Winter is coming.. and at first I was happy about it. Now I’m sad. I think it has something to do with the short days. I can deal with the cold, rain and fog, but the lack or daylight is a real bummer to me. I’m hoping to take some time this winter to focus on the homestead.

This week I took some time off, tagging a few extra personal days onto the Thanksgiving holiday break. Here’s how it’s gone so far:

Day 1: I cannot for the life of me remember what I did this day.

Day 2: Home Depot run! Fixed the under sink vent and now I can crown myself a plumber! According to Jerome I come complete with plumbers crack :/ Maybe I should have hit up Macy’s for a belt too.

Day 3: We were supposed to hang out with friends at an art show during the day and then go to a dinner party that night. BUT! What we ended up doing was praying to whatever god would listen that our car would start so we could drive it to the shop. After about 35 minutes of scratching our heads and using a wrench to gently tap on different parts of the engine (hey, it works in the movies!) it finally started. We drove it tot he dealership and it turns out there is a SLEW of things that need to be fixed. SO, I think this car deserves a little cash dropped on it and we can keep it around for another year.

Day4: We painted the kitchen!! Thankfully we picked up the paint on Friday and we bought just enough. I finally have my Robin’s egg blue-ish kitchen! Goodbye canary yellow! Check out this fancy after shot:

My beautiful light robin's egg blue kitchen!

My beautiful light robin’s egg blue kitchen!

Day 5: I vacuumed the entire house. This took me all of an hour (I was thorough)! Updated the blog (That is what I’m really here to celebrate. huzzah!) and watched TV with the pets on the sofa. I think I’m finally getting the hang of staycation.

Seattle summers are so short lived!! I can’t believe Labor day weekend just passed. However, this year we have a yard that allowed me to garden my heart out! Needless to say, it’s been a good summah! I have a raised bed garden in the front yard (4′ by 4′) and two trough style planters in the back yard. The previous owners left those for us. Lucky me! They must have been gardening guru’s. The gardens came complete with an earthworm colony and super rich soil. Having such awesome soil in conjunction with our yard getting a TON of sun in the summer made for a pretty productive first year of gardening.

Garden

What I’m growing:

  • Heirloom tomatoes – Paul Robeson, Red Zebra, Brandywine & Chocolate Cherry
  • Red Lipstick Peppers
  • Snap Peas
  • 3 different varieties of Strawberries (I can’t remember all of them, but the tiny Alpine strawberries are my favorite. They taste like sweet tarts!)
  • Redbor & Red Russian Kale
  • Rapini
  • Brussells Sprouts
  • Crookneck Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Onions
  • and a Lettuce mix

So far so good. My star performers have consistently been the Tomatoes though. My stalks are somewhere around 7 feet tall and they’re heavily producing. The cherry tomato stalk is breaking for the enormous amount of delicious tomatoes it’s producing! I think I got really lucky with it having been such a hot summer. My largest Tomato was 11oz and it was a Paul Robeson. It’s that big one on the left of the picture.

Heirloom tomatoes

With all of those tomatoes I had to get a little creative. I mean, you can only eat so many heirloom tomato and avocado salads before you’re bursting at the seams. So I got to work looking up recipes. I found a great recipe for Tomato jam, which was perfect as I had been wanting to try canning. With a few tweaks of the recipe, I got busy simmering. The end result was amazing and highly addictive! Check out that delicious Tomato Jam army.

Tomato Jam Army

I’m including the recipe. I have a tendency to just “eyeball” measurements and tweak recipes as I go. I cut the original amount of sugar in half, and next time I’ll probably add only 1 cup or sugar instead. The original recipe is from the Food Network but I tweaked it as below using the original directions:

 Ingredients

  • 4 large lemons
  • 1 Large red onion finely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper finely chopped
  • 6 pounds tomatoes, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces (I used heirloom tomatoes from my garden but you can use whatever you want)
  • 2 cups light muscovado sugar or packed light brown sugar ( I used turbinado as it’s all I had on hand)
  • 4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • Kosher salt (to taste. I used a few tablespoons as I like the play of sweet/savory)
  • 2 scant teaspoons red pepper flakes (I would add more in the future)
  • 4 small cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (I left this out because I didn’t have any on hand but I think it would be awesome to add)
  • 8 1/8-inch-thick slices peeled ginger (I used I tbsp. ground/powdered ginger instead)

I ended up simmering on medium high heat for a lot longer than suggested as I left out a lot of the sugar. All in all it probably simmered close to an hour to remove some of the moisture and get a good consistency.

The extra long weekend gave me the opportunity to try pickling as well.  And pickle I did! Just about every vegetable I could get my hands on. My neighbor and I did a nice trade ,my tomatoes for his beans. The recipe is from AllRecipes, and of course..  I tweaked it to my own liking (less vinegar, more garlic and red pepper flakes). I’m so excited to taste it that I don’t know if I can wait the 3 weeks to crack open the goods!!

Pickling

What’s your favorite way to preserve summer in a jar?

Okay. I have to admit that I thought blogging about life would come more naturally to me. I’m kind of an open book. Turns out when you start a blog in the midst of major transition in life it gets buried under the day to day tasks. So here I am 2 years after my last post… and I’m going to attempt a recap.

I got a new job. Recruiter @ POSSIBLE – June 2012Image

We moved in together – Aug 2012Image

 

I scaled down a 40 floor building in the name of Special Olympics – August 2012Image

We went to Sayulita Mexico – December 2012Image

We got a dog! Meet Otis – January 2013Image

We bought a house! – April 2013Image

Now that you’re all caught up I can start updating this on a more regular basis… or at least I’ll try. 

 

Wish me luck!!

One of my favorite places to eat in D.C. was Banana Leaves. Just over two years ago when I moved to Seattle I found myself craving my favorite soup from that very place. Of course, no restaurant wants to give up their recipe secrets, so I had to do things the hard way. I’ve made this soup 4 or 5 times now and I think I’ve finally perfected it. Enjoy!

Cooking Time:  Prep & cooking about an 1 1/2 hours (45 prep, 45 cook)

Yields: 6 to 8 Servings (About 2 quarts)

Ingredients:

  • 1 pkg. Wonton Wrappers
  • 1 pkg Udon or Ramen Noodles
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 lb Ground Pork (go for the good stuff here, don’t skimp!)
  • 1 Ginger Root
  • 1/2 cup Shitake Mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup Cremini Mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp minced Garlic
  • 1 cup thin sliced Scallions (2 bunches)
  • 10 cups Chicken Broth
  • 1 tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • 2 tsp Soy Sauce/Tamari
  • 1 1/2 tsp Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp Sesame Oil
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Red Pepper (Cayenne)
  • 1 pkg Baby Spinach

Cooking:

I always prep the broth first to allow it to simmer while you are making the wontons. In a large soup pot, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp Minced Garlic, 1 tbsp minced ginger, 1/2 cup scallions. Heat just until fragrant before adding the chicken broth. Allow broth to simmer, not boil for 20 to 30 minutes.

In a mixing bowl add the ground pork, 1 tsp minced garlic, 1 tbsp minced ginger, 3 tbsp minced scallions, 2 minced cremini mushrooms, 2 minced shitake mushrooms, and 1 small handful of of spinach (thinly sliced), 1 egg yolk, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and ground red pepper. Mix thoroughly.

Working on a flat work surface, lay out a few of the wontons. Fill a small bowl partially with cool water and set aside. Place a teaspoonful of the meat filling in the center of each wonton. Don’t be stingy. Using your fingers, lightly wet the edges of the wonton. Bring 2 opposite corners of the wonton together to form a triangle and enclose the filling, pressing edges firmly around the mound of filling to eliminate any air pockets and seal. It’s important to get the air pockets out, this takes a lot of practice. It’s won’t effect the flavor, but may make some of your wontons float. Next wet corners of the wonton and bring together (pinch, or fold them envelope style). I’ve experimented with different shapes and they all taste delicious!

Scoop out some of the old scallions and toss em. At this point they have no flavor. Add the remaining scallions and thin sliced mushrooms to the broth. Simmer for about 10 minutes (until mushrooms are a little tender). Add noodles and wontons (only as much as you will eat). Allow to cook for about 5 minutes, until wontons float.

In your serving bowls add a small handful of raw spinach and ladle soup over the top.

*Make sure to only add as much of the wontons/noodles as you will eat at the time. The noodles and dumplings will become soggy if left for too long and just makes the broth yucky when reheating. This soup broth also freezes well (sans noodles and wontons of course).*

If you run out of broth and have leftover dumplings (I always do), you can pan fry them and eat them with dumpling sauce and edamame.

I fell off the band, er, blog wagon for a bit. Now I’m back and I’ve made some major life changes. Here are some of the things that have changed in my life since my last post.

-New job! No more retail. After 12 years in retail management I made a major change. I accepted a position as an office manager for a local design firm that I highly admire. It has been slightly challenging, but for the most part I’m happy and I’m making it work. Admittedly, this is not my “dream job”, but it’s a step in the right direction and gives me the opportunity to network with some admirable and highly creative individuals.

-Project Management Certificate! Something I had wanted to do for a very long time. I got my certificate back in May and although I wasn’t able to step directly into a PM role there is no doubt in my mind that it will help me out in the future.

-Break up. This was by far the most difficult thing to experience. You know when you love someone but you know it’s not the right relationship for you? That is exactly my situation with my now ex. We spent two years together and had some wonderful times. But I knew when the time was right to move on. It was difficult. We are still friends. ..now moving on.

-New apartment! Wow.. apartment hunting was rough. I am on a very tight budget and finding something in my price range AND that lived up to most of my standards was a challenge. In the end I found a great 1 bedroom (no studio!) place with a balcony, fireplace, and dishwasher in the Ballard neighborhood. I begrudgingly gave up hardwood floors for carpet, but have found that it’s actually kind of nice to wake up in the winter and put your feet down on something cushy and warm. Miss Idgie thoroughly enjoys being able to chill out on the balcony, and more recently she discovered fire!

-I started :gasp: dating. Yeah, that was weird. I joined a dating site and set off to gain back a little bit of the mojo I had lost over the years. This was awkward for me to say the least. I went out on a few very “interesting” dates with some “interesting” people (one of which started talking about my panties within the first ten minutes) with whom I never spoke to again after the first date. And then the weirdest thing happened..

-I met someone! On an online dating site! That’s right. As weird as it feels to say it, I met someone that made things feel better. I don’t necessarily recommend jumping out of one relationship and into another. In fact, I always think its good to spend time alone and work on yourself. But, with that being said, you can’t always choose timing. I think we kind of took it slow considering my situation. The thing is, when you meet someone who’s company you really enjoy, and someone you can be really honest with, it’s worth it to just throw caution to the wind a bit. If it fails, it fails. If it succeeds, well, lucky me! For now, I’m enjoying being with this person and adventuring, and I suspect I’ll enjoy his company for a while to come. Sharing little and big experiences is what I’m looking forward to. So far, so good.

-I took advantage of summer in Seattle! Referring back to one of my very first posts about having lost touch with why I moved to the PNW to begin with. I have done some amazing things this summer and I am a better and happier person for having done so. Here is just a tiny surface scratch of the awesome things I was able to do this summer.

  • I went tubing a few times down the Snoqualmie River. This is where I managed to kill my shiny new iPhone 4 (RIP), therefor I don’t have photographic proof. Rest assured I was there and it was well worth the loss.
  • Boating on Lake Washington. This was awesome. Also, we were singing this the whole time.
  • Lake Melakwa Hike: My first and most excruciating beautiful hike. 9 miles of pure amazing PNW beauty.
  • Next was Summerland Hike: Perfect and stunning. I want to do this one again next year.
  • I tried Paddle boarding at Greenlake and Kayaking on Lake Union.
  • Attended a bachelorette party, and two weddings in the same weekend. Here are pictures from Andrea & Mike’s gorgeous wedding.
  • Explored Orcas Island and Whidbey Island.
  • Partook in a wonderful Fourth of July Celebration on Lake Union.
  • Not to mention the new and amazing friends I have had the opportunity to meet and get to know.

I don’t anticipate my adventures will end here. The onset of Fall will bring on an entirely new type of adventuring and I will share it here with you all as they happen.

Enough about me, How was your summer?

Just as I promised. Here is the video that my beautiful niece, Caitlin, took for me when I went home to surprise my mom for a week long visit. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house (hence the shaky camera) as my mom came out of the door. It took her a second to realize it was me that she was looking at.

I really want to thank my family, especially my sister Pam and my niece Caitlin, for keeping this a secret for a month and helping me pull this off without a hitch. My mom really had no idea I was coming. She was so surprised and I could not have done it without them.

My time there went by so fast and there was so much more I wanted to do. So many people I wanted to visit with. Unfortunately I came down with a pretty rough sinus infection and was sick for most of the trip. Regardless, it was so good to be home and be around family. Next time I won’t let 3 and a half years pass by. That’s just way too long.

Cheers to family & friends!

xo

I’ve been an absentee daughter. It’s been 3 years since I’ve been home to see my family. THREE YEARS! Ugh. I have been planning to go home for a long time now. Life just happens sometimes and you get sidetracked. While I was working retail there was never a good time for me to take off for a vacation home.. something super important was always coming up and I couldn’t step away. When I could find an open date there was weddings or other big events that I needed to be at. Then Unemployment happened and although I have the time I don’t have the money.  I’ve been on a seriously tight budget and couldn’t afford the insanely expensive price of a flight back to the east coast. Rounding out around $600 it was going to eat up a large part of my savings and I just couldn’t do it.

And then my aunt got sick. Although she wasn’t my true blood relative she helped raise me and was a large part of my life growing up. She made a huge impact on my life and I’m very thankful for that. Maggie was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with advanced stages of cancer. The doctors gave her a few days to live, but she managed to hold on for a couple of weeks. She was a tough as nails Jamaican woman who never had it easy.. but she never complained about anything.

Maggie (w/ husband Dick and daughter Diane) in front of my dad's travel trailer circa 1982

When I was a little girl I spent a lot of time at her house playing  around the pond with her younger daughter. I have some great memories from that house. Occasionally, while running around the pond catching lizards I would fall and scrape my knee on the concrete walkway or, once or twice, sprain an ankle or wrist. Her words of wisdom to me were always “Come now. It will soon be better before you get married”. It always made me giggle a little between the sobs and tears.

Maggie passed away peacefully with her family at her side a couple of weeks ago. I am so thankful that she was able to leave quietly and with so much love surrounding her. Even her 101 year old mother flew in to be by her side. I just wish I could have spent more time with her before she left us. Sometimes it takes a drastic event to make us forget about finances and just buy the damn plane ticket. Which is exactly what I did.

Somehow I think I found the only ticket on the internet that was under the $400 dollar mark and getting in at a decent hour. It’s like the universe wanted me to go home! So of course I bought the ticket immediately! I called my sister to devise a plan. I wanted to surprise my mom. My family is all classically terrible at keeping secrets from each other so I’m happy no one has managed to spill the beans. As of now, she has no idea that I’m coming home. Friday morning I plan on showing up at her house with video camera rolling. I expect there to be a lot of tears and hugging. It will be amazing. I can’t wait to see the look on her face!!! When I get back from Florida I will post the video here for all to see.

I cannot wait to see my family! I also can’t wait for 80 degree days, beach weather and thunderstorms, all at once! After this elongated winter of grey damp coldness here in the PNW I am really really ready to feel the sunshine on my face. It is long overdue!

 

Yam Surprise - Global Vegetarian AUD8.80

photo © 2009 Alpha | more info (via: Wylio)

At the beginning of March I made the decision to go back to being Vegetarian. I had been reducing my poultry and white meat in take for a while now. I rarely ate red meat, and I don’t like seafood. I ate a lot of vegetarian foods already. So it was an easy transition to make.

When I talk to people about their reasons for going vegetarian or vegan there seems to be a great divide. Some people do it for health, and some for the sake of the animals. I think I’m one of the people who are doing it for both reasons equally.. I’m a bridge. I needed to make some life changes to make myself feel better on a daily basis. I needed to eat more lean and healthy meals and I needed to get in shape. When I started reading about all of the chemical additives in food today I was astounded. I quickly made the decision to go meat free. Shortly after that I watched a documentary on the food industry (Food, Inc.) which really drove it home for me. The last thing I want to do is perpetuate an industry that is so grossly misleading and dirty. Lastly, and definitely most heartbreaking, is the treatment of the animals. I just can’t even stomach the abuse and mistreatment those poor animals are subjected to.

I will say that I would never want to come off as preachy about my decision. Let me be very clear that I would never judge any person based on what foods they decide to put into their own body. Everyone has the right to make their own decisions. I know there are farms and farmers out there that do things the right way. My hat is off to those people for all of their hard work. For me, being vegetarian is simply the best choice.

Me on the left and my sister on the right. @ Ponce De Leon Springs circa 1982

One month in and I couldn’t be happier with the way it is going. I don’t crave sweets quite as much and since the last time I was veg (about 14 years ago for 3 years) the food options have changed tremendously. Not to mention I’ve grown up a lot (read: I’m toward the top of the hill). Instead of eating bagels with hummus and/or pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I actually take the time to cook well rounded meals for myself. I feel better and I can tell my palate is changing.

I have also been toying with being vegan. I would call myself a part-time vegan at this point. I still eat cheese in small amounts once or twice a week (except that one time last week that I gorged on an apple, grapes and big chunk of Cana de Cabra). I don’t typically use milk or eat eggs, but I still eat products that contain dairy in one way or another. I’m not quite ready to make the vegan leap, but it just might be in my future some day.

My dad at the old “huntin’ camp” in Oak Hill, Florida circa 1985

Growing up in Florida my dad grew a lot of vegetables. I used to say he grew everything that started with a “P”. Pears, papayas, peppers, pecans, peaches… and everything in between: Naval oranges, grapefruit, grapes, bananas, chayotes (which we lovingly called cho-cho’s). He also made his own wine and hot sauce, but he was just awesome like that. We also had chickens, turkeys and bees! Oh man, I had a really amazing childhood. So many memories to take me off course. Stick to the plan…

The chicken coop was in the very back of the 2 acre yard. My older sister and I had the duty of collecting the eggs every other day or so. I remember very distinctly the smell of the coop, the clucks of the hens as we shooed them away from their nests, and the hunt for the new eggs.

I also remember the morning I was making scrambled eggs for breakfast. It was normal to miss an egg or two when collecting, that is why it had to be done really often. Unfortunately for me one egg in particular, the one I had cracked open into a hot frying pan, had been missed for more than a day. A lot more than a day, and there was a lot more than just a yolk. I was disgusted when it happened, but what bothered me even more was the fact that it was an egg containing two baby chicken fetus’, not just one. Needless to say, I swore off eggs for years. Eventually I came back around but I was very careful about where my eggs came from and how they were cooked. Every now and then I would think about that day back at home and jump off the egg wagon again for a few months. So yeah, maybe being vegan isn’t such a bad idea.

Back to the real reason I’m writing this post. Over the past couple of days I’ve been doing my best to find vegetarian and vegan food blogs that help keep me inspired to cook healthy meals. I have found some really great blogs and some have found me by way of other people. I really want to share all of the blogs here in one place. I hope the list continues to grow!

Vegan Yum Yum

A Veggie Venture

Veggie Terrain

Snarky Vegan

The Post Punk Kitchen

Vegan Happy Hour

Serious Eats (not strictly veg, but has an awesome listing of veg foods)

Veggie Mama (I’m a sucker for her personalized style)

The New Vegetarian

Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen (Gluten free and mostly veg)

**New Links**

The Kind Life

Vegan Dad

P.S. If you have a favorite food blog that hasn’t been listed, please leave it in the comments and I will add it to the list!

CARE JAPANphoto © 2011 Akira Lai / Raincity blue design | more info (via: Wylio)

 

I keep getting teary eyed when I read about the devastation in Japan. If I could pick up and leave tomorrow and go help in some way I would do it in a heartbeat. The fact is I don’t have much to offer and I would probably get in the way of the real people that are making a difference. So I do my best to help out in other ways. The catch is, I’m broke. I lost my job last month and I’m on an extremely tight budget. Each time I go to the grocery store I watch my bank account whittle away to smaller and smaller increments.

I don’t have much but I do have SOMETHING. So I give what I can. I’ve compiled a list of inexpensive ways to help out and yet still make a difference.

13 Ways You Can Help Japan That Take Less Than a Minute of Your Time

Groupon Donation

Help Japan Poster

Lady Gaga “Pray For Japan” bracelet

Threadless T-Shirt Contest

Sankaku Sachets

Etsy Artist Aid

Etsy has created a sellers tag for items being sold in which 100% of the proceeds can be donated to the Japan Relief Effort.

The sheer amount of devastation that they are going through and the thought of having your baby ripped from your arms, your loved ones missing, and all of your creature comforts taken away is catastrophic. Add to that the impending doom of the nuclear reactor (s) breakdown and the threat of radiation poisoning… it makes me so incredibly scared for them. If you haven’t seen this graphic of the constant earthquakes occurring in Japan then please make sure you take a look. Revisit it tomorrow, and I’m sure you’ll feel the impact in the sheer number of earthquakes that are ongoing.

There are so many other ways to help. This list is only the beginning and I hope to add more links later. If you have one to add, please do so in the comments section below.

I’ve been toying with the idea of running for a long time now.  actually went so far as to start last year. Too bad I only ran a few times because for some reason I have a strange fear of people looking at me. I do realize it’s silly.

Once I ran a few times I noticed my stamina getting better and better pretty quickly. But then the shin splints kicked in and the bad knees began to hurt. I used it as an excuse to stop. I definitely think I’m ready now to make a leap into the running world. I’d like to get a good pair of shoes and maybe a knee brace. An Ipod shuffle would help too.

I live in Capitol Hill, and have found that it’s a tough place to find a good running route. A gym would be ideal for me (since treadmills are easier on the knees) but I have a really difficult time committing to a yearly membership. Seems like highway robbery at it’s finest. Here’s what I would like to know:

What is your running routine?

Any fun places you regularly hit up?

When do you typically go for a run?

Do you run alone, or with a buddy?

Any other tips you can offer a newbie?

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