Tuesday, January 03, 2012


I don't really go in for formal resolutions, but I do like to start the year thinking about what I'd like to accomplish, particularly if it differs from a previous pattern.

1. Get over any lingering fear of the power tools.  When we built the fort in the back yard for the kids I discovered that the compound miter saw is actually pretty easy to use and doesn't give me visions of severed limbs. It has been a while since I dealt with anything more intense than a power sander but with all the finishing of our addition that we'll be doing this coming year, I want to get over my sissy side. Don't make me touch the circular saw or a chain saw, though. I think you have to be bat-shit crazy to touch one of those and come away with all your appendages.

2. Keep the low-meat trend in cooking.  I started eating very little meat around October and what do you know, I feel a lot better. More energy, less sluggish. And it doesn't hurt that I lost about five pounds with almost no effort at all. I didn't eat a lot of meat before October, but I was often a little lazy and ate it even when I didn't really want it because it was there. Lately I've been making regular meaty meals for the other three family members and either piling my plate with sides and salad, adding the meat at the end of a dish and keeping it out of my portion, or doing a tofu version. Much to my surprise, Brian volunteered to join me in low-meat eating (yes, the man who has a "wall of meat" display at work is game to cut down). Of course, he eats out a lot more than I do, so if he's craving meat then he can have it at lunch or when he meets up with guy-friends. And I'm not planning on becoming strict in any sense. I still love lamb, expect that I will want a burger a couple of times a year and know that a little bacon can sometimes make a big impact. But if I am eating meat, it's going to be a conscious decision rather than a lazy default.

2.5. In order to be successful with 2, I'm going to try and cook up at least one pot of dried beans every week. I know this doesn't sound too hard, but it's the planning part that I fail at with dried beans (and I don't own a pressure cooker). I have an unnatural loathing of canned beans (just too mushy...and I hate the smell when the can is first opened) but really love pretty much any bean when cooked from their dried state. Also, I discovered that cooked dried beans can be drained, packed in freezer bags and frozen then used like canned one (but without the mush). But that only works if you remember to make the damn beans in the first place.

3. Finish knitting the frigging sweater I started over a year ago. Preferably before it has become swelteringly hot.

4. Finish the current draft of the book before the kids get out of school for the summer. Feels do-able now, but who knows what writer's blocks will come with deep winter! And once the wonderful builder we hired to get the addition to drywall stage is done, then a good chunk of my time will be spent tileing, laying hardwood floors, painting, etc. etc. So I need to give myself a good push once the kids head back to school on January 9, despite the urge to hibernate.

5. Once that draft is done, share it. That's a really scary proposition and will force me to embrace #6.

6. Be more daring. Ask questions even if you think you'll look stupid rather than save up the thought and research it when you are by yourself (the coward's version of knowledge acquisition). Realize that if, when you share your book, the people you share it with think it is crap, that you can handle it.

7. This may sound contrary to the previous intention, but back off and don't push sometimes. Quiet the voice of nagging that comes way too easily and try to put myself in other people's places. Cultivate kindness toward people who bug me (This doesn't mean I'm going to seek them out, but when in their presence, try to be gracious and tolerant. This may be extra difficult in an election year...)

That's all I can think of for now. Seems like a decent enough mindset with which to start the new year.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Vegetarian Hoppin' John

I don't have a southern bone in my body, but I do like the tradition (and taste) of eating hoppin' john on New Year's Day.  I've always had it with ham or bacon (or both) but I've been cutting back on meat so I thought I'd do a little improvisation. I put in a little smoked paprika to give some depth to the flavor. I also remembered that a restaurant I really like down in Lexington (Alfafa's) tops their vegetarian hoppin' john with sharp white cheddar cheese so I crumbled up a bit I had in the fridge, too.

It turned out really well--I'm thinking that I might make another batch and freeze individual portions because nuking a bowl of it would make for a fast, tasty and healthy lunch.

Vegetarian Hoppin' John

1 C dried black-eyed peas or yellow-eyed beans*
1 T olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 t dried thyme
1 t smoked paprika
1 C rice
1 small red pepper, diced
2 C vegetable broth
2-3 scallions, chopped
1/2 C sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded or crumbled
hot sauce

Cook your peas or beans. Either soak overnight in water, change the water, bring to a boil and simmer until tender, or do a fast soak (pour over boiling water and wait an hour before proceeding). If you think of it, chuck a couple of extra garlic cloves into the cooking water. Drain off all but about a cup of cooking liquid.

In a medium pot, heat the oil and add the onion. After about a minute, add the garlic, celery, thyme and smoked paprika. Saute for a couple of more minutes to soften. Add the rice and give it a good stir to coat the grains in oil.  Then add the red pepper, peas/beans and cooking liquid, and veg broth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then slap on a lid, turn on low and let simmer for 20 minutes.

Give the pot a good stir, then dish it out. Top each portion with some chopped scallions and a sprinkle of sharp cheddar cheese. Let people add their own hot sauce.

* I hear that you can also make this without the pesky soaking/cooking beans step by using frozen black-eyed peas, in which you just chuck them in with a little extra water or broth with the rice. I've never tried it though since I have enough dried beans in the house to last us through an apocalypse in relative beany comfort.