12 October 2013

Seeded Pumpkin Bread

I love fall. I love the colors of the crisp leaves, the late sunrises, and the coziness that the season brings.  Pumpkin bread seems to capture the comfort of autumn so I only make it during this time of year.  It's seems a little more special that way.
 
I like to buy raw pumpkin seeds in bulk and then toast them in the oven instead of buying seeds already toasted. Toasting nuts and seeds is really simple and makes them taste so much better.  Just lay them on a baking sheet or in a glass roasting pan, toast at 350 degrees for 5 minutes, stir, then toast 5 minutes more.  Some nuts require slightly less time and some need a little more--soft  nuts like cashews take about 12-15 minutes total baking time while pumpkin and sunflower seeds take about 8 minutes.  Pumpkin seeds are especially delicious toasted: they puff up and have a nice "pop" with each bite giving this bread a wonderful texture.


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Seeded Pumpkin Bread

1 1/4 C. sugar
3/4 C. oil or shortening

3 eggs (or 6 egg whites)
15oz. can of pumpkin puree
1 tsp. vanilla
3 C. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. cloves
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. allspice
3/4 C. toasted pumpkin seeds

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 large loaf pans with cooking spray or shortening.
2.  Mix sugar and shortening until fluffy.  Add eggs, 1 at a time, until mixed well.  Add vanilla and pumpkin puree and blend.
3.  Add all dry ingredients until no lumps are present, but don't over-mix.  Stir in  1/2 C. of pumpkin seeds.
4.  Pour into loaf pans and sprinkle remaining seeds on top.   Bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.

Makes 2 large loaves, about 24 slices.


For more recipes, browse the Recipe Box.   






21 September 2013

How to survive being married to a car guy

When I married Matt, I knew that he loved cars.  I knew that many of our weekends would involve spending time at car lots test driving vehicles for fun without ever intending to buy them, or spending time driving through car lots looking at the newest models.  I knew I would have to go to car shows and give him subscriptions to car magazines as a birthday gift (he still acts so happy and surprised when these show up in the mail every month) and listen to him talk about the car blogs he reads and nod when he points out new or interesting cars while driving to the grocery store.  I knew all of this.  What I didn't know what how hard living with a car guy can be.
Cars are boring. Really, really boring. But, if I want to be a good wife I have to tolerate them and learn things about them so I can converse with my husband.  Here are a few things I've learned throughout the last 9 years of being with a car guy.

1. Forgive. When he comes home with a truck without telling you, even though it will be your first instinct, don't kill him.  Don't even yell at him.  Just look at him with disappointment, then smile when he tells you about how awesome and what a great deal that truck was.

Matt brought home a truck the other night.  He bought it, called friend to help coordinate the ride home, drove home, and then told me about it.  Worse, the truck was kept on a ranch way outside of town for the last 20 years and reeks of manure and hay.  And while I wanted to kill him, I didn't. Instead, I gave him my best mad look, let him tell me about it, looked it over with a seemingly fair amount of interest, and handled the paperwork to title, register, and insure it.  And that's just what you have to do.


2. Likes and dislikes.  Pick a couple cars to like and learn about them so that you can talk to him about those cars.  I learned this early on in our relationship and it saved me when I had to go to car shows and car lots with Matt. I decided that I would take an interest in Aston Martins, Dodge Rams, Mercedes, and Land Rovers.  I also picked a few cards to loathe--Porsches, Dodge Magnums, and Kias.  I don't really like or hate any of these vehicles (except Land Rovers--I love those)--I'm disinterested in most cars in general--but by having a handful of cars I resolve to like and dislike, I have something to keep myself busy at car lots and car shows, and it also makes me sound like a know a little something about cars when we're together.


Also, it's important to know the difference between car features, like V8, V6, four wheel drive, all wheel drive, front wheel drive,  and which vehicles these features might be in.  Or at least try.  It's boring but you'll sort things through eventually.  If nothing else, ask him and I'm sure he'll be happy to explain every single detail to you and how it works and spend an hour telling you.  Actually, maybe you shouldn't ask. 

3. Smile, nod, say "Oh yeah? That's cool.", smile again, repeat. This formula will get you through any car conversation, car lot escapade, car magazine or blog reference, or long drive on the freeway when you're feeling too tired to actively listen or engage him in a car conversation.   Most car guys don't want to actually converse much with you when cars are involved anyway, but they do want to talk at you  about cars. It makes them feel smart.  It makes them feel like they know everything about cars, and in reality most car guys do.  And even if they don't, let them think they do.  In fact, this might be a good formula for any marriage. 

4.  Look for the best in cars.  If you don't care about what's under the hood, look at the interior or paint color.  Most cars are pretty or have something aesthetically interesting about them.  If he asks your opinion on a car and you're not sure what to say, just tell him you think it's pretty or ugly and why.   If you do this, he won't ask for your opinion for a while and this is usually best.  At a car lot recently I told Matt that I think the Nissan Leaf he was oogling over looked like a mutant frog and he didn't bother me about it again for the rest of the trip.

5. Make a game of it.  If you have to go to a car show or a car lot, make up a game to keep yourself entertained.  I like to pick out a particular paint color and find as many cars as I can in that color.  This is especially fun at car shows.  This allows me to walk around, inspect cars, and ooh and ah at them without ever having to know a damn thing. Pure bliss. 

Another fun game to play is to count how many times your husband veers off course while on vacation just so he can see an exotic car or special car dealership.  For us, this usually happens at least a dozen times each vacation.  Even in Panama Matt found a car dealership worth taking a photo of, using precious space on our memory card all for the sake of preserving this glorious vehicular moment.

6. Love him as he is. Even if you don't like cars as much as your spouse does, and even if you don't like cars at all, let your husband indulge himself.  He probably hates going shopping with you or hearing you talk about decorating and fashion, or all the gossip and what-not that we women engage in, but you know what? He puts up with it.  And he still loves you and lets you be yourself.  Do the same for him.



19 September 2013

Lemon and Herb Roasted Potatoes


When we planted our garden this year we planted a few different types of potatoes--red, Russett, purple, blue, and Yukon Gold.  There were probably 16-20 plants and each yielded about 8 pounds, maybe more, of potatoes. I harvested 6 plants one afternoon and posted this picture on my Facebook page.

 
 
One of my friends asked what I was going to do with all those potatoes.  My response: eat them.  
 
I've always loved potatoes indiscriminately.  As a little girl, some days mashed potatoes with brown gravy was the only thing my parents could get me to eat.  Even when I was pregnant with all-day sickness (morning sickness never ended) and couldn't keep anything down and had no appetite, mashed potatoes and gravy saved me.  My boss would make a quick drive to KFC and get the little sides of potatoes for me so I could keep working.  
But we don't just love mashed potatoes; in fact, we hardly ever make them because Ellie doesn't like them (weird).  Instead, we turn our potatoes into hashed browns, baked fries, add them to soups and stews, put them in hobo packets,  eat them as simple baked potatoes, or make this delicious side recipe, Lemon and Herb Roasted Potatoes. 
 
 
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 Lemon and Herb Roasted Potatoes
 
4-5 cups chopped potatoes, with skin
1 Tbsp. herb-infused olive oil (I use Sotto Voce's Olio Basilico)
1 tsp. dried, crushed rosemary (or use 2 tsp. fresh rosemary)
2 tsp. lemon juice
Salt and Pepper to taste
 
 
Note: If you don't have any herb-infused olive oil, substitute with T Tbsp. oil and 2 tsp. dried Italian herbs, or about 1/4 cup fresh chopped herbs
 
1. Preheat oven to 375. Coat a 9x13 glass roasting pan or baking sheet with olive oil or cooking spray. 
2. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and coat potatoes well. 
3. Spread potatoes evenly on pan and bake for 1 hour.  At the every end of baking time, broil on high for 1-2 minutes (watching very closely) to brown and crisp the tops of the potatoes.
 
Serves 4-6. 
 
For more recipes, browse the Recipe Box
 
 

12 September 2013

Dinosaur Plant Markers

I love cooking with fresh ingredients--fresh garlic, fresh Parmesan cheese, fresh herbs, fresh veggies--everything tastes better when it's not dried or canned. Since summer is starting to wind down and our plants will soon die, I planted an indoor herb garden to get us through the cold weather months (which in Idaho seem to be the better part of the year). We planted parsley, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and, my favorite, basil. They look so pretty and add a nice pop of green to liven up the kitchen.  

All herb gardens look best with cute little plant markers jutting out from amidst the leaves, they kind of remind me of old fences or road signs over grown by nature, just on a very small scale.  I searched and searched for little sticks or old tiles or something to use but couldn't find anything in my house. Of course I could have bought some at a craft store, but that would have meant waiting and I'm impulsive and like to do things when I have the urge to do them. On the verge of frustration I remembered that I had some little wooden dinosaurs left over from Ellie's third birthday party. It's important for little kids to have a dinosaur-themed party at least once during their childhood, and it's important for a woman to have a dinosaur of some sort somewhere in her house. My dinosaurs are in my kitchen.  Ellie and I painted these little guys and stamped them with some miniature alphabet stamps from Michaels. To prop them up I used clothespins (because that's what I had lying around--no sticks and severe impatience, remember), one end pinned to the dinosaur, the other in the dirt. 
 And so we have a dinosaur herb garden. It's like a tiny prehistoric jungle only less dangerous and more delicious.
 

10 September 2013

City of Rocks

In south-eastern Idaho near the Idaho-Utah-Nevada border, farms and grazing pastures sit nestled up against rolling hills and picturesque towns. Mountains merge with valleys, plains with hills, prairies with deserts, farms with nature, and everything seems to fit right where it belongs.  If you drive far enough south from Albion or Oakley, Idaho, out into the desert where the roads turn to dust, you'll find the City of Rocks.  Huge domes of stones dot the landscape, out of place and time, surrounded by silent, thin air where sound carries effortlessly.  It is one of the most unique places I have ever seen. 
I first visited the City of Rocks as a teenager and fell in love with the surreal beauty, the juxtaposition of rocks against desert and mountains.  I was visiting some friends in Oakley when I was 18 and decided to drive out to the City of Rocks by myself on a late afternoon in November.  I didn't see any other cars or people; it was just me and the quiet, still rocks.  Beneath a gray sky heavy with snow I stood on the rocks and looked out at the expanse and at that moment felt like the only person in the world, so free, so wild, so sacred.
Over Labor Day weekend we took Ellie to see the City of Rocks, her first time this far south in Idaho, and she was enthralled just as I was that first time. We saw a cactus, found a tiny jaw bone from some poor creature since passed, chased a speckled lizard, and climbed until we were too tired to do anything else.  It's a diverse place where rock climbers, hikers, nature-lovers, and horseback riders thrive and some of the rocks can be scaled by kids to which Ellie took every opportunity.
Everyone had fun climbing, even Matt's parents.  Ellie loved having Grandma and Grandpa high on the rocks with her.  You can barely see all of us (minus Matt) waving from the very top. 
Matt and Ellie sat for a while taking in the view.  Far off in the distance is a rock that we named "Stegosaurus Rock" with spikes made slowly over time by erosion.  I love seeing shapes in stagnant forms--it somehow brings movement and animation to those things that are still and without a voice. 
Places like this always stir thoughts about existence and time.  This place, formed over thousands and thousands of years, time chipping away the rocks and molding new forms, will be here long after we've left this life, our presence nothing more than an instance in passing. It's hard not to think about who might have been here hundreds of years ago--all the eyes that have born witness to a fragment of something like eternity. 
 
As I took photos of my family, I couldn't help but think how precious this place might be for us someday and how Ellie will remember spending time here with her grandparents. Like those who came first and those who have yet to come, we've left pieces of ourselves in the form of memory on the rocks and in the sand.
 
 

28 August 2013

First Grade

Ellie started first grade a couple weeks ago.

First grade.

I can't believe my once tiny baby is now  a kid in school, with her own unique ideas and opinions, her own innocent views of the world, her own questions and thoughts.  She's so inquisitive, so sassy, and I love that about her.  Every year, from Montessori to now, her teachers always say "Ellie's so smart but so stubborn" and they say the "but" like it's bad.  But I disagree.  Stubbornness and a strong will are important traits for a woman to possess and if Ellie holds on to these she'll be able to do whatever she wants to in life, no one will be able to hold her back or make her feel inferior.
When I watch her interact with others and see how sure she is of herself, how strong she is, it makes me glad that she's stubborn.  Inlaid with her stubborn personality is confidence and self worth. These are traits that I never possessed as a girl, or a teen, or even a young woman.  I'm learning them now and I see a lot of those things I always wished for myself in her.  She holds her ground if she feels strongly about something no matter who it is--no teacher, parent, kid, or anyone else can make her do something if she doesn't feel she should.  I don't want her to feel like she needs to change her stubborn attitude like her teachers always suggest. I want to her to embrace it, refine it, and learn to utilize it as she grows up. And that's my job as her mom, to make her take this trait and make the best of it. That may take some stubbornness on my part.

For now, we're going to enjoy the beginnings of first grade, the new goals and milestones that she has ahead this year, and along the way we'll work on becoming the best person possible, valuing our potential, and loving ourselves just the way we are.

26 August 2013

It's okay



We made a maraca. Well, it’s more like I made a maraca and Ellie helped hand me scraps of paper and sometimes, sometimes, add some papier mâché paste. And we made just one maraca because papier mâché is sticky and little girls don’t usually like sticky things.  And we really made it because I wanted to but felt like I needed an excuse. 
Matt said that I’m the kind of person that would make stuff with papier mâché and enjoy it, just like I’m the kind of person that saves egg cartons for craft reasons and doesn’t like to throw away scraps of ribbon or old maps (apparently I fit into a niche), and I’m also the type of person that tolerates messes and stickiness for the sake of creativity.   I have a box of junk—old paper, makeshift stencils, calendars, Christmas cards, ribbons, maps, brochures, egg cartons, lids—all things that I use in art and craft projects, things that I just can’t throw away because they have too much potential for something greater than the landfill. 

I have to be expressive and create something every day, whether it's a painting, a sewing project, a journal entry (I'm a prolific journaler), a blog post, or a recipe. If I don't make something and satisfy my urge to create, I feel like I'm going to go crazy.  I’m just that kind of person, I guess, and that’s okay.   We are all our own kind of person and we should embrace that. While I was making this maraca with Ellie, I thought about that quite a bit.  There I was, a grown woman making papier mâché just for the hell of it, just because I wanted to make something fun, and for a moment I thought I should be embarrassed.

 But I wasn't. 


It took me a long time before I could do that--embrace who I am and not be afraid to be myself.  I've always felt different, a little quirky and weird, and I used to be ashamed of that. As a teenager I never fit in, didn't have many friends, and felt isolated.  For most of my life I've battled depression, and I think a portion of it stemmed from my inability to accept myself, to be myself unapologetically.  But I think I'm starting to get there now--it took almost 28 years, but I am finally starting to be okay with being me.  I'm finally okay with being "artsy" and having to make stuff everyday, I'm okay being a junk collector for the sake of creativity, I'm okay with being a Trekkie and a hippie, being a little neurotic and obsessive compulsive, I'm okay with the weird way I laugh.  I'm okay with me.

A few years ago I put a wall decal on Ellie's bedroom door that says 

"In a world where you can be anything, be yourself."

I hope she believes those words just as I am trying to believe them.

 We are all beautiful, wonderful people worthy of being alive, with the ability to make a difference, to do things as grand or as simple as we choose but we must first love ourselves and accept ourselves as the wonderful people we are, quirks and all.

15 August 2013

Vegan Zucchini Brownies



You guys!  Look what I made from zucchinis!

Remember that post I wrote about making healthy zucchini bread, shunning sugar and oil and bad stuff?  Well, forget about that and make these brownies.  They’re moist and delicious and the best use I’ve ever found for zucchini.  I left mine plain, but if you want to make them especially decadent, drizzle with a simple glaze or melted bittersweet chocolate or sprinkle the top with powdered sugar.


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Vegan Zucchini Brownies
 2 C. flour
1 ½ C. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 ½  tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. vanilla
½ C. cocoa powder
½  C. oil
2 C. grated/shredded zucchini, well drained (no need to peel)

Shred zucchini first and let drain in colander for 20-30 minutes until much of the liquid has seeped out. 

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 9x13 glass pan.

Mix all ingredients, except zucchini, until well blended.  Batter will be crumbly. Add zucchini and mix until all batter is wet, fudgy, and thick.   Bake for 18-25 minutes--this varies from oven-to-oven and depends on the wetness of the zucchini, just keep an eye on them.  Brownies are done when the center has risen and a toothpick inserted into middle yields a dry, cake-like consistency—it will not come out clean, but should not be wet.  

Let cool and cut with a plastic knife (this keeps the edges from crumbling and sticking to the knife).

Makes about 24 brownies, or 12 large squares (let's be realistic here)

 For more recipes, browse the Recipe Box.