Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Quick Photo

Lunch today was too good not to share quickly:

The salad has red lettuce, spinach, snow peas, arugula, broccoli, cucumber, zucchini, and mushrooms, and every item except for two came from our CSA! Man, I really, really love summer.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Joining a CSA

Last September, near the beginning of this blog, I talked about my struggles with shopping for produce.  I haven't made much progress since then at seeking out more local foods.  But now that summer is here, and especially since I live in Lancaster (a city completely surrounded by farmland), I don't really have an excuse.

Over the winter, my sister suggested that I consider joining a CSA (which stands for Community Supported Agriculture).  Essentially, it means buying a share in a local farm, and then getting produce from them all throughout harvesting season.  It didn't take me long to figure out that this was the perfect solution for me.  It would teach me what's seasonal and growable in our area, and it would force me out of my comfort zone a bit with veggies, all while supporting a local farm.

I used the website Local Harvest to find the right farm for us.  My main criteria were: convenient pickup times and locations, big variety of veggies, and the ability to buy a half-share (since we're just getting started with this, and I didn't want to waste our money or their food).  Secondary criteria for my ideal farm were: certified organic, and a larger selection of herbs and fruits.

With input from Erica of course, I settled on Goodwill at Homefields.  I was astonished at how many I had to choose from, and all of them met many of my critical points.  In the end, I chose Goodwill because it had the biggest variety of fruits, and while not "certified organic," they do use strict organic practices.

So after much anticipation, our first pickup was late last week!  And for a first harvest, our half share was pretty decent:

We got red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, arugula, chard, bok choy, radishes, garlic, kale, napa cabbage, and a bunch of herbs.  Erica had fun figuring out recipes for how we can use these things this week: I forget exactly what she has planned, but I remember hearing that homemade spring rolls are in my future....

The farm also has a "pick your own" section.  I think that's how a lot of the fruit will be, but this week, the "pick your own" du jour was snow peas, which is one of my favorites.  Erica snapped a picture of me taking the lead on the pea-picking:

I haven't done this since I was a little kid!

So far we're pretty happy with our CSA decision.  I'm a little afraid of things stacking up this week, as the only time we can get down to the farm is Thursday, and we're not going to be home again until Sunday.  It definitely is a challenge to work the things that you're given into what you're used to eating, but we are both putting real effort into it.  (The salad I made when I got home from the farm was incredible!)

Coming up soon I'll talk about the cost of this project:  I'm keeping a close eye on what we spend at the store now, to see if the CSA is saving us any money.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Recap on the Juice Cleanse

Sunday was my third and final day of the juice fast, and needless to say, I was pretty excited to eat again.  But before I talk about all that, a friend reminded me that I never talked about my juicer; what kind I have, how I picked it out etc.

This little beast is named the Juiceman Jr.  When I picked him out, I probably wasn't wearing my "good consumer" hat.  The reality of the situation was this: I didn't want a large bridal registry full of things I didn't need, but then I got flack for not having very much on it at all. I'd forgotten I wanted a juicer, so this guy was a late-in-the-game addition to the registry (and my now-mother-in-law graciously picked it up for us!)  I only read reviews on a few, but the one other in this price range had a lot of reviews saying it died within a year.

So I guess my biggest qualification for getting this juicer was that it not die within the year.  I'm doing my part, trying to take very good care of it,  but man is this thing a lot to clean up after.  It separates into eight pieces.  The worst part is this piece: the part that does the juicing:

Sooo many tiny crevices!

But I'd imagine that's the same for any juicer, and at least it came with a brush (which I did not realize the first time I tried to clean it).  As far as actual juice extraction, I don't have anything to compare it to, but it seemed pretty fair.   You still waste a lot in the pulp, but that's the point of juicing.  Anyway, if someone is looking for a brand recommendation, I'd say give this one a try!  The price was pretty reasonable, and it came from Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  (Quick note: I don't know what this thing is the "Jr" of, but don't let the name fool you, it's actually quite large!)

So, day three of the juice fast was fine.  It was funny, each day I drank from various juices all day long so I never felt hungry.  at the end of the night, right before bed, was the only time I felt a twinge of hunger.  But when I would wake up the next morning, I wouldn't feel hungry or want any juice til almost 10am.  I wonder what that means about my body's digestive patterns.  The whole time, though, I felt alert and energetic all day long.  

Overall, I'd say I liked the experience, but it wasn't without its drawbacks:  I wasn't hungry, but I did miss eating. And I thought about food a lot. Also, juicing took up enough time in the morning that I didn't get to work out at all.  Right now, I'm torn as to whether I want to ever do an all-juice fast again, but having one every once in a while is something that I definitely want to incorporate.

So how did I break my fast? I wanted to keep it healthy but also have something really hearty, since I hadn't had solid food in three days.  Vegan chili was just the ticket!

I've been playing around with chili a lot since I first made it waaay back in September, and It looks completely different now!  I've learned that chili as best as an off-the-cuff food--add as much chili powder as it takes, as much cumin as you want. And as far as what you can put into it?  Anything goes there as well. Right now, the most far-out ingredient featuring in my chili is zucchini.  Erica loves it, and I know she's not just being nice, because she asks me to make it all the time, and she bogarts the leftovers.  I'm sure other people would like it too.  I should really try to write this recipe down.

And speaking of recipes!  I plan to share my favorite juicing recipes. Look for that soon.

So what's next for us?  Well, we joined a CSA, which is basically like buying a share in a local farm and getting a portion of their produce.  First harvest is at the end of this week, and I'm super excited.  I won't get to write again until the beginning of next week, but expect to hear a lot more about the CSA!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Juice Cleanse: Recap of Days 1 and 2

Well, I started the juice cleanse yesterday, so now i'm about 2/3 done.  It's really amazing me how much I'm learning, both about myself and about this process.  The biggest thing I've learned is that hunger is relative, and food cravings are at least 90% a mental game. For example, I've been doing just fine with my plan of eating healthy and avoiding certain foods, but during this fast, I really want nothing in the world more than to eat a bucket of Boardwalk fries, cardboard and all.  Also cheese. That would be nice.  And maybe a burger, too. Hell, I saw an ad for Subway last night that had my mouth watering!! I don't even like Subway, really.

I'm off-track.  My point is, I'm doing something healthy, and though it's extreme, I'm still getting enough calories that I'm not craving these foods because I'm hungry.  I'm craving them because I told myself I can't have them.  I'm afraid that once I'm done, I'm going to have some wild rebellion and just eat the worst food I can get my hands on.  I doubt I will, because once the restriction is lifted, I'll go back to my regular habits of eating well-balanced meals.

So how has it been so far, other than the food fantasies?  It's not terrible.  Most of the juices I've made have been pretty good (some of the fruit-based ones are excellent, actually!), and making them is not terribly time-consuming.  The worst part has been cleaning the juicer.  It's a beast, seven different pieces, and I've been handwashing it at least three times a day.  But my energy level has been great, and actual hunger hasn't really been an issue.

Another big thing I've learned was that I actually snack a lot while I cook.  It was really hard for me to refrain from cutting the orange, for example, and popping a piece in my mouth.  Since I do a majority of the cooking in the house, I can imagine that I get a ton of anaccounted-for calories that way.  I'm still not really sure what to do about that.  I imagine most cooks taste-test as they go, right? It part of the process for me:  I don't know if I could just cut it out.  But I'm glad I pinpointed this.

 Ingredients for Joe Cross's "Mean Green" juice

My invention! Perfectly fruity and refreshing.

The results of those two juices=what I took to work yesterday.

Using water bottles actually turned out to be a stroke of genius.  Not only do the juices stay fresher when they're airtight, but being able to shake them vigorously is a big plus.  Each day so far I've had two veggie-based drinks and 1.5 fruit based ones.  I'm trying to be careful with fruit due to the high sugar content (of course they taste better!) but they do give me something to look forward to.

So.  One more day.  I feel like I'm having my most anti-social Saturday ever; I'll probably even go to bed early.  But I'm glad I chose this weekend.  For one, I work every day, so at least there's some time where I'm not focused on it. But also, I feel like eating well really gets away from me on the weekends.  I'm sure most Americans have a similar mentality ("back on the diet on Monday!")  but that's just exactly the type of cycle I'm trying to break.  Still, dinner tomorrow night is going to be the best meal I've ever eaten.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Juice Cleanse: Prep

Inspiration for my journey toward a healthier life came from a lot of places, none of them more important than the fact that I simply got fed up with the way things were: I realised I needed to make a change or I was going to go crazy.  But one of my biggest motivating tools was watching the documentary "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead," in which an overweight man (Joe Cross) with a lot of health problems decides to to a drastic 60-day juice cleanse.  I knew I couldn't handle anything that extreme, but his idea of eating food as close to its whole form as possible is what inspired my 60-day vegan experiment.  Now that almost a year has gone by, and I feel much more aware of the foods that I eat, I decided to see what juicing is really like.  So, today starts my three-day juice cleanse!

Back when I reviewed the movie, I expressed my concerns about juicing--you get too much sugar out of fruits and veggies and not enough fiber, it's wasteful, and depending on what you buy, it can be very expensive.  I decided that for three days, the good would probably outweigh the bad, so I started preparing a list of recipes. I got everything online, and one of my biggest staples is going to be the very one that Cross relied on at the beginning of his journey, something he calls "Mean Green" juice. Below you can see some of my recipes and my crazy shopping list.

I immediately disqualified any recipe that had an expensive or hard-to-find ingredient.  So most of it ended up being stuff I eat everyday anyway.  But as you can see from the shopping list, it was in ridiculous amounts.

I must admit, I felt pretty silly going through the checkout with nine cucumbers, six lemons, 2 each of bundles of celery, kale and parsley... and this is all for one person, for three days!  My total at the grocery store was about $40,  so my daily total is $13.33, almost exactly what Cross paid.  Again, I did the math: if Erica and I both did this for 30 days, we would spend exactly $800 on food in a month, not including any household items. So yeah, three days is just fine.

When I got home from the store, my massive haul of veggies pretty much took over the refrigerator.  Almost the entire left side is dedicated to juicing.  When you look at it as half a refrigerator full of stuff, it's a little intimidating.

Well, no more stalling.  I have to go make my first juice of the day.  But you know me, I'll be keeping notes and taking pictures!

(PS "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead" is available for streaming on Netflix and regular Hulu!  Please check it out, it is a really well-done documentary.)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Finally! a.k.a. A General Update

Well, hello!  It's been quite a while since my last post,  and though I knew the blog would be facing some sort of hiatus, I definitely did not intend to go three months without posting.  I thought I'd take today's post to recap what's been going on before I dove back in to the blog:

  • Erica and I are finally married!!  Planning and prep took up most of my March and all of my April (well, part of April was our awesome honeymoon in Napa, but still! Wedding-adjacent).  We're finally settling back to normal, although most of June will be occupied with family wedding festivities.
  • We really only made it two months into our "No TV for a year" commitment.  After a few stressful nights in a row, we broke down in early March.  I do have to say though, our "mindless" TV watching has decreased significantly, and we've even considered giving it another go over the summer.
  • Even though we're watching TV again, we still have our limits.  We're still eating in the dining room (No TV) and we didn't renew Netflix.  We never did have cable, so we're really limited to network TV.
  • Although we haven't been adhering to any crazy rules or 60-day challenges, we seem to have settled in to a pretty healthy eating routine.  I've also done a pretty good job of keeping processed food out of my diet: at this point we're making pretty much everything from scratch! 
  • I've been calling myself "predominantly vegetarian," eating meat for dinner only about once a week, and even then it's usually fish.  Erica, who's actually underweight at this point, is soon going to have to deviate from my habits and create something that works better for her.  That's a big challenge that we face in the coming months, especially since we like to eat dinner together.
  • I have, more or less, finally settled into a workout routine! I'm still ironing out the kinks in it, and running has not been working out as well as I'd hoped, but it's major progress.  More on all this soon.
But for the immediate future, I have something interesting.  I've been thinking about trying a juice cleanse to re-energize my interests in fruit-and-vegetable-based eating.  According to everything I've read, someone of my body mass should only do a 3-day cleanse, so that's what I'm going to try.  I'll post again in detail once I figure out the logistics and what recipes to use.  Then I'll keep track of my progress, including how much I'm spending at the grocery store.  

I have to say, These past few months have been amazing, but I'm really glad to be back to normal, and back to blogging!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Crock Pot Meals and Bulk Food Prep

Hello!  It's been awhile since I posted, but I promise I've been staying on top of things throughout this busy winter spurt.  I have some new things to talk about soon, but in the meantime, I've tagged in Erica once again to talk about something fun we did on Sunday:

Last week on Facebook, someone had posted a picture of neatly arranged freezer bags on their kitchen countertop, stuffed full of food.  My first thought was "what is this?" and my immediate second thought was "I want to go to there."  There was a link to this blog post about preparing crock pot meals ahead of time and freezing them. 
I'm jumping on the frozen meal bandwagon.  I haven't really wanted to cook lately, other than usual standards out of necessity, and I love the idea of getting all the work (and clean-up) done in one day to last for several, so that lazier, future me can reap the rewards. 
Since we're trying to stay mostly vegetarian (we do meat meals maybe once a week) I didn't want to use all of the recipes in the link above, all of which called for meat.  I opted for the Healthy BBQ Chicken, which looks delicious, then went around the web hunting for vegetarian options.  I also decided to make a German Potato Soup, Beans Bourguinon (which is like beef bourguinon, I guess, without the beef or bacon), and a Butternut Squash Soup. 
(In hindsight I shouldn't have gone for two soups, and the squash soup is a little light in the bags so we might have to make both of them at once, and that's also not a crock pot recipe so it may very well not work out.  But, onward!)

First I assembled my grocery list and went on a shopping trip.  I don't think I've ever bought seven onions at once before.  Then, I divided up the ingredients into sections per recipe.

My haul.

Then I laid out my gallon freezer bags, labeled them with a marker, and wrote down the last-minute instructions I would be sure to forget, such as what liquids to add and how long to cook. After that, I laid out all of the recipes because I work better with instruction.

The plan.

Then came the chopping.  Lots and lots and lots of chopping.  That's pretty much all it was!  It got pretty Zen, after a while.  Each recipe produced two bags.

And three hours later:

 Ta daa!

We froze most of it, leaving one bag of beans bourguinon in the fridge for dinner this week.  It was easy to clean up since we didn't cook with any dishes, and I really hope these come out tasty.  Only time will tell!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Year with No TV: Month One Recap

I realize we're well in to the second month of the year, but time started getting away from me and I never updated about how my first month with no TV went.

First to answer a couple of questions I've been getting: Yes, we're still committed to this.  And No, I'm not having a mid-life crisis (mid-life?? really?) or anything like that.  I am, however, intentionally pulling myself outside of my own comfort zone in order to grow as a person.

So January came and went, and aside from really missing Modern Family, we pretty quickly got used to the status quo of having no TV.  My favorite thing that came out of the first month was getting more use out of our dining room table, and actually sitting and talking with my lady over dinner.

Some other good things that have come out of it so far: I rediscovered my love for Pandora, and through that, I'm getting back into music in general.  I'm also breezing through the backlog of collected trade comic books that we've been buying faster than we can read.

Some things I haven't gotten around to yet: carving out a good exercise routine.  I predicted this would be one of my biggest stumbling blocks, because even if I had all the time in the world, I hate to spend it exercising. I just hate it.  I've worked out a couple times, but nothing that comes close to consistent.  I also haven't played the piano or started planning my garden yet, both things I wanted to do before March.  But I still have time.

One of the biggest challenges I face is going to be not allowing something else to come fill the void where TV used to be.  Right now the biggest threats are general Internet surfing (backreading on sites like Failblog) and gaming on my new smartphone.  At least the phone eventually dies and kicks me off, heh.  I have a lot of stuff, I want to get done this year:  so my goal for February is to map it all out, and set goals for each month.  Let's see how that goes...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Blueberry Banana Blast Smoothie Recipe

I got a lot of awesome feedback from my last post about smoothies, and I promised I'd share a few recipes, so I'm starting with one I created myself.  It's very simple, but so tasty.  This one currently my favorite, but I think I found some unseasonably good blueberries.  If you try this, I wish you the same luck!
Definitely helps to have Grandma's old school blender--
it works better than anything they make today!

Blueberry Banana Blast Smoothie
2.5  Ripe Bananas
1 cup Blueberries
2.5 cups Milk  (or unflavored soy milk)

In your blender, pour about 1 cup of the milk in and add blueberries.  Blend well on a high setting, until there are no blueberry clumps. (You won't be able to completely mix in the blueberry skin, but that's okay.

Add another cup of the milk and the bananas.  Start on a low setting, increasing to high as the smoothie starts to come together.  Check periodically on the consistency: if it's too thick, add the remainder of the milk.
Yields about 5 cups.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Something New for Breakfast: Smoothies

Oof!  This is the longest I've gone since I started this blog without updating.  I have a reason; I've been out of town for the past two weekends on business.  (It will have its own post, because it was a foodfail of epic proportions.)  But I'm back now and trying to get back on track, starting with the "most important meal of the day," breakfast.  I had posted about how Cheerios were all I ever ate for breakfast, but I wanted to give it up for something more nutrient-rich and less processed, and actually, I haven't bought another box since that one ran out a few days later.

And believe it or not, I've been doing really, really well.  One of the cookbooks we got for Christmas has a whole breakfast section.  First up in the book is smoothies--seriously the most simple thing you could ever imagine.  Erica used to make mixed fruit smoothies, and based on the fact that she used a ton of different fruits, I didn't really consider that a cost- or time-effective solution for daily consumption.  But the recipes in this book use banana as the base of most of the recipes instead of avocado, and usually only have 1 or 2 other ingredients.  So, much less expensive, and incredibly easy!

The first one I tried was called "Cinnamon Bun:" Simply milk, a banana, cinnamon, and vanilla extract blended together:  and yes, it tasted incredibly like a cinnamon bun.
Cinnamon Bun in a Glass!

We tried a few recipes from the book--Erica made an incredible vegetable-and-mint based one that tasted like a Mojito--and after I got the hang of it, I started making my own.  That's how I came up with a chocolate-cinnamon one, and my favorite so far, a blueberry-banana one.
I'm thinking of calling it Blueberry-Banana Blast,
what do you think?

Right now, smoothies seem to be working out perfectly.  I have a lot of energy, I'm not getting too hungry before lunch, leftovers seem to keep okay in the fridge for a day or so. And I love that I'm eating more fruit.  It's very hard for me to just sit down and chow on an apple or whatever, so this is good.  I'm experimenting almost every day with new combinations, but when I have a list of faves, I'll be sure to share some recipes!

***(Also, thanks to everyone that offered suggestions for ways to deal with my breakfast conundrum. I'm still taking all of that into consideration, and I'll be trying some of that as well!)***

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Biggest Processed Food Holdout

When it comes to striving for "clean eating,"  I've had to change a lot of my food habits.  Winter Sundays used to mean baked potatoes for dinner, ice cream was my #1 comfort food, and coffee (loaded with International Delight) and Mountain Dew were what kept the blood running through my veins.  I've always "known" how to make healthier choices, but it wasn't until a few months ago that I actually started making them.

Part of the reason I chose veganism as my first self-imposed challenge was because I knew that taking away foods I loved would make me crazy, unless I replaced them with new things to love.  So, while I was pining for cheese-soaked chicken and pasta, I learned to love a whole bunch of new things.  During those 60 days, I also cut out the worst offenders, not necessarily just nonvegan foods.  Soda, potato chips, ice cream, some of my biggest food vices, were gone cold turkey.  I don't want them back.

But as I learn more about what goes into processed food and strive to keep away from it,  I'm drawn back to my biggest problem: breakfast.  Historically, I never ate breakfast, opting instead for a cup (or two, or three) of coffee with calorie-loaded artificial creamer.  Sometimes (frequently), I'd get home from work at 6:30pm never having had any solid food all day.  But my problem with breakfast usually wasn't time.  It was simply that I didn't like breakfast foods.  Cereal was boring and cold,  and my stomach could never handle something heavy like eggs or sweet like French toast early in the morning.

When I started the vegan thing, I figured I'd turn over a new leaf on all accounts and force myself to get into the habit of eating breakfast.  Still not keen on eating a lot that early, I opted to make a bowl of Cheerios with soy milk my AM tradition.  And now, five months later, I'm sticking to it with decent regularity.

So now that I've eliminated most processed food from my diet, I face a Cheerios conundrum:  should I give them up and try to find something more healthy and nutrient-rich to take their place, or should I keep eating them and consider this an exception that proves the rule?  And are Cheerios really that bad for you anyway?

The answer to the latter is rough: it really, really depends on who you ask.  It also depends on what you mean by "healthy."  Is feeding a kid a bowl of Cheerios better than feeding them a bowl of Froot Loops?  Yes.  Does a serving of Cheerios have less cholesterol than a plate of eggs and hash-browns?  Well, of course.  There are tons of breakfast options that are less healthy than Cheerios--including my former option of nothing at all.

But at the end of the day, it's still an extremely highly processed food, and really, most of the "whole grain" benefit you think you're getting is processed out or chemically altered.  People who claim it's healthy are quick to remind you that the most prevalent ingredient is "whole grain oats" while leaving out that second and third most prevalent are "modified corn starch" and "sugar."  (Refined sugar, by the way, is near the top of the clean eating blacklist.)

Ideally, I'd like to rid this from my diet.  But I'm at a loss for how to replace it.  Erica has been making her own oatmeal from scratch now, and as lovely as that is, I can't seem to get on board with the texture of the stuff.  We also, since the water-only thing has finished, have started making smoothies again, but I'm afraid a smoothie alone will leave me too hungry before lunchtime.  I'm thinking of making a challenge for myself where I branch out and try new things for breakfast.  I'm open to suggestions!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hectic Week, and the End of Water-Only

It's been a quiet week on this blog, but it's actually been  a pretty wild week in the house.  Erica's car needs replaced well, now, as it turns out, so it's been a week of shopping for loans and looking up car values and getting our ears bent with both solicited and unsolicited advice--it makes both of us just want to retreat.  If ever there was a week where disappearing into the TV would be a welcome distraction, this was the one.

But we stuck to our guns, and hopefully by Saturday afternoon, we'll have a new (to us) car.  I'm happy with all we've gotten accomplished this week.  Even in the midst of all the car craziness, we managed to get wedding stuff done as well!  The honeymoon is pretty much totally booked, and invitations are on the way to us.  I've gotten some reading done, but no writing so far.  Next week, maybe. And tomorrow night, we'll be having a much-needed night out with friends, seeing Beauty and the Beast in 3D.

Tomorrow is also a big day because it's the last official day of my 60-day water-only challenge.  Yes, I've been keeping up with it, aside from some wine on Christmas Eve, and a glass of punch on NYE, I think I've officially trained myself to like drinking water, something I thought would never happen.  I wouldn't have liked it so much if I hadn't seen such wild results from it, but I've lost two dress sizes since the very beginning of this journey.  It was never about losing weight, but I had a feeling that would fall into place if I could keep this commitment. (I actually asked Erica to stop the water-only thing last week, because she's lost too much weight. I envy the girl that gets to go on a chocolate milk twice-a-day regimen!)

To celebrate ending the challenge, I'm planning to hit up Sheetz on our way to the dealerships Saturday morning for a decaf mocha, but I plan on sticking mostly to water from here on out.  And I definitely don't care to go back to being a caffeine addict; I'm not going back to soda, and coffee will be decaf, and a once-in-a-while thing.  I love not buying juice at the store, we're saving so much money in our grocery (and alcohol) budget.  We got wine for Christmas, and we actually got to use our wine rack for a month! It's funny, I have to be so extreme to get myself to do the simplest things, but now I can't imagine going back!

I won't lie, I am looking forward to sitting back with a nice glass of wine Saturday night, looking out at our new car in the driveway.  Keep your fingers crossed for us!!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

TV-Free: Eating Dinner in the Dining Room

One week down, fifty-one to go.  It has certainly been a totally different house without the TV on!  My list of stuff to accomplish this year is getting continuously longer, and it got to the point where it was just overwhelming.  So Tuesday, my first day off since New Years, I was kind of left to my own devices and didn't know where to start.  I took some time to catch up on writing people I missed throughout the holiday season, made sure to update the blog, and then just kinda stared at the list, too intimidated to actually dig in.

Each passing day has gotten better, though.  Erica put her computer back in her office and is using that space for writing again, I rediscovered my love for Pandora Radio so the house isn't always so quiet, and there's always plenty of time to get all the household stuff done.  And even though I don't think I'm going to bed that much earlier, I'm way less tired in the morning for some reason.

By far the biggest accomplishment is something I'm kind of embarrassed to admit to: we've started eating dinner at the dining room table, instead of on the couch.  Before this challenge, even when we were cooking these fabulous meals, we always ate in front of the TV.  I'm willing to bet that a lot of people my age operate like this, but it is something I'm glad we're rectifying.  Not only does this habit encourage overeating, it also takes away from the quality of the meal, because your brain is being stimulated by the TV and not the food.  This is all stuff I've heard before, and trust me, I was not raised eating dinner in front of a TV.  For this one, the blame's all on me.  But I'm glad it's over.  I'm excited to watch TV again, but from here on out, I'm keeping dinner in the dining room!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Kitchen Overhaul, and What Santa Brought Us

If being robbed means that you come home and your house looks empty and your stuff is missing, I imagine that the opposite of being robbed would be if someone pulled everything you own out of its place and put it on the floor in plain sight.  One day, between Christmas and New Years, I came home to this:
And this:
Pictured: everything from my kitchen pulled out if its place and dumped in the dining room.

To be fair, it was a project that Erica and I had talked about, especially since a majority of our wonderful Christmas gifts were kitchen-related.  We needed to re-organize and make room for the new stuff, pitch some old stuff, and deep-clean the cabinets.  I just didn't expect to come home to it looking like I'd been transplanted into a Hoarders-type situation.

As tired and hungry as I was, though, I pitched in, because I couldn't wait to see the final product.  It was good, we pared down a lot of kitchen gadgets that we haven't used since moving in, wiped down the inside of  all the cabinets, and found some stuff that we had lost to the sheer depth of some of our drawers  (welcome back, decorative cheese knives!). 

When I came home the next day the kitchen looked like this: 

And our once-hopelessly-disorganized spice cabinet like this:
I took the advice of commenter Alicia from my September post about my messy spice cabinets
 and ordered a  spice organizer off of Amazon.  I could use a second one, actually!

I'm super happy with how everything turned out!  And all our new stuff has a home, which was the biggest concern, although we were elated about what our super-generous family gave us.  Erica's mom gave us our first stand mixer, and Erica's looking forward to making her own bread.  My grandparents got us an 11-cup Cuisinart food processor,  which has been a huge lifesaver already, because before, all I had was a little 1-cup chopper.  Needless to say veggie burgers just got a thousand times easier.  (Also, special thanks to everyone who's asked if I've cut myself on the processor blade yet.  Thanks for the vote of confidence, but the answer is yes.  Yes I have.)

Other faves have included an olive oil mister from Erica's brother, a set of five clear food storage containers from her dad and stepmom, and a cookbook from my mom that we've used four times already since Christmas.  It, and the food processor, helped us make this amazing pizza, our first shot at using yeast/making dough.
I cannot wait to have this again!

Overall, the holiday season was kind to us, and we're nowhere near tired of our new toys yet, so I'll continue posting about all the other fun stuff we get into.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Another Extreme Challenge

Since this past September, I've been trying to better myself through a series of food-related challenges, but the ultimate goal didn't really have a lot to do with food or weight loss.  It started because in August, I realized that when people ask me "what's new with you?" or "what do you do for fun?" and they actually want an answer, I had nothing for them. Time and again, I seriously couldn't think of anything to answer except that I waste a lot of time on the Internet and I watch too much TV.

In short, I was a boring person.  I ate boring food, I hate talking about work, and even if you asked me what I did on the Internet, I couldn't tell you, because it was mostly just surfing around.  I never wanted to be that person.  High-school Valerie would be disappointed, and college Valerie would be disgusted.  So the vegan challenge was a way for me to turn a microscope on one aspect of my life, and start working at it.  Now when someone asks "what's new," I can at least say I've been teaching myself to cook, and it's ridiculously fun.

When Erica took me out for dinner on my birthday, we'd been talking about my next challenge.  I decided I wanted to move away from the total food focus, and try to improve another area.  I bounced a lot of ideas; I have a lot of potential interests and even more things that I need to get done:
  • Plant a garden out back
  • Play the piano a few times a week
  • Write a book
  • Read more books
  • Create (and stick to) a workout plan
  • Have more dinner parties
  • Paint our bedroom
  • Look into getting the basement finished
  • Update this blog more frequently
You know, all those thing we tell ourselves "I'd love to get done, if only I had the time!"  But I do have the time, I just don't use it right.  The original plan was to pick one or two of these, make a quantifiable goal and make that my new 60-day commitment, but when we got the check, something funny happened--my fortune cookie was actually insightful:
"First, think of what you want to do; then do what you have to do."

It didn't hit me right away, but I liked the fortune so I tucked it in my wallet behind my driver's license.  As time passed, though, I understood--all those things on my list, they're the things that I want to do.  In order to achieve them, though, I probably have to do some things I don't what to do.  But everything on my list is possible.  If I'm proactive, I can make it happen.

I know what I want to do. What I have to do, though, won't be easy.  With Erica's blessing (and, surprisingly, enthusiastic cooperation)  I'm going to unplug my TV for a year.  It means no Netflix, no Hulu, no videogames, and no cable.  As this year drew to a close, I was pretty anxious about it.  I don't have a solid plan for where on the list I'm going to start; I also don't have a solid plan to keep myself from replacing my pointless TV watching with pointless Internetting.  But I'm working on it.  The first step is done though, we've verbally committed; wish us luck!