Roasted Winter Veggies

Roasted veggies are a beautiful thing. I don’t care if it’s brussel sprouts or broccoli, potatoes or kale – it’s all delicious. The last couple of weeks, I’ve been on a winter veggie kick. My favorite three vegetable combination for roasting has been butternut squash, sweet potatoes and carrots.

Prior to last week, I had never prepped a butternut squash for roasting. First, you peel it the outside with a vegetable peeler. Then, split it with a very sharp  knife and scoop out the seeds. Using a heavy chef’s knife, cube the squash and add it to a foil-lined pan. Peel and cube the sweet potato and the carrot, too, and add it to the pan.

Just drizzle your veggies with olive oil, add a bit of salt and pepper and roast your veggies in a 375 degree oven until they are fork tender and have turned golden. Roasting brings out the sweetness in the veggies and the combination of the carrots, sweet potatoes and squash are perfect together. In fact, I usually stuff myself silly eating the whole pan of these myself, but hey, they’re healthy right?

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In The Moment

I’m a planning kind of person. I like having a weekly plan, monthly plan, yearly plan, decade plan….You get the point. It is borderline obsessive? Um, yeah. But it’s kind of how I remain functional.  I feel like if I can anticipate most things, I can stay on top of them. I recognize it for the delusion that it is, but my little lists and post-its and calendars insulate me from the full-blown craziness of life.

Babies, however, have a way of making you take it one day at a time regardless of how much you’d rather think ahead to next week. On any given day, I never know how much sleep I’m going to get at night, what Lexi’s naps are going to be like or if Parker is going to need to stay home from school. To quote Shrek, most days, I feel like “A donkey on the edge!” It’s…an adjustment.

Last year at this time, my focus was on getting three grant proposals out. This year, my biggest concern at the moment is focusing on getting dinner on the table (and to be honest, I don’t even know what I’m making). Sweet little Lexi, who is currently in the apex of a mommy phase, forces me to take things in 15-minute increments. Make no mistake about it, she is a force to be reckoned with. Beneath that sweet, laid-back exterior is a peanut who knows her own mind and sometimes that mind tells her that she must be carried everywhere. Truth be told, I don’t mind it that much.

I’m tired, but happy; behind at work, but feeling fulfilled at home. Having been to this rodeo before, I know that this pocket of time is temporary. So for now, I’m okay living in the schizophrenic world of baby bliss and sleepiness knowing that in the next couple of years, I’ll be back to schedules and lists and functionality.

PS – It took me two hours to write this. Oy.

 

Pasta Cheese and Trees

I’m not going to lie folks, sometimes all I’m shooting for is “good enough.” There are days when I’m inspired to make a complicated and delicious meal…and then there are days when I just need to slap something on the table that may not win any prizes, but that won’t elicit complaint either. I’ve been having those kinds of days A LOT lately.

Last night, I made a Rachel Ray recipe called “Pasta, Cheese and Trees.” It’s quick, kid-friendly and fills the stomach. Here’s what you need:

Pasta (I use penne, but any pasta would do)
1 lb. broccoli florets
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup reserved pasta water

Boil your pasta water and cook your pasta based on the box directions. While the water boils, put the broccoli in a microwave safe bowl, add a tablespoon of water and microwave it for 4-5 minutes. Once the pasta is done, reserve one cup of pasta water and drain the pasta. Add the pasta back to your pot, add in the ricotta, parm, pasta water and broccoli. Add salt and paper to taste.

And you’re done! Enjoy!

Mexican Casserole

The inspiration for this recipe came from the latest issue of my trusty Cooking Light. Since I’ve been trying to get Parker to eat new foods(and since he’ll eat anything that looks remotely Mexican in nature), I decided to modify the original recipe and give it a go. It was easy, tasty and there were no leftovers. In other words, it was a total success.

I should also mention that I decided (without asking the boys for input) to stop cooking meat entirely. It wasn’t really intentional. I just didn’t add any meat-only dishes to the menu and I didn’t buy any meat at the grocery store last weekend. Frankly, I’m sleepy and my poor, little brain couldn’t be taxed with thinking up 2 different recipes for dinner each night (since I usually cook them a separate meal than I cook myself). I’m curious as to how many days/weeks will pass before either one of them has noticed that they’ve kind of sort of turned into vegetarians.

Here’s what you need:

1 cup diced onion
1 pound ground beef or the equivalent of meat-alternative (I like Quorn brand crumbles)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1.5 tablespoons flour
1 cup beef, chicken or veggie broth
2 tablespoons Taco Mix (store bought or homemade)
1 eight-ounce can tomato sauce
4 eight-inch tortillas
1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack cheese (plus extra for the top)

Add a touch of olive oil to the pan and saute your onions for a couple of minutes. Add ground beef or meat-alternative and brown. (Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.)

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute for a minute. Add in the flour and cook for another minute, stirring constantly.  Add broth, taco seasoning and tomato sauce to the saucepan. Bring to a boil.

Once it comes up to a boil, cook it for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add all but 1/2 cup of the sauce to the meat/onion mixture and stir to combine.

Put a tortilla in a 9-inch pie plate. Add 1/3 of the beef mixture and 1/3 of the cheese. Repeat this 3 times and end with a tortilla on top. Spread the rest of the tomato sauce mixture over the tortilla and top with a handful of cheese.

Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Let it cool off for about 5 minutes before you cut into it, otherwise, the meat and cheese will spill out of the tortilla like a molten lava explosion and you’ll be left with Mexican soup instead of a Mexican casserole. Trust me on this one, don’t be like me.

This casserole was seriously yummy. It was a nice change of pace from our usual soft taco or burrito and the tomato sauce gave it an enchilada flavor rather than a standard taco taste. The best part was that no one even commented on the fact that I skipped the beef in favor of the Quorn crumbles and trust me, Parker would normally have been the first one to pitch a fit if it didn’t meet his picky-eater standards (which I need to stop talking about since it makes my eye twitch). Next time, I think I’ll serve this with a dollop of sour cream and guacamole just to dress it up a bit.

Homemade Bread

Okay, first and foremost can I just say…what the heck took me so long to make homemade bread? I’ll admit that I used to have a slight phobia of yeast, but since I conquered homemade cinnamon rolls and tsoureki, I put my yeast-less cooking days behind me. Still, I hadn’t bothered to attempt a regular ol’ loaf of bread. Until now. Let’s just say that I didn’t even know what I was missing. In fact, as I type this (one-handed), I’m feasting on a fresh-from-the-oven slice of bread smeared with butter. It’s warm, slight chewy and seriously delicious. I’m not a huge carb person, but this bread might turn me into one.

My desire to bake bread all started with a simple cookbook that was recently given to me by my darling friend, Meg. It’s called, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn’t Cook From Scratch. When the author lost her job, she embarked on a journey of trying to economize by making everything from scratch (and by everything, I mean she bought goats for milking and turkeys for slaughtering!). The book is a hilarious account of her experiences and adventures and it also happens to include tons of 2recipes of things to make at home as well as detailed descriptions of exactly how much hassle each thing is. I read the entire book cover to cover and then I embarked on making her first “Make it yourself” recipe: bread.

Here’s the recipe exactly as it appears in the cookbook:

1 teaspoon instant yeast
3.5 cups warm (but not hot) water
5.5 cups all purpose flour
1.75 cups whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup flaxseeds
4 teaspoons kosher salt

Since it was my first attempt at making bread, I didn’t bother with the 2 different types of flours. Instead, I just used unbleached all purpose flour (I think it was King Arthur Flour).

All you do is mix all of the ingredients together (I first used a wooden spoon and then my hands). Then, split the dough in 2 parts and put it in greased bread pans (I greased mine with canola oil).

Cover the pans with a clean kitchen towel and put the dough in a draft-free place to allow it to rise for 2 hours. Since I live in the mountains and its COLD here, I have to preheat my oven to 200 degrees, turn it off and put the pans in there if I want my bread to rise. It works like a charm.

Once the dough has risen to be level with the top of the pan, the bread is ready to bake. The original instructions say that you should bake the bread in a 450 degree oven for 30 minutes and then to bake it for an additional 15 minutes directly on the rack. My bread was slightly overdone when I followed the instructions exactly. The second time I baked it, I lowered the heat to 400 degrees and it came out perfectly.

I have eaten a lot of wonderful things in my life and bread fresh out of the oven ranks right up there with the most scrumptious. The three of us almost polished off an entire loaf in the first 10 minutes that the bread was cool enough to touch. The rest of the loaf was eaten the following day and we’re just now finishing the second loaf of bread.

This bread keeps on the counter top (wrapped tightly in plastic wrap) for a week and if you wrap it in plastic and then foil, it can be frozen for 3-6 months. Now that I know how easy it is to make bread at home, I think it’s going to be a regular occurrence around here and I think it will be fun to try different variations. I also can’t wait to try more recipes out of the cookbook. Naturally, I’ll report my results back here for you all. Happy baking!

 

 

Half Marathon Training. Let’s Do This!

Well, I did it. Last month, I signed up for my first post-Lexi half marathon. Truth be told, signing up for a race is the only way that I know to make myself stick to a workout plan in less than ideal conditions. When I’m sleeping and my schedule is somewhat stable, working out is a welcome diversion. These days, I feel like a sleep-deprived zombie half the time. The other half of the time, I’m running around like a maniac trying to not screw anything up too majorly (like the kids, my job, tonight’s dinner!).

So, here’s the plan. It’s probably the least rigorous training plan I have ever come across, which means that I just might manage it. This 11-week training plan was provided by the athletic department on my campus and is meant for new or returning runners. Sounds about right!

Week 1 (this week)
Tuesday – 2 miles
Thursday – 2 miles
Saturday – 3 miles

Week 2
Tuesday – 2 miles
Thursday – 2 miles
Saturday – 4 miles

Week 3
Tuesday – 2 miles
Thursday – 3 miles
Saturday – 5 miles

Week 4
Tuesday – 2 miles
Thursday – 3 miles
Saturday – 6 miles

Week 5
Tuesday – 3 miles
Thursday – 4 miles
Saturday – 7 miles

Week 6
Tuesday – 3 miles
Thursday – 4 miles
Saturday – 8 miles

Week 7
Tuesday – 3 miles
Thursday – 5 miles
Saturday – 9 miles

Week 8
Tuesday – 3 miles
Thursday – 5 miles
Saturday – 10 miles

Week 9
Tuesday – 3 miles
Thursday – 5 miles
Saturday – 12 miles

Week 10
Tuesday – 3 miles
Thursday – 5 miles
Saturday – 8 miles

Week 11 (Race Week)
Tuesday – 3 miles
Thursday – 3 miles
Sunday – RACE DAY – 13.1

Whether you want to do the entire plan with me or just join me for (virtual) runs 3 days a week, I’d love your company on this journey to get back in shape.

Initiative.

Earlier this week, Parker’s first day of school in the new year was cancelled due to snow (for the second year in a row). While this would normally be a recipe for fun, there really wasn’t enough snow on the ground for him to play with so he spent most of the day inside trying to keep entertained. When he insisted on going outside, I relented and suited him up for the 20 degree weather.

Since I didn’t want to take the baby outside, I was keeping an eye on him from the inside of the house. I was curious as to what he was going to do out there since his usual snow games (building a snowman, riding his sled) weren’t options.

Imagine my surprise when I saw him grab the broom that we keep by the door and head over to the car to clear off the snow. He did exactly what his dad would have done. He cleared it off of the hood, the windows and around the doors. Fifteen minutes later, he came inside, brushed off his hands and declared, “Well, that chore is done.”

I can’t tell you how proud I was to see him take the initiative to do something that needed to be done without being asked. It might seem like such a small thing, but isn’t life just a series of small things? For whatever reason, in that moment, I knew that he was going to do just fine in this big, wide world on his own.

Please remind me I said that the next time that I flip my lid over his food protests.