Thursday, February 23, 2012

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...

It has been a busy two weeks here.  I realized in the middle of the week that I didn't post a Menu Monday (which is probably okay since it's a freezer meal week) and who knows when I last posted any decent blog.  But that's okay.  Sometimes life gets busy.  Here's a bit of a glimpse into our schedules:

Work -- Honey and I had busy weeks last week.  I think I drove about 500 miles during the week for work (yikes!), helped with a half-day professional development session for a private school, and worked on developing this business a bit more. Thank goodness I have an amazing partner who does a huge portion of the work!  It's nice to be able to work with someone so reliable and dedicated.  Honey's work week lasted through Saturday evening, since he had to lead a workshop.  That meant that during the week we were both spending evenings working and prepping and staying up way too late.  By the time Sunday rolled around we were exhausted but we still had...

Rental -- We've been updating our rental and getting it ready for the next set of renters.  This includes installing new blinds, installing a dishwasher, fixing a major plumbing issue that suddenly appeared in the bathroom, doing some touch-ups on the paint, removing the misc., things left by the previous tenant, and carpet cleaning.  We'll finish all these chores this weekend so that the house is ready March 1.  Oh, and on top of that we had to find new renters.  As of this morning, I think we finally have the family that we want.  Let me just say that I now know why some people pay property management companies to do this for them!  Between the research and screening the bazillion people that called or emailed, I think that I've spent nearly 30 hours on this since last week.  Yikes!  Of course the rest of life doesn't put itself on hold when you're busy (much as we wish), so there were also issues with...

Pets -- I was very sad this week when I discovered that Paloma the Betta was dead.  She was outside the new tank, which makes me think that perhaps one of the cats had something to do with her demise.  Bettas like to swim near the water's surface, so I have to wait to get another until I find a lid.  It's tragic because Paloma loved her new tank and her new fishy friends: Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy.

The tetras, Goodness and Mercy (tetra #3 must've been sick
because he died in under 24 hours).

Paloma the Betta

Shirley the Guppie (aka, "Shirley-this-fish-will-survive")
Nicky's still hanging in here, which is a miracle.  He started to crash last week but another acupuncture session brought him back around and he's doing well (or as well as can be expected) and he's not in pain.  He has, however, lost most bladder control, so during the day he sleeps on his bed with a puppy pad and at night he wears a diaper.

I'll say again, having pets is a lot like having children.  Now I have proof -- I'm back to changing diapers every day.

So there you have it.  A busy life.  This didn't even include a recap of book club, Women in Biz gathering, writers' group, and everything else that also goes into life.  I started getting a bit sick on Monday, probably because I was tired, but a long nap (thank you, flexible work schedule!) and an exercise sweat-it-out session helped immensely.

Oh, and I took on another dissertation editing job for a bit of extra cash.  It's a rush job, so...yeah.  But at least it's a qualitative study and it's short (under 100 pages), so not too bad.

Does life ever slow down?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Recipe: Easy Fish Tacos with Avocado Mayo

There are few meals I love more than fish tacos. Thankfully, Honey agrees with me and we both tend to order that if it's offered on a menu (not that we eat out together more than two or three times a year).  We also like making fish tacos at home but until recently that seldom happened. It took a lot of work and planning to defrost fish, marinate it in a mixture of lemon and soy sauce so it wouldn't smell or taste fishy (the hazards of buying frozen instead of fresh), and then cook it -- preferably fried. Yum!  Then one day a couple weeks ago, a friend made fish tacos for lunch. In under ten minutes.  And they were delicious.  How?

Picture from
Fish sticks!  Not just any fish sticks, but high-quality fish sticks that Costco now has in stock.  Suddenly we can have fish tacos whenever we want!  So, how do you make easy fish tacos?

Fish Tacos
Serves 2

  • 6 fish sticks (one per taco)
  • 6 corn tortillas*
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 handful spinach
  • 1/2 bell pepper, sliced (or 3 mini peppers)
  • 2 sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 avocado, sliced
  • 1-2 oz. grated cheese
  • cilantro for garnish
  • Avocado mayo (recipe follows)
Heat fish sticks in microwave.

Heat 1/2 tbsp oil in a pan and fry corn tortillas -- about 8 seconds each side (add the rest of the oil after you've fried three tortillas). As you finish each tortilla, stack it on a plate under a foil tent (or in a tortilla warmer) to keep it warm and pliable.

Place three tortillas on each dinner plate.  Cut each fish stick into five pieces.  Layer on the tortilla: one spoon of avocado mayo, several leaves of spinach, five pieces of fish stick, bell pepper, mushroom, avocado, and cheese. Garnish with cilantro.

Eat and enjoy!

*Note: The reason the corn tortillas are fried is to make them pliable. You can get around this requirement by either using freshly made corn tortillas or buy using small flour tortillas.

Avocado Mayo
  • 1/2 large avocado, mashed
  • 1 tbsp. mayonnaise 
  • 1-2 tsp. Siracha or other hot sauce
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
Mix ingredients together. Makes enough for six tacos.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Menu Monday #7 (on a Tuesday)

Thanks again to Pinterest -- or maybe just the fact that I got a bit more sleep this weekend -- this week I rediscovered my inspiration for meal planning.

February 12-18, 2012

  • Sunday -- Creole split pea soup. We modified this by making it vegetarian, adding more spice, and cooking it in the crock pot all day.
  • Monday -- Black bean chili in the crockpot
  • Tuesday -- Spicy coconut spinach and chickpeas over wild rice.
  • Wednesday -- Black bean bake -- modified a bit,vegetarian, and using some leftover chili from Monday.
  • Thursday -- Vegan "beef" stew -- made with fresh baby bellas instead of dried mushrooms.
  • Friday -- BLTs and fries
  • Saturday -- Easy fish tacos with spicy avocado mayo (this is a fast and easy favorite meal in this house!)
Honey has to teach a workshop all day Friday and Saturday, so meals will be yummy but simple -- a reward for a hard day's work.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Delicious and Nutritious -- Gluten-Free Morning Glory Muffins

Last week, I tried my hand at creating a gluten-free (GF) muffin that was sugar-free, dairy-free, and still tasted good.  The results were surprisingly good GF Blueberry Coconut muffins.  They passed the "Honey Test," as in Honey said "These are gluten-free?!"  Most of the muffins were destined for a friend's house.  I did not realize until I arrived that this friend had not tasted a muffin in two years!  How is that possible?  I could not allow such a travesty to continue, and so this week I set about creating a new recipe.

My sister recommended a recipe for Easy Morning Glory Muffins.  Of course these have sugar, oil, and many other things in addition to fruits and veggies, so the recipe would have to be modified for my purposes.  My sister modifies just slightly, using coconut oil and rapadura, but I wondered what would happen if I was a bit more daring.

The results, you will find, are quite different from the original, and so I claim this as my own -- the twists and turns were certainly my own creation.

Please note: the ingredient list may look lengthy, but these are really quite easy!

Gluten-Free Morning Glory Muffins
Makes 18-20 muffins
  • 2 c. GF flour (I used a blend of Bob's Red Mill GF all-purpose and GF sweet sorghum)
  • 1 c. GF oatmeal
  • 1/2 c. ground flax seed
  • 1 tbsp baking soda
  • 1/4 + 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 2 1/2 c. shredded carrots
  • 1 1/2 c. shredded apples
  • 1/2 c. craisins (or other dried fruit -- I used a blend of craisins and figs)
  • 1 c. shredded unsweetened coconut (we use fresh frozen young coconut)
  • 1 c. honey or agave
  • 1/4 c. molasses
  • 1/2 c. coconut oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients.

Add shredded carrots, apples, coconut, and dried fruit to the dry ingredients and mix.

In a small bowl, mix eggs, honey, molasses, oil, and vanilla.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix well.  Remember, extra mixing is required for GF baked goods!

Fill batter to the top (or nearly the top) of a greased muffin tin -- this is important because GF muffins don't rise much.

Bake for 24-28 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out almost clean.  Remove the muffin tin from the oven and let muffins cool in the tin for five minutes before removing and letting cool the rest of the way on a cooling rack.

Note: to make these vegan, omit the eggs, increase the flax by 1/4 c. and add 1/2 c. water.

The verdict? They passed the Honey Test!  They taste delicious -- almost like what my grandmother used to make (although hers contained a lot of sugar and vegetable oil!).  They are also a great way to sneak extra fruits and veggies into your (or your kids') diet.


Ode to a Home I Love

Houses have souls.

Or if not souls, perhaps they have something else, a way of speaking.

That is why I believe that when one is looking for a house, it's not logic that is the number one decision-maker (although it does play a role).  You will know the house as soon as you step inside -- you will feel at home.

This is, I know, a bit crazy and woo-woo for some people.  After all, we have to think about many things when buying a home -- price, location, the type and amount of work that may need to be done, how long the family is planning to stay -- but ultimately, the house will just feel right, and you'll make a decision based on that.
Rental's breakfast nook & sun room

Or perhaps not, and you'll wonder why you don't feel quite so at home.  This was the case, to a small extent, in our first house.  It was a nice house and we enjoyed it -- and put in countless hours of work improving it -- but we knew we weren't going to stay there long.  We thought that we would live there for ten years, but we sold after only four.  It was a home that I walked in and felt was adequate -- very nice for a first time home, right in our price range, and had features that would make it easily sell-able (which we proved when we sold it in two days in a down market).  But this house was never home.

When we walked into our current house, I knew.  This was despite the fact that the house was dirty, had been empty for nine months, had not been updated in 40 years and had some serious issues.  Oh, and we didn't know how big the backyard truly was because it was a mass of holly and blackberry brambles (half an acre of such, to be exact).  But this house was home and it was ours, I knew it.  We've been happily living here for five years now.
Our current home's living room

There are still years' worth of projects left to complete, but we slowly work on a bit every year and are comfortable in the process.

In 2010, we bought a rental property and I used the same process to determine what place to buy.  I generally spend at least six months thinking and searching real estate sites to get an idea of the market before I even contact an agent.  This time was no different, except for the fact that our budget was very small and the market was in the tank. Even with a down economy, most things within our budget were so run down it would probably be better to tear down and start from scratch.  While we are willing to gut homes that we live in (our current house is an example), we needed a rental that would be almost immediately livable. 
Rental's french doors

Why a rental? That is a long story, but it begins years ago with Crazymaker constantly pestering us to buy "an investment" so that she could live in a house.

Why would I agree?  I am an idiot.  Or a sucker.  You decide.

When we finally reached a point where we could delve into the rental market, we bought this adorable house.
Rental's kitchen

I love this house. Honey loves this house. We knew as soon as we saw it that we were in love.

It has its issues -- an odd backyard and, like most hundred-year old homes in our city, there is no garage and was no dishwasher (Honey installed one).

Rental's backyard and long driveway behind the fence

But it has windows everywhere (one of my requirements for a house), lots of open space, a fenced yard, an excellent location (two blocks from the freeway but on a private and surprisingly quiet street), and more counter space in the kitchen than my current house.
The shed we spent our Fourth of July weekend designing and building.

Crazymaker moved in and we cut her some slack -- rent $3-400 under the neighborhood's going rate, we covered garbage service for months, built a solid shed, added plants and a BBQ and a lawnmower, and did a million other things -- but that didn't matter.  Every month she complained about how expensive it was, how horrible the location was, how inconvenient the house was, how she was just trying to be helpful to us -- all in a passive aggressive manner. (Starting to see where the nickname "Crazymaker" comes from?) Her boyfriend accused Honey of being a slum lord (what?!?), and when Crazymaker finally announced that she was moving out after just over a year (instead of her originally agreed-upon two), we met the news with a mixture of relief and apprehension.

Finished basement
So now we are taking this month to do a few more improvements while looking for a new renter to move in sometime in March.  We are going to have to learn how to be "real" landlords.  That is fine.  As we look, I am sending intentions out into the world: I want someone who will love this house as I love it.  As Honey loves it.

I love our current house, even with all of its quirks and all the work it still needs.  But I love the rental house, too, and if I had to live anywhere other than my current house, I'd want to live in that rental.  I walk inside and immediately feel at home.  And hopefully soon I'll find someone who feels the same way.

Still hanging on

It's been a while since I've written about Nicky, so I wanted to give an update on his condition.  He's still hanging on!  It's been a couple weeks and he's still with us, even though the vet thought he wouldn't last more than a day or two.

I think that this success can be attributed to several things -- his own willpower and desire to stay, the love and attention and care he receives, and to acupuncture.  The vet was impressed when we went in for a check-up last Friday -- Nicky was a full pound heavier than he was two weeks ago -- and said that she will be recommending acupuncture to pet owners who, like me, were desperate and have pets who don't seem to respond to traditional treatments.

A number of people have told me that they have "learned so much about love" (or something along those lines) through watching me with Nicky.  This is a bit confusing for me, and I think it's more than my typical embarrassment from receiving a compliment.  I honestly don't know what I could possibly teach or demonstrate in this area that is any different than anyone else.  After all, I believe that we all struggle when we see our babies -- human or furry -- in pain, we all put forth extra effort and love and care to try to heal them, and when we realize that we have to face a fatal diagnosis we struggle with the question of quality of life and longevity.

I am thrilled that Nicky is still here. Even though every day has an element of the Waiting Game within it, I think that now, through the extension of life that we've received (however temporary it may be), we are all at peace with the inevitable.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Blueberry-Coconut Muffins -- GF, Dairy-free, Sugar-free and still tasty? No way!

In my circle of family and friends, there are many different food palates: meat-lovers, vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free, sugar-free, and any combination of anything else you've ever heard.  Your family and friends might be the same way, leaving you to wonder how to accommodate legitimate dietary restrictions, picky eaters, and people who are just plain wacko about food.  My solution has been to try and find a way to make some of the more restrictive recipes taste good.

This is very difficult to do if you are trying to go gluten-free without sugar. Gluten-free flours have an awful lingering sub-taste, one that is masked in commercial GF products by an abundance of sugar.  But what if you need to avoid added sugar?  I've tried numerous recipes and my own creations over the years and I think that I finally found a winner.  It looks like a "real" muffin with the proper amount of rise and the right color. Best part? It's delicious and nutritious!

Blueberry-Coconut Muffins
2 c. gluten-free all purpose flour (I use Bob's Red Mill)
1 tsp. (heaping) baking powder
1/2 tsp. (heaping) baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1.25 c. mashed bananas (I used three bananas and had just over this amount of mashed -- extra is okay!)
1 egg
2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. non-dairy milk (I used almond milk because I was out of coconut milk)
2 c. shredded coconut (we use frozen young coconut because there are no preservatives or added sugar)
1 c. frozen blueberries
opt: stevia -- if you don't mind the GF taste, you can omit. I used five packets of Stevia in the Raw. (Note: I would advise against other non-sugar sweeteners, like Splenda, because they're basically poison for your body. If you can eat sugar, use 1/2 c. brown sugar in this recipe.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix dry ingredients together.

In a large bowl, mix bananas, egg, vanilla, and non-dairy milk.  Add dry ingredients and mix vigorously for two minutes (this is important with GF flours). Fold in coconut and blueberries.

Pour batter into greased muffin tins.  You want to fill the tins to just below the top -- this batter will rise, but not by much, so filling the tins helps the end result look more muffin-like.

Bake 18-21 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out almost clean. Remove the tin from the oven and let muffins cool in the tin for five minutes -- this will finish the cooking process.

Makes 12-14 muffins.

These may not be the best muffins you've had in your life -- trust me, those contain lots of sugar, butter, and "real" flour -- but they're pretty good. How do I, on an ever-expanding quest for healthy food, know that these muffins actually taste good?  Honey had one and said "These are gluten-free?!" In this house, that's a ringing endorsement.

Happy eating!

Menu Monday #6

Confession: Trying to come up with a varied, tasty, healthy menu every week is hard!  Thankfully I now have Pinterest to inspire me, otherwise I'd be stuck!

Menu, February 5-11

  • Sunday -- vegetarian white bean chili, World's Best Honey Cornbread (it really is the best -- I've also made a gluten-free version using black bean flour and it was just as good, which is incredible for GF), and salad.
  • Monday -- "Viet subs" -- bahn mi sandwiches. We make our own version, but you can see a recipe for this type of thing here. I'm normally not a big sandwich fan, but I could eat this every day. It's that good!
  • Tuesday -- Cajun shrimp, rice pasta, baby bok choy
  • Wednesday -- Freezer soup
  • Thursday -- Black bean sliders and stir-fried veggies. We had the sliders this past week and they were really good! This is definitely a winner.
  • Friday -- fish tacos
  • Saturday -- homemade pizza and salad

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Taro-Coconut Pudding-Porridge

I love avocados.  I mean love, as in I could eat them on everything, for every meal, and not be tired of them.  There are few other foods in my life that evoke a similar passionate response, but coconut and taro might be close. Taro bubble tea?  Best bubble tea ever.  Coconut milk? Amazing.  And so the idea of blending taro and coconut to create a yummy dessert is just too much to resist.  If I ever find a way to blend taro, coconut, and avocado, I might die from sheer happiness.
Image from

This recipe was inspired by a trip to Fubon, our local Asian mega-store.  I was there to get supplies to make our own fresh, raw coconut milk.  While there, I noticed they were selling peeled taro and since I love taro but have never had a chance to cook with it, I bought some and brought it home determined to find a recipe.

What is taro?  It is a root vegetable that is native to Asian cuisine.  You, perhaps, were like me and introduced to taro because you decided to order the purple-colored bubble tea. (Taro-flavored desserts tend to be purple in color, perhaps derived from the purple flecks in the white flesh of the root -- of course that purple is just coloring, not the actual taro, which cooks up white.)  It is starchy and can be made into a savory dish (as in India) or a sweet dish (as in Vietnam).  This time I opted for sweet.

This recipe is based on ideas I found when searching, but it is my own creation.

Taro-Coconut Pudding
Prep time: approximately 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30-40 minutes
Serves: 8-10
4 c. diced taro (about 1.5lbs after it's been peeled)*
4 c. coconut milk (or two cans)**
2 c. shredded coconut (unsweetened -- but if you like super-sweet desserts, you can use sweetened)***
1 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
optional ingredients: 1/2 c. heavy cream, 1 TBSP minute tapioca

Dice the taro and place it in a large soup pot.

Add the other ingredients and mix.

Turn on high and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, turn it to medium and let it boil for approximately 10 minutes. The taro should start to get soft (like potatoes).  After ten minutes, turn the heat to low and let it simmer for 20-30 minutes.

The amount of time that you let it simmer depends on how you like your pudding-porridge.  We like ours very thick with just a few pieces of chunky taro left. This is about 30 minutes of simmering.  If you prefer your pudding completely smooth, you can blend it after 20 minutes of simmering.

Serve hot, warm, or cold -- it's good no matter how you eat it!

A few notes:
*Taro can aggravate your skin, so you might want to use gloves.  Also, if your store does not offer pre-peeled taro root, you will have to steam it for about ten minutes and then peel it.  Check out this website for tips.
** I used the fresh, raw coconut milk that I made earlier in the day because it has no preservatives and excellent flavor.
**I use frozen shredded coconut that I buy at Fubon -- again, raw and no added sugar or preservatives, so it's better for you.

Please note: taro is toxic when raw, so it must be cooked before eating it! (Of course this leads me to wonder how people discovered this...and cassava...and rhubarb...and all the other toxic-in-a-certain-form plants.)


Friday, February 3, 2012

My Life According to Cake

Today's blog post is silly and something I did on Facebook a long time ago.  It's been a busy few days and I didn't want to think too much about blogging, honestly, but I had this idea when listening to Spotify: why not just create a playlist based on my old FB post?

Side note: I might change my answers if I were to actually re-write this today, but I'm a bit too lazy!
Rules: Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on, but you can't use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It's a lot harder than you think! 

Are you a male or female? Pretty Pink Ribbon

Describe yourself: Short Skirt, Long Jacket

How do you feel: I Will Survive

Describe where you currently live: Mexico

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: The Distance

Your favorite form of transportation: Stickshifts & Safetybelts

Your best friend is: Commissioning a Symphony in C

What's the weather like? Haze of Love

Favorite time of day: When You Sleep

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called: Ruby Sees All

What is life to you: Sad Songs & Waltzes

Your fear: Jesus Wrote a Blank Check (or Carbon Monoxide)

What is the best advice you have to give: Friend is a Four Letter Word

Thought for the Day: You Turn The Screws

How I would like to die: Shadow Stabbing

My soul's present condition: Sheep Go To Heaven

My motto: Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps
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