Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Recent Publication a MAJOR Success

If you knew me, you'd know how very much I LOVE to read...fiction.  I am always fascinated by different non-fiction topics, but reading non-fiction?  Most of the time I fall asleep before I ever begin. I sometimes marvel at the fact that I made it through college and graduate school; if it doesn't read like a "story" I lose interset.  But as I drove back to work one Monday afternoon for the twice monthly department meeting, I heard an author, Paul Tough, discussing his recent non-fiction book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. That was it, I was hooked.  As I pulled into the parking lot I KNEW I had to download the book immediately, lest I forget the name and the author and miss the opportunity to change my life.  Ok, maybe it wouldn't change my life, but everything I heard the author say sounded like what I have believed as a teacher, a parent, and as a person striving to regain my own health. 

Not only did the book address the adrenal system and the dangers of having your flight or fight response swithced on almost permanantely, but it also discussed how stressors from early life events can negatively affects student performance in school, later in life.  Author Paul Tough follows the paths of several students from low performing schools, in neighborhoods that would make most of us shudder.  He spends an entire chapter examining the success of a chess coach in a low income school and attirubites her teams' success to her blatant honesty.  He revists the success of a student from Chicago Public Schools who is, by all measures, a HUGE success story in her new role as college student at Western Illinois University. And Tough doesn't stop there.  He discusses character skills, character report cards (done the right way), and talks about the downfalls of placing too high a value on ACT and IQ scores. 

Honestly, I have never picked up and read a non-fiction book 'for fun'.  I read pretty much everything I was supposed to all the way through college and graduate school.  I occassionally find myself interested in an non-fiction news article, but always something brief.  This book was not brief, but it was intensly interesting.  I absolutely give this book 5 stars on a 5 star scale.  Anyone who: is curious about what makes a person successful, has children, wants children, works with children or even knows someone else's children- you must read this book.  And don't wait until you finish whatever is on your shelf or your Kindle at the moment.  Read it now.  Pull into a parking lot and download the book.  Use that smart phone to place a hold at your local library.  Make sure you have this book in hand by bedtime. What you read will change your life, or at the very least put a new perspective on what you thought you knew.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Little Crustless Quiche for me!

Eggs.  I love them.  As a kid I was under the impression that I hated them.  They were spongy, smelled bad, and looked weird. As an adult with a dietary plan that can be difficult to follow- they are the only reason I can have breakfast out with the family.  Admittedly, I still think 'over easy' is too drippy and slimey for me.  Poached, fried, basted and soft boiled...yuck.  I know, at 36, I should be well past issues of texture and I'm not.  But I did learn, in recent years, how protein packed and delightful a properly hard boiled egg could be.  Toss it in a salad, eat it sliced on a plate, mix it with some quinoia for an extra punch of protein.  Scrambled eggs in my asian noodles?  Absolutely. 

In the years since I realized I truly love the little oblong treasures, I would venture to say our family also became breakfast goer-outers. Back in the day my omlettes oozed with cheese, the metled strands never willing to neatly separate from the masses, leaving me struggling to eat like a lady (I should've taken the hint and given up on the dairy battle then and there!) I buttered up my English Muffin and devoured it all ravenously.  (And had the weight gain to prove it.) But beyond the casual diners we have so always enjoyed on Sunday mornings, we USED to bake a delightful, gluten filled, dairy rich quiche, sometimes for breakfast, sometimes for dinner.  We usually cleaned the pie plate, rarely having a scant crumb for leftovers.  Not so anymore.  My days of calorie counting, dairy banning, and gluten refusing have left quiche all but a distant memory. Imagine my glee when I found, on Pinterest, a crustless and dairy free quiche?

What  delightful little meal it made.  With a couple of slices of bacon and a side of avocado I felt like I was eating at one of our favorite Sunday morning haunts, with only a fraction of the calories and with certainty that my meal was dairy and gluten free.  Was it hard, not at all.  Was it fast, not as quick as a standard (and perhaps boring) scrambled egg. Was it filling, yes actually it was.  And that little fact is one thing that shocked me most.  At only 138 calories per serving (I tallied a total of 8 servings and from the pan I used and this offered a substantial slice of quiche) it was every bit as satisfying as the calorie and gluten laden quiche's from the days of long ago.

I tried the recipe last night for dinner (isn't breakfast for dinner great fun for the family?) and ate some leftovers today for lunch.  Yum.  I did alter the flour/arrowroot volume. And the original recipe left eggs looking more fried than looking like a quiche.  I'm sure, if you like your eggs looking at you, it would taste divine. The original can be seen here. I present a modified version to you now and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  Happy eating!

Crustless Quiche Delight
1 large or 2 medium sized squash and/or zucchini, spiral cut
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup arrowroot powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon organic butter
5 medium mushrooms, sliced
1 medium tomato, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 ounce soft goat cheese
1 small onion, chopped
6-8 fresh basil leaves, sliced
4 large eggs
I used a Vertical Spiral Slicer (Google Affiliate Ad) from Sur La Table to slice the squash and/or zuchinni.  Toss the squash/zuchinni with 1 beaten egg and then with the brown rice flour, arrowroot powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and sea salt to create the 'crust' of this crustless quiche.  On the stove, heat and melt the butter, then add the crust mixture. (I used a fritatta pan, but a medium sized, oven safe, sautee pan would also work.)

Form and pat down the edges of the 'crust' to resemble that of a pie crust.  The underside of this crust will brown and the edges will become crisp, about 10 minutes over medium heat (checking it often to prevent burning).  Once the crust has set and browned, remove from heat and add remaining vegetables, garlic, and goat cheese- layering them on top of the crust.  Over that, pour remaining beaten eggs and place in the oven at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes.  I check periodically and when the egg seems solid, I call it done. 

If I could eat spinach, I would add some.  In fact, I would use whatever favorite vegetables are in the fridge at the time I prepare this dish.  Whatever you like in a quiche would also fit brilliantly in this dish.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Fruit Fly Trap Wanted: Inquire Within

I have a fruit fly problem.  It's a big one.  Yesterday I took the last batch of nectarines out of the fridge to ripen and the bastards came out of no where.  For anyone reading who may feel the need to explain their origins- please don't.  I find them disgusting and appalling and cringe at the site of one, or 10 which seems most often the case.  And no, my house is not filthy.  It may not be showhome perfect (which I have already told you I have accepted may NEVER be happen), but it is not dirty either.  I have come to the conclusion that the fruit fly invasion of 2012 is thanks to the prolific amounts of fruit consumed in my home on a weekly basis.  It wasn't until one of my best friends (also a big fruit consumer) shared that she is having the same problem that it hit me.  It's not filth, it's fruit.

In the past week, we consumed approxiamtely: 6 pounds of strawberries, 3 pounds of kiwi, 4 pounds of nectarines, 3 pounds of plums, 4 oranges, and a cantaloupe.  I sometimes think back to days, before kids, when I bought the sorts of fruit mentioned above.  They went untouched for days and often times rotted before I remembered they were there.  Not so anymore.  Once the girls were eating solid foods, fruit became a staple for them.  As picky as they both were (and one still is) fruit was something they never turned down.  But that didn't do much to increase my own fruit intake or that of the husband.  We plodded on with heavily breaded meals, vegetables cooked in sticks of butter, and plates full of pastas- albeit with a homemade sauce.

Then the doctor struck.  No gluten, no dairy, no spinach, and butter is ok- if you aren't trying like mad to lose weight (which I was and still am, sortive).  What did that leave me?  Fruits and vegetables.  Every possible combination of fruit has been used.  I chop up a bowl for breakfast everyday and recently started doing the same for the husband.  The girls graze freely from the glass containers that store nature's candy (plastic storage is pretty much banned in our house too) and eat a bowl in their lunches everyday at school.

The only remedy I have found for the fruitfly issue, short of ditching our massive consumption on a weekly basis (which isn't really an option) is the recipe below.  It smells a little, but that is why the bastards love it.  Soon, I think we are going to start composting.  I know there has to be a way to get it done indoors, I just haven't done the research quite yet.  Until then, I keep a supply of apple cider vinegar on hand.  You never know when you might need it for a recipe or employ it as to trap for fiendish fruit flies.

Fruit Fly Trap
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
8-10 pumps dish soap
Pour the apple cider vinegar into a disposable cup (what else are they good for?) along with the dish soap.  Turn the water up high to create high pressure and add to the disposable cup.  There should be a nice 'froth' looking very similar to beer.  Sit the cup near the location the fruitflies seem to favor most.  If all goes well, they will zoom over to investigate and get trapped in the bubbles, leaving them to sink to the bottom. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Selfish Chef and Stupendous Saffron Lentil Soup

Earlier this week, it hit me.  I am in love with food and may be slightly obsessed.  Ok, let me clarify.  It's the 'can't wait to try new recipes, will slave over dinner for hours, am constantly in search of ways to turn a kidney bean into something amazing, and eagerly pack my lunch for the next day using last night's leftovers' kind of obsessed.  I admit to it, I own it, let's move on.

It wasn't until recently that I realized how much I really love doing the shopping and cooking in our house.  It was on a Monday evening and the husband was trying to help me 'take a load off" by offering to do the shopping as he heads home from work.  I think I might have had a meltdown.  The thought of abandoning my beloved routine scared the crap out of me.  No more weekly trips to Costco for fruit and then Whole Foods for everything else?  You mean, not get my favorite zero calorie- stevia sweetened iced tea as a weekly treat for a shopping trip well done?  I froze, and saw my world spiraling out of control.  That, dear husband, is one burden I find myself unwilling to share. 

In an effort to be a good man he then offered to help make the meals.  More panic.  There may have been beads of sweat somewhere on my forehead as I envisioned a mass of crusted pots and pans, but even more terrifying- an abundant use of oils!  I tried to explain that this was one more task I just could not bare to part with. Bring home the occasional Mediterranean meal from the local Pita BBQ?  Sure, once in a while.  Regularly cook ornate meals using, potentially, up to a half cup of oil and who knows how much butter?  Too much for me to handle. 

I never knew until recently (and this may sound totally lame) that vegetables can be sauteed using water.  WHAT?  Who would do such a thing?  It seems unnatural!  Turns out it works really well and the onions still get translucent and carrots still become bright orange and tender. (Thanks "Forks Over Knives" for that life altering lesson!)

Given the husband's recent interest in all things Mediterranean  related,  I decided to dabble in making lentil soup.  The recipes I found didn't make me shout and holler in excitement at the ingredients...until I found one with saffron.  Mmmm.  Saffron.  Known by many as the most expensive (ounce for ounce) spice in the world.  The brightly colored, orangey-yellow stamens of the crocus, once soaked, give off an unmistakable perfume and release a flavor as rich as their price tag.  I knew I had to give this recipe a go.  The flavor was great, said the husband, but the texture was like water.  That problem was easily remedied by tossing about half of the lentils into the blender with a little liquid from the pot.  Twenty seconds of puree later, the thickness was more to his liking and resembled a cream soup, sans the cream (because, as you remember, dairy does evil and terrible things to the body!)

The one alteration I would like to make next time, but probably won't because of the blondes (aka my 6 year old daughters), is to kick up the spice factor just a bit.  I purposely made it mild in hopes they would try it.  They did, but the rest of the pot was a little too tame for my personal taste. If heat isn't your thing, then the recipe is probably perfect as is.  If spice is what you crave, add some garlic chili paste (you can find it on the aisle with Asian foods) until you hit your favorite level of fire.  Enjoy and let me know what you think.

Stupendous Saffron Lentil Soup

2 medium carrots, chopped
1 cup chopped cauliflower
1/2 cup diced celery
2-4 cloves of chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon freshly chopped ginger root
1 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes
8-10 freshh basil leaves
3 cups water
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
pinch of saffron (a little goes a long way!)
1 cup lentils

 In a pot, combine carrots, cauliflower, celery, garlic, ginger root, cumin, cayenne pepper, turmeric, and basil leaves.  Sautee until the vegetables are transparent, using just enough water to keep the blend from sticking to the pan.

When the vegetables and spices have softened and produced a brilliant fragrance, add water, stock, saffron, and lentils.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 40-45 minutes. 

If you are happy with a brothy soup, feel free to stop here.  If you are looking for something a little more creamy, ladel the majority of lentils and a splash of liquid into the blender.  Puree for about 20 seconds and return to the rest of the recipe.  Stir and serve!  

As a rough estimate, this recipe should come out to about 70 calories per one cup serving. Worried about being hungry later?  Not a problem.  It is extremely filling and gives you the kick you need to keep going.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Could've and Should've Been Great: A Review of "Lumen" Book One of The Blood Luminary Series"

What could be more fitting, for my first book review, than to examine the writing of a first time author?  Kindred spirits in a way, seeking to share our thoughts with the web-o-sphere, it seemed like the right step to take.  I chose, for this my first attempt, a book by Joseph Eastwood entitled Lumen.

As I began to read, I fell in love with the setting and the mystical powers of a mysterious island and its ihabitants.  The first few pages were packed with details that felt like elements of a favorite TV series being brought to life in a new and vivid way.  As a long time fan of "Lost", I immediately had an exceptionally clear mental image of Templar Island; a place with esoteric qualities that no one 'off island' can properly understand.  The author was off to a great start and had my attention.

Conceptually, the story is fantastic.  The main character, Daniel, is a young man whose family is lacking in wealth and social standing.  He is invited to study at a private academy for the most 'gifted' individuals on the island, despite the fact that his family is considered lower class and cannot finance his education.  It is evident that the character is destined for greatness; he is the focus of the book, clearly the protagonist, and all odds are against him.  Beyond the general framework for the main character, his pre-destined greatness, and magical interweavings- I have many issues with the book.  The idea was fantastic and I wanted this review to go differently, but full disclosure of the goods and bads of this novel must be made. So far the goods: vivid setting and interesting concept. 

The bads: I sent the author a message via his Facebook fan page detailing my concerns, which he said he would address.  Perhaps he did and Kindle did not properly notify owners of the book of the change.  I am not sure how post-publish changes are handled, but I completed my read using the first edition of Lumen. As I advanced through the book, towards the 3rd or 4th chapter, I began to stumble in my comprehension of the text.  No, the writing was not too advanced for my capabilities, it was fraught (and I mean overflowing) with typographical errors. 

The errors were so profound that I found myself needing to re-read passsages multiple times to infer the meaning.  Not only were there spelling errors and incorrect verb tense choices, but the character would be in one location in one paragraph and in the next paragraph the location changed without explanation.  Was he teleported there? Was he dreaming? Did he awake from a dream? I have no idea. 


Additionally, I felt that character development was sporadic rather than organic.  Facts were announced rather than woven into the story.  A prime example is the character of Reuben, Headmaster of the Croft Academy (aka- academy for the magically gifted).  He was 'nice' for the majority of the book.  I mean sickeningly sweet nice.  If he had alterior motives it was not clear (and did not even seem implied) that one should suspect him of such things.  In all ways he seemed to be doing things to help the main character achieve greatness.  He was at first a Dumbledore-eqsue figure.  The comparisons were hard to miss: headmaster, seemingly counselor and friend to the school underdog, lets the underdog get away with things other kids would NEVER be allowed to do.  See? Dumbledore. Right? But in the last handful of chapters he becomes something closer to Voldemort in his vain attempt to see Daniel dead or trapped for his own personal uses.

Inconsistencies and errors, in a story I desperately wanted to love, leave me feeling unsure if I will read more by this author.  I know, it could be because he's new on the scene.  However, I could not help screaming at my IPad: GET AN EDITOR!!! These are all things that need not ever happen!  Mr. Eastwood, I know you are young and eager to publish and your thoughts are so fascinating that I REALLY want to see them on electronic paper.   But I cannot put myself through reading something so full of obvious and fixable mistakes again, unless I am doing so as an editor.  I want to review books for their story- why I loved or did not love the content of the message.  I do not want to write a review about how poor your spell check was. My urging is this: create your magnificent worlds in such a way that I cannot bear to leave them, be careful, and most of all take your time.  And, if you are in need a third, fifth, or one-hundreth pair of eyes- drop me a line. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Longbranch Wannabe Chipotle-Sweet Potato Soup...mmm...

My husband loves to golf. A lot. At 37, he is one of the top competitive amateurs in the state. As such, I had the honor last week to accompany him to Marion, Il for the Illinois State Amateur of Golf. The town logo is "The Hub of the Universe". I'm not sure I found much in the way of interstellar travel, but I did find a very good restaurant one town over in Carbondale. Would you believe it if I told you that they have the best vegetarian breakfast and coffee shop you can imagine? No? I didn't believe it either, until I ate there.

Coming from an area like the suburbs of Chicago, one has a tendency to get spoiled. Not only do the burbs offer a rich variety of foods to be sampled (pita shops with divine hummus, unreal sushi, fantastic wine bars) but, hello? Chicago is right down the parking lot of an "expressway". Just down the road a ways is a city where you can't go more than a couple of blocks without finding amazing cuisine. So to hear that Carbondale, Illinois would have anything that fit into my dietary plans was a shocker. To believe it might even impress me? Nah, not a chance.

Couldn't be more wrong. Of the four days we were away we ate at "Longbranch Coffeehouse" twice, and we would have dined there more if it weren't for those damned tee times getting in the way. The second time we had the extreme fortune to eat at this little gem, the husband ordered something I would never have touched only one short year ago, Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup. I took a few bites before he had a chance to sully it with his devilish piece of gluten-y toast. To say that it was good would be a disservice. It was unreal. It was like nothing I ever ate before. It was, quite possibly, the only thing near "The Hub of the Universe" that even came close to being out of this world. The chef was good enough to list the ingredients, but for quantities I was on my own. A quick Internet search turned up something similar, but not all of the ingredients were the same. So revise and sample I did.

I chopped and sautéed and stirred and boiled until my concoction was complete. So without further ado, my interpretation of the most amazing soup I've had in a very long time. As a note, their soup was vegan and used a vegetable stock. I used chicken stock because it was on hand. As I prepared it, the recipe made 10 cups of soup that came out to a whopping 67 calories per 8 ounce bowl. See, I told you it was amazing.

Longbranch Wannabe Chipotle-Sweet Potato Soup

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 teaspoon powdered ginger (of course fresh would be a milon times better)
2 Gala Apples, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
2 large Sweet Potatoes, peeled and chopped
4 cups organic Chicken stock
2 cups Water
2 Chipotle Peppers (equivalent to 1 ounce- yes I pulled out the food scale for that one!)

Heat the oil in a 3 quart soup pot set over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, carrot, and ginger. Cook until soft and the onions are transparent. Add the apples, celery, and sweet potatoes; stir and cook for a few minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until vegetables are soft – about 45 minutes. Add the chipotle. Puree the soup in a blender until smooth.*
Return to the pot to keep warm.
A very special thanks to for the basis of the recipe. I made a few alterations to more closely line up with what I remember of the soup that started it all, but the quantities and general guidelines we're taken from that site.

*I was super excited to use the "soup" button on my BlendTech blender so without so much as a second thought I pulled out the BIG container and dumped in as much of the soup as I could at one time. The result was very tasty, but almost too 'baby food' in texture. When I make this soup again, which I definately will, I am going to try the good old stick blender. The soup at Longbranch had texture to it and was not the full out purée mine seemed to be. What do you think- how will you mix and mash the recipe into what will surely become one of your favorite soups of all time?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Little Miss Do-it-All

This week has been a strange one. I find myself trying to make the mental shift from all day mom, laundry washing maniac, dish doer, and head chef to all of that PLUS working woman. That's right, the new school year is upon us and I have very conflicted feelings on the issue. I like what I do, I really do. I am a teacher- and on a good day, in a good month, of a good year, I influence someone else's child.

True, my kids are in school until 1 pm and I am done with my assignment everyday by noon. Nothing to complain about, I have the best of both worlds, I know. I kiss my kids goodbye in the morning, and leave them with my husband until my mom arrives to take them to school. There is no day care and never has been. I do not have to rush them through breakfast to make it to a bus so I will not be late for work. I pick them up when their day is over and have the afternoon to do homework, play, be the mom taxi around town, and do the things I didn't do all morning. So why feel conflicted? Why feel torn about returning to this routine, that by all measures is the easiest of all my friends and the working moms I know?

The answer is fairly simple, but may prove to be unpopular to any women who may stumble upon my thoughts. The feminist movement really screwed me. I know, I know- equal pay, equal opportunity, anything he can do I can do better, blah blah blah. Because of the incredibly difficult path the women before us plowed, we now have the chance to do it all. How is that a problem you ask? It's a problem because I feel compelled to do it all- keep the house Pottery Barn catalog perfect, manage a career, drive the kiddies here - there - everywhere; do the laundry, wash the dishes, clean the house, raise the children, feed the family, oh and take care of myself once in a while too. I am SURE there are those of you out there who are just like me. We do it all not because we can, but because we feel we MUST- lest we be judged a failure by the spirits of those who came before us and fought so hard for our opportunities.

I cannot and will not argue that women should go back to the days of waiting on pins and needles for the husband to return home, to being denied access to choices on their health, to being excluded from what we deem as basic human rights. I am grateful that someone came before me and fought that fight. I only know that somewhere in reaching for basic human freedoms, we started feeling that since we can do it all- we have to do it all and do it all to perfection. Maybe that's just me and the pressure I put on myself, but I am willing to guess I'm not alone in this. Show of hands if you find yourself wondering what more you should do, because you weren't quite perfect enough in all you did today...go ahead, raise them high- I know you're out there.

Well people, here is the sad truth in my life. I'm not perfect and I actually can't do it all. My laundry takes days to put away, there are dishes in the sink when I walk into the kitchen most mornings, and the whole house is a play room. Pottery barn will not be stopping in for a photo shoot anytime in the future...ever. And herein is the conflict. There is a voice in my head that whispers, "Why isn't your house more tidy? Don't sit down to read a book after the kids go to bed- do the laundry, be efficient!" Sometimes the voice even whispers, "are you sure you've done enough for your kids today?" Bastard. How dare you question my parenting, my devotion to my children, my love? How dare I question my parenting, my devotion, my love. I know it's's there in spades.

But what's a girl to do...I say choose. Choose the most important parts of your life and do those pieces to your utmost. What is it that will make you a good mom? Is it a spotless, catalog cover, 'no toys on the floor' kind of house? It certainly is not for me. I've chosen that the most important things in my life are the happiness of my children (even if the cost is a pile of My Little Pony coloring books, boxes and boxes of crayons, and marker scribbles on what was once a very beautiful coffee table), the happiness of my marriage, and my health. That's it. The other stuff matters, but not nearly as much. And once you choose, get that handful of really important things right and know the rest will fall into place. It will, it always does. No one has ever died because they pulled their clean shirt out of a basket instead of a drawer. Who needs a coffe table when you can have a Coloring Center (the official name of the coffee table). Pottery barn is too expensive anyway. See, it all works out. In fact, I'm pretty sure my wall art is as close to perfect as it gets.