Hello from the other side of summer

I’m not sure how I feel about being on the other side of summer, but I am happy to be on the other side of the move!  Between unpacking and cleaning, cleaning and unpacking, a variety of house projects, a five-year-old birthday, a visit from my family, a short getaway, and a semester-long class packed into 6 weeks (also, unpacking and cleaning), the summer flew by!

On Monday, I began the second of three years of part-time coursework that I need for my didactic program in dietetics (DPD) verification.  I have this feeling that I’m going to blink and I’ll be sitting here a year from now starting my final year of the program — oof!

My first day of class almost didn’t happen due to a a power outage on campus, but we managed to get in a shortened class after a delayed start.

I’ll be getting back into shape again with a thrice weekly commute to campus (weather permitting — I’ve already tried out my public transit back-up route).  I’m already looking forward to feeling cool fall breezes on that commute, but those are more than a few weeks away!

I’m not the only one back to school this week — Gabriel starts kindergarten today!  For the past two years, Matthew was the primary child transporter (along with my MIL, who did p.m. transportation), biking Gabriel to preschool almost every morning, first on Big Blue, then on the trail-a-bike.  The timing of Gabriel’s new school means that school drop-off and pick-up will fall to me most days, and I’m looking forward to this new routine (though again, it will be more fun when it’s not so darn hot!).

In addition to the new transportation routine, we’re going to need a new plan for lunches.  For the past two years, I’ve been able to pack Gabriel a lunch based on dinner leftovers (i.e., the same thing Matthew and I eat for lunch) that school staff or my MIL reheated and served.  He won’t have the luxury of heating his food anymore (as far as I know), and while some dishes are okay chilled or room temp, I’ll likely have to rethink others.  I’m browsing the school lunches over at Bonzai Aphrodite (and wishing she could just make G’s lunches every day).

Two days in, I’m already feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of the moving pieces, but I survived last fall and spring — I’ve got this!

 

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Meaty Monday

We don’t do a lot of faux meat, or “meat alternatives,” around these parts.  I prefer to get protein from whole foods including legumes, nuts, and whole grains.  These minimally processed foods don’t have complicated ingredient lists, are better environmentally (less energy and water into processing and less packaging), and are easier on the budget.

We do eat tempeh and tofu a few times a month (tempeh is less processed than tofu), and I enjoy Field Roast sausages, though I buy them only rarely.  Ever since a Boca burger left me feeling funky several years ago, I’ve avoided premade veggie burgers, instead making my own bean and veggie burger creations (though I did have a decent store bought veggie burger at a 4th of July party over the summer).

That said, meat alternatives have come a long way since I stopped eating meat (11 1/2 years ago!).  During my brief internship with Lighter (a company with a plant-based meal planning app) this spring, recipes using a number of new-to-me meat alternatives piqued my curiosity, and a few weeks ago, I finally bought a couple of items to try: Upton’s Seitan Bacon and Beyond Meat Chicken Strips.

The Bacon
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The bacon looks pretty realistic.  For my first tasting, I cooked two strips in our smallest cast iron pan . . .

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. . . and crumbled them over eggs.

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I enjoyed the flavor of this product.  I was able to get a bit of crunch on the edges, but overall the texture reminded my more of beef jerky (which I enjoyed, back in the day) than bacon.

Now that we finally have tomatoes coming in, I want to try a BLT using the Upton’s bacon.  I do find it annoying that tomatoes and lettuce are not really in season at the same time — the heat that tomatoes need pretty much ruins lettuce — though I guess now we might be getting close to fall lettuce.  (A year ago, I had a craving for BLTs that I have yet to satisfy.  I actually considered purchasing a small amount of nice, locally raised pork bacon, but never took the plunge.  We’ll see how the vegetarian version works out.)

The Chicken

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Looks A LOT like the real thing.

The package of the Beyond Chicken Grilled Strips said it served four, but I decided to stretch it a bit, using half of the container for a fajita recipe.

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I sauteed the strips with onion, green pepper, shredded cabbage, thinly sliced kohlrabi, and cumin and chili powder.

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Served on whole wheat tortillas topped with lime juice, sour cream, and diced tomatoes.

Like real chicken, these strips don’t have much flavor on their own.  (I under-salted the dish, expecting the strips to have plenty of salt already, which they don’t — the brand does offer preseasoned products.)

As a vegetarian, I found the strips’ texture to be creepily similar to real chicken (I’m not alone in this reaction).  While it was an interesting addition to the meal, I would have been just as happy having an all-vegetable fajita with a side of beans.  I’m not particularly motivated to use the other half of the box.  After many years of vegetarian cooking, it’s like, what the heck would I do with chicken?

Verdict
I can see buying the bacon again / having it around sometimes (it can be frozen, as can the Beyond Chicken product), but probably not the chicken — I’d just as soon eat tofu or tempeh.  I may eventually try some of the other Beyond Meat products, but I’m not in a big hurry.

These products could be useful for omnivores who are thinking about becoming vegetarian or who want to eat less meat, but are not sure how to cook without meat.  For long-time vegetarians who are used to cooking well-rounded meals without meat alternatives, you’re not missing much other than novelty.

Note: All opinions are my own. This post was not sponsored in any way.

Posted in Food | 3 Comments

Kitchen conundrums

Overall, I think we did a great job on our kitchen design — maximizing a relatively small space, staying within budget, and working around multiple doorways and a large window (lovely for natural light, but does limit options).  However, a few things have come up as we’re settling into the space.

Where to put the dish drainer
Despite having a dishwasher (which we enjoy!), there are a number of things I hand wash, including pots and pans, the plastic lids to our glass Pyrex containers (trying to baby them), our water bottles, etc.  In addition to holding these items, our dish drainer houses dishes that don’t get fully dry in the dish washer and our Neti pots and the jars we use to heat our Neti water.  For us, it’s been something that is always out.

At our apartment, our sink was placed diagonally in a corner, and our dish drainer fit perfectly into what would have otherwise been dead space between the sink and the wall.  But now our sink is on an island, and the dish drainer is hogging valuable space, including what will be part of the counter for our bar-style seating.

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Note: That is the clearest (i.e., least cluttered) the island has been since we moved in!

Back to what to do about the dish drainer . . . .

  1. Live with it
  2. Get a slightly smaller model and live with it
  3. Buy a dish drainer that hangs across the sink (trade-off here is less usable sink space)
  4. ??? — I’d love to hear other suggestions here.

While it’s not the end of the world, this issue makes me wish we’d flip-flopped things, putting the sink against the wall and locating the stove on the island (though that may have presented other issues), but this is what we’ve got.

Related note: We now have barstools!  I found a set of three basic wooden stools on Craigslist for thirty dollars — score!

Faucet spacing issue
Our counter tops were a bit of a splurge, and a bit of a gamble on the color (which we love).  We were told to have our faucet of choice ready on installation day.  Along with the faucet, we provided a spigot for our water filter (we bought the under-sink retrofit kit for the filter we’ve been using for several years).

On the day of the installation, neither Matthew nor I were on-site.  We left the installers a note specifying that the water filter should be installed to the left of the main water faucet, and the sprayer should be installed to the right of the main water faucet. 

The installers called Matthew at work to inquire about the spacing for the faucet and sprayer.  Not being there to see, and not being the professional installer, Matthew asked what was standard, and they replied, “Four inches.”  So they installed them with four-inch spacing . . .

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. . . which, it turns out, was not really enough.  It kind of works, if you put the sprayer back in just so (i.e., facing perfectly forward) and/or don’t turn the water on all the way.  This picture was actually taken after they came back out and adjusted things slightly, pushing the main faucet a bit closer to the filtered water supply and the sprayer a bit more toward the outside.

The adjustment that was already made is basically as good as it gets without ordering a whole new slab of quartz for the island.  On one hand, this seems wasteful.  On the other hand, this was installer error, and we plan to have these counters for a long time.  Having it not right is frustrating.

If this was your kitchen, what would you do?  Live with it, or request they make it right?

To pegboard, or not to pegboard
I got the idea of pegboard for kitchen storage from reading about Julia Child’s kitchenI wasn’t sure it would work in our space, but I tagged the idea for consideration.

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Fast forward to our almost-finished kitchen, and we have a wall space where pegboard would be an option.  For durability, I would use metal pegboard, rather than the fiberboard material.

We have already ordered a couple of utensil-hanging rails, so the current plan is to install those and wait and see on the pegboard, which would be the pricier option, once we buy both the metal pegboard and the accessories.  Pegboard provides lots of versatility, so that might still happen someday.

Clothesline options
This is not really kitchen-related, but I’m tossing it in here anyway.  In general, I prefer hanging laundry in the basement — because I’m a vampire, and because the sun fades things, and pollen, etc. — but we don’t have a ton of space in our basement, especially right now.  An option for outdoor clothes drying would be great.

Anyone have any favorite out-door clothesline set-ups?


Posted in House | 7 Comments

Because #BlackLivesMatter

Looking at my Facebook feed, filled with posts from my social justice-oriented friends, it is easy to sit back, to feel like everything has been said.  That anything I say would be preaching to the choir.  But the protest posters that read “Silence = Complicity” and “White Silence = Violence” speak truth.

I wish I wasn’t writing this post.  Again.  But there is clearly still work to do.

Work has been done, by many groups and individuals, including the Ferguson Commission and Black Lives Matter (Campaign Zero recommendations), but much, much more is needed.  In the meantime, injustices based on skin color continue across our country.

If you see an American flag today (or have noticed in the past few days), you will see that it is flying at half-staff, to honor the victims of the shootings in Dallas.  And those deaths were a tragedy.

As were the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

Which got me to thinking . . . I don’t know the criteria for ordering the flag lowered to half-staff, but something was nagging, so I visited halfstaff.org.  Browsing through recent months, it seems that on a national level, the flag is rarely lowered for one single death unless the deceased was politically important (e.g., Antonin Scalia).  Okay, fair enough.

My search also revealed that President Obama has ordered flags to half-staff more than any other U.S. president.  Okay.

What was bugging me, what I wanted to know, was, what about June 2015?  What about the nine dead men and women, including state senator Clementa Pinckney, in a terrorist attack in Charleston, SC?  What happened with the flag then?

So I scrolled backward chronologically through the months:

  • July 2016 — Dallas (5 killed — police officers)
  • June 2016 — Orlando (49 killed)
  • March 2016 — Brussels terrorist attack (32 killed)
  • Dec. 2015 — San Bernadino (14 killed)
  • Nov. 2015 — Paris attack (130 killed)
  • Oct. 2015 — Roseburg, OR (9 killed)
  • July 2015 — Chattanooga, TN (5 killed — Navy reservists)
  • June 2015 — NOTHING

I went to May 2015, then back forward to June 2015.  Still nothing.

So I did a bit more digging on each of the shootings/attacks in question.  Number killed, whether the deceased included police/fire/military personnel, etc.

Because maybe there was a logical explanation — a reason for not lowering the flag to half-staff for the nine BLACK men and women killed in Charleston, SC.  The number of deceased in Charleston matches that in Roseburg, OR, where eight students and one professor were killed.

And I could stick my head in the sand and pretend this means nothing.  Is indicative of nothing.  But that would be horribly ignorant at this point.

Until the 9 people killed in Charleston, SC are worth as much as the 9 people killed in Roseburg, OR, until those 9 people get the same respect, we need to keep raising our voices.

——————————————–

For more on racism at work, from people who live it every day, please watch this short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwdJj8InkNc

BLM

Posted in Other | Tagged | 2 Comments

Moved!

Ten months.  That’s how long it took from first seeing the “For Sale” sign to move in day, but we were patient and worked hard (and all the stars aligned), and for the past two-and-a-half weeks, we’ve been living in our house!

The final weeks leading up to moving day were busy and stressful — everything you could want for a move, right?  But we wrapped up most of the work, got our occupancy permit (with a few minor violations to address), packed lots of boxes (is anyone every completely ready when the movers show up?),  and finished painting all but one room in time for moving day.

The move itself went quite smoothly, a marked improvement on four years ago.  And then the exhaustion hit.  Once the adrenaline was gone, the effects of sleep deprivation (and perhaps low iron?) and cumulative stress set in, and I was nigh upon worthless for a number of days, but I feel like I’m reentering the land of the living.

There are still more boxes to unpack and additional repairs / finish work needed, but we’re starting to feel settled.

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Front room, AKA living room

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Breezeway, AKA dining room (/office)

We started off with the two rooms above flip-flopped (dining table in front room and sofa in breezeway), but it just wasn’t working, so we switched to the current configuration.  In addition to just feeling better, this set-up means we’re eating in the room with the old laminate flooring (vs. the newly refinished wood), which is nice, especially with a kiddo involved.  It also means I am happy with our current dining table (I wanted a rectangular table for the front room) — one less thing to buy.

Sneak peek at the kitchen

We have quite a few ends to tie up in the kitchen: glass fronts for the wall cabinets (until then, enjoy our “invisible” glass), tile around the top of the island (over plywood visible here), buying bar stools, decluttering the island so we can actually use the bar, installing the shelf for the microwave, and replacing some baseboard.  Fortunately, those things don’t affect the function of the kitchen, and we’ve already cooked a number of tasty meals (and a pan of peanut butter brownies) in the updated space  The kitchen will get it’s own post in the future.

So, there you have it — the reason for the radio silence around here for the past several weeks!  We’re very happy to not be running between the apartment and the house anymore.  You don’t have to worry about us spending too much time on the sofa though — garden planning is in full swing!

Posted in House, My Life | 4 Comments

Camry vs. Corolla

It’s been a month since we sold our 2002 Corolla and “upgraded” to my MIL’s 2011 Camry.  The decision was made in the midst of a million billion other decisions because that was when the opportunity presented itself.  As such, it was not the most well-though-out purchase in the world.

Our general thought process:

  • The Corolla has been quite reliable, but it is getting up there in years. Also, a little crammed when the three of us are in there together (which wasn’t all that often).
  • The Camry is much newer (though already 100k+ miles — my MIL likes to drive), and scores well on reliability ratings.
  • The Camry is a limited time offer — we don’t need to replace the Corolla now, but if the need arises sooner than later, we’re stuck hunting for a good used car.
  • The Camry is not nearly as efficient as the Corolla, but our aging Corolla hasn’t been getting the best gas mileage, so maybe there won’t be much of a difference (spoiler alert: FALSE!).

We failed to do one thing that most people do when buying a car — test drive it!  Both Matthew and I have been passengers in the car on road trips, and we even drove it on a few very rare occasions when my MIL yielded the steering wheel.  But those were all highway miles, which are very different from urban streets.

Driving the Camry has been an interesting experience.  I felt like I was driving a boat on my first few outings, and I feared we had made a really bad decision.  Rationally, I know it isn’t THAT big of a car, but on narrow city streets, and compared to the Corolla, it feels pretty huge.  Parking, whether parallel parking on the street or fitting into the suddenly none-too-big spaces in parking lots, is also a new challenge.

Then there’s the engine size and acceleration difference.  Our little, old Corolla engine was perfect for a nice, steady 15-20 MPH on neighborhood streets (despite posted speed LIMITS of 25 MPH, 15-20 MPH is really much more appropriate for many of the dense streets we travel).

In contrast, it’s a struggle to keep the Camry much below 30 MPH.  It’s not impossible, but I have to constantly, intentionally, WORK to maintain appropriate speeds in this car.  This leads me to wonder if our addiction to speed is as much about how we’re building our automobiles as it is about personal choices.  (Still, it IS the motorists’ responsibility to be aware and maintain safe speeds, even when it requires extra effort.)

On the gas mileage front, we’ve only filled up once, so we don’t have official numbers, but the Camry isn’t looking good (that big engine), even compared to the aging Corolla.  We’ll likely be able to go about the same number of miles on a tank of gas, but that’s only because the Camry’s gas tank is bigger than the Corolla’s.

On the upside, the decreased fuel efficiency has already motivated me to choose bike over car on a few extra occasions, so that’s something!

The newer, bigger Camry is, not surprisingly, a much nicer ride than the Corolla — smoother, quieter, etc.  Also, all of the power windows work and the radio power/volume button functions normally — not true of our 14-year-old Corolla.  Generally, I’m not in the car enough to care too much about these things, which is how I prefer it, but there you have it.

The Camry is not the ideal car for us, but we knew that (at least to some extent) going into this.  At this point, the decision is made, and we hope to get the most of the Camry (while using it as little as possible).  Compared to my MIL’s use, the Camry is now in semi-retirement, both in terms of mileage/frequency of use and driving style, as I am determined to maintain my laid-back, granny-driver ways, in spite of the big engine!

 

Posted in Not Green | 1 Comment

Losing the lawn

Well, we finally have the huge, sunny yard we’ve been wanting  . . . and it’s covered with zoysia grass. Zoysia is a drought-hardy, warm season grass, which means you can’t just kill it by letting it dry up.  It will also readily invade our garden beds (which will be most of the yard) if we just till and try to work around it, so it’s got to go.

This resource from the University of California lists several methods for removing warm season grasses.  Any of the effective methods will involve noticeable time and money for a yard our size.

Our plan is to use solarization, which basically bakes the grass to death by trapping the sun’s heat underneath a sheet of thin plastic (you know, the good ol’ greenhouse effect).  This means that we have to buy a lot of plastic, and stay off of the yard for several weeks.

We will likely use sheet mulching in a couple of areas, primarily to create some walkways through the plastic-covered portion of the lawn.   This may, in some ways, be the “greenest” option, especially if we obtained enough old cardboard, but at 4 layers of cardboard over the entire yard, that’s a LOT of cardboard (and mulch, which you need to cover the cardboard).

All of the plastic for solarizing is far from the greenest thing ever — not sure how to weigh that against multiple rounds of Round-Up — but in the end, we’ll be on our way to having a space that is growing food, not lawn (so ready to be done with the mower!).

Solarization has additional benefits, according to the U of C guide: “This method not only kills grass but can also improve soil structure, increase nitrogen availability and reduce some species of nematodes and soil borne disease.”  Sounds good to me!

If all goes well (i.e,. we can afford to buy All. The. Plastic. and the solarization works), we will be laying out our garden beds, perhaps in time for some fall planting.  Once the grass is gone, we’ll bring in some compost as well as any indicated soil amendments (Matthew took soil samples for testing waaaaayyy back in December), and get our garden on!

We’d love to hear from others that have successfully used solarization (or other methods) to get rid of warm season grasses!

 

Posted in Garden, House | 2 Comments