Garage: clean

The garage was cluttered. And dirty. It was long past time for a cleaning, and we did it last week. We took everything out, swept, hosed off, organized, and got rid of quite a lot of junk.

Red Chief made parking spots for the bikes with masking tape. We put the emergency water storage on shelves instead of all over the floor. We wiped the sawdust and grime off of everything. Our trash and recycling bins are full, full, full. 

I knew I didn't like the dirt, but I never knew what a negative effect it had on me until we got it clean.

It feels so nice in there now.



I thought this documentary was fascinating (there are three parts). I can't wait to read the book: Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Door.

Can you imagine having someone come over and photograph in all the hidden nooks and crannies? I know we have too much stuff. I want to get rid of what we don't need. Every time I take a trunk load to donate, it feels so good.


Moving along

I guess I haven't been much of a blogger lately. Life happens. There are a rare few days here and there when I think that I have it all together, but between I'm generally overwhelmed to some degree. Lately we've been hit with a nasty cold. It's so sad to hear Baby coughing and see his cheeks diminish as he refuses to eat. He seems to be on the mend now, though. Then I realize that Red Chief was supposed to have a big school project done today, and I've forgotten the Lucky Charms for "Leprechaun Day" tomorrow, and I'm behind on laundry again . . .

I've had to make some compromises lately to keep my sanity. One is going back to simpler meals and slow cooker meals, and buying our bread. I like super-healthy cooking and I want to go back as soon as I can, but for now, my sanity has to take precedence. I have more energy and attention for the children as well when I don't have to stress over dinner.

But life is good. We keep busy with things we enjoy (and some we don't, but such is life). I love watching Baby grow and develop. He's so happy. I'm in constant denial about the scope of his growth, with the result that his clothes are always too small, and by the time I get out the next size up, it's often on the snug side already.

My favorite thing lately is reading to the kids at night. We're nearly done with the second Oz book. I have to relax about bedtime sometimes to get our reading in, but I'm glad we do it. We all look forward to it, and my mind is full of hundreds of books I want to read to them.


Pizza cake

Red Chief was supposed to bring a cake to his Blue and Gold Banquet. We looked at pictures together on Pinterest and he decided to do a pizza cake. My only requirement was that it had to be something simple (because of course he was attracted to insanely complicated Minecraft cakes).

We used a cake mix and storebought frosting (dyed red-orange). Toppings were shredded coconut for cheese, fruit rolls cut into circle shapes for pepperoni, dried candied pineapple, and black and green licorice cut strategically to represent olives and peppers. We baked the cake in a disposable pizza pan (actually three of them stacked, because they were so flimsy).

I think it turned out well. Red Chief did a great job, and he was deservedly proud of it.


Sometimes you need a new format

I've been struggling with menu planning lately. Oh, I'll plan the menus, but then during the week I just throw out the plan and make whatever's easy. Although I'm pretty good at using stuff up, I do end up with more waste when I don't follow my plan.

This week I tried a new menu planning format. I wrote down six categories and came up with two meals for each (we eat frozen pizza on Saturdays). I tried to include meals we like and that are easy to prepare. I always write the ingredients we need for a meal on my shopping list as I add it to my menu.

Here's the plan:
Ethiopian tomato salad wraps
Kale salad

Broccoli "cheese"
Kitchen sink soup (to use up whatever's left at the end of two weeks)

Cashew cabbage
Green bean stir-fry (double)

Pasta / other
Lentil loaf and baked potatoes
Lasagna soup (lots of substitutions) and storebought crunchy rolls

One pan Mexican quinoa
Texas caviar with chips

Slow cooker
Aloo gobi
Green tomato and split pea stew
I do better at making dinner when it's simple, so I will try to get things ready ahead of time. Also I have planned to use as many frozen veggies as possible which really cuts down on prep time. Here are some things I can do:
Bring in tomatoes from garage to ripen
Make and refrigerate salads ahead of time
Make lentil loaf ahead of time
Chop all veggies at once (especially jalapeños)
Assemble and freeze slow cooker meals
Cook and freeze brown rice
Did I ever mention that we've been eating mostly vegan since the new year? There are a few things we still enjoy, but we've cut way down: less than 1 gallon of milk (mostly for cereal) every two weeks instead of 4 gallons; 1/2–1 pound of cheese every two weeks instead of 4 pounds; 1 cup yogurt apiece for the kids as a special treat each store trip instead of a flat of 12; and of course no meat (although we've been using up what little is in the freezer). Instead we are buying a ton more veggies (fresh and frozen), frozen fruits (for smoothies), and nuts. I think that's a pretty good trade. I can't believe how much cheese we were eating!

The transition was not too painful since we've been eating mostly meatless for years. We have started to find new recipes we love, and now I'm able to pull from a list of things we have tried and liked in the past few months instead of making something new every night. I usually love making new recipes, but doing it every single night was a bit overwhelming for me with a new baby.

Speaking of Baby, want to see a picture?

Four months already


Family history

I've been researching my family history the last couple of weeks. It's something I do in spurts—a whole bunch for a month, and then maybe I won't touch it again for a year. I've been blessed this session to find a lot of resources from distant cousins who come from different branches of my family tree, and I've been able to find several faces to put with names.


I love being surprised by a photograph in my research.

I've found several entries in Google Books for two family members, one in metalworking journals and the other in Brown University alumni magazines. I never expected to find information there. Thank you Google! I love that so many old records are digitized.

The man above was brother to my great-something grandfather. I've been working on his line, and I believe that his last descendant died in 1981. I'm glad that I have found them and that there is someone to remember them.


Reading the Brontës

I've always loved the Brontë sisters' novels. It started with Jane Eyre when I was in eighth grade. These sisters intrigue me. Where did three single daughters of a parson get such passionate, dark, feminist, and even supernatural themes?

I've been re-reading Wuthering Heights this past month, and I've come up with a crazy idea. I want to read (or re-read) all the Brontë sisters' novels this year.

Here's a list. Books I've already read (but will still read again this year) are marked with asterisks.

Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre*
The Professor 
Tales of Angria

Emily Brontë
Wuthering Heights*

Anne Brontë
Agnes Grey
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall*

Poems by Currer, Acton, and Ellis Bell (the Brontës' pen names) 
The Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Brontë Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne by Catherine Reef


Recently tried recipes


I've tried a ton of new recipes lately. We've had a lot of healthy, yummy food this month.

Everyday vegetable soup. This was quite yummy, and a good, flexible recipe for a vegetable soup.

Beet soup and broccoli soup. I quite enjoyed making these simple, puréed soups (in my blender!). I altered them so I steamed the veggies first, then blended, then heated. I used canned beets. The website they're from claims they're good for "detox" and "liver cleanse": I'm not so sure about that.

Rainbow peanut noodles. A new favorite! We loved these.

Cashew cabbage. Yummy, and super fast if you use a bag of pre-cut cabbage and carrots (for coleslaw).

Burrito bowl. This was a hit with the whole family: the kids loved being able to pick what went in their bowls. It lacked something in the flavor department even though I seasoned the black beans, so I'll work on that next time we have this.

Vegan broccoli and cheese soup. I swore I'd never try out vegan fake cheese flavors, but I can't help it: I'm culinarily curious. And this soup was actually quite good. Everyone wants to have it again.

One-pan Mexican quinoa with cashew sour cream. See above. I wasn't going to make the fake sour cream; it sounded gross. But we didn't have any real sour cream, so I tried it, and it was good. The kids liked it so much that they left none for their poor daddy, who had to work late.

Spaghetti with beanballs. Meh. The kids loved these, but I didn't like them: they were very mushy. I'll probably make them again because they made the kids so happy.

Apple brownies. These were pretty good although a bit cakey.

Mashed chickpeas with green chiles. This makes a great sandwich filling. I am looking for alternatives to lunch meat, so I'm glad to have found this.

Hummus. This was pretty bland to me. I'm trying to write down what I put in my version so I can make it consistently.


The fancy blender club

I love working in the kitchen, and I love browsing online for new recipes and ideas. For years now I've been seeing smoothies and ice creams made with fancy (expensive!) blenders. My thirty-dollar blender could barely get through a smoothie, and I usually had to shake and prod it to get it to finish. There were usually chunks left at the end, and the finished product was accompanied by a disturbing smell coming from the base of the poor overworked blender.

I wondered for years whether getting an expensive blender would be worth it. Everyone who has one seems to rave about it, but really, it's just a blender, right? I didn't get it. I only used my blender once or twice a month.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I finally took the plunge and bought a Vitamix at the end of last year, hoping that I would not be suffering buyer's remorse the day after. The first week I had it, I had a ton of fun playing around with recipes and trying techniques from the cookbook that came with it.

But now, four weeks later, guess what? I'm still using it daily. We have smoothies nearly every day now, I make puréed soups more often just because it's so easy, and we enjoy making healthy ice cream–like desserts from frozen fruit.

Was it worth it? I paid $329 for a reconditioned blender. I did some research and tried to choose a blender that people were happy with, that would last a long time, and that comes with a warranty.

So far I am happy. I have a hard time putting a price tag on whether it was worth it. But I now use my blender 1–2 times daily instead of 1–2 times monthly. My family is eating (drinking, I guess) more fruits and vegetables, especially at breakfasttime. I have one more resource in my arsenal of kitchen tools (or toys, depending how you look at it), and I can do more things in the kitchen now. I love that it just works.

I'm happy.

What sort of blender do you have? Are you happy with it? Do you think it's worth paying hundreds of dollars for a blender?


Brown basmati rice


Saturday, we visited an international market and enjoyed some Ethiopian food, which I've always wanted to try since I attempted to make some for a school project when I was about fourteen. It was amazing.

While I was there I picked up a bag of brown basmati rice and another of teff flour. Is it sad that I geek out about different varieties of whole grains?

This morning I cooked up a triple batch of the rice for the freezer and for dinner tonight. While I was at it, I made a batch of multi-grain bread and a triple batch of stir-fry sauce to keep in the fridge for quick dinners. I also prepped the veggies that were in the fridge and did lots of dishes. Dinners shouldn't be too hard this week after my morning in the kitchen.

Thank you for sleeping, Baby.