A Time For Everything

June 22nd, 2014 by Jenny

When I was a kid, I was so obsessed with ketchup.  It went on/in everything.  From mac’n’cheese to the more conventional french fry, I was obsessed.  And then, with no real warning, our sordid love affair was over.  Ketchup was disgusting, and I didn’t want it on my hamburger, let alone my mac’n’cheese.  Everything was barbecue, those days.  And really, barbecue is an ideal dipping sauce: spicy, sweet, with a little tanginess thrown in for good measure.

And then Joel and I went to the Old Salt Restaurant in Beaufort, NC.  First, let me begin by saying that they have a fantastic gluten free menu and a staff that’s actually educated on it.  Second, they have these sea salt brined fries…

I recognize the fact that in creating a food blog, I’m signing on to be able to write about food.  But sometimes… the texture and the flavor are just absolutely so amazing, that you don’t even have words for them.  And to be honest, I’ve been chasing that sea salt brined high ever since.

Five Guys fries are not a bad stand in when I’m back in Durham.  They’ve got the flavor just right, but the texture isn’t quite there.

But the thing is, the fries weren’t even it.  They serve them with their own homemade ketchup that is unbelievable.  I just… words…. not there…

And ever since, I’m back on the ketchup wagon.  I knew I was going to have the house to myself on Friday night with a new season of Pretty Little Liars on Netflix (I recognize that I should be watching Orange is the New Black, but that’s a together show while Joel doesn’t really care for PLL).  I was out running errands, and I thought some fries with some sort of fancy ketchup would exactly do the trick.

Balsamic Ketchup

Oh man, did they ever!  Heinz has this ketchup with balsamic vinegar.  The fries were everything that prepackaged frozen fries are, but this ketchup is a game changer.

When I told Joel about it after, he wanted in on that mess.  So we manufactured an excuse to use it again: corndog muffins with tater tots (a preference of his I’ll never understand).

Corndog Muffin

Corndog muffins were a pinterest find from forever ago.  They’re the easiest way to satisfy a corndog craving, which, if you’re anything like me, come fairly regularly.  The recipe is from Iowa Girl Eats, and while I like the concept, her method simply doesn’t work for me.  A) I don’t have a mini muffin tin.  B) I have found the best gluten free cornbread mix in the whole wide world, and I really don’t see any reason to mess with that.  C) I also think we can do a smidgen better than regular ol’ hot dogs.

So let’s simplify this a bit.

Corndog Muffins

  • Prepared cornbread batter*
  • Kielbasa sausage, cut into 12 equal pieces

Pour batter into muffin tins as the recipe directs (do not overfill).  Insert a sausage piece into the middle of each filled muffin tin.  If there is batter leftover, I like to pour it into a small pan and bake plain to have with butter and honey for dessert.

* My personal favorite of the gluten free varieties is Pamela’s.  My homemade cornbread isn’t that good.  I figure if I’m having corndogs for dinner, I might as well go whole hog and treat myself with my favorite cornbread (see what I did there?).

P.S.  The combo with the ketchup.  Absolutely divine.

A Foodie’s Guide to Eating

June 19th, 2014 by Jenny

An alternate title for this post could be “how to simplify meal time” or maybe even “chill out about your food”.  I always start my meal planning with the very best of intentions.  I want to eat wholesome meals full of ethically sourced ingredients that will make my mouth happy.  But then I get home from a long day of work, and $2 tacos end up happening.  Suffice it to say, I have no idea how the beef in $2 tacos is treated.  And then, those really great, really expensive, ethically sourced ingredients sit in my fridge and go bad.

 

So I decided to take a chill pill this spring.  School was really getting me down.  Things were difficult and required long hours, so I decided I needed to be practical about this.  The 30 minute meal concept just didn’t work for me.  Because 30 minute meals always take 40+ minutes the first time you make them, and that’s just way too long to spend on my feet in the kitchen when I’ve already spent all day on my feet in the classroom.  So I started looking for meals that I could make in 10 minutes or less.  This might mean 10 minutes of prep, and then an hour of sitting on my butt watching trashy TV.  I get home from work early enough in the day that that works for me.  So please note the new category to your right.  You’ll be seeing a lot more of these around here.  Even though I’m off for the summer, I’m finding that once you start making 10 minute meals and you realize how yummy and healthy they can be, it’s awfully hard to go back.

Simplify Meal Time

So here are 5 easy steps to simplify your meal time and make 10 minute meals a reality.

1.  Get the right appliances.

A blender might be nice on weekends when you’re making smoothies (I’m lying; I hate blenders), but a rice cooker will serve you well every weeknight.  You can cook a lot more than rice in it, but the main thing to know about rice cookers, is that they turn themselves off when they’re ready.  That means you don’t have to hover over the rice making sure that it doesn’t burn.  Mine is a very simple hand-me-down from my mom when my parents went all low carb.  While there are varying levels of quality, the idea that you can buy one on Amazon for less than $20 has me sold.  I know it takes up space, but really, for enabling you daily to sit on your butt and watch Pretty Little Liars while your dinner cooks, I think we can all agree that it’s worth it.

Another appliance that isn’t strictly necessary but sure is handy is the toaster oven.  My mom’s oven broke, and she used the toaster oven for so much of her cooking, that she waited months before getting it replaced.  Really, had it not been for turkey on Thanksgiving, I’m not sure she would have.  Likewise, the toaster oven can quickly heat up, shortening the overall cooking time.

2.  Get the right condiments.

I’m talking more than ketchup, mustard, and relish here.  A store-bought sauce can pack a big punch and tremendously shorten your time chopping onions and garlic and measuring soy sauce and sesame oil into a bowl.  Don’t get me wrong, homemade sauces are great.  But on a busy weeknight, a store-bought equivalent can be your best friend.  Know what your family likes.  We love the whole San-J gluten free line-up, but a good gluten free barbecue is great too.  Having the right sauce can transform meatballs, make pre-cooked chicken something magical, and help you put together meals in under 10 minutes.  That’s the goal, after all, isn’t it?

3.  When healthy, affordable, and tasty, buy pre-____________.

I’m talking prewashed and/or precut veg, precooked chicken, or any number of convenience foods with minimal additives and preservatives.  If precut veg means I’m eating more veg, it’s hard to see how this isn’t an advantage.  And while precooked chicken will probably not be as good for me as the ethically sourced farmer’s market equivalent, it’s probably a lot better for me than whatever they’re putting in those $2 tacos I love so much.

4.  When best isn’t happening, start figuring out how to do better.

I know that good is the enemy of best.  But for a perfectionist, best can get in the way of better.  My desire to be 100% ethical and organic and healthy in my food choices along with my reality of a busy schedule and demanding career, means that the choices I actually make don’t reflect that desire at all.  Instead, I need to start thinking practically here.  While I’m not suggesting anyone compromise their values, we need to be realistic.  When the ideal or the best choice simply isn’t happening, it must be unrealistic.  Maybe that means we need to cut back on our busy schedules (for me, not really an option, as most of my busy-ness comes from a career that I’m just not willing to leave), or maybe that means we need to start thinking of practical alternatives that are still better than chicken nuggets and fries.

5.  Make it simple.

My old boss used to recite a household mantra before every meal he ate with me, “something white, something dead, something green, something bread.”  Basically, a starch, a protein, a green veg, and a bread.  I tend to remove the bread for health and gluten reasons, but it’s not a bad idea.  You do not need 5 different roasted vegetables with pan-seared pork loin and a homemade balsamic reduction.  You just don’t.  A starch (rice, potatoes, pasta) with a protein (fish, chicken, beef, etc.) and a vegetable will do most nights.  And there are a thousand ways I change this up.  But making things simpler is always a good start.

I start baking potatoes, start the rice cooker, or start my pasta water boiling.  Then, I put a protein in a sauce and into the toaster oven.  And at the last minute, I might sautee a frozen vegetable or chop up a salad.

Thai Lettuce Wraps

For you to see this philosophy in action, check out this super simple recipe for Thai Lettuce Wraps.  Sure, I could have added some bean sprouts, cilantro, and carrots.  And I’m sure that would be tasty.  But, when in doubt, make it simple.  And excluding those tasty options made this a much more practical meal for me.

Thai Lettuce Wraps

  • Rice, cooked
  • Pre-cooked chicken, chopped into bite size pieces
  • Thai peanut sauce (I like San-J)
  • Lettuce (iceburg is ideal for its structure, but I had red leaf in the fridge)
  • Fixin’s (slivered cucumbers and/or carrots, cilantro, chopped peanuts, bean sprouts, etc.)

Prepare the rice in your rice cooker or on the stove.  When it’s basically done (or all the way done, as slightly cooled rice is just fine for this meal), put your pre-cooked chicken with the peanut sauce into the (toaster) oven to heat up.  Wash lettuce leaves and prepare fixin’s of your choice.  When chicken is hot, serve.

The Easiest Gluten Free Anything Ever Made

June 17th, 2014 by Jenny

This is my first week of summer, except only kind of and not really.  The organization that I used to work for has invited me back to teach a workshop this week, which is way cool, and only sort of a bummer that I’m still having to work when I should be in summer mode.  That said, my mornings are still fully mine, and I’m really enjoying them.  I’m still waking up early, partly because my body clock has adjusted yet, and partly because I think it makes it easier for my husband who is very much not a morning person to get up.

I’m also really enjoying making breakfast (something beyond a bowl of chex).  But also, my mom just moved, and because she’s a rockstar and because I’ve consistently had a lot of trouble eating food from her kitchen, even when it’s theoretically gluten free, my mom is trying to maintain a mostly gluten free kitchen, or at least a gluten conscious kitchen.  So she asked me for a super easy, impossible to mess up recipe for some kind of gluten free baked good.  And I have a recipe that I’ve been meaning to tell you guys about for… well… over a year.  It’s my go to muffin to take into work when I’m a little grumpy.  I figure either it’ll get me out of my funk or sharing muffins with coworkers will at least make me tolerable when I am grumpy.  It’s one or the other, for sure.  It’s the sort of recipe that you can totally make on a weekday morning.  And it looks like this.

Chocolate Muffin

But my absolute favorite part about these muffins is that they don’t require that much in the way of “gluten free” ingredients.  They have a mere three-fourths cup of gluten free all-purpose flour.  My favorite for this is King Arthur, but Bob’s Red Mill will certainly do.  Whole grain variations have worked, but not nearly as well.  It’s important that you not use a “cup4cup” style flour blend, as the batter will be too runny then.

I also love how willingly these muffins take mix-ins.  Often, I’ll mix in nuts or chocolate chips (of the white, milk, or dark variety… all are amazing).  Get creative.  They are a blank canvas of chocolate-y goodness.

Chocolate Muffin from above

So mix up a dozen of these babies, dress them up in Bill Cosby cupcake papers, and share with your friends.  You won’t regret it.

Gluten Free Chocolate Muffins

  • 1 c. unsweetened applesauce (if all you have is sweetened, that’s fine, just reduce the sugar to 1/4 c.)
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. oil (I usually use coconut, melted, but any vegetable oil will work)
  • 3/4 c. cocoa powder
  • 3/4 c. gluten free all purpose flour (like King Arthur or Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. salt

Mix first four ingredients until well blended.  Add remaining ingredients and stir until combined.  Spoon into prepared muffin tins.  Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.

Keep Calm and…

June 14th, 2014 by Jenny

To follow up on my last post, hydration helped.  Hydration always helps.  I’m sorry for taking so long to get back to you on that, but the end of the school year absolutely sped by.  I’m still a little in shock that it’s over.

Keys

The classroom is empty, things are labeled, and my key ring feels empty every time I hold it.  I’m not quite sure if I should be sad that it’s over or excited for the summer.  There’s probably a mixture in there somewhere.  I’m really, really happy… until I think about how much I really did love my class.  They were a really great group of kids this year.

Dear Ms Jones

I’m exhausted and thoroughly looking forward to some rest this summer.  Last summer was full.  Full of good stuff, but definitely full.  I traveled to New Mexico and New York.  I planned a wedding.  I moved.  Definitely full.

This summer, I intend for the schedule to be pretty empty.  There are a lot of things changing in my life.  Primarily, I won’t be returning to this classroom in the fall.  I’m not sure where I’m going yet, but I need a change in workplace scenery.  I’m a little anxious while I wait for everything to get figured out, but I’m confident that however it works itself out, it will be good.

There have also been tons of changes for my family.  I won’t go into details because they’re not my details to share.  For one, though, my mommy moved.  My sister went down to Fayetteville to help her yesterday.  That’s a lie.  We went to finally get all of our childhood belongings out of her house.  Downsizing means no longer storing middle school trophies for your children, I guess.  We worked hard.  And then we took a collective nap on the floor.

Nap time

It was grand.

I told you about my summer to do list.  I’m going to be working on that.  Some things have already happened.  I’ll have to update you.  But also, I should tell you that I’m on a minimalism journey.  That I’m trying to be a more ethical person in how I spend my daily life.  The journey is tough, and I’m hoping we can share a bit of it together.  Things around here will probably change.  This might become a little less of a food blog and a little more of a lifestyle blog because for me, those two things are intrinsically linked.

There are some surprises I’ll get to share with you, but I’m waiting for the timing to be right.  We’ll get there.  We’ll get there.

So hold onto your hat because this summer is going to be fun!  It will be full of ways to use all the fresh produce that’s started coming out of my garden.  P.S.  Check out my first cucumber!

Cucumber

It will be full of infused water and ways to make your kitchen more efficient.  It will be full of flax and quinoa because I’m on a serious super food kick.  It will be full of muffins because I have the cutest summer cupcake papers.  We might throw some traveling in.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Preparing for the EOGs

June 3rd, 2014 by Jenny

This week is EOG week at our school.  For those of you unfamiliar with EOGs or old enough to no longer think about them every single May/June, EOGs are End of Grade assessments.  They have a big impact in a student’s ability to continue on to the next grade, and an even bigger impact on my ability to continue teaching.  Thank you, Standard 6.  I have a lot of very passionate political views on the subject, but I won’t force you to hear about them.  Let’s just take all this as a given, and know that, in short, EOGs are stressful.

But there are also some ground rules for EOGs that a lot of people may not be familiar with.  The test is estimated to take 180 minutes in 5th grade, but with instructions and two 3 minute breaks, it ends up being almost 3 and a half hours from start to finish.  Then students who need extended time are given it in a separate setting (i.e., not my classroom).  Test administrators (that’s me) are never allowed to leave testing materials unsupervised.  Let me explain what that means.  Test administrators are not allowed to go to the bathroom during those 3 and a half hours, except in the case of an emergency and where a substitute test administrator is called into the room.  That process is highly distracting for the students, and I’d like to avoid it, if at all possible.

Test administrators are expected to walk around the room to monitor students’ work, with minimal breaks to sit down and never sitting at the same time as the proctor (that’s the other adult in the room).  And then, to top it off, there is no eating or drinking during the test.

I had forgotten just how physically demanding all of that is.  Until yesterday.  The test began around 9:30 a.m.  I had avoided drinking that morning because I didn’t want to use the bathroom during the test.  The test lasted until about 1:00 p.m.  3 and a half hours of almost non-stop walking with no food or drink and while I was already a bit dehydrated.  Then, once the test was completed, there are all sorts of other duties a testing administrator has.  And then, obviously, the kids are starving, so we went to get lunch around 1:15.  Because a lot of our TAs were busy testing, I didn’t get a lunch break, totally understandable, but still a major bummer.  It was easily 1:30 before I had a chance to think about how hungry I was.  And by that time, a lot of the damage had been done.  A seemingly irreversible headache had already set in, I hadn’t brought nearly enough food to school with me, and after I drank my Naked smoothie, I started to munch on starburst candy, which hardly helped the situation.

I was tremendously unprepared, and I paid the price.  When I got home, I fell to sleep almost immediately, woke up briefly when Joel got home from work, and went back to sleep until almost 9 p.m., the headache only starting to subside by that time.

Today, we’ve got another monster long test.  I’m going to be a bit more prepared this time, though.  A) Drinking lots of water this morning, bathroom breaks be darned.  If I’ve got to put an emergency card in my window, then that’s what I’ll have to do.  B) Eating RIGHT before the test.  I’m taking a peanut butter sandwich I’m planning on eating at 9 this morning.  C) As much as I hate it, I think I might drink a bit of caffeine this morning, just to help give me the energy I need.  D) Drinking an entire water bottle immediately after the test is over.  We won’t get any bathroom breaks even after the test is over, but I’m sure I can get a colleague to watch the kids for a few minutes while I relieve myself.  Not drinking is not an option.  I’ll report back on how it went.  Since I have to stay late after school today, I’m hoping the results will be substantially better than yesterday.

Even today, I can do this…

June 1st, 2014 by Jenny

This last week has really knocked me on my butt.  It’s that time of year… the days are longer, people want to get together, and the hours required by my job are just insane.  It’s like everyone else is fully embracing summer, and I’ve got to hold out for just a few more weeks.  I know it’ll be worth it in mid-June, but I’m struggling now.  I’m staying late trying to get my classroom in order.  I’m more exhausted from the school day because the kids are just done, and we’ve got so much still to do.  And when I’m exhausted, here’s how the evening goes:

5ish

Walk in the door.  Ramona rushes up to me, begging to go out.  Walk to the kitchen, let Ramona into the back yard, get a glass of water, and go chill out on my ever so comfy bed.  Veg out, look through instagram, turn on netflix, play yet another game of 2048, etc.

6:20ish

Joel walks in the door, hears Ramona whining at the back door and lets her in, comes looking for me to find me asleep in bed with netflix playing on my ipad.  His coming into the bedroom usually wakes me up.  We then proceed to chat about our days.

6:40ish

We’re in the kitchen.  I don’t feel like spending 30 minutes to cook some fabulous but altogether complicated dinner.  We look in the freezer for gluten free pizza.  No luck.  I guess we’re going out for tacos.

It’s a bad habit to be in.  And I haven’t been buying convenience foods like frozen pizza because when I go grocery shopping on the weekend, I care about health and how bad processed food is for me.  But mid week, when I look in the fridge only to see uncooked/unprepped veg, I opt for going out for dinner.

Because the tacos aren’t good for me either.  And so then I end up eating poorly and letting the healthy food I got at the farmer’s market go bad just because I’m too lazy to prepare it.  Joel always offers to cook dinner, but he’s not the most experienced in the kitchen, I’m actually quite picky, and I’m too tired to give him step-by-step instructions.

So this week, we’re being realistic.  30 minute meals just aren’t easy enough.  I’m looking for 10 minute meals, less if at all possible.  I can handle some wait time while I lay in bed and watch netflix, but I need to count on at least some time where I’m laying down in the evening.

This means convenience foods, but I’m going for the right kind of convenience foods.  Already grilled and chopped chicken isn’t substantially worse than what I could do myself, but can go on top of pasta and salads to create a complete meal.  I go for the minimally processed, gluten free stuff, and Costco has a bag that I’ve been eyeing for weeks.  Bread.  Gluten free bread isn’t cheap (even at Costco), but sandwiches will do in a pinch.  And a slice of peanut butter toast right when I get home can give me the energy I need to actually prepare dinner.  And because I’m a total sucker, Joel and I picked up some gluten free kale chicken burgers they had at Costco yesterday.  I had one for dinner last night when Joel went out with his friends, and I’m pleased with the purchase.

Kale Chicken Burger

Another convenience food I’m planning on using is this gluten free teriyaki sauce I found at Costco (I know, I’m obsessed).  I can throw just about any meat into it and bake.  Put rice into the rice maker.  Add a green vegetable, and we’re done.  I know as well as you do, that homemade teriyaki sauce is easy peasy, but it’s clearly not easy enough, because I’m opting for tacos instead of making it.  So for just a few bucks, I can have something as simple as open, pour, bake, which is hardly more difficult than a frozen pizza.

And this means prepping this weekend.  I don’t like to spend too much time over the weekend chopping vegetables and getting everything in order for the week.  I’ll plan to, but then I don’t follow through.  Because vegetable chopping is boring.  This weekend, I’m planning something simple, but substantially more interesting.  We’re making pesto with all that basil from the garden.  And granola bars that will help get me through each day.  Recipes to come.

 

Going Green: Paper Free

May 29th, 2014 by Jenny

I’ve been trying to take small steps towards creating a substantially greener home.  Step 1 for me was getting rid of all the stupid disposable everything.  Mostly, I’m talking about paper towels.

Paper towels have been a tough habit for my husband and I to kick.  There were a few different road blocks for us.

Gone Paper Free

Road Block Number 1: Laundry

I sewed my own placemats and cloth napkins.  We had a nice set of 6, which is great, if we only eat dinner 3 times a week.  But I don’t do laundry often enough to rotate through them this quickly.  So then we ran out, resorted to paper napkins or paper towels, and never really got into the habit.  Luckily, my amazing sister-in-law knew I wanted more cloth napkins and hunted in thrift stores to get a whole bunch of them for me for Christmas.  I’m not going to lie.  I don’t love all of the patterns.  Some of them are downright ugly.  But some of them are also gorgeous.  And most importantly, the sheer number helped us turn this into a real habit.

The second part of this problem was a storage issue.  Storage when they’re clean, and storage when they’re dirty.  When they were clean, I stored them in an overfilled bottom drawer in the kitchen that just wasn’t accessible enough.  Again, Joel’s family really came through.  His parents had upgraded their china cabinet, and we got their hand-me-down.  This meant access to an almost unlimited supply of cloth napkins.  A huge help!

But I still felt a little confused about what to do when the napkins got dirty.  They didn’t fit into my tri-basket laundry system (whites, brights, and darks).  I found an old hamper from when I was in college up in the attic.  It fit perfectly next to the cat food bin in the laundry room.  This means, I have a place where I can easily through the dirty napkins when I clear the table after dinner.  And then I can wash them when I’m ready.

Road Block Number 2: No alternatives!

I’ve had friends that use a variety of different types of rags instead of paper towels, everything from cut up old t-shirts to just old towels.  These didn’t work for me.  They never seems absorbent enough to deal with spilled beverages.  Here’s where it’s important to be smart about the alternatives.

1) Microfiber: I bought a 24 pack of microfiber cloths from amazon.  These babies are amazing for cleaning.  They dust without chemicals; they clean the bathroom; and my favorite purpose is to use them instead of disposable swiffer cloths.  I think they’re way more effective at attracting dust, dirt, and animal hair, which is a major problem in our house.

2) ShamWow (or similar product): I bought these mega absorbent cloths.  One towel can soak up more liquid than you can possibly imagine.  Paper towels were always my go to when a beverage was spilled.  These work as a much more effective alternative.  I also keep a clean one by the sink to dry off clean dishes (we don’t have a dishwasher), and then let it dry in the dish rack to use again.  If they get dirty, they’re washable as well.

3) Scrubber Cloths: I found these at big lots.  They’re super thick, like a sponge and a cloth had a baby together.  One side is microfiber, and the other is a scrubber.  Mine look a lot like this, although I can’t recommend this brand, necessarily.  I use these for dishes, wiping counters, etc.  I get a new one every three days or so, which makes sure they never get smelly and gross, unlike sponges.  And, of course, they’re machine washable, which makes sure they aren’t just wiping bacteria around your dishes and counters (like the paper towels try to warn you against).

Having these three alternatives, and yes, even a few random washcloths and rags around makes sure that I have exactly what I need for whatever job I need to do.

Road Block Number 3: The Friends

Joel and I stopped using paper towels almost entirely back in February.  We had just purchased a new mega pack of paper towels from Costco, and we were excited to think we wouldn’t need to buy anymore for a long time.  But we noticed that we were still replacing the paper towel roll quite frequently.  Every time we had friends over, especially informal gatherings with snacks, people would grab paper towels instead of using all of our great cloth napkins.  I would even set the cloth napkins out on the counter right alongside the snacks, and people would still reach for the paper towels.  It was even worse when something would spill.  I would watch in horror as they would use 5 sheets or more to clean up after an overflowing glass of soda.

And then Joel had an idea.  Put the paper towels away.  They’re under the sink now.  And we still have them for especially gross messes (we do have three cats and a dog), but they’re completely out of sight for visitors.  Instead, we filled a basket full of all of those great alternatives listed above.  It’s so much prettier than a role of paper towels, too.  I’m sure it’ll be a bit of an education process as friends ask where the paper towels are, but after a couple gatherings, this has been extremely successful.

It’s so much easier than I expected the whole process to be.  In fact, in a lot of ways, I like it so much better than paper towels.  Things get cleaner with a lot less effort.  And throwing out less paper is just a added bonus!  We’ve been slowly transitioning into th

Ramona the Pest

May 28th, 2014 by Jenny

When Joel and I first started dating, he was in the process of selling his condo in Carrboro.  When he finally did sell it a year later (this was back when the market was in pretty rough shape), he invited me along on his house hunt in Durham.  The house that he finally did end up buying has my dream kitchen in it (in a 50s retro, funk counter peninsula kinda way), a fenced in back yard, and is about a block away from a dog park.  We’re very fortunate to have a great neighborhood for walking, including a pretty rad trail.  Less than a year after Joel bought this house and quite a bit before I would move in, I was hounding (pun totes intended) Joel to get a dog.  It seemed a crime to have such an ideal house/neighborhood for a dog and not to have one.

… and then we met Ramona.  I was teaching workshops out by the coast that summer, and some of the interns and I were discussing the different dogs they had.  And then this lady who volunteered at this afterschool program said, “Are any of you looking to adopt a dog?  Because we have some dogs that really need a good home?”  And when I told Joel they had a bunch of black lab/golden retriever puppies that were going to the pound within the week if they didn’t find puppies, he was just as much into it as I was.

Retriever

Ramona’s a tough one to photograph because she’s ALWAYS moving.  I don’t know what we were really expecting with a name like Ramona.  But as much of a pest as she can be at times, I absolutely adore her.

… so when I woke up at 1 this morning because I had a nightmare where she died of this really awful disease, I wasn’t able to go back to sleep.  I had to teach today on little more than 2 hours of sleep.  Obviously not ideal.  So when I was staring at my box of chex this morning, I knew that just wasn’t going to cut it.  I considered toast with peanut butter and banana.  Not a bad option, but I really needed chocolate.

I went searching for this recipe.  And it rocked my world.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Quinoa

Remember those no bake chocolate peanut butter oatmeal cookies you had at VBS every summer?  This is a relatively guilt-free version of that.  It’s so rich and decadent, but the ingredient list beats out your average box of cereal.  Check it out!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Breakfast Quinoa

adapted from The Everything Vegan Cookbook

  • 1/2 c. quinoa
  • 1 1/2 c. milk
  • 2 T. peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 T. cocoa
  • 1 1/2 T. agave syrup (or your sweetener of choice)

Cook the quinoa and milk over medium-low until the quinoa is cooked, and the milk is almost entirely absorbed.  Remove from heat.  While quinoa is still hot, stir in the peanut butter, cocoa, and sweetener.  Top with bananas or eat plain.  Serves 2.

It’s the most… wonderful time…

May 20th, 2014 by Jenny

… of the year.  You know that time of year where all you need is a citronella candle and a lemonade to be exactly perfectly happy on your patio.  We’re eating more meals outside than not these days, and I’m really digging it for a couple reasons: a) fewer dishes to wash and b) I don’t even mind that there’s junk all over our dining room table.

I’ve also been spending every Saturday morning at our local farmer’s market.  I’ve really been trying to get in on the whole organic game, from our vegetables to our meat.  The meat is trickier than I expected.  It’s also a lot more expensive than I expected.  I wanted a steak salad, real bad, but the london broil at my regular beef place was expensive like whoa.  As I was meandering around the market, I hesitated in front of the bison sellers.  There were no customers there which made my hesitation especially conspicuous.  The seller struck up a conversation with me, and I was pretty honest with her.  “I’ve never had bison… does it taste… I’m sorry… but does it taste weird?”  She assured me that it did not.  I don’t really know what I was expecting her to say.  So I took the plunge.  And I walked away with a bison london broil, which she suggested I marinate and cook on the grill until it reached 143 degrees Fahrenheit.

I did.  And it was AMAZING.

Steak Salad

I put it on top of farmer’s market mixed greens with chopped organic strawberries and shredded cheddar cheese.  Then topped with poppyseed dressing.  Don’t mind how the dressing got away from me over on the right.

Lesson Learned

May 18th, 2014 by Jenny

I try really very hard to never indoctrinate my students.  Last year, I refused to tell my students who I voted for until graduation day.  I try hard to do a lot of things at work, but like anything, sometimes I slip up.

The other day, I had misprinted a weekly assignment I gave the kids on Monday.  On Tuesday, I made the necessary corrections, and distributed the corrected assignment to my kids.  When I gave the corrected version to them, I instructed them to crumple up the old one and recycle it.  I didn’t want them using the old version by accident all week.

And then I watched in horror as my students crumpled their papers and threw them toward the trash.  You read that right.  Now the recycling bin.  The trash.  And I let them have it.  Because even if I hadn’t explicitly instructed them on this matter (and I did), we recycle in our classroom (read: I paper in our classroom).  While I don’t think I crossed any lines, I was altogether too emotional to be an effective educator at that moment.

Because to me, recycling is such a “duh” thing to do.  It’s not something where I’m willing to agree to disagree because I really feel like if people are educated enough, they will have to agree with me on this issue.  And I know that I should be more generous with 10 and 11 year olds who have never been educated on said issue.  I should be, but I wasn’t.

And I’m pretty certain the kids wrote it off as “Ms. Jones just being crazy”.  But I was lucky enough to get another opportunity Tuesday afternoon.  During science class, we were discussing cells, living and nonliving things, and decomposition.  So we discussed how composting works, and I mentioned that I do compost at my house.  And then one of my kids raised his hand and asked why.  I wasn’t mad at my students this time around.  I wasn’t frustrated at their lack of understanding.  But instead, I very calmly gave them the best explanation I have:

I compost because it’s good for my garden, but also for the same reason I recycle.  Because land fills stank.  [There was a snicker in the room.]  Yes, I said “stank“, because they more than stink.  And I’d like to do my best so that there are as few of them as possible.

Then one of my kids added that his dad works at the dump, and he doesn’t know how he handles it all day because it’s just so smelly.  And then we got back to science.

Now, I’m not saying I transformed lives with that explanation.  But I will say that since then, several students have come up to me with certain items and asked if they could recycle them.  And absolutely no students have pouted about recycling like they used to.

If fifth graders can start to understand that the environment is important, surely all of us can do our share.  This summer, Joel and I are getting rid of the chemicals.  In the meantime, I’m trying to make small choices that have a bigger impact, starting with my bottled flavored water.

Enter: infused water.  I’m such a fan.  Anything that blends into my garden this well is obviously something I want.

Infused Water

Infused water has always sort of scared me.  It seems like a real hassle, but it’s easier than I thought.  Oranges are sliced and thrown into a pitcher and/or a water bottle.  The pitcher is filled with water and put in the fridge.  Now it’s just a waiting game.  Overnight is ideal, but a couple hours will do if you can’t wait.

The strawberry infused water was essentially the same process.  I might get more creative, but for now, this works for me.