Monday, October 26, 2015

Menu: Oct 26 - Nov 1

Happy Halloween! My favorite day of the year, tied with my birthday. Traditionally in my family we always had chili and hot dogs in the crockpot for Halloween. When I moved out here, I missed a year doing it. I didn't need to feed a family of people at different times, or have something ready to warm us up when we got back from trick or treating. But still, I found I was kind of sad about it. So the next year, I introduced Mr. Moon to my longstanding family tradition of chili & hot dogs as Halloween dinner. And I've done it ever since.

Somehow we ended up with an easy week ahead of us, though still with plenty of home cooked meals in store. We're getting used to the new schedule, albeit with a few reservations on my part. I'm keenly aware that we're over stocked with food, and we're working together to eat through it instead of buying more, so this menu focuses a lot on Eating the Larder as it were. 

What's on the menu?

Breakfasts: Oatmeal in the rice cooker; bagels & cream cheese; eggs.

Lunches: 1 serving leftover curry paneer, 1 serving pita pizzas, tuna melts, pizzadillas.

Snacks: granola bars, power balls, fig bars, V8.

Monday: Mr. Moon has a work shift that includes a meal as part of his compensation, so I'm meeting him for dinner at his work! [Out]

Tuesday: Tortellini Soup [vegetarian; pasta; soup; comfort food; Italian; easy; crockpot]

Wednesday: Sesame noodle bowl [pasta; easy]

Thursday: Savory French Toast -- We are going to try something different! There's frozen sourdough bread we need to use up, so the batter will have some as-yet undetermined herbs and spices, then we're making hollandaise to go over it in place of the syrup. We'll let you know how it does! [vegetarian; something new; breakfast for dinner]

Friday: Broccoli Mac [vegetarian; easy]

Saturday: Happy Halloween! Chili & Hot Dogs [meat; beans; crockpot]

Sunday: Steak & potatoes [meat]

What's on your menu this week? Need planning ideas? I'll be linking up at, if you need other ideas!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Cocktails: Making our own grape-free Vermouth

I have a jar collection. It's a habit that borders on hoarding, in the sense that I compulsively save them because it seems a shame to get rid of something so useful, except that I actually use and cycle through my jars doing various projects.

This is one of those projects.

Since I'm allergic to grapes, we simply omit vermouth from any cocktails that call for them. Of course, it means the cocktails are not quite right. I got a wild idea one day to figure out what it would take to make our own, and discovered... it's actually really easy. It just required a lot of small jars. Which I happened to have on hand.

A selection of vodkas steeping in assorted jars. Here: Pepper, Coffee, Orange, Cardamom.
There's plenty of recipes online, but it boils down to:

  1. Steep some flavorful things in a spirit.
  2. Carefully add the flavored spirits into some sort of dry wine, tasting as you go, until you get a flavor you like; the final result seems to be a goal of about 50/50 wine and vodka. 

Of course, it's more complicated. For dark drinks, like Manhattans, apparently you're supposed to use a dark vermouth, something I didn't even know existed. This involves steeping your flavorings in a dark spirit, such as a rum or a brandy, adding it to the wine, and adding a caramel syrup--ending up, one presumes, with a rather sweet vermouth. But something like a Martini calls for a light, comparatively-dry vermouth even if it's a sweet-light, which would be steeping the flavorings in vodka, adding to the dry white wine, and omitting the caramel syrup. Again, this is a layperson's understanding from the moderate amount of research, please do feel free to correct me.

We're going to do a light dry and a dark sweet vermouth, but still using vodka for both. The wine, due to my grape allergy, is mead. Most fruit wines would be still too sweet for the dry vermouth, but mead is available in quite dry varieties. Sake would work too, but Mr. Moon isn't terribly fond of sake, and I didn't think it would be polite to start with that right away. Though I might make a small batch with it just to experience the difference. As for dark & sweet vs. light & dry, I have a mead that's quite a bit dryer than I usually drink it for the light vermouth, and a nice rich, syrupy, deep, dark mead for the dark vermouth.

A selection of vodkas steeping in assorted jars. Here: Clove, turmeric, rosemary, hibiscus, juniper, vanilla.
I didn't follow any particular recipe. With the understanding that the end result should be somewhat medicinal in flavor, I just picked a bunch of herbs and spices and teas I had around, and went to town. I set Mr. Moon on the task of taste-testing the vermouths they serve at his work (they have 3 or 4, and at least he'll be familiar with the kind of flavor profile we're attempting to achieve). I'm not even going to remotely imply I had this much vodka just sitting around, but I didn't want to go on a huge quest for ingredients. After all, gentian root and wormwood were especially difficult, and I never did find any.

A selection of vodkas steeping in assorted jars. Here: Dill, cinnamon, chamomile, mint, oregano
In the end, I have 19 vodkas steeping with flavorings:

  • Orange
  • Coffee
  • Ginger
  • Vanilla
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Coriander
  • Cardamom
  • Pepper
  • Turmeric
  • Juniper
  • Basil
  • Dill
  • Oregano
  • Mint
  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Chamomile
  • Hibiscus
A selection of vodkas steeping in assorted jars. Here: lavender, basil, coriander, ginger.

As you can see, some jars are bigger than others. Pepper vodka is amazing for screwdrivers, and bloody marys of course. Lavender makes a fantastic lemonade, and I imagine the ginger will go far in all sorts of mixers. The turmeric I don't expect to have much use for beyond this project, and it's such a strong flavor I only made a little bit.

And I want to note: this stuff doesn't have to be Pinterest Pretty. I have mismatched jars with reused lids, and I'm not ashamed that my pictures won't win any awards or end up in a magazine. This stuff is fun, and I'm going to share it regardless. 

I am thinking the dry light vermouth is going to be more floral and herbal, where the sweet dark vermouth will be more spicy and rich but with a lot of herbal tones as well. Here's wishing us luck!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Menu Planning for the Rest of Us

I've discussed before what my method of menu planning is. It hasn't changed much with it just being the two of us agin, except that if we don't do it, there's no one to suffer but ourselves!

The basics boil down to:

  • Know what you have in the fridge.
  • Know what's in season/on sale.
  • Know your schedule and be reasonable about what you can accomplish.
  • Make the most of the time you spend cooking. 
With our more-limited freezer space, I find we now focus less on freezing heat & eat foods, and more on having versatile ingredients on hand to make a variety of meals fairly quickly. Instead of making a pan of broccoli mac to put right into the oven, using freezer space for noodles that could otherwise be dry storage and ingredients that can only be used for one possible meal, we have pre-roasted chicken shredded and frozen in meal-size packages just waiting to be casserole, tacos, a pre-made pasta salad for lunches, and more. We buy foods and store them with this idea in mind. 

I already find some menu items troublesome because it's so easy for the amount of food to get away from us or for the effort to do something to not seem worth it for just the two of us (like, meatballs). A friend of mine is living by herself, working and going to school, and committed to the same kinds of whole foods, conservation, self-reliance, reasonable preparedness that we strive for. In helping her brainstorm menu planning ideas, it occurred to me how different our needs are, and how that impacts things like meal choices and food prep. 

We can't plan more than a week in advance. The nature of the restaurant industry is, there's no such thing as a set schedule, or a monthly schedule. People try, but it only works in very precise situations. We're lucky if the schedule that starts on Monday comes out the Friday evening before. However, her schedule comes out a month at a time, with a week and change to spare before it starts! Plenty of time to plan ahead. 

I started looking at menu items again as one of four possibilities:
  • Cook a batch where you can freeze the leftovers in meal-sizes (such as a batch of chili; or risotto which could be used as a side for any number of proteins later, or as a vegetarian main course). 
  • Make-ahead options that can be used in part for tonight, and a few frozen to be finished later (such as serving-size lasagnas in mini casserole dishes; prep four, bake one now, freeze three for future dinners). 
  • Prep-ahead things that won't freeze, but will keep for a few days to be munched through the week (such as a lentil-kale salad that can be lunch for a couple of days or a side dish for dinner; or all the fixings for sandwiches so they can be assembled right before a work shift, on demand, etc.).
  • Cook Just Enough meals that won't really reheat well at all (such as stir fry or spaghetti--but maybe components can be part of prepping ahead, like using the same pot of water to make spaghetti for tonight, and pasta for salad for the week). 
With the ability to look a month ahead, I'd AT LEAST go as far as mapping out my month to know when I need to carve out time for food prep days (likely the last day off before a stretch of work days, especially if that includes a sleep schedule shift to accommodate) and when I need to be pulling something from the freezer to eat (work nights, project deadlines, midterms...). If each recipe serves 4-6 people and each day off work includes cooking a meal that will freeze for later meals, that's covering 3-5 future dinners in the same amount of time it takes to cook one. Even if I don't pick what menu items each of those will be until I see the ad papers with what's on sale for that week, at least it means not starting from a blank slate every single Sunday. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Updating our chore chart, and protecting Relaxation time

Our new schedule, as I mentioned a few days ago, included needed to re-arrange our chore schedule. I'm sure I could have sat down and worked it out myself, but part of being a team means it's important that we are BOTH included in the work that shapes our lives. It's important to both of us that even if we do each have skills and responsibilities consistent with traditional gender roles, we are making our choices together and mindfully. It's one thing to have me typing up our decisions that we make together and helping him stick to them; it's another thing altogether for me to make decisions for him when they primarily impact his schedule and responsibilities as if he has no information or opinion to contribute.

It was a perfect opportunity to discuss as well what parts of our current/now-previous system were in need of improvement, and what new habits or skills we want to be incorporating. For example, we've had a bad habit of going grocery shopping and leaving just enough time to get home, put away the perishables, and jet off to work or appointments or what have you. While that itself might not be entirely avoidable, being mindful to take the time to actually put the groceries away and not leave bags and piles of non-perishables in the dining room is critical. As is not buying the 5 lb bag of shredded cheese with the intention of freezing it into 1 lb bags and then leaving it in the fridge until it molds not long after getting into the second pound of cheese. We either need to spend more money by buying these items in smaller packaging, or spend more time dealing with them in an appropriate timeframe (which would of course be right after we get home from shopping if at all possible).

Part of our chore system is building in time to make sure those things are happening. Ideally, it might only take 10 minutes once a week to tidy the dining room and even dust it. However, we have some re-organization projects going on in every room of the house, and in case for example we didn't get to putting all the groceries away, the dining room is on the list twice a week for 30 minutes of attention. Should we find that after tidying, dusting, maybe even vacuuming, there is in fact nothing to organize or clean, we can at that point start looking at reducing the timer for that room. So while our system now has about 90 minutes of chores each day on top of cooking largely from scratch and the resulting dishes, that includes any and all such projects as cleaning out the storage/office, building a can caddy storage system for the pantry, or alphabetizing the wayward pile of DVDs. It's our attempt at building good habits and keeping everything in manageable chunks of time that also allow for hobbies and relaxation. Because it doesn't matter if you spent 2 hours chatting with friends and reading today if you did it standing in the kitchen/laundry room feeling like you've spent all day cleaning with no time to yourself while being nagged about how long it takes you to do simple tasks. Especially when you could have spent 2 hours playing classic video games or going to see a movie instead.

Here's hoping it works!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Menu: Oct 12-18

With Mr. Moon's new promotion, there's a little bit of shuffling our lives are doing. One of those shuffles is getting a little deeper into food prep & menu planning, since our week is even more structured than it has been. He has a few hours before his actual shift where he's on-call for emergencies, so he can get up early to make breakfast but we also need to be prepared to run out the door with little notice. That's where something like oatmeal comes in! We can set it up the night before in the rice cooker then just have him wake up, pour in some liquid (if we don't soak the grains overnight) and turn it on. Hot breakfast right when I wake up, even if he had to take a cab to work. Maybe soon we will even try making our own instant oatmeal packets!

What's on the menu?

Breakfasts: Oatmeal, egg sandwiches, cottage cheese & pineapple, leftover rice & beans w/ egg on top.

Lunches: Tortilla soup, turkey wraps, quesadillas.

Snacks: Power balls, apple & nut butter, cottage cheese.

Monday: Lamb stew [leftovers; meat; soup]

Tuesday: Anniversary dinner, out & about

Wednesday: Shepherd's pie [meat; casserole]

Thursday: Out for lunch, lunch for dinner [light]

Friday: Green Curry Paneer [vegetarian; curry; spicy; prep-ahead]

Saturday: Sesame Noodle Bowl [vegetarian; pasta; fast; stir fry; prep-ahead]

Sunday: Slumgullion? [meat; pasta; comfort food]

What's on your menu this week? Need planning ideas? I'll be linking up at, if you need other ideas!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Making our chore schedule from scratch

With Mr. Moon's recent promotion, and subsequent phasing out of his retail job from his schedule, we've had to completely revisit our chore schedule. This has been a bit more difficult than I expected, because of how intricately I'd weaved the chores and the rest of our lives together. But that's exactly why what we had was no longer working.

Tuesdays were laundry days, but he works during the day now. Trouble is, weekdays during the day is when the laundry room has lower demand, which is why we picked it; and because Tuesday is laundry day, Monday is bathrooms day so the cloth wipes can soak overnight. So switching laundry day to, say, Thursday or Monday means unraveling everything.

And laundry isn't the only thing like that! Most everything is a twice-a-week job, deeper cleaning on one day and a tidy-up on another. We'd had Friday as a day to do little bits of highly visible tidying before the weekend, populated by late nights, early mornings, at least one and sometimes two double shifts, and now come call we're squeezing in the football game.

I tried to tweak it here and there, but I found the entire week falling apart. Instead now I've got the chores all in one list, the doubles together, and I'll have to have a proper sit-down with Mr. Moon to plan out our week again.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Let's talk about "healthy eating," diets, and mental health

It took two weeks for the hefty restrictions of this candida cleanse to wear me down into the beginnings of a full-on breakdown, stalled only by me recognizing what was happening because it's not my first rodeo. The details of it are personal and largely irrelevant, but the big-picture effects are not.

There's no chance I will say this better than others have before me. So-called healthy eating, clean eating, cleanses, dieting, and the like are not accessible to everyone. There are hundreds of essays available across the internet about the privileges of healthy eating, and the lack of access to fresh foods in poverty-stricken areas, communities of color, and by people with disabilities. We know for an unmitigated fact that dieting is bad for us, and leads to malnutrition, unhealthy eating patterns, and can trigger mildly disordered eating into full-blown dysphoria and eating disorders.

It is a mark of privilege, of which I'm aware, that I even had the opportunity to try this cleanse. I can read, I can cook and beyond that I'm greatly confident in the kitchen with another pair of willing hands to help, I have a better than average understanding of medical science, internet access and great comprehension skills to understand what I was reading and apply it to my life, and I'm unemployed (albeit due to disability) so I have plenty of time to do research and cook at home, when I have the energy to do it.

What I do not have is infinite amounts of energy, or sound mental health, nor do I have access to the mental health treatment that I need. I have an untreated eating disorder, a temperamental stomach that makes meal planning difficult at best, and I'm surrounded by a world that is actively hostile to women, fat people, disabled people, the mentally ill, the list goes on but those are the relevant ones here. In trying to find recipes for this highly restrictive diet, I'm bombarded with imagery and messages that tell me that my fatness is a personal failing (even though I know it's not), that my worth as a woman is based on my thinness and attractiveness (still not), that because I'm a woman I'm necessarily forcing and manipulating my partner into trying this cleanse with me, that eating today's understanding of healthy foods that isn't even based in science is a status symbol and I'm failing as a person if my food choices aren't up to unreasonable and ever-changing standards, that if I'm not proving myself to be the Good Fattie by heavily restricting my food options to an unhealthy level then I deserve to suffer for my sins.

It's enough to make your head spin. And mine did.

Yesterday, I found myself panicking trying to keep track of the restrictions of this diet, come up with menu ideas, make the food flavorful and exciting or even just appetizing, keep up with the necessary activity levels which my health issues don't allow, fight back the guilt I'm told I'm supposed to feel over my partner's choice to do this, and stay sane in the process. Instead, I'm exhausted, hungry, nauseated, still completely forgetting to eat, and constantly reminded that I'm Not Good Enough. Seriously, no amount of improvement to my health is attainable if the effort to achieve it ends up sending me into a spiral of depression and killing me.

Add all that to the phone call I got this afternoon with my blood test results from Wednesday, when I discovered it appears I'm suffering multiple vitamin deficiencies, even of vitamins I'm taking supplements for. So my doctor has recommended that I add dairy and whole grains back to my diet immediately, slowly return to an unrestricted but balanced diet over the next couple weeks, doing whatever I need to make sure I'm eating 3-5 balanced meals a day (depending on size, based on appetite issues).

So I guess two weeks is as long as this candida cleanse experiment lasts. I can't say it doesn't work, but I can say it wasn't the right treatment for me. One more thing to try, checked off the list of ideas.

31 days: Power Balls (No-Bake, candida-diet friendly)

Power Balls

a white plate with a brown, speckled ball made of nut butter, with one visible pumpkin seed.

One of the hardest parts of the candida diet is the sudden Hangries. Especially the first three days. Having something flavorful and filling to hand is a must. This recipe also helps sweep out the candida that's been starved & killed with supplements.

I feel like the original recipe started with this one, but it's been perfected for our tastes since then. I had to double it, and it didn't work well. So, here's ours.
Power Balls (No-Bake)
The Formula:
2 cups nut butter
4 cups binder
1/2 cup sweetener syrup
3/4 to 1 cup fun chunky bits

coconut flour
flax seed meal
nut meal
grain bran

dried fruits
candy chips (chocolate, butterscotch, etc.)

Mix nut butter, binder, and syrup in a mixing bowl, or using the dough hook of your stand mixer. Stir in chunky bits. Refrigerate 15 minutes, then roll into balls of preferred size.

Candida-Cleanse friendly version!
2 cups almond butter (mine was the end of the jar, a little short of 2 cups and a bit dry, so I added a 1/4 cup coconut oil with great results. If your nut butter is dry, try that. They do get a bit loose when un-chilled though.)
1 1/2 cups coconut flour
1/2 cup nut meal (I used hazelnut)
1 cup flax seed meal
1 cup oat bran
1/3 cup agave syrup*
1/4 cup bee pollen (optional; I just had some to use up)
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup walnut bits

* Agave syrup is not allowed in all versions of the diet, in part I think because of refined understanding of how agave syrup works in the body since some were written. You can make a xylitol syrup, or there are stevia syrups without alcohol in them, or you can use them dry, and in any of those cases you will need to adjust your proportions accordingly--maybe add some coconut or avocado oil to increase the wet portion a bit. Because of how big of a batch this makes, I decided the small amount of a very low-glycemic sweetener was worth the risk. I'd also venture to say, the 1/3 cup I used was almost too sweet for me.

Friday, October 2, 2015

31 days: Spicy Shrimp Salad

Spicy Shrimp Salad

A fresh green salad with visible cucumbers, tomatoes, and orange bell peppers, topped with spicy shrimp salad and roasted pumpkin seeds.

We like a lot of spice anyway, and I'm finding this cleanse has really made us crave spicy foods. So you'll see a lot of spicier dishes in this series. I'm not surprised by this; when I was super low carb before, my spice tolerance was at ghost pepper levels. Since I started eating sweets again, I noticed I have a much lower heat tolerance, and I wasn't sure if they were related. It's nice to get some more correlating data for my theory that the more sweets I eat, the less spice I can tolerate. I'd rather do spice.

This as pictured, however, is surprisingly low on the spice despite the name. I've got tips for spicing it up as we go, what I'll do differently next time.

Tip: Trader Joe's Mayo is candida diet friendly! It has no sugar, and the vinegar used in it is apple cider vinegar. Stock up, if you don't want to spend time making your own. 

Spicy Shrimp Salad
Candida Cleanse friendly!

Salad greens
Orange or red bell pepper
Roasted pumpkin seeds
Salad shrimp, thawed/cooked & chilled

Additional (unpictured) salad ingredients I was out of but love to include: 
Sprouts, avocado, scallions

TRADER JOE'S or homemade mayo
Chili Paste*
Fresh pressed garlic (or minced, just don't ever tell me that you use the jarred stuff like my mother)

Optional additions, to mix in with the shrimp:
Dried chipotle pepper, a fine dusting with your nutmeg grater/zester
JalapeƱo or hot pepper of choice, small diced

Your portions, of course, will change according to how many people you're serving and your own preferences. Put the salad stuff in the bowl first, tossed or layered as to your preference.

Mix the dressing ingredients with the shrimp, and add anything you plan to include in that portion. The idea is to have spicy shrimp over cooling salad, and have the shrimp salad a little over-dressed so there's some for the salad. Top with roasted pumpkin seeds, or something to add a little crunch--sprouts and scallions are great on top.

* The chili paste I used has white vinegar. You'll see a few recipes that have small amounts of condiments which in turn have small amounts of white vinegar. It's a compromise we made for our sanity, because some versions of this diet weren't as prohibitive of the white vinegar and I have a hard time believing it's a problem. If you're super concerned, chili paste is easy to make and I encourage you to do so. It's on my list after I finish this jar!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

31 days of Blogging: Challenge Accepted

In 2012, I did a 31 Days of Dinner blogging challenge where you pick a topic and write about it for 31 days. I enjoyed the idea, and while the original challenger isn't doing it this year, I'm going to do it again!

With this Candida Cleanse, I spent a lot of time looking for recipes. So. MANY. of the recipes labeled anti-candida-diet-friendly on Pinterest are decidedly NOT (seriously, orange-maple candied carrots anyone? Every single ingredient was banned). And as a result I've struggled to find menu ideas that are both appealing and on this cleanse. I'll also be linking to these posts on Pinterest so hopefully it can infuse some helpfulness into those search results.
Day One:

This cleanse is killing my counter space. But it makes me smile to see so many fresh veggies waiting to be used! Avocados, tomatoes, rutabagas, bell peppers, and a couple green apples sitting there too.

Green apples are a quibbling point on this diet; some versions allow some fruits, some versions allow apples and a few other low-glycemic fruits, some don't allow any fruits at all. But apples have a magical anti-nausea quality (or what looks like magic if you don't know the biology and chemicals involved) and I make sure to eat them with almond butter to keep the blood sugar response low.

That bag of avocados was $7 for 15 at my local restaurant supply (Cash & Carry). Even if we only use half of them, I'm no worse off than having bought them at the regular grocery store at $1 apiece, but the last two bags we've had, we've managed to use all of them or just a couple shy. So I'm definitely getting my money's worth.

Costco changed their tomato packaging so that it's this cardboard flat in a permeable plastic wrap, but after I stewed about it and went back to check to see if the old version came back, I realized that it also doesn't have the plastic liner that was cupping each individual tomato. So I decided, reluctantly, that it was a wash and just bought them. I can't get these half-flats of tomatoes anywhere else, and the next size up is a small CASE at Cash & Carry, and they're cheaper this way than elsewhere.

I do need to figure out a better way of storing all these veggies. I hate having the counter space on either side of the stove cluttered like this. I find it visually stressful, if I need to stage items for cooking I don't have the room, and it's a fire hazard. So that's one of my challenges for next week.
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