Food for Thought on a Monday Night

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1. Homemade low country boil (crab, shrimp, sausage, potatoes, corn cooked in broth) is awesome. I used this recipe as my inspiration.

source: flickr.com

source: flickr.com

2. There is loud, and then there is “I’m in the bath, and excited and taking advantage of the acoustics” loud.

3. Today, the Bean learned that you don’t put soap in your eyes.

4. Today, Mummy learned that the Bean still needs 100% supervision during bath time. Sitting right beside her reading does not count.

5. It pays to ask questions. Today, we got a huge discount (more than 50% off) on our tickets to Happy Hollow Park and Zoo because I thought to ask whether they have a deal for Oakland Zoo members.

6. When you go away for the night, there is no cleaning fairy that comes and makes sure your house feels like a hotel room when you get home.

source: flickr.com

source: flickr.com

7. Lest we forget: November 11 is Remembrance Day (Canada) and Veteran’s Day (US), and we must not forget to honour our soldiers: the fallen, the veterans, and those still in active duty. Thank you to all who have sacrificed so the rest of us can experience freedom.

8. I have missed blogging and am determined to get back to it on a more regular basis. This is a nice easy start.

Drinking and Blogging My Way Through Christmas

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Those who tend to get stressed about Christmas might think I’m talking about drinking wine or other adult libations…but actually I’m not.  For sure, wine will be consumed this month; I’m not going on an alcohol hiatus.  But yesterday I was looking for something warm to help me feel better and I realized that we have a ridiculous amount of tea in the cupboard.  Sweetie and I both love tea, which is why we’ve picked up specialty teas at so many different locations.  But we rarely remember to drink it.  Coffee is the required consumable in the morning, and it’s usually a glass of wine in the evening.  So tea gets lost in the shuffle. I decided yesterday that our tea collection needs some attention before it all goes stale.  So I’m making a point of drinking a cup of tea every afternoon in December instead of a second cup of coffee.

Tea is purported to have a lot of great health benefits.  Most of the research has been done on green and white tea, but black tea has some beneficial properties too.  I was checking it out on Wikipedia.org (of course), and I discovered a few pieces of information that are of particular interest to me.

  1. Drinking black tea can lower stress hormone levels.  When I drink tea, it’s usually black or herbal, so I was happy to see that not all the health benefits belong to green tea.  One study showed that drinking black tea lowered the levels of cortisol in subjects.  It also showed that black tea consumption lowered blood clotting risk factors for heart attacks.  Unfortunately, it was necessary to drink 4 cups per day for six weeks to achieve these results.  I don’t think I’m going to manage to drink that much tea.
  2. Drinking black tea can help prevent cardiovascular disease.   According to another study (if you want all the proper sources, take a look at the Wikipedia article here) just drinking one cup of black tea a day can help to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease by improving performance of blood vessels, lowering blood pressure, and lowering arterial stiffness.  I have slightly elevated blood pressure, and my Dad had a heart attack last year, which scared the bejesus (I’ve always wanted to use this non-word in a sentence) out of me, so this is pretty good news.
  3. The caffeine levels in tea are misrepresented.  Yes, it’s true…by weight, dry tea has more caffeine in it than dry coffee does.  But you use a lot more (by weight) coffee beans to make a cup of coffee than tea leaves to make a cup of tea.  So in the finished product, there is WAY more caffeine in a cup of coffee.  You did know that WAY more is a totally measurable amount, right?
  4. Adding milk to tea negates the benefits. Apparently a chemical in milk binds up the chemicals in tea that are good for you, and makes them ineffective.  Now this sucks because I grew up drinking tea the Batswana way – with lots of milk and sugar (see the bottom for a side note about this). I’ve since decreased the sugar drastically, but the only time I like my black tea without milk is when I’m sick and I drink it with lemon and honey instead.  Oh, or as iced tea.  Now apparently adding citrus to tea increases the benefits, so that’s good news.  But I don’t think I want to give up my milky tea altogether.

My Baby Sister is an avid tea drinker.  She goes to tea festivals.  She doesn’t drink a drop of coffee ever.  She’ll probably live longer than the rest of us, and not just because she’s already younger.  I hope she comments with additional wisdom she has about tea.  🙂

Where this leaves me is that I’m going to try to make a dent in our tea stash this month. Today I’m sick with a cold, so I had two cups of lemon ginger tea with honey. Mmmm, so good. I’m going to try each and every variety we have, and if they suck, I’m getting rid of them to make room for nicer tea.   I might mention my teasploits on the blog again.

Personal Blogging Challenge

I’ve been blogging for almost a year now; it was a 2011 New Year’s resolution.  I’m so glad I started and have no intention of stopping any time soon.  So I thought it might be fun to end 2011 with a bang, and blog every day in December.  I don’t have a very good track record of sticking to things that I have to do every day…well, with the exception of brushing my teeth.  But I’ve decided to do it.  Some days, you may not get much, but unless I’m hospitalized or stranded on a desert island somewhere, there will be something.

Side notes about Botswana

  1. The people of Botswana are called Batswana (like people from Canada are called Canadians) – I didn’t misspell this earlier.
  2. My family lived in Botswana for eight years while my parents were missionaries there.  Maybe that’s something you’d like to hear about?  Comment and let me know.
  3. While we were there, we had a house keeper/nanny named Esther who took good care of us and fed us sweet milky bush tea, which you might know as roibos.  When I tasted it again for the first time as an adult, I suddenly missed her like crazy.  I hadn’t had any contact with her since we left Botswana in 1986, but she died of AIDS (a huge problem in Africa) several years ago and I’ll never get to tell her how much she meant to me.  I hope she knew.

Cream cheese – the food of the gods?

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image courtesy of zazzle.com

Yesterday, I was having a lonely, bored day.  The Bean’s therapy was cancelled, none of the friends I contacted were available to get together, and I was a little down.  I took the Bean to the park, hoping to strike up a conversation with another Mom, and my wish was granted.  We made a couple of new friends, and my day got better…until our Realtor called with news of even more delays and ridiculous requirements from our Lender.  Grrrr!

I got the Bean down for a nap and took one myself.  Two hours later (yes, it was wonderful), we woke up feeling refreshed and hungry.  Yay! Snack time!  I got the graham crackers down for my daughter and decided to have one as well.  But my graham cracker needed something – hmmm, cream cheese!  After we finished the last few graham crackers in the box, I went on a hunt for other things to smear cream cheese on.  As it turns out:

  • baked tortilla chips with cream cheese – YUMMY!  I was dabbing my cream cheese-coated knife into the bottom of the bag to gather up the small chip bits that were left.
  • fig newtons with cream cheese – not as good as I was hoping.
  • toddler biscuits with cream cheese – better than toddler biscuits without cream cheese, but still bleh.
  • carrot sticks with cream cheese – not great.

I had to add the carrots in there for the sake of experimentation, and also so I could say I had some veggies in my snack.  Cream cheese – the food of the gods?  Maybe just the food of bored Mommies, but try it with the chips!

On the Kindle: The Imaginings by Paul Dail

I came across this book because my brother-in-law knows the author and was recommending the book on his Facebook page.   The initial release of The Imaginings was on Kindle only, and at such a great price that I had no excuse not to buy it and check it out.  It’s a story in the “Horror” genre, so at first I was a little worried I wouldn’t like it.  I LOVE thriller novels – Dean Koontz is one of my favourite authors.  But I don’t do well with gory scenes and lots of ugliness.  And in fact, near the beginning of the story, there IS a scene in a tree that almost made me stop reading.  But I kept going and I’m so glad I did.

The Imaginings is the story of a young man, David, whose life is changed forever when a demon starts to terrorize and pursue him.  His wife is killed when their house burns down in a blaze (started by the demon), and David escapes with major burns on his body.  He is drawn towards a cabin, where, chased by the demon, he brings terror to the family who has just moved in.  David saves their young daughter’s life by offering himself freely to the demon in exchange for her freedom.  The story follows him as he flees and seems to escape the demon.  But strange things start happening around David, and he starts to black out.  People he is connected with are murdering others, and he starts to suspect he had something to do with it.  Meanwhile, Jeannie is being cared for in a group home because she refuses to talk.  She has a supernatural connection to David and knows she has to confront him.

I won’t say much more about the story, because the best part about this book is the journey.  There are so many little “ah ha” moments, and the ending has a neat little twist that had me ruminating for days after finishing the book.  If they ever made a movie out of it, though, I don’t think I’d be able to watch it.  One of the beautiful things about reading is that you can censor your own imagination.  The plot of this novel is so engaging, that I didn’t want to stop, so I glossed over any scenes that dipped too far into the horror side of things.

This is Paul Dail’s first novel, and I wish him great success.  I have such great respect for those who have the imagination and drive to write novel-length projects, and this one is first-rate.  In an email to Paul early in my reading of the novel, I told him that his story reminded me of Dean Koontz’s style.  After finishing, I need to amend my statement – Imaginings was as enjoyable to me as any Dean Koontz novel I’ve ever read, but Paul Dail has a style all his own.  I look forward to reading his next novel, and I hope the sales go through the roof!

You can buy the book on Amazon, and you can also check out Paul’s website for more information

Falling Off the Wagon

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wagonMy weight-loss journey has taken a bit of a detour.  As I got exercising, I found that I could get away with not journaling my food and still lose a bunch of weight because I was burning so many calories.  So I got lazy with the food journaling.  Then, I went out for a few dinners in one week and still lost weight, so I also started getting lazy about my food choices.  Step three down the path was when my Mom and sisters came to visit.  We were on vacation, and so my usual rules about food and exercise went out the window.  I indulged in chocolate, carrot cake with cream cheese icing, and too much cheese and bread, among other things.  The fourth and final push into “fallen of the wagon” status was a week of migraines and a cold.  This postponed the exercise portion of my plan for over a week.  To top it off, I didn’t go to my Weight Watchers meeting to weigh in for two Saturdays in a row! 

So, this blog post is my commitment to get back into that wagon and keep riding hard toward the finish line…not that there will be a finish line of eating properly and exercising – that will need to last the rest of my life.  But you know what I mean. 

After all, I’ve told a bunch of my friends and family that it’s a permanent change this time.  I guess I just need to remind myself of that.

But that starts AFTER my daughter’s birthday party this afternoon.  🙂

The Nature of Gratitude

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Today has been a grumpy day.  My little girl has been grumpy – in bed too late last night and up too early this morning, plus she’s teething.  I have been grumpy – in bed too late last night and up too early this morning, but not teething (thank goodness).  Everywhere I look in my house, I’m surrounded by outstanding chores or tasks that need to be done, but I’m just too tired.  So, a glass of wine and some writing seemed to be in order.

There was a brief period of time today when I felt the opposite of grumpy – not sure what that is exactly, but I think I’ll call it “Grateful”.  We went out for lunch to an organic, vegan restaurant called Café Gratitude.   It wasn’t until we were seated with our menus that I remembered it was vegan.  My honey is the opposite of vegan – he threatened to leave us at our table and hop across the parking lot for what was advertised as Marin’s Best Burger!  But he stayed and we ordered.

The server, upon discovering it was our first visit, explained the whole organic/vegan thing to us, and instructed us on how to order from the menu.  For example, if you want the quesadillas (mashed black beans and some sort of tomato/tofu-cheese spread in a flax-seed tortilla), you say, “I Am Wise” (the name of the dish).  To which the server replies, “You ARE wise, today.  Good choice”.  And it WAS a good choice – served with a yummy cabbage slaw, fresh pico de gallo and some very tasty guacamole.  My dining partner was Trusting today, which was a good thing because his tamale and the salsa verde that came with it were also full of flavour.   

The servers and hostess were calm and friendly, and gave off very positive vibes.  I felt good being there.  And just spending time in a place where I had to say something good about myself to order my food made me feel more like the person I wish I had been all day.

So what is it about the atmosphere in a place called Café Gratitude that can make a person feel more grateful?  How can it be that just the presence of positive people can make such a difference?  Many years ago, Oprah made famous the idea of a gratitude journal – a book where you write, daily, about what you are grateful for.  And I think that concept is what answers my question.  Gratitude is something that needs to be practiced consciously.  Like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control (Galatians 5:22), gratitude is not a state of being that is ever-present.  In order to keep it around, you need to choose to be grateful.  Just like sometimes – when you have an argument with your spouse, for example – you may have to choose to be loving or kind even if you don’t feel like it.  So when the server sets down your meals and says, “You are wise”, and “You are trusting”, it makes a person more conscious of those ideas, and maybe more willing to choose to emulate them. 

I don’t know – maybe I’m just grasping at straws today because being tired and grumpy feels like such a waste of a beautiful sunny day.  But whatever it takes, right? 

So, for the record…today I am grateful for:

  • A sweet baby who is rarely grumpy – today is the exception not the rule;
  • A loving husband who indulges my exploration into strange themed restaurants without too much complaint;
  • A new experience, which I hope to repeat with friends who are more into the whole organic vegan idea;
  • A sunny day; and
  • A reminder to be grateful, because I really do have so much going for me.

What are YOU grateful for today?

Road-kill, Celery Root and Tulips

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No, this is not a hillbilly dinner menu.

On Friday, on my way home from dropping my dear husband off at work (approximately 19 miles/30 km), I drove past 4 skunks and one possum whose guts were all strewn across the highway.  While seeing the carnage is nasty enough, skunks are pretty vicious on the nose as well and the smell sticks around long after you’ve left the poor creature behind.  Sometimes there are dead deer too, although there weren’t any this time.   It got me thinking…why do we see so much road-kill around here?  I think a major part of it is that there is a lot of green space in our county, and there are also a lot of cars on the highway.  Those of us who live in the suburbs often do so because we want to be close to nature reserves and hiking trails.  The irony is that our ability to live in peace with our critter cousins is sabotaged by our technology, no matter our desire.  It’s too bad, really, but we can’t all be Pocahontas. 

My gory drive home reminded me of the one and only time I’ve ended an animal’s life (I don’t count bugs and spiders in this tally, and YES I eat meat with pleasure, but I don’t actually kill those animals directly, okay?).  It was a chipmunk (I think) and I was on a rural highway headed out to work at a museum/farm in the summer.  I was enjoying the early morning drive on an almost-empty highway when it sprinted across the road in front of me.  I had no time to stop, or even slow down, and actually, I’m not even positive I hit it.  But it plagued me for weeks (maybe years?).  I kept thinking of that poor chipmunk’s family waiting for it to come home.  What if there were baby chipmunks that were not going to survive because Mama wasn’t coming home with food?  My guilty heart tortured me until I finally had to concede that there was nothing I could have done.  And my logical mind theorized that it might have escaped unscathed after all.  It WAS a tiny animal – maybe I missed it.  That was at least 12 years ago.  Maybe this confession will allow me to finally let the matter rest (oh goodness, I hope so).

Okay, so on to a topic that is more appetizing.  Celery root! 

Now, you may want to argue with me about whether celery root is a more appetizing topic than road-kill.  But if you’d been at my house for dinner last week, I guarantee you’d agree with me.  I had never cooked with celery root before, but had heard some good things about it.  So I bought one, hoping to expand my repertoire of vegetable dishes. 

Celery root (also called celeriac) is an ugly vegetable.  I’m pretty sure that when they filmed Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, they modeled the Mandrake after this root (just a guess – cannot verify).  Well it turns out that celery root has a similar texture to potatoes, although the flavour is more like really strong celery.  It can be eaten cooked or raw.  The recipe I made was a modified version of a French dish: hachis parmentier.  I didn’t have potatoes, so I mixed the mashed celery root with some mashed chickpeas, and it turned out really well.  And the best part is that on Weight Watchers (yes, I’m a member), celery root has no POINTS (ie. I can eat as much of it as I want)!  If you have not yet discovered this wonderful, but aesthetically challenged, root vegetable, I challenge you to pick one up and take the plunge. 

And lastly, I LOVE tulips.  It’s already tulip season in Northern California, and I’m so happy.  I bought some in pots and put them on my sundeck.  Ahhh, Spring!  My condolences to those of you who are in less temperate climates right now.