Gadget Drawer

You can sink a lot of money into a kitchen.  I’m always talking about how cooking meals at home saves so much money, but let’s be honest: with items like three-hundred-dollar KitchenAid mixers on the market, your cash can disappear faster than your leftovers.  And you only have to turn on Food TV for a few minutes to begin feeling like the big, fancy appliances are essentials.  But for those of us who don’t cook in the kitchens of our Hamptons homes, essentials might be, like our houses, a bit more modest.

Don’t get me wrong: I have big dreams for my kitchen cabinets.  I want them filled with a stand mixer, a NutriBullet, a big food processor, an espresso machine… you get the idea.  But until that happy day (right – like I’ll spend all that money in a day!), I wanted to write a post about the smaller treasures that already call my kitchen home.  In fact, they’re so small, they all share one drawer.

IMG_6428 IMG_64311. The Palm Peeler

I’ve used peelers before, but this one is far and away my favorite.  Because it’s designed to fit into your hand, you have much more control over it and can apply more pressure without accidentally sending it flying across the room.

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I bought this at Wegmans for around five bucks and use it all the time for carrots (if you notice an orange tint to it, your eyes are not playing tricks), zucchini, and even eggplant.  It’s small but sturdy and dishwasher safe, the real selling point!

 

2. The Garlic Press

Life. Changing. I always cooked with garlic powder or salt, and while they still have their place, cooking with actual garlic is incredible.  Nothing smells as good as that first whiff of pressed garlic mixing into your soup… stew… chicken.  It’s magic.

 

This press also came from Wegmans for fifteen dollars.  It’s not dishwasher safe but redeems itself by coming with a handy little cleaning brush that snaps into the inside.

 

 

3. The Apple Corer

This gadget helps me to eat the entire apple.  Biting into an apple can be messy, and I usually give up before I’ve really eaten the whole thing.  This makes it much easier by just removing the inedible parts and leaving you with slices that are great for dipping into peanut butter.

 

This is from Ikea for under ten bucks.  Bonus: it comes with a cover for the bottom so that you don’t accidentally core your hand.  I don’t know if it’s supposed to be dishwasher safe, but mine is. 😉

 
 
4. The Citrus Peeler

Raise your hand if you enjoy peeling oranges.  Yeah.  Exactly.  I got this gadget at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and for two dollars, I think it’s the cheapest thing in the store.  Again, it’s contoured to fit into your hand, which makes it really easy to use.

 

The idea here is that you can use the “blade” to make several slices along an orange or other citrus fruit and then easily peel it.  Sometimes it takes a little effort, but it’s much easier than using a knife… or your nails.

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5. The Juicer

Finally, there is the juicer.  This is also from Wegmans (are you seeing a theme here?) and cost around fifteen dollars.  Yes, this is the same kind Martha Stewart uses, although in watching her show, I’ve noticed that she has this in at least three different colors.  All you have to do here is cut the lemon in half and squeeze.  Super easy, no seeds, quick cleanup.

 

There you are – the VIPs of my gadget drawer.  Together they may not even add up to the cost of half a KitchenAid, but they make cooking much easier, and they’re fun to use!  So the next time you see a kitchen toy you want in the grocery store, treat yourself.  You might just find your new favorite thing.

Till next time!

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Spring Crafting

This post is not about food.  I know this is a food blog, and we will return to our regularly scheduled recipes soon, but for now, let’s talk about crafts.

I’ve always loved crafts – knitting, jewelry making, decorating cookies (there’s your food!) – really anything.  When I first started seriously cooking, I think it was the creativity that hooked me.  It was so much fun to try new recipes, but I always wanted to put my own spin on things.  And the more I cooked, the more I realized how truly awesome it is to make things myself.  Although I love my food chopper (I will never dice onions again.), I don’t mind peeling potatoes, chopping vegetables, or even washing dishes.  Sure, there are times when I’m in a hurry, but mostly I like the hands-on experience; I feel more connected to what I’m doing.

The same is true for home decor.  I love making wreaths, coming up with new ways to display books or pictures, and making rooms pretty, fun, and personal.  For me, adding my own creative touch makes it home.

Enter the necklace rack.  We have a lot of blue and gray in the bedroom, and when I saw this in Salvaged, our favorite little home decor shop in Delaware, I had to have it.  The pop of yellow was exactly what I’d been wanting.

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Before

Adorable, right?  And in terms of storing necklaces, it’s life-changing.  Ever keep them in a jewelry box?  You’ll spend all morning trying to untangle them!  I’ve been really happy with this display, including my ever-growing spider plant, but recently I’ve thought it needed a little something… else.  I’d written on my “home decorating” list to find something to hang up above the necklaces since it’s just blank space, but today instead of finding a thing, I found supplies.

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Mixing up paints – and yes, that’s Snow White on the tablet. If you’re not watching ‘Once Upon a Time,’ stop reading and go watch it now.

I went to Michaels just to browse around and found little wooden frames for two dollars a pop.  I’ve seen this kind of thing on Pinterest before, basically framed patterns, and they’re so cute and customizable that I had to have them.  I bought three frames and two pieces of scrapbook paper – I spent a whopping six bucks.  Yes, I had a coupon, and yes, we already had acrylic paints and brushes, but at most you’d spend fifteen dollars for this project – still not bad at all.  I painted each frame a different color and then cut the paper to fit onto the backs.  I tried to glue one, but it didn’t stick that well, so I ended up using Scotch tape.  Yes, Scotch tape.  That’s how complicated this was. IMG_6363

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It didn’t take long to complete at all – in fact, the hardest part was mixing up paints to get the colors right to match the necklace rack.  I wanted to stick with gray and yellow as the main colors, but one of the knobs has a blue flower on it, so I decided to pull on that.  Once these were done and taped up, I put Steve to work measuring, leveling, and nailing.  I’m kind of notorious for hanging things up a little crooked, so my hammer has been confiscated… permanently.

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My engineer. 🙂

And now, I present you with the finished wall!  It’s a really small thing that I did, but I think it makes a big difference.  It’s fun, it’s whimsical, and it’s my own.  Yes, this took a little bit more time than buying something and hanging it up, and it may not be as fancy as some of the things I could have found at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, or even Target, but it was fun to do, and it’s original.

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Ta-da!

Bonus: I didn’t realize until I hung these up that the necklace rack has yellow and white chevron and gray and white floral on it.  It must have been buried in my sub-conscious somewhere, because that’s exactly what I picked for the paper!  Sometimes the magic just happens.  This was a great way to spend the first Saturday of spring – try it out yourself with your color scheme and let me know if you have any other cute DIY projects!

IMG_6393Till next time – happy cooking and crafting!

Lesson the Second

In my last post, I talked about breakfast, and now it’s lunch.  I’m feeling a little bit of self-inflicted pressure to write about dinner next.

One of the most challenging things for me in eating well is eating away from home.  I’ve written about this before, when I went a week without restaurants, and in the process found that it’s not as impossible as it seems to eat well on the go.

Let me be clear: packing lunch is a pretty new thing to me.  Not since high school have I taken my lunch with me, well, anywhere.  And why would I when there are Paneras and Chipotles and Noodles and Cos. everywhere?  Well, for one thing, those ten-dollar lunches add up.  Fast.  So do the calories and grams of sugar in restaurant food.  But those things are easy to ignore or deny.  What really motivated me to steer clear of the lunch rush was going gluten free.  I was feeling so good that I didn’t want to risk running into something that would make me feel tired or sick, especially in the middle of a work day.

Even with such great motivation, lunch is a tricky thing because it takes planning ahead.  All meals do to an extent, but if I don’t have something ready for lunch the night before, I’m in trouble.  There are some days when I am home during lunch and could cook, but I’m usually trying to budget my time so that I can grade papers because a teacher’s work is never done.  But I have gotten into a pretty consistent groove of thinking and cooking ahead, meaning that I can simply open my fridge or my lunchbox and be eating in a matter of minutes.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must say that having my own kitchen has also made a huge difference in how much I cook and how prepared I am to pack lunch.  It can be difficult to navigate sharing a kitchen and fridge with multiple roommates who may or may not keep things clean and organized.  Say what you will about thriving in chaos, but for me organization matters.  A lot.  I’ve been planning a “tour of the kitchen” post for some time – stay tuned!

In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite lunch dishes that are easy to make and travel well (or sit in the fridge well) in Ziploc/Rubbermaid/Tupperware containers.  Some are vegan, all are gluten free.

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Mushroom stew (recipe from Forks Over Knives cookbook). Served here with salad and polenta cakes.

 

 

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Grilled chicken and rice with steamed carrots and broccoli.

 

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Gluten free spaghetti with grilled vegetables – zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, red onion.

 

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Salad – spinach, mushrooms, bell pepper, carrot, raisins, sunflower seeds, red onion, balsamic vinegar. Vegan and raw!

 

I also pack snacks to go along with lunch and to get me through the rest of the afternoon – usually raw veggies or a banana/apple/grapes and almonds or a combination of those.  When I’m eating like this, I don’t have the 2:00 sugar crash, I’m satisfied, and I have so much more energy!  And let’s be honest: it feels pretty good to go home at night and not have spent a dime the whole day. 😉

 

Lesson the First

I’ve learned a lot since I started eating better and particularly since I (most of the time) eliminated gluten: portion control, reading ingredients, planning meals, budgeting… the list goes on, and I’m quite sure I’ll elaborate on each item in more detail than you could want to know in the future.  Trying not to obsess, I’ve paid close attention to my eating habits.  I’ve learned that when I eat regular, healthy meals, I don’t have the afternoon crash; I’ve learned that I can cook vegetarian and even vegan meals that are filling and delicious; and, I’ve learned that if I start my day with a really healthy breakfast, I’m more likely to stay on track for the entire day.

I’ve taken to eating yogurt with granola in it, adding in various nuts and berries, but the granola has seven grams of sugar… and the yogurt has seventeen.  I don’t care for Greek yogurt, and my two options for regular, plain yogurt at the grocery store are non-fat and low-fat.  Granted, I eat a small serving, but still… all this sugar adds up. I would happily buy full fat, mainly because low-fat products tend to come with added sugar to balance out the taste if it were available (Ahem… Wegmans).  Until that happy day, I’ve decided to change up breakfast a bit.  Enter oatmeal.

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What a ton of ingredients, right?  I’ve always been a fan of oatmeal, but it usually came out of a packet.  (Yes, this oatmeal has a packet in a manner of speaking.)  But one thing I’ve discovered in my quest to eat well is that it’s almost always better to make things yourself.  I haven’t gone so far as to live solely off the land (saving that for retirement), but I’m making adjustments where I can.  This is the new normal, and if there’s a step beyond this, I know I’ll be better prepared to take it now.

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So what exactly is in my oatmeal?  Well, I started using Bob’s Red Mill Scottish Oatmeal, but it takes close to ten minutes to cook.  Not great for those early mornings.  I recently switched over to Bob’s Quick Cooking Oats, which are a little different in texture, but just as good.  The great thing about oatmeal is that, like any great meal, you can make it your own.  I add in chia seed, chopped walnuts, raisins, cinnamon, and honey.  Yes, there is still some sugar in this, but none of that pesky added sugar.  It’s nutrition-packed, warm and delicious, and keeps me full all morning.

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Breakfast is still not perfect.  I usually have half a glass of orange juice, which is loaded with sugar, but I do try to moderate it.  In fact, once upon a time I made my own orange juice, which was really a treat and something I want to do again.  One good thing I can say about my sugar consumption is that I’ve really cut down on it in my coffee, and my tastes have really changed there.  I put about a quarter or a third of a teaspoon of sugar in a pretty big mug of coffee now, something I wouldn’t have been able to drink a couple years ago.  I’ve heard that gradually cutting back is the trick, and it seems to be so.

As I said earlier, when I have a good breakfast like this, it sets the tone for the whole day.  First of all, I’m not having a sugar meltdown two hours later, and second, when I begin my day on the right track, I’m much more motivated to keep eating well and not screw it up by eating junk later.  It doesn’t always work, but so far the success rate is looking good.

Till next time – happy eating! ❤

 

Gluten-Free Valentine

Hey there, internet.  It’s been a minute (or, you know, six months) since I wrote a blog post.  But a lull is better than giving up, right?  So here we are.  Things have really been business as usual: trying to eat healthy, slipping a bit, getting back to it, and rinse and repeat.  Happily, I do have some food-related news to report – enough to kick me back into blogging.

A few months ago, I started researching symptoms of gluten allergies.  I always thought a gluten allergy meant digestive issues, but after talking to a few friends who have cut out the infamous protein to relive other symptoms, I wanted to know more.  In short, I found that even a gluten sensitivity can manifest in rhinitis, sinus issues, asthma, psoriasis, feeling tired (also known as “brain fog”), and much more.  I’ve had trouble with all of those things, but never in a million years would I have guessed they could be in any way connected to what I was eating.

Really, given everything I’ve read about food in the past few years and all the horrors I’ve discovered along the way, I shouldn’t have been so surprised.  After I cut out gluten for a few weeks, I stopped using my steroid nasal spray and inhaler, and my psoriasis calmed down considerably.  I was astounded, thrilled, and also a little bit angry.  Why had no one ever mentioned this to me?  All these different forms of inflammation and a medicine to treat each one separately.  That’s not how I want to roll.

I have eaten gluten since I discovered all of this, in part to test out how it made me feel, and while I don’t get seriously ill from a meal or two, I do get tired.  Dog-tired.  Unable-to-focus-or-function-tired.  Such is the “brain fog” they talk about.  Experiencing this made me wonder how I was ever able to accomplish anything with all the gluten I’ve ingested throughout my life.

Bottom line: I feel amazing when I cut out gluten.  Sadly, some people have told me they’re skeptical that this is a real thing, that I really could have an adverse reaction to something as ubiquitous as wheat, but I know how I feel.  I have energy, I sleep deeply, I breathe deeply, and my mind is sharper and more focused than I knew it could be.  To me, that’s all the evidence I need.  I’ve read a few different theories on why it affects people: a good, old-fashioned allergy to wheat, an inability to deal with the genetic modifications in wheat, and most interestingly, a reaction to the Roundup used on the crops.  Either way, my body is definitely telling me loud and clear to stay away.  Yes, I’ve missed certain things – bread, lemon pound cake, croutons – but that’s a post for another day.

And now, to last weekend.  Valentine’s Day!  It was a snowy, cold Saturday here on the East coast,  and I wanted something warm and rich of dinner.  One of my favorite comfort foods is baked macaroni and cheese – a dish containing pasta, bread crumbs, and flour.  I have the incredible advantage of a little place called Wegmans, and I thought I’d try to de-gluten it.

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I already had gluten-free flour (Bob’s Red Mill is just as incredible resource as Wegmans), and I’d tried the Ancient Harvest quinoa pasta before.  It’s hard to describe, but to me, this pasta doesn’t taste as sweet as regular pasta.  That may seem like an odd way to describe pasta, but if you were to side-by-side taste test, I think you’d see what I mean.  I’d read about gluten-free bread crumbs recently and found the Ian’s brand in the gluten-free section of Wegmans (yes, there is an entire section of the store devoted to me).

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Once I had all of my gluten-free replacement ingredients, I was able to follow the recipe exactly.  The only difference I noticed in cooking was that the roux thickened really quickly.  Everything else worked out just as it would otherwise.

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Like I said before, the quinoa pasta does have a different taste (other gluten-free pastas I’ve tried taste more like corn), but I’m calling this meal a success.  I enjoyed it, Steve enjoyed it, and on Valentine’s Day, that’s really all that matters, right?

 

The Milton Market

Last weekend – well, more like almost three weekends ago now, actually (where have I been?!) – Steve and I (along with the rest of the D.C. population) went up and over to Delaware to visit his family for Memorial Day weekend.  Since we left early-ish on Friday, we made it just in time for this:

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Steve’s friend Rory, whose family owns Kemp’s Liquors in their hometown of Milton, DE, had a booth set up offering wine and beer tastings.  After tasting a couple of reds, I was off to explore the rest of the market.  There were plenty of booths selling fresh produce and meats, but I was especially excited about the lavender and soap booths!

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After walking a couple of laps, I figured out what to buy, although it wasn’t easy!  I couldn’t buy any wine at the market (although I could taste it – silly laws), so I ended up with these wholesome goodies instead:

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Fresh strawberries, lavender soap, and homemade applesauce!  Does spring get any better?  The strawberries were perfect, the applesauce was delicious and included a story about how the recipe has been passed down through the maker’s family, and along with the lavender soap, I picked up some fliers with suggestions on how to use culinary lavender!

When we were on the way back home, we did stop at the store and get a bottle of the wine I liked, an Old Vine Zinfandel.  We had a couple friends over for dinner a few nights ago, and this was a big hit!

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You know I’m a huge fan of farmers’ markets, and this one didn’t disappoint.  I really want to make it a regular thing this spring and summer – what could be better than fresh, local food and supporting your local farms and businesses?

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I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and that summer’s off to a great start!

Sweet!

A big part of healthy eating is cooking for yourself. You know what’s going into your food, you can control what’s going into your food, and let’s face it: when you have to put in a little effort, you’re less likely to over-indulge. Although last night it was hard not to over-indulge on what I cooked.

I’ve always loved sweet potato fries – I mean, who doesn’t? Anyone? Didn’t think so. But the only times I’ve had them were in restaurants or from the frozen section of the grocery store. Last week, I tried out a black bean burger recipe that has a little bit of cooked sweet potato in it, so when I made them again tonight, I thought the fries would be the perfect side.

I read a few recipes online, but in the end I went my own way. The big decision in making fries is how to season them. After smelling every spice in my cabinet, I landed on these:

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I had never even opened the ground cloves! It kind of makes me wonder why I bought them. At any rate, from what I’d read online, I knew I needed olive oil, salt, and sugar. As far the rest, I think I landed on a pretty good combination. The cloves and nutmeg gave just enough kick to balance out the sweet.

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After tossing everything together in a bowl, I spread the wedges onto a baking sheet and put them into a preheated 450-degree oven for about 15 minutes, then tossed them around and flipped them over.  Then they cooked for another ten minutes.
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I’ll be honest, at first I thought they were burnt, but it was just the spices.  They were perfect!  A little crispy on the outside and oh-so-sweet on the inside.

 
 

You might disagree, but I think these fries would be good even after they got cold! I was so happy with how they turned out. This was definitely a spur-of-the-moment dinner decision, but it’s one that I’ll be making again!

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The black bean burgers are Tosca Reno’s recipe, of course (I do love her), and the fries were the perfect complement. This was the perfect summer dinner. I know it’s not summer yet, but I’m a teacher, so it’s actually been summer for three weeks.
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Till next time! ❤