Happy 4th of Fireworks

Le sigh, in my town the only thing that happens in early July is that little fireworks buildings pop up in parking lots, are stocked with explosives and for a solid week there are pops and crackles at all hours.

I get it, it’s fun to light shit on fire and they’re pretty to look at. However, I hate them. Passionately. I don’t think I’ve done the whole fireworks thing for 6 years, since I stay home to keep the dogs from completely freaking out.

Right now Jackson is a shaking mess, barking and then cowering, trying to protect me from the gun like sounds. Personally it seems like a huge waste of money but if others want to celebrate by blowing stuff up at least they could contain it to one day, right?

Okay, enough of the cranky holiday ranting 😉

A few pictures to share today….

Before it got dark enough for fireworks I drove out to the rice fields where I am forced to drive 15 miles per hour and my entire car shakes. I do this before washing the car and it reminds me the tires need to be balanced and rotated after the rough road.

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Sunflowers are my favorite flowers, I applied a few filters to this one and it’s going up on my photography blog next week.

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Finally, I started my day (and most days I remember to eat breakfast) with a smoothie. This one had a fresh peach (from my grandma), local strawberries, California raspberries and frozen blueberries (from the farmer’s market a few weeks ago):
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 Of course I had to add some fresh cantaloupe:

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So good and fresh – I love it when I remember to eat breakfast!

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Lentil Soup

Okay, after 4 batches now I am confident to post my version of this lentil soup recipe (found here) with my step by step pics.

Here’s the ingredient list:

  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 8 cups or 2 qts chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 2 cups of diced carrots
  • 4 tbs vegetable oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic

I pick up the lentils at my co-op in a bag, one bag fills up three of these glass gars (about 6 cups): Photobucket

If you haven’t started yet go ahead and put the onions in the fridge so you don’t end up blubbering.

Here’s the full group of ingredients:

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Place 4 tbs of oil in a large stock pot and prepare your onions and garlic. The jars in the back there are my homemade chicken stock and since mine was frozen I started defrosting that while the onion and garlic was cooking.

For the onion cut it root to tip (see the half one in the pic above) and peel the skin back and cut the end:

PhotobucketI kept the other end in tact for this next part and sliced down to the root to make chopping into small pieces easier:

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then chop it into small pieces. Don’t worry too much if the chunks are large because you’re going to resolve that later. I ended up using the half an onion and the large one above:

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set the onion aside and, you know, wipe your eyes.

Take the garlic cloves and remove the peel. The easiest way is to lay your knife blade flat and smash it good:

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Remove the peel and chop finely:

PhotobucketHeat the oil in the pot and when it’s warm add the onion and garlic, stir until it’s soft and looks like this:

PhotobucketWhen done add the tomato paste, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper and stir until coated over low heat for 2 more minutes:

PhotobucketThen peel your carrots. Feed the peels to your dogs if they are so inclined.

PhotobucketChop the carrot into small pieces and remember larger chunks are okay.

PhotobucketHere’s the carrots ready to be added.

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When the onion/garlic/spices/tomato paste is done add the chicken stock, 2 cups of water, 2 cups of lentils, the carrots and bring it to a simmer:

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Once it begins to simmer lower the heat and cover for 30 minutes.

When the lentils are soft and the soup is ready it’s time to break up those bigger chunks. I use a slotted spoon to pull out the large pieces. Throw them in the food processor or blender:

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I don’t process all of the soup, usually 2-3 small batches like this. Here it is going back into the pot:

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The good thing is that you don’t get a lot of chunks this way and the texture is not like baby food. Before you disassemble the blender ad some water and soap and replace the lid and turn it on. This helps clean up the blender before it gets scrubbed.

Here’s the final:
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And I dish it up with a little bit of cheese and lemon:

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Remember to dish up the soup in smaller containers for easy lunches. I froze four servings and left 4 in the fridge for the week ahead.

Summer Fruit

Summer is back and I finally made it back to the Farmer’s Market this weekend. Here’s what I picked up:

cherries $4
Strawberries $6
Peaches $2, Pepper $1 and Plums $4
Blackberries $2

There you go! $19 for a ton of fresh local fruit and peppers. I’ve already made one smoothie and portioned out the fruit for more smoothies.

Each baggie has 2 tablespoons blackberries (crushed), 1/4 cup strawberries, 3 tablespoons blue berries, 1/4th of a banana and one plum.

In the coming weeks we should have more lettuce, zucchini and squash going on sale and then peaches and corn! Looking forward to the fresh stuff.

Day 3 – New Dishes

I love fresh fruit and vegetables in the summer and try to incorporate them in every meal. Frozen and canned come second to fresh but sometimes a mix is necessary. Most days I do a salad like this one:

but I find it hard to go several hours without protein. I suppose I could add tuna, a hard boiled egg or chicken to the salad but it’s not the same. I’d rather do a cold salad, no dressing with hummus on the side.

Day 3 – New Recipe

My dinner tonight also included a load of fresh vegetables: peppers, onions, zucchini and brown rice. It was a new recipe that mixed sausage (I can’t remember what I bought but I needed to use it up) with a bunch of vegetables and spices. It’s always a little risky trying a new recipe but you may be pleasantly surprised.

This recipe, a vegetable and sausage skillet, was just the right balance of starch, vegetables and protein. I didn’t add the spices so I just substituted with pepper and garlic salt. Serve over brown rice or just mix it up like I did here.  If I run out of rice I could serve the rest of this dish with pasta or couscous.

Action Step: Identify a substitution in a favorite dish

For dessert tonight I had a cup of coffee with french vanilla creamer. But when the coffee got cold I was in the mood for ice cream. So mixed up vanilla ice cream and the last of my coffee. It’s back in the freezer now to firm up – hopefully it tastes good!

Day 2 – Breakfast is Served

If I had a nemesis, it would be breakfast.

It is just so difficult for me to fight my way out of bed in the morning (especially with an 80 pound dog who tries to sit on me) not to mention be coherent enough to provide myself with sustenance.

Day 2 – Start Small

Normally I don’t go out for breakfast, I just don’t eat it. The only benefit of working in an office I mourned was loss of my morning coffee. But I also hate making it every day at home. So every few days I make a pot of 10 cups of coffee and put half in the fridge. This morning I had a simple breakfast: oatmeal, orange, coffee.

idiot proof breakfast

This morning I mixed a packet of oatmeal with flavor added to a quarter cup of regular oats. Add hot water. Done.

The best thing about oatmeal is that it requires mindfulness. If you leave it for 20 minutes while answering emails it gets cold, hard and icky. When the premade packets run out I might make my own using this guide from the Simple Dollar.

I took the cold coffee from the fridge, added some milk (expires today – eek!) and then a little creamer to add flavor.

the best part of waking up...

I started rinsing and saving my coffee cups so I could take smoothies to work and not worry about cleaning the cup. Now I use these one more time to drink my morning coffee cold.

Action Step: Check out fridge items with short life spans NOW

After looking all the way in the back of my fridge, the doors and the easily ignored drawers I found out I’m having a salad for lunch!

 

Bulk Buying and Cooking for Singles

There are some great sites out there lauding once a month cooking which usually involves large casseroles, piles of waffles and pancakes and a quantity of food that is staggering to me.

And yet I have a Costco membership I use frequently, buy in bulk packages at the co-op and often have enough food in my freezers and pantry to eat for a month or more without shopping.  It’s a fine balance between getting the best price for food (usually in bulk) and not throwing money out by dumping spoiled food in the trash.

Here are some of my tricks.

Snacks

I make granola in huge portions and keep it fresh in a glass jar to top yogurt or to mix in with cereal. Rolled oats, raw sunflower seeds, raisins and cinnamon.

Costco sells a 5 pound bag of organic carrots for just a few dollars. I divide the bag up into 12 small bags of carrots for snacks

Great for eating raw or dipped in hummus.  Other vegetables good with hummus include peppers, cucumbers and broccoli.

My co-op sells peppers in bulk bags of 2-3 pounds for under $2/pound. These red peppers were under $1 a pound in the half price bin.  I like peppers fresh in a variety of dishes but they are a bit of a pain to wash, prep, slice and keep these from going bad. So when I buy in bulk I take the time to pre-slice and chop to freeze in smaller portions. Some are sliced for fajitas and burritos,

and smaller pieces are great for stuffed zucchini boats and scrambled eggs.  Since my freezers are full it’s tough to make room for flash freezing peppers. Ice cube trays are great for this,

Side Dishes

Typically I buy just one or two bags of dry sides (rice, pasta and lentils) at a time. I use glass jars from Ikea to store these sides and it’s simple enough to pour a half cup or more.

A bulk bag of broccoli is incredibly cheap at the co-op – less than one bag of steam fresh from the grocery store.

This was about a fourth of the broccoli I bought and couldn’t eat before it goes bad. So after steaming I let the broccoli cool and bagged it in smaller portions.

The chicken cutlets I picked up this summer ( 8 – 2.5 lb bags) is still in the freezer. It’s super easy to pull out one or two pieces, defrost and and add to the George Foreman grill.  In the coming month I may buy a bulk container of ground beef at Costco to brown and divide into smaller pieces.

Fruit

Summer is gone. Sigh.

But during those fruit filled months I stocked up on a variety of fruits including cherries, bananas, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, pineapples and blueberries. Flash frozen and then in small containers, it’s easy to use these in small portions for smoothies year round.

Remember these fruity summer drinks? One of the most complicated parts is adding a cup of lemon juice (fresh is best). So I take the lemons I get in bulk from my Grandma’s tree or direct from the farm and freeze them in ice cube trays.

Just a few tricks I use to save money on a few items I use over and over all year long.  I stagger these purchases to keep my grocery budget from getting out of control but in the long run it’s a simple way to make the most of low prices despite the fact I never make casseroles or pounds of pancakes.

Summer Freshness

I hate to keep harping on this but… it’s summer! It’s warm outside, the days are longer and there is so much freshness. Not just produce but flowers are blooming, lawns are freshly mowed and soon the back to school excitement (at least for parents) will begin.

Remember that Staples commercial where the dad is running up and down the aisles singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” – that’s me. And I don’t have kids. Or classes. Maybe I just have an office supply addiction.

Right now I certainly have a farmer’s market addiction. We have a year round co-op that has so much great stuff it’s hard to list but in the summer my town also has a twice weekly farmer’s market downtown.  Between the two stops my fridge, freezer and countertops are overflowing.

I love these peppers, they’re small and so much more flavorful than the bland gross ones you get in December. A bunch will be going in the salsa I’m making, even more flash frozen in strips for fajitas or pasta dishes.  The orange bowl has tomatoes for salsa, I need to pick up a lot more but I’m waiting for next week’s advertisements. If the prices are too high I’ll just pick up a few pounds during the tomato festival in 2 weeks.  And I’ve still got a few of those lemons left! Love them, as soon as I get a chance to juice them I’m going to freeze them in ice cube trays.

Here I have peppers for the salsa and maybe for my next batch of scrambled eggs, the tote filled with squash, zucchini and various herbs and onions and garlic. I have family in Gilroy (the garlic capital of the world) so I’m rarely without garlic. It’s a nice edition to salsa, good to throw in salads, pasta dishes and great roasted with potatoes.  The zucchini is incredibly cheap right now, about 50 cents a pound for the bulk pack. About half will be sliced, frozen and bagged. I like to make individual servings in the freezer so they’re super easy to pull out, steam and have for dinner.The big bunch of rosemary, lemon something and a bunch of other herbs are things I have no idea what to do with. Honestly, I asked for rosemary and the vendor just kept adding stuff to my bag. All for $1. Crazy. But it’s in a little cup of water so it stays fresh until I can ask my grandma what to do with it.

I picked up those peppers at the farmer’s market this morning. 20 peppers for $1 and so many varieties. I have no idea what most of them are I just remember the “really hot” ones so I don’t attempt to eat those plain.  Again, adding peppers, garlic and onion to the next batch of salsa and other dishes. Yes, they’re in a corn on the cob holder but I ran out of dishes!

Here I’ve got the last of my peaches, really ripe plums and nectarines.  My grandparents said they’d be bringing more peaches, figs, avocados and lemons tomorrow so I’ve got to throw some of these into a smoothie.  I just visited my grandparents a few weeks ago and while I was able to share the figs and avocados, freeze lots of peaches and make a LOT of lemon slushies, I can’t turn down their produce. It’s impossible. In fact, here’s a picture of my grandma, who just turned 90, using a crazy long tool thingy to get avocados from their tree.

What kinds of foods do you like in the summer?