sadder days

So I had a bit of radio silence, obviously.

I spent several days trying to articulately put together a post about the death of someone without whom the world is a much darker place. But I didn’t get very far.

Suffice it to say that I’ve lost family, not related-by-blood family but related-by-godparenting and love and all the real family stuff family. Shortly after my parents’ divorce my mom, sister and I started attending a new church and met Susan and Joe and the rest was history- they’re the best people ever. They looked after Malindi and me (ages 5 and 8, respectively) while my mom sang in the church choir and ended up being invaluable friends to our whole family. We must have been practice children for them, because they now have two beautiful daughters. We got to watch them bring the girls home (they were adopted from India)  but then had to love their family from afar because their family up and moved to Saint Louis in 2005. My mom and Susan continue to have phone calls that are infrequent but legendary because they often top two hours in length. We got to see Joe in person when he made an occasional business trip to the DC area. We admired their oldest daughter’s Etsy store and bought some of her fabulous merch.

And then, because there is no justice in this world, Joe got a brain tumor that ended his life way, way too soon. All I can really say is that Joe was very, very kind. And gentle spirited. And funny. And dedicated. And took care of everybody. And was a walking embodiment of what a good Christian, a true Christian, is. And all the horrible human beings walking around in perfect health make me so so angry sometimes. But of course that is not kind.

Anyway, a silver lining to my current (seemingly terminal) state of unemployment is though I am broke as a joke the resource I do have available is time. Time I can use to be there for others.

So, I drove to Saint Louis to attend the funeral (my mom was there too for this part and I got- more silver lining- unexpected time with her). And then I stayed a few days extra to spend some time with the girls (now aged 14 and 16).

Obviously pictures were largely not appropriate, BUT I loved their cat, who was clearly just incensed at how many people had invaded her house. When I was sleeping on their fold out sofa, she came in and just stared at me with this hilarious expression on her face.

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My mom and I took one of the girls to the (remarkable) Saint Louis Zoo. I was reminded not for the first time that I am not even remotely spatially oriented, and it took us five-ever but we managed to find these penguins hidden in the back of the zoo. Worth it. I love penguins so stinkin’ much.

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And we also got manicures with teenage girl enthusiasm.

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Driving from NC to MO was quite the undertaking, and I’m proud of myself for being a capable 21st century woman and pulling it off. I thought I was so savvy checking both the NC and MO weather, but neglected to consider that I’d be driving through West Virginia mountains en route. Driving through the snow was quite intense, but honestly the gnarliest part was how disgustingly filthy my car got from snowfall and the nasty de-icing stuff they have on the road.

On the return trip, my sanity was tested when I was on what was supposed to be the last hour of my trek, near Winston Salem, NC, and for God knows what reason these four cop cars pulled out unexpectedly, lights on, and blocked every single lane, forcing us to drive behind them, no exaggeration, at five miles an hour. I guess it was meant to prepare us for construction and ultimately the highway’s narrowing to a single lane. But why we had to do this for 20 minutes before reaching the construction area I don’t know. Also, when it was first happening my first thought was that there was some kind of motorcade (I actually checked the POTUS twitter feed) and my second thought was that this was a punishment, a la Bridgegate, for one of the most liberal regions of North Carolina. Because in these dark times I am much more of a conspiracy theorist than I used to be. (We’d already had a suspicious water outage, JUST SAYIN).

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I returned from Saint Louis sick. Not really a surprise- one of the girls was sick (poor thing had been spending tons of time at the hospital with her dad, hadn’t been sleeping, had obviously been incredibly stressed) and traveling always does a number on your body.

The cat was so so precious and took good care of me. I was coughing lots and my whole chest was inflamed and having a sweet warm fluffy thing on it was amazing.

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My eating is APPALLING when I’m sick. All carbs all the time. Though actually there’s some evidence this may be adaptive when you have a virus (but not a bacterial infection!) But anyway my diet consisted of a lot of crackers and chips.

This popsicle (local company) was super great.

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And the first “meal” (<< loosely defined) I actually “cooked” was:

  • a Thai Kitchen soup packet
  • threw in some kale because then it’s healthy yeah sure
  • fried egg on top
  • hot sauce

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I spent too much money on fluids because my throat got unbearably dry if I went about 30 minutes without drinking something.

This is freaking delicious:

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Less-exciting iced tea. I finally got out for a walk and then had to stop for a few minutes to sit and get my air back at a coffee shop.

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And then once I was well I celebrated by making chili. Let’s be real, the best thing about making chili is the toppings. Cheddar, avocado, Greek yogurt (sour cream is more delicious but Greek yogurt is more versatile).

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And to apologize to my body for the days and days of chips and little else, I made a few green smoothies.

  • fruit: sometimes banana, sometimes clementine, sometimes both
  • milk
  • protein powder (I have chai spice flavored, mm)
  • kale

I have learned that an immersion blender does an astonishingly good job. You are volume limited, but I still find it waaaaaay better than the cheapo blenders I have traditionally owned. And more versatile, and so easy to use for soups and things.

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recent cooking- when winter acts like spring

A trip to the arboretum, whilst listening to review recordings for the RD exam.

You would never guess it was supposed to be winter, right?!

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All these blossoms are beautiful, but make me scared, one because there might be another frost and they’ll die and that’ll be sad, and two because eventually they will be everywhere and there will be pollen and North Carolina will again try to murder me via allergies.

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How I eat during fake winter with warm weather:

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A lovely breakfast- Trader Joe’s multigrain waffles with a chopped up pear and lite syrup on top.

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An egg delivery from my friend Steph! As you can see, her chickens are Nasty Women- yes, that is chicken sh** all over the eggs.

But no worries, once you wash them, they are delicious. Lola agrees.

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A common misperception is that eggs are fresh and high quality if they have bright orange yolks. While bright orange yolks can be from chickens out free ranging and eating a wide variety of nutritious eats, they can also be artificially made in feedlot chickens by giving them food with pigments in them, like marigolds.

To really tell if an egg is super fresh and high quality, look at how the yolk stays centered and upright in the white.

Like this exhibit- amazing, right?! A yolk mountain!

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A summery brunch (brunch, meaning once again I didn’t get my life together enough to eat breakfast, so this was an extra-big lunch that included components of both meals): tomato soup, roasted carrots and apples (I roasted them with some leftover hard cider poured on top- THAT was a tasty choice!), and a piece of toast topped with a fried egg and some smoked mozzarella.

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A less gigantic lunch: tomato soup with some leftover roasted potatoes mixed in, and a piece of avocado toast.

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THIS! THIS WAS GREAT!

So initially when my best friend convinced me to go to Sweetgreen in DC, I scoffed. I found it offensive to pay that kind of $$$ for salads.

Buttt, guuuyyys, Sweetgreen is so so delicious. And if like I do you like your salads with a gazillion toppings, it’s not all that cost-effective to make them at home, particularly if you live alone, because you have to buy big quantities of those toppings, the excess of which can end up going bad and being wasted. Wasted along with your money!

So I’m on board with getting Sweetgreen every once in awhile when I’m up visiting the fam. The last time I got in on that, I had a nice autumnal salad that, for once, seemed fairly easy to make at home because a lot of its ingredients were staples.

So once I was back in NC, I sought to recreate it! Here’s the mise en place.

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Toppings are: fresh basil (I’d already bought for some other recipes), fancy white cheddar (since I was only buying ~3 oz to make two batches of this salad, I went for it and got a local crumbly crystally raw milk cheddar that was freaking incredible), pecans, apples, and pears.

Plus a homemade balsamic vinaigrette made with dijon, maple syrup, balsamic (obvi), and olive oil, emulsified with my immersion blender.

At Sweetgreen they put this on top of  mix of kale and spring greens, but I just used kale. It’s much more of a staple for me because it is much slower to go bad.

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I think using a big mixing bowl for salad and using tongs to toss it makes it SO much more delicious. It evenly distributes the ingredients, makes sure everything is coated in the yummy dressing, etc. A little more work/dishes but a much bigger payoff.

Also, it’s always a good day to use my adorable pink pig tongs (thanks Malindi!)

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HIGHLY recommend this salad. Super delicious.

Another free-spirited meal.

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Shredded carrots with more of that balsamic vinaigrette, topped with poached eggs (a Mark Bittman suggestion that’s so much more than the sum of its parts).

Plus, less healthily, bread and pimiento cheese 😍😍😍

I made another batch of the carrot/poached egg mixture, and served it with some leftover eggplant cutlets (bought frozen at Trader Joe’s- delicious!)

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Despite the fact that I have literally never fed Lola from the table she is ALL OVER human food. Little punk.

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The eggplant cutlets were left over from THIS amazing creation:

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  • Eggplant cutlets, baked per package directions
  • Tomato sauce mixed with crumbled sauteed tempeh
  • fresh basil (more utilization of leftovers!)
  • Sprinkling of parmesan (without this, the recipe would be vegan, and still delicious. But of course with cheese it was even more delicious!)

Finally, I was quite inspired by this post in Cup of Jo and noted that quite a few readers gave a shoutout to this recipe for pasta with Greek yogurt and caramelized onions. So I made it (halved the recipe but otherwise pretty much followed it exactly), and enjoyed it for dinner with my sister. It was indeed delicious.

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So now that I’ve done all this sharing about my meals, what has everyone else been making lately?

recent cooking- when winter acts like winter

We had a North Carolina “blizzard” in January. The weather blokes forecasted all kinds of gloom and doom and 9-12 inches of snow and of course this is what we ended up with.

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Which was fine with me. It was pretty. And we didn’t lose power. I actually came to some pretty powerful self-realizations about my need for control because I get SO ANXIOUS about power outages! Like, what is the worst thing that will happen? You feel cold and have to throw food away. It’s hardly the end of the world. Yet it triggers powerful, even physical, anxiety symptoms. Something for me to think on further!

But power stayed. And we spent cozy days mostly in the house, staying warm.

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Plus occasional outings on foot so as to prevent cabin fever.

I admired the many species of nightly visitors to my front yard.

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This is as good a time as many to mention that my roommate received one of the funniest holiday cards I have ever beheld.

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As for the food- as promised, I have been doing more cooking at home and it’s been very good for me. It’s amazing how quick that mental reset happens if you just dedicate a few days to committed home cooking- your brain goes from “Where am I going to buy dinner?” to “What will I make for dinner?”

Which is a relief. Behavior change seems daunting as one contemplates it, but then doable once it’s begun.

Breakfasts:

Nothin’ wrong with oatmeal! This one with apples, almond milk, and pepitas on top.

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This one with banana, milk, and PB2 mixed in (I don’t think I’ll buy PB2 again. Not as fun as I thought it’d be)

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Truthfully I am not always the most reliable about breakfast. One day I went out and ran errands (actually maybe this was a babysitting day too? My post-graduation schedule has been so odd) and then I wanted to stop at the library because it was geographically convenient but I hadn’t eaten or had caffeine so I was a little woozy.

AND THEN THERE WAS A POP-UP COFFEE STAND AT THE LIBRARY.

Coffee. Plus free book rentals. The mother ship calling me home.

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Some typical lunches and dinners:

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English muffin with 1/2 an avocado mashed on top and (new favorite) Trader Joe’s all purpose seasoning. Plus a bowl of carrot/cashew/chickpea soup.

These way-too-expensive but way-too-good chips rounded out the meal.

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This meal was also Trader Joes’ fault.

I thought to myself, “It’s Thursday and the storm isn’t supposed to start til Friday night! I’ll go to Trader Joe’s after the dinner time rush and stock up! How crazy could it be!”

Well, I guess the teeming hordes had already passed through but the shelves had a rather Soviet Russia look to them. Everyone had already frantically gathered the ingredients for their all-important milk sandwiches.

HOWEVER. They still had samples. Samples of macaroni and cheese and hot dogs aaaagh!

Then I made my own and I added kale. So it was nutritious right. Right? Right. *wince* *salivate too though*

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This was not a combination I regularly received as a child but dang it made me feel safe and comforted nonetheless.

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Kiwi afterwords.

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Let’s be real, in the winter we want hot carbs. That is just life.

This night I had the oven on so I went all-out.

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Oven fries with olive oil and more TJ’s all purpose seasoning aaaand… cornbread in a cast iron pan ❤ I used this Cooking Light recipe and, per the advice of recipe commenters, added a few tablespoons of maple syrup to the mix to add a bit more moisture and sweetness.

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Grilled cheese and tomato soup for another meal. Classic for a reason!

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Have we gathered yet that this is a real carb parade?

Another day I legit ate stuffing for dinner. I semi-recreated a recipe I’d made for Thanksgiving that included roasted artichokes and parmesan. Added some extra veggies (lots of mushrooms, and carrots). Still pretty carb-y!

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This one below is definitely not the most appetizing looking thing I’ve ever made but it was pretty good:

  • First I made sauteed brussels sprouts (used frozen). But they were kind of mushy and I wasn’t wild about the seasoning mix I’d used.
  • Then I thought ooh! I’ll make brussels sprout tots! So I whirred them up with some potato/garlic/seasoning/kind of forget what else. But it still wasn’t so good.
  • So then I thought ooh! I’ll make tater tot nachos! So I topped the tots with Trader Joe’s veggie chili, sauteed mushrooms, reduced-fat shredded cheese, hot sauce, and plain greek yogurt. At that point it was pretty tasty. But that’s basically cause the original taste of the brussels sprouts was lost, hahaha.

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I’m a big fan of the TJ’s veggie chili.

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The day I made the recipe with avocado it was even better. Obviously.

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As for the treat department:

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Camille brought some of these yuuuummy ciders from her hometown when she was staying with me over graduation weekend. This one is made to be champagne-y (no idea how that works in the brewing process?) and is delicious.

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Claire brought me this cardamom chocolate bar from India.

Description on the back of it is freaking PRICELESS.

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Evening snack: I’ve been hanging out a lot with The Boys (Colton and Pranish). They give me a lot of sh** because, like so many men before them, they find me hysterically funny when I’m annoyed/offended. But occasionally they take their antics a bit far and I get genuinely mad at them. And then, like so many boys before them, one of them will go “Oh God, I’m sorry, can I cook you something?” Thus these scrambled eggs and this comically huge piece of buttered bread, made by Pranish. A tasty evening snack mid-Star Wars movie (Colton and I have watched the whole Original Trilogy plus The Force Awakens). I ate all the eggs but admitted defeat about a third of the way into the bread, and fed the rest of it to Colton.

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When I was home for the march, I ate lots of yummy meals and, as usual, regressed in many ways.

Here is some mashed squash to which I added (again!) Trader Joe’s all purpose seasoning, plus some cheddar. And for protein, Trader Joe’s frozen chicken-less nuggets, with honey mustard for dipping.

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This was a small meal, and my mom’s house always has tasty treats, so rest assured that I then got my snack on.

Granola bars bought in bulk from Costco.

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Choco caramel biscuits
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Etc.

On Inauguration Day I knew I wanted to spend time with good people and wholeheartedly avoid the TV.

Meanwhile, my friends were converging on DC. Claire and I were up for the march, Nate is living there and interning for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (yay Nate!), and Colton rode up with me to see his bae, James.

So, I said, “Let’s all get Korean bbq in my wonderful hometown!”

So we did, at Il Mee, where the carnivores can get all the bulgogi their heart desires:

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And those of us with a more pescetarian bent can get all the sushi our heart desires.

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The crew:

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So those are some recent eats for cold and gloomy days. But North Carolina gave us about two days of real winter and now it’s in the 60s-70s. So more to come about eating inspiration for when the weather is warm (with the EPA on the chopping block and more climate change to come, probably more relevant! 😁)