Friday, December 15, 2017

Hotel room eating

So, unless you are living under a rock, you've heard of the Thomas Fire currently raging (for over a week now) in the Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in Southern California.

It's now only 35% contained and is the 4th largest fire in CA history. 

And it's blowing up a crap ton of ash.

We are no novices to wildfires.  There have been many since we've lived here.  Generally they burn in the mountains, which are rugged, have a lot of fuel, and are hard to get to.  As we are in the midst of a many year drought, they are also dry.

A benefit to regular wildfires is that they slow, or stop, an existing one.  So the Thomas Fire has been virtually stopped in the back country, where it has come up against the 2007 Zaca Fire area (the 5th largest fire).

Unfortunately it is still burning on the east side and the west side.  On our side (the west), it still hasn't reached the burn area from the Tea Fire, so there's quite a bit more than can burn.  This is distressing for many reasons, including that I have friends in that area who have been evacuated.  Most of the time, these fires don't make it far into town (Painted Cave fire of 1990 being an exception).  It all depends on the winds.  The Santa Anas and Sundowners (strong winds out of the mountains towards the ocean) cause the fire to spread to populated areas.

Just yesterday, we had the first fatality of a fireman.  He leaves behind a pregnant wife and young daughter.  RIP.

So there's your little primer on So Cal wildfires.  As our house is nearer the ocean, we are reasonably safe.  A fire would either need to start in the city or burn through most of the city to get to us.

The ash and smoke is the major concern right now.  It's very hazardous, and officials have been giving out free N95 masks as protection.  People are told to stay indoors and wear masks when out of doors. Schools have been canceled since last Thursday - that's 7 days of school being cancelled completely, right before a two week + one day break.

That has left everyone scrambling. Scrambling for emergency childcare, scrambling for hotel rooms to get out of town, scrambling for "things to do" to get their kids to burn off energy indoors, scrambling for day trips to fresh air.

Last week's air quality was very very bad. I was home with the boys, working, on Thursday when they cancelled school on Friday.  My neighbor and I immediately made the decision to leave town.  She found an inn in Morro Bay (Morro Shores Inn and Suites).  I got the last room.  I texted the hubs, we packed the car with important papers, the computer hard drives, clothes, kids, and food.  And left.

I booked the weekend and then we played it by ear.  All told, we stayed away for 5 days.  We changed hotels on Sunday, and that day, unfortunately, the smoke and ash blew all the way to us up north (95 miles).  We had to spend much of the day indoors, in a hotel room.

For five nights and days, we ate out of hotel rooms, only eating out 5 times (which was plenty, my poor stomach just can't handle that). 

Eating out of hotel rooms can save money.  It can be healthier.  At first, it's like camping.  But eventually, it's a pain in the ass.

At the inn, we had a good sized mini fridge and microwave, and a small table with 2 chairs.  No free breakfast.  The table was great for food prep and letting the kids eat there.  We subsisted on bread with peanut butter, fruit, sandwiches, and leftovers from dinner (chicken fingers, pizza).  I took whatever we had in the fridge with us, so we also had some lettuce and carrots, fruit, peanut lime dip, leftover rice and broccoli, leftover chicken, avocados, and leftover roasted cauliflower.

We then made the move to a Hampton Inn.  There we had free breakfast.  There was a fridge but no microwave.  We had to use the microwave in the lobby.  There was ample desk space but only one chair.  That meant we prepped food and ate in shifts - giving the kids the chair. I pretty much ate on a bed all week (and worked on my laptop in bed one day too).

While this was a big money-saver - we spent about $55 on groceries that week but $280-300 eating out (a typical meal out for 4 was $60.  At least every meal had leftovers for lunch/ dinner the next day), it got old.  Washing dishes in a hotel room sucks.

We've done it enough to have it down to a science.  We have a picnic basket that we got as a wedding gift.  We filled it with plastic cups, silverware, our camping plates, and 3 plates and 2 bowls that are microwave safe.  We also had salt and pepper, paper towels, a wash cloth for washing dishes, dish soap, and 3 dish towels - one for letting the dishes drain on and the other 3 for drying.

We've been back home for a few days now.  My tummy is happier.  My sinuses are not.  The air quality is still bad (though not as bad as it was before).  The fire is getting closer.  We have child care for our little guy and the big kid is going to work with daddy or we are alternately working from home.  All in all, that little trip cost about $1000, so Merry Christmas to us.

I expect we will be making big use of the YMCA pool this week, and probably taking the kids to the trampoline place, the bowling alley, and the ice rink to burn off energy.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Gluten free banana berry muffins

So, I bought some gluten free flour from Trader Joe's.  And I bought some from Bob's Red Mill.  I wondered if I should look for a "gluten free" recipe, trust the bag of mix that you can directly sub it for AP flour or...???

In the end, I decided to make the recipe on the Trader Joe's bag.  Sort of.  Because I didn't have everything.  And the Bob's Red Mill bag said to use Xanthan gum.

So, here's what I did:
1 cup TJ's gluten free flour (the rest of the bag)
1 cup Bob's red mill gluten free flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp Xanthan gum
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
A little less than 1/2 cup sugar (because I didn't have agave)
1/4 cup maple syrup (to make up for the lack of agave)
1/2 cup safflower oil
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1 cup mashed banana (because I didn't have applesauce)
1 cup frozen mixed berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries)

I think that's it, but I threw the bag away.  I'll check next time I buy the stuff.  I found the recipe here, so I think I'm good.

So: mix dry ingredients (flour, soda, salt, Xanthan gum, cinnamon)

In separate bowl, mix eggs, oil, milk, sugar, maple syrup, vanilla.

Add wet to dry and mix until just blended.  Fold in mashed banana.  Fold in berries.

Bake at 350F for ...??  In my oven, which runs cold, and using the silicone liners, it took about 25 minutes.  The two that were in paper liners cooked faster.

These were amazing.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Banana Oat Blender Muffins

So, this recipe started with a couple of posts I saw on my facebook feed.  One was for banana oatmeal blender bread.  I made that last week.

The main problem with the bread was that the cook time was really low.  20 minutes.  I mean, no.  It's a quick bread, but no.  So I baked it 50 min, and it needed more.  Still, it was delicious.  I adjusted it a bit though, added a little bit of oil. And probably a few TBSP of brown sugar in place of the liquid sweetener. And chocolate chips.  The consistency of this kind of bread is chewy, not crumbly.

I decided this week to do a muffin version.  I'd found this recipe and gave it a try (shared from the same page, 100 days of real food).  The advantage of the muffin version is that I can add different things, since hubby doesn't like chocolate.

Of course I edited again.  First, it's Friday and I'm out of a lot of things.  And I don't have Greek yogurt.  So I made homemade buttermilk with milk and vinegar, and subbed that (but used less).  Also, I used maple syrup instead of honey.

Recipe called for 15 min baking, and it needed 20.  Again, a little chewy.  I'm not sure if the chewy is the oats/ banana, or the lack of butter/ oil.  It bums me out that when I look for gluten free/ oat based muffin recipes, people seem to want to make them fat free. Or veganized.  I'm fine with veganized, because I was almost out of eggs.  But damn it, don't be afraid of fat!  I think there is a big tendency (still) to use applesauce, bananas, and honey/ maple syrup as the liquid.

So I'm still on the lookout for a recipe that calls for butter or olive oil too.

I was very excited to see them puff up, but then they sank, just like the picture in the link.  They taste fine, but need a teeny bit more sugar.  My versions were chocolate chips, blueberries, coconut, and walnut.

Banana oat blender muffins
2 c. rolled oats
2 very ripe bananas
2 eggs
3/4 c milk with 1 tbsp vinegar, let sit a few minutes
3 T maple syrup or honey
2 T olive oil or melted butter
2 T brown sugar (new)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
dash salt
1 tsp vanilla

Toppings: blueberries, chocolate chips, coconut, walnuts...?

Put everything into blender, blend until smooth.
Pour into muffin cups.  Top with toppings.  Bake at 400F for 20-22 min.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Today's cooking chores and meals

So, there's this "new kid" (not really new anymore) at work who is vegan.  Though he'll eat dairy if it's the only option or free leftovers.

He was eating Mujaddara (Arabic rice and lentils) and it reminded me how much I like that stuff.

So I'm making it for dinner tonight.  I was supposed to go to Mom's night and see a movie, but too many of them are sick so they cancelled.  And I'm healthy, WTF?

I skipped my run today, was going to walk instead.  Now I think I'm going to go have a glass of wine instead.  Fair trade, right?  I've got a trail run tomorrow and I just bought new shoes.  ALL my shoes are dying. 
1. I've got my walking shoes, that are the same running shoes I always buy. But this year's version was narrower!  Too small for running.
2.  My running shoes, that I bought for my 1/2 marathon are pretty much dead, and also too small.  They are fine for 4 miles, but more than that, no.
3.  My trail running shoes are too tight. 

Basically, my feet grew this year.

4.  My Ecco work shoes, that I've had for 15 years?  Soles are shredded.  I just noticed.  I stopped wearing them for a few years around pregnancy because my feet swelled.  Anyway, dead.  I have a different pair of black shoes that will work.

I bought D width New Balance trail shoes, which don't have enough cushion but we'll have to see.

So, today's cooking chores: because some day I'm going to need ideas.

Made gluten free oatmeal banana bread.  I added chocolate chips.  And edited the recipe.  Because: of course I did.

Made salsa and guacamole.

Next up:
Baba ganoush
Mujaddara with onions
Peanut lime sauce (maybe...)

Stuff we ate this week:
Rice/ quinoa with Thai red curry chicken and veggies (Trader Joe's frozen harvest hodgepodge)
Rice/ quinoa with Madras lentils (Costco, premade)
Salmon, roast potatoes, salad, green beans
Yellow squash fritters

Monday, October 30, 2017

Things I've been making and eating lately

Most of the reason for this blog is so that I can find good recipes that I've made before.  Of course, I created this blog (and its predecessor) long before Pinterest.

The other useful thing to me, is to look back and scroll around and see what our menus were long long ago.  Sometimes I get in a rut!  I need new things.

I've made Peanut Lime Dip (see "Favorite Recipes") a few times lately - great with noodles or as a veggie dip.

I started baking sandwich bread, so that I can avoid getting plastic bread bags.

I made my first loaf of gluten free bread this weekend.  It's...okay.  Better than not  having bread.  It's not cheap, but cheaper than buying it.

I tried a new recipe for chili.  It was good, but not better than my regular chili.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

No wheat = 8 pounds

So, I gave up wheat in July.  Well, I started to give up wheat in July.  Honestly, it was a bit of a tough journey.  Because: I love bread.

But I was having some health issues and I traced them to (possibly) pizza, and I don't want it to be cheese.

Over the space of July I gradually decreased my wheat intake.  I had a few slips.  On vacation, my friends said "well, you will probably have to give it a few months to see if it really helps."  Which, yuck.  I was hoping for 2-3 weeks?

Anyway, I dedicated myself to it, with a caveat...I didn't read too many labels (I'm looking at you, Costco meatballs) for the first bit.  And...I felt better.  Very gradually, so the "wait a few months" was a good suggestion.

I happened to give up wheat at the same time I started training for my Pier to Peak uphill half marathon.  So, I started to lose weight.  I didn't actually notice - I don't get on the scale often.  But a neighbor said something and I shrugged.  Then my officemate said something and I said "hmm".  Got on the scale, and I'd lost 4-5 pounds.  Hey hey hey, that's why I needed that belt.  This happened in about 6-7 weeks, so mid-August or thereabouts.

Fast forward to the race (which sucked, of course) and then the next month.  When I had this goal to maintain my 3x a week running, and at least 6-8 miles for my long run.  It didn't happen.  In the first month I only ran 4 times, once a week, on a weekend.  The "big" run was a 10k the week after the half.  The other runs were 4.5 miles or less.

On a whim I got on the scale and it's dropped more!  I made a comment on FB about the 8 lb loss.  Of course, this results in the resident expert on my health, fitness, and body mansplaining to me (at work, no less) that of course it's the running.  Nevermind that I actually live in this body, and have for 47 years, and track myself pretty well - my exercise, and food, etc.  Anyway, with the eventual "half the weight loss was after the race, and no I'm not training anymore" he sort of shut up.  He's just lucky I didn't have PMS that week.

(Seriously, what is up with that?  I was so effing cranky and sarcastic at work this week, that I think I scared the "new guy" who has been there 9 months.  I told him I think I have PMS.  Turns out, I was right.)

Anyway, I'd like to try and reintroduce wheat/ gluten.  The first attempt did not go well.  Same issues.  This weekend, I ate those Costco meatballs, same issue.  And I had a beer.  Boy, that was a mistake.  I guess I'm going to give it a longer bit of time before I try again.  And I bought some ingredients to attempt gluten-free baking (like Xanthan gum).  I was holding off on that, hoping it was temporary.

So if you have gluten free recipes, hit me with them!  Now what to do with a half a bottle of soy sauce in my fridge.  Kids will eat the meatballs no problem.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Less Waste Wins / Losses + Salad Dressing recipe

In my quest to implement some of the strategies for generating less waste (from the book Zero Waste Home), I started going to stores with bulk bins more often.

I haven't quite gotten the energy to ask if I can bring my own containers and have them weigh them to subtract the tare.  However, I did realize that I tend to buy the same things over and over.  So there's another way!

Instead, today I went to Sprouts.  One of the things I regularly buy there is bulk oats (on sale 0.69/lb, regular price 1.29/lb).  The last time I bought the oats, I simply saved the plastic bag and the twist tie with the number on it.  I put this bag inside a container in my cupboard.  Today, I reused the bag and the twist tie.  I am hoping to do that with, well, everything.  At least until I figure out if I can bring my own containers.  I bought a large amount of 4-cup soup containers from Amazon a year ago, and they really would be perfect for bulk bins.

I also bought quinoa and pinto beans (in new bags that I will reuse).  I may or may not have saved the chocolate peanut cluster bag know, for future needs.

The final "reuse" of the day was the olive bar - I saved the plastic container from last week, washed and dried it, and reused it.  Of course I carried the groceries out in my reusable grocery bag.

As far as "refuse" goes, I refused to buy strawberries in a plastic container.  Instead I bought a cantaloupe.  I also didn't get a bag for the red bell pepper.

I'm eventually going to let the cantaloupe rind rot...aka, I'm going to start composting again.

This weekend I bought eggs at the farmer's market - I can return the egg container to the vendor and they will reuse it.

On the negative side, the baby cucumbers came in a bag.  They didn't have any loose ones.  My weekly veggie delivery was accidentally short this week, and we are running out.  Next week will be HUGE, which I was excited about.  Until I just found out hubby will be gone all week.  Oh well, lots more for me and the boys.

Finally, the bread came in a bag.  I really need to figure out if I can regularly make a sandwich bread at home that my husband likes.  We get so many damn bread bags.

After dinner I made another batch of salad dressing.  Making your own dressing is easy, healthy, and generates less waste.  While I haven't quite figured out how to get vinegar or olive oil in bulk (as in, bring your own container), I do buy 2L bottles of olive oil at Costco and buy vinegar in glass jars.

This salad dressing is my favorite.  It's so tasty, and this time of year, I get parsley and garlic and lemons every week.  Instead of buying bottled salad dressing and "recycling" (downcycling), I just reuse the same glass bottle every week.

The dressing started from this recipe from Beachbody.  I've altered it.  Because I get a lot of parsley.

Lemon-Parsley-Garlic Vinaigrette.
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3-4 large cloves garlic, pressed
1 bunch parsley, washed and de-stemmed (a pain, but worth it)
1 tsp or so of honey or sugar.  I use local honey.  And I just scoop out some with a regular spoon.
1 tsp of mustard (you know I eyeballed this).  I use brown mustard, but dijon works too
pinch himalayan salt

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend!  It comes out creamy and delicious and very very green.  The vibrant green goes away over a week or two, but it still tastes great.  I don't skimp on this either.  I eat a large bowl of salad for lunch every day, and believe me, I'm not measuring out 1 TBSP of dressing.  I think my dressing container holds at least 2 TBSP.

Sometimes I use the immersion blender to make the dressing.  It's not as smooth.

This dressing will harden up in the fridge because of the olive oil.  Let it sit at room temp to thaw before you use it.