Saturday, September 8, 2012

Mouse Course 2011 Scrapbook Pages

I'd made the first two pages a year ago and then lost steam with scrapbooking more or less completely.  Now that I've found my groove a little bit, I thought I'd finish this set up.  I originally planned to have more pages but I think I'm going to leave it at three for now and maybe revisit adding more pages at a later date.  If I added another page, it would be of everyone wearing mouse t-shirts and some scavenger hunt pictures.  Next up will likely be Ferret Visits Portland!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Max's First Birthday Party Scrapbook Pages

Papers and Elements from Persnickety Prints and Shabby Princess
It's been ages and ages since I last scrapped but I was inspired by Persnickety Print's Fall Freebie (Birds of a Feather), which seemed perfect for Max's First Birthday.  One of his favorite things to say is "Buh" or Bird so this kit was especially apt.  So nice to get back into scrapping again!  As usual, my pages are collage-y and I tried to fit in as many pictures as possible.  Super hard choosing between pictures but it had to be done.  I initially wanted to mirror the pages for Jess's Baby Shower but it didn't really work out.  I kept the side banners and used the same blue paper to frame the pictures but that was about it.  After I finished these pages I realized that my color scheme mirrored the colors in Jess's dress.  Score!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Project 333 Update and End

I managed to last almost 2 months before giving up on this project.  It's actually not a complete fail because most of the things I'm wearing are still from my original list but I'm starting to sneak in some non-list items because I'm bored.  Since I don't own a lot of clothes (I think), minimizing my choices wasn't really revelatory, but it did lead to a few new outfit combinations from necessity.  I don't think I'll be doing this again, but I'm glad I tried it out.  I think I see some wardrobe holes and it will be fun searching for items to fill them.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

PSU Farmers Market or I Love Summer

It's been a long time since I did a farmer's market post, not because I wasn't going but because I've been too lazy to assemble my produce together after getting home.  Usually I go to market and then go from there straight to lab and then a few hours later I come home.  By then I'm anxious to get things washed and refrigerated, etc.  Today though, I stopped off at home first for lunch before setting forth again.  As you can see, I've been going to town on tomatoes and berries because they're so incredible this summer.  I also bought some Queen Anne cherries, but forgot to include.  Unfortunately, I don't remember the individual cost but I know the total was somewhere around $28.

I decided to post a picture of one of my favorite things to eat in the summer.  Tomato and garlic bruschettas. With summer tomatoes being what they are, all they need is a bit of crushed garlic, olive oil and sea salt to make them shine.  Put atop toast and you have a lovely meal.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Project 333

I first heard about Project 333 a few months ago and it's popped up on my radar with some regularity ever since.  Usually accompanied by raves of how participating in this changed lives (for the better).  The idea originated here and basically, what you do is choose 33 items (not including workout clothes or underwear/socks, but does include shoes/accessories/handbags) and you can only wear items from this list for the next 3 months.  On paper I seem like the perfect candidate for this project because let's face it: 1) my wardrobe is small, 2) it is composed almost entirely of neutrals and 3) I already wear the same things over and over anyway.  For some reason though, something held me back.  Until now of course!  Summer is a good time for me to try this out because I don't have to wear a billion layers just to keep warm.  And it turns out, I was only able to identify 29 items for my list, which I have stuck to since July 1st.  Here it is (UPDATE: ADDED SOME ITEMS TO INCREASE TOTAL TO 32 33):

Tops (9 8 total)
3 luxe t-shirts from Banana Republic (black, navy, gray) - these are awesome
Short sleeve black top (pleated bib front)
3/4 sleeve black knit shirt
Long sleeve gray knit shirt
Elbow-sleeved white collared button down shirt
Purple sleeveless tank (added)
Blue collared long sleeve button down blouse (added)

Sweaters (2 total)
Gray cardigan
Black cardigan

Bottoms (5 total)
Pleated gray skirt
Black pencil skirt
Blue skinny jeans
2 pairs dark blue skinny jeans

Dresses (3 total)
Black sleeveless dress
Black strappy dress
Navy short sleeve dress

Outerwear and jackets (4 total)
Trench coat
Black blazer
Gray blazer
Navy blazer

Shoes and Accessories (11 total)
Black thong sandals
Gold sandals
Black ballet flats (added)
Black leather belt (added)
Black leather handbag
Brown leather handbag
Black sunglasses
Straw hat
Cubic zirconia stud earrings
Pearl stud earrings
Black and gold watch

Since I still have 4 slots, I give myself leeway to add to this list as the weeks wear on.  I'm curious if I'll feel really held back by this challenge or if I'll get sick of my clothes at all.  I think not, because I wear this stuff all the time anyway, but we'll see!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Casual Dinner In With Kindle

I've been largely too busy/traveling hectically the last month or so and have therefore not been cooking beyond the basics and certainly not trying any new recipes.  I finally had a couple of weeks of being solidly at home though and took the opportunity of 4th of July to take myself to Fubonn to replenish my Asian groceries.  While there I picked up some Korean ribs and one google search and several hours later, I had something very delicious on my hands.  I also made a batch of kimchi and I have to say there is not much better than Korean ribs with rice and kimchi.  The recipe came from allrecipes - I don't have a grill so I sealed up the ribs in foil and just roasted in my toaster oven for 45 minutes at around 425F.  Several commenters also say slow-cooking turns out delicious meats so I might have to give that a try next time.  And the book on my Kindle is World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.  I highly recommend!

Korean BBQ Short Ribs (adapted from allrecipes)

3/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup water
3 tablespoons white vinegar (I used some champagne vinegar I had in my cupboard)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/4 cup minced garlic
1/2 large onion, minced
3 pounds Korean-style short ribs (beef chuck flanken, cut 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick across bones)

Pour soy sauce, water, and vinegar into a large, non-metallic bowl. Whisk in brown sugar, white sugar, pepper, sesame oil, garlic, and onion until the sugars have dissolved.

As one commenter noted, it helps to wash and drain the ribs first to get rid of bone chunks.  After that, submerge the ribs in this marinade, and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 7 to 12 hours; the longer, the better (I used a glass Pyrex baking pan and that worked nicely).

Preheat an outdoor grill for medium-high heat.  Remove ribs from the marinade, shake off excess, and discard the marinade. Cook on preheated grill until the meat is no longer pink, 5 to 7 minutes per side. (As mentioned above, I cooked in toaster oven, sealed in foil about 45 minutes at 425F).

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Bar Method: 10 Months!

Image from:
I can't believe it's been 10 months already since I started Bar Method!  Everything is still going well, I love the classes and teachers and continue to go about 4x a week.  I have to admit there have been a few weeks when I do 3x a week, but for the most part it's been 4x/wk and that amount feels right to me.  As I sit here, I feel soreness in pretty much every muscle.  Despite the constant muscle soreness (which varies in intensity depending on the class), I've never experienced an actual injury doing Bar Method so I'm not too worried.  

One thing I've come to realize is that the class is sneaky.  It's structured into arm, thigh, butt, ab sections but even when you think you are just targeting one area, the only way to do each exercise properly is to work the other parts too.  So for example, when you do the pretzel you are supposedly targeting your butt.  But you also end up torturing your obliques and your arms and since posture is emphasized throughout the class, you are always working your back muscles.  Actually, that's probably the correction I get the most - "Open your chest" "Engage your back muscles" "Draw your shoulders back."  It's awesome though because now I have great posture.

Still using the same weights, but they still feel challenging so oh well.  I might be ready to move up from the 1 lb weight for the one arm lift/lunge exercise though.  Wish there were half step weights, like 1.5 lbs.  My main goals when I started this was to improve strength and flexibility and I think I've done both, although there are still many things to work toward.  There's one girl who is in my class sometimes that I love watching because she's crazy flexible so all the positions look beautiful and graceful when she does them.  I'm not sure I'll ever attain that level of flexibility, but one can try!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Nice Noodle Broth

Now that I have a noodle recipe that's pretty fast and easy to throw together, I wanted to have a good standby vegetarian broth in the event I don't have any leftover meaty soup-ish ingredients on hand.  The key to this broth is star anise (to lend depth) and miso (for umami).  All of these ingredients I happen to have in the pantry already, but they may be acquired in any Asian supermarket.  The first time I made it I kind of threw things into the pot but the second time I tried to keep an eye to measurements for reproducibility.  Here is what I have roughly, I believe the proportions can be easily adapted to taste:

Vegetarian 'Meaty' Broth for Noodle Soup

2 tsp vegetable oil
2-3 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 tbs dry fried shallots (find in Asian supermarket)
3 cups of water
1.5 tbs miso
2 star anise
1.5 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp shaoxing wine (optional)

topping ideas:
scallions, chopped
leafy greens
bean sprouts
poached egg
lime wedge
cilantro, chopped
chili garlic sauce

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and fry the ginger and shallots until fragrant.  Add water, miso, star anise, soy sauce and shaoxing wine and let simmer for 15 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly (can add a pinch of sugar or salt or more soy sauce if desired).  I like to quickly wilt the greens in the broth before combining with the noodles and scattering scallions over.  I bet a squeeze of lime would be nice too.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Simple Dinner 3

I guess my simple dinners are pretty much all bread based.  I definitely had more than what I pictured above;  when I'm by myself I tend to eat various courses of things until I am no longer hungry.  I've been semi-obsessed with soup recently and this was my latest effort, a cream of tomato soup from Cook's Illustrated.  I've never been much of a fan of tomato soup until now, this was extremely good.  Especially with some toasted bread alongside, yum.

Cream of Tomato Soup (adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

2 (28 oz) cans whole tomatoes (not packed in puree), drained, 3 cups juice reserved, tomatoes seeded
1 1/2 tbs dark brown sugar
4 tbs butter
4 large shallots, minced
1 tbs tomato paste
pinch ground all spice
2 tbs unbleached all purpose flour
1 3/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tbs brandy or dry sherry
cayenne pepper

My substitutions:
I forgot the brown sugar until after the tomatoes were already roasted so I quickly threw 1 tbs of light brown sugar over them and stuck them back in the oven for a couple of minutes.  Next time I will follow instructions better.  Instead of shallots, I used 3/4 of a red onion.  I used 1/8 tsp of allspice and used 2 cubes of powdered chicken bouillon combined with water.  Having no brandy or sherry on hand, I used 1 tbs Chinese Shaoxing wine instead (my usual substitute when sherry is called for).  And instead of cayenne pepper, I gadded some black pepper.  Even with all my subs, the soup was delicious and pretty easy to put together on a weeknight.  

1. Adjust oven rack to upper middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees.  Line a rimmed sheet with foil and spread tomatoes in single layer on foil.  Sprinkle evenly with brown sugar.  Bake ~30 min (until all liquid has evaporated and tomatoes begin to color).  Let tomatoes cool slightly, peel off foil and transfer to small bowl.

2. Heat butter in pot until foaming and add shallots, tomato paste and allspice.  Reduce heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally until shallots are softened (7-10 min).  Add flour and cook, stirring until combined (30 sec).  Whisking constantly, slowly add chicken stock, reserved tomato juice and the roasted tomatoes.  Cover, increase heat to medium and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer about 10 min.

3. Strain mixture into bowl and transfer solids into food processor (or blender).  Add ~ 1 cup of liquid and puree.   Add everything back into pot.  Add cream and reheat soup.  Off the heat, stir in brandy or sherry, season to taste and serve.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Simple Dinner 2

I have a weakness for baguette-centered meals.  All I need is a piece of cheese or even some butter and I'm good to go.  In this case, I mixed up a no fuss spinach and cream cheese dip and I happened to have a lovely piece of venison pate from the Farmer's Market in the fridge so all the ingredients necessary for a simple dinner was present.  Again, I'd like to reiterate my pleasure in living alone...somehow I can't imagine any of my past boyfriends looking at this and thinking it a satisfactory dinner...

No Fuss Spinach and Cream Cheese Dip

Throw half a block (4oz?) of plain cream cheese into a bowl and shake out some frozen spinach (the loose kind you buy in a bag, not the frozen block that comes in a box).  How much spinach you like is up to you.  Add a pinch or two of salt and pepper.  Heat bowl in microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until everything is melted and mixed.  If you have some cheddar cheese around, add a bit of that and zap with microwave to melt in.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hearty Lentil Soup With Spice And Spinach

A couple of months ago I got two bags of French lentils from my sister, who had received them from my mom six months before that, who had gotten them from a neighbor who was moving away who knows how long ago.  So that's a lot of people who have no idea what to do with lentils, including me.  I made a lentil soup years ago that I felt pretty eh about.  In an attempt to use these up, I also made lentil salad and it was fine, but definitely something that I will be craving never.  This weekend I solved my lentil problem when I stumbled onto a Cook's Illustrated recipe for lentil soup.  My CI cookbook really has not let me down yet, best cookbook I own for sure.  The original recipe is for hearty lentil soup and then there were two variations, one with fragrant spices and one with spinach.  I basically turned out a version that combined elements of all three and I couldn't be more pleased.  Now I am jealously guarding my remaining lentils, so I can turn out more of this soup!

Hearty Lentil Soup with Spices and Spinach (adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

3 slices bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 medium carrots, chopped (I used 3 and food processed into same size as onions)
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 (14.5 oz can) diced tomatoes, drained
1 bay leaf
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (I used a bit less than that of dried)
1 cup (7 oz) lentils
1 tsp salt (I omitted this bc I used regular chicken broth)
ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth (I used regular and omitted salt above)
1 1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice (I didn't actually measure this)
5 oz frozen spinach (eyeballed how much I wanted!)

1. Fry bacon in Dutch oven over medium high heat, stirring occasionally until fat is rendered and bacon crisp.

2. Add the onion and carrots; cook, stirring until the veggies begin to soften (2 min).

3. Add garlic, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and cook about 30 sec.  Stir in tomatoes, bay leave and thyme, cook until fragrant ~30 sec.  Stir in lentils, salt (if using), pepper, cover and reduce heat to medium low.  Cook until veggies are softened and lentils have darkened, ~8-10 min.

4. Uncover, increase the heat to high, add the wine and bring to simmer.  Add chicken broth and water, bring to boil, cover partially and reduce heat to low.  Simmer until lentils are tender but still hold shape, 30-35 min.  Discard bay leaf.

5.  Puree 3 cups of soup until smooth and return to pot.  Stir in lemon juice and frozen spinach, heat soup until hot and serve.

Note: If you have cilantro, chop some up to sprinkle over the soup.  The timing above wasn't really followed by me, just use some common sense.  It's a forgiving soup I think and tastes excellent.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Simple Dinner

Salted edamame with cheese and scallion scone and tea 

As a busy working person, I often cook during the weekend and cobble together leftovers for meals throughout the week.  Cooking is a relaxing and enjoyable pastime for me so I try to make as many things from scratch as possible.  Certain weekends end up being busier than others, if I have to make things like bread and kimchi and what have you.  Since it's just me though, the food I make lasts a long time and I can often freeze portions away for future use.  I have a set of rotating staples I often cook, but it's also fun to try new recipes.  A couple of weekends ago I tried out the cheese and scallion scones from Farmgirl Fare.  This recipe was quite a cinch to throw together, but when they first came out of the oven, I was kind of disappointed because the texture was really not what I was anticipating.  However, I've found that they toast up marvelously for breakfasts.  The texture is still not scone-like, but it's a delicate bready texture with a crispy crumbly crust and generally pleasing.  I definitely recommend making these in advance and re-toasting for serving.  And they freeze very well too!

Cheese and Scallion Scones (adapted from Farmgirl Fare)

2½ to 3 cups all-purpose flour (12.5 oz to 15 oz)
1 Tablespoon + 2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
4 ounces cream cheese, softened in the microwave 15-30 seconds (you want it very soft)
4 scallions, green & white parts, chopped
1 cup whole milk or half and half
1 large egg

Optional Egg glaze:
Beat 1 egg and 2 Tablespoons of milk (or half and half) well with a fork (I omitted this because I always kind of hate wasting an egg on glazes)

1. Heat the oven to 400°.

2. Combine 2½ cups of the flour, the baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
3. Add the cheeses & toss gently with a fork until combined.
4. Add the scallions & toss gently with a fork until combined.
5. Beat the milk (or half and half) with the egg and gently it fold into the dry ingredients, mixing lightly until a soft dough forms. Add up to 1/2 cup additional flour if the dough is too sticky.
6. On a floured surface, gently pat the dough into a circle approximately 1-inch thick (or into two smaller circles for 12 scones). The key to tender scones is to handle the dough as little as possible and with a light touch.

7. With a sharp knife (I use a large serrated knife dipped in flour), cut the circle(s) into 8 wedges and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (I used foil bc I was out of parchment)

8. Brush the tops and sides of the scones with the egg glaze if desired, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm, or cool completely and refrigerate or freeze in a heavy zipper bag or airtight container.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

PSU Farmers Market Reopens!

This morning I woke up at 6:30am and the first thought that popped into my head was Farmer's market is open today!!!  Then I went back to sleep for another hour, because c'mon it's Saturday, there's no way I'm getting myself out of bed at 6:30.  I was out the door by 9am though, enjoying a brisk walk in brisk weather.  It was lovely to be back amongst the stalls, eyeing produce and prices, running back and forth to see which stall had better looking veggies or fruits.  Since it's not quite yet spring weather, the vegetables were mostly leeks and chards and kales and lettuces.  So I will still have to go to Whole Foods later to diversify.  P.S. I went to lab directly afterward and ate an apple so there were originally 3 apples.  P.P.S. After eating my apple I realized why I stopped buying apples while the markets were closed.  Grocery store apples just do not compare.

3 fuji apples and 3 red d'anjou pears: $6.10
Asian salad mix and a bunch of kale: $5
Venison pate: $5

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Chinese Congee Using Steelcut Oats

It turns out the pressure cooker is an excellent way to make a healthier version of Chinese congee using steelcut oats.  I had already been eating savory versions of oatmeal, but after writing my post about this, I started wondering if it would be possible to incorporate sweet potatoes into the dish.  Red sweet potatoes would be prettier; I bought these in the Chinese grocery store thinking they would be red, but they're actually yellow ones.  Tasty though!  The toppings I like to include are seaweed paste, fried ground swordfish, sardines in tomato sauce, fried gluten with peanuts.  You can basically find these in the canned food section in your Chinese grocery.  It's entirely possible all of these things would be acquired tastes for those not reared by Asian immigrant parents.

I think overall I like the pressure cooker over the slow cooker for steelcut oatmal.  It's also quite easy to make a large batch and it's so fast!

Steelcut Oatmeal
1 cup steelcut oatmeal
5 cups water
1 sweet potato, skinned and cubed (not too small)

Throw everything into the pressure cooker.  When it comes up to pressure, let it go for 5 minutes and then turn off the flame and allow the pressure to release on its own. 

The oatmeal looked super soupy at first, but after it cools down and especially after chilling, it is nice and congee-like.  For non-congee applications (ie. to eat with brown sugar without sweet potato), I would probably like a more nubbly texture so I might try playing with the times and tweak water ratios a bit.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Pad Thai Is Only Easy In Theory

I have a long standing obsession with pad thai so whenever I go to a new Thai place, I always order their shrimp pad thai.  Over the years I have eaten very good pad thai (Song and Joya in New York) and very bad pad thai (too numerous to mention).  So when I found what looked to be a super authentic pad thai recipe on userealbutter, I just had to try it.  So the good thing about the recipe is the technique is solid.  My first attempt was sort of a disaster, but after I switched to a large enough pot and got the hang of timing everything, it's a breeze to make up.  The problem is it doesn't really taste like the pad thai I like!  I'm not entirely sure what's missing.  More fish sauce?  More sugar?  I found another version from Cook's Illustrated so I will be giving that a go one of these days.  The elements I will definitely be keeping from this recipe though, is to have a batch of sauce made up in advance and to cook small servings at a time.  Makes a huge difference.  What I would change is the egg.  When I tried to cook the egg in the same pan with the noodles, it never turned out well (maybe because my pan is not non-stick), so I have much better results when I cook up the egg in a separate pan, cut it into pieces and then sort of add it with everything else in the end.

You can find the recipe and tutorial here.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Chinese Eggplant with Kasha

For someone with a love affair with interesting grains, the bulk food bins at Whole Foods can provide many a happy hour.  I only knew of kasha through the descriptions of MFK Fisher (it is through her writings that I have experienced many of the finer things of life) so I was instantly tempted when I spotted the pretty toasted grains at Whole Foods.  A few internet searches later, I was ready to go.  Well, my first attempt was kind of a disaster.  The whole thing turned into some kind of awful pasty mush and since I had no idea what it was supposed to taste like I kind of made my way through the batch and then had no inclination to cook up the rest.  Somewhere in the back of my mind though, I knew kasha had to be different and good.  MFK Fisher would not lead me astray.  So tonight I gave it another go, this time being careful to try it at different stages of cooking and stopping it when it seemed right to me.  It turns out, kasha has a nice nubbly texture and wonderful nutty flavor.  To go with, I fixed up a batch of Chinese eggplant (using Japanese eggplants of course), winging it the way my mom taught me.  Together with some homebrewed beer gifted by some friends and I have dined!

Combine 2 cups of water with 1/4 tsp salt and bring to boil in medium saucepan.  Add 1 cup of toasted buckwheat groats, lower the flame to miniscule and clap a lid on.  After 10 minutes, give it a stir and taste.  If there's a lot of water left, cook a few minutes longer.  But check as you go and taste so it doesn't turn to mush on you.  I like the grains to be tender but separate and nubbly.

Chinese Eggplant
Depending on size, a few Japanese eggplants.  I used 3 big ones.  Cut into manageable long rectangles, each pieces should be 2-3 bites maybe.  If you cut too small they tend to disintegrate on you.  Coat the pieces with some oil using your hands and throw into a dutch oven.  Put the lid on top and turn on a low flame.  Every so often go and stir everything up so it doesn't burn but keep on cooking until the pieces are quite soft.  If it looks like it might be burning, turn the flame lower.  When soft, toss in a few chopped scallions, swirl in soy sauce, water, and sugar to taste.  Mix a heaping tsp of corn starch with a splash of cold water and add a bit at a time until you achieve a thickness you like.  I wish I had more precise directions but this is a pretty forgiving dish I think.  If it tastes too salty, add more sugar and vice versa.  If too dry and you feel you've already added a bunch of soy sauce, add more water.  Ditto if it got too thick.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Resolutions Update

View from my balcony this weekend

I confess, since returning from my conference earlier this month, I have not been particularly resolved.  Let's see how things have been going shall we?

Tidy kitchen before bed every night, put away dishes in the morning: Miraculously, I have managed to continue this resolution through thick and thin.  No matter how tired or out of it I feel, my kitchen is clean when I take myself off to bed.  For this alone, I don't feel so bad about letting the rest slide...

Minimize my needs to give away more: Well, I've been meeting my budget for this so technically, things are ok.  

Eat less meat: No clue how this went down the last few weeks, but I was certainly not making any special efforts to keep track.  I suspect I had more meat plus days than minus.  This was partly due to my trying out a new roast chicken recipe (one roast chicken lasts a looooooooong time if you live by yourself) and also not bringing lunches into work very much lately.

Get to work earlier: Disaster!  I am still waking up fairly early to go to Bar Method but for the life of me I can't seem to leave my house at a good time after that.  Even on non-exercise days I wake up early but again, cannot leave.  Must fix this!

Writing out my progress has been helpful.  I see now that I probably need to plan my menus more specifically and perhaps keep track of meals and schedules again, even though it's a pain.  I definitely waste too much time on the internet in the mornings and that contributes to my late start on the work day.  Weekends are when I organize for the coming week so on Saturday I will put a little structure back into my efforts and see how things go from there.  The key is to stay conscious of these areas in my life that need improving.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bar Method : Seven Months

Bar Method Portland! (from

The last couple of months have been extremely busy, with holiday travel, work travel and a flurry of work-related stress in general.  But I've been able to keep up with it all, in large part because of BM.  I know the way I rave about this class makes me sound like a paid advertiser (I most certainly am not!), but it's really transformed my life not just my body.  People who exercise probably can relate to this general sense of well-being; for me this class is special because I hate exercise usually and would never be able to stick to anything else.  General thoughts:
  • I am always sleepy when I shuffle off to BM in the mornings but the class really wakes me up and I feel good when I leave.  Very important in these gloomy wintry days.
  • I love having these times to myself where I'm not thinking.  My personality tends toward obsessive and over-analytical (good traits in a scientist, not so great in daily life), but it's amazing to give it up 4 hours a week and just do however many lifts and tucks I'm told to do and trust that it'll work.
  • At a work conference last week, my friend who has not seen me in a year said: Wow you look amazing, what have you been doing?!  Last year she said: Omg are you eating why are you so thin!  Since my dress size has not changed at all, I am sure BM had something to do with my change from sickly thin to healthy thin.  
  • I am still sore pretty much all the time.
  • I no longer need the strap for round back!  I still grab it just in case I'm stiff that day but I've been doing the exercise without it more and more.  It's tremendously exciting because this was one of my goals when I started.  Now if only I can make a vertical leg...
  • Someone commented recently about how flexible I was.  This really really surprised me.  I'm still probably the least flexible person in class, but when I consider that last year I couldn't even touch my toes and now I can almost flatten my palms to the floor, I have to admit a big improvement in this area.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Broth from Leftovers

I first came across this idea many years ago from MFK Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf, but it's something I implement sort of sporadically, even though it is so sensible and wise.  Last week I did it conscientiously and acquired several tasty juices that I turned into a noodle soup at the end of the week for lunch.  The idea is that you save the water from whatever vegetable dishes you cook.  And you can also get more vitamins out of your vegetable discards (ends of scallions, zucchini, etc.  whatever you normally throw away) by giving them a quick simmer in water.  So I saved the water from boiled potatoes and tossed in the odds and ends leftover from ratatouille making and cooked together for a little while and strained into a jar.  I saved the jelly at the bottom of the pan from roasted chicken (fat skimmed away after refrigeration), and the juices from sauteed kale.  And on Saturday these elements all came together with a piece of leftover roasted chicken, some fresh herbs and stray onions to make a noodle soup.  The broth was excellent and I applauded myself for taking just a little bit of time to save these things that would normally have gone down my drain.  

I'll try to be better about doing this since there are many reasonable uses for vegetable broth aside from noodle soup.  A very simple soup can be made if the broth becomes concentrated enough just by swirling in an egg and chopping some fresh scallions in.  Or the broth can be used to make rice or other grains.

[Out of all the things I attempted to plant on my balcony, the parsley is far and away the most successful.  My two bushy plants grow about as fast as I can use it and it's wonderful snipping off a few leaves to throw on top of things.  The sage on the other hand...]

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Savory Breakfast Oatmeal

One of the lovely things about living alone is getting to eat whatever I like.  And what I like recently is a savory oatmeal for breakfast, inspired by Chinese congee (rice porridge).  When I was growing up, my mom would make Chinese congee for breakfast or lunch, maybe with bits of sweet potatoes in it and we would eat it with various pickles and sardines and soft salty peanuts.  These days I much prefer the flavor and texture of whole grains so have approximated this version of congee, which is easy to throw together on a weekday morning, assuming you have a batch of steelcut oatmeal already made in the fridge.  I like to break my egg yolk midway through and mix it up with everything.  Yum.

Steelcut Oatmeal
My preferred method now is to cook up small batches in the slow cooker.  I have a tiny one that I got from amazon years ago for something like $15 and it's great for this task.  Usually I set it on the 'keep warm' setting and leave it for 10? hours.  If I can get to it in less than 7 hours, I set it to 'low'.  I really hate mushy oatmeal though which is why I prefer the gentler method, which gives me greater room for error.

1.5 cup water
1/2 cup steelcut oatmeal

This is enough for two breakfasts for me.  I microwave a serving to warm up and it is often a bit too thick for me so I also add some hot water.  Now I'm really curious about adding some sweet potatoes to this...

Egg Topping
Until two weeks ago, I was certain that one needed a nonstick pan to cook eggs properly.  Since my only nonstick pan finally died, I finally tried using my stainless steel one recently and was amazed.  Absolutely no sticking.  I think the trick is to get the pan hot enough before putting in your egg and to add some butter.  Since I always added butter to my eggs for flavor, even with the non-stick, this is not a problem.

Heat pan for a little while and add a small nubbin of butter.  Use spatula to spread it around the bottom and watch the color.  If making scrambled eggs, mix the egg with a little salt and pepper in a bowl first.  Otherwise, when the color of the butter starts to brown a little, add your egg.  I let the white part mostly set and then add two swirls of soy sauce around.  If too much evaporates you can add a bit of water.  It's important to have some sauce.  Then I flip one side of the white onto the yolk and slip the whole egg onto my bowl of already-warmed-up oatmeal.  Add a sprinkling of chopped scallions.

Monday, January 23, 2012

On Being Part Time Vegetarian

Being a (part-time) vegetarian definitely requires a little more extra effort in planning but if you put in that time, you are rewarded with healthy, tasty, fresh foods and your experiment need not be an exercise in misery.  Here are some of dishes I've made since the new year.

When I started, I naturally gravitated toward salads as part of menu planning.  An important lesson here is that delicious salads are not made by tossing some greens with low-cal dressing and calling it a day.  In fact, I believe your body needs some fat in order to absorb nutrients from your veggies.  This is not to say your salad should be loaded with ranch dressing and tons of cheese, but I believe a lovely middle balance can be achieved.  Confronted with such a tasty salad, there will be no need for meat.  Delicious (and in my mind, mandatory) additions include: 
  • Fruit - You see here some clementines in one salad and apple in another.  At this time of year, pears would also be outrageously good.  The only fruit I might NOT add would be bananas.  I also enjoy sprinkling in some dried fruit (think dried cranberry, golden raisins, apricot).  
  • Nuts(+Seeds) - My hands down favorite are toasted cashews. But naturally any kind of nut will do. Toasted walnuts, pecans, pistachios, yum.  Sometimes I throw in sunflower seeds...
  • Cheese - Don't go crazy here, but some cheese adds a nice flavor punch. Nice options include parmiggiano reggiano shavings, goat cheese dollops or feta crumbles.
  • Beets - I'm not at all creative with how I use my beets, but I do love them.  So I like to roast some and keep them in a jar in the fridge as pictured and add them to salads when desired (always).  
  • Homemade dressing - Whenever I buy a salad dressing I am inevitably disappointed.  These days I don't bother, but always concoct my own.  I don't like a super tart vinaigrette, so depending on the tartness of my vinegar I'll add more olive oil.  I always add a sweetener; these days it's maple syrup but sometimes it's honey.  If you use rice vinegar you can add a small splash of soy sauce.  Finely minced garlic is nice, as are herbs (scallions, parsley, basil, etc).  Remember to add a nice pinch of salt and some pepper.  Taste as you are making and tweak as you go.  This is minimally more work than buying dressing and tastes a million times better.  Fresh lemon or lime juice is also tops.  I make up a bottle and use it within a few days.
To ensure you don't get bored of salad, try to change it up every week.  Use baby mesclun one week and then a sturdier leaf like romaine the next.  Try different dressings.  And for the love of god, if you are getting sick of salad just stop eating it.  Don't ruin a good thing.  Salads should be a pleasure not a deprivation.

Ratatouille with Polenta
I haven't made this in forever and only came across it while idly flipping through my recipe book.  And I've been kicking myself ever since because it is delicious.  Now, ratatouille is probably more of a late summer or fall dish but whatever.  Grab yourself eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, onion and a can of tomato and you are good to go.  Add some dried basil, oregano and rosemary.  It is entirely satisfying, especially with the polenta to add a bit of bulk.  I forget exactly where my polenta recipe came from, but here's how to make a creamy cheesy version:

Boil 4 cups of water.  In a separate bowl, combine another cup of water with 1 cup of coarse cornmeal (whole foods has this in bulk bins, handy).  Add the cornmeal mix to the boiling water a spoonful at a time and whisk to avoid clumps.  Add 1/2 tsp of salt.  And then you just simmer it while stirring frequently for around 15 minutes.  You don't want it to stick on the bottom, and it will get quite thick and hard to stir.  At the end I like to stir in a couple of big handfuls of extra sharp cheddar.

Polenta is wonderful and I will be trying it out with other combinations once my ratatouille runs out.

Korean/Japanese Inspired Dishes
If you want to eat highly flavored, low fat vegetable dishes, you can't beat Korean food.  I'm throwing in Japanese because I like to combine such things as kimchi with a side of miso soup or green tea.  In the picture above, I'm eating sprouted brown and red rices with homemade kimchi.  Tofu obviously, plays a central part in these meals.  I like to keep it simple because I really enjoy the taste of tofu as it is.  So sometimes I simmer cubes in some soy sauce, water, chopped scallions, garlic.  The liquid only comes up to about half the height of the tofu cubes so I give things a stir now and then.  A few minutes to heat through and simmer is good for me.  Winter is an excellent time for greens, so I like them sauteed with some oil and a sprinkling of soy sauce at the end.  Simple and tasty!  Kimchi obviously, provides the biggest punch.  The other dishes are purposefully mild.  I'm going to start looking for other Asian pickle dishes and will report back.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saturday Morning with Cafe Au Lait and Audrey Hepburn

Image from fanpop

I'm going to go out on a limb here and state for the record, I adore Audrey Hepburn.  I know, a revolutionary statement as there are so few women who do.  A lovely way to enjoy your weekend coffee on occasion is to do an image search for Audrey Hepburn on google.  Only if you are NOT the type of person who would be sent on a downward spiral of self-loathing and despair at not being able to measure up.  For the rest of us with sufficient amounts of self-esteem, here are the style notes I've gathered from these images to apply to my own life:

1. If you have dark hair and fair skin (yay!) then black is the color for you.  Keep the cuts simple, the fit impeccable and avoid embellishments/bedazzlement.  Black and white photography makes distinguishing between various pale colors more difficult, but I think everyone would agree that Audrey Hepburn was not someone who wore wild color.

2. Avoid statement jewelry unless you are on the set of Breakfast at Tiffany's.  This one made me extremely happy because I am not a fan of wearing huge necklaces or "fun" earrings or inviting a party of diverse bracelets to take up residence on my arm.  From what I can tell, she seldom wore necklaces at all, even with the simplest of shirts/dresses.  Instead, sometimes she wore small earrings and sometimes a scarf.  Thank god, because I'm sick of people telling me to accessorize constantly to "jazz" up an outfit.  

3. Less is more.  When you see a picture of Audrey, what stands out is a sense of elegance and the woman herself.  I'd be hard pressed to remember the specifics of anything she wore (aside from the iconic Bfast at Tiff's outfit).  To me, this is a good thing.  Personal style is different for everyone of course, but this is what I strive for above all else.

4. Always wear makeup.  In her day, the crazy 24 hour surveillance by paparazzi did not exist so we don't have pictures of Audrey at the local 7-11 in her pajamas and last night's makeup smeared across her face.  However, I like to think that such a picture would not have been possible anyway, because she was not that sort of woman.  Here, the lesson is to always look groomed, if you are able to.  As it applies to myself, this translates to doing something so my hair looks neat and a little makeup.  More than simply appearance though, the ritual of these activities also gets my mind put together and ready to face the day.  A day spent in pajamas is usually a day spent doing nothing.

5. Be consistent.  This is certainly very personal.  I think one should always be open to reinvention in theory, but honestly, I love the idea of an uniform and I happily look forward to wearing the same sorts of things for the next 30+ years.  There will always be people who dress creatively and participate in the latest trends and I enjoy looking at them on my bus and on the streets.  But basics and neutrals and natural materials are perfect on their own (as long as the fit is perfect!).

Monday, January 16, 2012

Resolutions Update

I'm taking my resolutions more seriously than usual this year because I think several of them entail fairly major shifts in lifestyle (as opposed to the "make homemade cards!" types of resolutions I've made in the past).  In my opinion, being successful at anything takes a bit of planning and dedication.  Lifestyle changes in particular require consistency at first before it becomes simple force of habit.  Like brushing your teeth every morning. So how am I doing so far?

Tidy kitchen before bed every night, put away dishes in the morning: I'm really proud of myself for sticking to this one since December.  Last night was the first day that I really thought long and hard about not doing this - the kitchen counters were a mess from bread making and other cooking, it was close to midnight and I had spent most of the day working to get an abstract together for a deadline so I was mentally tired.  But I did it and felt great immediately.  Went to bed with a peaceful brow.

Minimize my needs to give away more:  I took a serious look at my expenditures (helped along by, love this service!) and realized that I was paying way too much for internet at home and that I don't watch my netflix movies enough to warrant the subscription.  So I've made the switch from Comcast to Centurylink ($30/month less = $360/yr) and canceled netflix ($12/month less = $144/yr).  It doesn't sound like much, but it's an extra $500 a year and requires no alteration in my current behavior.  I have also been trying to be maximally sensible about my grocery budget and being careful about food waste.  Bar Method of course, is quite spendy, but I am really good about going and I know that cutting this would eliminate all exercise from my life.  So to me, $175/month is more than worth it as a long-term investment in my health.

Eat less meat:  When I made this resolution a bit over a week ago I had put into place specific non-meat days and days that I could eat meat IF I wanted to.  This actually went well overall - I definitely ate less meat than usual and even on meat days I often didn't have any.  At least, until Thursday when I was derailed by an unexpected meeting that involved free pizza for lunch.  I dashed in late and grabbed the pizza closest to me, which of course contained pepperoni.  The rest of the week was back on track.  So I'm adjusting the details of this resolution to include more flexibility.  I'll simply keep track of days I eat meat and days I don't and make sure the meat eating days don't take over.  This resolution has not been at all onerous.  I only have to watch that I don't eat too much starch to compensate for lack of meats, but it's been very painless since I really like tofu.  Note that this resolution is helpful to my grocery budget as well.

Get to work earlier: This has also been generally successful in principle if not in detail, but also the hardest.  Here in Portland it stays dark out until maybe 7:15am when it just STARTS to brighten.  The earliest I've managed to wake up is 6:45 and it's only because I have to go to Bar Method.  However, since I've managed to get to work earlier (9 to 9:30) despite not waking up at 6am, this resolution is also being adjusted.  Especially since I'm not at all hungry upon first waking up so sitting around at 6am would be a total waste of time.  I think instead, I will wake up at 6:30 so I have time to have coffee, get my lunch together and work outfit laid out.  Then I will go to class and come home and go.  I've been eating a banana for breakfast at work on my class days and this works out great.  On days I don't have class, I have more time for breakfast at home.  On a related note, keeping track of my hours all week turned out to be quite laborious and ultimately, not terribly informative.  The most valuable part was keeping track of when I wake up and when I go to bed, so these are the notes I will continue to make, along with meat vs non-meat days.

Hoo!  I think that's it!  My internet usage is still an area that needs attention probably, but I still have not been able to formulate any specific resolution around it.  This may be a task for 2013.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

'Where Does My Time Go?' Resolution

I was trying to figure out how to reduce my time online (or if I even should), when it occurred to me that I don't have a very good notion of how I spend my time in general.  I know I lose a lot of it by being online and even at work I probably am less efficient/productive than I could be.  So as part of the first step in reclaiming time, I will start keeping a log every day for the next two weeks and evaluate.  I'm hoping I'll remember to keep tabs and I'm a little curious if I'll be better at managing my time once I have to write it down.  The main impetus for this is work - I have a few major things I really need to get done and I've not been doing it.  I know I have enough hours, so I just have to find the discipline and schedule it.  If it's not obvious by now, I respond really well to schedules and deadlines...

In other resolution-related news, I have been working on the "wake up at 6am" thing.  Obviously I have to transition to that point gradually so I don't wind up a useless wreck at work.  On Thursday I got up at 7:45, Friday at 7:30, Saturday at 7:30 and today I relapsed at 7:45.  Tomorrow I'll try 7:15 (Bar Method at 8:15) and see how that goes.  Wednesday and Friday I will have to get up at 6:50 though for 7:15 BM class.  Slow and steady!  Once my body is trained it should be easy peasy.

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Years Resolutions Part II

So I wasn't going to make any more resolutions except I found myself secretly making a few more anyway.  So why not formalize it all?  My early resolution (cleaning the kitchen every evening and putting away clean dishes in the morning) has been going fantastically well since implementation.  Almost immediately I found myself not wanting to do this, but since it was a resolution, I've stuck to it no matter how tired I've been and the more I do it, the more I want to keep doing it.  Every morning I wake up to a clean kitchen and it's such a lovely feeling.  Other resolutions I'm contemplating:

1. Eat less meat.  The reasoning behind this is a little complicated.  Part of it is health - if I eat less meat, hopefully I end up eating more vegetables.  Part of it is cost - I'm trying to be more frugal and minimize my needs a little so I can give more to those who need it (see my main resolution).  And part of it is creativity - cooking meat is very easy but it's harder to cook delicious vegetables as a main dish, at least for me.  By forcing myself to do this, I expand my culinary horizons.  A reasonable start will be implementing 3 no meat days per week.  I'll make those my non-exercise days so I can keep track easily.  On exercise days, I can eat meat, but I don't have to!

2. Get to work earlier.  My hours at work have shifted later and later, partly because of my Bar Method classes in the mornings.  Fortunately they now offer 7:15am classes on my BM days so I will start taking those classes instead of the 8:15am ones.  Ideally, I'd wake up at 6am, have coffee and a little breakfast and get mostly ready, go to Bar Method, come home and change and go to work.  If I can stick to it, I can definitely get to work by 9:30 (or earlier) on exercise days and hopefully much earlier than that on non-exercise days.  Then I can leave work by 6pm, have a few hours to putter around at home and go to bed at 10pm.

3. Spend less time online.  This one I have mixed feelings about and I alsodon't know how I would implement.  I use gchat to keep in touch with my best friends and I would hate to lose that connection with them.  Must mull over more!