For the past 5 or 6 years I have spent my Thanksgiving with the people I love the most. Not my family, but the family I have found support in. This year I was supposed to be in Africa, but that changed. So I spent my first Thanksgiving away from my chosen family in Sacramento with my chosen partner in crime. He is on call today. This means he could have to leave at any moment for any sort of cable outage. He cannot drink, and for us, drinking is a huge part of our holiday. I know we are supposed to sit down and talk about all the things we are thankful for, but seriously we should be thankful every single moment of every single day! Why set aside one day a year to show people we love them and are glad they are in our lives?
Being a vegetarian, I obviously do not eat turkey. Being that it is just the two of us, if I made a turkey, Richard would have to consume 5 times his weight in bird goo! I wanted to make a decadent meal. As a person who probably should have become a chef but never realized it, I look forward to events where I am able to show off my culinary finesse. I sometimes even make up reasons to do so! This year was no exception, except for the fact that my kitchen is really not set up for any sort of baking.
We started off our day with my favorite, french pressed coffee and a few glasses of water. My coffee is one of my favorite rituals. I hand grind my beans and then put them in the french press. I add a teaspoon of organic vanilla extract, not the imitations stuff. I also add a teaspoon of nutmeg, cinnamon and ground cloves, I then add the water and allow it to “brew”. I have been thinking that I might change-up my spices and try cardamom. I then use a coconut creamer. I savor every last drop of this magical blend and I never have to add sweetener to it. One of my greatest joys in life is a cup of coffee as I look out my window.
I was going to make breakfast, but that just did not really happen. Instead I proceeded to make this Hungarian dish called a Galette. I got the recipe from Eating Well Magazine, November/December 2014. This was delicious and I told Richard after he ate a couple of pieces that it had chard on it. He was surprised, he does not like chard, normally. I thought this dish was delicious, although I did not have ricotta so I subbed in cottage cheese and used just a few teaspoons. Sometimes you have to be inventive. I did not have a food processor or a hand mixer so I used a blender, which required some holding in the air and tipping in different directions, not something I would recommend. Also when the dough needed to be rolled out, I used a glass jar full of flour to replace a rolling-pin. Sometimes you just use what you have. While that was cooking I set out a bit of brie and goat cheese with crackers. I also warmed up my pumpkin dip. This was made by roasting a very small pumpkin two days before and the night before peeling and blending it with ground cumin, salt, cayenne pepper, green onions and a couple of tablespoons of cream cheese. It turned out brilliant! We snacked all day on these items.
After noon I pulled out my Sangria. I prepared it the night before, with a bottle of red table wine, some bourbon, orange juice and some fruity limeade. I also dropped a chopped persimmon, lemon, fresh mint and lime into the mix. This morning I dropped an apple core from the kale salad in it and some triple sec. Richard had the same combination without the liquor.
Yesterday I did the unthinkable! I beat some meat to a thin tender pulp. Richard wanted schnitzel instead of traditional dinner. So I picked out a nice pork loin and I beat it down. The funny thing is, I do not have a meat tenderizer. I had to compromise and use a sturdy pint glass. I must say this works very well. Once the meat is beat down I dredged it through flour and wrapped it up in the fridge overnight.
I cooked down some veggie broth with some shiitake mushroom bits in it for a very long time this afternoon. This was the base for the gravy. I cooked up some brown rice and mixed it with homemade celery soup, simply because it was what I had left over and needed to be used up. I added green beans and portabella mushroom bits. Richard loves green bean casserole, but I wanted to at least cut out a bunch of the preservatives. I even made my own french fried onions for the topping. I used regular milk instead of buttermilk and they turned out fine. One thing I did was let them sit overnight and then put them on a cookie sheet the next day and baked them for 25 minutes at 350. This helped dry them and crisp them up. Sadly the rice and celery soup were too under seasoned. I will pay attention to the flavor before I bake it next time.
For myself I made a portabella cap in a similar fashion to the schnitzel, minus the beating it down of course. We had decided to eat around 5, so I tried to time the food to that time. I made a rue, with butter and flour and slowly added the broth with the mushroom bits for the gravy. It turned out very well. It is a bit more difficult to whisk the clumps out with bits of mushroom floating around, but if you keep the broth hot and add it slowly it seems to work well. I put a pot of water on for the dumplings. These are items I picked up at a German sausage maker’s shop. You simply drop the pouch into cold water and let it stand for 10 minutes. While that was happening I heated up some oil and took the pork out and dredged it through some egg and then through a panko bread crumb, paprika and pepper mix. I really like to use the panko crumbs, they seem to crisp up the best. Once the meat is breaded, I gently drop it into the oil. I then prepare the next piece of meat. By the time I drop the second piece of meat into the oil the first one is ready to flip. While all this is happening the mushroom cap is on a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet in the oven. I simply pull the meat off as it gets done and stick it on the pan with the mushroom. I am very careful not to allow them to touch. During this process I turn the dumpling water on medium and let it come to rapid boil. By the time all the meat is done, the dumplings are ready to remove from the water.
I pulled the mushroom from the pan and put it in a cast iron skillet and fried it up to crisp the coating. Everything worked well timing wise and we had a lovely dinner. Last night I prepared the cookie dough for our dessert. I opted for this crazy rich chocolate snowcap cookies. I also found the recipe in the Eating Well magazine. Funny they had a whole article on a German themed Thanksgiving meal. I also found a kale salad recipe. This morning I was busy half the morning baking cookies. I should have halved the recipe, 4 dozen cookies is too much for just the two of us.
The one thing I think I am proudest of is that I kept my kitchen clean. This is not normal for me. I was expecting a FaceTime call from my friends in Seattle and so I wanted to make sure the place was clean. I kept all the dishes washed, and due to having limited resources I used them plenty. All in all it was a very nice day. We ended it with a walk along the river and a FaceTime call from friends. I have the greatest people in my life. My friend Johnny got a bit teary eyed and he said that he had never tried to Skype or FaceTime before, but it made him feel like we were right there. I got a few calls through out the day from people who felt like I should be there. That is something to be truly grateful for!
I love Richard. He is the best. When we fight it is usually because we are both so drunk we cannot figure out the intention of what the other is saying. I told him that once, he has not gotten that drunk since I mentioned it. That is the most important thing in our relationship, we listen to each other. He tells me that I am doing something that bothers him, and I try to change it. I tell him he does something hurtful and he tries to change it.
So I like to live life on the edge. I really do not believe in living conventionally. You can see it with my food choices, my lifestyle, my education, you can see it in almost everything that I do. My relationship is no different. It is unconventional. I left two summers ago to bike across the country. Last summer I left with the Peace Corps, technically I should still be gone, but Ebola happens. I have just accepted a new position with the Peace Corps to work on environmental education in Jamaica. I am so excited to be doing something that I am so much more passionate about.
So what happens to my relationship when I leave and come back all the time? Well for many this would be a deal breaker, but for us it is akin to having a spouse serving in the military abroad. You just kind of go with it. Richard was asked last week why he put up with me running away so much? His response was the best ever. He told me after I made him two sandwiches before I went to bed Tuesday night since he had to work at midnight, this is what love looks like. I had forgotten that I left him a little note with his sandwiches. I used to leave them on his car or truck back when he worked strange hours. He keeps the notes, every last one. I guess maybe when he feels lonely he digs them out. He told his co-worker that he puts up with my leaving because he is not a dream killer. He also told them that this was what love looks like. He said he supports me because I have always supported him. It is not about finances, but it is about knowing that you have someone and something to come back to. I cannot imagine doing the things that I do and not having a place to come back to. I would likely never come back if there was nothing to come back to.
I am lucky, I get to live my life the way I want to now. It was not always that way, but I have finally lived my dreams. It sounds selfish, I know, but if he did not have obligations to support his children, I would support his treks around the World as well, or we would do them together. Either way, this is what love looks like. There is not guarantee that I will come back, there is no guarantee I will still be here when his time for dreams comes, but love is not expectant. Love just simply is, in the moment, it is.
So I want to love the food network. I really do, food shows all day every day, but I do not love it. In fact the one show I really loved seems to have disappeared. Jamie Oliver is one of my favorites. His show Jamie in the Garden made me want to put a kitchen out in the middle of the woods and scrounge for components to make a meal. Barefoot Contessa was one of the other shows that I liked.
What has happened to the Food Network? Oh yeah, the same thing that happened to all other stations. For some reason the staple go-to for this generation of television is reality shows! Are you serious? I really cannot stand to watch people pretend to not be acting in front of a camera. Seriously your lives are so made up that I cannot believe people buy into the “reality” shit!
I must stop here for a moment to breathe. As a vegetarian, I have really wanted at least one show, or one day focused on real vegetarian cuisine. As much as I like Ina and Jamie, they are meat centric chefs. Even Bobby Flay has great ideas, but again meat is the main idea. Rachel Ray, god I really hate her, is nothing more than a box food commercial in drag! Food Network should be about, food, like real food, plain simple and exotic ideas and not some corporate slogan.
One food host that absolutely grates my nerves is Guy Fieri. He is loud and makes an ass of himself almost daily. He eats the most disgusting things and promotes unhealthy food. Yet, he has this game show that I love. Guy’s Grocery Games is a competition that pits 4 chefs against each other. The competition is not what I like. What I like is the fact that these chefs are given a challenge and given real life situations. Things like limited resources, tight budgets and substitutions. These challenges inspire creativity. This is what I really love, the creativity of creating a meal from all frozen or canned foods. Things that might be what you get from a food bank. Granted, I am a fresh food cook, but once upon a time, I had to learn how to cook from the food bank.
Learning to cook from a food bank is really what developed my love of cooking. When it becomes a challenge to take a limited selection and create something delicious that your kids will eat, that is when I am most inspired. The show “Chopped” once did a competition with things that would normally be thrown out, things like browning avocados and onion end. To take these things and challenge ourselves to think outside the picnic basket is truly an inspiration. Not everything turned out well, but I keep trying new ideas and I keep trying to figure out ways to eat well on the cheap, and that inspires me beyond imagination.
Yesterday, after I finally got Richard up, we went for a nice bike ride. Not once in my life did I ever imagine doing anything outside in shorts in November. Yesterday I did just that. Almost too cold, but not quite. We decided to ride to Folsom, I have done this already, but he has not. One of the highlights of the new place is that we are right on the river and the bike trail is just two blocks up and across the bridge.
The first half of the ride was about pedaling. Really getting your heart and body moving was the goal. That is until we spotted turkeys along the bike trial! It is so amazing to see that. In Seattle I never saw wild turkeys, and it is almost Thanksgiving.
Later we found a boat launch and watched salmon jump about 5 ft out of the river. I have a soft spot for ducks. I love ducks of any variety. All along the river there were ducks. So many varieties, I even saw a pair of ducks I have never seen before. They were almost blue and much larger than the typical mallards.
We got to the lake at Nimbus Flats as the sun was starting to set. We decided that it was starting to get cold and dark and that trying to ride around the lake was not safe, so we headed back. Sometimes it feels like the ride back is longer and you have to pedal harder. Or maybe it was my knees starting to protest. Either way I slowed down a bit on the ride back, at least the first half of the ride back.
I am glad I had to slow down or I would have missed the greatest part of the entire ride. I happened to catch a glimpse of a jetty on the river. In the middle of the jetty surrounded by tall grass was the most amazing 3 pt buck I have ever seen. He stood and stared at me for a few moments, then as I was getting ready to leave he began to strut. I was obligated to take more pictures of this magnificent beast.
I am so glad that I bought a camera. I forgot how much I love taking pictures. I often think about buying a serious camera, but then I would have to lug it around. I am pretty happy with the little Coolpix camera. I am also happy with the Samsung I bought, I think it takes better pictures, but it is a bit bigger and I do not have a case for that one. The final thing I saw was absolutely amazing. After stopping to admire the buck I had to catch up to Richard. He was about a mile and a half ahead of me. He had stopped to wait for me and was starting to get worried. He stopped to watch the salmon spawning in the river. I have seen it before, but it is always an amazing sight to see.
Sadly the circle of life requires the salmon to die after spawning. Such a majestic and difficult journey up the river, to spawn and die. So tragic yet so meaningful, it is how I would like my death to be. A celebration of life in the midst of death.
When I cook potatoes in oil I always end up using a ton of oil. It takes forever and then I am left with an unhealthy side. I realized that I could cut the potatoes up into the size and shape I want, toss them in a covered bowl or dish with a lid and toss them in the oil first. I then add my salt and seasoning spread the potatoes or other root veggies onto a baking sheet and bake them at 350 for about 25 minutes, depending upon how thick the pieces are. This uses less oil, cooks more evenly and seasons better. If you want them crispier, be sure to rotate the vegetable as they cook. The sides touching the pan are the ones that get the crispiest.
My life has always been chaos. I seem to do best in chaos. In the last 2 years it has been more chaotic than ever. Maybe the fact that the kids moved out and I gave up stability for adventure is the root cause. Whatever the cause is not significant, how I function is. I am currently waiting to ship out again. I now know how military couples feel when they are sent on missions. Not that my life will be in the same amount of danger, but that separation anxiety and feeling of loss, I now understand it.
I always wanted to have a routine. You know a schedule you can count on, but for some reason as much as I think I want it, I cannot function this way. I need the crazy and unpredictable. I thrive not so much in conflict, but in the moments leading up to conflict resolution. In a routine, I feel lazy and uninspired.
Yesterday we picked up a cute little vintage table for the dining area. Even though it is old and needs work, I love it. It represents a time in my life when I was first faced with chaos. My first apartment was a cute little studio that was furnished. I hated it. What I had not learned at that time was how to let things go. I had boxes of old school work. I kept every trinket ever given to me. I had a collection of Breyer plastic horse models. I toted those things around in 9 moves. I finally put them in storage at my mom’s house. My intention was to sell them, but my mom gave them away. At first I was upset, but then I realized by being upset I was still a slave to things. I had to learn to let it go.
Anyway, back to the table. My studio had this old formica table with two vinyl chairs. I had never seen anything so ugly in all my life. When I moved into my first home, I was given a nice big oak table with 8 chairs. I never really thought about that formica table again, until a few months ago. When Richard and I moved in together it was like that first apartment all over again. You see that apartment represented change and chaos and not knowing but still trying. I moved to California with Richard and I had all those feelings again. Not knowing, living in chaos, change and still trying were all seeping back into my life. And I thought about that silly little table. The one that I hated, and though it was not that I hated it, it was that it made me feel poor. It was not my choice to have it in the apartment. It was not my choice to live in such a small place with so much stuff. Ok the so much stuff, that was my choice.
As I look back at my life, I realize that little ugly table meant I was on my own now. The things in my world were now my very own. The choices I made were made by me and not for me. That little ugly table represented the freedom you feel when you move out of your parents home for the very first time. And although I moved in with a bully of a boyfriend, we worked different shifts, so I was home alone much of the time and the place was truly mine.
So when we moved into our new place, I thought a nice table was needed. But a wood table represented to me, stability and being trapped. I wanted for the first time ever a chrome and formica table with vinyl chairs that rock and squeak. I went online looking for such a table. I found two. One had 8 chairs and they wanted $400 for it. What the crap am I going to do with 8 chairs? The second one I found was perfect. It is a grey and white marbled look. It has 4 chairs, one with a rip and one with the handle on the back missing. It also has a leaf to enlarge the table. It fits perfect and she only wanted $200. I offered her $175 and she took it, she probably would have taken $150. I am not so great at bargaining. I pulled the money from my account and we went to pick it up yesterday.
In the past two weeks, I have been really trying to focus on real food and cooking at home. I have been menu planning and focusing on food portions. Richard thinks this is silly, but in reality I have been wasting so much less food. This is something I used to do when I was so broke I had to go to the food bank to feed my family. I am actually quite good at figuring out what to do with things to create a decent well-balanced meal on a shoestring budget. As the holidays approach, I know we will not be entertaining, but having a table to eat upon is really nice. It helps keep you focused on eating and not on the television.
Last night we ate our first meal on our new table. I found a recipe for scalloped potatoes and halved the recipe. I also had shiitake mushrooms, leeks and green beans that needed to be used. I sautéed those all together and set up a couple of plates at the table. It was nice and very little left overs. Ah, leftovers a blessing and a curse. I have actually found a new art form in creating a new dish from leftovers. I really would love to see restaurants be as creative with food waste as I have become. If I cannot freeze something, I try to reincorporate it into a new dish. Old rice mix becomes a soup base, along with pasta sauces and left over veggies. Not all combinations are great, but all are edible. Last week I had this deliciously spicy tomato based soup for a couple of days at lunch. I was sad when I finished it.
I guess in all my chaos, I have found a norm. I love to be in a kitchen, but not a production kitchen. I love to create dishes, modify recipes and I really miss throwing a dinner party. I am hoping that the new neighborhood that can happen again. I do thrive in chaos, but I need some things that feel normal. Sitting and watching TV all day is not a norm I wish to thrive upon. I need to buy some new paints and an easel and start painting and drawing again. I need to figure out how to keep a budget in a kitchen again. I used to feed myself and 3 teens for around $120 a month. I could do so much better now.
Obviously I am not afraid of change! I embrace it. In May I moved my partner to Sacramento to be closer to his daughters. This was a huge move for me. The biggest ever. I left the only place that ever felt like home and moved into a town that would never be home. A month after we arrived I flew to Philly to begin what was supposed to be the greatest adventure of my life. I have dreamed of going to Africa since I was 5. That dream was finally coming true. I also dreamed of living in California which also came true.
I was in Philly for my Peace Corps orientation. Two days later I flew with 49 other wonderful people to Liberia, in West Africa. Yes I was in Liberia, but Ebola took the country hostage and I was forced to evacuate. Do not worry, I do not nor did I ever have Ebola. What most people do not understand is that we built relationship with the families and community that we lived in. Our leaving was devastating to not only us, but to our families and communities. Imagine being able to leave a zombie apocalypse but you had to leave your children or significant other behind. You have no choice, you go they stay. That is exactly how it felt. It was terrifying to leave people you love behind and hope they stay safe.
Coming home was even worse than leaving Africa. Not only was my dream cut short, I came home to intolerable living conditions. As I stated in one of my last blogs, we moved. We actually broke our lease to escape the horror of living in a place that not only had horrible neighbors, but landlords that didn’t deal with the issue, which we informed them about within the first month.
So as we have settled into our new home, we are both sleeping better and I have reclaimed my kitchen. I have even started looking for employment. Funny how things in my life do not just happen, they happen in epic proportions. I got an email Friday from the Peace Corps. I had reapplied late due to moving and a glitch in the system. I had decided to wait until September to rejoin the Peace Corps. I really wanted some time to help Richard build up a support foundation. We have already made some friends in the neighborhood, so I am feeling that this is going to be so much better than before.
The Peace Corps had different ideas of my timeline. They invited me to work on Environmental and Community education in, wait for it,,,,,, Jamaica! Are you serious? Having a Masters in Environment and Community, which is a focused sustainability degree, and being offered a position that uses that degree is amazing. Having learned how to sail and being offered a position in an area known for amazing water is even more than I could hope for.
So I obviously accepted the position. I am still looking for a part time job, I even applied at a few local labs. What I really want is enough money to have some fun on, pay down my student loans and buy anything that comes up for my next adventure. So like I said this is the season for change. I still want to go back to Africa, but once I put in my full 27 months I can become a response volunteer. That is someone who takes short term focused projects. I can choose when I go and where I go and the longest projects will be 1 year. Most will be 3-9 months. I have so many skills and so much education I may be able to serve all over the world. Well I would have to learn some new languages. French is on the top of my list.