Posted by: thewoobdog | March 20, 2013

Easily Amused

I am ridiculously excited about my CSA shares for 2013 – every year I mean to sign up for a share or two, and every year it completely slips my mind until after tax season, at which point it’s usually too late.  This year an article in the local paper reminded me and I actually remembered to follow through with it – my mom and I went to the CSA fair at the Agricultural Center this week to meet the farmers and see what options were available, and between us we selected two to try this year.  Our plan was to get shares from two different farms or co-ops so we could compare and get a little variety, and we’ll split the goods and cost so we each essentially have two half-shares.  Next year we’ll either stick with one or both of the ones we tried or we’ll try new ones, depending on our experiences with the ones we picked for this year (I have a good feeling about them, though).

We met farmers from several different farms, including some that were meat-inclusive or meat-only, but we ended up choosing shares that highlight produce because fresh, local produce is what we really want to have a variety of this summer.  We went with Springhouse Farm, a certified organic farm, for a full produce share, and with High Country CSA, a co-op of farms and farmers who grow organically but are not necessarily certified, for a variety share that includes produce as well as locally produced items such as cheeses, breads, and honey.  We decided that now that we know the local farms that sell pasture-raised, organic meats, we can plan to place our meat orders with them on an as-needed basis so that we can control the quantity and pick the cuts of meat we need.  Since I’ll be picking up at least one of our CSA shares at the farmer’s market, I can also just buy any meat or extra produce we need on those days straight from the market stalls.

You don’t even know how excited I am about getting boxes of local, fresh, organic produce every week – the growing season is so short up here that even in summer, most vegetables in the super market come from Mexico or California and rarely have much flavor.  Getting produce that is grown locally on small farms that choose their varieties by taste rather than shelf-life is going to be a huge treat, and I love the ‘grab bag’ aspect of it that will force me to try new things and encourage me to experiment with new ways of cooking familiar things.  Hopefully this will provide much blog fodder, as well. 

[bounces up and down in chair with excitement]  I feel like a kid at Christmas – it’s so cruel that I have to wait until May to reap the benefits of my newly-purchased CSA shares!

Posted by: thewoobdog | March 12, 2013

Random Recipe Tuesday

I’m cheating – I’m not actually posting the recipe here (for copyright reasons), but since I found it online I’m posting the link.  Soooo delicious and actually quite healthy, so long as you’re not watching sodium intake.  I think you could substitute chicken breasts, skin removed but with bone left in, if you have a family of picky chicken eaters (growing up we only ever ate white meat chicken, since my dad hates the dark meat) –  I happened to have a pack of boneless, skinless thighs in the freezer so I made the recipe exactly as stated.  Next time I might substitute cauliflower for the potatoes (and add it in about halfway through the cooking time so it doesn’t turn to mush) so I can serve it over spiced Indian rice without overloading the whole meal with starchy carbs.  I’m thinking about roasting a spaghetti squash and seeing how the stew goes with that, since we’ll be eating on this a few nights this week.  Anyway, this is a delicious and easy stew and I highly recommend it.

Fragrant Garam Masala Chicken Stew

Sorry for the dearth of posts this month – tax season has struck again and I consider myself lucky if I can even figure out if I’m coming or going.  Stringing words together into coherent sentences and sentences into (gasp!) paragraphs is more than I can handle (plus I hate sounding like I’m whining and so it’s just better if posts are few and far between during tax season).  Maybe soon I can manage a picture-post soon of all my holiday knitting projects – I always have to keep them super-secret before the holidays so I never post pics on the blog, but then after the holidays I forget.  I think I did actually manage to get pics of most of them this year, though, which is almost unheard of.

Posted by: thewoobdog | February 26, 2013

Food Frenzy

Cooking it, not eating it.  I had some serious kitchen wins this weekend – I cooked all our meals for the week on Sunday (that’s the only way I can manage to fit workouts into the weekdays), and for once I picked all winners in the recipe department and all my modifications worked perfectly.  I present the following for your inspiration (alas, this is a pictureless post – words will have to suffice):

Seeing as it’s looking like a cold, wet/snowy week here, I really wanted to make a hearty stew so I turned to my friend Doug’s Slow Cooker Beef Stew – I actually bought an eye of round roast and cut into cubes rather than buying packaged stew meat.  I’ve been disappointed with stew meat lately – it always seems to have weird fatty bits and connective tissue, and is cut completely randomly with some pieces being huge and some just little flaps – so I thought by trimming and cutting a lean roast myself I could produce a better stew.  Boy, was it worth it – because the meat is browned slightly before putting in the crockpot, it holds its flavor and moisture and the result is amazingly tender.  Another change I made was adding some paprika to the flour before dredging the beef, and substituting about 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of dried oregano for the cloves (personal preference – having grown up with a certain flavor profile in beef stew, I tend to prefer it; I’ve tried the recipe as written with the cloves and it was tasty, I just happen to prefer the oregano).

In my small crockpot (yes, I have two – since a lot of times I’m only cooking 2 – 4 servings of recipes, having the small crockpot pays off) I made Potato and Canadian Bacon Chowder, which turned out to be delicious.  At the end of cooking, I removed about 2/3 of the vegetables, pureed what was left with a hand-blender, and then added the vegetables back – this made the broth a little heartier but left plenty of chunks for that chowder feel.  Also, I portioned this into four servings rather than six to make for more substantial dinners.

I figured I’d do salads with dinner each night to get our veggies in, so I whipped up a batch of Roasted Yellow Pepper and Basil Vinaigrette, a recipe I found this summer and fell in love with (I had about eight varieties of basil growing in my raised garden bed this summer, having given up on trying to raise vegetables).  Since I really didn’t feel like roasting my own peppers (so not gonna happen), I used jarred roasted bell peppers (in water, not oil or vinegar, patted dry before using).  The one caveat here is that the first time I made this, I happened to have jarred roasted yellow bell peppers handy (courtesy of a random TJ Maxx purchase), but this time all I could find in the supermarket was roasted red bell peppers.  They are not as good in this vinaigrette as the yellow bell peppers – they’re a bit more assertive and the dressing is a bit on the acidic side, whereas the yellow gave a milder flavor to the dressing and was more balanced.  That said, I threw together some butter lettuce (my favorite), baby spinach, fresh chopped orange bell pepper, and feta cheese and tossed it with this vinaigrette last night (and less is more – too much dressing overpowers, whereas slightly underdressing the salad works perfectly) and it was amazing.  The fresh bell pepper gave a juicy sweet crunch to the salad and the feta balanced the dressing out perfectly, while the addition of the baby spinach helped the butter lettuce hold up to the assertiveness of the vinaigrette.  My husband actually finished his salad before his potato chowder, which borders on the miraculous (normally he’ll eat a few bites of salad then snarf whatever else is available, leaving most of the salad until last and only eating it if he’s not full by then).

It is so much more rewarding to spend an entire day (and a weekend-day, at that) cooking when you get good results and actually look forward to eating what you’ve made.  Too often lately the new recipes I’ve picked (we will not speak of the horrible pureed broccoli sauce-on-linguine) or the adjustments I’ve made have been awful, and it’s a real letdown to spend a lot of time on something and have it turn out to be crap.  I’ll just be off basking in this week’s successful glow for a bit if anyone needs me…

Posted by: thewoobdog | February 22, 2013

TheWoobDog Does Vacation

Here we have a story, in pictures, of how the namesake of this blog spent her recent vacation.  More blogging with actual words may commence later.  No promises, though.

The excitement of arrival (and the anticipation of a beach walk)

The excitement of arrival (and the anticipation of a beach walk)

The post-beach-walk crash

The post-beach-walk crash

Such a hard life

Such a hard life

Such a spoiled puppy...

Such a spoiled puppy…

The post-pampering crash

The post-pampering crash

“I’ll stay here and watch the door while you guys load the luggage.”

Posted by: thewoobdog | February 4, 2013

When It Rains, It Pours

Literally. Massive flooding this past week has added so much interest to my life (note the sarcasm). A VW-sized sinkhole appeared behind our office, right under our heat pump (which for a brief period was supported only by the ductwork attaching it to the building).

On the homefront, groundwater flooded our well and a water test revealed coliform contamination, so for about four days we couldn’t use our water for anything but showering (no drinking, dishwashing, teethbrushing, nothing). The weekend was spent chlorine-shocking the well, but we still have to wait two weeks to re-test so until then we’re not assuming we’re in the clear (meaning two more weeks of buying bottled water for drinking and teeth-brushing, and adding chlorine to dish-rinsing water). Joy.

The cold that I have been fighting off with vitamin C, denial, and massive amounts of will-power has not enhanced this whole experience.

Hole1 sm

Hole2 sm

Hole3 sm

Posted by: thewoobdog | January 21, 2013

Random Recipe Monday

Yes, I know Wednesdays have traditionally been Random Recipe day, but the whole point of the “random” nomenclature is so I don’t have to be consistent (and you thought the “random” only applied to the recipe part of things – HA).

Yesterday I made my mom’s chili recipe (one of my favorite go-to winter recipes), and it’s just so darn good I thought I’d share it.  I have no illusions about how good other people will think it is – chili is like tuna salad or deviled eggs,* you tend to like what you grew up with and any other flavor profiles are offensive to your sense of what that food should be (not to mention the fact that any self-respecting Texan would lynch me for daring to use beans in chili) – but everyone I’ve ever served this to has loved it, so here’s how we do chili at my house:

JunieBMom’s Chili (serves 6 – 8, depending on appetites) 

1 lb lean ground beef (I used 93/7 yesterday, but I’ve also used 90/10, or ground turkey breast, or buffalo, or Morningstar Farms meatless crumbles, or a combination of any of the above)

1 large onion, chopped

1 large green bell pepper, chopped

1 can Bush’s Chili Magic Traditional chili starter (ok, I know she didn’t use this when I was a kid, and I know you can make it without it, you just have to add more chili powder and cumin, so if the thought of a canned chili starter offends you don’t use it – you may want to add more beans if you don’t, though)

2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes (or 1 28 oz can)

2 (15 oz) cans dark red kidney beans, drained but with liquid reserved

chili powder, to taste (I use an unholy amount of this – probably at least 2-3 Tbsp)

cumin, to taste (again, I use a LOT of cumin – I probably start with 2 Tbsp and go from there, but you might want to start smaller and adjust up)

salt, to taste (I add salt after the other spices – usually only 1/4 – 1/2 tsp – because it makes the cumin and chili powder really pop)

Brown ground beef (or what-have-you) in a 6-quart stockpot (if using crockpot, see variation below) with onion and bell pepper.  Add chili starter, tomatoes, and kidney beans, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, for at least an hour.  Add spices to taste; serve with sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese, if desired.  Note: This can cook all day, but if you are planning to simmer it for more than an hour, wait to add the beans until the final hour (you can also add the spices in the final hour if simmering for a long period).  Use the reserved liquid from the beans to adjust the consistency of your chili. 

CROCKPOT VARIATION: Brown beef, onion, and bell pepper in large skillet; transfer to crockpot and add chili starter and tomatoes.  Cook on low at least four hours and up to eight hours.  Add kidney beans and spices in final hour of cooking; adjust consistency with reserved liquid from beans.

It gets better each successive day after cooking and also freezes well. 

*I mention these because I grew up eating dill pickles in my tuna salad and deviled eggs, whereas my husband grew up eating sweet pickles in his tuna salad and deviled eggs.  I personally find sweet tuna salad and sweet deviled eggs revolting because [in my totally subjective experience] that is NOT what they are supposed to taste like.  It’s like the mayonnaise vs. Miracle Whip debate – you can’t win with logic because tastebuds and food preferences are shaped by childhood, not reason (and for the record, MAYONNAISE ALL THE WAY, BABY).

Posted by: thewoobdog | January 9, 2013

I Spy

Where's Waldo?

Where’s Waldo?

I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but moments before taking this picture I was running around upstairs frantically calling the dog* – I had looked everywhere and was just sure she’d somehow slipped outside.  The little stinker was hiding in plain sight, not making a sound, watching me run around like an idiot.  This is why I don’t have kids.  (Erm, the peculiarity of the fact that I don’t have kids but I do have a chair full of stuffed animals has not escaped me.  I swear I’m not a creeper. I do not have a van with blacked-out windows and a drawer full of lollipops…)

*And no, her name isn’t Waldo, it’s Woobie

Posted by: thewoobdog | January 3, 2013

2012 Recap

Wow.  At any given moment, when anyone asked me in 2012 if there was anything new or exciting going on, my answer was usually, “No, not much. Same old, same old,” but looking back over the year I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned and changed.  I’ve made new friends, learned new skills (um, mostly knitting-related), and made lifestyle changes that still feel new and tentative even though I realize they are habits I’ve developed and (mostly) maintained over the course of six or eight months. 

I’d never have guessed that my resolution to learn to knit socks in 2012 would lead to a friendship with a lady who works at one of my local yarn stores.  I really look forward to knitting time over there now, talking about everything from guns to childbirth and laughing at (and learning to fix!) my mistakes.  At the same time, my yarn has lassoed me into another relationship – a completely unexpected but wonderful friendship with my nurse practitioner, of all people. 

It was probably in 2011 that I first went to see her, crochet project clutched in my hand to ward off the boredom of the waiting room, and she mentioned that she used to knit, but mostly just dishcloths.  We started talking about it, I showed her the rudiments of crochet and we talked about the differences between the two crafts, and now a year or two later she’s back to knitting full-force and trying new stitches and cable projects that amaze me.  We hang out at least a couple of times a month, and I’ve really enjoyed having her as a friend – she’s thoughtful, generous, and kind-hearted to a fault, and reminds me that not everyone in the world deserves my cynicism!

Knitting-wise, I’m so much more confident now in my ability to fix my mistakes and tackle new projects and new skills.  In 2012, I learned (non-knitters may want to skip this bullet-list…)

  • sock knitting – including turning a heel, picking up stitches, and grafting a toe with Kitchener stitch
  • knitting with double-pointed needles
  • knitting with two circular needles
  • knitting using the magic-loop method (not my thing, quite frankly – I prefer the two-circular method, but to each his own)
  • stranded colorwork
  • intarsia
  • a provisional cast-on
  • a ribbed cast-on
  • the cable cast-on
  • short rows
  • how to make right- and left-leaning knitwise increases
  • how to make a purlwise increase
  • how to knit a thumb gusset and thumb
  • how to knit a buttonhole
  • how to do a yarn-over
  • how to read a chart
  • how to evaluate a yarn and its usefulness for different projects by looking at its ply, twist, and fiber content
  • how to fix a dropped stitch
  • how to fix an unintentional yarn float
  • how to rip back my knitting without losing everything
  • how to felt a yarn join
  • how to block a finished project
  • whipstitch
  • mattress stitch
  • buttonhole stitch
  • blanket stitch
  • running stitch
  • duplicate stitch

By the way, my new favorite shirt is “Knitting: it’s not a hobby – it’s a post-apocalyptic life skill.”  I must get this shirt.

Also in 2012, I started regularly working out at the gym (that was conquering a personal phobia, let me tell you – “A fat chick walks into a gym…”) over the summer and started personal training sessions in the fall.  Another life goal was reached (and phobia conquered) when I started taking Zumba classes – finally, a workout that’s fun and keeps my eyes off the clock, while I get a full hour of crazy-good cardio. 

It’s difficult to explain why I’ve found Zumba so satisfying on so many levels.  I’ve never been able to dance, and as a kid in fourth grade was actually kicked out of ballet class over what we eventually found out was a misunderstanding (the teacher thought I was mocking her, when in reality I was trying to do the moves correctly but was hampered by the fact that I was naturally graceless and severely shortsighted [undiagnosed at that point, but we’re talking 20/1200 vision when they finally had me checked the following year]).  Needless to say, the shame of this quite neatly deterred me from ever (ever) attempting to learn any dances, up to and including the Electric Slide, and the only dancing I did was what was forced upon me in high school gym class (we had a Dance segment at one point in the year, during which we fumbled through some basic ballroom and line dancing).  My clearest memory of that little debacle was the daily catfight with the other girls in the class to get partnered with the one cute guy (who incidentally was probably one of the only guys in that class with all his teeth and not wearing a John Deere cap – it was seriously slim pickings).

Zumba has been so much fun because I was able to let go of the fear of getting the steps wrong or being out of sync and just focus on moving.  Granted, I still have paralyzing flashes of insecurity when I get a mental picture of “fat chick dancing,” but all in all I’m really proud of myself for taking that first step of going to the class and then continuing to stick with it.  I’ve definitely gotten much faster at picking up new moves and keeping the right rhythm, which isn’t something I ever thought I’d be good at, and I think if I didn’t have the “fat chick insecurity” I might even consider myself to be dancing (or closer to it than I ever thought I’d get).

All in all, even though I didn’t take charge of my weight in 2012, I feel like I’m coming into 2013 a more confident person with a better lifestyle and less stress.  Just from the exercise habits I developed in 2012, my cholesterol (which had been slightly on the high side, though not to a point where it would require medication) has dropped 32 points and is now well within the normal range on all levels.  2012 was the year of conquering fears and trying new things, and 2013 will be the year I wage an all-out war to overcome the obstacles between me and the person I want to be.  And if 2012 was the year of the sock, maybe 2013 will be the year of the sweater (and I’ll deliberately knit it in a smaller size to give me that much more motivation to get to a healthier weight!)

Posted by: thewoobdog | January 2, 2013

Whew…

Well, that went better than I expected…  I was so panicked last week about everything I had to get done, but once I was off work Friday and actually had some unencumbered time (that so rare and precious holiday commodity) everything went incredibly smoothly.  We went to TBear’s mom’s for dinner with the in-laws, played some Yahtzee, and ate some cookies fresh out of the oven that his sister and her husband had made (yum!).  Saturday was filled with last-minute shopping (mostly groceries), wrapping, and knitting, and Sunday my sisters and I (well, mostly just the one sister, since the other one couldn’t make it til later) spent the afternoon baking the best batch of Christmas cookies we’ve ever made.  

I don’t remember when it started, but at some point we realized that if we wanted Christmas cookies it would be up to us to make it happen, so it’s kind of become a tradition that we take an afternoon sometime before Christmas and bake cookies.  We never bake the same cookies two years in a row, since there’s always something new we want to try, and this year we picked some real winners – Sparkling Coffee Stars, Svenska Pinners (kind of a Swedish shortbread), Toasted Coconut Butter Cookies, Candy Cane Cookies, Salted Oatmeal Cookies, Chocolate Cherry Thumbprint Cookies, and Red Velvet Thumbprints with Marshmallow Frosting (the other recipes came from the Cooks’ Illustrated Christmas Cookies magazine, with the exception of the Chocolate Cherry Thumbprints, which were from the December 2012 issue of Southern Living).  So good.  Favorite holiday tradition ever.

Svenska Pinners

Svenska Pinners

Sparkling Coffee Stars

Sparkling Coffee Stars

Salted Oatmeal Cookies

Salted Oatmeal Cookies

Red Velvet Thumbprints

Red Velvet Thumbprints

Candy Cane Cookies

Candy Cane Cookies

 

We had the in-laws over for Christmas Eve breakfast*, then I did the finishing and seaming on my knitted gifts that afternoon and we went to my grandmother’s for Christmas Eve dinner that night.  Christmas day was busy and exhausting but we got to see family from all over and had a blast. 

*Apple Raisin French Toast Casserole (I hate raisins, so I made this with dried blueberries) and Sausage Breakfast Casserole, both made the night before and then popped in the oven Christmas Eve morning.  One sweet, one savory, both delicious.

Posted by: thewoobdog | December 19, 2012

Epiphany

(in the sense of a personal revelation, not the religious holiday [since it’s a bit early yet for that one]).  I finally figured out (thank you, Yarn Harlot) why I struggle so much during Christmas – well, during the Christmas season, to be more accurate. 

In my mind there are all these things I want to accomplish or do or experience, like putting up the tree and knitting gifts and decorating the house and baking cookies and basking in the joy of the season and reflecting on the reason we celebrate Christmas, and then I wake up one morning and realize Christmas is in six days and I’ve missed it all.  All of it.  My cards aren’t sent (heck, they aren’t even out of the box yet), my yard is still incongruously decorated with pumpkins and hay bales and scare crows (although TBear did put up the Christmas lights, which are beautiful, albeit a bit of an odd contrast against the extant harvest theme),  I’m still pretty sure there are people we don’t have gifts for, my knitting is so far behind the only way to deal with it is to ignore it, and nary a cookie has been baked.  I’m near tears in expectation of a family controversy over Christmas scheduling, my schedule is completely full for the next three nights so I have absolutely no way of checking off anything on my mental list, and Christmas is looming. 

Christmas shouldn’t loom, it should beckon, preferably in an enticing fashion, but it’s approaching and all I feel is a sense of panic and failure and a desperate urge to scramble about madly seeing if I can salvage my inner expectation of bringing it all perfectly into line.  I finally realized (cue Hallelujah Chorus and bright light) that it can’t be done.  Or maybe it can be done, but I can’t do it.  I work full time, I’ve had no lull this year at work in which to catch up on anything because I’ve been slammed with special projects that desperately need my particular skillset, I’ve been hit with family issues and even death, and I’ve made a commitment to myself to spend time exercising to positively impact my health and stress (my cholesterol has dropped over 30 points from exercise alone, no dietary changes and no medication). 

There’s a sense of relief in just realizing things won’t be perfect and nothing I can do will change that.  In fact, the more I try to accomplish, the further I will get from my perfect Christmas ideal – if I spend all my time doing I won’t have any time to just be, here and now, and I really will miss out on everything.  I’m not a kid anymore.  I don’t have unlimited time and minor responsibilities.  I have to choose what’s important to me – is it giving the perfect gifts and decorating the perfect home and sending the perfect cards, or is it being with the people I care about and giving them the gift of my time and sanity?  So some knitted gifts might be promises.  Some cards may remain unsent.  There might be scarecrows and pumpkins in the yard til January.  None of it matters – my family would rather have the unstressed, joyful me sitting amongst the gifts and wrappings than have the me that’s wild-eyed, sleepless, and snapping with stress and frustration, and if that means less pomp and circumstance on Christmas I’m sure they’ll consider it a well-made trade.  Besides, getting presents late is like having Christmas all over again, right?

There will be cookie-baking, though.  That is not an option.

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