Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hot to: Freezing & reheating frozen food

This actually started out as a comment on OffBeat Home's 7 ways to eat healthier food on a budget.
There we were discussing make-ahead soups, freezing & reheating for work lunches. Someone asked how you'd freeze them, in individual containers or larger ones. This is my response:

While certainly not private, that's a surprisingly personal question. How you choose to do it will have a lot to do with your budget, values, and routines.

For space and best quality as far as freezer-burn goes, the best bet is going to be ziplock bags. Get the good kind with a double lock (NOT the ones with the zip-tabs), fill with the amount of *cooled* soup you want (one serving, two, four, whatever) up to about 3/4 of the bag while it's sitting on its bottom, and zip, getting as much air out as possible. Lay in a stack in the freezer and it takes up the least amount of space. However, this means thawing in the fridge overnight before transferring to a dish for transporting & reheating. If you're reheating at home, you can just drop the bag into a pan of simmering water or peel the bag off & reheat with some water (which is great if you freeze the soups rather thick, as it takes up less space). And honestly I've also reheated them by putting the de-bagged frozen brick in the crackpot and coming back a couple hours later to hot soup.

If you have a microwave at school/work you can freeze & take it in "tupperware." Where tupperware is defined as anything plastic from dollar store SureFresh to actual, you know, Tupperware. It can replace an ice pack that way which is nice, also you don't have to plan ahead as much--just wake up and say, I feel like THIS soup today (great for eaters with chronic illness who have tummy issues or food triggers). You have to leave a gap for expansion during freezing and again during microwaving, and that gap means the food can freezer burn faster--so it's not a great storage solution, long-term, but for 3 months or so you're probably alright. Again, you can thaw overnight if you wish but if your container isn't entirely liquid-sealed, you might want it to be frozen during your commute. To reheat, (and this works if you have individual containers of soup in glass, too) I recommend using half-power or the defrost option until it's thawed, then the full power for a minute, stir, and repeat until hot. Make sure you reheat thoroughly; if you have potato chunks, or meat chunks, your best bet is to reheat at full power for a minute, let sit for a minute, heat for a minute, rest for a minute, then stir and check for how much longer you might need. When done, let sit for a couple minutes and check the temp again before you down the whole thing. That method lets the heat penetrate the chunks and thus cools the broth back down as the heat equalizes. Make sure you get it nice and piping hot, so you don't give yourself food poisoning!

However, those are plastic and some people don't like microwaving or using plastic at all. In which case, metal or glass are pretty much your options. They take up more space, the metal isn't reheatable from frozen in the microwave, and the glass shouldn't be put into a hot oven. If you're using those, you're probably doing them at home. In which case, you can put the cold brick of soup or casserole even into a COLD oven, heat it to 250 for 20 minutes, then turn up to 375 and cook until the food is hot. This keeps metal from warping and glass from shattering. Of course you can also remove from their containers by running hot water over the outside and putting in a crockpot, at least for things like soup.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Family is...

I'm proud to announce the birth of my nibling! Of course for his personal privacy we will not be posting his name, but in honor of his chubby cheeks, let's call him...

Gus Gus. 

This is my bio-brother's first kid, but the bestie I adopted as a sister about 18 years ago has three already so I'm old hat at the Aunt thing: Arrive at nap time with noisy toys, chat with Mom until the screaming hurts my ears, run away and let the parents pick up the pieces. That's about it, right?

I'm unsurprised at how homesick this has made me. One of my biggest fears with moving far away from my hometown has been proven to be valid. It took me so long to do so because I knew it would mean missing major milestones in my families' lives, and every time it's happened so far has felt like a kick in the stomach for me.

On the up side, technology has been progressing such that I now have multiple ways of video chatting with my family members back home. I've Skyped with my sister a few times and gotten to hang out with her kids a bit too. I got to Google Hangout with Gus Gus today, and check in on my nibling and his family. It's no substitute for real-life baby snuggles, but it's a damn sight better than the hand-written letters or emailed pictures that previous generations have had to suffer through after cross-continental or international moves!

And I get to meet him come October when I got back for my wedding. So knowing how soon I'm visiting helps with the homesick.

What do you do to combat homesickness?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sesame Kaleslaw

We had a BBQ today, and our hostess has a gluten allergy. So while shopping this week, we kept our eyes peeled for inspiration on what to bring. And inspired, we most certainly were!

This could easily be called coleslaw as it had cabbage in it, but I definitely wanted to steer the idea away from your standard coleslaw recipe right from the start. Anyway, while we were shopping at the local restaurant supply store, I saw a giant bag of slaw-cut greens. Kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli stems, both red and green cabbage. It was beautiful! And I wanted it in my mouth right then. We used some of the bag earlier in the week for stir fry noodles. And then we mixed up a nice big bowl of slaw this morning.

Salad: 
Mix of slaw greens
Scallions, sliced large & on the bias (I'll save you the googling, that's a diagonal cut)
Sesame seeds, either black or white
Nuts would be amazing, as would crispy noodles (but we didn't have any, and it didn't NEED them)
Dressing, below

Dressing:
Mayo (a mayo substitute would also work well in this recipe to make it vegan)
Rice vinegar
Wheat-Free Tamari (or soy sauce if you aren't worried about the gluten)
Sesame oil
Sweet: Orange marmalade, plum jam, apricot jam might be good too.

Whisk the dressing in a bowl or measuring cup. Toss with slaw greens, scallions, and sesame seeds until everything is just covered, or it is dressed as you like it. A cup of dressing (maybe half mayo) made a nice big party bowl but there was NO puddling at the bottom--keep in mind, the kale wrinkles take up a lot more dressing than you think they will. But this dressing is SO big on flavor that you don't want it swimming like a more traditional cole slaw. Juuuust enough to coat.

Our original plan was orange marmalade, but it went bad. I was looking around for an alternative and remembered the dozens of jars of plum jam still sitting on my cupboard. One less-set one opened for a sweet plum flavor in the dressing made it a GORGEOUS pink color (which was totally lost on the green leaves but whatever), and two jars gifted to our hosts was a quick "thank you for inviting us."

It was just a nice, simple recipe that, with the pre-cut bag of greens, took 5 minutes to whip up--including gathering, cleaning, and Mr. Moon having to climb on a step stool looking for a plain jam. I'm sure we will tweak this a little, add some nuts or something, since we have extra greens. Some chopped up spicy pre-roasted chicken or marinated tofu on top sounds like a nice, fast post-work dinner.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Riding the roller coaster of life's joys and sorrows

The last few months have been one of life's most ambivalent times. You know the ones, where good things are happening and you think you should be feeling guilty being happy when others or even ourselves are hurting over the pain and loss that life brings us. Navigating grief while planning a wedding has been on our minds a lot. We know that Mr. Moon's father's absence in our wedding celebrations will be notable, and trying to find ways to grieve and honor him in such a joyous occasion hasn't been easy. It's not even a situation to which we've found a solution that feel right, yet.

But this entire endeavor I think has been good for me. Despite my lack of mental health care at the moment (which is a long story and a rant for another day), I've found myself navigating a lot of intense emotions and stressful situations with more grace and self-love than I really expected to experience. Mr. Moon and I have our spats for sure, but those even haven't been as intense as we've expected. Ultimately we've been good about remembering that we are on the same team, even if it doesn't always feel like it. I certainly feel that our relationship is making great strides with this entire process, as we focus on a common goal and utilize each other's strengths to come together to make it happen, as a team.

I'm not looking forward to the lull after the wedding, though. I know that there are some serious issues within myself that I've been setting aside to deal with at a better time. It's a habit I learned in childhood and one with which I know I will always struggle because to be honest it's not always a bad thing. Learning to cope in better ways is the top of my list of things to work on when I have the mental capacity to focus on it. But it's been nice to see how far I've already come in the same area. I'm finding I'm much more prepared to settle my own panic attacks, coping with more situations as they arise rather than bottling things up until I explode, and most importantly I've been getting better with my self-care in general to keep my stress levels in check. All those months and years of learning these new skills, and now that they're put to the test I'm passing with flying colors. It's glorious.

There's still much to do and I'd better be getting back to it. But I really can't wait to share some of our engagement photos when they come in!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Arts & Crafts: Fixing a Pair of Sandals From Ouch to Ahh!

I bought these sandals. I needed something that would do for the summer that's that sort of mid-range dress-casual style, that would sort of "go with everything." I rarely wear white so that's right out, but black doesn't always work either. Then I saw these super cuties on sale at Payless and I had a coupon so I bought them.

Problem is, when they came in (did I mention I do most of my shopping online?) they were... ok but not quite right. You see, it's the laces.
As you can see, I tried a couple (dozen) different ways of lacing them. Each and every one caused painful pressure points from the round laces on the tops of my feet in minutes. No matter how I laced them, the ends were so long that the bows and tails would flop around and tickle my feet like I had bugs crawling all over them. Payless, if you can hear me: THIS IS NOT OKAY!!!

I knew I had to do something. They sat in their box in the bottom of the closet for more weeks than I'm ready to admit, while I figured out something else. I bought a sets of kids-shoe-sized elastic shoelaces for $6, hoping they would be shorter and then I could tie them once and be done with it. But when they came in, they were EVEN LONGER than the ones I had already! (Thankfully it wasn't a wasted $6, I put them on another pair of shoes that needed new laces anyway.)

I had to stop next door to Joann's anyway so I stopped in to check out my options. At this point I was thinking if I even got some ribbon or lace, at least it would be super cute and I could just go ahead and retie them every time, hopefully with smaller bows. 

Then I saw this for $3: 
5/8 inch ruffle elastic. It's in with the other elastics, and they had like 10 colors so you can do this with any color sandal, shoe, or whatever. I was worried that it would be too wide, but it's not--still, I'd go as thin as 3/8 inch if you can find it, but make sure it's flat! 

First, cut the elastic. You might as well just cut it in half, seeing as this is a yard length, but I sort of measured and figured that a length three times as long as the space to be laced would work, assuming you don't want a LOT of space between the two sides of eyelets. I had about 6 inches of ruffle left at the end of this, so I'd stick with just accepting that you're using the whole shebang and cutting the sucker in half. 

Then use some fray-stop or clear nail polish on the ends. 
I just put a light coat on, just enough to try to stabilize it a little bit. Honestly I expected to be cutting the ends off, but I cut my length so close to perfect that I couldn't. If you don't have something suitable, just skip this step and it's probably ok. Wait 15-30 minutes for the fray-stop to dry. 

I found it useful to roll the end into a deeper point (which is why the fray-stop may have been pointless):

Lace it however you like, just keep an eye on not letting it get twisted so the final project lays flat. I wanted my bow at the toes so:
Also make sure you leave it slack and un-stretched in each spot. You want to be able to stretch it later.

Tie up the end in a bow until it's almost big enough, snip off the ends if they're too long, and pull the ends into the knot if they look like crap:
And Voila! It stretches to get into my foot, then pulls back to fit snugly. It flexes when I walk, but is still supportive. The ruffle is soft, and because it's flat and so flexible there are no pressure points. 
A simple fix, and I think it's femmes up the sandals a bit too which is nice! Perfect for making them slip on and off without constantly retying them, and will also allow my feet a bit of flexibility for swelling while walking in summer heat (hint: Might be a nice solution for pregnant femmes!).

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Home Remedies: Busting Head Lice

Alright after the flea post I did promise a post about getting rid of head lice without risking pesticide poisoning. Let me first explain why this is so important to me. [Click through at the "Read More" because I cut it for the bug-squick.]

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Organizing: Daily checklists

We have been using outdated checklists since we moved into our new place, just because everything has been so dysfunctional in our lives. I think there is a point at which routine & organizing is impossible, and then a point at which routine & organizing will help you get the rest of the way to where you want to be. There's definitely a tipping point, just as there is with menu planning. I think we've finally hit that tipping point.

Finally today I've got our checklists updated and ready to be printed. One of the nice things about living in a place before updating the lists is that we can see what's been missed and make sure to get it on the list. So that's helpful. Bright side, right?

I have to tell you though, don't skip getting the shopping list white board up on the wall as soon as you move in. Forgetting that rice vinegar was on the list for over a month was torture when I kept re-discovering for three whole weeks that I was out. Or the day we forgot to pick up toilet paper. Oops.

Now I just need to figure out what to do with two giant boxes full of... boxes. After the last three moves being so urgent, thus not having time to spend on scouring liquor & grocery stores for boxes, we've spent money on the boxes that we have. They're still in good shape and I don't want to just recycle them, but they're hardly sellable. And frankly, I don't want to have to buy more again when we move. Some creative box-binding and storage is going to be in the works in our near-future. If I'd thought it it before just now, I'd have had Mr. Moon leave 4 inches of space behind the book shelves for a stash of boxes. I suppose it's not too late!

I'm so excited to get back to menu planning. But not as excited as I am about our daily checklists. It's a little chore-heavy right now, to accommodate the fact that everything is going to take a little more time than it will once we're actually finished unpacking. In the meantime, we set timers and use the time to finish unpacking whatever room is on our checklist, and hopefully get some actual cleaning done as well.

I've also got a built-in system to make sure our laundry and papers don't pile up. Those two are huge panic triggers for me, both in having to deal with them and in seeing them piling up. I've got the bedroom on our list 3 days a week, 2 of those are weekdays with a separate reminder to deal with any paperwork, and laundry day is a completely different day. Thus, if laundry doesn't get finished being folded or put away on laundry day, there are other days scheduled as times to do that with reminders on the checklist. It's all about building your systems in such a way they help you to succeed and lower your own stress levels in the process. Winner.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sad news

As I started this blog originally when moving down to live with and care for Mr. Moon's parents, even though I've avoided detailing his struggle with cancer it seems only right that I should post the sad news we received yesterday. Mr. Moon's father has passed on.

It certainly wasn't sudden, but there were sudden drastic declines in health along the way, almost like a flight of stairs. His children, wife, friends and family had lots of time with him before the final days were clearly upon us, and then those closest to him were given the chance to stop in and say their goodbyes. For Mr. Moon and I, our friends have been fantastically supportive, and for that we will always be grateful. It is a comfort to know that he was not in much pain until the very end, and that modern medical care was able to ease that pain for the most part so he never suffered. Not all terminally ill patients are afforded such an easy transition, and everyone who loved him is not taking that fact for granted.

Not a week before his death, he and his wife celebrated 37 happy years of marriage. It's a testament to commitment and yes, even stubbornness, and I only hope my marriage to their wonderful son lasts as long. May peace be with him.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Latest Dirt: Micro greens and herbs making their way to the sun!

The garden is really making progress! I'm pretty excited about it.

One of these is kale, the other is mustard greens. These and the lettuce below, I'm not sure at what point I start thinning and eating micro/baby greens.


It took a while, but the dill decided to come out to play! Plus a volunteer oregano there at the bottom left corner.

Marigolds! I'm pretty excited for these. When I was planting I was really disappointed in my lack of nasturtiums this year, but I've got more pots now! Hanging ones even. I don't think we get warm enough or enough sunlight around here for tomatoes, so maybe I will use my hanging pots for nasturtiums.

The scallions are so much happier outside in dirt with some sun than they were on my counter with no sun in a glass of water that we rarely remembered to change. However, they grow more slowly out here which makes me a little sad.

 My lavender did decide to grow back! Maybe I will cut off the silly stump now.

I wasn't sure if the cilantro was going to come out to play, but it did. I'm getting conflicting reports from reputable sources about whether cilantro grows back after being harvested or whether you have to keep re-seeding. I can't imagine that it's the only one that doesn't grow back, and I remember doing just fine with my last couple successes as long as I actually, you know, watered them. So I'm hoping for good results.

More greens! And you can see next to the orange stick there my celery greens starting to pop up. Tarragon and both basils didn't make it, so I'm going to try those again.

I've also got a nice sturdy glass jar that I'm hoping to make into a terrarium with some rocks and succulents. Foraged ones, if I do, since every spare penny is going to the wedding right now. I've also finally found the sprouts jar and am hoping that we can get those going again. Maybe I can keep myself in salad greens all summer this year, without fighting for farmers' market parking?


How does your garden grow?








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