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.


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


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)

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.

An incomplete list

So I’ve been putting this off for a while because I didn’t really know what to include, what to keep out, where to go with it, so here it is in all its rocky road in a waffle cone stream of consciousness glory. It’s a mess, but a tasty one. Grab a few napkins for the drive home.

I gave up trying to be happy about two years ago, which has made me a lot happier. Striving for the sake of striving just meant I wasn’t stopping to notice what I already had. It kept me stuck in dissatisfaction, unable to see my progress, a prisoner to the illusion of perfection just around the bend. I’ve given myself permission to be okay or even not very good at things, so long as I enjoy them. I don’t need to be the best to love something. Miss Middle of the Road is having a mighty fine time lately as a result. I’ve given myself permission to give up on things that I’ve gotten pretty good at, simply because I don’t really enjoy them or because when I stopped to think about it, I realized that they make me miserable in the long-term. Some societal gold sticker wasn’t worth the pain. I don’t need kudos or approval from anyone else about what I do with my time or how I spend my days, where I go, who I go with or how much time I spend there.

I stopped wondering if I was putting too much, too little, the right/wrong kind of effort into friendships and just started doing what I felt like doing and for whom. Treating them well, with honesty and respect, but letting go of the quantity markers.

Similarly, I stopped wondering why certain people seemed to have lost interest in my friendship or what I could do about it. I acknowledged that out of sight sometimes means out of mind – and that I was sometimes just as guilty of it. I didn’t need to work so hard at friendships. Some are daily, some are weekly, some are monthly and some are when I see you, that’s cool. And when I don’t, that’s cool too. And if things fade, things fade. And we’re both still good folks.

I once got an unintentional punch-to-the-gut ‘compliment’ that was actually a fairly damning self-respect wake up call, and it was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. It reminded me that I deserved better and that I damn well better start expecting better. After a few years of an emotional descent, it was the ice pick that helped me climb up the crevasse I’d slid down, back up to myself.

I have my slip ups, but mostly I’ve stopped caring about what others think of me. Don’t like my style of photo? cool  Think I’m a lazy fuck for not having a regularly scheduled job? no prob  My tweets make you roll your eyes at my simpleness or bring out the online troll in your soul? don’t let the virtual door hit you on the way out  Think my husband is nuts for not blowing a gasket every time I travel without him, even those times I travel with another man? good that i’m not married to you  Think my hobbies are stupid, time-consuming, and self-indulgent? alrighty o  Feel like mocking me or giving me a mini lecture every time I crash my bike, break a bone, toss my cookies post-run on a hot day, or — even better — reeling off the number of people who die swimming in open water every year? please know I’m singing the lalala song in my head the whole time

I don’t care what other people have as possessions, careers, pet projects, pet peeves, vacations or physical appearance. I know what I value and I’m comfortable with what I don’t have. You love the shit out of your perfectly decorated home? I think that’s great. I’m happy just keeping mine clean. You get hard posting your latest training stats on Strava or hitting that next PR? Dim the lights, pour that protein shake into your fanciest glass and get your funk on. Send me the link and I’ll send you a virtual high five (after you’ve washed your hands). Your new job is going to have you drowning in the $’s? Cash money, baby. Next round’s on you.

I’ve gotten real comfy with not being comfortable. I’ve gotten pretty cozy with the whole truth and speaking the truth even when it would be much nicer to ignore, downplay or flip-flop to ensure someone else’s comfort. Jeff and I have had a few not so comfortable conversations the last 18 months, about things we should have brought up decades ago, and the sky hasn’t fallen. Indeed, things are really good, although not always pleasant while we’re in the middle of it.

Nowadays I apologize as needed, full-on apologize, no excuses and without qualification apologize. Hold my mistakes and my misunderstandings outstretched in my own two hands and change my behavior apologize. Huge difference. I’ve always been a little stingy in the genuine apology department. Not proud of that, but it’s true. And when I don’t have anything to apologize for, I don’t.

Likewise, I’ve learned to spot when my Victims-Are-Us frequent-shopper punchcard is itching to come out and when someone else is waving theirs. Sorry, that discount has expired. (Please insert the What are Boundaries and Why are They Important? article of your choice here.)

I’ve gotten to the point (again) where I’m ready to walk from relationships, if and when necessary, by removing from my life those that routinely (or infrequently but significantly) have a negative impact on my life. Life’s too short for shitty friends and selfish lovers. I hope you’re nodding along here, because you know it’s true. By being prepared to walk away, I find that I’m always in the active state of choosing which relationships to sustain, feeding the ones which have a positive impact on both our lives. Some of those relationships aren’t always canyons deep and oceans wide. But if they’re positive, I value them. Sometimes we change people for the better by walking away and shutting the door. I received proof of that this week. I’m going to leave it at that.

No matter how diligently I pursue the things I want, if I do things right I’m still going to die (fingers crossed a good half-century from now) with a long list of things I wish I’d done, things I wish I’d learned, books I wish I’d read, things I wish I’d seen, people I wish I’d gotten to know better. At least I hope I will. I can only do so much; but I’ll do what I can. Unfulfilled dreams don’t need to equal dissatisfaction. I hope I’m trying new things, meeting new people, going new places and holding the people I love and cherish close until my last gasp. Sometimes I’ll fail, sometimes I’ll succeed. That’s how it goes. Will I have anything that could be called a legacy? Pff, hell if I know. If my son, husband, friends and family feel they’ve been loved unconditionally. That’s good enough for me. If I’ve set some good examples and given them a thing or two to emulate or think about along the way, even better.

Time to get some sleep. A new week and all its many tasks will soon be upon me.