Friday, September 26, 2008

Things I've Learned from Washington and Wall Street

Every where I go, it's "economic crisis" this and "banking meltdown" that, not to mention all the talk of campaigning and non-campaigning. There's so much going on right now politically and economically that I can't help but glean a few take-away lessons.

Lesson #1: Apparently, only two streets in America matter right now--Main Street and Wall Street. If you live on another street, you're out of luck.

Lesson #2: When you take time off from work, whether it be from campaigning or your regular-old day job, you should actually take time off. Don't say you're going to do it and then have people running around doing your work (or campaigning) for you--even if that means you're technically doing what you said you were going to do.

Lesson #3: Being in debt is never a good thing. Running your household (whether it's a White House or a green one) on a deficit is bad practice. It will only get you into trouble.

Lesson #4: You can go around telling people that you get along with your neighbors all you want, but when the rubber meets the road, you have to actually be able to work together if you want to get anything done.

Lesson #5: Standards are different for men, women and people of color. This may sound like a no-brainer, but naive old me thought we'd gotten past a lot of this stuff. Apparently not.

Lesson #6: Crying sexism or racism is like crying wolf. Sadly, the more we cry the less people listen or take us seriously.

Lesson #7: If you're going to play in the stock market, you better know what you're doing.

What lessons have you learned from what's going on in Washington and on Wall Street?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Stacks Recipe

The good thing about having all of these vegetables around is that I keep coming up with new recipes and meals. They may not always be original, but they're new to me. Last week I made roasted eggplant slices and then couldn't decide what to do with them. I had a tomato that I needed to use and some feta cheese, so I stacked crumbled feta, basil leaves and a thick slice of tomato on top of each eggplant slice and drizzled the stack with balsamic vinegar. How's that for deliciously creative? I'd share a picture, but I ate them so quickly that I didn't think to get out the camera until they were all gone.

If you want to give them a try, they're super simple to make. I roasted the eggplant one night while making dinner and then had the stacks the following night.

Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Stacks
Makes 2 Servings

1 medium eggplant, sliced in 1/2" thick rounds (about 8 slices)
1/4 cup olive oil
non-stick cooking spray
2 medium tomatoes, sliced in 1/2" thick rounds (about 8 slices)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
8 large basil leaves
sea salt, ground pepper
1 - 2 TBSP balsamic vinegar

Sprinkle the eggplant slices lightly with sea salt and place in a strainer over a large bowl or raised-side baking sheet. Set aside for 30 minutes to remove excess liquid and bitterness. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pat the eggplant slices dry and then lightly coat both sides of each slice with olive oil using a brush or oil spritzer. Use more or less oil as necessary to get an even coating. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray and spread the eggplant slices out in a single layer. Sprinkle with ground pepper. Bake for 35-45 minutes until slices are browned and caramelized. Allow to cool for a few minutes before removing from the baking sheet.

To serve, place four slices of eggplant on each plate and top each with about a tablespoon of crumbled feta, a basil leaf, one slice of tomato, and a 1/2 tsp or so of balsamic vinegar.

How do you like your eggplant?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

CSA Report - Itty Bitty Apples and Winter Squash

It's fall now, and my shares are starting to morph a bit. Because of the cool weather things that would normally be gone are still hanging around, like raspberries, green beans and sweet peppers. The tomatoes are having a hard time ripening, so we're still getting them but they're hanging out in my windowsill. The lettuce is back with the cooler weather, just in time for salad cravings, and there's kale to come in the next week or two.

I'm excited to see some great butternut squash and it sounds like we'll be getting some varieties of winter squash unknown to me, too (like this week's Delicata). Apparently this is a light-bearing year for the apple trees on the farm, which means there won't be many. Luckily, there were several in a "free choice" bin and I took a couple handfuls of the itty-bitty, not-so-pretty looking things to try them out. (Free choice items are usual things that are either at the beginning or end of their harvest and are not plentiful or pretty enough to give out as part of the weekly share. They often include things like huge zucchini, overripe tomatoes, or bruised apples.)

This week's share:

  • 1.5 lbs green beans
  • 3.5 lbs tomatoes (about a dozen small; includes additional half-share)
  • 0.5 lbs okra (includes additional half-share)
  • 1 sweet green pepper
  • 1 small eggplant
  • 2 small butternut squash (includes additional half-share)
  • 1.5 lbs delicata squash (2 small)
  • 1 lb chard (includes additional half-share)
  • 1 cayenne pepper, 1 Thai pepper
  • About 10 tiny apples
  • Basil
  • 1 pint red raspberries
This week's share has two unfamiliar items in it: okra and delicata squash. I've heard of and seen okra before; I've just never eaten it. As for the delicata, I'd never even heard of it, so I looked it up to see what I could find out and here's what I learned from Conscious Choice:

The delicata squash is actually an heirloom variety, a fairly recent reentry into the culinary world...It fell into obscurity for about seventy-five years, possibly because of its thinner, more tender skin, which isn’t suited to transportation over thousands of miles and storage over months. Like other heirloom varieties, it is valued for its taste, not its transportability.

[It has] beautiful ivory skin striped with dark green...The moist, creamy flesh tastes and smells like a delicious blend of corn, butternut squash, and sweet potato. These squash have a small cavity, so although they may appear on the stingy side, they yield a generous amount of pulp. Perhaps another reason for the delicata’s resurgence in popularity is that when it is cut in half lengthwise it makes two perfect single portions.

Sounds good, doesn't it? If you've got a great recipe for okra or delicata squash I'd love to hear about it. I've found a few ideas through web searches, but I prefer first hand accounts to a random recipe found online. (Note: I know that fried okra is probably the standard answer for okra, but I'm looking for dishes that are a bit healthier than that. Although I am willing to give fried okra a try if you think it's the best way to eat it, I'd like to have a few options.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New Lines from the Old Line State Has Arrived

I got my box full of books last week, and they look so pretty stacked neatly inside. As nice as they look on the outside, what you can find inside is even better. "With seven essays, fourteen poems, and fifteen short stories in genres ranging from mystery to fantasy to literary fiction, New Lines from the Old Line State has something for everyone." And of course, my very own essay is in there, too.

New Lines from the Old Line State: An Anthology of Maryland Writers, includes work from 29 Maryland writers and is available now at Amazon, through the Maryland Writers' Association, and at several bookstores in the Baltimore area. If you want to take a look at it, but you can't find it at your local bookstore, please ask for it. Most bookstores will be happy to order a copy or two, and the more interest people show, the more available it will become.

For a taste of what you'll find in New Lines, you can hear Eric Goodman reading his story, "Cicadas," on Baltimore's The Signal. The Signal will be featuring a few more New Lines contributors, and I'll be appearing later this fall reading my essay, "Flying with a Ghost." (I'll keep you posted on the date and time.)

If you're in the Baltimore area, you can also check out New Lines from the Old Line State at the Baltimore Book Festival. The Maryland Writers' Association will have a table there, where you can meet local writers, pick up your own copy of New Lines and have it autographed by a few of the anthology contributors, or hear some of the pieces read at the official New Lines release and first public reading. Hope to see some of you there!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Jogging My Memory

A couple of years ago I took up jogging. I challenged myself to complete the Couch to 5K program and was well on my way to running (OK, jogging slowly, but jogging nonetheless) for 30 minutes straight. A cruise, a cold that didn't want to go away and some creaky knee joints derailed my efforts and before I knew it I'd given up on the idea of becoming A Jogger.

Face it, I told myself, you weren't meant to run. Remember when you were on the soccer team in junior high and you could barely make it around the field once? Don't you remember how hard it was for you to walk/run a mile for those Presidential Fitness Tests they made you do in gym class? You're just not a runner. Why even try?

I convinced myself that running wasn't my thing and happily went back to walking, yoga and elliptical-ing. But for some reason, I just couldn't get the idea of me jogging with ease on the treadmill or running gracefully along a wooded path out of my head. Another voice was reminding me of how much I liked that feeling of being able to run. The accomplishment of making it just a little longer before having to walk, the excitement of knowing that my body was able to do something I had convinced myself it couldn't do, made me want to keep trying.And so I'm jogging again. Slowly, in spurts, with rest days in between for my knees which are already protesting slightly.

I can't seem to find a link for it, but I saw a report on CNN a week or so ago that said the best way to start running is very gradually, as in very short intervals of jogging (about 30 seconds) and walking (about 1 minute). Apparently too many people jump in full tilt and end up injured, exhausted or burnt out because they worked too hard, too fast. The shorter intervals give the lungs and joints time to adjust to the change in movement, intensity and impact. I've seen evidence of this myself. I started my own jogging routine three weeks ago with intervals of 2 minutes jogging and 3 minutes walking, and that seemed to be going well. When I tried a Self program to increase my endurance and speed after just two weeks of my 2 to 3 intervals, my knees started creaking and clicking like crazy. Maybe that guy on CNN was right. I'm going back to my 2:3 jogging to walking ratio and I'll stay there until I'm good and ready to move on. My goal is still a 30 minute jog, but there's no hurry. After all, it's taken me 32 years to get this far, what's a few more months?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

CSA Report - Watermelon, Baby!

Apparently, there's a lull in the bean and tomato crops, so I have a bit of a reprieve from all the bean and tomato dishes. The chard, however, still forces itself on me. I'm craving a frittata, though, so the chard will come in handy this week. I was hoping for more eggplant to make ratatouille, but alas there was none, so I'll have to make roasted eggplant slices with the one from last week. Not that I'm disappointed by that. I love me some roasted eggplant.

And the watermelons have arrived!

This week's share:

  • 1 lbs green beans
  • 1.5 lbs tomatoes (2 medium)
  • 2 small yellow squash (includes additional half-share)
  • 1 sweet green pepper
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 0.5 lbs chard
  • 1 jalapeno, 1 cayenne pepper, 2 Thai peppers
  • Basil
  • 1 pint red raspberries
  • 1 watermelon
Anyone know what to do with Thai peppers?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Easy Vegetable Lasagna Recipe

After watching a co-worker eat some traditional lasagna, all cheesy and delicious, I started craving the stuff. I knew I had a few lasagna noodles in the cupboard, along with some jarred sauce, shredded mozzarella and plenty of vegetables, so that night I stopped at the grocery store to get some ricotta and cottage cheese and headed home to make lasagna and feed my craving. This vegetarian lasagna was delicious with a slice of Italian bread and a salad made of baby greens and tomato slices topped with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Easy Vegetable Lasagna
Makes 12 servings

1 TBSP olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium onion chopped
1 small yellow squash, diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
1 bunch spinach or chard, leaves removed and torn
1 jar marinara sauce (32 oz), divided
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
1 egg (or 1/4 cup egg substitute)
1/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella
9 no-boil lasagna noodles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until aromatic. Add the zucchini, squash, onion and peppers and saute. Once these vegetables are tender, add the spinach or chard leaves and cook until wilted. Mix three cups of the sauce (about 3/4 of the jar) into the vegetables and cook until heated through. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, cottage cheese and egg and stir until smooth, creamy and well-combined. Set aside.

In a 9x13 baking dish, spread a small amount of the remaining jarred sauce to coat the bottom of the dish. Lay three noodles across the pan. Add half the vegetable and sauce mixture, adding about 1/3 of the remaining jarred sauce. Layer half the cheese mixture on top of the vegetables and sauce. Repeat the noodle, vegetable and sauce, and cheese layers once. Top with the remaining three noodles. Cover the noodles with the remaining jarred sauce and sprinkle the top with the mozzarella cheese.

Bake uncovered for 35-45 minutes, until sauce is bubbly, noodles are tender and cheese is melted.

What are your favorite lasagna ingredients?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Should I Be Worried About the Economy? and Other Questions I Keep Asking Myself

I'm feeling anxious today and, while this might be related to hormonal fluctuations, it's very likely due to all the questions that keep running through my head. I was awake much of the night, tossing and turning, and every time I woke up there were more questions forming a pile on the pillow beside my head.

A few examples:

  • Is the economy really as bad as the "analysts" keep saying it is?
  • Are we going to experience a depression to rival the Great Depression, as one of those analysts implied will occur if things don't improve drastically, and soon?
  • What should I do with my money?
  • Is it safe to spend some of my savings on more windows and a door?
  • Can I afford to buy a dining table?
  • What color should I paint my dining room?
  • When am I going to find time to refinish the kitchen cabinets?
  • And paint the dining room?
  • Should I paint the kitchen before or after I paint the dining room?
  • How can I worry about paint when men are at war, people are starving and a hurricane just destroyed homes and lives?
  • Can we fix the mess we've made of our country?
  • Don't people care about one another anymore?
  • Should I move back to my hometown?
  • Will I ever move anywhere again?
  • Should I get another cat or is one cat more than enough?
  • Am I a good cat-mommy?
  • Should I have blanched all those green beans I've been freezing?
  • Will they be ruined when I try to eat them in January?
It's like my mind is a black hole of questions big and small, with answers that seem to melt into the darkness and disappear. Each question leads to another question, which inevitably leads to three or five or ten more. Today I'm trying to hold on to the things I do know, in hopes that they'll shed light on those things that I can't figure out quite yet.
  • My friends and family love me, no matter what.
  • I care about people.
  • I love love.
  • I have a home and a job that pays the bills.
  • My cat meets me at the door everyday and purrs when she's near me.
  • Paint isn't permanent.
  • Life is precious and I can choose to be present for it all.
That's a bit of what's been on my mind lately. What's on your mind these days?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ditching the Disposables Challenge: Upping the Ante

Two weeks ago I signed up for a little challenge over at Crunchy Domestic Goddess. All I had to do was pick a disposable that I wanted to ditch and replace it with something reusable. Crunchy is hard-core and she's given up disposable menstrual products. I'm not so brave and went with something a little less radical. Since I've been lazily using paper plates, reasoning that I won't have to wash so many dishes, I decided to ditch my paper plate habit for two months. How much washing could I really be saving, anyway? I'm estimating maybe 11 plates a week at the most, and that's if I eat dinner at home every night and three meals at home on the weekends.

I've managed to go two weeks without using a single paper plate, at home or at work. In fact, it's been pretty easy, and now I'm beginning to think I was a little lazy with my choice for the challenge. My first thought when I heard about the challenge was to give up paper towels. I dismissed that thought quickly, because...well, I use a lot of paper towels and napkins, at home and at work. I couldn't imagine NOT using them. At work they're the only option for drying my hands in the bathroom, and honestly, if there were other options I'm not sure I'd use them for sanitary reasons. But they're not really necessary when I eat lunch or wipe up a mess on the counter. They're just more convenient. I could probably switch to cloth towels or napkins. My only excuse is that I'm a messy person and I'd be doing a lot more laundry (not to mention having to buy more towels and cloth napkins).

Of course, just like the paper plates, I think once I make that switch I'll realize its not as bad as I thought it would be. So I'm pushing myself a bit more this week and I'm committing to getting rid of the paper towels and napkins everywhere but the bathroom at work. And maybe one day I'll be brave enough to try getting rid of toilet paper like some of the other challenge participants.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

CSA Report - Rasberries Are Here!

Several weeks ago, the u-pick blackberries started ripening at my CSA farm. Each week that they were available, I diligently trudged to the patch at the back of the farm plot and searched for a handful of ripe blackberries. I didn't have much luck, but I did learn that if you want to find the good stuff, you have to get down on the ground and look under the bush. The ripe ones are always hiding under the leaves. The blackberries are gone, so when I saw the announcement on the chalk-board this week that the raspberries were ripe and we were welcome to help ourselves to a pint apiece, I was ready for some heavy searching yet again. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were raspberries aplenty and, while it didn't hurt to look under the bushes, there really wasn't any need to. Ripe berries were front and center and ready to take their place in my container. I can't wait to have them on my yogurt in the morning.

What I brought home this week:

  • 4.5 lbs green beans (includes additional full-share)
  • 3.5 lbs tomatoes (1 medium, 3 large plum, abt. 20 large cherry-type)
  • 1 small yellow squash (0.5 lb)
  • 2 small cucumbers (0.5 lb)
  • 1 small eggplant
  • 1 sweet green pepper
  • 0.75 lbs chard
  • 0.5 oz. Parsley
  • Basil and oregano
  • 1 pint red raspberries
I should have had another jalapeno and cayenne pepper, too, but I forgot to grab them.

I'm currently making more soup, most of which will likely take up what little space is left in my freezer. The room I have for "putting up" produce is probably about doubled since last year, and I'm grateful for that. Still, I'm shopping around for a small chest freezer, because I'd like to have room for what's still to come: apples, broccoli, sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots and more zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, tomatoes, and beans. Plus I'd like to be able to freeze some more non-CSA stuff, like corn, cauliflower, peppers and peaches.

Thanks to everyone for the recipe suggestions. Keep them coming if you have them. I'm enjoying the recommendations and looking forward to using them in the future.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Locker Room Debate - Open Letter to Mom's of Small Boys Follow-up

A couple of weeks ago, I sent out an open letter to mom's of small boys. Today, you can find a follow-up post on the locker room debate at Great Walls of Baltimore. I've described the situation in more detail and I'm looking for some advice from the mothers of the world. So if you're a mom (or if you're not but you have an opinion on the subject of boys in the ladies' locker room), head on over and join the conversation. I'd love to know what you think and/or what you'd do in the same situation.

And while you're there, please do look around, read a few posts and leave MommyK some comments while she's off at the beach enjoying herself. I'm sure she'd appreciate it.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

CSA Report - It Just Keeps Coming

Another week, another share. The produce just keeps coming and I'm starting to run out of places to put it all. My freezer, while bigger than the one I had last year, is still bursting at the seams with corn, green beans, peas, tomatoes, zucchini and the usual convenience foods (i.e., veggie burgers and frozen fish). Thankfully I'm not depending on frozen meals for my lunches these days because I don't have any idea where I'd put them. But if the harvests keep coming I'm still going to have to figure out how to store some of this stuff. (I'm not up for the work of canning this year, but am seriously considering it for next year.)

Anyone have a small chest freezer you want to get rid of?

The haul this week:

  • 2.5 lbs green beans (includes additional half-share)
  • 4 lbs tomatoes (2 medium, 1 large plum, 25 large cherry-type)
  • 1 small yellow squash (0.5 lb)
  • 1 large zucchini (1.25 lb)
  • 1 cucumber (0.35 lb)
  • 1 jalapeno and 1 cayenne pepper
  • 0.5 lbs chard
  • 0.2 oz. Parsley
  • Basil and oregano
I'm hoping to freeze those green beans. I dried all the cherry-type tomatoes and have been working my way through the others with basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Not sure what I'll do with the jalapeno and chili peppers, and I'm getting so sick of chard I probably won't take any next week. (I'd freeze it but there's so little room.) I'm thinking about using the yellow squash and zucchini to try some of Louise's ideas. Being creative isn't exactly easy when you're tight on time, but I'm trying to branch out and experiment a bit more. Bring on the suggestions if you have them.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Baby Train - When Will I Get My Ticket?

Cross-posted on Damsels in Success.

I was at the gym last week and after my workout I went to the locker room to change and shower as usual. In the 30 minutes I was there, three different pregnant women came and went. On my way home that same day, I stopped at the grocery store and saw a pregnant woman in every aisle I traveled down. Is it just me, or are there pregnant women everywhere right now?

OK, so I’m almost positive that pregnant women aren’t turning up with more frequency these days. It does seem that way, though. You see, I’m 32 and I have yet to have a child of my own. My biological clock is ticking faster and louder than ever—so loud that some days I’m certain my boyfriend can hear it, too. But getting on the baby train just isn’t in the cards right this moment and it just chugs on by while I wave and force a smile for friends, acquaintances and complete strangers who’ve climbed aboard.

Of course, the truth of the matter is that if I really wanted to I could buy my ticket for that train anytime; I can have a baby whenever I choose (so long as my body is willing and able). But the reality of the situation is that I want to be married (or at least in a fully committed co-habiting relationship), financially stable and well on my way to a successful writing career before I get on that train. I struggle regularly, going back and forth between my desire to get pregnant immediately no matter what situation I’m in, and the reality of the responsibilities and challenges that motherhood will bring—especially if I’m on my own. Thankfully, my career is moving along well, and things with my boyfriend are serious and seem to be headed toward marriage in the near future. This quells at least some of the anxiety I feel as that baby train passes me by. One day soon, I reassure myself, you’ll be on that train. But what if that wasn’t the case? What if there was no sign of a stable relationship in my future? Or what if, God forbid, I was unable to have children? How would I handle my desire then?

I fear I wouldn’t do well. I’ve wanted to be a mother for as long as I can remember and every dream I have for myself includes children as a part of it. Even now, when I know there’s hope for children in my near future, I still find myself glossy-eyed and drenched in envy when I spend time with friends who have children. I see pregnant women and I fanaticize about what my body might look like at five, seven, and nine months. Even pregnant animals on the Discovery Channel fill me with jealousy.

I try to hide my envy, at least around my friends, but I’m certain it peaks through my happy-to-be-childless front sometimes. To quiet the jealousy beast, I remind myself that motherhood isn’t all baby powder and butterfly kisses, and I hold onto the hope that I’ll be a mother one day soon. In the meantime, I try to enjoy my childless life as much as possible and use my time to invest in me, my relationships and my career. After all, as my friends with children often tell me, I’ll wish for these days of freedom when I finally do have kids.

Now where did I put that train schedule?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

What to Do With that Huge Zucchini

Last week found me the proud owner of a gigantic zucchini. I'm not talking about a large zucchini, I'm talking about a zucchini the size of a bowling pin. Huge. Since I knew I wouldn't want to eat it all, I decided to shred it up and use it for zucchini bread. In an attempt to be semi-healthy, I sent out a plea for reduced-fat and/or reduced-sugar zucchini bread recipes. I didn't get any (but I'm looking forward to trying some of that chocolate zucchini bread in the future). I did, however, receive a very timely email from Eat Better America with a recipe for "Healthified" Zucchini Bread.

I made a few adjustments to the healthified recipe based on the ingredients I had and the comments made by others who'd tried the recipe and got two loaves of delicious zucchini bread. The original version had walnuts and used twice the sugar. I also substituted 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice for 2 of the 3 tsp cinnamon the recipe called for because I was unexpectedly out of cinnamon. The result was this recipe:

Use-That-Zucchini Bread

2 1/2 cup shredded zucchini
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup fat free egg substitute
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar (or 1/2 cup Splenda Sugar Blend)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
non-stick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray bottoms only of two loaf pans with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the zucchini, applesauce and liquid ingredients with sugar until dissolved. Add remaining ingredients and stir until well blended. Divide mixture evenly between the two loaf pans. Bake 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaves comes out clean. Cool in the pans for about 15 minutes and then remove to a cooling rack and cool completely.

It wasn't chocolate zucchini bread, but it was extremely good. Next time I think I might add the walnuts, but if I didn't know it was reduced-fat and reduced sugar, I don't think I would have guessed it. If you try it, let me know what you think.

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