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Archive for the month “April, 2012”

Soup Extravaganza

There always seems to be that night when you stare into your refrigerator and wonder, what should I make for dinner. That was me the other night. So I went into the pantry and looked at what we had: beans and canned tomatoes. Okay. Soup. It’s one of my go-to meals because I can throw a variety of stuff in and create something without using a recipe. I had half an onion and half a cabbage to use. A quick trip to the grocery store for carrots, celery, chicken stock, canned corn (because it sounded good), and bacon and I had my ingredients. For flavor I used salt, pepper, dried thyme (because I had forgotten to get fresh at the store), chili powder, and paprika.

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Not too shabby for a quick weeknight meal. Fortunately I had a loaf of whole wheat bread I had baked last week still in the freezer.

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Seed Starts: Shoot growth

The shoots are growing! Now it’s just a matter of waiting for the cotyledons to open before I can plant them in soil. I know that there is a greater chance of mortality once I do that, but so far it seems to be more successful than if I had sown directly into the soil.

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So exciting!

Let the Fish do the Talking

As the premise of this blog is creativity, it’s accurate to say that I love trying new things, ideas, flavors, etc. While I like to approach things from a creative viewpoint, it is also important to know when to hold back. Sometimes, simple is best.

This past weekend my husband when out fishing. It was the last day of the coveted Spring Chinook season and as he hadn’t been able to get out on the water this season really wanted to snag a fish. And he did!

chinook salmon

I helped him gut and fillet the fish and let me tell you, it was a beautiful fish. Fresh fish is one of my favorite things to eat. Its delicate flavor doesn’t need a lot of seasoning, just a simple salt and pepper. We baked this fish, but you can pan fry or grill too. Because salmon has a nice flavor, especially fresh, I think it’s a waste to coat it with a lot of sauce or herbs. However, miso or teriyaki sauces tend to be lighter than others and can enhance the flavor of the fish. Usually though, when it comes to flavorful fish, I’m a purist.

For a meal like this, I say get creative with the side dishes. We chose to stay simple with our sides this time by paring the fish with mashed potatoes and sautéed asparagus. It was a perfect spring meal and the fish was melt-in-your-mouth tender.

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Starting Seeds: Successes and Failures

Here is installment two of my soil-less seed start project.

We have growth people! The seeds rolled around during watering and moving of the container, so my neat rows are no longer. However, I have several that have sprouted their first root. Yay!

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Along with my success, I did have a couple of areas that need improvement. But…I have solutions for next time.

Failure 1) Seeds rolled around

Solution: Use thicker, rougher paper so the seeds will adhere. Also, find a dropper or squirt bottle to use for watering

Failure 2) some seeds molded

Solution: water less. Ideally I want the paper to be saturated but not overly so.

Not bad for my first attempt in years.

Starting Seeds

Starting vegetables or any plant from seed seems tricky, and yet it really isn’t. Sure it’s more reliable to buy starts from a greenhouse or garden center, but there is something fascinating about watching a seed sprout. I love the biology of it. How such a simple act can be so complex. Not only is it a much cheaper way to start vegetables, but it’s a great learning process for kids.

Anyway, back to my seeds.

When I was an undergraduate, I was working on a research project involving two mutant tomato varieties. In order to determine physiology of the shoot as well as root structure we had to start the seedlings in a grow box without soil. Yes, there is no dirt involved. It is a really interesting process and I am attempting to recreate it. We’ll see if it works. Here is the first installment in my quest for my 2012 vegetable garden.

To start the seeds we used grow boxes with blotter paper. Problem 1: I don’t have a grow box (thick plastic box with a lid) and I don’t have any blotter paper. So it’s time to get creative. Solution: I used a Costco sized clamshell that I kept. To that I added a layer of newspaper.

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On top of that I added some computer paper. It really doesn’t add much, and I wish I had paper that held water better, but white helps see the seeds better. Soak the paper so that the seeds will stick.

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Then it’s time to add the seeds. I put them into rows so that it would be easy to tell what I planted.

From Left to Right: Bok Choy, Dill, Basil, Thyme, and Brussel Sprouts

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Label and put in a warm, dark place. I put them under the sink. I will be checking on them daily. If you have a squirt bottle that would be the best thing to water them with. I have yet to find an appropriate watering device around the house, but I’m sure I’ll be able to come up with something. Just water them when the paper is dry.

We’ll see if this works. If not, I’ll have to find some new paper to try. If you have construction paper, that might work best. I’ll be posting the progress, good or bad, so stay tuned.

Bay Area Trip part II

I love spring.  It’s a happy time of year for me.  I love all the flowers, the promise of warmer days, and knowing that soon I will get to spend lots of time outside in the garden.  In general I feel much more creative in the springtime although knitting has helped fill the void of winter.  At any rate, at this time of year I am finding lots of garden inspiration.  Everywhere I turn I see a gorgeous bush or plant that I want.  Over the next several years I will be re-landscaping our yard to fit what my aesthetic is.  This year it’s all about ideas.

On our trip to the bay area I found plenty of inspiration. The final part of our journey was spent at my in-laws who had their yard professionally landscaped a few years ago.  It has filled out now and is ripe with inspiration.  Here are a few of my favorites from their yard.

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Golden Gate Park Inspiration

Our trip to San Francisco was successful.  Our son did wonderful on the plane and he even slept through the night despite the many disruptions. I am so thankful that it went well and I am so proud of him!

Friday I managed to get on a bus with my son in tow and take a trip out to Golden Gate Park. I love exploring, especially nature. It always rejuvenates my spirit and clears my mind. I find that it’s important to do that regularly so that you can approach life with a much clearer focus. For me it gives me the space within myself for creative thought.

While walking through the park I couldn’t help but take pictures of some of the beautiful flowers I found.   It was an absolutely perfect day for it too.

Enjoy!

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Keeping Baby Out

My son is very curious, which I am thankful for, usually.  However, he also seems to think that ever time I ask him to stop his behavior, that it’s a game.  Yes, I  know that he’s not even a year old yet, but I believe that babies understand more than we give them credit for.  We, being new parents, were not as prepared as we should have been for his adept ability at getting into two cabinets that we didn’t want him in.  We hurriedly bought some baby proofing from Amazon.

However, they were not long enough to fit the two doors we needed locked the most.  These however, are great for the bathrooms.  So, while I was getting tired of constantly having to guard the doors and him thinking “ooh, it’s another fun game” I decided to rig something.

It’s not the most attractive set up, but it does the job and I haven’t had to worry about him getting into the cabinets.  I know that there are several products on the market created by mothers in similar situation.  Which got me thinking, I wonder what else I have in my house that I could turn into a creative, genius, simplistic idea for a product.  Probably not much that hasn’t already been thought of already.  But I’m going to keep my eyes peeled and my creative eye opened just in case.

Oyakodon with Tofu, Shitake Mushroom Clear Soup

Ah comfort food. I have no memory of my great-grandmother or grandmother ever making this specific dish, but the basic flavors all take me back to childhood. I love Japanese food and crave it often. As a child I didn’t care to eat much because there were so many other things that I wanted to be doing instead. I saw eating as a means to keeping me alive. Japanese food (and hamburgers) was the exception. I have never known as much satisfaction from food as I have after eating Japanese food. Once I learned to cook and actually start enjoying food, I learned to appreciate. I still crave Japanese food and I’m constantly trying out different recipes.

These two recipes are from the book Why Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat by Naomi Moriyama.

The Clear Soup is a non-miso based soup. I boiled water, added a half block of medium tofu (the book recommends silken), turned the heat down and simmered for two minutes. In another pan I boiled more water, added two shiitake mushrooms, turned the heat down and simmered for three minutes. For this soup I made my own dashi. I boiled two cups of it adding 1 tsp soy sauce, 1/2 tsp sake and ¾ tsp salt. Next time I would cut down on the salt as it was a bit too much. The tofu and mushrooms were cut up and placed into bowls. The soup was then ladled over and a sprinkling of green onion was added.

Oyakodon, or more simply, chicken and egg over rice is easy and quick to make. I have made this recipe before and found it to be a bit watery and bland. This time, I made some changes and voila, a much tastier oyakodon.

Ingredients

4 large eggs

½ cup dashi (I used my homemade stock)

1 medium yellow onion cut into thin crescents

1 leek, cut diagonally into thin slices

1 ½ tsp reduced sodium soy sauce

1 tsp granulated sugar

½ tsp salt

1 tsp mirin

½ lb skinless chicken breasts cut into bite-sized pieces

Rice (brown or white) as much as you like (I cooked 2 cups)

Directions

Break eggs into a medium bowl and whisk just until mixed

Place the dashi and sake in a medium saucepan over high heat (I used a wok). Add the onion and leek and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the soy sauce, sugar, salt and mirin.

Stir in the chicken pieces and cook for 3 minutes. Pour the beaten eggs over the surface of the chicken mix. Reduce heat to low and cook the mixture for approximately 2 minutes or until the egg and chicken are cooked through. Turn off heat

Fill bowls with rice and ladle the chicken mixture over top.

Sometimes, if I’m in the mood, I’ll add more side dishes, but on this occasion, I wanted simple and quick.

Enjoy!

A Packing Challenge

Wednesday will be our first plane flight with our son. It is a scary and exciting prospect all wrapped into one. Here’s my thing about flying, I dislike checking baggage. So my challenge was how to fit my son’s and my clothing all into one suitcase small enough for a carry on. Oh, I could have managed easily with one of those roll types, but where’s the fun in that? I’ve been made fun of many times for size of suitcase I bring along with me, but I find that the more I simplify things, the less stress I have.

We will be gone for four nights and I plan on fitting all of our clothes into this:

Yes, I am crazy, I know. I know that not everything we will need will not fit in here, but I will also have my son’s diaper bag which will be filled with the rest of his essential stuff. However, everything I need will fit. It only takes some choices and creativity.

Here’s how I go about it

  1. I make a list of everything I think I need
  2. Add everything I want to take
  3. Pull out outfits that can be mixed and matched and that equal the number of vacation days. Layering pieces are ideal.
  4. I always plan out what I’m going to be traveling in and try to make sure it includes bulkier pieces such as sweaters
  5. I limit my options. I only take precisely what I’ll need. Usually I will separate my clothing into must have and would like to, and if there isn’t enough room it doesn’t go
  6. Pair down the toiletries. For example, do you really need to take the curling iron and the straightener? Tough choices, I know. I also pare down my make-up bag and I definitely don’t take all of the hair and face products that I might usually use. I think I can live without them for a few days and really, who’s going to notice?
  7. I rarely take more than one pair of shoes. Unless I’m taking a longer vacation, will be traveling over more than one type of terrain, or am attending different types of functions, I don’t see the need. I have managed to pack more than one pair in this suitcase, but that was before I had a child who also needed suitcase space.
  8. Always ask yourself, what do I really need and you’ll be golden. You rarely need as much as you think you do.

This may not sound like a lot of fun to most people, but for me, it takes away the stress of staring at a suitcase of clothing wondering what in the world I feel like wearing. I do that on a daily basis anyway. I don’t feel like wasting my vacation hours doing it.

Anyway, back to the suitcase issue. Some of you may be saying “you can’t possibly fit everything in that small suitcase!” And to you I say “oh, but I can and I will.”

Here is the proof:

Inside I have fit

For me: one pair of jeans, two tops, one cardigan, two shirts, socks and undergarments, pajamas, make-up, straightener

For my son: three pairs of pants, one hoodie, two long-sleeved undershirts, two short-sleeved onesies, one long-sleeved shirt, one long-sleeved onesie, pajamas, socks and about 3 sleeveless undershirts

Toiletries: all carry-on size approved. Shampoo and conditioner, lotion and soap for my son, contact solution, diaper cream, make-up and toothpaste

All that’s left to add is my toothbrush and glasses.

And we’re ready for takeoff!

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