Thursday, January 28, 2010

Crossing Over

I have officially crossed over to being a runner. (Officially because I recognized that I'm a little obsessed with running now).

What led me to this conclusion? When I found myself setting out for a 5 mile run yesterday at 6am even though my brain didn't really want to, running up hills that I'd normally avoid, and being really, really happy about it all, I realized that I'd become a runner.

That is just one sign, however. I've also become part of the running community in my town, running with them two or three days a week. I have different kinds of runs for different days (this morning was a tempo run, which means run faster, yeah!) and I get antsy if I miss one of my runs. I even fell asleep last night thinking about running.

I love being a member of a running group. I have other people to talk about training, events we're looking at, progress, tips and training aids. (Several of them have Garmans, and I think I kinda want one now...) I've also been picking out runners in the group who are a little faster than me and trying to keep up with them so that I can end up running faster.

A few weeks ago, I fell on some stairs, and my first thought was not "Ouch, I fell down," it was "My knees! My running!"

So, yes, I am a runner.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Soup School

I made another soup this weekend to eat on throughout the week. A big pot of soup easily lasts us the entire week for lunches with a dinner or two thrown in. I don't mind eating the same thing for both lunch and dinner; if I do, I'll vary what I have with it (salad? bread? cooked greens?) so I don't get bored.

I realize that one reason I can just whip out a soup without a recipe is that I use the same "base" recipe for soups and just vary what I put in it, based on what's in my fridge/freezer. Since I figure some of my intrepid readers might like to experiment with making delicious, nutritious, and filling soups of their own (without much fuss!), I thought I'd post a short course on soup making.

I like to start my soups with a mirepoix, which is just a fancy way of saying onion, carrots, and celery. If I don't have celery or carrots, I simply start with onion, but I prefer celery and carrots for my soup base. Finely dice the mirepoix and saute in butter or a splash of olive oil until the vegetables begin to soften and get fragrant.

For those who are meat-eaters or like a little meat flavor in their soup, feel free to add a ham hock or bit of chopped stew meat, a smoked turkey leg (really good with split pea, incidentally), or something like a venison neck bone that is lurking in the depths of your freezer (yes, that would be us). Searing the meat helps release some of the flavors into the soup base.

The liquid part of the soup can be plain water, a bit of flavorful stock (you really should try to make your own occasionally, or at least buy good quality stock free of MSG or preservatives), or a bit of bouillon and water. We have a salt-free vegan vegetable bouillon that is nice to use if we don't have any vegetable stock on hand. (I use a salt-free bouillon because I can add my own salt, and I'm after the vegetable/herb flavor anyway. I'm planning on trying my hand at some homemade bouillon soon.)

Now here's the hard part: what are the main components of your soup? As a (mostly) vegetarian, I obviously want gobs of vegetables and beans. There is nothing wrong with a bit of meat or dairy, of course, for those who want something a bit heartier. I find the best soups showcase the vegetables and use the meat as a flavor rather than primary component. You can use a mixture of fresh vegetables or frozen, whatever you might have on hand.

The soup I made this weekend was a freezer clearing soup: I used frozen squash and a partial package of peas, a lone can of green beans I needed to get rid of, some beans we'd tossed in the freezer a while back, a frozen pepper, frozen leek tops leftover from another recipe, and some frozen celery. I also thawed out a couple of cups of pumpkin puree to add to the liquid, which was a delicious way to add flavor and thicken it a bit. My primary seasonings for this one were an Italian herb mix, parsley, nutritional yeast (which ups the umami quotient without using animal products!), and salt and pepper.

Other ideas would be to add more legumes (like lentils or split peas) for a legume-based soup, or adding more vegetables if you want a mixed vegetable soup. Potatoes, squash (winter or summer), greens, etc. make great soups. You could even roast cubes of vegetables to change the flavor profile. Adding milk, cream, or cheese (or a combination) would make the soup creamier and thicker. Adding a vegetable puree (like potato) would also thicken it up. Adding a bit of rice, oats, bulgar wheat, or any other grain lends a different texture to the soup.

Add your vegetables, legumes, and/or grains to the pot (after the liquid) and let cook until the vegetables are done and everything is tender. You'll want to taste and adjust your seasonings, since salt levels can vary wildly, depending. (And if you accidentally over-salt, just throw in a cubed chunk of potato to simmer until tender! Potatoes absorb salt like crazy.) If you plan to add cheese/dairy, wait until towards the end of the cooking time.

Making a good soup is largely a matter of taste, what you want in a soup, and (at least for me) which ingredients are available. I would just take the soup base and experiment with adding different ingredients and seasonings to see what you can come up with!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pumpkin minestrone

As I just learned from Wikipedia, a minestrone is a thick vegetable soup, Italian in origin. So I can officially sorta call the soup that I created the past weekend a minestrone.

It's the season for soup: when I'm craving something warm and healthy and filling (but generally light), I reach for soups. I'm not normally very good at just making up recipes, but soup is one of the things that I do easily by feel. I usually start with a sense of what I'm looking for in a soup, scour my cabinets and freezer/refrigerator to see what ingredients I have, then throw it all together. This soup was one such concoction (with Lance's spicing help).

I wanted to make a pumpkin and bean soup. I had frozen pumpkin cubes and plenty of beans. I almost leaned toward a curried-coconut milk based soup, but veered toward the lighter minestrone feel. It made a huge pot of deliciousness--I just finished off the last bowl with half an avocado chunked into it. With a hunk of crusty bread and/or a salad, this soup makes for a satisfyingly wholesome winter meal.

Sorry about the approximations on the ingredients--I really did just throw things together. The good thing about soups, fortunately, is that there is plenty of wiggle room for ingredients, so feel free to add a vegetable or three (or even some grains or a little meat, if you're into that) or make substitutions like mad! (I thought that it might be especially good with a little chopped chard for some greenery).

Pumpkin Minestrone
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 lbs cubed pumpkin or squash
  • 4 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes (I heartily recommend Muir Glen canned tomatoes)
  • roughly 3 cups (or 1-2 cans) beans (I used baby limas, but I imagine that navy beans would be good. I put in about 1.5-2 cups uncooked lima beans in the pressure cooker and let them cook lightly, finishing them in the soup)
  • salt, pepper, nutritional yeast, Italian seasonings to taste
In a big pot, heat the olive oil on a medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and saute until the vegetables soften some. Add in the garlic and cook a little more.

Add the pumpkin, stock, tomatoes, beans to the pot and bring to a boil. Turn down the pot to a simmer and let the vegetables cook. Add some salt and pepper and other seasonings to taste.

When the pumpkin begins to lose the corners on the cubes and gets soft, mash up a few of the cubes to thicken the soup (if you so desire--this was Lance's idea), taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

So simple and so good! I think this soup is delicious, and since it makes a lot, you could probably freeze some of it for later or share with several friends.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Joke

Q: What does a vegan zombie eat?

(I love cheesy jokes, incidentally. Love them to pieces. Really bad puns are also infinitely amusing. I don't know why, but this one has been making me giggle all weekend, especially as I was eating my bowl of GRAAAIINS!!! this morning.)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Just What I Needed

Several months ago, I encountered a pair of the loveliest boots when I was browsing for new footwear. I own a pair of black knee high boots, but they aren't always practical and comfortable for walking, so I was on the hunt (like Donna before me) for practical, beautiful boots. Then these Keen Bern High Boots came across my radar:Just...look at them. Don't they look lovely? They were everything I wanted in a new pair of boots: good quality, highly functional, warm, and purportedly comfortable. Lance owns a pair of Keens and raves about how awesome they feel on his feet and how well made they are. When I saw this review of them, my decision was made. I must have these boots.

Oh, but they are expensive. Quality shoes usually are, and these oh-so-durable and comfortable boots were outside my budget. So I sighed longingly and visited various sites that sold them each week, hoping for a sale, but alas, no such luck. I showed them to various people, eliciting opinions on which color I should get (the brown? the black?), finally deciding that I like the reddish brown color the best.

Several months later, I stumbled across them again on REI. On sale!! The stars had aligned. I had just taken the GRE and greatly improved my score, so I talked myself into them as a reward for my hard work (oh, the studying! The application process!)

And I must say they were one of the smartest shoe purchases I've made.

They are soft and comfortable and durable and quality. They fit like a dream. I tramped through snow on Christmas night in them, and my feet were cozy and warm. I've been wearing them all this week as temperatures reach dangerously low temperatures, and they keep my feet happy. They are the perfect mix of style, comfort, and walkability, and they are mine.

The lesson? Delayed gratification is sometimes more satisfying than impulse purchasing, especially when it results in cute and comfy boots.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Challenge!

Last October, I joined the Social Workout Eat, Sweat, Blog challenge, which was super fun. It turns out that I'll willingly deprive myself of things if it's a game. I had tons of fun and even got a cool t-shirt out of it. So I joined the Emergency Holiday Challenge, which was also fun (although I didn't complete enough challenges).

Then I saw the New Year's Edition Challenge, which runs from January 11-February 12, and figured it would be a fun way to challenge myself to keep working out regularly and to accomplish daring feats! I think I even convinced my co-worker to sign up too. Feel free to join in the fun, if you wish!

The Challenge requires one to workout 20 times in the 33-day period and to accomplish at least 10 feats of strength. I like to figure out which feats I plan to attempt, and so I shall share them with you here. I selected 15, so that if a few don't work out, I still accomplish what I'm after.
  • Jan Plan Plus: No booze from January 11th-January 31. Not always the most fun, but definitely a good challenge.
  • Sugar-Free: One week, no sugar--always a challenge for me! I shall attempt extend this one for the duration of the challenge
  • Whole-Grainy: no white foods for the duration (white rice, white flour, etc)
  • Swap Meat: Well, since I'm a vegetarian, I'm going to try to do Vegan Mondays (or a vegan day once a week). Shouldn't be too hard...
  • Home Food: four meals a week at home? Easy as homemade pie. :)
  • Sun Salute: sun salutations, every morning--a great way to wake up and tone my arms!
  • Stand Up: on the hour, every hour, at work. Because sitting kills.
  • Home Workout: create a workout space and use it once a week. This might be difficult because I can't create a dedicated workout space--I just have to use my office or my living room. For me, the challenge will be utilizing a home workout resource: videos, yoga mat, etc.
  • Take a bath: ohhh, yeah. This is a good one--since I'll be doing longer and longer Sunday runs, taking a bath afterward will aid in recovery and warm me back up!
  • Sleep log: keep track of when I go to bed and when I get up...because I really should be sleeping more with the increased running.
  • Sleep discipline: for seven days in a row, get up and stay up by 6:30am. Yikes!
  • Worm and Fuzzy: Compost! (Which we already do, so this one's a freebie for me)
  • Energy Sabbatical: twice during the challenge, shut off all inessential electronics. This will be tough, but Lance thinks it'll be a fun challenge too!
  • Plant Friendly: possess plants. Um, double check on that one. Another freebie!
  • DIY Feat: I'm challenging myself to simplify my life. This means working to get rid of useless/excess belongings and other simplifying measures, such as reducing the number of Google Reader subscriptions...
Should be a fun time all around!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Fruits of the Press

Yesterday, I discussed making tofu. When I posted, I had yet to actually try any of the fruits of our tofu press. Today we had both something made from the leftover soybean pulp (or okara) and the freshly made tofu.

For breakfast, Lance fried up some soysage patties. If you like sausage, you definitely will not be fooled, but these little mock-breakfast meats were pretty satisfying with a fried egg and piece of homemade bread. I like them and will most likely continue to use the okara (soybean pulp) to make a batch every now and then.

Dinner was also soy based, as I wanted to eat the tofu while it was still fresh, since all of the tofu making guides claim it is most delicious when fresh. So I busted out Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, my go-to guide for cooking, well, everything vegetarian. (A note: if you are looking for a comprehensive guide to vegetarian cooking, buy this book. Seriously.)

I decided to make Braised Tofu and Peas in Curried Coconut Milk, which while it might seem to be something to mask the flavor of freshly made tofu, it in fact proved complimentary. Luckily it made enough for many meals for the next week. Since I love peas, curry, and coconut milk (not to mention tofu), it was a recipe that pleased me. A warning: the recipe calls for quite a lot of tofu. If you are new to tofu or are uncertain if you like the texture of braised tofu, try a bit less, add more vegetables, and see how you like it. You can also freeze and thaw or press and fry the tofu beforehand to firm up the texture.

And yes, the fresh tofu definitely tasted better than the packaged stuff, but if you're new to tofu, definitely don't be intimidated. I like the ease and convenience of the non-homemade tofu as much as anybody and will probably still buy it on occasion because making tofu is sort of a pain, even if it is cheaper and tastier.

adapted from Sam's Mom's recipe
  • 4 cups soy pulp
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup wheat germ
  • 3/4 cup oil
  • 1 1/4 cup water (original called for soymilk, which I didn't have)
  • 2 cups nutritional yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp fennel seed
  • 1 tsp black pepper (or more, to taste)
  • 2 tsp sage
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (or more for spicy soysage)
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp liquid smoke
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (or more, if you love garlic), or 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 3/4 tbsp mustard powder
Mix ingredients in a large bowl. Put into a loaf pan and steam in a wok or a covered pot on a rack for at least half an hour. Let sit until cool, then scoop out to make patties to fry.

Braised Tofu and Peas in Curried Coconut Milk
adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
  • 2 large onions, quartered
  • 1 28-oz can tomatoes with their liquid (I prefer the Muir Glen canned tomatoes)
  • 2 tbsp neutral oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2-3 tbsp garam masala or curry powder, or a combination--to taste. (I mixed them, and added 3 tbsp)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup nutritional yeast (optional)
  • red pepper or other heat (we like it spicy in the M-M household)
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs (1-2 packages) firm to extra firm tofu, cut into 3/4-in cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups peas (I ended up using two 10-oz pkgs because I LOVE PEAS)
  • 1 can coconut milk plus a little water
  • Chopped cilantro for garnish (unless cilantro is vile to you like it is to me, then I garnished with some cashews instead)
  • brown rice (or other grain) for serving (optional)
Place the onion and the tomato in a food processor and puree. Put the oil in a pot and heat, adding the puree. Add salt, pepper, and spices. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Add the tofu and peas and cook for another 5 minutes, until the tofu swells slightly and the peas are tender. Stir in the coconut milk and bring back to almost a boil, stirring occasionally (though not too much, or you'll break up the tofu). Taste, adjust seasonings as needed and serve with (or without) garnish.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Homemade Tofu

I love tofu. I really do. Even before I declared myself a vegetarian, I ate tofu regularly with delight and enthusiasm. I think it's versatile and tasty, when prepared properly.

Because I love tofu so much and because homemade tofu is apparently much better (and cheaper) than store-bought, Lance bought me a tofu making kit. It sat, dusty and forlorn atop my refrigerator for a year, until finally we decided to use our Sunday to use it. I don't know what the heck took us so long.

Using this post as our guide, we dutifully soaked our soybeans, ground them, and pressed them. The first batch didn't turn out as well as expected because we didn't grind the soybeans finely enough--Lance used a hand blender. The recipe was supposed to make one tofu mold full, but we got a thin little brick instead.

Wanting to figure out what was wrong, Lance got another batch of soybeans soaking, and today we tried again with a blender. Our results were MUCH better.

Here's a picture of the mold lined with muslin and the soy curds...

And our high-tech pressing system (a jar of cherries)

After it presses for about five hours, we'll have a nice block of firm tofu! It's all very exciting. I think we may have to invest in a soymilk maker, however, if we want to make it regularly because the most time intensive part of the process is making the soymilk. We're going to make soy sausage from the leftover soybean bits (called okara), so I may post that tomorrow.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Making a Bed

For Christmas, my dear friend AW bought me One-Yard Wonders, a sewing book with over 100 projects that only require one yard of fabric. I'd been eye-balling the book since she showed me her copy a few weeks before Christmas, but luckily I decided to hold off until I had, you know, more money. Which worked out in my favor--thanks AW!

Anyway, the first project that caught my eye was the "Better than a Box Pet Bed," which looked nice and snuggly. Cats are notorious for shunning beds that are purchased/made especially for them, but my cats LOVE fleeces (or "fuzzy blankets" as they are known in the M/M household). How could they possibly resist a cushy bed made entirely of soft, warm fleece?

Hobby Lobby had a sale on fleece fabric; I had Hobby Lobby Christmas giftcards, and thus the fates aligned for me to make this:

As you can see, the cat does not shun it. She in fact loves it. And since I have two cats, I shall make another one to lay in random places around the house. This way the cats have warm comfortable places to lay when we're not home and they can't snuggle under the covers with us, which is how they've been coping thus far with the cold weather and our reluctance to turn on the heat above 68.

As soon as Rory vacated the bed, Neko jumped right in, so I'm sure the beds will be popular with both kitties.

And, I'm already working on one of my resolutions! Small sewing projects like these will help me hone my skills so that I can then move on to more advanced items, like dresses. Such as this one. And let's not forget this one. So pretty, and they so need to be in my closet.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

A New Year

It's that time of the year, you know, the beginning. When we're all congratulating ourselves for making it through Christmas without bodily harming any relations, even when they blare Fox News in the background. (Oh, wait. I didn't see my family on Christmas this year...)

Regardless, it's always nice to feel that beginnings and fresh starts are possible. I try to resist the urge to make resolutions, but the fact is that I like making lists, and resolutions are really just the things I think about the rest of the year anyway, so why fight it?

Jewish traditions have a period of reflection and repentance at the end of the old year and a fresh start to the new one. While I don't really go for the whole confession of sins to expunge them from my conscience sort of activity, I do think some reflecting on the year past is in order. You'll see this in another form when I post my Archies.

2009 was an exciting year for me. I graduated with my MA in English after defending my thesis, I job hunted (and interviewed but was not successful, alas), and I moved in Lance to a new place. I now have steady access to a washer and dryer. I saw the Decemberists twice and love them more passionately than ever before. I watched the other building in my apartment complex explode and lived through Ice Storm 2009 and survived to tell the tales. I got a new cat, who is cute and fuzzy. I watched as close friends graduated, bought houses, and moved on to new jobs and places and exciting new prospects. I quit running for six months, only to pick it up again with a renewed love and devotion. While feeling increasingly isolated from my parents, I feel that I'm growing closer to my brothers and my extended family. I cooked and entertained and became a full-fledged vegetarian (well, pescatarian). I took the plunge and applied for Ph.D. programs.

It was a good year.

What does 2010 hold for me? What am I planning, hoping, and wishing for? My goals for the next year are as follows:
  1. To post here more often.
  2. To do less in general (i.e. no running around like crazy all the time)
  3. To foster my creative side more
  4. To continue running regularly, culminating in a half-marathon in the spring and a full marathon in the fall
  5. To start my Ph.D. somewhere awesome!
I think those five will do at present. Lance and I are thinking of the possible move ahead of us (but of course, nothing is certain), so we are working to purge some of our excess belongings waaaay before packing it up is an issue.

I'm exciting about 2010. But then again, when do I not delight in my life? It's a pretty good one if I do say so myself--I have awesome friends, a fantastic partner, fulfilling interests, and a strong sense of where I want to go. Happy New Year, friends!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Starting the Year Off Right

The new year is a time of celebration with friends and loved ones. It's also a time to think of new beginnings and assess the year gone by and examine hopes for the year ahead. At least that's one way of looking at it.

In this spirit, I found myself awake a bit earlier than my bedtime would indicate, standing in the freezing cold weather, waiting to run 6.2 miles. Why, do you ask, would I put myself through this? On a holiday, nonetheless? Not to mention that I paid for the privilege of (what some may believe, anyway) tormenting myself?

This morning, I ran the Twenty 10k. In October, I had signed up with a training group, subsequently trained for 10 weeks (mostly sticking with the plan!), and registered for the race. It was my first race over a 5k distance, and I felt a good way to launch myself back into the running lifestyle.

After being injured last March training (inconsistently) for a half-marathon, I thought I would tackle something between a 5k distance and 13.1 miles. Hence, the 10k.

It went really well: it was chilly, but I was ready for that since I'd been training in chilly weather a few days a week, and even though I didn't run Wednesday when I was supposed to, I managed to get my last long run in and even ran consistently through the Christmas holidays. And my hard work paid off.

My goal was to finish in under 60 minutes, and I accomplished that. I also placed third in my age group, which makes me feel even better about my running--and makes me want to be faster. I've already signed up for a half-marathon group along with several of the Twenty 10k training group.

So here's to starting the new year off right--and hoping that I am able to keep running and have a great running year.