Diving into the deep freeze

Our chest-style deep freezer was overdue for a defrosting and inventory check, so I’d been keeping my eye on the forecast, hoping for (while also dreading) one more really cold day so the freezer contents could chill outside while I tackled the frost.  I had to wait awhile, given the unseasonably warm winter, but I finally got my chance last Thursday (note to the weather, thanks for the cold day; now bring on spring!).

I unplugged the freezer and hauled all of the food up the basement stairs and out the back door.  Once empty, I attacked the frost with a plastic dust pan (note to self: a windshield ice scraper would be a good tool here).  The freezer has a drain opening, but the freezer is not located particularly close to the floor drain in the basement, so instead of letting the ice melt, I chipped it off and then scooped it into a 5-gallon bucket.  (Note: Apparently the manufacturer does NOT recommend my “chipping the ice off” method, but I was careful — using plastic, and not metal, to scrape — and this method was so much faster than letting it all melt that it’s probably what I’ll do in the future.)


My method proved relatively speedy and efficient, and next thing I knew, I was plugging the freezer in again.  By this time, I was overdue for my morning snack, and I was sorely tempted to just throw all of the food back into the freezer, but I took the time to inventory the contents of the various cloth bags and pillow cases that we use to “organize” (ha!) the food, knowing I would thank myself later.


Our freezer is not a huge, “there’s definitely a dead body in there” size, but at 15 cubic feet, it’s fairly big, and having a list helps us make the most of our frozen food: using the oldest food first, planning meals around items that we have in large quantities, and avoiding food waste.


We use a high-tech organizational system involving a large white board and a variety of “bags” (which include extra canvas bags, old pillow cases, and anything else sturdy and bag-like we can find) to keep track of what we have where in the freezer, and it works fairly well.  In the past, I’ve tracked what is in which bag (e.g., green beans in flowered pillow case), but this gets messy quickly when bag contents change, so I’m trying a new system that’s more of a straight list.  I try to keep bags with older, “use first” items toward the top for easy access.

Now I am looking for ways to use plums and broccoli, as well as the priority older items, before we start freezing 2017 goods.  Frozen broccoli is not my favorite ingredient to work with, but friends have chimed in with some helpful suggestions, and I’ve already reduced our broccoli count by two bags by making a broccoli-rich version of lemon-egg soup.  The best uses for frozen broccoli seem to be soups or casserole-type dishes, and I like partially thawing it and pulsing it a few times in the food processor first.

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Kitchen riffs

It seems like just yesterday it was October, and still hot, and I was itching for cooler weather and “oven season.”  Well, oven season is in full swing, and our recent icy weekend gave me a chance to spend extra time in the kitchen.

St. Louis pretty much shut down on Friday with the impending ice storm (which was, at least where we were, rather underwhelming).  I made a quick grocery store run first thing on Friday morning.  A small amount of freezing rain fell right before I left, making untreated areas a bit slippery, but 98% of my route was treated.  I debated the wisdom of bike over car, but I was happier on the bike.  Definitely a day for sticking to the streets and eschewing the untreated greenway.


I was a bit nervous about what I would find when I left the grocery store, but the precip had stopped and the temp had risen a few degrees, so everything was just wet for my return trip.


Not your stereotypical “bread, milk, eggs” grocery store run.  Obviously my biggest fear is being iced in with no fresh produce!

Come dinner time, I turned to a new cookbook, The Veggie-Lover’s Sriracha Cookbook, a Christmas gift from my sister.  I certainly love veggies, and I’m quite fond of sriracha, and the “Sriracha Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie” caught my eye.

As usual, I used the recipe as a guide, not a dictate — I tossed in some red cabbage and subbed lentils for the tempeh (my original plan was to use both tempeh and lentils, but I was in a hurry to get it in the oven, so I skipped the tempeh).  I also went a little light on the sriracha with G in mind (even though he was “stuck” at grandma’s for the day and night) — you can always add more sauce at the table.


We invited a neighbor to dine with us, and we all enjoyed the flavorful, filling dish.

Most of my kitchen experiments are intentional, but every once in awhile, there’s an accident.  On Saturday morning, we had a little kitchen mix-up.  Matthew was making waffles, and I found a small jar of what I thought was oat flour.  I gave it to him to toss into the waffles.

Several minutes later, he brought me a sample of a waffle with great flavor, but a pronounced crunch, a crunch beyond what we experience when adding a bit of cornmeal to the waffles.  We weren’t sure why they were so crunchy, and he continued making waffles while I went about my morning.

I was walking down the basement stairs when a thought hit me, and I froze.  Suddenly, I was pretty sure I knew what had been in that jar, and it wasn’t oat flour.  A few months ago I experimented with making my own calcium supplement from eggshells — the process was laborious, requiring boiling, baking, and then grinding (in small batches in our coffee grinder) the eggshells.  The result of my efforts was a small jar of finely ground eggshells that I quickly forgot after putting in a jar in the refrigerator . . .

. . . until now.  After a few moments’ deliberation, I fessed up to the mix-up.  We now have a triple batch of “Calcium Crunch Waffles” in our freezer.  Edible, but not something I would have done on purpose!

Keeping with the [intentionally] trying new recipes spirit, I used this Morrocan Farro and Lentil Soup recipe from Food & Nutrition magazine as a guide for a week night meal.  I’d been eyeing the recipe for awhile, but I wasn’t in the mood for soup, so I used the spicing as inspiration for a veggie and grain bowl.  It was a fun change from the standard spicing and flavoring I use.


Another night, I was looking for something new to do with millet, and I found this recipe: Millet Cakes with Carrot and Spinach.  It was a little involved and time-consuming for a weeknight, but I managed to pull it together by skipping the chilling step, which worked okay because I baked them instead of frying (without the chill time, I think they would have fallen apart when frying).

I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of America’s Test Kitchen’s “Complete Vegetarian Cookbook” (thanks, library), which I discovered through the millet cakes recipe.  More kitchen riffs to come, no doubt!

Finally, in the sweets category, I made these Kahlua Truffle Bars.  We received some of these truffles as a Christmas gift a few years back, and I was quite taken by them.  A soft shortbread crust with a rich, dark chocolate topping — what’s not to love?


For some reason, the crust on mine came out crunchy (no, it did not have eggshells in it!), which was not bad, but also not what I was hoping for.  Matthew really likes it with the crunch, but I want to figure out how to get a softer crust next time.

In the spirit of closing a couple of random tabs I’ve had open for weeks, while still keeping track of things, here are a couple of items on my “To Try” list:

Posted in Food, Recipes | 3 Comments

Oatmeal Plus

A bowl of oatmeal has been an almost constant breakfast companion for over ten years now.  While I am clearly a creature of habit, my bowl has evolved over the years.  Here’s a quick look at my oatmeal evolution, followed by a recipe for the current iteration.

2006 — instant oats cooked in the microwave, topped with peanut butter, bananas, cinnamon, [sweetened] soy milk, and a bit of brown sugar

2009 — switch from bananas (distinctly not local) to locally grown fruit, when in season (primarily apples), or dried fruit (primarily raisins)

2010switch from instant oats to rolled oats, still cooked in the microwave

??? — ditch the added sugars by switching to unsweetened soy milk and eliminating the added brown sugar; dried fruit makes for plenty sweet oatmeal

2012 — start making an extra-thick, stove top version with rolled oats that works as finger food for G when cooled; make in big batches

2013 — when G moves on from the finger food version, I continue making big batches of stove top oatmeal for both of us; I serve G’s really thick to help it stay on the spoon; bananas reappear as a “sometimes” food

2014 — start using a mixture of rolled + steel cut oats, with an overnight soak

2015-2016 — experiment with adding in other grains, including millet, quinoa, brown rice flakes, and amaranth

Each of these iterations took the flavor, texture, and nutrient variety up a notch.  The amaranth is the most recent addition, and it almost didn’t make the cut.  It’s seedy taste really stood out in the first batch, and I wasn’t a huge fan.  By the second batch, I had adjusted to the flavor, and now I’m really enjoying it.

The overnight soak helps the longer-cooking grains, like steel cut oats, cook quickly in the morning.  It’s still more of a time investment than microwaving instant oats, but it tastes better AND you’ll have breakfast for several days.  The recipe below makes about four days’ worth of one parent- plus one child-sized portion.


Recipe by Melissa
Serves 5-8


2 T. amaranth
1/2 c. steel cut oats
1/4 c. millet
1/4 c. quinoa (rinsed)
1 c. rolled oats
3 1/2 c. water
1 1/2 c. unsweetened soy milk


Measure grains into pan and pour water over the top.  Let sit at room temperature overnight.  In the morning, add the milk, bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes.  Can be served immediately, or turn off heat and let sit, covered, for an additional 5-10 minutes.

Add [soy] milk to thin to desired consistency, and top with cinnamon, fresh or dried fruit, and nut butter of choice.  Additional toppings: hemp seed, chia seed, chopped walnuts, nutmeg.

After the first morning, reheat in microwave with milk.  For a take-to-work version, place oatmeal, additional milk, and toppings in a wide mouth, pint size jar and reheat at work.


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Year end thoughts

Well, here we are on the other side of the semester, the election, the holidays — I won’t try to recap three months in one post, but I’ll share a few relevant details.

On the bike

As expected, I put in quite a few miles between getting G to school and getting to my own classes.  Most weeks, I was on the hook for seven school drop-off or pick ups , which was quite the change from my previous zero.  The two days where I did both drop-off and pick up were the most challenging, often feeling like I made it home only to turn around and go back again.

The biking got more pleasant when the heat abated, making for several nice weeks until it got cold.  G’s school run is particularly challenging in the cold: we get all bundled up at home, get to school, go inside, unbundle G, and pack the cold weather gear for me to take home, all while I try to avoid overheating while removing as little of my own gear as possible.  Reverse it all in the afternoon.

Between the hassle of bundling/unbundling at school, and the need for an ice/snow backup, we started experimenting with the school bus.  G was very resistant, declaring after the first day (which went just fine, despite my fears) that he would never ride the bus again.  Tough luck, kiddo.

He rode the bus a few more times before winter break, and it’s become fairly routine, though I expect another adjustment period when school starts in January.

I’m going to try to find some balance between biking and busing — I love biking with him to school for the fresh air and exercise, which is sadly lacking in his one-recess-per-day school (drops to zero if the temp is below freezing), but I also like my sanity.

School lunches (and snacks)

After multiple days of scarcely eaten lunches, I realized that, for better or worse, my kid was too much of a food snob to be into cold leftovers.  I can’t really blame him, as I highly prefer the reheated version as well.  With that in mind, I bought a nice thermos container and started sending warm lunches.  Lo and behold, food wastage decreased drastically.

We reached a decent arrangement on the afternoon-snack-at-school front by agreeing to two days per week when Gabriel eats whatever snack is provided in the classroom and three days where he brings a snack from home.  This set-up mostly satisfies my desire for the majority of his snacks to have some nutritional value and to minimize processed foods.

The election

[This feels like a bit of a non sequitur, but it’s important, so here goes . . . .]

After the election, I was disappointed when some bloggers failed to say anything about the results.  I felt it was too big NOT to say something, even on food blogs, where political content is not part of the norm, and thus these bloggers either a) agreed with the outcome or b) were too afraid of reader backlash/financial repercussions to speak up.

Though neither “a” nor “b” are true for me (I am deeply distressed with the choice of president, more so every day with each cabinet appointment, and I don’t make any money from this blog, so I really don’t care about readership), I have also been silent on the subject, so I can’t really judge.  Mostly, I don’t know what to say (that hasn’t already been said), and I’ve also been trying to do more listening, especially before saying or writing things that might further alienate people.

I did sit down and write a post, trying to sort through things, but a lot of it I wish I had published before the election, when maybe, somehow, it might have made a difference.  I may eventually publish it, but for now it will linger in “Drafts.”

Into 2017

And so begins another year, another semester . . . I will continue living and voting my values, working for the world I want to live in, one that is just, equitable, and compassionate.  One where people have the knowledge, resources, and support to care for their health and the health of this planet we all call home.  Here’s to creating moments of light in the new year, even when things seem dark!





Posted in Biking, Food, My Life | 2 Comments

So. Much. Cycling.

I just calculated my bicycle mileage for the past nine days — 126 miles! This was high for me due to two high mileage days while preparing for and teaching CyclingSavvy.  I briefly considered giving myself a break on Monday, but the weather was beautiful, I don’t have to worry about where I’ll park the car when I bike, and it’s just habit.

The first half of October is all about the bicycling, as I signed up to teach not one, but two, CyclingSavvy workshops within a two-week period.  Also in that two week period — attending the American Bicycling Education Association’s “I Am Traffic” conference.

(Someone please remind me that teaching two classes and attending a conference in a two-week time period is not the best for the whole “life balance” thing.  Our house is already a wreck!  Made worse by some recent home improvement projects . . . )

Anyhow, despite the work involved, I’m looking forward to the next teaching opportunity, as well as the chance to connect with fellow bikey peeps from across the country at the I Am Traffic conference.

In other news, my regular commuting is much more pleasant now that things are cooling off a bit.  Those first few weeks of the “fall” semester (which occur in summer, of course) were pretty brutal, as one of my classes has me commuting smack in the middle of the day — full heat, full sun, both directions.

That got old really fast.  I stuck with the biking for the most part, but I was dragging myself to my bike when it was time to leave home. Milder temperatures make such a big difference!



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Three month house-iversary

This Saturday marks three months living in our house.  I am happy to report that, as of last week, all of the boxes are unpacked (at least all of the boxes that are intended to be unpacked vs. used for storage in the basement).  There are still some homeless items here and there, as we finish some storage-related work in the kitchen and closets, but things feel pretty settled.


The third iteration of the front room seems to be the charm.  We’re still working on window treatments in that room and a few others.

Over the past three months, we’ve discovered answers to some burning questions, such as, “What weather conditions created those water stains on our basement walls?”

Answer: >3 inches of rain in a 24-hour period does the trick.  Five+ inches of rain in less than 24-hours creates the really cool effect of our basement window wells looking like mini aquariums — just add fish!

Fortunately, the water is rather well behaved, and by luck or good design proceeds nicely through the crawl space, down the basement walls, and into the floor drain.  Also, I took those water stains into account when I was organizing the basement, and kept anything that could be damaged by water in safer spots.

So, the general pattern is, we get a shitload of rain in a short period (which seems to be the new norm — thanks, climate change!), the window wells fill with water, water trickles into the basement and runs to the floor drain, the dehumidifier works overtime, and all is good until the next Crazy Rain Event.  We’re considering options to remedy this, but it doesn’t seem all that urgent.

More troublesome is the answer to the question, “How bad is the traffic noise (that a realtor friend who used to live on the same street warned us about)?”

Answer: For me, it’s usually a background thing, not that big of a deal.  For Matthew, who gets migraines and is sensitive to such things — kind of a big deal.

A big enough deal that if we don’t find some form of effective, affordable sound barrier, this house, the house that we hunted for for seven years, and planned to live in for a really long time (defined as five years by G, but we were more thinking add a zero to the end of that number), might be a time-limited proposition.

Whomp, whomp, wah.

We’ve started looking into options for sound barriers, as our planned privacy hedge won’t do much on the noise-reduction front.  Matthew found a material called AcoustiBlok that can be attached to a chain link fence, but he’s having trouble getting straight answers about longevity from the company.  We need some answers because, despite being billed as “economical,” the cost climbs quickly when you have a big yard.

I’m wondering if we could do some kind of wall with insulated concrete forms, or some other kind of concrete wall sound barrier, but I haven’t found any great information on this yet.

Until we know if we can get the traffic noise down to a level that makes this house happily livable for all members, discretionary projects are on hold, including plans for solar panels and a sun porch addition.

Although it wouldn’t really make sense to put in the effort to establish a big garden if our time here is limited, we’re probably proceeding with that, if for no other reason than we’ve killed all of the grass, so we have to do something.  And if we can make this house, in this location, work, it really is ideal for us in many ways.

I’ve mostly gotten over the initial impact of this maybe NOT being our forever house (because you really never know, right?), but the uncertainty, the waiting to move forward with planned projects, is tough.



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I’ve heard it takes between four to six weeks to adjust to something new, in which case, today is a really big hump day — 2.5 weeks into my semester and 2 weeks into G’s school year (cue Bon Jovi, “Ooooh, we’re halfway theeeere . . . “).

G’s transition from half-day Montessori preschool (with grandma as one of his teachers) to full-on, conventional kindergarten has been a little rough, made rougher by the fact that we found out the day before school started that his supposed teacher resigned (two days before school started), which left his class without a dedicated classroom teacher for the first four days of school.  The school principal, teachers, and other staff did their best to fill the void, but it definitely made things extra rocky.

Overall, I think G is settling in and will be fine, but goodbyes in the morning are always a sad time.  He tears up pretty much every single day, rubbing his eyes and fighting back the tears while blowing me sad-faced kisses as his class walks into the building.  I held it together until the fifth day of school, when I also broke down.

I think he might actually be better off if I just dropped him off and left, except that he refuses to engage with any of the other kids on the playground, which makes me feel like he’s not ready for this step.

Instead, I stand there with him clinging to me in the hot, hot sun (his school starts on the later side and we are on the east side of the building — SO. MUCH. SUN.), staring at my phone and hoping that NOW is the time they will blow the whistle for the kids to line up and go inside.

No matter how late I push our morning departure time, or how many errands we run ahead of time, we have yet to achieve my goal of arriving exactly as the kids are lining up.  Always early!

Anyhow, I changed things up yesterday, and instead of just blowing a kiss to G as his class walked by my post near the door, I made a funny face: tongue out, fingers waggling at ears, eyes crossed — going all out and making a complete fool of myself (in front of the few parents who were actually still there) to get a smile out of that kid.  And it worked!

Don’t be fooled by the fact that we are arriving early — time is NOT on my side these days.  For the past two years, I was spoiled by G’s school schedule and our transportation arrangements.  Matthew took G to school most days, and in order for the timing to work, they usually left the house by eight o’clock.  That meant my day — the chunk of time I had to do school work, paid work, and house stuff — effectively started at 8.

These days, by the time I get home from G’s school drop-off, it’s almost 9:30 a.m.  It’s like I’ve lost an hour-and-a-half every. single. weekday.  Add another 30-40 minutes to that on the days I’m also picking him up in the afternoons, and, it’s two hours a day, poof!  Gone!

Anyway, I’m slowly adjusting, figuring out ways I can at least squeeze in some housework and/or errands in the mornings before school, which helps a bit.

On the bike
Between G’s school transportation and getting to my own classes, I’m racking up quite the mileage, despite the heat.  Did I mention it is hot?  So hot?  (Actually, it could be hotter, but I don’t want to think about that.)

One of my classes meets in the afternoon, which means I am biking both to and from class during the sunniest and hottest times of the day — not super fun for this heat-phobic vampire!

Biking with G has been good overall, though as he continues getting heavier (and the difference between his weight and my weight gets smaller), using the tag-a-long bike is becoming more challenging, both from a general balance perspective and for getting up the hills.  I’ve taken to using a longer route to/from school to avoid one particular hill, at least when he is in tow.


So, there you have it!  A couple more weeks, and we should all be pros at this new normal.  Moving toward cooler weather (if slowly in StL), doesn’t hurt, either!

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