Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Post-holiday catch-up blogging.

I wound up catching a cold about a week before Christmas. But by the time the 24th came around, I was already getting over it, but still feeling quite a bit run down. Christmas weekend was a very relaxing and low-key time with my inlaws at their weekend place in the country along with their dear friends who live in the same area. Exactly what I needed. My only complaint was that it rained all day Saturday and into Sunday morning, so I didn't get to really enjoy the beautiful scenery and landscape very much.

I did no holiday baking this year because I was sick. I will probably make the ginger-spice cookies that my Dear Friend requested, but for New Year's instead of Christmas.

The garden is semi-dormant, the only things growing are broccoli, lettuce, and kohlrabi. I'm working on plans for Spring 2012, and have been browsing a great heirloom seed catalog I got in the mail.

I've been on a jewelry making spree the past few days though. I had materials for a bunch of simple projects sitting in my supply box, and one of my Christmas presents was a little bag of colorful glass lampworked beads from my Dear Friend. I wanted to make something special with them, so I made a bracelet. And while I was at it, I completed some more projects. Mostly pendants that just needed stringing onto chain or cord, and a clasp assembly attached. And a repair job for a cool vintage necklace I bought years ago but had kept just stuffed in my supply box in a ziplock bag. Here's the bracelet I made with the beads I was given:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Winter Solstice

The wheel turns, Winter arrives, and a new year begins!

For me, the night of the Winter Solstice means a chance to reflect on where I've been and where I'm going.  Giving some thought to the past year's regrets, mistakes, and missed opportunities; and then letting them go so I can focus on moving forward. New directions, new endeavors, a new start!

Friday, December 16, 2011

I tried a new recipe: Spicy Tempeh & Green Beans

I had bought a pack of tempeh at the store, because I remembered having it before and liking it, and my husband had never eaten it before, but wanted to try it. Both of us really like green beans, so when I was browsing tempeh recipes, I came across this one:  Spicy Tempeh & Green Beans  and it looked like something we'd like, and I had most all of the ingredients already.

So, we gave it a try. The only substitution I made, was to swap a about a half teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes for the chopped red chilis that the recipe called for. It came out a little bit spicy, enough to give it some zing, not bland by a long shot.  And we had it over some plain jasmine rice, which was perfect with it. I'd actually made it earlier in the week, and we liked it so much that we got more tempeh and green beans and made it again last night.  Definitely a recipe that got printed out and put into my "food bible". The Food Bible is a large three ring binder full of page protectors where I keep my tried and true recipes on file.

It's a really simple recipe, and the most involved part is preparing everything to go into the pan. Also, I was able to find all the ingredients at a large local supermarket, without having to drive to a health food store, ethnic market, or gourmet food supermarket. And no wok, no problem. I just used a heavy large pan to stir fry it up in.

I'm looking forward to trying this recipe with green beans from my garden this coming Spring.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Non-extreme couponing experiment, the results are in!

I wanted to see just how much I could save with coupons by using them for things I would be buying anyway, and in quantities I usually buy them in. Would the little bit of effort I put forth in clipping from the weekly newspaper insert, my monthly All You magazine, and keeping track of the random coupons I get through the mail, have a financial payoff at the end of a month?

My only rule was that I use actual coupons from newspaper, magazines, or the mail in actual stores. So, I didn't count electronic coupon codes for online orders in my total. Three things to take into consideration:  1.) I'm only shopping for two people. 2.) We don't eat much processed food. 3.) We don't stockpile beyond our small pantry.  Also, I didn't put much effort into tracking down sales at different supermarkets to use coupons with for double savings. I shopped where I usually shop, with coupons that came to me in one way or another.

In the course of a month, I wound up saving $67.08 with minimal effort couponing.

It doesn't sound like a whole lot, but over the course of a year, it does add up to a nice little sum.  And considering that I put forth maybe fifteen minutes a week into clipping and organizing coupons, it certainly wasn't much of a time drain.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Catch-up blogging, random topics.

So, we did go to the Moody Gardens festival of lights last Friday night in Galveston. It was awesome! It covers a really large area, but there are places to rest here and there, and other things to do besides walk and see light displays. About two thirds of the way through the display, they have an area with a large fire pit, concessions, fire jugglers and other performances, a giant Christmas tree to take photos around, and places to sit. A conservation group was selling s'mores kits for a couple of bucks, and you got to toast your own marshmallow over the fire pit. That was fun, the last time I made a s'more over a fire pit on a cold night was more than five years ago. You could also just sit around the fire and warm up, which is what we did for a while because it was a pretty cool night, especially right there with the wind coming off the water. I don't know if we'll get to go back before the end of the holidays (I think it runs through New Year's day). But if the opportunity presents itself, I wouldn't turn it down!

The crazy weather here is doing strange things with my garden. I got more cucumbers off of the vines. I thought they were done, but no... And the green beans are still piddling along, making a few new beans here and there. The kohlrabi isn't doing much in the way of bulbs,  nor is the broccoli making florets. The lettuce is doing well though. I got a heirloom seed catalog in the mail this week, and have been going nuts over all the amazing varieties of vegetables that I've never even heard of before. I'm going to be placing an order by the end of the month, for some new things to try in my Spring 2012 garden. With our climate, we can do at least some gardening year-round, but Spring planting needs to be planned out and ready to start going into the ground by the end of February.

This is the year that we'll be doing some "edible landscaping" in the front yard. The plan I think will be to get a small fruit tree in the ground, and at least one decorative planting bed that combines flowers, herbs, and vegetables. I still haven't decided on a species of fruit tree, but am doing my research to see what would work best for us. I've been paying attention to landscaping in the neighborhood and other areas in our town when we're out and about. It seems like most of the landscaping is pretty straightforward. Planting beds bordered with bricks, concrete shaped border blocks, or large stones. I figure the more it looks like the rest of the yards on the block, the less of a chance somebody might try to cause a problem over front yard vegetable gardening. And I'm trying to pick varieties that are ornamental as well as edible.

It's 3 weeks for us at the fitness center now. I've been going at least 3 days a week, I would love to feel up to going every day though. But, I'm having to work up to it since I'm in such bad shape to begin with. I am seeing a difference already, which is encouraging. This morning it was a lot easier to climb up out of the pool than it had been when I first started. And I've been able to stand a little longer and walk a little farther before the back pain starts. Dear Husband is seeing the start of benefits as well. He does go a little more often than me, too. He does 3 full sessions of cardio + strength training a week, and then on the off days he does just the cardio. He hasn't been every single day, but is averaging 5-6 days a week so far.

We've been making a point to eat healthier too. Especially a good proper breakfast when we get home from exercising. One thing I have been doing is making vegetable omlettes and egg scrambles. I take a bunch of spinach, maybe kale too, onion, shallot, garlic, and different mushrooms, chop them up and saute them all together, drain the liquid, and save them in single serve portions in the fridge so it's ready to go. I'll dump the veggies in the nonstick pan, warm them up and spread them out evenly, pour a couple scrambled up raw eggs in on top (or two eggs worth of egg beaters) and let it cook for a bit until the bottom is firm. Then I'll flip it, sprinkle some shredded cheese on the top, let the bottom cook and the cheese melt, flip it in half, and slide it onto the plate. I eat it with either salsa or hot sauce along with a cup of yogurt or a little glass of kefir and it makes for a very good breakfast.

As far as crafts, I've finished the fingerless mittens/hand warmers that I was making for presents, and a quick super bulky yarn black crocheted tam hat. I'm working on a burnt orange tube scarf with the smallest round knitting loom in my set, and when I'm done, I'll put a giant pompom on each end for fun. I'm making a cloak for somebody for a Christmas present, will have all next week to get it done. Cloaks can be difficult, but this is just a basic one without lining. And I hope to really get started on some of my sewing for myself too. I'm suffering from the "closet full of clothes and nothing to wear" syndrome.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I love Christmas lights, the more the better!

I love Christmas lights!  For more than ten years now, one of my favorite holiday rituals is to go driving around to look at decorated houses. We used to go with some friends, we'd stop and get cups of coffee or cocoa from the coffee shop, and drive around a few local neighborhoods that were known for elaborate Christmas displays. Now, we just go alone, and have also started going to see bigger organized light displays too.

Earlier this week, we went to the Dickinson Festival of Lights - you follow a winding walking trail through a park, past dozens and dozens of colorful light displays. It's a nice little Christmastime outing, and the best part is that there is no admission fee! The night we went, was uncharacteristically cold for our area, which kept the crowds to a minimum, which was good because it's a very popular attraction.

Tomorrow night, we're going to the Moody Gardens Festival of Lights  in Galveston. A much larger and more elaborate paid-admission display. You walk along the sidewalks that wind through the Moody Gardens complex, and there are displays set up everywhere. We happened to be there last month, the day before the display officially opened and got to see them testing some of the lights, and from what I was able to see, I'm really looking forward to it!

There are so many different places to go see lights in our area, that we couldn't possibly see half of them in any one holiday season. But I try to see as many as I can. When we're out in the evenings, I like to cut through different neighborhoods on the way back home, to see if there are any really over the top houses to enjoy.

With all of this love of Christmas lights, you'd think my house would be covered in them. But, no...we keep them simple. Maybe someday I'll find the time and energy to do something really special with lights, but for now I'm good with just enjoying other people's displays.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Garden to table: Roasted beets

Last week I cooked the beet greens, today I cooked the beets themselves. I like beets prepared in any manner. Pickled, thinly sliced raw in a salad, and roasted. My husband only likes them roasted, so that's how I made them this time.

This is right after they came out of the ground last week, and had the tops removed and a rinse-off with the water hose. I let them dry and then stored them in the refrigerator in a plastic storage bag:

I further cleaned them, by scrubbing in the sink with a vegetable brush, then peeling the thick outer skin off and trimming away the root end and the base of the greens up top. Then cut them into halves and quarters, depending on the size of the beet.  The pink and white striped beets are a variety called "Chiogga", the solid ones are just common beets, and there are a very few pieces of yellow golden beets as well:

After they were peeled and sliced, I tossed them with a little bit of olive oil, some ground white pepper, a little bit of salt, and a little bit of onion powder. And then spread them out in a single layer in a pan. I baked them at 400 for 20 minutes, then gave them a good stir, spread them back out across the pan, and baked them for another 20 minutes:

Roasting the beets gave them a very mild and sweet flavor, you want to cook them until they are fork tender, but not overcooked. No need for a sauce, the olive oil and bit of onion powder makes into a bit of a glaze while they cook.  They really don't need any seasoning when they're this young and fresh, but the tiny bit of onion powder really works well with the sweetness of the beets.

That's it for the beets from my garden, I will for certain be planting them again. I think that Fall is the only good season to grow them here, but I will try some in late Winter just to see if they do anything or not.

Health/fitness goals, and setting them yourself versus some arbitrary ideal.

Dear Husband has signed up to work with a personal trainer once a week at the fitness center we recently joined. He had his first session last week, to assess his fitness level and set his goals. I was really impressed with his trainer, because right from the start there was never any talk about getting thin or ripped. Just getting some weight off, and improving fitness level without striving for a specific ideal.  It's a very intuitive approach:  "we'll work at it until YOU feel you're in a good place, then set up a routine to maintain it".  I like that a lot.

I'm pretty much following the same approach, just without a trainer. I know I want to be smaller, but exactly how much so, I can't say. I remember how I felt and what life was like at specific weight ranges, so I have a bit of an idea of what I need to work towards. But, I'll know I'm there when I feel completely at home in my own body again. Same with fitness. I'll know I'm there when I can do all the things I want to do with relative ease again. Putting that kind of a spin on it makes you really feel as if you're working for yourself, not for some arbitrary ideal or goal.