Keep Your Self-Critical Mouth Shut

Today’s post is mostly an admonition to myself after I realized something I do pretty regularly. The title really says it all, but I’ll elaborate. It wouldn’t be much of a blog post if I didn’t!

See, I recently moved and I’ve been really trying to make this new apartment seem more like “home” and less like someplace I’m going to watch TV and sleep until my lease runs out. There are so many things I love about this unique apartment, and with a great landlord and a fabulous friend living in the same building, it really is a joy to live here. I have loved many apartments I’ve had over the years, but this is by far the best place I’ve ever had to myself.

So, after a couple years living in a comfortable but minimalistic place without a single knick-knack or decoration besides some pictures on the walls, I decided to buckle down, think through some decorative choices, invest in some bookshelves and furniture, and assert a little more of myself into the space. A few trips to IKEA and some relatively painless building time, I had myself a nice TV stand and a little set of shelves – some of which we put some glass doors on to make them “classy” – and I opened the long-packed boxes of books and random treasures and started to find them new homes in my new place.

I’m sure you’re wondering where the “shut up” part of this story comes, since all I’ve done is gush about how much I love my apartment so far. Well, it comes next when the occasion came along for a couple friends and I to meet to discuss a project we’re taking on and I thought it would be fun to host the meeting so I could show them my new place.

Perfectly Fine Imperfect Shelves

As I busied myself around the apartment before them came over, cleaning the sinks, shuffling things around the shelves, folding blankets, etc, I caught myself pre-emptively making excuses for the things I didn’t quite think were “right” yet. Serious thoughts came into my head like, “Oh, I can just tell them that the junk on the bottom shelves still needs to be sorted”…”I can mention how I think I probably need new sheets to match the new bedroom”…”I can point out the dust on the windowsills I didn’t clean yet and comment about how gross I am”…Wait, what?! *cue record screeching halt*

STOP.

STOP STOP STOP.

Here I am in a place that is not perfect, but that I still love and am proud of. Why on earth would I point out its flaws when I can share the things I truly love? Why criticize myself when I instead can take a little bit of pride in what I’ve put together? Will my friends notice the random un-done stuff? Maybe. Will they care? I truly doubt it. Does it matter? No. Right then and there I decided to not voice a single one of those thoughts.

Bathroom

Bathroom Peacocks. For reals.

When my friends showed up, I showed them the new shelves, and the peacocks on the bathroom walls (true story), and the washer and dryer (YOU GUYS. I have a washer and dryer!!), and I kept my mouth shut about the flaws. I shared my vision for things I didn’t have yet, but didn’t make excuses for not having them. They ooh-ed and ahh-ed and shared my excitement; I felt better about not tearing myself down. I consider that a win.

Even now, I still have sorting and arranging to do. I have bedroom furniture to buy. But I also have a great place to kick up my feet and enjoy, and now it even comes with a little bit of positive self-awareness. If you visit, there might be dusty windowsills or a dirty kitchen floor or a haphazard pile of sheet music on my book shelf, but I’m gonna do my best not to point them out to you.

Foodie Friday: Comfort Pot Pie

Yesterday, I did not want to get out of bed.  I spent most of the day wishing I could go back to bed.  The high was 10° F (with a windchill high of 0° F).  When I left the office, this is what it looked like outside:

Yeah, that sky only looks blue in this photo. It's about the same color as the road, snow, house, and trees.  And cars, since they're all covered in salt.

Yeah, that sky only looks blue in this photo. It’s about the same color as the road, snow, house, and trees. And cars, since they’re all covered in salt.

And I was starving.  All together, an urgent call for comfort food.  Chicken pot pie, here I come!

Incidentally, many of the ingredients in this recipe come from a chicken.  I’ll have to show you what to do with a chicken someday.

Here’s the cast of characters:

An onion, celery, a red carrot (I grew it!), and some sad little hakurei turnips from my CSA last fall.  Those things last forever.

An onion, celery, a red carrot (I grew it!), and some sad little hakurei turnips from my CSA last fall. Those things last forever.

Some chicken leftover from Sunday's roast.

Some chicken leftover from Sunday’s roast.

Chop up the veggies:

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By the way, this is a great time to introduce the stock bag!  Any veggie trimmings, peels, etc. (usually onions, celery, and carrots) go into this gallon ziploc bag that hangs out in my freezer until I make a pot of stock.  (Stock recipes coming soon.)  No brassicas, though – broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc. – they’ll make your stock smell like farts.

This is my stock bag.  Any ends of veggies (usually onions, celery, and carrots) go into this gallon ziploc in my freezer.  No brassicas, though - broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc. - they'll make your stock smell like farts.

This is my stock bag!

And sauté them in some butter until they’re tender, the onion is just barely browning on the edges, and the carrots are not rock-hard.  Chop up your chicken, if you need to – big chunks are nice, or you can chop it a bit finer if you have less chicken and want to stretch it.

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I had plenty of chicken, so nice big chunks here.

You can throw your chicken in now, or you can wait until after you make your gravy.  In general, if your chicken is frozen, wait until you make the gravy.  In general, actually, you’re supposed to put the chicken in after you make the gravy, but I got all excited and threw it in early, and it didn’t hurt anything.

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Then throw in a small handful (1/8 cup?) of flour:

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And stir that in until it’s mixed.  Then you add some chicken stock (do you sense a theme here?), somewhere around a cup or so, stirring as you go.  You want to end up with a nice thick bubbly gravy, but not glue.

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Homemade is best, but use whatever you’ve got – a carton, can, “Better than Bullion,” or even just a bullion cube dissolved in water.

And, because I forgot to throw this in before I made the gravy, add a handful of herbs, plus some salt and pepper:

I grew these!  And it's totally not weed - that's sage.

I grew these! And it’s totally not weed – that’s sage and thyme.

If you’re a little confused about the order here, the point is that it doesn’t actually matter all that much, as long as you have sautéed veggies, gravy, chicken and herbs together in a pan/pot/skillet at this stage in the game.

Put that in a baking dish that’s big enough to hold it.

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And then top it with your favorite biscuit, pie crust, or puff pastry.  I whipped up the biscuit topping from this (awesome on its own merits) recipe using whole wheat flour instead of cornmeal and mixing the cheese right into the dough:

Hell yeah, food processor.

Hell yeah, food processor.

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Biscuits on top.

And then you bake it.  I’ve found that when in doubt, bake on 350° F until it’s lightly browned and/or bubbly.  In this case, I left it in for about 30 minutes.

Golden brown on top, bubbly around the edges.

Golden brown on top, bubbly around the edges.

It’ll be kind of like napalm when you take it out of the oven, so let it sit for a few minutes.

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And let me tell you, it was terrible.

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And then I climbed into bed and went to sleep.

Foodie Friday: Dad’s Recipe Pot Roast

My mom did most of the cooking in my house, so it was only here and there that my dad made dinner.  He only did a few special dishes, and this is one of the top five or so.  I’d come home from school and the whole house would smell savory and mouthwatering (making that 6pm dinnertime seems awfully far away!).  The carrots and onions were my favorite, along with the meat that often couldn’t be sliced because it would just fall apart under the knife.  I’ve made this dish more times than I can count and it never disappoints!

Since I’m on a somewhat snug food budget at the moment, I’ve been looking for ways to help eat out less.  (Have I mentioned that there’s a lot of really good restaurants in Columbus?)  One of the biggest temptations for me is when I get home from a particularly brain-heavy day at work, and all I want to do is stare at a wall for a few hours.  If I don’t have anything I can make very quickly, of a tasty enough calibre to beat out the temptation of the several dozen wonderful places I can walk to from my house, I end up taking the walk.  So my theory here was to make a mongo batch of pot roast, enjoy dinner and then freeze dinner-sized portions of the rest.  This recipe also works just fine with normal amounts of food, so give it a try! Continue reading

Step Right Up!

Anyone else have a job that keeps you sitting at your desk all day? Anyone else feel like a lump who never geTin Tin Takes The Stairsts up and on her feet? Not just me, right?

There are a number of reasons why getting up and about is a good great idea during the day, and any number of reasons why you might not. But, one really ridiculously easy thing that I’ve been doing for the last few months to get myself up and about at work is taking the stairs to the bathroom anytime I need a break.

I have the mis/fortune of working on the 7th floor of my building, which means its a bit of a stretch to take the stairs all the way up (though there are impressive people with whom I work who do this!), but there’s plenty of room to go up or go down during the day. So, I’ve experimented with all my options within the range of +/- 4 floors before I settled on my current choice: Floor 4. Three floors down and three back up at 20 stairs a floor – you know I’ve counted! – that’s 60 extra steps up per trip, and I’m covering somewhere between 6-12 extra flights of stairs a day without much effort or thought. I started with one floor, then added another, and now I’m up to three.

This isn’t going to make you crazy fit and toned or lose 10 pounds, but it will get you into the habit of moving around more in an otherwise sedentary day and can help “refine your routine” towards some other healthy habits. I’m definitely finding those three flights of stairs getting easier over time, and might even start going for four soon. You can even mix it up with a variation like skipping a step on the way up to really work your legs.

Pro-tip: If you can do this, take the stairs down to the bathroom. If you go up and you get the blood pumping, you may find yourself breathing a little extra hard in the bathroom which I imagine could be pretty embarrassing if someone else is in there. Not that I would know. Definitely never happened to me. Nope….No way…

If you don’t work in a multi-floor building like I do, maybe take the long way around, park an extra couple floors up in the parking deck or find some other way to put a few extra steps in your day. Take a look at your typical day, identify an opportunity to do a little bit more and then try it. Start small and build on that over time.

Do any of you fellow office workers have suggestions on how you’ve added a bit of fitness to your work day? Skylar wrote a while back about her Stability Ball Chair, which still sounds intriguing to me, though I haven’t tried it yet. And, has anyone figured out how to avoid the office snacks yet?? I could really use a magic trick to build resistance to those sugary temptations!

a black plate with separate piles of onion, carrot and potato

Foodie Friday: Why Are We In This Handbasket?

So, Lyz, why food?  Why blog about food when there are already approximately one billion food blogs out there, all with fantastic recipes and beautiful photography and accompanying shows on TV?

Well, the short answer is that I love food.  The slightly longer answer is that I really enjoy cooking (and basically all other aspects of food), and I often post pictures of whatever I’m making on Facebook.  People seem to enjoy the posts, often ask for recipes, and engage with them – but to be honest, Facebook is a crummy format for that sort of thing.  So I toyed around with the idea of blogging about food, and here we are.

Two bowls of homemade caesar salad

Homemade caesar salad is pretty incredible!

How did we get to be here? (Sondheim, anyone?)  Well, when I was growing up, dinner was not optional.  My family sat at the dining room table to enjoy a home-cooked meal (and one another’s company, I suppose) at 6:00 pm, seven days a week, probably on the order of 355 days a year.  We ate from-scratch meals even when we were on our week-long summer camping trips (at 6pm, by the way).  Eating out was the most special of activities, reserved for either road trips or birthday dinners.

I brought that with me as I moved into adulthood.  While I eat out more now than I did as a kid (after all, there’s a lot of great food in this town, and you can learn a lot from eating things that other people make), and dinnertime in my house is more flexible, dinner itself is not optional – and I eat at a dining room table with my spouse every night.  (Location of said table may vary.)

A pot of stew with carrots, potato, and lamb meat

A few simple ingredients can become a warm, comforting meal for a cold night. What’s not to love?

But I’ve learned something along the way.  I’ve learned to really *love* food – not just eating (although I do love to eat!) – but everything about it.  Shopping – looking at all the lovely delicious things available, talking to the people making/growing/selling it, and choosing which ones I’m going to work with.  Cooking – using my hands to turn a pile of veggies and a chicken in to one or more delicious meals.  Eating – did I mention that one already? I really like to eat.  Reading – I love to see what others are doing with food, learn about new food, understand where our food comes from and how it fits into our lives and society and world.

bags of key limes for sale at a local grocer

Aren’t they just the cutest teeny little things?

And so my hope, in posting here on Fridays, is that I can share some of that love with you, and help you enjoy this weird thing we do several times a day, every single day of our lives.

To be fair, this is probably not going to be quite like most food blogs out there.  Food blogs employ many wonderful things that you will not find here, such as:

  • two grilled cheese sandwiches being cooked on a griddle

    These are grilled cheese sandwiches. They were tasty. They took about 10 minutes. Julia Child this is not.

    Fancy food photography – no light box, no SLR – I have an iPhone and an iPad.

  • Painstaking, complex, get-every-dish-in-your-kitchen-dirty-and-spend-three-hours-doing-it recipes.  Nope.  Who has time for that?  (Unless you do, in which case, more power to you.  But you’ll have to go somewhere else for recipes.)
  • Elegant, eye-catching food arrangement.  I love the way the Japanese arrange their food, and how really outstanding restaurants place things together just so.  I do not love doing it myself.
  • Recipes the way you think of them, with lists of ingredients and detailed step-by-step explanations.
  • Baking (such as bread, pastries, etc.) – it requires rather precise measurements, and I don’t usually have the patience for that.
  • Seafood – I live in central Ohio; there is not seafood here. I don’t have much exposure to it or experience cooking it.
  • “Woo” or preaching – this is food, not voodoo mysticism.  My food is not better than your food.

What you will find here:

  • a black plate with separate piles of onion, carrot and potato

    Chop up an onion, a carrot, and some fingerling potatoes…

    Walkthroughs on how to make tasty food, with pictures from my trusty iDevices.

  • Posts about both vegetarian and meat-based food.  Take what you want, leave what you don’t.
  • Links to recipes that I started from – very often I make something as a variation on another recipe, or just straight up make something that someone else made first.  I love sharing!
  • Real-world measurements (a carrot or two, about a handful of chopped parsley, that container of broth).  No “1/4 cup chopped onion” – what are you going to do, chop 1+ onions and then measure out the choppings?  No way!
  • Occasional musings about food in our society/media/etc., but only as relevant and only if I have something worth saying about it.  I generally won’t post anything if I do not feel educated enough on the issue to take a stance.
  • Occasional forays into the more obscure realms of food – canning, fermenting, cheese-making, etc.  Not that anyone is going to be coming to me to learn about how to make cheese or sauerkraut – I see them more as experiments and sharing experiences.  Sometimes these things are way easier than they seem.  Sometimes they’re a disaster.  They’re often good stories worth telling.

So there.  And in case you feel cheated from having a Foodie Friday post without anything edible in it, try this.  The next time you’re looking at a PB&J for lunch, get out the griddle and grill it up like you would a grilled cheese sandwich (thin butter on the outside of the bread, low heat, turn when it’s golden brown).  Be careful, the J will be a close approximation of napalm, but it’s so very worth it.

a grilled PB&J sandwich with a glass of milk

I did not take this photo, nor create this recipe: I found it on everyday occasions by Jenny Steffens Hobick.

5 Tips for the Overwhelmed Newbie Cook

I have spent the greater part of the last year attempting to learn how to cook. It has always been something that I figured that I probably could do but wasn’t sure where to start, and the sheer number of ingredients that are required to cook even basic things when you have an empty spice cabinet, pantry, and refrigerator makes even a basic meal “expensive” when it requires buying a whole bottle of chili powder, for example. Those of you who really cook may think that’s crazy, but I’m betting I’m not the only person who has found herself in the kitchen clueless about where to begin.

I’m sitting here a year later with the ability to read a recipe and realize that I have everything on hand or I only need to run to the store for a couple items on the way home. It’s a huge change and it took a long time to get to this point, so I thought with the new year I would take a look back and see if I could take a few lessons from the experience.

Note: I am by no means an expert, an expert cook, or have a perfect pantry. This is just my own newbie experience. 🙂

  1. Start small. This probably seems obvious, but I had to learn this the hard way. Look for basic recipes that include only a few ingredients so you don’t have to shell out $30 just to make a chicken breast with a chili garlic white wine reduction (Is that a real thing? I just made that up, but it sounds kinda good…) when all you own is salt and pepper. Find a recipe that includes garlic or chili and start from there to keep your grocery bill and your chances of things going wrong down.
  2. Stick to Google; avoid the shiny Pinterest beacon. I know everyone is Pinterest obsessed these days, but I’ve found that a lot of the popular/delicious looking pins are links that go nowhere or end up being the notorious chili garlic white wine reduction chicken. Instead, try a simple Google search for “garlic chicken” and see what your search savvy fingers can find! I’ve had a lot more personal success with Google than Pinterest. Also, I personally find Pinterest to be a time suck and by the time I’ve pinned 25 salmon recipes that sound good, I’m so over the idea of cooking salmon.
  3. Think small in the bulk foods. I’m very lucky to have a Sprouts grocery store near my apartment, and one of the things they have is a huge bulk foods section. Now, despite the name which sounds like you should be buying Sam’s Club-sized quantities, bulk foods means that you can buy tiny amounts of stuff of which you don’t need an entire container. If you want to try a quinoa, but you’re not sure if you like it, grab one of those plastic bags and scoop yourself a 1/2 cup from the giant quinoa bin and only risk a few cents instead of a few bucks for a prepackaged 1 lb. bag. Sprouts also has a bulk spice section which really helps cut down the cost on spicing up a recipe when your spice cabinet is bare. Whole Foods also has a sizeable bulk foods section if you don’t have a Sprouts.
  4. Pick an ingredient and start there. I found I had the most success when I started with an ingredient and looked around to see what I could do with it. For a couple months, I was quinoa obsessed and found a few recipes that were built on it. When I started with the entire world of cooking open to me, it was too much to figure out, but choosing a base to start from and expand from there was enormously helpful in giving me some focus.
  5. Have fun and make leftovers! Yes, cooking is a practical and life-sustaining skill, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, too! Don’t be afraid to try new things, make mistakes, and have enough leftovers to sustain your week in lunch. If you’re going to spend a solid chunk of your evening chopping vegetables, might as well make enough to take a couple extra meals for later.

I hope these were tips were at least mildly helpful. If you have any other suggestions for someone just starting out with cooking, leave a comment and maybe we can even build this list out more!

Also, stay tuned for a lot more great food-related content on the blog! Starting this Friday, Lyz is joining the Routine Refinement team and will be sharing her much more seasoned (see what I did there?) insight on all things food! So, be sure to check back on Friday! I can’t wait to see what she has to share!