To a Native from a Transplant

Him’n that pillow, huggin’ it out all night.
Makes him look younger’n he is.
But I’ll never tease him or hide it away,
‘cos he needed that pillow, given-a him
in the blanched glow of the hospital,
when fear nested deep in our hearts.

Him’n that pillow, years later, still there,
‘neath fancier fellows by day,
but come dark, he’ll clutch it tight to his scarred chest,
grandad and his pillow.

 

poetry

International Red Lentil Soup

A chef I happened upon at the grocery store gave me this recipe, which I recited back to him several times to commit to memory. I call it International Red Lentil Soup because it traveled to several countries before it reached me in Dallas.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 white onion, diced well
  • 1 nest egg angel hair pasta
  • 4 cups water
  • ½ cup red lentils (dry measure)
  • 1 whole organic lemon juice
  • 1 ½ tsp tumeric
  • 1 ½ tsp curry (punjab)
  • 1 ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 ½ tsp salt

COOK

  • Put onion in a saucepan and cook over medium heat for about a minute, no longer.
  • Crumble angel hair nest and stir into pan.
  • Add the water.
  • Next, rinse the red lentils really, really well, and add them to the pan.
  • Add the lemon juice & spices.
  • Cook, covered, for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

The lentils get soft and almost disintegrate when the soup is finished. It smells divine and tastes even better. This is a fabulous dry goods recipe to have on hand!

This soup is my first experience with lentils – the gentleman who gave it to me was in the spice department when I was looking for ground ginger. We began talking, and in about 15 minutes time, he had loaded my basket with the items for this soup and given me instructions on how to make it!

His biography: He is an Iraqi who studied culinary arts in Italy and owned a restaurant in Sweden. International indeed!

Thank you, sir!

Spicy Vegetarian Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce

This is another delicious vegetarian slow cooker recipe that I can make in bulk and freeze – though I don’t think it’s going to last me as long as my bean and vegetable chili! This is spicy and just the right consistency; the suggestion for ridged noodles to help scoop up the sauce is a great one. I call my version ‘spicy’ vegetarian spaghetti sauce, but the slow cooker helps mellow out the taste considerably.

Spicy Vegetarian Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce

spaghetti sauce over noodles

it tastes as good as it looks

Prep Time: 35 minutes
Cook Time: 9 hours
Storage Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 10 hours from cutting board to freezer shelf

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 carrots, chopped thinly
  • 1 (8-ounce) package sliced mushrooms
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 roma tomato, diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, sliced
  • 8 oz. can of pitted black olives, roughly chopped
  • 3 (8 oz.) cans tomato sauce
  • 2 (14 oz.) cans diced tomatoes, undrained; I used preseasoned varieties – 1 “italian herbs” & 1 “basil & garlic”
  • 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. sugar

Preparation:

  • Cook onions and garlic in oil in large nonstick pan over medium heat. Stir and cook for 4-5 minutes until tender. If you’re allergic to onions (like I am), this is a good time to take out any if you think maybe it’s “too much.”
  • Add carrots, mushrooms, tomatoes, jalapeno, olives, and bell pepper. Stir for 2-3 minutes.
  • Place vegetables into bottom of 6-7 quart slow cooker.
  • Add remaining ingredients into the slow cooker. I took a few minutes to spread the sauces evenly over the vegetables; the added step of mixing everything together before layering them over seems unnecessary, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

Cook:

  • Cover slow cooker and cook on low for 7-8 hours.
  • Uncover, stir thoroughly, then leave cover off and turn heat to high. Cook, uncovered, for 1 more hour to thicken sauce.

Storage:

  • At this point the sauce can be frozen. Divide into smaller portions and cool in refrigerator. Wrap, label, and freeze the sauce up to 3 months.
  • To thaw and reheat, thaw sauce overnight in refrigerator. Pour into skillet and heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, about 15-20 minutes or until sauce bubbles and is thoroughly heated.
mostly eaten spaghetti in a delicious sauce

you’re going to enjoy it as much as I did!

I took the original of this recipe off about.com’s “Busy Cook” section, but I made several changes to the original recipe to make it more to my tastes. I added a jalapeno pepper, tons of olives, a fresh tomato, and a little bit more canned sauce to the recipe, calling for a slightly larger crock pot size. The original can be found here: Vegetarian Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce.

Why did I smoke? Why did I quit? Can I make it?

I’m not entirely sure when I quit nicotine entirely. As a rule, I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself at my ‘quit date’, and so this time, as I tapered, I purposely set no goals further away than 5 minutes into the future. If I could meet that goal – and most of the time I did – then I could relax until the next craving and next goal showed up.

I estimate my approximate no-patch, no-gum, no-snus date as about 2 weeks after my last cigarette & occurring on as June 20, 2012. If we say that nicotine takes 3 days to leave your body, that means that nicotine has been out of my system for 3 weeks. Wow!

I’ve learned a lot about my smoking habits in the last few weeks. For example –

  • I smoked to calm my nerves. I knew this, but it was interesting how often *that* was my breaking point when it came to quitting smoking. I made sure to taper down slowly during a period when I wasn’t stressed.
  • I smoked during transition – literally either just after I left a building or just before I entered one, I would smoke a cigarette! If I were to be going from one place to another, I lit a cigarette.
  • I smoked to cover social anxiety/have something to do in public. I definitely noticed that this is when I wanted a cigarette the most! Waiting for my train and trying not to make eye contact with people, I certainly wished I could light me up that cigarette.
  • I smoked when I drank. Definitely became an excuse to light a cigarette during “quit times.”
  • I smoked because I smoked. I smoked because I bought cigarettes, had them around me, and was addicted to the nicotine & other additives in them.

I don’t miss it much. For example, I almost never miss my after meal cigarette any longer, which I thought I would crave heavily, and only occasionally do I wish I had a cigarette before I walked into work. In public waiting areas, I’ll read or write in my journal.

How do I calm my nerves? I’m not sure (breathing exercises?)- but I don’t crave a cigarette! I am not a smoker, and it’s awesome.

Part of my issue with quitting smoking was trying to understand why I smoked and why I wanted to quit. The above list of reasons – those were all my excuses for smoking, and until I admitted that I could finish a meal, deal with stress, walk from my front door to the bottom of the stairwell without lighting a cigarette, I wasn’t going to give credit to the reason why I wanted & needed to quit:

  • Not only is smoking bad for your health, but it is expensive.

I understood that not only was I buying cancer at a ridiculous mark-up, not only was I exacerbating my asthma, but I didn’t have any excuse for it. I smoked because I smoked. I smoked because it was a habit and addiction, but that is no reason to smoke. Once I realized that I wanted to quit, truly wanted to end my reliance on nicotine, I was able to finally kick that habit to the curb.

Some of the benefits of not smoking for me have featured more largely than I had anticipated they would.

  • I can wear nice perfume. As a smoker, I knew I wasn’t fooling anyone if I tried to cover up the smell on my clothes with body sprays, and if I spent any considerable amount of money on a scent, it was money down the drain. Non smokers smell cigarette smoke, plain and simple, and you can’t mask it.
  • My skin is better. I don’t just mean that it’s clearer (it is!) but that the color, the texture, the elasticity of my skin has improved markedly in the last few weeks. I’ll take this over a nic hit any day of the week!
  • Sinuses. Nuff said, eh? Less congestion, less swelling, and less SNOT.
  • Food tastes awesome. I was missing out on so much!
  • Sense of smell is HERE. Which isn’t always a good thing. People – you stink. I’m not saying you have to shower daily. Remember what I said about not masking the scent of cigarette smoke with perfume? You can’t hide your rancid body odor with perfume, either! Take a washrag to your pits.
  • I’m presenting a positive, non-smoking image to my nephews. And that’s what matters most, isn’t it?
Non smokers for life!

My grandfather quit smoking cold turkey – & I hope that Joey & Johnny never pick it up!

Even though I get the occasional desire for a cigarette, I wouldn’t call it a craving, and I’m proud of myself for staying nicotine free. Have any of you quit smoking?? What about it was the most difficult thing? And who all went BACK to smoking years after they’d quit – I’ve heard of people being quit for 5 or 6 years and starting up again. Have you seen or experienced that??

Portion sizes and brown bagging it

I have no idea how to eyeball my portion sizes.

When I first began cooking for myself, and only myself, I ended up throwing out a lot of food or even overeating from the idea of “waste not, want not.” I am one of those people who can eat well past the discomfort of a full stomach just because it’s on my plate. Before this last year, I had always had at least 2 other folks to prepare for if and when I cooked. Settling down to cooking for one person has been a challenge – both on the stovetop and when filling my plate!

What is a proper portion size? It definitely isn’t “as much as you can put on your plate.” I’ve been reading a lot of pages on what, exactly, is a healthy portion size. The best examples I’ve found are visual, like in this slideshow by the Food Network: 10 Ways to Measure Perfect Portion Sizes.

Now that I was aware of how much I was supposed to be eating to stay healthy, how was I going to implement it? Part of my problem has been that recipes out there aren’t made for single servings, and scaling it down isn’t generally feasible if I want to cook something that is tasty! So what do I do at the end of a meal with all that extra food?

Refrigerate and reheat, of course!

I love making a “colorful” bunch of vegetables as my sides to dinner – so now when I begin to fill my plate & realize that 4 half-servings of vegetables still makes twice as much as I need, I shrug, grab my gladware, and fill THAT first for lunch at work tomorrow. It’s much easier to divide the meal immediately after cooking rather than spending the time in the morning to find the bits and pieces of last night’s dinner to throw into my lunch box. Because I am a zombie when I wake, I much prefer this “grab and go” method.

The simple act of dividing my meals into two before I eat helps keep my portion sizes in the more “normal” range. It saves me from having to make a separate effort to arrange my lunch AND ensures that I don’t have “extras” in the kitchen I can go back to if I don’t feel “full” after dinner. I think this last is side effect of quitting smoking – not having my cigarette at the end of my meal is confusing to my body, I think; a meal isn’t “complete” without the nicotine!

colorful vegetables for dinner!

say whhaattt look at all the delicious vegetables I managed to bring together with a sprinkling of hormone-free organic mozzarella cheese

Another way that brown bagging my lunch is helpful in keeping my stomach sized to a normal meal is that I’m avoiding fast food. Before I began eating out as a young adult (going to restaurants was a special occasion in my family, unlike many families in Dallas!), I naturally kept a smaller portion size. I ate more slowly and less – it wasn’t uncommon for me to have more than half of my restaurant meal left over at the end.

What changed in my eating habits? Peer pressure. It made me uncomfortable to be seen as a dainty eater, someone who eats like a bird. Many acquaintances implied that I had an eating disorder because I didn’t wolf down my meals or carry much meat on my bones (“Did you eat lunch?” asked one well-meaning woman every day. “What did you eat?” as if she were going to catch me lying). As my socializing became less McDonald’s & more Sambuca, I started consciously eating more quickly, which helped me eat larger portions & keep pace with my friends so as not to be the last one lingering over dinner.

Thanks to socializing with beer and oversized restaurant portions, I’ve gained about 15lbs in 5 years, the final 5lbs being in the latest 9 months. I am always constantly hungry because I have gone so long with making bad food choices, both in quality & quantity. I have to snack all day long in order to feel full & ward off a “crash”, and I want to get out of that habit while I’m a healthy 25-year-old woman who can make long term, well-rounded, healthful diet choices. I want weight I put on to be related to muscle mass, not beer belly.

With the excuse that I’ve brought my lunch to work, I’m less likely to accept an invitation to eat out at one of the many fast food places near work. And because I don’t overindulge on cheap food, I’m more likely to enjoy the time I spend at quality eateries – even if it’s just Rusty Taco with friends.

I’m much happier now that I’ve learned to prepare my meals in sensible proportions – and since I figured out that leftovers can be put into the lunch box before they’ve cooled from the stovetop, giving me no excuse to forget my lunch before work in the morning. I feel like this is a really good habit that not only saves me money but makes my life easier.

Do you have any tricks to keep from overindulging at dinner? I don’t mean the sort that denies you what you honestly want or need to eat – I mean the sort that helps your mind and body realize that you have eaten a decent amount of food and it’s time to stop the meal.

Dinner, drinks, and a run

I have been running every day for the past 4 days. This is a huge win in my book. Every day was hot and horrible; every day I was tired and exhausted before I began; every day was hard before I even began.

Throwing on my shorts, lacing up my sneakers, and stepping out the door every time has been a huge step forward (no pun intended!). Getting started is, for me, more than half the battle. Getting started is the reason I never seem to get anything done – because it’s easier for me to put it off, or to excuse myself for today and promise I’ll do it tomorrow.

Yesterday especially was difficult. The weather in Dallas reached and surpassed the 100F mark, which meant the hours I had been running – about 4:30 or 5:00, were much too hot. Frankly, it was much too dangerous for me, a novice runner, to push myself in heat like that.

It’s a lot like writing this blog, actually. I have ideas that I want to put into place, but I postpone them. If it takes more effort than a quick draft, I don’t attempt a second. Almost as if I’m afraid of the failure, I won’t push myself forward. I’ll make a goal, set a routine, and then, if I miss a day, give up. I don’t have determination, or confidence, or maybe just basic trust in myself. That’s something I’m working on lately.

This evening, I went out with two good friends of mine that I’ve met since moving to Dallas (actually from my small town connections!), @saraw87 and her sis @k0rtniL0ve. It was nice! We went to one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, Gloria’s, and I had a house margarita & the carne asada (2 of my favorite things ever!).

I had been meat free since Friday’s potato and bacon extravaganza, so I was really looking forward to the beef! I ended up spending most of my time on their dinky salad, which I guess goes to show that my eating habits have rather improved bwahaha. I think it was probably a testament to my love of avocado, personally.

Tonight, I am full. It’s 9pm, and it is 100°F/38°C exactly. I was going to get up super early and run tomorrow morning, but walking home from the train station, I saw a young woman in a baggy shirt and shorts blazing down the sidewalk. “It’s so terribly hot!” I told her. She agreed with an easy, breathy word. “I was going to skip running, but I think I’ll go tonight. You’ve motivated me.”

So excuse me while I throw still too-short hair into a bun with a rubber band and 8 metal clips, lace up my tennis shoes, and go running off that margarita. I’m sure I’ll thank myself tomorrow for keeping to the routine, even though it’s difficult.

(P.S. – 4+ days absolutely cigarette free!)

the slow cooker bean & vegetable chili

Mmmmm….I used my slow cooker for the first time this weekend. On the menu – a bean and vegetable chili!

I’ve been trying to eat a lot more meatless dishes lately; it’s part of my campaign of self-improvement: learning to cook and eating better. My food choices are improving, but I still have a preference for beef over chicken or fish! I love all the bad things in life, it seems 🙂

Beans are a filling alternative to meat that doesn’t have an odd name to tweak my food OCD (quinoa? QUINOA??), so I snapped up a bunch of dried beans the other day. I would have gone with canned, but from my experience, fresh foods way outrank canned foods – and cost less, as well! I’m not sure what all these varieties I’ve purchased are, but I’m going to research – and hey, I could always make a 3 bean salad.

I meant to have the chili finished by Saturday evening, but I didn’t realize that cooking beans was such a time-consuming process. When I woke Saturday morning, I goofed off until 1 or so, and then read how to cook beans (the chili recipe only said “cook beans according to package instructions”). Oops. And so then I soaked the beans for four hours, and simmered them for 90 minutes.

Preparing the vegetables to sautee, I watched many youtube videos on “how to mince garlic” and “how to chop bell pepper.” By the time it asked me for dice potatoes, I shook my head, did something more similar to mincing, and threw them in the pan.

Mincing rather than dicing wasn’t the only change I made to the recipe. Because I like my food spicy, I added a jalapeno pepper to the vegetables, and also threw in an 1/8th teaspoon of my favorite “ghost pepper” sauce – that is just slightly more than I will use in a normal dish, but considering this was going into a large crockpot, I assumed that it would spread out.

a sauce pan with tomatoes, potatoes, red bell pepper, jalapeno, onion, and garlic in it

the final prep step before I put everything in the slow cooker – I needed a bigger pan! I did a lot of stirring and turning over

I woke up this morning and immediately tasted my creation. Success! It was very well flavored – except – well. It wasn’t bland, for sure, but there was no hint of spiciness whatsoever in my chili. I grabbed the bottle of ghost pepper sauce, filled a teaspoon, threw it in, and stirred. I’m assuming the results are going to be much more spicy than before – maybe too spicy for some, but that is what sides like cole slaw and cornbread are for.

conclusion
I have a lot of chili! I’m definitely glad for my freezer bags – tonight, I’ll be dishing this out and stacking it in the freezer for those days when I simply don’t feel like cooking. I’m looking for more recipes like that, so if you have any “frozen dinner” recipes, please share!

I think next time, I’ll definitely add more chili powder and other assorted spices. It had a full taste, but I wanted bolder flavors. Any suggestions as to what I could add? Is one jalapeno enough, or should I add 2? I picked up a habenero bbq sauce (another local production) the other day that I think would add a delicious flavor to this – but I think I’d want it to be in a chili with meat.

Read on for the bean & begetable slow cooker recipe