chunks in a blender (or food processor for a chunkier texture). Process until smooth, then slowly add the melon, and then the peach. Blend after you add each new cup of chopped fruit until a smooth puree remains.

Add the quark cheese, honey, tarragon, nutmeg, and lavender. Blend until smooth. Cover and chill at least one hour. Serve in lovely bowls, garnished with a sprig of tarragon and a sprinkle of coconut. Pour over vanilla or coconut milk ice cream for an extra special treat

Makes 2 large servings, or 4 small dessert servings.

(By the way, these photos were taken with my spiffy new camera. I really like it!)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

True Confessions

Have you been wondering where I've disappeared to (again)? To be quite honest . . . so have I. This weekend was rough. I suppose the past few weeks have been difficult in retrospect, but this weekend saw the culmination of all that. I did not feel I could write about anything else until I wrote about what happened. The task was scary and humbling, but it's left me with -- I think and hope -- the truth.

The trouble began when my therapist asked me to cut back on my exercise as part of my recovery from anorexia. At the time I had been exercising up to 14 hours a week (two per day, if you are a lazy math bum like me who doesn't like to read and compute). She said to make 10 hours a week the absolute maximum amount I could exercise, no matter what the intensity. This, as I knew, would be hard. Very hard. It's true that over-exercising is often a compulsive aspect of my eating disorder. However, at the same time I have begun to truly enjoy being very active instead of feeling compelled to exercise in overabundance.

So I did it. I cut back. At the same time, I added the personal challenge of eating intuitively. In other words, I wanted to eat when my body told me it needed refueling. I practiced this during my missions trip to Malaysia last winter, with great success. The freedom and sense of victory I was blessed with during those two weeks were unlike anything I had ever experienced, and I give God every iota of awesome, loving credit on that one. Since returning, though, intuitive eating doesn't seem to come as easily. It's work. And seeing as pre-anorexia diet was rife with less-than-nutritious choices and binges, the consequences of a slip-up seem as if they would be devastating.

I thought I could hack it, cutting back the exercise and eating mindfully. And I think I managed to gain a tenuous balance for a few days. Then it all came crashing down around me as my intuitive eating led to indulging my munchies between meals, eating pretty much anything that struck my fancy (which, thankfully, has not yet included restaurant or fast food, or anything fried), and eating large dinners followed by overly decadent desserts. I told myself that it was all part of my health plan, that it was under doctor's orders, but I was fooling myself, at least in part. I've gained weight and not only does the scale show it, but I can feel it. I've failed, and I feel disgusting as a result.

The worst stumble occurred on Saturday evening. I'd made a fruit gazpacho for dinner, along with a large salad for me. As a result of frequent taste testing during the making of said gazpacho in combination of eating my super fibrous evening meal, not only was I sporting my newly regrown muffin top, but my belly was simply huge. So I did something I have not done in a long, long time: I drank laxative tea. Appropriately and according to directions, and I did not take (and overdose on) laxatives in chocolate or pill forms . . . but I used a laxative. That was something that, once I began making headway into my eating disorder recovery, I promised myself that I would never do again. And now -- I've broken that promise.

Not only were the effects of that broken promise devastating to my emotions and sense of self-worth, but also to my body. My digestive system did not handle it well at all, and severe abdomen cramping forced me to miss out on half of our puppy's Sunday training class as well as an evening yoga class I was looking forward to taking. I'm grateful that I felt better in time to share dinner with my in-laws, and that my husband was so forgiving and supportive when I confessed the misdeed, but -- I wish I had never done it in the first place. What was I thinking?

So now, here I am, two days later, digestive system better but not at 100% yet, still unable to find a better purchase on intuitive eating. I'm trying not to beat myself up, because that won't do any good, but I'm not sure where to go from here. The school year, complete with my new job, starts up in two days, and I have a triathlon on Saturday. I don't feel worthy to perform in either arena. I don't feel capable of leaving the house or eating or exercising or doing anything. I was too ashamed to even blog for the past few days, feeling that anything but what I'm writing now would be hypocritical and not having the energy or courage enough to tackle this monumentally honest task. I feel paralyzed.

But I know that God is good, regardless of my performance. What a relief! I'd be lost without His grace. Here's an excerpt from what I journaled this morning about all of these concerns: I think the core problem is not the behavior, but what it signifies. It is evidence that I'm not sold out to Jesus -- to life! -- but to me, to sin, and to death in idolatry (which is what I feel like my food-related failures boil down to). Would I trade friendship with the God of the universe for a bag of chips or a carton of ice cream (no matter how healthy!)? My priorities are seriously screwed up.

Get a load of this, though: this morning, I felt so gross and not myself that I was going to skip my early coached swim session. Yet I found myself woken at 4:30 AM by Lio, our puppy, so he could relieve himself. After letting him out, I decided to begin my day even though I still did not want to swim. But an hour later I sucked it up, donned my swimsuit, and headed to the Y. As soon as I stepped into the pool area, a lifeguard stopped me for an extra-long "good morning!" exchange. She complimented me on taking the time twice a week to come and work on something that was probably less than pleasant and very challenging, and said she thought I had made great progress. What a blessing! It was exactly the kind of encouragement I needed. On top of that, the swimming coach declared me more than ready to tackle this weekend's triathlon swim. How good He is, when I don't deserve it in the least! And how very timely . . .

So now, where do I go? The only thing I can do, I suppose, is keep on moving forward. Keep on trying. He is trustworthy, and just because I've failed once in my new health plan doesn't mean I will keep on failing, or that it's not worth the battle. How do you deal with it when you stumble and fall in your efforts to live healthy, balanced lives? If you haven't noticed, I could use a little advice . . . And if you're still with me, thank you for reading. It means more to me than you know!

Friday, August 21, 2009

New Arrival

On Tuesday . . . it came. Heralded by the barking of a trio of frenzied canines . . . ushered over the threshold by a harried woman clad in brown . . . gingerly cradled in my arms . . . patiently lurking my bookshelf, waiting, until it was released . . . today.

What is this mysterious beast? It's my new camera! I found a sweet deal on an even sweeter camera on E-Bay, the snazzy Lumix DMC-LX3 from Panasonic. This is my first electronics purchase from Panasonic, but I hear that this camera is excellent for its price. The feature that I found most alluring was it's swanky lenses and high-quality macro capabilities. Perfect for food photography, I hope! I bought it to replace my beloved Nikon that bit the dust when I fumbled the poor dear and dropped it on our deck, knocking the lenses askew beyond all hope of [thrifty] rescue. Since then I have been using the Best Husband's Ever awesome digital SLR, but it's more bulky and less convenient than what I'm looking for in a day-to-day use camera. I'm hoping that the new LX3 will prove to have been a wise choice.

Unfortunately, I've been so busy with work that I haven't gotten a chance to play with the Lumix until today. Right now the contents of its box are sprawled across the kitchen table while the battery charges. I've installed the new software (although I'm not sure why, since I usually opt not to use the in-box programs with cameras) and now am giddily awaiting the moment when the battery's light extinguishes itself, indicating that it is powered up and ready to roll. I'm considering heading out for a bike ride in the meantime rather than stare impatiently at the poor battery. I think that would be least stressful for the little guy, don't you?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Kickin' Hummus

My wonderful pregnant friend is going into her ninth month, and we all know what that means -- baby shower time! I'm not normally one for such parties, but this particular shower was casual and easy-going, and lacked the intense girly squealing factor that I usually see at baby showers. Plus, I won a bag of Reese's peanut butter cups during one of the games, so what's not to love?

The hostess asked me (and, I think, everyone) to bring chips and dip. Being the blending queen that I am, I of course went a-Googling for a new variation on one of my favorite dips, hummus. I browsed through concoctions involving artichokes, roasted garlic, bell peppers, and endamame. The recipe that I settled on, though, was Karina's kickin' jalapeno and lime hummus. And I do mean kickin'. The flavor was fabulous, and the texture made ultra smooth by the addition of creamy peanut butter vs. what I think is the more bitter tahini, but this hummus made my mouth burn! In a good way, of course. If you're not into spicy dishes, then this recipe is not for you. On the other hand, if you're up for a tangy kick in the pants for your mouth, then you may be up for love at first taste with this recipe.

I did not mess with Karina's original recipe too much. I tweaked it a bit, though, to remove some of the fat. I made a little plate of this hummus and some crackers and fresh veggies (including my mother-in-law's home-grown cucumbers!) for lunch the other day, and then brought the rest to the baby shower. Served with multigrain Food Should Taste Good chips, this eye-popping hummus received some sweet compliments, including from the most beautiful pregnant lady around.

Kickin' Jalapeno and Lime Hummus

1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans
juice from 1 lime
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 T peanut butter
2+ T jalapenos
1/2 tsp dried cilantro
pinch of cumin
red pepper flakes to taste

Reserve the liquid from the garbanzos, then rinse the beans. Put all of the ingredients plus two Tablespoons of the reserved liquid into a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth, adding drizzles of the reserved liquid to facilitate the process as needed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Return of the Smoothie

The unseasonal cold is leaving! Bring on the flip-flops! Slap on the sunscreen! This blogger is heading outside with no fear of rain for the first time in a week.

Temperatures here in Montana are predicted to be in the 90's at the end of the week. You know what that means . . . green smoothies have returned to my kitchen! I made this particular smoothie over the frrreeeezing weekend, perhaps in an effort to defy the chill. Maybe it worked, because we're due for some sweating in the near future! Not sure if this smoothie is sun-inducing? Try it for yourself and see . . .

Bring-On-the-Sun Green Smoothie

1/2 frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup diced pineapple and juice
1/2 cup cantaloupe
1 BIG handful of fresh spinach
1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
1/2 packet of Splenda
1 big pinch xantham gum (optional -- I added it for thickness)


Monday, August 17, 2009

Pizza Playtime

I think pizza is great. I mean, really -- not only is it amazingly delicious, but with only a little extra thought you can create quite a nutritious meal out of a pizza night. Add in the fun of playing with toppings and I'm one happy lady.

Recently I discovered the goodness that is Flatout Wraps, which are light and tasty and, it just so happens, the perfect pizza foundation. This particular wrap hosted the following rapturous ingredients to great effect:
Bake for about 15 minutes at 375*F, and -- wow. Crispy baked goodness. And this pizza turned out really, really good. I dipped the slices in guacamole a la It's a Wrap!, which only upped the wonder factor.

Do you play with your food, grown-up style? What are your favorite pizza toppings, traditional or otherwise? Do tell, because I'm always itching to try something tasty and new.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Happy Hubby Halibut

The Best Husband Ever is a fish-cooking adventurer extraordinaire. When he makes dinner, it is more likely than not to be some kind of seafood steeped in a marinade, then cooked up either on the stove top or in the oven. It's a good thing that he specializes in steaks of the sea, since cooking fish is daunting for me. Plus I find working with raw meat to be pretty repulsive in general, even while the end result is usually quite worth the clammy handling.

During yesterday's Costco run, I saw the Best Husband Ever eying the seafood selection and knew that a fishy steak dinner was likely in my near future. I was right, and we went home with a halibut fillet among our spoils. Today, said halibut met its maker.

This morning the hubby created a marinade that incorporated, among other things, peanut butter, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, maple syrup, lemon juice, and ginger. Intrigued? I surely was! Unfortunately, the Best Husband Ever cooks in the "a little of this, a little of that" tradition, so his mouthwatering marinades are not reproduce-able . Using this method, he turned this:

into this:

If you're thinking "yum!" then you're spot-on.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Take It Easy

Today has been a true Saturday kind of day for me. I woke up -- unSaturdayishly early, in fact, due to puppy bladder needs -- then had a little snack, some coffee, and my God time. Normally I might head downstairs and pop in an exercise DVD, but today I did this instead.

Ahhhhh. Bliss.

And the best part is that we beat the rain. The clouds were gorgeous during my hike with the pups, letting me gleefully play photographer. As soon as we were all safely back in the car, drops started to fall and they've been going just about ever since.

I coped with the continued rain bravely, I think: breakfast (baked polenta rounds with maple PBU and maple syrup) . . . Scrabble with the hubby (winning a united score of 679!) . . . Costco run . . . lunch (cottage cheese and cereal in a cantaloupe bowl) . . . igniting our upstairs fireplace for its first use of the chilly season and curling up with a book (I finished Joanne Harris' Five Quarters of the Orange, which was fairly good although not a favorite) . . . and promptly falling asleep in front of said fireplace for two hours. A day well-spent, if you ask me. I think my batteries are officially recharged!

How do you use this gloriously restful day? Happy rest-of-the-weekend, all!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rain, Rain

It's been quite fall-ish here over the past few days. I haven't minded much, though, because I've been inside attending a training on DIBELS reading assessments in preparation for the upcoming school year. Today, however, I hoped for a sunnier forecast, but all I got was rain. So instead of played outside, I stayed indoors and organized my desk area.

I also held a little chihuahua fashion show. It's been quite the dog-centric week! On Tuesday, Jackson attended the first class in his canine education. Cody went in on Thursday for a one-on-one consultation with the trainer, and while I was at the store I picked up a little sweater for Lio. His skinny chihuahua body can't take the damp cold very well, so today I outfitted him in his new duds. He did not seem to mind wearing it, which is a good thing since it looks like we're going to have to stock up on winter and rain gear for the little guy!

At least there were plenty of cuddling opportunities that allowed Lio to warm up. My lap was often available, and he tried to commandeer it even when I was otherwise occupied. Also, I did a spot of niece-sitting (for the first time -- it was great!). I think Lio was on the receiving end of a little more four year old lovin' than he would have liked. He was a good sport, though, and enjoyed when our activities went from playing with the dogs to playing dogs.

I'm not ready for autumn yet! In spite of the cold I mixed up a chilly green smoothie for lunch (two-ish cups of fresh, melt-in-your-mouth ripe cantaloupe, plus some nonfat plain yogurt, some frozen banana and mango chunks, a little sweetener, and, of course, heaps o' spinach). When will the sun come back to us?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Guest Post: College Cooking For Two

Guess what? It's time for another guest post! As I wrote in my last post, one of the men in my life approached me, wondering if he could write a courageous kitchen adventure for the blog. Of course I said yes right away. So who is this mystery man? It's not the Best Husband Ever . . . it's not my dad, or my father-in-law, or any of my three manly dogs. It's my brother!

My three-years-younger brother is finishing up his last year (or so . . . I can never keep up!) of college, where he's studying computer science. This weekend he cooked an ambitious dinner for a date (now that takes courage, in my opinion, especially if it's a first date!), and wanted to write about it. We have different philosophies about food, nutrition, and alcohol, so this meal is a little different from something you might find on my table. However, I enjoyed how my brother was able to ventureinto unknown culinary territory in a thrifty and dorm-friendly way. Thank you for your post, little brother!

This is the Best Younger Brother Ever, giving the Best Older Sister Ever a day off to relax, and to fill everyone in with some pointers for cooking in a college dorm. I put together a little meal with a very pretty date this past Saturday, and filled three essential college points: cheap, easy, and doesn’t require a whole bunch of pots and pans.

The main course of the dinner was a London Broil I got from the local A&P supermarket the night before for approximately $7.00, with sides of green beans ($3.00) and sliced potatoes ($3.50). Since this was a nicer date, I opted for a bottle of Barefoot Merlot ($12.00) instead of iced tea or soft drinks. The total price was a reasonable $25.50, but since we only drank a third of the wine, I would put the actual price at $20.00.

Your browser may not support display of this image.The London broil was the toughest thing to cook. A thick cut of meat is always a challenge to properly marinate and cook properly, but with a little bit of help it wasn’t too much of an issue. I used a bottle of low-fat Italian salad dressing (left over from a previous dinner) to almost fill a plastic serving tray (from a different previous Chinese food take-out dinner). I put the meat into the tray at about 11:00 p.m. the night before and let it marinate for about 16 hours, taking it out at around 4:30 p.m. the next day. I covered the broil in a salt-and-pepper and oregano mix, which burned off nicely when it cooked. The actual cooking was done in a skillet lightly greased with butter. Cook time was longer than everything else, taking about 40 minutes to get a thoroughly done broil. It was necessary to flip the meat every few minutes to make sure it was evenly cooked, and after about a half hour I cut slices into the meat to make sure the middle was properly and evenly heated. The London broil came out a little tough for my taste, but was very tasty from the long marinade I had given it.

As a vegetable, I used a small packed of string beans I had come across while shopping for meat. Since I’m limited on pots and pans, being able to just throw the beans into the microwave was a huge help. The cooking direction for these is beyond simple: punch a hole in the plastic bag and cook on high for 3-4 minutes, or until the green beans are as soft as you’d like them; after, let cool for a few minutes before opening the bag.

The last major part of the meal was some tasty cheddar and bacon potatoes. I tried to stay away from anything boxed and dodgy as much as possible, but the potatoes were already around so I jumped at the opportunity to use them. Mixing the sliced potatoes and provided spice baggie with 1/3 of a cup of milk, 2 1/4 cups of water, and 2 tablespoons of butter and letting it simmer for about 5 minutes on medium heat worked great. The potatoes came out extra-tasty and perfectly done -- the perfect texture and the perfect warmth.

The wine wasn’t anything special. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t miserable either. For a first experience and essentially flying blind, the meal came out great. I might cook the meat a bit more carefully, since a moment of inattention let the bottom burn just a little bit, and I would definitely wait longer to put the green beans in the microwave.

My date thought the meal was great.

Your browser may not support display of this image.By my goals for a good college meal, this went great. The total equipment used was a bowl and two plates (since I don’t have two large plates for this kind of meal), a skillet, a pot with lid, a microwave, measuring cups, a (leftover) plastic serving dish, and a refrigerator, which isn’t too far from what most students will at least have access to. Even with the somewhat expensive cut of meat, the total price for the meal came to about $20, far lower than eating out in Hoboken, NJ. Being “easy” is too relative, but there was a scare when cooking the meat that I might set off the fire alarm; thankfully, nothing happened.

Check by tomorrow for your usual Best Older Sister Ever post!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Buzz, Buzz

Have you been wondering where I disappeared to, blogosphere? Perhaps not, but I'll explain nonetheless. I have not gone anywhere, but I've been keeping quite busy. Busy, one might say, as a bee. (That's my rationale behind this post's stretch of a title. Ahem.) The start of the school year is only a few short weeks away, so I began to prepare my nifty new office where I'll be serving as an elementary school's family outreach specialist. I am so excited!

This weekend was packed with other happenings as well. On Saturday I took an 8:00 AM spinning class at the Y (which rocked, by the way). Then the Best Husband Ever and I managed to go to the farmer's market, make a Costco run, stop by a bicycle shop and GoodWill, study Romans, and attend our friends' wedding. And Sunday seemed even more busy! We went to church, visited my in-laws (who rock as well), went to another bicycle shop so the hubby could get more tools, signed two of the pups up for Petsmart training classes, and did yard work. I mowed the entire property, and he began to set up the invisible fence we're going to try to contain our amazing jumping canine with. Whew!

Today was perhaps even more productive for me, involving my morning God time, a massive house-cleaning effort (bathroom, windows, vacuuming, mopping, and dishes all in one go!), and then some errands. So can you forgive me for missing two days of blogging? I'll make it up to you. Watch for a an exciting guest post in the near future. It will be written by one of the men in my life, and he's not the Best Husband Ever. Can you guess who the mystery blogger will be?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Part Pisces

Remember back in the day when I expressed how much I was dreading the triathlon that I'm participating in at the end of the summer? I felt fairly confident about biking, and did not think running would be much of a problem. It was the swimming, though, that made me tremble in my sneakers. I am not at all comfortable in the water, a fact that is not help by my poor vision sans glasses or contacts (which I find very uncomfortable and hardly ever wear). To me, pools are murky instruments of torture and despair.

Until now.

This past week I visited the ophthalmologist and got fitted with some much more comfortable single-use contact lenses. Then, contact lenses in place, I roused myself early Tuesday morning and managed to don my swimsuit and get myself to the Y for their master's coached swim session. I felt nervous, but the instructor was very welcoming and reassuring, and she placed me in a lane with two other first-timers.

The coach asked us to swim a few laps. I felt gratified to see that my two newbie cohorts flailed and floundered over the course of the 100 yards just as much as I did. I found myself daring to hope that maybe, just maybe, I could learn to swim well.

We went through a few form drills, made use of fins and pull buoys, and before long I found myself swimming freestyle. Not swimming my modified dog paddle/breaststroke. Not resorting to backstroke. But full-on, face-in-the-water, Rocky-style (if Rocky swam) freestyle. This was an absolute first for me. It was also a victory over fear.

I now have two coached swims under my belt and am eagerly looking forward to next week's early morning sessions. I feel so much more confident, and perhaps even close to comfortable, in the water. In fact, it's almost enjoyable. Almost, one might say, fun. Who knew that I would ever be able to swim like this, and like it?

So now I'm a true triathlete wannabe, I suppose. I run. I bike. And now, I swim. I even got a swanky new Speedo. Not to celebrate my success, really, but more because I dropped my old suit in the parking lot on the way out of my first coached swim. It has yet to be found. Oops. I guess being a super swimming triathlete doesn't immunize me against my innate clumsiness. Perhaps I need a master's coached living class!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cooking the Books, Chinese-Style

I have been reading up a storm this summer! And not only have I been ready, but I've been reading very different selections. From a do-gooder vigilante to possibly imagined incest to zombie romance, I seem to have read it all! The latest selection from my diverse literary menu is Nicole Mones' absolutely delicious novel, The Last Chinese Chef.

This novel was the selection for the current round of Cook the Books, a reading food blogger's version of the book club. I have to admit, when I first read the back cover blurb for The Last Chinese Chef, I was less than enthused. Following the intersecting lives of two characters -- one a recently widowed American food writer investigating a surprising claim from China on her deceased husband's claim, and the other a Chinese American chef trying to create a profession out of cooking according to traditional Chinese dictates -- the book just didn't seem to be my thing. I never would have chosen it on my own, as I tend not to go in for those good-relationship-gone-bad stories.

This novel, however, defied my initial expectations. Mones writes with delicate and luscious detail, both about her characters and some truly exquisite Chinese cuisine. I could virtually taste every dish that Maggie, the food writer, samples, and share her delight with each new experience. The professional chefs she encounters in China are focused on creating unique meals that demonstrate artistry, artifice, and surprising flavors. We don't get that kind of Chinese food here in America, which Mones admits in the novel. The author is also able to weave a vivid story about relationships, unfaithfulness, and love without going into graphic detail, which I appreciated.

One theme that ripples through every succulent chapter in Mones' novel was that of relationship, of connectedness. In China, food isn't just about food -- it's about sharing something with others, about community. I experienced a taste of this when I was in Malaysia, whose population boasts a fairly equal percentage of Chinese, Indian, and native Malay cultures. Along with the rest of my missions team, I received Chinese hospitality and experienced just how entwined food and relationships are. I enjoyed how this truth received so much attention in The Last Chinese Chef. Here is an excerpt that I think highlights the theme very well:
Guanxi was connection, relationship, mutual indebtedness. It was the safety net of obligation and mutuality that held up society. The best opportunities and connections were kept for the family, the clan, the friends, in an outwardly rippling circle. You gave one thing to the world; you gave something higher to your own group. . . . People eating together, whether are banquets or daily meals -- that kept the engine of guanxi going. Perhaps this was why chefs in China had always been so important (The Last Chinese Chef, p. 58-59).
I savored every moment that I spent immersed between this book's covers. It made me long to visit China and taste its treasures for myself. I also learned quite a bit from Mones novel and feel that I now have a much deeper appreciate for and understanding of Chinese culture.

Reading this book even inspired me to cook up my own Chinese-esque dish. Of course, it's nowhere near as splendid as the creations described in the story. If you would like to learn more about the novel and related recipes, be sure to check out Nicole Mones' website.

I'm not sure how Chinese my stir-fry dish really is, but it did hit a sweet spot. This dish reminds me of the mountains of stir-fry we helped make while serving at a Malaysian soup kitchen. (Read more about it here and here, along with some recipes.) There, the master chef threw tons of bean sprouts, tofu, onion, and chicken into a vast, sizzling wok and turned out plate after plate of a hearty meal which we served to the waiting poor and homeless. I threw together my own version of his stir-fry-for-a-crowd as yesterday's lunch, and it was exactly what my soul and stomach needed. And that, I think, it what a lot of Chinese cooking is all about.

Book Savvy Stir-Fry in Almond Sauce

I did not do any measuring for most of this meal's ingredients. Trust your taste buds and use what you feel in the mood for, and whatever veggies you have on hand. Stir-fries are a great way to clean out the fridge and have some creative cooking (and Chinese!) fun at the same time!

1/3 block of tofu, diced
1 heaping T garlic, minced
ginger powder to taste
vegetables of your choice (I used broccoli, mushrooms, water chestnuts, zucchini, yellow squash, bean sprouts, and deliciously crunch kelp noodles)
Garnish of your choice (I sprinkled honey sesame sticks and sesame almonds over mine)

Cover the surface of a wok or pan with cooking spray and set over medium-high heat. Saute the tofu, garlic, and ginger with a splash of soy sauce until the tofu begins to brown. Add the vegetables and a little more soy sauce. Cook for 3-4 minutes, then add the sauce (below). Continue cooking for another few minutes, then remove and serve. Sprinkle on your favorite garnish and eat. Use chops sticks if you have a set.

1 T almond butter (or peanut)
1 T hot water
1/2 T rice vinegar plus more to taste
1 T soy sauce, plus more to taste
drizzle of molasses
pinch of cayenne

Mix everything together and stir until you are left with a creamy sauce. Add water if your nut butter is difficult to stir.

Makes stir-fry for one.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


"Then God said . . . , 'I have placed my rainbow in the clouds . . . . When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth'" (Genesis 9:12-16).

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Deployment Day

It's that time of the month. Cookie deployment time, that is! Today I baked my goodies for Operation Baking GALS and sent them on their way. I joined up with Team Heather Drive for this round, and we will be bombarding an Air Force staff sergeant with tons of treats.

My contribution was comprised of frozen chocolate chip cookie dough that I made with my students over the summer. During our week of learning how to follow directions, we baked these cookies as well as cupcakes. Seeing as we did all of that in one morning, we were overloaded with sweets! We baked two batches of cookies and decided to freeze the rest of the dough, figuring that we could always use it to make the kids a special treat later in the summer. Of course, it completely slipped our minds, so I nabbed the dough for future Baking GALS endeavors.

Today, the dough found its life purpose! I thawed it overnight, then popped the mounds of dough into the toaster oven at 350*F for 20 or 25 minutes. (I decided to use the toaster oven instead of my standard oven because at 9:00 this morning, it was already getting hot in the kitchen.) They cooled for a bit, and then I boxed them up along with two packs of gum and a Costco-sized load of individual trail mix packages.

If you are a Baking GALS participant, what are you making for your soldier? Remember, shipments need to go out by August 12. Watch your email for the mailing address, and be sure to contact your team leader if you don't hear from them in the next day or two. And if you're not a part of Baking GALS yet, head on over to their site and get in on the action. Round 13 is just around the corner!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Get Your Vote On

What a day! This afternoon I went to my first official meeting for my brand new job. It was so exciting! I've got lots to do before the start of school, of course, but I am thrilled through and through. I had the opportunity to meet some of the teachers that I'll be working with most, as well as the custodial staff. Everyone was not only very nice, but also very intelligent. I can feel that I will be learning a lot over this coming year! And, strangest wonder of all, considering how apathetic I was a year ago -- I can't wait.

In addition to my first day in my very own office, today kicked off another first. It's the first day that you can vote in the August 2009 round of the Royal Foodie Joust, hosted by Jenn, the Leftover Queen. The ingredients that participants had to incorporate into their dishes were banana, honey, and turmeric, picked by me! I still can hardly believe it, even though my Joust spoils arrived on my doorstep a few weeks ago. I had to have a kitchen fashion show right away, of course, so I could show the world my official Royal Foodie Joust apron and mug. Thanks again to everyone who gave my ricotta parfait their vote, as well as to Jenn. My morning coffee fix has been delivered more than once via this swanky mug, to my caffeine-fixated delight.

Go vote! There are only a handful of entries this month, but that did not make my choice any less difficult. Every last entry looks amazing, even the martini. Since I hardly ever drink alcohol, you know that's a compliment coming from me! Before you go cast your vote, though, do tell -- how would you use banana, honey, and turmeric in a single dish?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Saving Guacamole

Can you ever have too much of a good thing? Well, if you're talking about grocery shopping for a family of two at Costco, then my answer is yes. The super-bulk vendor turns out some great deals on wonderful products, including frozen foods, fresh produce, breads, and canned items. The Best Husband Ever and I save money and score high quality groceries every visit, and manage to nab some sweet samples while we're at it.

The only problem is, sometimes we can't eat all of our bulk purchases. Take spinach, for example. You can buy a humongous bag for dirt cheap, but then I too often have to throw some of its contents away because they spoil before I can eat them. Milk is another good one. We've never even tried to buy milk there because, as thrifty as it is, we know that we'd never get through half of it.

Sad! So what's a girl to do? I discovered the answer after buying a bulk package of Wholly Guacamole at Costco not too long ago -- but longer than you'd might expect, given guacamole's shelf life. If you've never heard of this brand of guacamole, it's the only true guac that I've been able to find in Montana. Everything else is just "avocado dip" and tastes quite revolting to me. I love me some good guacamole, though, and thankfully this particular brand is just about perfect. Unfortunately, it's quite spendy at the grocery store. So when I discovered a bulk package of it as Costco (three 16 oz. containers for less than $9.00!!), of course I had to take one home.

Now, as much as I love guacamole and avocado, there's no way I could go through 48 oz. of the stuff before it spoiled. I figured, though, that I could freeze two containers while dipping into the third. That plan worked fine -- until I realized that I couldn't even eat one container before it went bad. I felt terrible wasting so much delicious guacamole, so I put my thinking cap on.

My solution, while not as sustainable as I would like, was to divide the contents of the containers into rough serving sizes of two tablespoons. I heaped said individual servings into zip lock bags and froze the lot. So far, my plan is working out pretty well! It's a bit hard to remove the guacamole from the baggies, but I don't mind getting a little messy. I did save one serving in a Tupperware container, and that worked out the best. This method was less messy, and I could defrost it in the microwave if I decided I wanted some guac at the last minute instead of having to set it out to defrost hours in advance. This solution would be perfected by the use of tiny tupperwares instead of baggies.

How do you prolong the existence of foods that are doomed to a short shelf life?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Savory Tooth

Today was the first Saturday in the last three weeks that the Best Husband Ever and I did our usual farmer's market treat and Scrabble date. But today's treat was not sweet as it normally is. Or at least, mine wasn't. The hubby purchased a mondo bag of donut holes, of which I tested one (it was good). I decided to shake things up and chose a baked veggie empanada. It was warm, savory, and altogether delicious. I could not begin to tell you what exactly was inside, though -- I do seem to remember something about swiss chard. All I know is that this "treat" was darn good, and seemed healthy to boot.

What is definitely not healthy is my camera. My poor point-and-shoot digital has just about kicked the bucket. Or perhaps you could say that I threw it against the bucket. A couple of weeks ago I dropped the camera during a photo shoot. Since then it's only been able to manage macro shots. Today, this post's photo was the only shot I could convince the camera to take. In the interim I've been using the hubby's much swankier digital SLR, but it's just not as convenient as a tiny digital. So I suppose I'm in the market for a new camera. I loved the old one, which was a Nikon 610S, which had a special food macro setting, a nice size and heft, and it took great pictures very reliably. Until I dropped it. I could get another 610S, or I could try something new. Do you have any suggestions, fellow food photographers?