Thursday, May 31, 2012

At War

This past weekend I, along with the rest of America, took time to give thanks for those who have given their lives during war.  However, Ialso had another reason to give thanks: For the first time, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I would not be adding my brother's name to that list.  How did I know?  Well, he returned from his last tour of duty on Saturday morning and is getting out of the Army next month.

It is finished.

Now, for the very first time I will honestly answer that question that so many people have asked me --  How do you feel about having a loved one at war?

How do you feel?  Well...

You feel a mixture of pride and fear when you find out they are signing up to join the military.  They head off to basic training and you think, "How did this little boy get to this point?"  You wait for the letters to come, hoping that they aren't screaming at him too much and that he has the endurance to make it through 22 weeks of that level of intense training.  You marvel at the fact that he got pepper sprayed and gassed and made it through and you think, "I hope that part of the training will never be useful in real life."  And then you go to graduation and your heart fills with pride to see how much this boy has become a man during that short period of time. 

Not long after that, you find out that all that training did have a purpose as he gets his first orders: Iraq.  You feel disconnected to his reality.  His random phone calls in the middle of the night tell have some stories of tanks and landmines, but are mostly filled with questions of loved ones back home.  You pray earnestly that not only will he survive, but the death and destruction that he will witness will be minimal.  You realize that those are, by definition, a very real part of war, but you can't bear to think that this little boy who you held when he was baby, got into tickling matches with, and smacked really hard when he annoyed you was facing things that you will never understand.  And then you pray some more.

You feel embarrassed when you have to get up and walk out of the sanctuary at church when they showed a short clip of soldiers passing out wheelchairs to those in need in Iraq.  You don't want people to see you sobbing, knowing that nobody else will judge you, but feeling stupid all the same. 

You have this strong, irresistible urge to go up to any boy or girl in uniform in the airport to give them a hug and a "thank you", hoping somewhere, somebody is doing the same for your brother. 

You let the only tears escape your eyes on your wedding day when you get a phone call from Iraq saying, "Sis, I wish I could be there..." 

You are angry for the Army not keeping their word on letting him take his leave during this time, but you understand that they have a war to fight, and your wedding is not their highest priority.  But you wish they understood that your brother, you only immediate family member left, being able to come to your wedding was your priority.  And you realize that sometimes you are at odds with the world.

But finally the day arrives for him to come home and you are at the airport with balloons and hugs and a heart that is skipping a beat.

Fast Forward to a year a half later and you are starting the whole process again.  But this time the destination is different and so is the situation.  This time "Afghanistan" is stamped on his orders and he has a wife kissing him goodbye.  You are grateful for this stronger support for him while he is out and you pray daily for them to stay strong for each other, knowing full well that missing your spouse is much harder than missing your brother, and there is no way you can understand how hard that must be if this is so damn hard for you...

A couple of more things change.  News doesn't get turned on because you just don't want to know if somebody died out there.  Veteran's Day and Memorial Day take on a whole new meaning.  Holidays get a date change.  Thanksgiving is celebrated in June, Christmas in January, and you realize that dates don't mean so much, but the people who spend these days with you mean the world.

You cry every time that Walmart Christmas commercial comes on.

You realize you have an awesome group of friends and feel so grateful for their response to Operation: Merry Christmas that you put into action, knowing that your little brother received close to 100 letters or packages to celebrate the holiday.

And then, when it is all over, you breathe out a big sigh of relief because he made it.  Life and limbs all still present.  You can't help but get a lump in your throat, though, when you realize that there are many families out there who can't say the same, and you don't understand why you get that privilege and they don't.  You know that some of his very friends gave their lives, and you just don't get it.  But deep in your heart you know that you are grateful it wasn't you who got that knock on the door, and decide really the best you can do is give thanks for your situation and give support for those that don't have a situation that matches yours. 

Ultimately, though, you are proud.  That is a feeling that lasts the entire time, from beginning to end.  Proud of his accomplishments, proud of his growth, proud of the fact that he maintained a good attitude throughout it all. 

Proud of the man that has come home in place of the little boy that was sent off.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My farmer's market is cooler than yours is...

Ok, I don't know if that is entirely true.  I haven't been to yours, so I can't actually say.  But I have been to mine and it is pretty darn awesome.

I don't actually go all that often.  Actually, pretty much never.  We are usually busy during Farmer's Market time, so although I would like to go, I cannot.  But this weekend I could.  I didn't go all crazy, just get some stuff I need/want.  There was so much I wanted, but had no use for at this moment as I already went grocery shopping for the week, but I did find some pretty sweet items. 

          1  //  lemon-basil
          2  //  green-onions
          3  //  home-made potato and onion perogies
          4  //  1/2 pound of mixed greens and edible flowers

Except for the perogies, everything was cheaper than I can find in the grocery store.  I am willing to pay more for fresh perogies instead of frozen ones from the supermarket.  You could taste the difference.  And you should smell that lemon-basil!  I didn't even know the stuff existed, but now I am hooked.

We had planned to get Togo's for lunch (Mmm... avocado and turkey sandwiches) but since I had this stuff I figured I better use it. 

Move over, Togos!  There is some new competition in town!

There you have it, my farmer's market meal.  Fresh perogies cooked in olive oil with sliced onion and topped with chopped lemon-basil, along with a mixed-green salad with blue cheese and some walnut-raspberry-Gorgonzola dressing from Trader Joe's.  So good -- both in taste and in health.

You too can enjoy this meal.  Although the fresh perogies were better, the ones you get at the grocery store are pretty yum, too.  Just slice some onion and cook with the perogies (while frozen) in 2 T of olive oil, over medium heat.  Flip occasionally.  Cook until they are golden.  Not pictured here, but tastes AMAZING when you dip in sour cream... oh man, just talking about it makes me think I need to go back and get some more!

Monday, May 28, 2012

My Little Herb Garden

Yesterday it hit me: I need to plant an herb garden, NOW!

This isn't anything new for me, I have done it a couple of times, but I have two things going against me: lack of space and plenty of squirrels.

I decided not let those things get me down, however.  Who needs a big yard for herbs?  Nobody.  A little back porch will do just fine, right?  And for the squirrels, a Google search gave me some ideas to keep them away, like mixing water/vingegar/garlic together and putting it on the perimeter of your garden.  Perimeter in my case means edge of the pot, but I decided to try it.  The OSH lady assured me that a little vinegar and garlic (a little!) would not hurt my plants, so I am giving it a try.  I will let you know how it goes.  Until I know for sure whether or not the squirrels will stay away, I will enjoy my parsley, tarragon, oregano, and rosemary.  Basil coming soon.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sundays with Joy: Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

I am so incredibly proud of myself right now.  For the first time in my life I have made cupcakes from scratch.  Not from the box, from scratch.  Vegan cupcakes, at that!

Yes, the ingredients are a little unusual.  Avocado, white vinegar... not your typical baking supplies.  But you know what?  They totally worked.

My ingredients were even a little more unusual.  Last October I did the October Unprocessed challenge and I started buying this unbleached flour and organic sugar, and I liked it.  Yeah, the graininess of the sugar is a bit different, as is the color, but it works just fine.  So not only are these cupcakes vegan, but they are unprocessed as well.  Except for the frosting.  Silk soy milk doesn't really fall into that category last time I checked.

Then I added a little bit more of the cocoa powder because, well, I like chocolate.  Now, adding way more avocado then called for... yeah, that was just an accident.  Somehow the 1/4 cup looked like 3/4 cup to me... whatever.  It totally worked.

And since I learned my lesson last week, I checked all the expiration dates.  Not only was my baking powder expired, but so were some of the other items.  Oops!  Guess I need to bake more often so they don't sit around in my cupboard for so long!  (I was going to put coconut in my cupcakes and on top of the frosting, but shreds were dried and long past their date.  Yes, I was very sad.)  I tossed all that old junk out and headed to the grocery store where I spent some time in the baking aisle filling my basket with supplies.  What a difference the fresh ingredients make!

I tried to be all fancy and use my cookie press/decorating gun to make a beautiful top, but that didn't turn out so well.  So I pulled out a knife and just spread that frosting on there.  At one point I took the gun and pretended to be Sydney Bristow... you know, and take out all the bad guys.  My husband just stared at me.  Then he threw up his hands and said with a smile on his face, "Why does this not surprise me?"

Yay for being with someone who knows you are weird and is more than OK with it! :)

To make things a little different, I turned the frosting into minty-buttercream (once I figured out my super coconut idea was not going to be working out).    End result?  Delicious!  These cupcakes are light and airy, very fresh, and just the right amount of sweetness.  I have had two, he has had three.  Or four.  The truth is you would never be able to tell they were vegan unless you were told. 

But you better mash you avocados well unless you want your husband asking why there is a booger in his cupcake... ;)

Recipe adapted from the Joy the Baker Cookbook.

Yield: 12 cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cup unbleached flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup raw, organic sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup mashed avocado (about 1 avocado)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
(for the buttercream)
  • 3/4 cup vegan butter in sticks, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 2 tablespoons soy milk
  1. Preheat oven to 375*F.  Line cupcake pan with liners.
  2. Mix flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  Set aside. 
  3. In large bowl, mix sugar, oil, avocado, water, vinegar, and vanilla.  Add the flour mixtures and mix.
  4. Pour into cupcake liners, filling 2/3 of the way.  Bake for 18-20 min.  Let cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan.
  5. For the buttercream -- place "butter" in mixing bowl and mix on low until soft.  Add the cocoa powder and sugar and stir to incorporate.  Add the vanilla, peppermint, and soy milk.  Mix on medium speed until fluffy.
Store cupcakes, well wrapped, in fridge for up to four days.

Cost: $6.90                 Cost per Cupcake (12): $0.58

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Stewed White Beans with Spinach

Don't have much to say about this one, quick and easy, mix and cook, the end.

This is a great dish to have when friends are over because you can easily make it and top with bacon and cheese (which is my style), leave off the bacon to make it vegetarian, or leave off both the bacon and cheese and cook with vegetable broth to make it vegan.  And it takes only about 20 minutes start to finish.  Like I said above, easy.  And fresh.  Perfect.

(A picture of my life, right there.  Food on the stove, Havaianas on my feet, and comfy clothes on my body.  Life.  It's great.)

Recipe adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray, March 2011


  • slices bacon (I used turkey bacon, gave it a lighter feel, but any would taste good)
  • 1 pound baby red-skinned potatoes, cut into 1/3-inch cubes
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 15 ounce cans white kidney beans beans, rinsed
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups packed baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese


  1. In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat, turning halfway through, until just crisp, 8 to 10 minutes; drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease from the skillet.
  2. Return the skillet to medium-high heat, add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the beans, chicken broth and lime juice; season with salt and pepper. Simmer until the liquid is almost absorbed, about 7 minutes. Stir in the spinach and cook until just wilted, about 1 minute. Crumble the bacon on top and sprinkle with the parmesan.

Cost: $9.74                 Cost Per Serving (4): $2.44

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I feel old, but I feel PROUD... (The Wednesday Files)

Ten years ago I made a quick decision, just on a whim really, to pack up and go on a mission trip to the Republic of Palau.  When I say quick decision, I mean it went like this: "Christmas break was a little boring.  I think I will go on the trip for Spring Break so I have something fun to do."  Yup, that was it.

So I went.  And, of course, it was wonderful.  But more importantly than being wonderful, I made another quick decision.  While eating a PB&J with some Americans who were taking a year off of college to teach school there I mentioned how great of an experience they were having.  "You should do it," one of them said. 

"Yeah, that sounds good.  But not next year, I have to be home next year."
"No worries," she replied, "come back the year after that."

"I think I could do that..." 

"And if you taught 4th grade you would have my little 2nd graders.  They are the best kids in the world!"

"Sure, why not?"

And so I did.  I went two school years later, taught 4th grade, and spent the year with the best kids in the world.

I was only 20, but I was living on an island in the middle of nowhere, busting out lesson plans and hugs, loving every minute of it.

These kids, all 18 of them, wiggled their way into my heart. 

Yes, I have frizzy hair in that picture.  And no make-up.  It was hot.  No, scratch that, it was hotter than hot.  Everyday around 1:30, right as we were trying to make our way through our English lesson, sweat would start dripping down their faces and my back, eyes would start closing and heads would start dropping, and the air would get really stagnant.  But then the rain would come and pour down for 15 minutes, bringing some relief into our afternoon.

Even in the middle of that heat, and the fight against large spiders, my days were filled with happiness.  These kids, my kids, filled my days with hugs and laughter and definitely taught me a thing or two.

There are so many things I could tell you about that time of my life, so many, but today I just need to tell you one --

my kids graduated high school this past weekend.

The last time I saw them, they were no longer my fourth graders, but my friend Niki's 7th-graders.  (She and I had a conversation something like the one above at one point...)  They were starting middle school and heading into the world of first crushes and time spent in front of the mirror.  No longer were they my little kids sharing their cookies with me.  But they were still my kids.  They were the first ones to make a spot in my heart in that fashion, and they would always have that place that only a first class can hold.

Today, they are heading off to college and boot camp. 

They are all grown up.

I feel old, I really do.  But more than that, I feel proud.  Wiseman is no longer that little boy who went against my call to stop jumping off of the ledge and wound up breaking his arm... nope, he has been sworn into the Marine Corp.

Kylee isn't trying to hide the ice cream she was stuffing into her face while I was out of the room.  She is heading off to college.

I am not a mother yet, but I think I understand when all you moms say, "They grow up so fast."

To my once-little kids in the class of 2012, I am proud of you, I believe in your ability to do great things for our world, and I love you. 

Dios lomekngeltengat er kau!

A Week of Meals on the Cheap

My husband and I are those kind of people that really watch what we spend.  No, we are not cheapskates, but we try to be aware of what we have available to us, what we want to do with it, and what we need to do to make that happen.  That means we are budgeters.  For the first couple years of our marriage I had no problem sticking within the food budget.  We pretty much just ate the same seven dishes rotating through our week nights and so the expenses were quite consistent from week to week.  Now times have changed.  Now I love cooking, and I spend my free time pouring over food magazines and blogs and find myself constantly saying, "I want that!"  Usually that requires ingredients I don't normally have on hand, which means I then need to run to the grocery store and get some extra stuff.  If this happens enough you can imagine what can happen to our budgeting skills... POOF!   They are out the window.

So I came up with a plan.  I didn't want to give up my discovery-of-great-food process, we wanted to make sure we still had money at the end of the month to spend elsewhere, and he always wants more beans and rice.  Seeing as how marriage is all about compromise, we put this all together and decided that one week a month we would do a "meals on the cheap" week, with beans and rice as our base to save the money for the other, more "glamorous" weeks.

Have a moment to see what I came up with. 

//beans and rice//        //ground beef skillet//      //tomato salad//

//beans and rice//      //avocado pizza//      //spinach salad//

//beans and rice//      //radish toast//      //sauteed broccoli//

//beans and rice//      //radish toast//      //spinach salad//

There you have it!  Five nights, five cheap and yummy dinners.  A few things I would like to point out:
  • You do not see a lot of meat.  Beans and rice make a complete protein.  We are not opposed to meat, but we like to eat meat-free dishes about half of the time, and this week we just went almost-veggie.
  • Originally I planned other things in addition the avocado pizzas and the radish toast as the main portion, but they were so good and we had enough stuff left over, so we went for it.  They were YUM.
  • I only had to spend one night really cooking (Monday).  I made all the beans and rice that day and just spent about 15 minutes in the kitchen on the other days.
  • For the "radish toast" nights I included the cost of two pieces of toast, as one was not enough.  So that price you see is how much it took us to feel full, not the bare-bones price.
  • Total spent on dinner that week (for two): $12.08
  • We took similar things for lunch (beans and rice with ground beef/ beans and rice with fried eggs and veggies/ beans and rice with _______ ), keeping our week in total at $40, including breakfast.  I know, I amazed even me.
  • No, we did not get sick of eating beans and rice every single day.  Husband is Brazilian, I have spent considerable time that beans-and-rice-loving-country, and we are both A-OK with it.  And if you tasted my beans, you would be, too ;)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sundays with Joy -- Brown Butter Blueberry Muffins

Today is not Sunday, I know, I know.  But I did make these on Sunday, so I think it counts, right?  See, I am two weeks behind on my group because I joined late, but I don't want to be able to say I only did 98% of the recipes, so I am making up for lost time.  Which means this weeks we enjoyed the avocado fries and got some sweet muffins, as well.  Score!

Or so I thought...

First, I had to learn how to brown butter.  Really, it is not that tricky.  Seeing as it was a new skill for me I figure it might be a new skill for you, too.  And what a better way than to learn a new skill than from a video?  Not only can he cook, but he has a hot accent to boot.   (Don't we wish we all sounded like that?  Don't we all secretly think our sexy-factor would increase if we just had the accent, right?!)

For this recipe you will not add all the pepper and lemon and whatnot, just brown the butter.  But my goodness, I am ready to make some of that sauce for pasta this week!  Doesn't it sound incredibly delicious?

  Anyway, back to the muffins...

I opened the book, took out my ingredients, and followed along.  No adaptations, no ambitious attempts, just followed along.  And when they were cooking smelled so good.

But something was wrong.  They didn't cook all the way.  I had them at 375 F for the 18-20 mins, I did all the right proportions, I sifted the flour, I added the mixtures together in the right order...  So I turned back on the oven and stuck them back in. 

Finally they were cooked and they looked good, but they were dense.  I knew that it was something that happened because of me because, well, face it, Joy had this recipe go in a cookbook for crying out loud.  And people around the world were singing the praises of these little muffins.  Yet mine were just "eh",  and kind of thick.  Then it hit me: I have had this baking powder for quite a while now (remember -- I didn't really bake a lot for a long time).  I marched into the kitchen and pulled it out of the cupboard, flipping it over to see the expiration date.  04/08/2011


Of 2011.

No wonder they didn't turn out right! 

The baking powder is now in the trash and the muffins sit there, staring at me.  Do I toss them?  Do I keep them?  They look so pretty... 

Whatever I do today, I know one thing: this is a recipe I am going to have to try again.  As I mentioned earlier, they smelled so good.  And in my experience smell usually is a good indicator of taste. 

"What every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential."

—Rob Bell

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sundays with Joy -- Avocado Fries

This weeks recipe was something I would have never in my wildest of wild dreams have come up with.  Avocado Fries. 

I mean, really the concept is simple... kind of like fried green tomatoes.  Which are amazing, right?  So why not with avocados?  Yet, I still would never have come up with this combination.  Just a few simple ingredients: avocados (obviously), eggs, flour, oil for frying, and bread crumbs.  It also called for Cayenne pepper, but you will never find that in my house.  Never. 

Instead of going for bread crumbs I decided to make them myself.  I figured out how to do this a few months back, and even though it is way easier to buy the store ones and the taste isn't that much different, I feel a sense of pride when I make bread crumbs from scratch.  I feel so... domesticated.

If you have never made bread crumbs from scratch, have no fear.  It is really, really easy. Takes about 10 minutes, too.  And you can season them any way you like.  There are four things you need:  bread, salt, seasonings, and a little bit of olive oil.

First, you take your bread (I used three slices of potato bread this time, but you can use any) and you grate it into, well... crumbs.  Makes total sense, right?  Throw those crumbs into a frying pan, add your salt and seasonings (I use garlic salt, oregano, and thyme), and drizzle some olive oil on top.  Turn the heat on to medium and then stir frequently for 5-7 minutes.  That's it!

Now that I had that done I was ready to go onto the actual recipe.

I have mentioned it before, but it is worth repeating.  I heart avocados.  Oh yes, I do.  So does my husband.  He likes them sweet, I like them salty, but whatever, we love them.  So this sight makes us happy.

There you go, avocado fries.  I must say, the concept is a little weird, right?  As my husband pointed out, "Isn't the point of eating fruit and veggies to be healthy?  Doesn't deep frying them kind of take that away?"  Hmm... Dude's gotta point.

But that didn't stop him from getting seconds, thirds, and then more...

So yeah, maybe not your healthy veggies-on-the-side that you go for, but a dish you can enjoy none-the-less.  And my thought is this: If I can do it to green tomatoes, why not to avocados?  Yeah, that's what I thought.

Recipe Adapted from the Joy the Baker Cookbook

3 slices of bread
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon thyme
2 avocados
2 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup flour

1.  Make bread crumbs (see above).
2.  Cut the avocados in half, peal skin off, and slice
3.  Beat eggs together.  Put the eggs, flour, and bread crumbs out.  Heat up vegetable oil in small frying pan over medium heat.
4.  Taking one piece of avocado at a time, dip in egg, then flour, and then bread crumbs.  When you have 6-8 pieces drop them (carefully) into oil. 
5.  Let cook in oil for 4 minutes, flipping once.  Carefully remove from oil with a fork and place on paper-towel lined plate.
6.  Continue dipping and frying until all pieces are done.

Cost: $3.74                  Cost Per Serving (4 servings at 6 slices each): $0.93

Friday, May 18, 2012

When In-N-Out is calling your name, you answer...

There are many great states in our nation, to be sure, but California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and now Texas are the only ones that can boast in something so delicious that even Thomas Keller considers it great: In-N-Out.  (And if you don't know who Thomas Keller is then you better read up on your foodie history.)

As you have probably figured out, I generally say no to fast food.  Of course, there are the times when the road is long and the time and money are short and a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.  But most of the time I just pass on by.  Except for this place. 

If you know what I am talking about then you know what I am talking about.

Seeing as our house guests never in their lives had In-N-Out Burger, my husband and I decided we needed to remedy that.  It was now or never since they sure aren't going to be finding any in Austria.  They were pretty impressed that the fries were made right then and that the ingredients were all so incredibly fresh.  The menu is small and simple, just the way it should be if you've got a good product and they quickly decided on what they wanted.

Double-Double, animal style, on the left for my man, grilled cheese animal-style on the right for the three of us.  (I alternate between cheeseburgers and grilled cheese.  I like meat, I do, but I also like meat-less meals.  This night was meatless.)  And then, of course, had to get the fries and a strawberry shake.  That's how we do it.  It may be a lot of calories on your plate, but those calories taste so good.

And the verdict?  "Mmmm!" 

(And also, "This place is so American!  It is like the movies!"  Hahaha!)

Another successful trip. As always. It will probably be another few months before it happens again, but between now and then I will be grateful for the fact that I can share my Californian heritage with the best fast food in town.  And quite possibly, the world.
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