January 26, 2016

What I've Been Reading

Here's a little peek into what I've been reading lately...

I'm just going to leave it at that.

Until next time, go grab a great book and lose yourself in it for a while.

Happy reading, my friends.

January 11, 2016

Black Beans and Rice-- Uber Delish!

It has seriously been a while since I shared a recipe. But it's a new year and I got a new cookbook for Christmas, which means new recipes for all!

This past week I tried three recipes from my new cookbook--and all of them were good! Plus, I actually enjoyed cooking this week...which hasn't really been the case of late, so it's a truly wonderful thing!

I've done three things to try an add the joy back into my cooking. First, I've simply tried to change my attitude about it. Don't dread it. That goes a long way. Don't worry about the finish line. That means that if we eat a little later than intended, that's okay. No need to stress about it. Just try and relax.

Which brings me to number two: Listen to some music. Sometimes I put on my favorite cooking cd-- the soundtrack to the movie Chef...it is the best music to chop and stir to; sometimes I put on my headphones and strap my iPod to my arm with my running band (yes, I see the irony!). But either way, I listen to some music that I enjoy (as in, not music for the kids).

And lastly, I try to give the kids something to do to occupy them so that they are 1) not fighting and 2) not constantly bugging me for something. This last one has been only partially successful, but still...

Plus I think just being out of the holiday craziness has reduced my baseline stress level, which helps too.

I've also put a small kitchen tv on my honey wish list. I think being able to watch relaxing tv (for me) while I cook would be nice (like Ina Garten, whose show is not only an excellent cooking show but also super relaxing and fantastic to nap to (I promise not to actually nap while cooking)...it's her soothing voice, I think).

So cooking's been better. Now, my new cookbook...

I got the Forks Over Knives Cookbook from my husband for Christmas and I was super psyched! (You can find it here: Forks-Over-Knives-The-Cookbook.) I watched the Forks Over Knives documentary a few months ago and found it fascinating. (You can check it out on Netflix streaming if you have it. I highly recommend it.) And I checked out the website and many of the recipes they share there. (You can find that here: http://www.forksoverknives.com.)

I also have the original book (Forks Over Knives: The Plan) on my wish list...I'll get to that eventually.

Generally speaking, I buy into the philosophy behind the movement. Though I haven't gone whole-hog (yes, I see the irony again...love irony) with it. Like, I still do dairy and have a hard time imagining cutting that out completely...No half-n-half in my coffee? No yogurt for breakfast? No cheese?!?!? Egads! But I've followed a vegetarian diet at various times in my life and I (mostly) find it pretty easy to cut out meat.

But for now, we're just cutting back, ala Michael Pollan's approach. (If you've never read his books, like In Defense of Food and Food Rules, they are fascinating and really well written, making them super easy reads. You can find them here: http://michaelpollan.com/books/)...I'm a big fan of Michael Pollan.

That being said, you don't have to buy into the Forks Over Knives philosophy to enjoy their yummy dishes. And I make modifications to their recipes that suit me and my family, but don't necessarily follow their guidelines, which I note below. Speaking of which, I guess I ought to actually share it now, huh? Here you go...

The Uber Delish Black Beans and Rice (my version)
1 medium sweet onion, peeled and diced (or whatever onion you like)
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeds removed and diced (I only used one so it wouldn't be too spicy for my daughter...but it probably would have been okay with 2...leave the seeds in if you want more heat)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano
2, 15 oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup water, plus extra as needed (you could use vegetable broth)
salt and pepper to taste (I bet I used a couple of teaspoons each; add it 1/2 tsp at a time, stir and taste till you're happy with it)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
juice of 1 lime
3 cups cooked Jasmati rice

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion, red pepper and jalapeƱo pepper and saute for 7-10 minutes, until cooked and browned. Add the garlic, cumin and oregano and cook for 3 more minutes. Add the black beans and 1 cup of water. Cook for 10 minutes, adding more water as needed. Season with salt and pepper, chopped cilantro and juice of one lime. Then taste it and add more salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, cilantro and/or lime juice as needed to get it to delish--this is the point where you really become the chef: taste and season, taste and season, taste and season until you love it. You decide what it needs more of to get it just right. Then serve the beans over a scoop of Jasmati rice and top with a dollop of sour cream, if desired. (That's what we did. You could also add a sprinkle of shredded cheese or some cubed up avocado. And you could serve it with some tortilla chips if that suits you.)

We had no beans left over when we were done...that's how good they were. I think I'll make 50% more next time so we can have leftovers--the beans would be delicious reheated and added to a burrito or quesadilla.

Now, for reference, here is the Forks Over Knives Recipe for Black Beans and Rice.

Forks Over Knives Recipe for Black Beans and Rice
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 jalapeno peppers, diced (seeded for less heat)
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 1/2 tsp oregano, toasted
4 cups cooked black beans or 2, 15 oz. cans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper to taste
3 cups cooked brown rice
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 lime, quartered
The main differences in cooking? They cook the veggies in water and I used olive oil at the beginning. They simply garnish with cilantro and lime wedges at the end and I add the cilantro and lime juice while cooking--I think the beans really need both to taste great. And they like to toast their seasonings...I was too lazy!

So there you have it.

Until next time, happy cooking!

January 4, 2016

My 2016 Happiness Project

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to what makes me happy...and, more specifically, what does not. It is the time of year for reassessing, after all. Something about that fresh year--the blank calendar, the unmarred planner, the pristine, white days ahead. It begs the highest of intentions, doesn't it?

Well, in the best spirit of the new year's resolution, I have set before me a little project for 2016. And I've named it.

Amy's 2016 Happiness Project

It's not terribly original, I'm afraid. But it is rather descriptive.

And it has two main components: 1) Focus on joy, and 2) Be a happy failure.

The first isn't all that uncommon. It's meant to encompass bringing the focus of each day to my own joy and the joy of those around me. And it includes things like playing with the kids (and the dog) more and doing things that make me smile, like listening to music that I love and coloring and reading and writing...and relaxing. Making those sorts of things the priority rather than the things I get to when there's time.

Another way to put this is Dessert First. As an adult I've always been a "get the work done first, and then play" kind of person. And I used to think that was a good thing...aren't I so responsible?! But now I think it might not be such a good trait. Because as my responsibilities have grown (with the house and the husband and the kids and the dog and the...) so has my work load, and these days it seems like I never actually get to the play. The work is never done. And you know what they say about all work and no play...

So. Dull.

Focus on joy also means bringing a joyful perspective to the other things that fill my day. I'll give you an example: It's come to my attention of late that I've grown to dislike grocery shopping--a task that never really bothered me much before. It's gotten so bad that I actually dread my trips to the store and I rush through them as fast as I possibly can--this means it's usually a pretty miserable undertaking. And I have to do it every week. Which is no fun. It makes me wonder if an attitude change might help. If I could approach grocery shopping with a more joyful perspective (or at least a neutral one, like I used to), maybe it wouldn't be so bad. If I didn't rush through it just to get it done and get out of there. If I took my time...

Worth a try, at least.

The second component is my favorite...it is also the most difficult for me: Be a happy failure.

It has also recently come to my attention that I have rather high standards for myself. Standards that are built on the erroneous but invasive idea that if I do not perform virtually every task in my life to a level as close to perfection as possible, I am, well, a failure.

This is super depressing.

For those of you who experience a fear of failure (cloaked in the guise of perfectionism), like I do, this may sound familiar. Either you end up paralyzed by the fear so you don't even attempt the thing, or you're so driven by the fear that you do everything to the nth degree. To say this whole fear of failure thing just recently came to my attention is a lie. I've known for a long time that I have a fear of failure. What I didn't realize was how pervasive that fear was. I thought that I feared failing at big things...but really, who doesn't? Not that big of a deal, right?

But, as it turns out, I also fear failing at little things, because in my mind, failing at the little things is also failing at the big things. As in, I've failed at getting a great, healthy, home cooked meal on the table on time (not a big thing)...so I've failed at being a good wife and mom (a really big thing). That's a lot of pressure to put on planning, shopping for and cooking a meal. No wonder I don't like it.

This fear of failure (because failure is the worst thing in the world) is getting in the way of my enjoying each day to the fullest (because I'm too busy trying to do everything perfectly). If your goal is to never let anything fall through the cracks, it can get pretty exhausting. (It also means that my planner is pretty disturbing.)

So, to summarize: I'm afraid to fail because failure is the worst thing in the world.

Or is it?

It occurred to me that instead of trying to conquer my fear of failure, it might be easier (though not necessarily easy) to change my view on failure. As in, maybe failure isn't such a bad thing.

Because if striving for perfection makes me miserable and if doing things that bring me joy gets in the way of striving for perfection, then maybe I could learn to be a happy failure. Go ahead and "fail" at everyday tasks and be all the happier for it.

Sit at the table with he kids and happily color for an hour while simultaneously failing miserably at getting dinner on the table. Joyfully curl up with a good book on a cold Saturday while failing to get the laundry done when it should be done. Laugh through Trainwreck with my husband while failing to get thank you cards written in a timely fashion. Lose myself in writing my book while failing at, well, pretty much everything else.

Elizabeth Gilbert calls it, being a well-disciplined half-ass, this letting go of perfection. Done is better than good, her mother used to say. In the wise words of my dear friend, Wendy, "Just buy them more pants so you don't have to do laundry as often!" (She's so ridiculously smart, I swear.)

Sound weird? Well, yeah, I guess maybe it is--especially if you're a perfectionist. But it also just might be revolutionary for me. So I'm gonna give it go.

I suppose this means that if you're expecting anything from me...a thank you card, a hot meal, clean, folded clothes...you might be waiting a while. But you can use that time to read a good book.

Until next time, may the new year bring you great joy and happy failure!