Tuesday, September 30, 2008

black bean soup and cornbread

Cooking is one of my favorite things to do, and I'm really glad that I'm going to be home and able to cook a meal most of the time.

I tend to get into ruts with cooking, in that I tend to cook the same recipes over and over again. But hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?

Maybe I shouldn't call it a rut. I guess these recipes are more just staple recipes for us. Most of them are quick, easy, and cheap, and, obviously, they are yummy, or I wouldn't keep making them so often. I'm hoping to post a few of them over the next weeks and months, because I know I am always on the lookout for good recipes, and I've found a couple of favorites through recommendations from friends.

I've made black bean soup a few times recently, since the weather has started to turn, and I'm reminded again just how much I love it.

I initially had black bean soup in Maine, at our friends' Joey and Lisa's house. I also had it at a restaurant called Norm's, which was next door to Brett's school in Maine. At Norm's, you could get a cup of soup and a slice of cornbread for something like $3, which suited our poor-student budget quite well.

Lisa's recipe wasn't exactly like the one at Norm's, and I've been trying to get it a little closer to what I remember the soup being like at Norm's. I think I'm pretty dang close, and I think it's really, really good.

So this recipe started with the one Lisa gave me, but I've added quite a bit -- the red pepper, the carrots, more spices, lots more pepper -- and have reduced the amount of tomatoes and corn. At this point, I guess you could say it's pretty much my own creation, since it's fairly far removed from the original recipe Lisa gave me.

Black Bean Soup
olive oil -- enough to cover bottom of soup pot
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4-5 garlic cloves, minced (more or less to taste)
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
4 medium size carrots, peeled and chopped into rounds
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup frozen or one can of corn
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes in juice
32 oz (2 cans, one carton) vegetable broth
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp black pepper
(I think I usually add more of the cayenne and black pepper, but I don't measure, plus, we like things spicy, so I tend to add more than not)

for garnishing:
chopped scallions
chopped cilantro
grated cheddar

Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, bell pepper, carrot, cumin, oregano, and salt. Saute over medium heat until onions start to caramelize and brown and carrots are soft, about 10 mins.

Add all other ingredients, bring to a boil, and let simmer until hot. Adjust spices to taste, adding more if desired.

Serve hot, and top with scallions, cilantro, and cheese.

Now, I'll confess that I got the cornbread recipe from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, although I did make two modifications, noted below. It was a hit the other night: crumbly, slightly sweet, very corn-y. We ate almost the whole pan at dinner. (Yep, we're pigs.)

Basic Corn Bread, page 646, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
2 T butter
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose or whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 t baking powder
2 eggs (this is where I changed -- I don't like eggy cornbread, so I only used one egg and it turned out great)
1/4 cup butter, melted
2-4 t honey (I wanted to give some to Elanor, so I used 1 T raw sugar instead)
1 c milk

Preheat the oven to 425. Put the butter in an 8-inch square baking pan and set in the oven while it's heating. Meanwhile, stir the dry ingredients together and make a well in the center of the bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients. As soon as the oven is hot, remove the pan and brush the butter around the edges. [note: don't be a dumbass like me and leave it in there for any longer, because I forgot to take it out and let the butter burn, and then had to start this step over] Pour any excess into the wet ingredients. Quickly mix the wet and dry ingredients together, then pour the batter into the pan and bake in the middle of the oven until golden brown, about 25 minutes.

Enjoy! If you make either recipe, let me know how you like it!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

probably not very interesting to non-parents as I talk about diapers ad nauseum

We've had a couple rough days, sleep-wise. Or I guess I should say lack of sleep-wise. Elanor's decided she doesn't want to nap much longer than 30 minutes at a stretch, and she also doesn't seem to want to go to bed until 11 p.m. All signs point to the fact that we're entering the nine-month developmental spurt/sleep regression: getting at least one more tooth, pulling up, crawling, babbling more, and the like. Knowing that helps, I guess, but it doesn't make the not sleeping easier. Sigh. She's asleep on me in the Ergo right now, and I really should go try to put her down in the bed and then get some things done around the house, but, well, I'm tired and I worked hard yesterday and Brett hasn't been home much this week to give me a break (he's at work now, even, on a Saturday), so I am going to blog instead.

Aaaaanyway, with that long and rambling introduction, I'll get started.

I have like four immediate things I want to blog about, but I guess I'll just pick one and then try to write up the others while Elanor is asleep so I can post them later this week.

For a while now, I've been wanting to get gDiapers. My friend Isabel uses them with her son and has been singing their praises for a while now, and I've heard good things about them elsewhere, too.

While we usually use cloth diapers at home (and let me just be very clear that I love, love, love my cloth diapers), we do occasionally use diposables: when we travel to Portland, when Elanor has a bad diaper rash and I want to load her up with diaper cream, or when I've been lazy and all our diaper covers are dirty.

But we've had some major problems with disposables lately. One result was this:

And the other was this:
It's obvious what happened in the first picture. She had a blowout of epic proportions. ( Thank you, Seventh Generation. )

In the second, she'd had another huuuuuge blowout, this time in a restaurant while we were on Bainbridge Island for Joel and Rosanna's wedding. ( Again, thank you, Seventh Generation. )

This second event resulted in her clothes being covered in poop, and me running to the grocery store next door with Rosanna to buy something, anything other than Seventh Generation diapers. Then when I got back outside, we had to strip her completely naked on the sidewalk so I could wipe her down with baby wipes and then put a new diaper and a new outfit on her, since there wasn't a changing table in the restaurant and I wasn't about to change this one at the table. Uh, no.

So, because of those two incidents, I'm done with Seventh Generation, which is unfortunate since they worked well for us when Elanor was younger. It's also unfortunate because at Fred Meyer right now, they are on sale for $7 per pack. Yes, that's right -- $7. It's a great deal...but not if they inspire huge blowouts.

Anyway, some of you might be thinking, "Why doesn't she just use Huggies or something?" Well, I don't want to use so-called normal diapers, the kind with all the chemicals/dyes/scents. I know. Call me crazy, or fanatic, or whatever, but I just don't. For one thing, they don't decompose for a very long time. For another, Elanor tends to get rashy when we use them. So we don't. Am I being stubborn? Maybe a little, but given our other crazy environmentally-friendly tendencies, are you surprised? Probably not.

Since Seventh Generation has failed us so epically multiple times now, I had to find an alternative. I bought Tushies that day on Bainbridge Island, which were just ok. I didn't love them, and although we didn't have an epic blowout, that's only because Elanor didn't poop while wearing them, and not because they work any better. I think they'd probably be about the same as Seventh Gen, honestly.

I finally just bit the bullet and invested the money in the gDiapers starter kit, since we were almost out of the Tushies anyway. And let me tell you, gDiapers = awesome.

I put her in one when we got home yesterday, just to try it. I went to change it a couple hours later, and, much to my surprise, she had pooped. And there was no epic blowout -- the poop was contained!

HOORAY.

Granted, the cover was dirty and I had to wash it, but that's par for the course. I usually have to wash our cloth covers, too, after a poop, so it's not a big deal to me.

The liner even flushed exactly like it's supposed to, despite the fact that our plumbing is old and somewhat crappy.

Plus, the covers are seriously cute, and they are nice and trim like normal disposables, so if she has an outfit where her cloth diaper is too big, the gDiapers will still work.

I'm just thrilled that they've worked out so well, and that I seem to have found an environmentally-friendly pseudo-disposable that works well for us and will make traveling a lot easier.

Coming later this week...a favorite (easy, cheap, healthy) recipe of mine, a good-bad-ugly post, the week in review, and a follow-up to this post. Yeah, I know I'm being ambitious, advertising four upcoming posts in a week, but you never know; I might actually be able to make that happen.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

a new weekly feature and a staying home update

First of all, I'm going to start doing at least one weekly themed post. The one I've decided to try first is a Wednesday week in review post, which will usually be heavy on the photos, light on the text. My hope is that I'll eventually be able to post one photo for every day of the previous week, just to give some kind of snapshot of what we've been up to. This week's, though, is going to be a little less complete, since I don't have a photo from the first few days. I'll post what I have for this week below.

Second, Annie asked in the comments on my last post how my first week at home is going. It's going really well! Some things, of course, are different than I'd imagined or hoped they'd be, but that's to be expected. That said, some things are even better than I'd hoped. Here's a quick rundown.

Things I've done more than I expected:
  • Sleeping. I took a nap with Elanor today and it was great.
  • Trying to get Elanor to sleep. Even though she's tired in the mornings, she doesn't seem to want to nap.
Things I've done less than I expected:
  • Blogging. Clearly, since this is my first post of the week.
  • Laundry. I have a backlog that's been piling up since last week. I forced myself to do a few loads today, primarily because every towel in the house was dirty and I'd put the last sest of clean sheets on our bed. It's hard since the laundry is in the basement and there's nowhere down there that I can put Elanor where she'll be safe while I load the machines. I'll have to figure out a solution to this one, because I'm going to have to do laundry while Brett is gone, and thus far, I've only been doing it when he's home to watch her or when she is napping, hence the major backlog.
  • Cleaning. I've done a little every day, and have been able to at least maintain some standard of neatness around the house, but it's nearly impossible to deep clean a bathroom or to mop the floors when Elanor is awake. I guess this will have to be reserved either for nap time or for when Papa is home.
Things I've done about as much as I'd hoped:
  • Cooking. I've made dinner, including some sort of baked good, every day so far. Monday was cornbread, Tuesday was snickerdoodles, and today was a yummy beer bread.
  • Walking. We've taken a walk every day so far, which is good, because we both like to get out of the house and because the fresh air and exercise are good for us.
  • Enjoying. Basically, this, being home with Elanor and taking care of her and our home, is fantastic. Sure, it's different than I thought it would be in some ways, but almost nothing is ever what one expects it to be, so I'm fine with that. Overall, I'm thrilled to be home and to be taking care of my family every day.
And now, for the Wednesday week in review.

Friday: Brett's dad, otherwise known as Grumps, held a ready-for-bed Elanor as he and Brett were getting ready to go out to see our friend's band play. He and Noni came up to visit for the weekend.


Saturday: Brett made toast from some yummy sourdough bread on Saturday morning, and he gave Elanor the crust to chew on. I think she liked it.


Sunday: Brett's mom Noni was about to go back home to Portland. She was getting one last snuggle with Elanor before she and Grumps hit the road.


Tuesday: I had Elanor in the Ergo, ready to leave for community group, and I took a photo to document that the hat Brett's mom made before Elanor was born still fit.


Wednesday: Brett and Elanor enjoyed watching YouTube videos together after Brett got home from work.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

It's been an interesting week; we've had a lot of change happen all at once, mostly on Thursday.

First of all, Thursday was my last day at work, at the job I've had since we moved back from Maine, the job I had before we moved to Maine, too. It's the job I've had the longest in my post-college life, and it's been a good job with good co-workers. So as excited as I am to be home with Elanor, it was pretty bittersweet to leave it forever.

Second, Rachel left on Thursday to go back to school. She's been with us the entire summer, since mid-June. She has truly become a part of our immediate family, and in addition to helping us watch Elanor while we were at work, she's been our caregiver, our helper, our companion, and, most of all, has become a really awesome friend to me. She's only been gone a few days but I miss her already.

So, two big changes in one day. It's all just starting to sink in, and I think it will continue to do so over the next week or two.

One big effect that will come out of Rachel leaving is that once Brett's parents leave tomorrow (they're visiting for the weekend), Brett and Elanor and I will be alone in the house for the first time ever, with the exception of a few weeks here and there. For one thing, we used to have a housemate, but he moved out, and for another, we've had family here nearly continuously since Elanor was born. There were maybe eight or so weeks of my maternity leave when none of our family was here, but between visits right after she was born, and then visits to help care for Elanor when I went back to work, and then people taking care of us after my heart thing, and then Rachel being here...yeah. We've had constant people here with us for the past five months or so, and the three months before that were not constant but were nearly so.

Anyway, it's going to be weird to be here alone, I think. It's going to be great in a lot of ways; I'm looking forward to some changes we're making with regard to how the house is set up -- moving the guest room, setting up an office/work space for me -- and I'm glad that I don't have to worry about Elanor disturbing anyone if she wakes up early or if she cries in the nighttime or if she's just being loud. But it's going to be strange to be alone, and, I'll confess, probably a little creepy, too, since I'm so used to having other people around.

I have so many other things I want to blog about these days, but I don't ever seem to have the time to type them out. I've taken to composing blog entries in my head as I walk around the neighborhood, pushing Elanor in the stroller. The only problem is that I don't have any way to record them when I'm doing that, and my time at the computer is limited, so the majority of these mental blog posts never get posted. And that's a shame. I've started carrying around a little notebook wherein I can write at least snippets of the things I want to blog about. Maybe it will help me remember them and will make it easier to type them out once I do have a few minutes at the computer.

I should wrap this up. Brett wants some more gingerbread (I just pulled it out of the oven a few minutes ago; it's yummy and warm and we both devoured our pieces in a matter of minutes) and I think I do, too. So since he is holding a sleeping Elanor, I suppose I should get up and get it for him. He just looked at me pleadingly...I'd better get to it. (Besides, I want more, too!)

Monday, September 15, 2008

funny...

I was cleaning all of the personal stuff off the hard drive on my work computer in preparation for my last day, and I came across this picture, which was taken a year ago Saturday.


I had a hard time at first remembering why we were on the roof at my building. I think it was when Brett's sister Rachel and her friends came up to Seattle to go to a concert, but it sold out before they could get tickets so we went on the roof instead. If I'm remembering right, that weekend was also the first time anyone on the outside of me felt Elanor kick. Rachel was the lucky one to have that experience...it seems her connection with Elanor was present even then.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ack. I sat down to write a blog post and my mind is going in about a million different directions. That's what I get for not posting in a long time, I guess.

So for now I'll just post one thing; I might as well keep it short and get a post out and published before Elanor needs my attention again.

My last day at work is Thursday. I'm really excited to be home with Elanor and am sooo ready to just be done. It's hard to focus but I want to leave on a good note so I am making myself do it even though it's not easy.

That said, I'm feeling oddly conflicted about not getting up every day and going to a job. With the exception of my maternity leave, the time I was out on disability after my heart thing, and a very few random weeks here and there, I haven't not worked a "real" job since I was 15. FIFTEEN! Yikes. That's...well, suffice it to say it was a long time ago.

I've got to confess, too, that I'll truly miss some elements of going to work every day. I'll miss seeing my co-workers and interacting with them. I'll miss my bus commute, oddly enough, since it's a guaranteed hour or hour and a half a day when I get to just be alone to read and listen to my iPod. I'll miss going over the Ballard Bridge every morning as the sun is coming up. I'll miss being downtown and feeling the sense of busy-ness and energy I get whenever I am there. I'll miss having a parking pass that grants me 24-hour access to a garage in the city. I'll miss being able to go up on the roof of the building where I work at any hour of the day or night.

But all of those things aside, I truly am excited to be home with Elanor. I know it's what is best for her, for me, and for Brett, and I'm looking forward to finding a rythym and a niche that works for us.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

changes

Come September 19, I'm going to have a new boss.

She's short, and has wild hair, and can be temperamental and moody at times. She likes to yell and often gets her hands dirty, but at the same time she likes a laid-back environment where she can just sit and let it all hang out. She can also be full of crap and tends to drool over the littlest things.

But no matter how hard she can be to deal with from time to time, when she smiles at me, all of the bad stuff fades away and I feel happy.

Ok, since this analogy is getting really awkward I'll just cut it off and say what I'm getting at: Elanor is going to be my new boss! I quit my job today; my last day in the office will be September 18 and then I am going to stay home and take care of her full-time!

Brett got a promotion at work and some at-home opportunities have panned out for me, and with Rachel going back to school, the time was just right for me to make this change. Everything fell into place perfectly and in the perfect time; God's hand has so been present in this.

We are really excited for me to get to be home. Ever since I was in college, I've known that what I am supposed to do is be home with my family. I am beyond grateful to have the opportunity to do so. At times over the past several years, it's seemed like staying home was something completely out of reach for me. I'm so thankful that God has given me my heart's desire and made all of this happen.

Given how amazing my co-workers have been in the past year, I'm sad to leave them, and Brett and I did have to consider carefully if my job was worth walking away from. In the end, obviously, we decided that it is, since our family is worth more than any job -- no matter how wonderful the company and co-workers are -- could be.

I'm hoping that with this new phase in life I can do more with my blogs. I've been wanting to do more for a while, but just haven't had the time to dedicate to it. I hope that now I'll be able to. I miss writing regularly.

So, that said, it's late and I have a lot of knitting to do before Joel and Rosanna's wedding on Friday since I'm knitting some things for the ceremony, so I should either knit or go to bed. I do have to get up for work tomorrow...but after tomorrow, I'll only have to do it eight more times! HOORAY!