Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Remembering to breathe

I used the last onion 4 days ago, ate the last apple day before yesterday. We’d been out of bananas and garlic and salad fixings for a while. No fresh meat left in the fridge, we were reduced to eating packaged food out of the freezer last night.

Time to go to the grocery store.

Grocery shopping has never been my favorite thing to do, but on the list of household chores it used to be the least repugnant. Now it’s something out of a Twilight Zone episode.

Resenting having to be out so early, I turned into the store parking lot at 7:30 this morning, detailed list (organized into like store aisles for faster shopping), antiseptic wipes and mask piled next to me in the passenger seat.

Good. The parking lot was relatively empty.

I note two women going in, masks in place, hands covered in gloves, eyes covered in glasses. A man coming out is similarly dressed. I sigh and done my own attire.

Here’s something I’ve learned about myself: I feel claustrophobic wearing a nose and mouth mask. I start to breathe faster, my glasses fog up and then I feel like I can’t breathe. At home, practicing, I can only go a few minutes before I need to rip the mask off my face. Actually wearing one for an entire shopping expedition, especially since I’m trying to buy enough stuff for at least two weeks, will be an experiment.

I figure at worst I’ll run screaming out of the store, leaving my partially filled basket behind. I doubt I’d be the first.

Anyway.

The store wasn’t busy, everyone was going about their business, not looking at anyone else. I guess when you’re wearing a mask and glasses and gloves you’re somewhat anonymous. Apparently there’s no time for friendly when shopping these days. It’s all about survival now. In fact, as I looked down the aisles and noted that everyone there looked like a bank robber, I decided I didn’t feel very friendly either.

Fresh stuff is so welcome.

Shopping was a big adjustment for me. I hadn’t been out of the house in almost two weeks, except to walk the dog around the yard. To find myself in a store with a long and detailed list, surrounded by new signs including those designating one-way aisles was almost overwhelming.

I suddenly felt…well…elderly.

Wearing my glasses over the nose piece of the mask wasn’t comfortable, and they were no longer at the right distance from my eyes. Things were kind of blurry. Plus did I mention they fogged up if I breathed too fast? But not wearing them was worse because then everything was blurry, and I couldn’t even read my complicated list.

Time to just suck it up.

Grateful that I had segmented my list I moved as quickly as I could. I found most of what I needed, and I only had to circle around a few times when I encountered wrong way signs. Sometimes, to be honest, I ignored them.

There were fewer things out of stock than my last trip to the store, though there were still plenty of empty shelves. I didn’t go down the paper goods aisle, so I can’t tell you about the toilet paper inventory. I’ve heard there’s still a shortage.

In the end I forgot the eggplant (the produce was the most difficult for me because I was still adjusting to breathing and seeing at the same time), and I couldn’t find any baking soda or flour.

I’m chalking this trip up to a success.

Standing on the blue sign labeled “STAND HERE” at the checkout line I watched the man in front of me unload his overflowing cart. Mine looked the same, in fact it was so heavy it was hard to push. I looked like I was buying for a family of twelve.

A sea of groceries.

Two Hundred forty-eight dollars and eighteen cents later I escaped the store to the parking lot, ready to unload everything into the back of the car and get out of there. I took the mask off and breathed deep.

Everything is precious these days.

Twenty-eight degrees and sun felt wonderful.

I’ve never spent so much money at one time in the grocery store. Rarely in any other store for that matter! Lugging it into the kitchen was another adventure, but now it’s put away and I am safe, back in my cocoon of a home where I hope to stay for at least the next two weeks.

If this was a glimpse into our future I will be very sad. I hope someday to drop into the grocery store for a couple items like I once did. I look forward to smiling at other people, chatting over the produce, standing a bit to debate the merit of salmon over trout. I’d like the time to weigh the benefit of fresh versus frozen.

I dream of being able to go free-form and shop without a list.

But until then, I’ll shelter in place and reminisce about the good ole days when grocery shopping was just an inconvenience.

And when breathing was easier too.

Full


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Still trying to veg out

I get tired of trying new recipes looking for that great vegan meal. Some weeks go by that I don’t try any. Still, I believe that a plant based diet is healthy and know I need to try harder.

The finished dish.

My poor husband has endured a couple years of experiments; I know it’s been this long because my Facebook memories show vegan attempts from at least two years ago. Sometimes Facebook is useful because I’ll see a recipe that was good from way back then that I’d forgotten all about it.

This week I was flipping through the Forks over Knives cookbook and thought the “Quick and Easy Thai Vegetable Stew” looked good. I added a few things to my grocery list for the week, notably coconut extract and Thai red curry paste. I had everything else in the house so I put it on this week’s dinner agenda.

Tonight I made it.

First of all, I don’t know what about this is quick and easy when you have to chop up the onion, the vegetables, the cilantro, mint and garlic. You also have to grate fresh ginger and zest and juice a lime.

Lots of stuff to prepare prior to making this dish.

I guess after you get all that done the actual cooking is fast and easy. But that’s the problem I have with most vegan cooking. Prep just takes awhile.

So how did it turn out? It’s supposed to be a main dish, and it’s suppose to serve four. Maybe this is why vegans are skinny. I put it over rice to make it more substantial, and it basically served three even that way.

Onion, ginger, garlic, lime and Thai red curry paste.

My husband ate leftover chicken enchiladas from the other night and used this dish as a side. It certainly looked like a side.

It tasted fine…except for that darn cilantro. I try to like cilantro but I just don’t. The recipe wanted 1/2 a cup of chopped cilantro, I (luckily) only had a little bit, and that’s all I used. Still, it was pervasive in the final taste. I need to remember that I don’t like it and not let it mess up an otherwise OK recipe. I guess I don’t know if I should just leave it out entirely or use parsley as a substitute.

And for the mixed vegetables I used what I had in the house, broccoli and carrots. Next time I’d use equally dense vegetables because the broccoli cooked through way before the carrots did and got sort of mushy. And I think I’d like it with water chestnuts, snow peas and maybe fresh green beans. Maybe some sliced fresh mushrooms thrown in near the end. Or peas. Maybe all of that.

Almost done.

So I’d say it was a sort of win. I’ll make it again some day, just differently. Guess that would make it a totally different dish!

Flexibility. Yep that’s what makes a vegan diet work. And persistence, lots and lots of persistence.

Mint and cilantro.


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2020 soup musings

I made soup yesterday, roasted tomato and basil.

The beginnings.

As I was opening a can of tomato paste I noticed the expiration date was in 2020.

March 2020 will probably be pretty interesting.

Given the political climate at the moment, I wonder what the world will look like in 2020.

Somehow I can’t quite imagine it.

The onions, pepper and potato work up a sweat while the tomatoes roast.

So I sighed and finished the soup.

Torn basil finishes it up.

It turned out really good.

I hope 2020 turns out really good too.

Yum. Soup and cheesy garlic bread.


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Grocery store flashback

Time out for lunch memories.

In the grocery store this morning I rounded a corner, not paying much attention to what was in front of me, concentrating on my list of must haves and the fact that while I was in Alabama they rearranged the entire store.

I was having trouble finding anything.

And suddenly there, right there on a table that I almost ran into, was a lunch box display. Cute little boxes and bags, a reminder to kids everywhere that school was starting soon.

Instantly I could smell the wax paper holding my cheese and olive sandwich, could see the little bag containing a few cheese crackers, or maybe a cookie, the apple or banana, could remember the way I always wished my carton of milk was chocolate instead of the white we always had to get. Immediately I was in grade school again, though today’s lunch boxes don’t look anything like the red plaid tin box I carried for years.

I stopped for a moment and let those memories wash over me. I smiled as I tucked that little red plaid lunch box back into my memory. Funny what catches you by surprise and transports you into the worry-free world of a nine year old.

And then I moved on, my cart with the wiggly wheel rattling as I squeaked my way down the next aisle, my thoughts moving on too. What to make for dinner, I wondered, what to make this evening and tomorrow and the day after that?

Cheese and olive sandwiches come to mind.


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In between. And food.

My laptop died almost three weeks ago. Though I’m relying on my phone to stay in touch I feel a bit adrift without the laptop’s warm weight on my lap in the evenings. Luckily my husband was able to save the contents of the laptop’s brain, and the pictures and documents are now resting comfortably on a external hard drive. A new laptop has been ordered and might show up next week. Or not. I don’t know how to download the photos I have on my camera to the desktop, though I think I did that back in 2014 when I was also without a laptop for an extended period of time.

I have figured out how to download to the desktop photos I’ve taken with my phone and posted on Facebook.

There is comfort in that, because long gone are the days that I seem to be able to write without photos. Hence the lack of posts lately. The requirement for photos in a blog is kind of thought provoking. Have we lost the ability to read without pictures?

When I first began to blog, in 2006, there were only words. I took more time over what I posted back then. I chose my words more carefully, let them paint the picture. Now I just place the fingers on the keyboard and see what happens. Most of the time it’s the images that inspire the words.

Occasionally it’s the other way around.

Speaking of inspiration, it’s been more than a year now that I’ve been attempting to cook vegan or at least vegetarian for a few of our meals each week. Sometimes (OK, often) I post pictures of the dishes I make. One of my favorite things about cooking this way is the color in the food.

I post on Facebook about a lot of things. Katie the dog, family, seasons, weather, truck safety. But the pictures that get the most comments, and the most discussion among commenters are those of the food. Day before yesterday I had over 30 comments over a meal I made that my husband didn’t like. People were on both sides of the argument. I even copied the recipe and mailed it off to someone. I hope she tries it.

Why do you think that food is such a conversation starter? Why not gun control or mental health? I get that those got lots of conversation too this past week, but food seems to guarantee a comment, a conversation, a reaction from my FB friends.

So until I can come back and blog again, hopefully on my new laptop, with my archive of photos at my fingertips, here’s a picture of food to get you talking.

Enjoy!


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Late to the table

“Doesn’t anyone cook anymore?” I asked my husband as we stood in a long restaurant line after 7 p.m. on a Monday evening. We were, actually, there because I didn’t want to cook. Apparently not a unique position.

“But you usually cook,” he replied and I felt better somehow.

Now I wonder if cooking could have more than just health benefits. If you stretch your imagination a bit, think outside the box, maybe cooking could help fix what ails our country.

From the garden.

Don’t discount me immediately. That’s one of the problems we all have right now; we make instant decision about what’s right and what’s wrong before we hear a person out.

I have lots of time to think as I’m chopping and dicing, stirring and folding, preparing food for dinner. Today I’m making the marinara sauce for tomorrow’s eggplant parmesan.

And I’m thinking as I’m chopping onion and garlic that the problems facing our country, and the world, are so huge, so unsolvable, so much bigger than me. That I really have nothing to say that could change anything.

And yet.

I’ reading the articles and listening to interviews that point out people who stay silent are in fact condoning the hate and violence we all witnessed via twenty-four hour news this past weekend. Incidents that we’ve seen on other days too, prior to this weekend, and what we will likely witness in the days ahead.

I know I’m late to the table, but I don’t condone those hateful, racist, violent actions. I’m quiet because I don’t know what I, an individual, someone who hates politics on a good day, can do? What difference can my voice make?

It’s clear to me that the talking heads on television and on the radio aren’t going to fix the problem. The panels of people they bring in to ‘discuss’ the issues are entrenched in their own opinions, are spewing out the party line, give nonsensical answers to hard questions. Nothing is going to get resolved by watching their arguments.

And no one watching is going to change the minds they have already made up.

As I continue to chop and stir I contemplate the hateful events of the weekend, the political responses. The lack of response from me. And I realize that the only thing to change a person’s mind is talking, really talking, to another person.

And what better place to talk than over the slow preparation of a healthy meal?

One person listening to another person without forming judgement. And then having a chance to quietly, with logic and care express an opposing opinion. And continuing that discussion over the meal thoughtfully put together.

Getting to know someone who is different than yourself takes time and work and sometimes the overcoming of fear. But that’s the only way to make change in the world; getting to know people who are different than we are.

Chopping and thinking.

Oh I know the hate filled members of many white supremacist groups aren’t likely to have a calm discussion with anyone. They’re looking to escalate the hate. But there are plenty of people sitting on a fence about many of these issues, people that maybe voted in a different way than you or I might have. People who might feel strongly but may also feel a little doubt creeping in.

There are people from different religions with different ideas, people from different cultures, or just different upbringings who have ideas that deserve to be shared. Everyone has a story, and each story adds to the strength and value of all of us if we only listen.

There is actually much a quiet person like me can do.

So as I put the eggplant dish together I think I’ll push myself outside my comfort zone. I’ll try to stand up for that person getting bullied, voice another opinion when I think it needs to be heard, invite someone I don’t know to engage in thoughtful debate. I’ll stop reacting to Facebook politics, for either side, because that’s too easy, too anonymous and only reinforces opinions deeply held on polar opposite sides of any issue.

Lots of different flavors all stirred together in one pot.

And while I’m trying to understand the other side of some argument, maybe I can put together a simple meal and sit down and talk about it . Without rancor, without despair, without judgement.

Maybe a discussion held over a healthy meal won’t change anyone’s mind. But maybe it will. And at worst I’ll get a good meal, one I don’t have to stand in line for on a hot summer Monday night.

Maybe what our world needs is a food revolution of a different kind.

Summer hope.


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How to peel a butternut squash

Basic ingredients.

Every week, before I head to the grocery store, I thumb through my vegan cookbooks, looking for something interesting to make. This week I thought I’d make a “Vegetable Stew with North African Spices” from a recipe in Forks Over Knives. I bought all the ingredients and then they sat in the fridge for almost the entire week. And do you know why?

Because one of the main ingredients was peeled and cubed butternut squash.

Let me tell you, I’ve peeled squash before and it’s no fun. The skin is tough, the shape is challenging and my vegetable peeler isn’t up to the task. So every day I’d think about making that stew and then I’d choose to do something else. Something that didn’t involve peeling a butternut.

None of these tools really worked well.

Today I finally decided to stop procrastinating and get it done. Plus I had no other food in the house.

It took a variety of knives as well as my vegetable peeler. It was hard. I stopped in the middle to go online to see if there was a better way. Two YouTube videos later I realized that there are no secrets. Except that you can buy this stuff already peeled and cut up. It costs a bit more the guy on the video said.

Really.

Back to work for me. I’m struggling with the bottom half of the squash, peeling off chunks of skin when suddenly the whole thing squirted out of my hands and flew across the kitchen slamming into the floor over by the fridge. Katie looked at me, frozen in place and then started toward the potential snack.

I screamed “NO!,” and racing around the wastebasket, I beat her to it. There were seeds splattered everywhere. She hovered near as I scrambled to pick them all up. I didn’t want her to ingest the sharp seeds and she’s a good girl, especially when her mama’s screaming at her, so she held her ground and I got it all cleaned up. Don’t tell anyone, but I rinsed that squash off and kept on going.

I wasn’t about to start over.

Finally I got the squash peeled and began to slice it up. Thirty minutes had passed. I was hungry and the sliced squash looked a lot like cheese. I wished it was.

Cheese…right? No? Rats.

After the hard work of peeling squash the rest of the recipe came together easily. Chopped onion, celery, carrot to start.

Looks like the beginning of every soup I’ve ever made.

Add the spices – paprika, cumin, coriander, cinnamon. Grate the ginger, mince the garlic. Peel a potato and a turnip, chop those up. Pour in some vegetable stock and at the end add a little mint.

Pretty except for those floating turnip pieces.

I was worried as it simmered. It didn’t really look like a stew, it resembled soup at best, with slices of turnip floating on the top. I don’t even like turnips. I had nothing else prepared for dinner, so it was this….or go get a sandwich from Subway.

Did we?

I held out hope.

And guess what? I liked the flavor even though I didn’t put in the pinch of saffron because I couldn’t find it in my spice drawer. I know I bought some because I remember how expensive it was! Eventually I looked online to see if there was a substitute but couldn’t discern anything about it other than it had a ‘subtle flavor.’ I figured maybe if it was subtle no one would miss it and I was right.

Yummy!

But who knows, maybe it would be amazing with saffron.

In the end it was OK, just like it was, but I kept thinking that the flavors would really compliment beef stew meat. And once I mentioned that, my husband enthusiastically agreed. What to do. Should I stay true to the vegan recipe? Or supplement it with…gasp….beef?

All I can say for sure is that I will never, ever, peel another butternut squash. Next time I’m buying that stuff already cubed. No contest. As for the beef…well…what would you have done?

Sorry, my vegan friends.


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The great sweet potato black bean chili experiment

One of you, I’m unsure who, gave me a recipe for sweet potato and black bean chili. It was a long time ago, long before the latest trip, maybe even before my adventures in Florida and Alabama.

The recipe is handwritten on a scrap of paper that I’ve saved from the trash numerous times. It’s become crumpled and worn, and I can hardly read my writing.

Finally, this week, I bought the ingredients (except for chipotle powder, what is that??) and included it in my weekly meal plan.

Chili fixings

And here is where I need your help. If you gave me this recipe I have a couple of questions. Obviously I copied it down in a hurry because there are a couple things that make no sense.

My list of ingredients doesn’t include garlic powder, but the instructions say to add garlic powder…so I’m wondering how much? I had already used the 4 cloves of garlic, which was in my ingredients list, but then wasn’t mentioned in the instructions, so I just tossed that in with the sweet potato and onion at the beginning. The recipe called for 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and since I had some garlic salt in my spice drawer I used that, hoping it work work in lieu of the garlic powder.

And then there was the ‘stock.’ Once again I must have skipped that in the ingredients list…but as I’m going putting the chili together the instructions said to add the stock. What stock? Assuming vegetable, but how much? I poured in a half cup, and then added a bit more later to thin the whole thing out a bit.

All in all the final result was amazing. Though I wonder what it would taste like if I had chipolata powder. But I guess given it’s a chili I can be flexible.

Yummy and good for you too!

Still…I’d like to correct the recipe, because I think this one is a keeper.

Thank you to the person that sent me the recipe. I look forward to clarifications!

Pretty good start.


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Still experimenting

I think it’s been more than a year now that I’ve been trying to cook meatless meals. We started out eliminating red meat, and that’s been a constant ever since, except for an occasional night out.

I’ve talked about trying to cook vegetarian and even vegan on this blog. How it was a learning curve and a slow process. How I felt clumsy, how worrying about meal planning and the actual preparation seemed to take up the entire day.

In the beginning there are tomatoes.

You’d think after a year it would get easier. But it hasn’t, though now I have most of what I used to think of as odd ingredients stocked in my pantry, so shopping is easier. The actual searching for recipes and the chopping and stirring and roasting, well, it all still takes a lot of time.

Tonight I made eggplant parmesan. It was supposed to be vegan, but I used real parmesan cheese and cow’s milk, so it was only vegetarian. I have to say, it was better than any eggplant parmesan I’ve had in any restaurant. I’ll make it again for sure.

Yummy.

We’re trying to eat meatless meals about half the time. Sometimes we’re doing that even more than half our meals. I haven’t really seen a difference in our health, but I have to believe we’re better off eating like this than consuming heavy meals with meat as the main course.

And another benefit I just noticed today; all that produce piled up on the kitchen counter sure is pretty.

I guess we’ll just keep on experimenting.

Colorful and good too!