Category Archives: Life

I’m Back

To tell you the truth, I’ve been afraid to peek back in here. I know it’s been a while. Now I see that I haven’t been here since April. Whew, that’s longer than I thought.

The reason why I haven’t been around is that my creativity in the kitchen has been stalled over the last few months. It feels like I’ve been making endless meals of chicken and broccoli, chicken and broccoli. It’s boring but it’s what my customers — I mean, my family — will eat.

Well, I think we all need a kick in the patootie. The past two weeks have been spent remodeling my kitchen, from floors to countertop. New sink, new stove, new cooking configuration. Right now, it looks like a holy mess, but I am promised that in just a few days, I will be living the dream kitchen. And if that doesn’t inspire me to start cooking interesting meals again–meals worth writing about–then I guess I should just shutter this blog for good.

Thanks for hanging in there with me.

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A Clean Sweep for the New Year

Spring is traditionally the time for deep cleaning, but with the start of a new year, I have been seized by a compulsion to get my house really clean. I say, if you’re in the mood and have the energy, then do it, regardless of the time of year. It may seem like a lot of work, but there is something so satisfying and relaxing about a freshly cleaned room. It makes my house so much more a joy to be in, and with the colder months still to come, I’m sure we’ll be stuck at home a lot.

Here are my tips for deep cleaning. I divide the job up into rooms and don’t try to accomplish it all in one day. That would be too exhausting. Usually, I start with the rooms that will be the biggest wins: the bathrooms and kitchen. Once those are done, move on to the living areas and bedrooms.

Start at the top and work your way downward. First, use a long dustmop or brush to knock down any cobwebs lurking in the corners of the ceiling. Use a microfiber duster or damp cloth to dust the tops of lights, ceiling fans and other fixtures, picture frames, and window sills.

Next, clear and clean every surface. Why not de-clutter as you go? Pack up for donation or storage anything that you no longer use or like. At the very least, make sure that everything has a place and that everything is in its place.

Here are the types of cleaners I use:

  • A solution of 2 parts white vinegar and 3 parts water in a spray bottle. This will clean almost anything. It is particularly useful for wiping down wood furniture and even cleaning wood floors, because it dries quickly, so the water is less likely to damage the wood.
  • A solution of orange oil and water. I found orange oil for cleaning at my local co-op or natural foods store. You just need a small amount mixed in a spray bottle with water. This solution is good for cleaning counters, sinks and appliances. It will cut grease, and it also smells very nice.
  • Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, for getting rid of stray marks.

If there is anything left after the surface clean, you probably have a tougher problem on your hands, most likely mildew or grease. I suggest a trip to the local hardware store for a targeted cleaner.

Next, remove all area rugs and portable things (trash cans, small pieces of furniture, etc.), and vacuum the floor to get up all the loose dirt. Then, get down on your hands and knees, and use a damp cloth to wipe down all baseboards, corners where dirt accumulates, and even walls if you spy spills or spatters on them. Once that is done, lightly spritz the floor with the vinegar and water solution, and run the mop over all.

If you have area rugs, consider having them cleaned or, if possible, wash in the washing machine. If you have wall-to-wall carpet, this may be a good time to call in the carpet cleaners.

That’s it! The pleasures of a freshly cleaned room can’t be overstated. I have found that since I have deep-cleaned my kitchen, it is much more pleasant to go in there to cook.

Happy new year, everyone!

Changes

Drinking your way through menopause...This post might contain what some people would consider Too Much Information. If you’re only interested in recipes, I suggest you skip this one.

A little over a year ago, I started having insomnia — in short bouts at first, but it kept getting worse. Several visits to the doctor later, I was finally told a couple of months ago that I am in menopause. I would not say that I took this news gracefully. I really wasn’t expecting to deal with this particular life change for another decade, so I wasn’t at all prepared. My reaction was partly denial, partly a depressing feeling that I’d crested the top of a hill and was now looking down into the abyss. Irrational, I will admit, but transitions are usually tough.

It didn’t help that my insomnia kept getting worse — I can never tell, when I go to bed, whether I will sleep all night, just a little bit or not at all — and I have also gained some weight, which depressed me further since I’d done a fairly good job of losing and keeping off the post-pregnancy pounds. My doctor so helpfully told me that the weight gain had nothing to do with the menopause; I was probably just eating more. I honestly don’t think my eating habits have changed that much, but even if I have been indulging a little more, it’s still an indirect side effect of this wonderful change of life. Feeling tired and slightly blue all the time does not inspire one to eat healthfully.

Still, I’m tired of cringing at my reflection in the mirror, getting blue whenever I see pictures of myself and having a shrinking wardrobe of clothes that look good on me. I’ve resolved to lose some weight this month. I haven’t set a specific goal, other than to get on a downward trend, because I don’t want to be unrealistic and end up disappointing myself. The holidays are not the best time to try to resist temptation, as we all know. If I can lose even a couple of pounds, I think I’ll start feeling better about myself, and that will help with dealing with all the other changes I’m going through, not to mention the whole “mourning my youth” thing.

My strategy is to plan all my meals out a week at a time and stick to the plan. As the holidays get closer, I’ll allow myself a couple of free days per week, but until then, I’m going to try to be strict. I’m basing my eating plan on the simple No-S Diet: no snacks, no sweets, no seconds, except on S-days (Saturday, Sunday and special days). This is a simple plan that I think I can maintain for the long haul, which is the key to a diet that works. Although, I am reserving a small list of healthy snacks just for when I really need them: a cup of yogurt, a handful of almonds, a piece of fruit or a stick of string cheese. I’m also adding no-F (french fries and fried food) and no-W (wine) to the list, since these are particular temptations for me.

This first week, I’m focusing on eating a lot of soups. Eating broth-based soup is a good strategy because soup fills you up while remaining relatively low in calories. I also pack my  soups with vegetables. If all goes well, I’ll post one or two recipes later in the week.

I think it’s okay to allow yourself a period of adjustment, even mourning, when going through a transition in life. But I realized this week that feeling sorry for myself isn’t productive. If I really want to enjoy the next phase of my life, it’s up to me to take control of my own happiness. It doesn’t help to grumble about all the foods I can’t eat anymore (at least, not all the time). It’s better to focus on eating healthy most of the time, feeling good about myself and enjoying my favorites on an occasional basis, like the special treats they are intended to be.

Printing Recipes

A commenter has not-so-kindly let me know that the Print function wasn’t working very well on my blog, that it printed all the sidebar and footer info as well as the post itself, which runs to a lot of pages. I don’t publish comments I think are rude or offensive, because I don’t think everyone benefits from them. But I, a real person, do read all comments and try to respond, if I can (although this particular commenter neglected to leave a valid email address). So I have changed my theme to one that is more print-friendly when you click the Print option at the bottom of each post. I liked the old theme a lot — I thought it was fun and playful — but I do want people to be able to print the recipes if they want a copy.

Picky Eaters

My 2-year-old is getting into that “picky eater” stage. As pickiness goes, he’s not too bad. He mostly prefers carbs (toast, pasta, oatmeal, etc.) and fruit. He’s on the anti-Atkins diet, I think. But every now and then, he surprises us by eating a hot dog or a few pieces of chicken or throwing down on a plate of green beans. So I keep putting all kinds of foods in front of him.

The thing that bothers me most about his pickiness is the food waste. I always make a plate for him of whatever we’re eating because I want him to have the opportunity to eat many different foods. But when he turns up his nose, I hate throwing out the excess. Sometimes I just eat it myself, which has led me to believe that it’s not baby weight that’s the problem — it’s eating-off-the-baby’s-plate weight.

I have resolved not to be one of those parents who makes a special meal for her kids every night. I believe that when you are part of a family, you eat what the family eats — and I strive to make healthful, well-balanced, tasty meals. I think it takes a lot of exposure to new foods before kids will accept them. If they see their parents eating and enjoying a wide variety of foods, that will seem normal for them.

The other extreme is pushing unwanted food on kids, which seems to cause problems later. I ask my son to try things, but I don’t force him. I don’t want him to grow up not to eat potatoes, as an example, because his parents made him finish his. (Yes, I know someone with this affliction.)

I am confident that the picky phase passes eventually. But for some adults, it doesn’t, as this article points out. This is pickiness taken to extremes, and I can understand why it may be considered an eating disorder. (The sample menu for one picky eater is particularly frightening.) While such a diet can’t possibly be healthy, I also find it a little sad that people would live within such strict limits. Food offers us so many possibilities for pleasurable experience. When it comes to eating, there is truly always something new to discover and explore.

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Processed Foods Challenge Update

Easter eggs from France

Not the Easter eggs I made. Image via Wikipedia

I haven’t been posting my daily cooking updates lately because — guess what? — I didn’t cook all weekend. Except I did attempt to dye Easter eggs using natural dyes rather than the kits you buy in the grocery store. I failed miserably. Upon reflection, perhaps I shouldn’t have bought the brown eggs. D’oh!

Well, the holiday is over and it’s back to the routine for us. I went grocery shopping today and am pleased to report that I am still sticking to not buying any packaged foods. I stayed entirely on the periphery of the grocery store, with only a quick foray into the frozen foods aisle for edamame. And quelle surprise! My grocery bill was actually lower than usual.

My mother did attempt to undermine my packaged foods ban this weekend by bringing me marshmallow bunnies and Peeps! So far I have resisted the Peeps, but the bunnies were not so fortunate, I’m sad to say. Here’s one idea for what I might do with the leftover Peeps: Peepshi.

I hope everyone is enjoying the same beautiful spring weather we are. Perhaps it’s time to get into the garden and break out the grill!

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Las Vegas Restaurant Recommendations?

My husband and I are heading out soon for a much-needed, adults-only, anniversary celebration in Las Vegas. We already know we will be eating at Bouchon on our anniversary and we will be having sushi one night. Does anyone have any good restaurant recommendations?

I’d love recommendations for hidden gems or places we should not miss. We are not eating beef these days, so steak restaurants are out. Thanks in advance for any help!

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