To Go or Not to Go, That is the Question

I was impressively sick on Saturday and Sunday–the usual autumn into winter cold that seems to overrun my system for a week each year. That means that between naps and the occasional episode of Modern Love (brilliant btw), I was scrolling the Explore tab on Instagram pretty hot and heavy. I know. I’m not proud of this, but a fact is a fact. That 1 hr of social media time reminder was *swoosh* tossed out the window by noon on both days.

Something that caught my eye during that time and has been playing around in my brain ever since was that these two phrases came up over and over and over again. (To be fair, it’s something that’s been going through my head in a less in-your-face manner for over a month now, so I’m pretty sure my brain was primed to notice it.)

  • Don’t go where you’re not wanted.
  • Go where you’re wanted.

Two sides of the same coin, of course. Since it’s going to be the new year again before we know it, I’ve been starting to consider what I’m going to do in 2020–especially as it relates to travel.

When I think about the trips I’ve most enjoyed, the ones that where I was as sad to leave as I was happy to arrive were the ones that were preceded by a request for assistance or support, were jointly considered as a way to visit a new place together, or were planned after a heartfelt “I miss you. When can you come for a visit?”

I went where (and when) I was wanted, and it was wonderful.

And the worst trips I’ve ever taken, the trips when I calculated the change penalty for an earlier return flight, where I sat in my Air B&B room feeling worthless and uncared about, where I wondered how much it hurts to hit water at terminal velocity were trip where I believed that someone would want to see me just because I missed them, trips where I decided that it was a good time for me to visit to celebrate xyz even though they never said they wanted me to visit at that time or cared about xyz, trips where I booked a flight and a room for myself in the area simply because I believed that I would be welcomed, especially since I was putting forth the effort (and expense) to arrive.

I went where (and when) I wasn’t wanted, and it was devastating.

So what do my travel plans for 2020 entail so far? Not much, but I know that I’ll be welcomed with open arms and feel loved and appreciated every day of that short visit the coming spring.

Squash, Chili & Coconut Curry

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800g – 1 kg (2-2.25 lbs) butternut (or similar) squash–peel (potato peeler works great) and deseed the squash, then cut into bite-sized chunks
2 Tablespoons sunflower oil
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2-4 mild or medium red chili’s, deseeded and thinly sliced
1 generous Tablespoon of favorite curry paste or powder (I used Thai Kitchen’s red curry paste)
400 ml (approx 14 oz) can of coconut milk
A squeeze lime or lemon juice
Sea salt & fresh ground black pepper
***See note below

Chop/prepare all the ingredients ahead of time.

  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and sweat, stirring gently occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and chili’s and cook for a couple more minutes.
  • Stir in the curry paste/powder and cook for a minute or two. (It’s going to smell sooooooo good at this point.)
  • Add the squash chunks, some salt & pepper, and stir well to coat them all in the spicy, oniony mixture. Cook 2 more minutes.
  • Pour in the coconut milk’s liquids and solids, stir well and bring to a SIMMER. Cover and cook gently (no boiling) for approx 20 minutes, stirring carefully now and then. You want the squash tender and yielding to a fork, but not mushy or falling apart.
  • When the squash is cooked just enough, taste the curry sauce and add more salt and pepper if needed. Finish with a spritz of lime/lemon juice.
  • Ladle into bowls and serve with rice and/or flatbread.

NOTE: Green beans – cut into 4-5 cm (2″) lengths, add to the mixture about 8-10 minutes before it’s done cooking – will add color, texture, and it will make a complete protein when combined with either the rice or bread.

Coming in for a landing

It’s been almost a year since I bought this URL without much idea of what to do with it and eleven months since I sat in a cafe in Leiden and told the first person that I wouldn’t be traveling overseas for at least a year. It’s been almost three months since my first visitor arrived, one since the second flew back home, and a day since I hugged the third and final one goodbye. I’m a little numb at the moment, unsure about how to process what became of the first 10 months so far of 2019. There have been successes and failures, many we-did-our-best’s and could-have-done-better’s.

Like every year, but very much so this year.

 

 

Five Why’s

As a follow up to yesterday’s post, the biggest help I had in building my list was asking myself 5 Why’s. For example, one of my personal goals is to learn the basics of Italian.

Why do I want to learn the basics of Italian?
So I can speak, read, and understand the language.

Why do I want to speak, read & understand the language?
I want to be a more considerate and safer traveler, of course, but also be better able to get off the tourist routes on my next visit to Italy.

Why do I want to get off the tourist routes?
I want a more authentic view of Italians, the Italian countryside and small towns, and their day-to-day lives.

Why do I want a more authentic view?
I want to get past the stereotypes perpetuated in tourist areas, get away from the crowds,  and interact with people in a more meaningful way.

Why do I want to get past the stereotypes, avoid crowds, and interact with people in a more meaningful way?
Because I hate crowds and don’t want to just confirm my biases, grab my souvenir tea towel, and go home. I want to come away feeling like I better understand Italians across the peninsula, the ways they see the world and their place in it. I also want to help dispell the stereotypes that people in other lands have about Americans by letting them get to know me a little.

With a deeper understanding of WHY I value the goal of learning the basics of Italian, I can ensure that it’s not an externally based goal (people-pleasing or societal norms-focused), and I think I’ll be more inclined to put the work in and set the distractions aside to reach it.

When I couldn’t get past two or three thoughtful why’s (and for some things I couldn’t), it quickly became clear that the stated goal wasn’t really something I was going to feel driven to maintain when motivation flagged or that didn’t add much to how I wanted to live my life.

Ten weeks

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but it’s only 10 weeks until the next year begins.

In general, I’m not someone that cares much about the shift from one calendar year to the next. I can’t remember ever making a personal New Year’s resolution, for example. If I think I ought to change something, I tend to go about considering, planning, and changing it. I’m not always successful at it, of course, but I do what I can to make the start vs giving myself time to ignore it or talk myself out of it.

But the realization today did make me stop to think about the direction my life is going, the things I’m happy about, the important things I’ve fallen away from, new (or renewed) things I’d like to turn towards, and the things that it might be best for me to turn away from–or handle in a different way.

So I drew up a simple list and drafted 3 priorities for each of the four categories I deemed most important to a well-lived life–personal, professional, social, and slippery slopes (aka wellness, financial, household). Then I thought about what I do on a day-to-day basis and what I get in return for each of them. It was humbling and even a bit embarrassing to really consider where I spend so much of my finite resources (time, attention, cash, effort, and energy). To admit how often I spend those resources on things that don’t enrich, support, or grow me in return. To see how one-sided things are in several categories. Frankly, it made me a bit ashamed. I know better, and I deserve better.

Then I thought about what I don’t do, what I put off, what I give lip-service to but always seem to find an excuse for not actually following through on, engaging in, or just half-assing. It’s an equally (un)impressive list. Again: frankly, it made me a bit ashamed. I know better, and I deserve better–and so do some of the things in my life.

So I’ve decided to take the bulk of my upcoming free time the next few weeks to think deeply about all of the above and to implement some much-needed changes.

(Yes, read things to include people. No, I don’t need a lecture on people vs things. I do, indeed, recognize the difference.)

Celeriac: Is this a joke? Where’s the camera?

The first time I pulled celeriac out of the CSA box a dozen years ago, I was pretty sure the farm was pulling a prank of us. I mean, really, have you seen this thing? But ever the trooper, I followed the owner’s instructions and whipped up a lovely soup and used the remainder pieces for some crunchy snacking.

It turns out, celeriac is a fantastic soup base because it breaks down well, making a silky smooth backdrop for almost anything else you want to throw in with it. Its mild celery undertones never overwhelm the finished soup, and conveniently, eliminate the need for that stringy vegetable. I’ve used celeriac now for carrot soup, beet soup, turnip soup, and probably a few more root vegetables that I can’t remember right now. When I find celeriac at the market, I buy it. I know it’ll get put to good use.

Per the recommendation in Three Good Things, I paired it today with another familiar fall veg: Brussels sprouts (and–optional–the last bit of bacon hiding out in the freezer). Good call, Hugh. Good call. Overall, it took about an hour from beginning to end and both of us enjoyed it quite a bit. I see this becoming a regular part of the fall-winter soup season around here.

Based on amounts I had on hand, I modified things a bit but the author would no doubt recognize the overall recipe.

 

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Scary good soup (if somewhat ugly in this poor lighting)

 

Pat of butter
1 T olive oil
white onion, chopped
large celeriac bulb, peeled & cubed
1 quart vegetable stock
1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved
1/4 pound streaky bacon, cut into strips (short-way)
1/2 C whipping cream
salt & pepper

Warm up the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan, add onion and sweat gently for 3-4 minutes.

Add the celeriac, stir, cover pot and let heat through for 10 minutes. Add the stock, heat to boil, and then drop hat back to a simmer until celeriac is clearly softening (5-10 minutes). Add the sprouts, stir well, cook for 5 minutes.

If using, fry up the bacon at this point and blot the fully-cooked bacon pieces on paper towels.

When sprouts are tender, puree with an immersion blender or CAREFULLY in a heat-resistant blender. (hot liquid + sudden motion = explosive force: physics works)

Back in the pot, off the heat, add the cream and stir to combine. Reheat gently, if needed. Stir in bacon pieces or use as a garnish, if using. Taste test, adding salt & pepper as needed.

If vegan, omit the butter and just use more olive oil in the beginning. The cookbook’s author recommends toasted, blanched almonds or crunchy garlic-bread croutons to give the soup some crunch and greater curb appeal.

NOTE: The Amazon link is for convenience only. I don’t receive any financial benefit from it. If possible, please buy from a local bookseller (or used).

Hot Mess

EEF8339A-5927-42A5-977A-0B0DE59FABBCYes, it looks a hot mess, but it was a goooood hot mess.

A couple of days ago, I realized that Henrietta the Hen was still resting in the freezer (after her last egg was laid). Since we received a bouquet of fresh-cut rosemary from the CSA this week, I pulled it out to thaw with the intention of making whole-roasted rosemary chicken tonight.

Well, imagine my surprise when I pulled the thawed freezer bag from the fridge and found that it wasn’t a whole bird but, instead, a miscellaneous bag of unused legs and thighs. That changed the night’s plans quick. Luckily, our CSA box also included several good-sized, perfectly-ripe heirloom tomatoes and a small bunch of baby leeks.

So we pulled out the skillet, some green and black olives, that almost forgotten cup of Pinot Grigio in the back of the fridge, a cup of broth hiding in the freezer, a big scoop of both paprika and cumin, and—of course—garlic. Our chopped up tomatoes and leeks were happy to join the party, I do believe.

While our chicken tidbits braised in the oven amongst its sauce, we cooked up the last box of udon noodles. *angels singing*

Afterward, I shredded the chicken, stirred some parsley and lime juice into the mix, and tossed the waiting noodles into it all. No, it wasn’t pretty. But man oh man, was it ever good.

Jeff declares that we should add capers next time, but I stand firm in my opinion that it was nearly perfect as it was. Only time will tell.

I hope you also dined well tonight.

I been busy, man

 

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Three bean tacos

Remember when I used to write? Remember when I used to describe our delicious kitchen successes (and occasional failures, just to keep it real)? Yeah, me too. Good times. Good times.

Then, life happened.

A friend flew a ridiculous number of hours to come to visit us. We visited the Iowa State Fair with him for the first time since moving here nine years ago (overall verdict: meh) and introduced him to downtown Chicago (opinion: um, ok, wow). Both Des Moines and Chicago were bigger than he’d expected, Chicago by a large margin.

Three books arrived in late June, so hopeful and eager to be edited. And I fucked the first one up but good, so I got to do it all over again! I know, I am the luckiest girl in the room sometimes. Don’t be jealous. Well, you’ll be happy to know that book one (part deux) was received with open arms and kisses, and book two shipped today for the author’s nay/yea on each individual edit.

I have, not that I’m counting, 21 days to get book three out the door if I don’t want it following me to Chicago (and I don’t) when another friend arrives at Terminal Five to join me for a week of sightseeing, photography, eating, catching up, museum-going, walking-walking-walking, and general relaxing. So that means nose –> grindstone again, starting tomorrow.

But this afternoon and evening have been for attention-optional magazine browsing, bathroom cleaning, tub-time relaxing, carpet vacuuming, and all the other sexy tasks that haven’t gotten near enough attention lately. Sorry Mr. Dishwasher, you’re going to have to wait your turn for a good scrubbing. October good for you?

Blah, blah, blah bring on the food, right? Right.

So last night Jeff and I stood before the refrigerator and noticed something alarming: the immense bag of fresh from the farm green and yellow string beans (freakishly similar to its brother bag from the week before) had not gotten eaten by either us or the fridge elves this week. Lazy fuckers, those fridge elves, I tell ya. I’d been so busy cranking out one luxurious, decadent Caprese salad after another (it’s a hard life, but a delicious one) trying to use up the gargantuan box of vine-ripe heirloom tomatoes and bunches of fresh basil that arrived with them, that the beans had become an after-thought–a crunchy, vibrant, beckoning after-thought.

I’d managed to push through a crisper drawerful of neglected Pattypan squash earlier in the week*, so this bean betrayal felt particularly shameful. Looking in the fridge and cupboards wasn’t too encouraging, as there wasn’t a lot in there. Grocery shopping and cupboard restocking haven’t been a high priority for me the last two and a half months, I have to admit. BUT the base for some tacos was in there, I noticed. I twirled the available combo in my mind: tortillas (soft), refried beans (thick-slick), black beans (tender), a touch of cheese (binder) and grilled string beans (smoky-crunchy)? Yeah, it could work. It really could work. Maybe some chopped up plum tomatoes for garnish? A splash of Sriracha sauce or Frank’s Red Hot for kick? Sweet baby Jane, I thought, let’s throw caution to the wind and give her a go.

Warming up the grill took the longest. We chopped the ends off the string beans, coated them liberally in olive oil, shook in a bit of fancy French salt (Thanks, Eileen!), and dropped them into the grilling basket until just charred and warmed through (these are delicious as leftovers, so we grilled the entire bag’s worth at once). Back inside, we spread some warmed up refried beans, black beans, and cheese on a flour tortilla, added some of the string beans and whatever toppings we wanted and sat down to dinner. They were delicious. And they were delicious as leftovers tonight, too.

I think I’m going to do this more often with other vegetables we have kicking around in the crisper bin. It’ll be fun to play around with sauces to see if we find a few that go especially well with a variety of vegetables. Julienned carrots, if sauteed slightly, would work well, as would lightly steamed cauliflower florets. Leftover potatoes from breakfast, sauteed onions, pan-fried zucchini? Who knows, I want to try them all.

*Easy, on-the-fly, garlicy, non-mushy, oven-roasted, herb-heavy Pattypan squash
4 Pattypan squash cut into eighths
Toss with the following combination: two minced garlic cloves, some olive oil, oregano, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper
Bake at 425F for 15-20 minutes
(Leftovers are good the next day)

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Garlic and Herbed Pattypan Squash

Triathlon weekend!

Without wetsuits, goggles and body slick, tri-suits and road snacks, bikes and helmets, sneakers and bandannas.

You’ll find the two of us, a little broken but relaxed and well-rested, on the sidelines. I know I, for one, won’t be crying over the loss of that cold, cold swim or the 3:30am alarm to get the gear back to the transition area on time. 😉

Udon noodles, God’s gift to wheat?

I don’t know why it’s taken us so long to have udon noodles with a stir fry but holy cow those are delicious. It’s funny how firmly we fall into hard and fast habits, isn’t it? Usually we cook up white or brown rice, and while I do have some pre-cooked and ready to go in the fridge right now, I decided to grab a box of udon noodles on a whim while shopping today. Best decision in ages.

Also delicious? Chopping an entire finger of peeled ginger into teeny tiny chunks and dropping it in while the dried red chili’s, salt, pepper, a drip of fish sauce and a good splash of soy sauce thickened over some of this week’s sautéed CSA veggies and grocery store staples: small carrot dice, juvenile onion pieces, red and orange bell pepper squares, sliced mushrooms, and assorted sturdy greens wilted into soft, sweet oblivion.

Lunch leftovers

After more than a week of vegan grain bowls (I’ve been working is through all the leftover bits and bobs in my cupboard), it was a nice change of pace to slice a chicken breast into thin slices and brown that in some sesame oil.

What I should have added in was some of the Thai bail (with the purple flowers, below) from this week’s CSA herb haul. But as we’ve just started getting those in our box each week, that’s a habit we have yet to get into. Soon it’ll be second nature.

A pretty, tasty herb garden at our fingertips

I’m looking forward to putting the impulse jar of kimchi I grabbed at the market today to good use too. Bibimbap has been calling me since January, well since I first had it in Paris a year ago this past January, actually. I was an instant fan then and, since it’s a perfect fit for veggie odds & ends, like a stir fry is, it’s time to get to making it. Cross your fingers.

Next week is RAGBRAI and Jeff’s Uni roommate is coming into town to ride a few days of it with his daughter and Jeff. I’m going to doing copy edits while they pedal across the Iowa landscape, but will see them over the weekend and in the evenings. Lucky for them, this terrible heatwave is expected to break on Saturday night, just in time for us to make a night ride out to see a local destination bridge.