Monthly Archives: April 2014

Tuesday Talk: Mud Season makes me grumpy!

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If ever there is a time of year in Fraser when I feel bitter and utterly grumpy, it’s now: mud season. I try to embrace our “Spring,” but I feel that it’s unfair to even call it that. Nothing is blooming, the butterflies are not buzzing, and the air is not filled with the scent of flowers. If, a few weeks ago, things were trying to spring to life, they are hidden now by a fresh blanket of wet, heavy snow that has been coming down for the better part of 3 days.

It was the same thing last year: mud season finds me more tense and antsy than any other time of year. Inside my head I am saying “hurrummph,” and crossing my arms every time I look out the window and see the gray sky and the falling snow. I ache for hiking season, and for the warm sun on my bare arms. My body feels it too. I am more tired and a little achy from not being as active as I normally am; the mountains are my gym, and when the weather is gross it’s hard to motivate myself to get out.

My best strategies for surviving mud season are a few good books, a few good movies, lots of good and healthy food, yoga, pilates, trips to Denver, and, on better days, a walk or bike ride. I long for the first hike that will take me above tree line this year. And I daydream about the day (in less than 6 weeks…Yayyy!!!) that we wake up in hot, sticky, tropical Ecuador. Okay…I can’t complain too much!

For now, I’ll try to keep my “hurrummmph-ing” and arm crossing to a minimum while I wait for Fraser to change from a wet, muddy, cold, windy sink hole into a summer paradise.

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Weekend Kitchen Experiments: Curry “Man” Soup, Oatmeal Cakes, Sweet Potato Hash Browns, and More!

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This weekend turned out to be a weekend of near-constant cooking. To me, it seemed like great timing to hang out in the house. It’s mud season in Fraser and, while the weather has been pretty nice, there’s not as much primo outdoor recreating as there is in the height of summer or the height of winter. It’s still far too wet and muddy to hike, and the snow is slowly but surely melting away so snowboarding and cross-country skiing are wrapping up for the season. Bike riding seems to be our best bet, and we did that on our day off on Friday. But mostly, I spent a lot of time playing the kitchen. Here are our weekend kitchen experiments:

Alex’s curry “man” soup

I had been fighting a creeping cold all weekend, and by Sunday at lunchtime my throat was really starting to hurt. I told Alex I wished our Indian food restaurant was open for lunch so I could go get some curry. This warm spice always seems to help soothe a sore throat. Alex didn’t hesitate for one second. He got right up and declared that he would make me a curry soup. What a good hubby, hah? 🙂 Alex is really good at making something from nothing, at putting together a bunch of random spices and ingredients into something scrumptious. So, he set out to concoct a curry soup using whatever we had in the fridge! I was on the couch, being a “backseat driver” to his soup-making, giving him little lessons on the basics of making soup from scratch (I make soup A LOT..almost every week!) “This is a man soup,” he kept saying. “It’s a man soup.” I am not sure on the meaning of this, but I can only assume it meant that he was just throwing it all together. But man, did his man soup turn out good! When I sat down to write this post, I asked Alex what he did to make that soup. He refused to tell me, saying, “Nope, nope,” then, with a smirk on his face, “Ummm I cannot just prostitute my man soup.”…ahem…Then finally, “I don’t even know what I did.” Sorry guys, we obviously are not very diligent “recipe developers,” but that’s why this post is about experiments! Anywho, from what I saw from my vantage point on the couch Alex coined and sauteed 1-2 carrots, then added some strips of red and green pepper and a few diced green onions. It smelled to me like he seasoned all of this with curry, and I would later find curry, ginger, and mustard seed left out on the counter. Lucky for me he rarely cleans up after himself, so his kitchen secrets aren’t too hard to figure out 😉 While the veggies softened, he seemed to be melting some frozen chicken stock cubes in a saucepan and perhaps adding spices to this as well. Next, he put the veggies into the chicken stock, and began to saute and spice some tofu. This is when I dozed off a little. But I know that he added Udon noodles and the cooked tofu to the soup at some point. He woke me from my doze with a steaming bowl of curry soup. It was sooooooo delicious. It was spicy and hot, sweet and soothing. I devoured it, and enjoyed a 30 minute reprieve from my aching throat. If Alex ever decides that it is, in fact, acceptable to “prostitute his man soup,” I will be sure to share the official recipe with you.

Oatmeal Cakes:

The idea for this was to have a kind of dense and filling pancake item, made out of cooked oatmeal! First, I put about 2 cups of quick oats in a bowl and mixed them with boiling water, making sure they weren’t soupy at all, but sticky instead. I then added a handful of raisins and a handful of pecans. Next, I formed balls out of the mixture and squished them between my two hands, making one cake at a time and using a spatula to get the sticky cake off of my hand and into a pan. I had greased the pan with coconut oil, and now cooked the cakes, letting them get golden on one side and then flipping them and letting them get golden on the other side. When the cakes were done, I drizzled them with honey and served Alex his with yogurt. These were yummy! With crispy outsides and dense, packed insides, they had a different texture than regularly-prepared oatmeal and were still just as filling. Success!

 

Sweet Potato Hash Browns served with tomatoes on a fried egg.

Sweet Potato Hash Browns served with tomatoes on a fried egg.

Sweet Potato Hash browns

I love sweet potatoes, and I love hash browns. So, one morning, I thought I would try my hand at combining these two glorious things. I used one sweet potato, and started by peeling it and cutting it in half width-wise (this sounds like a very weird term…but I cut it the way that wasn’t lengthwise. Is that called width-wise?? Somebody help me out on this one.) Then I grated one half into a bowl using a cheese grater. Next, I spread the grated product onto a paper towel, topped it with another paper towel, and pressed out as much moisture as I could. I recently learned that sweet potatoes have a very high moisture content, so I thought taking some of that water out might speed up the browning process. I then repeated the grating and pressing with the other half of the sweet tater. After I squeezed out as much moisture as I could, I tossed all the hash in a bowl with some cinnamon and a little bit of corn starch, which is another technique to remove moisture (I learned this when making sweet potato fries on Thursday night, following this recipe from A Couple Cooks….they were AMAZING)Next, I heated up some coconut oil in a pan and, once it was melted, I add the sweet potato hash. Using a spatula, I pressed it down until it was like one big cake. Then I let it sizzle for quite a while, at least 20 minutes. I cooked it until it was starting to brown on one side. Then I flipped it and let the hash brown on the other side. It was definitely getting crispy, but was still pretty soft in the center. I turned up the heat a little so they would really crisp on the outside and, after flipping them multiple times so neither side would burn, I served them up with some eggs. Overall, these turned out being pretty yummy. But I would like to try this experiment again and see if I can get them crispier, maybe by baking them for a while first to get ride of moisture and then frying them quickly for crispiness?

 

Squash and Zucchini noodles.

Squash and Zucchini noodles.

Squash and Zucchini Noodles

For this experiment, I followed a super easy recipe. I bought three zucchini and two yellow squash. I peeled them. I used my julienne cutter to cut each one, top to bottom, into “noodles,” taking care to stop the cutting when I reached the center/seeds. I then lined two baking sheets with paper towels (don’t worry, nothing caught on fire!) and baked these zoodles on 200 degrees for 30 minutes. When they came out of the oven, I let them cool for a few minutes and then wrapped the paper towel around them and squeezed out a bunch of moisture from the zoodles, which had begun to sweat during the baking process. Next, I sauteed them in olive oil until they reached the texture I wanted, and added some tomato and spiced, cooked tofu to them. It was much like a spaghetti squash dish, and I loved that it was fresh and still filling. Next time, I will try these with pesto. Yum!

 

 

 

Pizza on Cauliflower Crust.

Pizza on Cauliflower Crust.

 

Cauliflower Pizza Crust

This is something odd that I’ve heard and read about a few times recently. It was intriguing and simple enough to make me want to try it. Taking bits and pieces from a few different recipes, I was able to make a pretty decent cauliflower pizza crust. I bought a bag of frozen cauliflower and let it thaw. I then measured out 2 cups of cauliflower and, using my manual food processor, I ground it into a rice-like substance, being careful not to grind it to less than rice-grain size. Next I put it in a bowl, added two eggs, and about 1 cup of cheese. I mixed it all together, spread it onto a pizza stone, and sprinkled some Italian seasoning on top. Then I baked it on 400 degrees for 20 minutes. I took it out and added sauce and toppings, and put it back in for about 10 minutes. The end result was quite light and delicious. I do want to try this again, but next time I will try to make my “dough” less moist, as it didn’t get as firm and crispy as some of the recipes I read indicated it would. I would also like to make it thicker “crust” pizza next time because it got pretty flimsy after I added toppings.

Well, it was a weekend of good cooking and good eating. I am happy to say that almost everything we ate this weekend was fresh and clean, hearty and healthy. I am sad to say that, despite the efforts and healthful eating, I still ended up with a cold 😦 No fair! At least there’s leftover man soup in the fridge in case that cold persists.

PS: We got a new niece on Monday morning at 5:38am. Can’t wait to meet sweet little Beatrice this weekend!

Baby Beatrice with big sis Penelope. For those of you that didn't know, my husband's brother is married to my sister (weird, I know) and these are their kiddos!

Baby Beatrice with big sis Penelope. For those of you that didn’t know, my husband’s brother is married to my sister (weird, I know) and these are their kiddos!

 

 

 

Tuesday Talk: What should I say when people ask me how married life is?

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It’s been a little more than 6 months now since Alex and I got married (Yay!)  and I’ve been asked this questions so many times: “So, how’s married life?!!” People are so excited for us, and I am too! However, every single time someone asks me this question I feel slightly awkward.

I tell the truth: married life is great!

And our pre-marriage life was great too…but no one ever asked me, “So, how is it dating your best friend?!! Do you just love it?!”

So, when I tell people that married life is great, I usually follow it by saying something about how we’ve been together for 8 years so it doesn’t feel like that much has changed since we got married.

Sometimes I’ll meekly add, “We bought car insurance together…”

Or, “We have a joint bank account now…”

These responses are guaranteed mood-killers. Insurance and bank accounts just really aren’t romantic. Plus, many people seem to refuse to believe that really nothing much has changed in our relationship since signing our marriage license.

“But,” they’ll say, “Don’t you feel like he’s really got your back now? Like, for life?”

“Yeah,”I say, “But I felt that way before.” Then, to appease them and feel less awkward, I’ll say, “I mean…Yeah..I guess it’s a little different.”

Sometimes I answer the question with something like, “It’s great. It’s fun that we can ‘officially’ start planning our next steps together now!”

If anything, I feel like this is probably the biggest change. Being married allows us a bit more freedom in what we want to do next with things like applying for the Peace Corps.

Still though, I just don’t feel like this really gets at what people are asking.

“Well, they say the first year is the hardest….” people will say.

And I’m thinking, ‘Do they want me to tell them we’re struggling? Shit…what am I supposed to say here!?’

I’ll chuckle. “Well, the livin’ is pretty easy for us right now,” I’ll say. “I can imagine it being a little harder when we have kids and a house and more bills and stuff.”

With every response, I find myself wishing that I had something more to say to people when they ask me how married life is. I don’t want to give them the impression that I’m a bored wife or that things aren’t going well or that I am just plain disinterested in them and the fact that they are speaking to me. I wish I could express to them that the last 8 years in total have been amazing with Alex, that we have more fun together than we do with anyone else, that we are (and have been) excited about where we are and where we’re headed next, that I am often amazed at how well we mesh and how well we understand each other, that I deeply appreciate him and our ability to laugh at life together.

But, to me, this isn’t just marriage. This is the story of growing up with my husband. So, is this what people want to hear when they ask how “married life” is? It confuses me. It feels almost like a lie to credit all of this to being married and to categorize it under “married life.” It’s just our life.

 

 

 

 

Love Your Neighbors: Adventures in Utah, 2014

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Alex and I are pretty lucky to have (mostly) great neighbors. Neighbor states, that is. After working for two summers in Yellowstone, I am certain I will have a lifelong love of our neighbor state of Wyoming, and I take any opportunity I can to share that with Alex. Kansas…welll…it’s flat, so we don’t find many recreating opportunities there. But I do have some family there, so that’s something to love about it! And plains’ sunsets are pretty alright too. New Mexico is a place we haven’t spent a lot of time, but it sure seems like it has a lot to offer and there are plenty of New Mexico spots on our ‘bucket list,’ like Taos, Truth and Consequences, the Balloon Festival, and Carlsbad Caverns. Plus, we just spent a few days visiting friends on the Jicarilla-Apache Reservation in Dulce, NM and that was a huge learning experience for us. And that brings us to our final neighbor: Utah. Our love for Utah has really grown over the last couple years. We especially love an April visit to Utah now that we live in Fraser. Utah in April can still be brisk and spring-like, but it’s unquestionably warmer than Fraser in April. Plus, an April visit to Utah really scratches our itch for summer backpacking season that starts to creep up in the spring.

This year, we spent one extremely windy day exploring the blobbish rock formations of Goblin Valley State Park. In the early evening, the winds picked up to about 50 mph and all the campers ran for their cars. After scooping up our wind-blown and broken tent, we spent the rest of our night in the car, drinking grown up apple juice drinks, eating a bag of chips for dinner, and just being silly weirdos.Despite the weather, or maybe because of it, it ended up being quite a fun night of (literally) car camping. After a delicious breakfast with a view of the Goblins the next day, we did an awesome hike in nearby Little Wild Horse Canyon before heading to Capitol Reef National Park for a couple days of backpacking!

In Capital Reef, we set our sights on the Spring Canyon area and camped in a side canyon for two nights. Although we didn’t mean to end up in a side canyon (it was truly a happily lost moment!) we were lucky to find a beautiful red-rock alcove to pitch our tent in. We didn’t see a fellow human at any point in our side canyon, which we named ‘Alex and Cece’s Spring Canyon.’ We spent a lot of time in our alcove home, cooking, eating, relaxing, and climbing about on rocks. During our one full day in the Spring Canyon area, we went on a long journey to refill our water bottles at the only spring in Spring Canyon.

Here’s a photo story of our adventure:

Recipe Review: Thai Curry Soup (Noodles and Company Copycat)

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Noodles and Company Thai Curry Soup copycat recipe.A couple of weeks ago, we got some Noodles and Company takeout with Alex’s dad, George, and his girlfriend, Liz. I ordered my usual Pad Thai, and Liz got the Thai curry soup. It caught my eye…and nose and, eventually, taste buds! I didn’t know they had such a thing! I had a slurp of the broth from her soup, and knew immediately that I had to find a copycat recipe to make at home…especially since there’s no Noodles and Company within a 30 minute drive of my house.

The curry flavor of this soup broth is not overwhelming, as it is gently sweetened by coconut milk. These flavors, along with garlic, ginger, and lemongrass, meld to create a comforting, warm (and not in the temperature kind of way!) , and curry-ifically cleansing spoonful.

The Noodles and Company Thai Curry Soup copycat recipe that I found came from Tasty Kitchen:

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces, weight Rice Noodles (If They’re Hard To Find, Buy The Box Of Pad Thai And Only Use The Noodles)
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 3 cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 2 Tablespoons Minced Lemon Grass ( If You Can’t Find It, Don’t Sweat It, Just Add Two More Tablespoons Lime Juice!)
  • 1 teaspoon Grated Fresh(or Ground Powder) Ginger
  • 2 teaspoons Red Curry Paste
  • 6 cups Chicken Broth
  • 2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon White Sugar
  • 1 can Reduced Fat Coconut Milk, 14 Ounce Can
  • ½ cups Peeled And Deveined Shrimp ( Can Substitute Chicken)
  • 4 Tablespoons Fresh Lime Juice
  • ¼ cups Snipped Cilantro
  • ½ cups Fresh Sliced Mushrooms
  • 1 bag Baby Spinach Leaves, 6 Ounce Bag

Makes 6 servings

Step 1: Heat oil in a saucepan. Stir in garlic, lemongrass, and ginger until aromatic- about 1 minute.  Add the curry paste and stir.

Step 2: Stir in 1/2 of the chicken broth (3 cups) and stir until curry paste is dissolved. Stir in the rest of the broth, along with soy sauce and sugar.

Step 3: Let it simmer for 20 minutes, covered, to let the flavors meld.

Step 4: Stir in the noodles, coconut milk, shrimp, and lime juice.  Cook until shrimp is pink and done.

Step 5: Stir in cilantro, mushrooms, and spinach and let simmer until softened.

My thoughts and things I did differently:

My biggest alteration to this recipe was that instead of using red curry paste, I used yellow curry powder. I couldn’t find red curry paste in Fraser, or red curry powder for that matter, so yellow it was! The powder still dissolved in the broth, and the curry flavor was still deliciously present even after adding the sweeter spices and the coconut milk. Next, I did not use shrimp in this recipe. When I tried Liz’s soup from Noodle’s and Company she had ordered it with tofu, and that just stuck in my mind. So, I cooked large cubes of extra firm tofu in lite soy sauce in a separate pan and topped my bowl of soup with it. This was delicious, and I love that this recipe could be made using any number of proteins: tofu, shrimp, chicken, pork, or even beans. I’ll have to try a different protein next time! Lastly, I substituted the rice noodles for Japanese (not very Thai…:) ) Udon Noodles because I had about 2 oz uncooked leftover from another meal. I had no problems with this substitution, but I definitely want to try rice noodles next time!

When I make it again, I will add more vegetables than just the mushrooms and spinach. I was thinking carrots would go nicely in this soup and maybe some bean sprouts on top. This time, I added green onion on top, and loved the extra fresh flavor and crunch that this added. I also love that this recipe could be modified to use rice or potatoes as the starch, so I might just give that a go.

This soup was easy to make and easy to eat. There are so many ways to use the same broth as a base, and modify the protein, starch, and veggies in this soup that I’m sure I will make it more than one more time. It was warm and satisfying, and made my nose run to just the right degree.

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday Talk: Why I love writing…even if no one pays me for it

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I’ll admit I’m feeling rather scatterbrained today. We just got back from a week off of work, which we spent backpacking, exploring, hot springing, visiting friends and generally gallivanting about in Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado. It was glorious, and I am so grateful to have a job that allows me the time to gallivant. Now we are back into the day to day routine, and I’m suddenly remembering that it always takes a few days to get the brain to focus again. I was just sitting here, staring at the empty text box for this post, looking around, thinking about Peace Corps, and marketing my book, and how blue the sky is, and what’s for dinner tonight, and what I should bring to Easter brunch, and my sisters’ baby shower, and how good my caramel vanilla tea smells, and that guy outside walking his dog, and what kind of dog I want someday, and what I should write about. It’s enough to make me want to meditate..or self-induce a short coma so my brain will just quiet down a bit. Meanwhile, the cursor continued to blink at me. We all know the feeling, right? Then it hit me: the fact that my brain felt like it was running so fast it was trying to escape my head made it that much more important that I write today. Here are a few reasons why:

Because writing forces me to focus:

We all know that life moves by at super speed sometimes. As if the fast pace isn’t enough to overstimulate our brains, we are constantly inundated with media, information, advertisements, and interactions of all sorts. So it almost seems natural that my brain would think about all those things I listed above in the matter of…45 seconds. But it feels so much better when my brain doesn’t act that way. Reading is one way to get it focus in on what’s in front of me. Writing is another. It might take a few minutes, but once I get writing all the sounds and stimuli around me disappear, and my brain automatically focuses on finding the next word or developing the idea as I go. Over time, this seems to build up my attention span and my ability to focus on whatever I need to focus on.

Because writing fosters my curiosity: 

Guess what? I was a journalism student, but I don’t work in journalism. What a surprise right?…ahem…Anyways, does that mean that I regret getting a journalism degree? Not for a second. If nothing else, journalism school made my lifelong habit of asking people a million questions socially acceptable. Score! I no longer feel like a nosy wierdo. Well, sometimes I do…but now I know I’m not the only one. I now feel that I can interact and explore the world with a curious, journalistic eye, and even if I am not writing up and printing everything I find I still feel like I gain a lot of knowledge this way. In addition to projecting my insatiable curiosity onto anyone who will listen, I also constantly ask myself questions, wonder about this and that and, subsequently, read and research to find information. Sometimes, Alex says I’m mulling. Sometimes I agree. Sometimes I tell him to stop squashing my inquisitive nature 🙂 It’s what makes me me, I tell him.

Because writing today teaches tomorrow’s history lessons

Writing, obviously, is documentation. Written words are something solid that can potentially be around for a long time, as the world changes and starts to forget the way things were. The fact that today’s books, magazines, and newspapers will one day be a window into a different era is pretty awesome. The fact that my journals will someday be my children’s window into my youth is super duper awesome!

Because writing is free, doesn’t require much gear, and can be done anywhere

I grew up writing short stories about circus horses and pioneer girls. I wrote them at my older sisters’ volleyball games. I wrote them while we drove cross-country in our family RV. I probably wrote them in school when I was supposed to be doing other things. Still, I write and scribble at odd times of day and will often pull out my Iphone to type in a quick note about something that popped into my head while at work. As long as I have a pen and paper ( or Iphone 🙂 ) I am pretty well set.

And the end all of this ode to writing is that

writing preserves my sanity and I don’t really know why

If I go more than three days without writing something creative down somewhere, my brain feels like it’s going to explode. I don’t know why this is. For some reason, just putting a pen to paper or typing out a blog post resets me mentally. Oftentimes, in my private journals, writing is a way to follow the string of a thought about a problem and, somehow by doing this, find some kind of solution. Sometimes it’s just a way to vent without having to dump on another person. Sometimes, like with blogging, it’s just fun and easy. And I’ve found that one of the best feelings in the world is after I’ve just spent an hour or more totally immersed in a big writing project,  thinking deeply, struggling a little, completely focused. Ahhhh so refreshing… That probably makes me a big nerd.

But that’s why I love it.

Now it’s back into the always-moving world..but maybe my brain has slowed down a little 🙂

Tuesday Talk: Can’t Talk. Must Hike!

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The views of sandstone domes and iron-rich spires in Capitol Reef National Park.

Capitol Reef National Park. Photo courtesy of Alex.

 

As you read this Alex and I are somewhere in the Utah backcountry…if everything’s gone according to plan, that is! We’re probably backpacking in Capitol Reef National Park. We quite like Capitol Reef. We visited last year for one day as part of our Utah trip, and we decided to go back this year and do some backpacking. Situated between the big Utah attractions of Moab and Bryce and Zion national parks, Capitol Reef is quiet and without crowds. You don’t feel the hustle bustle there like you do in a lot of national parks, and it’s easy to drive or walk around and enjoy the strange rock formations and the fruit orchards. After backpacking, I’m sure we’ll stop by the Historic Gifford House for a pie made with fruit from the park’s orchards. Then it will be on to explore the nearby Grand Escalante Staircase National Monument for a couple days.

We’re hoping for a little adventure, a chance to explore, and flip-flop weather!

Cece and Alex backpacking in Capitol Reef, April 2013.

Cece and Alex backpacking in Capitol Reef, April 2013.