Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Perfecting a favorite recipe

I'm getting there! I've made various permutations on this dish for a couple of years now -- going from a couple of different recipes plus some experimentation, and I'm finally beginning to make it 'mine'.  I've made the soup (coconut milk, butternut squash or sweet potatoes and lots of herbs and spices), and it's been delicious. Always. I've also made a dal (Indian curried lentils) using similar ingredients but without the squash/sweet potatoes, and that's also been delicious. This time I combined the two, with some added ingredients, and it's now a complete meal: lots of veggies, plenty of protein from the red lentils, and plenty of other nutrition.

Unfortunately, I can't give exact details of much -- especially spices -- but I can give basics. I started with one smallish butternut squash (about 1.5 lbs) and one small to medium sweet potato, cubed and cooked in water to cover until really tender, about an hour. I sauteed one large yellow onion, finely chopped, about a 3" piece of fresh ginger, grated, and 5-6 smallish cloves of garlic, sliced.

Once this was cooking well, I added a can of coconut milk, the veggies and cooking water, a tablespoon, maybe, of Thai red curry paste (the tail end of a small jar, leftover), a good amount of fresh basil and mint from the garden, some curry powder and a half banana leftover from breakfast. By this point, the dish was swinging from Thai to Caribbean, I think! But I thought the banana would add some good sweetness, and I think it did. I let this cook awhile, then added 1 cup of dried red lentils, soaked for 30 minutes or so to soften.

Somewhere along the way, I added a bit of cayenne, some turmeric, more curry powder and cardamom and let it all cook.  I tasted as I went, eventually adding salt after the lentils were soft.  A final taste told me it had a slight bitterness -- maybe too much salt, maybe from the squash or onions, I don't know. So, I gathered up my courage and added a big spoonful of chunky peanut butter to the mix. Once that was dissolved in, I tasted again and it was luscious. After that there was nothing to do other than grab my handy immersion blender to puree the whole thing (I did leave some chunks in it, for texture).

In serving, above, I added far too many green onions, and they overwhelmed much of the flavors inherent in the soup, but the peanuts were a great addition. I had a second bowl (yes, I did!) and omitted the onions and it was much better.

Is this a final product? Probably not. I suspect I'll always tweak it a bit depending upon what's on hand and whether I want to combine the starchy veggies with the lentils. There's room for all versions in my life.

Now, I have a bunch of this leftover (the good news) and a very small refrigerator (the bad news). Hopefully, I'll find room for all of it.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Fresh air

Can you believe that the weather is very fall-like, cool, overcast with rain in the forecast and I actually like it? Must be something telling me that Eugene is indeed where I'm meant to be. I guess a part of me will always be drawn first to Sonoma/Napa Counties in California, but unless something changes drastically, living there in this lifetime is out of the question. Eugene is almost as pleasing, certainly pleasing enough, although I do have more friends down in that part of the world, and that's part of the draw.

In the meantime, I'm working on 'growing where I'm planted', part of which is getting this little cottage made into 'home'. I'm getting there. The bed and the chair were big additions -- in comfort! I still sit outside and read a good deal, and will probably do that some all winter unless it's freezing out there, but I also use the chair indoors and the bed is comfortable. It feels a bit odd to climb onto something that high that is jiggly (the air), but it certainly seems to have been good for my back, and I'm grateful for that.  Turns out, it's also pretty good for watching TV in the evenings, if I can stay awake.

Another new thing arrived on Friday, which has also proved to be a good purchase. This place was a dust and cobweb magnet -- you could see the dust floating through the air, lots of it, particularly when a ray of sun was coming in the skylight. That dust would settle in thick layers on all surfaces -- including tv and computer monitor. I swept the floor carefully every couple of days, dusted with a good 'magnetic' cloth regularly, but the dust still wafted thickly through the air. I started wondering if an indoor air filter would catch it. Then, serendipitously, one of those filters showed up on Woot! one morning and yes, there were claims that it would catch dust and dander, and the price was right, so I ordered it. After I plugged it in I turned on the ceiling fan to stir up more dust, and I am here to report that although I make efforts to stir up dust whenever I can, there is no more dust floating around the room! Very little dust is now accumulating on surfaces -- and that may get better as more is filtered out, dusted out. The thing works. It's a bit larger than I thought it would be, but that's ok.

What else is happening? Not so much. Walks to here and there every few days. Not a lot of energy -- don't know why. I always blame that on lack of sleep, because I rarely sleep well, but I really don't know.

Friday, September 26, 2014

I did say it would be a tight fit....

....and it is, but it'll work. Imperfect, but then, nothing is perfect. I can already see me falling out of that high bed -- been a long time, if ever, that I've slept on one that high.

Fortunately, the bed is on wheels, so it can be shoved aside and 'parked' as needed. I knew the chair would need to fit sideways like this, too. But I wanted it!

My landlady thinks it's naugahyde, rather than leather, and she may be right. Naturally, this was after I'd cleaned it with a leather cleaner. Didn't seem to hurt anything, and at least it's good and clean. I actually haven't sat in it yet -- after cleaning it, then wrestling the box springs inside and putting the bed together, it was time to rest the back, and eat. But, I sat in it plenty at the store and was instantly sold on the comfort. I'm thinking that after lunch it'll be time to really rest the back, chill with some TV or something. I still need to watch a new show that debuted at 10pm last night -- past my bedtime. On the other hand, now that my day is free, maybe I'll walk to the store just for the heck of it.

The back still complains, although I think it's a bit better. I was very careful with the cleaning/moving process, but walking to the store may be asking too much of it, and I sure don't want to do that.

It's a beautiful, sunny day here, after a couple of days of real Oregon rain and cooler temps. It felt good, but it's always good to see the sun emerge, too. I much prefer easing into winter, rather than having it happen overnight.

Off to read or something in the new chair -- after lunch.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A great addition to my house!

Everybody knows I'm a webcam addict and this one from Moose, WY has been my favorite of late because of the golden trees -- aspens, probably -- but this is what greeted me this morning. Gorgeous! (unfortunately, a couple of days later, the camera appears to have been taken down.)
Been a busy week or so since my last entry here. My lower back is really, really unhappy, but of course life and its necessities must go on. Standing seems to be the hardest on the back, although sitting improperly or certain positions lying down aren't much better.

Where to start? Let's see ... the double bed exited the premises back to the main house on Sunday, when a freshman at UO moved into one of the rooms there, temporarily, and needed a bed. I'd offered it up, because it took too much space, and because its softness seemed to aggravate the back issues. So, back to the air mattress, currently on the floor. Am slowly getting it inflated to a place that supports the back, and have found that its being on the floor allows me to prop pillows against the wall (below the windows) in a way that really supports the back and is comfortable.

A simple hot water bottle also made its appearance over the weekend -- and it works wonderfully! It's in use almost continuously, sitting or lying down, and aside from the welcome heat, works as support as well. A great use of $$!

A friend of the landlady's brought some big winter veggie seedlings over one day of the weekend, so now I have 4 good-sized kale seedlings that should last me nicely through the winter. Plus, a pot of small chrysanthemums also joined the crowd, a gift from the folks at Albertsons on Sunday. The existing layer of blossoms was drying out and really unsalable, so rather than toss them they were offering them to customers in the vicinity. I dead-headed the old blossoms and there was a big crop of buds underneath.

But -- the really big story of this week, to me, is a wonderful leather chair that I scored at St. Vincent de Paul on Monday! It's exactly what I've been looking for -- soft and plushy and utterly comfortable, and inexpensive. I think it may be a twin, aside from color, to one a local friend of mine has that's been my comfort-inspiration. No ottoman, unfortunately, but if and when I ever have the room, an ottoman is easy to find even if it doesn't match. I've also purchased a box spring from them, so I can use the frame and air mattress that I already have.

After due consideration yesterday, I opted to pay them to deliver, rather than than having me and the landlady and college student try to wrestle that chair out of her car and back here. I can't help at all, and she's only marginally in better shape, and he can't do it alone. So, I wait until Friday, but happy to do so. The chair needs cleaning, but I can't wait to sink into it. I'm 99.9% certain it'll actually fit in the space available for it. Of course, now I can no longer brag that I can move everything I own in my car, but I can live with that.

In the meantime, I'm gonna chill, rest the back, and not do too much more until the Friday delivery.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Will I ever learn?

I've eaten a fresh diet for almost 10  years now -- and mostly so for much longer than that. By fresh, I mean not processed or minimally processed. Organic from my own garden or when available/affordable elsewhere. I'm not a purist -- I eat things like chips, and occasional packaged or canned items, but they are not a large part of my diet and many of those are also 'natural' and/or organic products. No artificial flavors or coatings for me. Just chips, mostly corn and rice, canned beans that are drained and rinsed to get rid of the chemical taste.

What this has done for me is make me really sensitive and aware to the taste of chemical crap in my food. So, I should have known better. I wanted to make my favorite senate bean soup, and instead of a ham hock that's mostly bone, I thought a thick slice of bone-in ham would make a good substitute. I saw, but ignored, words on the package, where the word ham was followed in fine print by the words and water product. OK, I get that they put water in it. I didn't want to read the ingredient label -- nothing of this kind, including ham hocks, is any kind of health food. I'm not a total fool.

But  -- I didn't expect the flavor, which is industrial and bitter, has an awful after taste and tastes like a whole lot of canned soups mixed together in a recipe (tried that a number of years ago, yuk!), or the smell, which is awful (from the perspective of someone whose life doesn't include those smells). Chemicals, preservatives, smoked 'flavor'. It ruined this beautiful soup, and I couldn't afford to throw it away, but in the end, I did. I was also ticked off because it used a pound of my wonderful  Rancho Gordo yellow-eye beans, which are pricey and unobtainable around here. Grrrrrrr!

I had a bowl of it, and while it wasn't awful, the chemical flavor overrode everything else and it wasn't the soup I am used to. I won't make that mistake again -- I don't like chemicals on or in my body. I really should know better by now, but it was only ham and water! How bad could it really be? Worse....

I was in a really good mood today before this happened. And I will be again. Soon.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fish tacos and critters in the night

For those who are curious, I seem to have survived my 'tweaked' back from the last post. It's still touchy and a little sore, but I've exercised it (walking) and rested it and I think it's on the way to being usable again.

But then to yesterday. A morning football game that overlapped lunchtime, so I followed my previous post by arranging a fun meal around it. That won't be possible for the next two games, both of which are evening games, but I think it's a good tradition for daytime games.

This time, I opted to try making fish tacos, which was a first for me. I've watched enough chefs on TV make them -- with various methods -- and learned that there's not "one" way to do it. So, I took what I've learned from all these and created something that worked for me.

I used snapper (actually, rockfish), soaked in milk to get rid of the fishy smell, then marinated awhile in simple olive oil, lemon, and spices like cumin, coriander and cayenne, plus S&P.  In future, I'll use much less cayenne, because it overwhelmed all the other spices.

I made some sriracha mayonnaise, and some avocado sauce with lime and yogurt, and a 'slaw' from cilantro, green onions, tomato strips (no liquid center, just the outside) and a piece of cabbage plant from the garden. The fish was baked at 400 for about 12 minutes (should have been less, but I got distracted). The tortillas softened in a hot skillet.  Assembly is simple: I slathered one sauce on either side of the tortilla, the put the fish in with the slaw on top. That's all there is to it. Aside from the excess cayenne, it was really good. And I have enough left for lunch today, which is always a great side benefit. I'll scrape some of the cayenne off before reheating the fish!

Had to laugh at myself last night as I lay in the dark listening to the radio, settling down for a hopefully good night's sleep. A critter landed on me, and came back over and over! This isn't the first time -- sometimes I see the culprit, often not, and unless it returns a second time I don't give it much thought. This one, I believe, was a small moth of some kind. Just before the first tickle on the skin I caught a shadow out of the corner of my eye. Later, on another 'attack' I felt a slight, cool wind from its wings before it alit. I jumped out of the bed twice, trying to escape the thing. I've seen spiders a couple of times in similar situations, and while I can deal with a moth on me, not so much with spiders. Eventually it went away and I ended up with nine hours of almost solid sleep! I have vague memories of wakening once, about halfway through, but I basically was out from 10pm to near 7am, which is remarkable for me. The frustrating thing is that I don't feel rested -- but then, I rarely do.

I feel an urge to get out and do something today -- I've been in this house/neighborhood too much for too long, am ready for a change of pace. But then, I'm too cheap to spend the gas to drive much of anywhere, so I guess I'll stay home.

Friday, September 12, 2014


I tweaked my lower back this morning, moving two big planters full of dirt. I dead-lifted the first one up about 2 feet from the ground, but couldn't heave the second one so I was pulling it up one step at a time -- until the last one! A stabbing pain spasmed through the back. I left the planter where it was and went inside. My landlady hefted it up that final step for me a bit later.  The good news, I guess, is that I can still walk and move, albeit carefully. I try to remember to suck in the belly when I do anything, to support the back and take the pressure off those unhappy muscles.

Now -- a little fertilizer and a few plants, and I'll be in the winter garden business. That is, if I can still walk by tomorrow.  I'm keeping a positive mind.

It's been an interesting, but overall good, week. I'd been fighting off a bout of depression for awhile -- but not getting wrapped up in it, clinging, which would have made it worse. Once you identify with something like that, accept it as 'mine', suffering deepens. I've been doing a few things to offset it, but I suddenly woke up a morning or two ago and felt much better, for no reason I can determine. I'd changed how I took some supplements the previous evening, and don't know if that did the trick or not.

I've also been meditating again -- another possible reason for the depression leaving -- and am going back to my old, tried and true concentration meditation. There's a Buddha quote that says something like "make an island unto yourself, make that island your refuge, for there is no other refuge". That came to mind a couple of days ago as I sat, and I saw so clearly how much of a refuge I found concentration to be. It'll take awhile to retrain my mind to be less scattered -- and that's made even more of a challenge by a general lack of focus in recent years. But, I know I can do it. It just takes practice and determination.

And -- I've decided that I really have to trade the double bed for a twin, so I can get a chair to sit inside and read, relax, for the winter. It's fine at the moment -- the chair is on the deck and that's great, since we've had such a warm and mellow summer. I actually prefer being out there. But, that won't be the case once cooler weather sets in. So -- more changes to come.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

From Frozen to Gourmet

We had a football game in Eugene yesterday afternoon, and since it may be the only game all year I'll be able to watch because my cable channels are really limited, I decided I wanted to do my own version of tailgating and pigging out. Plus, I've been wanting a good pizza ever since I wandered past Mezzaluna a few days ago. But, the cost of starting from scratch seemed too much, so I punted.

Have you ever noticed how chefs on TV -- even in Italy -- finish every pizza with a good drizzle of olive oil? With that in mind and a spirit of curiosity, I cut some basil outside, added a few garlic cloves and salt and a good amount of olive oil and let it sit all afternoon until the flavors were thoroughly melded. The oil alone was delicious and, in fact, I think this would make a wonderful pasta sauce, although perhaps with minced rather than whole garlic.

 At the store, I bought my favorite Newman's Own frozen pizza with pepperoni (I like the brand because of its thin, crispy crust and the healthy ingredients, such as nitrate/nitrite-free pepperoni). It's good, but I wanted more today.

So, I also bought a few cremini mushrooms and harvested a few cherry tomatoes from the garden, and tossed those in a pan with a bit of olive oil to get rid of most of the moisture inherent in both. They were still juicy.

I scattered these veggies over the frozen pizza, then, once the pizza was baked and hot, I gleefully drizzled oil and basil over everything in generous quantities. In case anybody wonders, the oil did not soak into the crust and make it soggy -- even the last pieces I ate at the end of the evening were still crispy and perfect.

As you can see, oil was shining/running everywhere and in this case, that's a good thing. It also occasionally ran down my chin as I ate it, which was also a good thing in this case. I gotta say, the increase from frozen to gourmet was exponential! Such an easy and inexpensive fix, and one I'll remember for the future. And yes, by the end of the evening I ate every last piece of it, stuffed to the gills and happy. Today is diet time.

And oh, yeah, the football game turned out pretty good too.

Friday, September 5, 2014


Interesting walk this morning -- unfortunately, not totally planned so no camera, no photos. I hopped a bus that I knew went to the UO campus, but that I thought stopped at the downtown (library) terminal first. Turns out it went to campus, then presumably on downtown. Since I was there and curious, I hopped off at the campus station and walked back downtown. This is an area I know well, because I lived downtown for 3 years before leaving Eugene, and walked/cycled to/through campus with great frequency.

From the webcam -- closest I've been to this scene, previously.

Since I was there -- I walked the short distance onto campus to watch the preparations for tomorrow's ESPN Game Day broadcast -- they started building yesterday, and are still going. First time I've actually seen it live and in person! I'm still debating going over tomorrow morning. Buses don't run that early, I don't know where to park my car anywhere near campus, so the bike is my best option and I'm not sure I'm into that, either. The Starbucks a block away is opening at 4am tomorrow -- there should be quite a crowd, which would be fun. We shall see.

From there, I wandered on downtown, passing my old apartment building, almost tempted by my favorite pizza place (Mezzaluna, downtown) but they opened at 11 and it was just about that time and they didn't look open -- plus it was too early for me, somehow -- so I walked on, passing down the block where I once worked, and on to the library and then back on the bus. It felt good -- and good to know how easily everything came back to me. As far as finding my way, it was as if I'd never left. That area is fairly firmly embedded in my brain, I think! Signs on my old building, 'renting now'. That probably means a waiting list and most definitely means I can't afford it anyway, but I was sure drawn to be back there. It was the coolest place I've ever lived (with the possible exception of my little place on Orcas Island, which had a view to die for).

Partial -- and only partial -- view from my Orcas apartment.

Back home to some fresh hummus and a cold beer -- pretty nice on a hot day like this.

Looking forward to tomorrow, whatever it brings.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sunshine and fall breezes

Life in Eugene is good. The weather has cooled off to delightful days and chilly nights. Perfect! Supposedly a couple of 90+ days toward the end of this week, but I can live with that, particularly with the slight crispness to the breezes that foretells the coming of fall.

Not much happening except -- believe it or not -- I've been sleeping for a couple of days (literally -- I napped yesterday afternoon and dozed off in the evening watching TV, plus two nights in a row of good, sound sleep. That's a rarity in my life, and greatly appreciated. Rather than perking my energy up, though, it seems to be simply making me drowsy all the time. Probably the body trying to play catch-up on the Z's. I don't know how long it'll last or what's causing it, but I'm glad to see it.

I walk most days -- usually to the nearest supermarket (about an hour, round trip) but yesterday to Freddies, which is further away (about an hour and a half, round trip). Some of that is simply an excuse to take a walk, get some exercise, but part of it is because the damned refrigerator in this place is so tiny that it's almost impossible to buy much in advance. No room to store much more than the basics that live in there all the time. I was promised a larger one, but apparently that promise has been reneged.  Live and learn.

ESPN Game Day is coming to campus on Saturday for its live broadcast. I have an urge to head over and just enjoy the experience, after watching this happen from so far away for so many years. Don't know if I'll make the 6am on-air time, however. We'll see how I feel then. Fortunately, this game is on a network I can get -- not many will be!

So, that's my story for this fine September day. What's yours?