Take Out at Home – A New Year’s Eve Feast

Proud Chefs

I’ve had a lot of time to sleep this past week, and it shows in how I feel.  I woke up to another gorgeous, sunny and cold day, fed the bunnies, greeted the ducks, who responded with quacks and by pooping on the porch- I really wish they would just say hello from the lawn – and sat down with coffee and a Green Monster Smoothie before I kicked off today’s activities.  Which involves both stacking firewood, and a lot of cooking.

This year, the kids voted again to be home, and for it to be just the four of us.  Their Dad has standing New Year’s Eve plans, and since I don’t care about ball drops or parties all that much, nor do I ever manage to stay awake until Midnight, staying in felt like a great decision.

Like most people, we have always gotten Chinese take out on NYE, but this year we are trying something a little different – we’re making our Asian feast.  Asian food is something I cook a lot of, and we have made most of the items on the list before.   While I expect to do most of the cooking, this is an all-in family affair for us.  Of necessity, planning started a few days earlier, and I started chopping and prepping early in the day.

Here’s our menu:

Beef satay  – a new recipe for us
Paleo scallion pancakes 
Dumplings – while I do often make them from scratch, I can buy equally good ones at HMart, our local Asian grocery store.  So I did.  I’ll post my recipe in a future blog entry.
General Tso’s Chicken
White Rice
Radish Kimchi
Seaweed Salad

Those last twoitems were bought prepared at HMart as well, but Kimchi is on my list of things to learn to make.  Radish Kimchi is typically not spicy, and even the kids really enjoy it.  I like the spicy cabbage version, but we don’t consume enough of it to justify me making any just yet.  Eli once made me Kimchi Pancakes, and while we have plenty on this menu, I need to find a way to work those in again soon.

The symbolism behind our dinner is one of prosperity, celebrating the dawn of another year with a feast full of choices about what to put on our plates. Prosperity means something different to everyone, but for me, it’s not just a monetary thing – it means that we have opportunities to do and  be the things we value most.  Since my belief around what I put into my body, and who and what I surround myself with, has a direct outcome on my well-being, a feast that has both healthy and rich choices is the right balance for luck and good outcomes into the new year.

If Asian food for dinner isn’t your bag, consider trying a menu from Haphazard Homemaker’s 13 Lucky Foods blog post, a nifty collection of traditions from around the world.

This morning, I started with the marinade for the Satay.  The only recipe modification I made is that I used ginger garlic paste instead of dicing ginger and garlic – it’s my little cheat, and it smells soooooo good.

 

I had forgotten to thaw the chicken, so I decided to take an hour off from cooking and enjoy being alone in the house for a bit.  I puttered around a little, did some laundry, and then got back to the kitchen.  Next up was the Paleo Scallion Pancakes.  One thing you will notice if you eat a lot of paleo is the different kinds of flours involved.  This recipe is made with Cassava and Arrowroot flours, and was my first time using either.  I found that I couldn’t roll these quite as thin as regular flour scallion pancakes, and I needed a bit more boiling water to make a good dough (probably 1/3 cup extra) than the recipe, but otherwise it went just like the instructions.

Serve both the scallion pancakes with this dipping sauce.  The great thing about this is that the leftover sauce becomes stir fry sauce:

1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup rice wine (mirin)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon grated ginger + 2 cloves garlic minced, or 2 tablespoons ginger garlic paste
3/4 cup chopped scallions
1 tablespoon sugar

Mix, let stand for 30 minutes, and serve

While I waited for the chicken to thaw enough to cut – I could have thawed it quicker, but I was in no hurry today, New Year’s Eve cooking should be the antithesis of stressful kitchen time, and today definitely fit the bill I prepped the rice cooker and started rolling the pancakes.  Then the kiddos took over, and became master scallion pancake rollers.

The scallion pancakes were amazing.  The chicken was a little salty – I would cut down the soy sauce next time, and same for the satay, but everything was completely delicious.

Happy New Year from our home to yours.

 

How to Simplify Your Life Part 1

House with new roof

 

I woke up this morning to cold again, after several days of warmer, rainy temperatures.  It’s almost 2019. Almost time to make resolutions and take down the tree, but not quite.  I can sit and enjoy the Christmas lights before anyone awakens and take nothing but pleasure from it – there’s nothing left to wrap or do for this year, now the lights and decorations exist purely for my enjoyment for a few more days.

The first pot of turkey broth for soup is in the crock pot – our Christmas turkey, at 23 pounds, will make a lot of soup, so I took the carcass apart, froze some, and started broth from the rest.  Homemade turkey soup, like my chicken soup, is simple and easy – the turkey parts, skin and all, go into a crock pot with bay leaves, herbs de provence, tarragon, and a generous dollop of cider vinegar, and cook for the better part of a day.  Yes, you can do this in an instant pot in just a few minutes, but I prefer mine to have the added benefits of being set to ‘ignore’ for hours at a time combined with the scent of it wafting through the house.

Last night Eli and I celebrated our anniversary with an evening out in Boston, a rarity for us, seeing Ivan Amodei’s Secrets and Illusions – the last magic show either of us had seen up close was in childhood and I admit, it was initially not my first choice of shows, but it was a lot of fun and worth every penny, followed by dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant nearby.  If you haven’t tried Ethiopian food, I highly recommend it.  The base of everything is served on a pancake called Injera, made with Teff flour, and it is both base, utensil and a big component of dinner all in one.  I have’t tried to make Ethiopian at home, but it is on my 2019 list of to-dos.

New Year’s day is the day my family makes  their list of ‘things we want to do in the new year’.   Our first year here at Sithean, the list included such things as ‘meet the neighbors’ an ‘go to a water park’.  We all contribute, and check back to the list periodically to make sure that we are still thinking about our goals as we go about our lives.  This year my contributions to the list will involve,  despite several trips planned and the fact that I travel regularly for work, a lot more time at home, decluttering, cooking in, and generally simplifying our lives.

Voluntary Simplicity is a thing.  It basically involves downscaling your life so that you do, have and buy less.  I lived a fairly simple life, marching towards mortgage freedom and early retirement, until my divorce several years ago.  To say things went haywire is an understatement.  I dropped 25 pounds in a short time, requiring an entire reboot of my wardrobe (ok, I kind of enjoyed that part) while having to completely refurnish my new living quarters, down to the forks and plates.

Then I moved to Sithean, and in the first year alone had huge outlays for appliances – all of which died within the first 2 months, gasping their last in rapid succession, except the washing machine, which stubbornly hangs on – and major repairs, including the infamous 50-foot pine tree that fell on the roof.  Add to that some large medical bills, and it took me a while to swim back to my comfort zone.

Then I stopped working for 7 months.  While that was in part my choice, it was also expensive.  I’m grateful in retrospect though – 7 months of being a full time Mom was one of the best experiences I have ever had.

But needless to say, it’s been an eventful, and expensive, several years.  That isn’t to say that some of those expenses haven’t been pleasurable – we take our relatively inexpensive trip to New Hampshire every year, no matter what, and the makings of the new 40×18′ potager garden was all for me.  Adding Eli to the household requires a second  family-sized car, and our choosing to have a small wedding next summer isn’t without cost.  And so on.  But all things considered, 2019 is the year we start to get back to basics – and simplicity is one of those things.

Simplicity needs to happen in increments to make it sustainable.  Try to do everything at once, and like most lifestyle changes, it won’t stick.  Even for me, as part of my natural state, phasing is important.  So I started with defining 4 things I could do almost immediately to start us down the right path.

The first step towards simplicity here at Sithean revolves around making a menu.  While a menu can be veered from – and should, if there are leftovers to be eaten up – it’s a guide and a help.  I find if I know what I’m going to eat for dinner, my desire to go out drops down significantly.   I tend to plan about a week out, revising as I go.  Over the coming week turkey soup, made from leftover Christmas turkey features heavily, as does our homemade Asian feast planned for New Year’s Eve.

While I do have a bit of grocery shopping that must be done – milk, eggs, snacks for the kids lunches – the second component of January simplicity is starting to eat down the pantry.   I view a stuffed pantry and freezer as an emergency fund you can eat.  But every year or two, it’s time to eat it down and restock, using creativity to ensure that we have healthy, tasty meals.  For a month or two, the grocery bill drastically drops, and then of course, it typically goes up again, but I am careful not to try to restock everything at once.  And I know we’re done when there is literally nothing that any of us want to eat any longer.  Eating the pantry down can be work, but it can also be an all-family challenge.  Involve the kids to get ideas.  True, you might end up eating spaghetti tacos, but you also might find yourself with a new family favorite.

Thing three is finding cheap cool stuff to do around you for the next few months.  There is always, always free stuff to do, be it a trip to the library or your local all-volunteer winter nature hike.

And that fourth?  It’s the decluttering part – and the first step is the room that will be Eli’s studio, which requires us to declutter other parts of the house as we move things around to make space.  While decluttering can seem overwhelming, the result is always pleasurable, with clean open space as a result.

A key thing I have learned about simplicity is that it isn’t necessarily simple.  Menu planning takes time.  If you are intent on ensuring that you don’t have to shop for lots of ingredients while you eat down the pantry, it takes creativity as well.  And the thing that creativity requires most is time and space to think, to consider your options and alternatives you might not have considered.  So the critical item to start down the road of voluntary simplicity is to give yourself some breathing room to mull over how you want to handle things.

As we pare down our lives over the coming year, I look forward to sharing how it’s going.

What are your plans for 2019?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having Enough

I really love Christmas, but even better than that, I love the day after.  It’s the perfect day – no expectations, the fridge is stuffed with leftovers, so no pressure to cook – anything really – and no one sees a need to change out of pajamas.  There’s toys to play with for the kids, a fire in the woodstove, and other than laundry, dishes, and a bit of cleanup here and there, it’s the best do-nothing day of the year.

Day after Christmas.jpg

So of course, when the furnace stopped working that morning due to a burned-out igniter switch, we all huddled up in the living room near the fire, made a phone call, and kept doing the large amounts of nothing we had previously been up to.  My woodstove heats exactly 1 room – the living room – but that was enough to keep us warm until Brad, the guy who has kept oil heaters going for most of my homeowning life in multiple houses, could fix it in the early evening.

It isn’t that there weren’t chores to do, emails to be answered, and projects in need of starting.  In fact, I did make some phone calls around the car we are buying, and write out some bills, but that was between long stretches of relaxation.  Doing the things is necessary and important.  It’s just that after the production of a large turkey dinner and a lovely Christmas overall,  doing the nothing is equally important.  As a very wise man once said, we are human beings, not human doings.

The next day I did do some more traditionally post-Christmas things, such as hitting a bunch of clearance sales for kid clothes – my kids are growing like weeds, and everything they own is starting to show wrist and ankle bones more regularly than one typically wants to in the dead of winter.  I also got them next year’s Christmas Eve pajamas and put them away – I don’t have a big budget for pre-buying Christmas gifts right now, but I do take advantage of deals when I can.  Same for buying things in advance – when one of them likes an item of clothing on sale, I might get it in multiple sizes so that we can spend less money and time later on.  And I worked on the car purchase Eli and I are taking on, as he goes from city to Sithean-dweller, and starts carting around various smallish people here, starting in just a few weeks.

But even though we’re in a place of a few big purchases and growing kids, and our Christmas was certainly not a modicum of restraint, I find myself wanting less and less as the years and months tick by.  I like to go out but almost always would rather eat at home.  I don’t need more clothes or shoes, even though i like them.  What I need is family and friends, financial security, and time to enjoy our lives.  Those are not things that I can buy.  I have enough things – actually, a few too many.  The things I don’t have enough of require me to stop and think through how our lives could change to create more of them – more time for the simpler joys that bring me so much more pleasure than a new pair of shoes.

2019 is going to be a year of a few big expenses- a small wedding this August, a newer car for Eli, continued work with the architect, and a few trips.  But after we get through these items, and in and around them,  my plan is to decrease our standard of living, not increase it.  My plan for next year is to maximize our time outside, and really put effort into simplifying, decluttering, gardening and taking time to breathe.

We have enough, and that’s a pretty good feeling.  Connor tree farm.jpg  How about you?

 

Soup Season

The other Sunday morning here at Sithean was cold and rainy outside, but cozy in the kitchen.  I put a pot of eggs to hard-boil on the stove, and sat with a cup of coffee in my hand on the couch next to the Christmas tree, contemplating the almost 2 years here in this beautiful place.

We have already had snow and bitter cold here, and it’s looking like that’s the weather forecast for much of the winter, so I have been stacking firewood on the porch, and Eli has been getting the windows ready for the cold and wind.

This is what I call Soup Season- the time of year where a big pot of soup or stew on the stove or in the crockpot is ubiquitous.  Soup is easy, can mostly be made ahead of time, and is comforting. Add some bread or popovers, and it is unparalleled comfort food.

The ‘made ahead of time’ point is critical – soup is the ultimate working parent dinner toolkit item.  I work a lot, and I travel a lot.  Having dinner on the table for smallish people at 5 or 5:30 is required, but my schedule often doesn’t cooperate.  So there’s soup.  I can prep it early in the morning or even a day ahead if needed.  I can freeze leftovers, and thaw them in time for hungry people.  Soup is often the way I get vegetables into the kids as well.

Last week I made my favorite of the simple soups.  Many soups, such as homemade clam chowder, take time to prep and a recipe with a lot of ingredients.  But Simple Lentil Sausage Soup requires no such things – just a few ingredients that you can keep on hand.  And for those of us who spend a lot of time cooking and baking at this time of year, it’s a nice reprieve from multi-step recipes.  It’s also really cheap, which makes it that much more appealing.  And it tastes good enough to serve to company.

Lentil Sausage Soup_Ready

Lentil Sausage Soup:

2 Quarts homemade or purchased chicken stock

3 onions, chopped small

3 cloves garlic

1 1/2 cups lentils (any will do, I had red lentils on hand this time)

1 lb sausage of your preference, sliced

1/2 tsp cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onions and garlic until soft.  Add the sausage pieces and cook until no longer pink.  Add the stock, cumin and lentils and cook until the lentils are soft, about 30 minutes.  Add the salt after the lentils have cooked through to ensure that the soup cooks at the right speed.  And don’t skip the cumin, it adds a depth of flavor you won’t get without it.

Serve immediately, with bread and possibly topped with chives or scallions, or cheese. Cheese goes with everything, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Falling into Autumn

You know you are busy when you can’t even stop to write about it, and that’s what happened to me over the last 4 months.  It’s been the good kind of busy, but I do miss having time to think.

Somehow, summer evaporated without a trace while I wasn’t looking.  I am typing this from my kitchen table where just this morning I was drinking coffee to the background hum of the heater under the sink.  It has warmed up since then, but it still feels like winter is arriving quickly.

The garden got away from me this year – I did manage to harvest some cucumbers, tomatoes and squash, but between rain, humidity and my time away, most of it went to waste, which was a shame. The few squash I did grow were monsters though, and today one will become butternut squash and garlic lasagna, as well as some bacon squash bites for a squash-themed dinner next door later on.

The garden got most of the way finished this year, but in just a couple rainy weeks while I was traveling, the butternut squash vines grew to 35+ feet long, obscuring most of the garden under the leaves and blossoms, and only now can I pull out the dying vines and finish the fence and the garden beds.  I’m hoping it’s not too cold over the next few weekends while I work.

 

 

I did get a lot of pesto made and frozen, canned some salsa verde, and today I am blanching and freezing kale and broccoli from our CSA for winter eating.

Peppers and Tomatillos 2018

Blanching kale and broccoli is simple – drop kale leaves, minus the stems into boiling water for 2 minutes.  Cool and dry on towels.  Add to baggies and pop into the freezer for soups, smoothies or stir-fries. Broccoli, same 2 minutes, same process.  You can blanch a large batch of veggies in just a few minutes, so it’s a perfect activity when you are busy.  The kale stems leftover are great snacks for our bunnies, Clover and Marshmallow.

 

But mostly it’s been work, and starting to figure out how to integrate Sithean’s future resident, Eli the Artist, into our lives.  The house as it is will work for 4 for a while, but as wonderful as it is it’s also not a big space, so I hired an architect to help us figure out how we might make the space work for us in the long haul. We’re a ways away from the work, but getting it all lined up while we settle in this winter is a fun project for the whole family.

I love garden season, but I’m excited for fall, the holidays, winter, and a little peace and quiet here and there.  While the pace of life isn’t going to slow down completely, It’s always a little relaxing when I’ve closed the book on outdoor maintenance for the season, and I can focus my attention inward.

Happy Fall.

 

Summer Progress (and Pesto)

Back in the days of the Tudors in England, and even before that, Royalty often left their courts in the summertime to go on ‘progress’, or tours of their kingdoms.  These days, many of us go on summer vacation, the modern day equivalent, dragging our household, coolers, and pets with us.  It’s kind of the same, although less to avoid The Plague and Sweating Sickness, and more to go to the beach or the mountains.

I can’t believe it’s been nearly 2 months.  Since I took a breath, honestly.  Summer was just kicking off the last time I blogged, and now it’s nearly over.  I knew I was going to be busy, but I didn’t quite imagine the level of busy I would be.  In just two months though, I did a few things:

  • Started a consulting company with 2 business partners and started working for our first client, which involves every-other-week travel on my part
  • Finished renovating the guest room and welcomed Helene, our favorite intern ever as a summer resident
  • Spent an all-to brief weekend in Florida
  • Spent significant time on other commitments – more on that later
  • Juggled the needs and schedules of kids, animals, plants and yard with more or less success

When I write, it doesn’t sound like a lot, but it sure took up my days and evenings.

The garden is still patiently waiting to be finished.  I got the 10 yards of dirt handled, and then another 6 were delivered, which are still waiting patiently to be spread.  That will wait another week, but I hope to be done by Labor Day.  I planted tomatoes, dill, basil, cucumbers, watermelons and squash, and the combination of rain, benign neglect,  and compost means it has turned into an un-navigable jungle.  Next year it will be finished, and only need to be planted and staked.

Our CSA, that we split with our neighbors has kept us in fresh veggies where the garden couldn’t.  This week was the first batch of canning tomatoes, and I look forward to getting those preserved for winter.  I’ve managed to blanch and freeze broccoli, and begin to make and freeze a house favorite – pesto.

Next week the kids and I head out to the mountains for a long-planned breather.  We have a routine on this vacation  – rest, hiking, a couple small, local amusement park, maybe a float down the river or some zip lining.  Back to school shopping.  It’s our week to enjoy each other and some downtime.

And then back to life, dirt moving, weeding and pesto-making.  Pesto is simple, delicious, and a tiny container can cost $8 or $10 for the good stuff.  Make batches of your own using my recipe, based on the NY Times basic pesto recipe here, but with a few updates:

Rachael’s Pesto to eat and preserve:

1 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
4 cloves garlic
1 cup grated parmesan
1 tablespoon lemon juice or fresh squeezed lemon
1/4 tsp salt or to taste
4 cups basil leaves

Process all in a blender or food processor until very smooth.  This should give you plenty for dinner and enough to preserve for 3 more meals.  When you pull it out of the freezer in January and open the lid, it will smell like summer.

 

 

What Not To Do

Just as the garden project hit critical in the ‘we have to finish this so we can plant wearesolateohmygoodness’ way, a few other things happened.

I took my individual consulting practice to a new level by starting a consulting firm with 2 amazing partners.  Simultaneously, I accepted a  role with a client that is more like a full-time job, and entails some fairly regular travel.   I began to ramp up for my new role while doing all the work that starting a new company entails, and spending every spare moment trying to jam in garden building, finishing my guest room for our summer intern to stay in, and trying to cram in every kind of appointment and time with my children under the sun before my schedule got compressed.

What that led to was 4 of the busiest weeks I’ve ever had, with days going far into the night.  By the time I got on the plane last Monday afternoon, I was ready to drop.  I got back Friday night and was up at the crack of dawn, back at it.

I do this periodically – or maybe life does this, not sure –  cramming every kind of life change, crisis and work demand into a tiny window of time.  I’m not sure why I don’t spread these things out, but I don’t seem to remember from incidence to incidence that it’s really not ‘she who dies with the most checks on her to-do list wins‘.  Maybe you can relate.

Even though I manage to juggle a lot, the thing I am still learning is what to let go.  There was a time where I thought everything, everything had to be cooked from scratch.  I’ve learned the merits of a bag of Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken and some pre-cut vegetables for dinner.   Same for acknowledging that once a year I will clean out my bedroom closet, and then it will slowly degrade until I can get to it again.  No one died when I caved on Pringles.  I can’t do it all alone.  Today I was supposed to have the dirt in the garden spread so I could get another truckload.  The reality is that the pile is halved, there’s 3 garden beds built and planted, and yes, it’s getting done but so is my job, my kids, the animals, the laundry, grocery shopping, cooking….

It’s SO easy to get consumed in life and forget to see the forest for the trees.  Relationships.  Time reading with the kids.  I like to think I have my priorities straight, but I often choose the ‘to-do’ instead of the ‘just be’.

I think we’re all a little like that, to a degree.  I have no words of wisdom on the matter, just that sometimes it’s worth letting the projects go to take silly selfies.

K and I_Home