Sunday, August 30, 2009

sigh.

Where has the weekend gone? (Where have the last two weeks gone?) I must confess . . . although I'm really enjoying my new job, the commute is killer. Many of you know I don't have a car, so I've been bussing to St. Paul 5 days a week. Adding up my nine hour shift at work and a one-hour commute on each end, I'm left with very long work days and very little time at home in the evenings to relax and get stuff done.

This has resulted in very busy weekends for me! I feel like I've been running around like a crazy person most of the weekend, completing errands, working on cooking projects, and washing mountains of dishes. I feel like I'm a reasonably efficient person, but I'm still feeling "behind."

Any suggestions for how I can squeeze a few more minutes out of my day? My commute is pretty much wasted time, since I'm walking over half of the time, and do not have a cell phone or laptop computer. (Plus side: I'm getting more reading done than I have in years!) I do have access to the internet at work, so I've been checking email and whatever during my break.

My goal? I'd like to start doing yoga again, at least a few times per week. I'm getting plenty of general exercise, since I'm walking about 3 miles daily, but my back's been needing the stretching lately. I need your ideas! Where am I going to find more minutes?????? :)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

local!

First, a couple of dinners from this week:

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Local potatoes, local kale, and local eggs. An oldie but goodie.

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Sushi and miso soup again -- avocado rolls for me, tuna rolls for Dan. (He ate a bunch of avocado, too!)

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I woke up at 7:10 this morning, and couldn't get back to sleep because I was too excited about going to the Farmer's Market. So, I gave up on sleeping in, hopped in the car, and loaded up on local goodies:
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This week's haul ran us about $50, but as you can see from the grocery shop picture below, we got almost all of our produce for the week from the market! Yay, local! Clockwise from bottom left: plums, salad mix, eggplant, Yukon Gold potatoes, watermelon, red onions, "Kellog's Breakfast" heirloom tomatoes, beets w/tops, carrots, baby heirloom tomato mix, fresh mozzarella, cucumber, apples, garlic, artichokes, wild rice, and basil. (Yes! Local artichokes! They were a buck apiece, which is why I only bought two, but still! How exciting!)

A post-Farmer's Market lunch:
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Heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Slice of homemade bread not pictured.

And the week's co-op (and grocery store) haul:

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BAKERY:
local multigrain bread

BULK:
locally-roasted, organic, fair-trade coffee

FROZEN:
organic grape juice concentrate

HERBS & SPICES:
kava

PACKAGED GROCERY:
organic extra-virgin olive oil
locally-bottled, organic, fair-trade vanilla extract
organic crushed tomatoes
Seventh Generation dish soap

PRODUCE:
organic lemons
local, organic mint

REFRIGERATED GROCERY:
local, organic, whole-wheat pita

Also, a package of dried lima beans from the regular grocery store, since the co-op doesn't carry them! Do you think this is strange? I do.

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And last . . . the final grocery budgeting results for August! Given all of the stocking up we did on sale items, (and all of the stocking of the freezer, too,) we did well sticking to our budget of $500, coming in at a grand total of $488.57 spent! I think this is a budget we can live with, comfortable without feeling deprived.

I must confess . . . I wasn't sure, when we started this budgeting adventure, that we could do it. And I'm still unsure that I can keep up with the level of work required for this type of eating -- especially the volume of dirty dishes! However, I'm pleased with how our eating habits have changed. We are eating a lot more beans and a lot less cheese than we ever used to, slightly less organic overall, but still very healthy, in my opinion. And even less processed food, too!

How has the economy changed your family's eating habits?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge -- Dobos Torte

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful
of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos
Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite
Desserts from the Classic Caff├ęs of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.


I took a few liberties with the challenge recipe this month, choosing to flavor my Dobas Torte using a chocolate-mocha theme. I split the sponge cake batter into two batches, adding cocoa powder to one for a chocolate/vanilla alternate layered contrast, used a mocha buttercream recipe (rather than the cooked dark chocolate buttercream recipe from the challenge,) and substituted Toddy coffee concentrate for the lemon juice in the caramel cake "fans" on top of the cake, thus creating a coffee-caramel crunchy top. Oh, and I propped up the "fans" on chocolate-covered espresso beans, rather than on hazelnuts.

Results:
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My thoughts? Sorry guys, I just don't like cake very much. (I must confess . . . I ate about half a slice of this treat before pitching the rest of my portion. Sugar overload!) I dig a batch of cupcakes once or twice a year, but this recipe is just WAY too sweet for me -- too much frosting, too much sugary caramel topping, just too much. I'm going to pass this around to friends/family, though, and see what other folks think!

*** UPDATE Dan loves this. Said that he couldn't eat more than one piece, but also noted that he'd be happy to polish off the rest of the cake by himself. :) Everyone's tastes are different, I suppose!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

JAM! (and groceries, too.)

Good news! Dan and I returned to the "secret spot" we found yesterday and ended up picking almost 10 cups of wild blackberries! Wahoo! I ended up making a big batch of jam -- three small jars, (one of which we left with Dan's folks, since I used up all of their sugar,) and one large jar, too! More delicious goodness to be crammed somewhere in our teeny-tiny freezer. :)

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Even though we got back into town kind of late tonight, I managed to squeeze in a quick trip to the co-op . . .

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BULK:
local, organic "Gold & White" flour
local, organic, fair-trade coffee
organic, fair-trade, natural granulated sugar

CHEESE:
local pepper Jack

PACKAGED GROCERY:
canola oil
organic salsa x2 (on sale!)
organic coconut milk
Seventh Generation trash bags

PERSONAL CARE:
NatraCare pantiliners

PRODUCE:
local, organic broccoli
organic bananas
organic green grapes
organic lemon
organic ginger root
local, organic mixed baby greens
organic green onions
organic sweet potatoes
organic black mission figs
local, organic dino kale

REFRIGERATED GROCERY:
local butter
local, organic eggs

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Good news on the budgeting front -- this week's haul cost us a measly $80.38! Wow! I've really been choosing conventional products over organic products this month in an effort to stay on budget, and if we come in way under budget this month, I'll definitely switch back to mostly organic products next month.

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Meals for this week:
poached eggs, kale, and roasted potatoes
rice and beans and salad
curried carrot soup and hummus/pita
loaded baked sweet potatoes
pasta with homemade tomato sauce and side salad

unbelieveable

Dan and I are down visiting his parents again this weekend, and to attend the second-largest fair in Minnesota. Even though I had the privilege of eating local Indian food, deep-fried cheese curds, and a gigantic ice cream cone, saw great animals (and pet the goats!), and did tons of people-watching, the fair was not the highlight of today.

Dan and I went for a hike this morning, and stumbled upon a mountain of local blackberries. We picked as many as we could pile up on the atlas, (the only thing we could find in the car clean enough to hold everything,) and will be back tomorrow to see how many more we can find! Here's hoping we find enough to make a big batch of jam!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

the "welcome home" dinner that wasn't

This is what I made for dinner last night:
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Unfortunately, Dan didn't get to eat any of it last night -- they arrived home much later than expected, due to severe weather. Phooey! Oh well -- Dan described leftovers tonight as "f*cking amazing!"

Good enough? I guess!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

like a kid in a candy store . . .

Since Dan and his brother are still out of town, I had the privilege of picking up his brother's CSA last night! Ryan told me I could have "whatever I wanted . . . " and I don't think he realized how much that would be like letting a little kid loose in a candy store! Tee-hee.

Here's what I had to choose from:
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Carrots, "Purple Viking" potatoes, cucumbers, green beans, zucchini, summer squash, "Red Tropea" onions, tomatoes (larger varieties, as well as a carton of "Sun Golds,") a purple pepper, a couple of jalapenos, eggplant, basil, parsley, cilantro, and "Sun Jewel" melons. I'm a little sad I have to give most of this back! :(

I tried not to be too piggy. :) Since there were two eggplant, summer squash, and zucchini, and plenty of basil, I decided to make a simple veggie gratin with some leftover marinara and a little remaining cheese:
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I threw some quinoa in a saucepan for a quick, healthy side dish.

I then indulged in one of the "Sun Jewel" melons for dessert:
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A white-fleshed, crispy, sweet treat! Yum.

And then . . . I made a pie.
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Dan comes home today (finally!) and I have a big, tasty dinner planned for the two of us. Dinner will conclude with a slice of four-berry pie! All of the berries are local, half are hand-picked by yours truly, and even though I didn't use enough cornstarch (I can tell it's going to be a little runny,) this should be QUITE the treat. :)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

pizza + watermelon = mmmmmmm.

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Another pizza? So soon? Why yes, since I had a handfull of miscellaneous veggies to use up, a partial block of cheese leftover, and especially since I only enjoyed TWO SLICES from the last pizza I made! (Dan ate leftovers for dinner when I was out with friends. Drat!)

Artisan Bread crust again, topped with a homemade 5-minute tomato sauce (more on that in a moment,) mozzarella, parmesan, red onion, spinach, and kalamata olives. Another glorious oven achievement on my part, despite the heat. I've been cutting down on the cheese I use on pizzas lately, (you know, that pesky budget and all,) and I think I like a slightly less cheesy pie -- you can taste all of the other ingredients more, and the crust doesn't get as "well done" in order to brown the mountain of mozzarella! Everybody wins!

Oh, and that 5-minute tomato sauce? Why the heck have I been buying jarred sauce all these years??!?!?!! This sauce was amazing on pizza, and I can't wait to try it on some whole-wheat spirals tomorrow night for dinner. I found this recipe on a budgeting website on the internet, and edited it only minorly, reducing the amount of red pepper flakes. Here's my version:

Saute together:
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt

Add:
28 oz crushed tomatoes
zest of one lemon

Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat until the sauce thickens slightly.

And, I know what you're thinking . . . lemon? Yes, yes, yes! This is the most amazing, fantastic addition ever! Wahoo! So delicious.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

jam 'n' dinner

Here's the gorgeous, tart-sweet raspberry jam I made this afternoon:
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Same ol' recipe I always use: 4 cups fruit, 1 cup sugar, cook until it's thick, stirring occasionally. Yum!

And, my friend Brynn was kind enough to join me for dinner tonight -- I made fajitas:
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Farmer's Market whole wheat tortillas filled with marinated tempeh/peppers/onions, chopped tomatoes, lettuce, salsa, and homemade guacamole! We enjoyed amazingly delicious, local, organic yellow watermelon on the side, and finished off the banana ice cream for dessert.

I realize I've never posted my fajita marinade before, so here it is!

1 1/2 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp chipotle chili powder
zest and juice of one lime
2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic

Puree the lot until the garlic is well-chopped, and pour over a package of tempeh, tofu, or a batch of seitan, (sliced, obviously,) and plenty of sliced bell peppers and red onion. Stick in the fridge 2+ hours. I then always fry the protein first to get it nice and crispy and "GBD," then drain and toss in the veggies after removing the tempeh to paper towels to drain. It's a hit every time!

dinners, budgeting

We enjoyed homemade sushi and miso soup for dinner the other night:
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Sushi was our usual cucumber and avocado roll, but the miso soup turned out better than I've ever made it before! I made a simple broth from a big chunk of fresh ginger, some mushroom stems, and a couple pieces of konbu. After straining the broth I added miso (obviously,) sliced oyster mushroom caps, and a huge handfull of fresh spinach. Yum! Green onions would have been an awesome addition, too, but we were out. Alas.

I made the most gorgeous, delicious pizza for lunch yesterday:
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"Artisan Bread" half-whole-wheat crust, smothered in caramelized onions, mozzarella, parmesan, cremini mushrooms, and kalamata olives. We had a big, green salad on the side, too. Yum!

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Week two of grocery budgeting went well. First, the haul from the co-op looks a little weird due to Dan's trip to the Boundary Waters. This week:
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BULK:
local, organic soybeans
local slivered almonds
local walnuts
organic, whole-wheat pasta
trail mix
PACKAGED GROCERY:
organic creamy peanut butter
organic ginger tea
organic tomato paste
14 frut leather
12 Clif bars
2 Virgil's Root Beer
plastic wrap
unbleached parchment muffin liners
Seventh Generation laundry detergent
PRODUCE:
organic bananas
organic avocadoes
organic lemon
REFRIGERATED GROCERY:
5-grain tempeh
local, organic plain yogurt

This week's co-op spending ran us $96.93, which seemed high to me since we didn't get much produce, but I figure all of that shelf-stable processed stuff adds up quick! (We also stocked up on nuts for granola, which get expensive quickly.)

To round out the week's produce, I hit the Farmer's Market this morning:
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Berries, berries galore! I was in heaven. I spent a fortune ($53!) but got a ton of gorgeous, fresh, locally-grown produce. 10 cups of raspberries, (8 went immediately into jam, the other two into the freezer,) 2 pints of blackberries, 2 pints of blueberries, (both went straight into the freezer,) broccoli, honey, potatoes, and tomatoes.

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I thought I'd do a quick, mid-month grocery budgeting recap. We've spent $262.36 so far, which has included stocking up on some in-season produce and sale items at the co-op. We're exactly halfway through the month, and roughly halfway through our budget, so I feel like we're in good shape! Wahoo! Nice to know this wasn't quite as hard as I thought it was going to be.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Boundary Waters Cookies

Dan and his brother are headed up to the BWCA later this week to have some brotherly bonding time while camping, canoeing, and hiking. I promised them I'd send them a big batch of cookies (or at least a batch of big cookies) so they don't have to eat quite so many (nasty) Clif Bars!

BOUNDARY WATERS COOKIES
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yield: 18 gigantic cookies

Cream together:
1/2 cup margarine or butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup natural granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar

Stir in:
2 eggs
1/2 cup applesauce
1 tsp vanilla

Stir in:
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Stir in:
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup roughly chopped mixed nuts/seeds
1 cup dried fruit (chop up large pieces)
1/2 cup dried unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Drop cookies out by 1/4 cupfulls, and flatten slightly. Bake at 375 for about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before packing up in something as watertight as possible without taking up too much space!

I'm curious to see what they will think of these -- my goal was to make them a nice balance of carbs/fat/protein with as much nutrition packed in as possible, and containing enough variety of ingredients that they won't get sick of them after a couple of days. If I ever have to make something like this again, perhaps I'll toy with the idea of using peanut butter instead of margarine? Any other input on making these cookies bigger and better? (Well, maybe not bigger . . . !)

Thai curry!

I must have been craving spicy food when I made our meal plan for the week, since the last three meals I've made have been pretty spicy! I could have added a little extra sriracha to tonight's curry, but it was nice to enjoy a meal and still feel my lips at the end. "Vegetables in Thai Red Curry," with tofu added, from the September 2009 issue of Vegetarian Times . . .
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Easy-peasy, tasty curry -- probably the easiest and best curry I've made to date. The sauce only contained four ingredients (and kept well in the fridge for a few days,) and it would have been really easy to have chopped/sliced all of the veggies ahead of time and kept them in a container in the fridge for one speedy meal. PLUS, since neither Dan nor I really care for cauliflower, drenching it in spicy, sweet, salty, creamy curry sauce was an awesome way to "disguise" it!

This one's going in regular rotation, for sure.

Monday, August 10, 2009

PAD THAI!

"Brooklyn Pad Thai," from Vegan with a Vengeance:
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Holy tofu, was this amazing. Spicy, sweet, salty, tangy, fantastic! Everyone needs a little "junk food" now and then, wouldn't you agree?

Sunday, August 09, 2009

supper tonight!

Chili, that I put in the Crock Pot this morning, and corn muffins, which I baked last night!
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Talk about an easy supper! All I had to do was slice up half an avocado for us to share.

Dan had banana ice cream for dessert:
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And I had homemade butterscotch pudding:
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Even Oliver got to have a little ice cream, too!
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(Dan was kind enough to let him lick the bowl.)

prep = less stress!

It's "Uptown Art Fair" weekend, which to those of you in the area, you understand perfectly . . . those of you that aren't, imagine one of the largest art fairs in the country, packed into about 8 city blocks, with almost NO parking!

My place of employment is in the thick of all of the art fair madness, and it's been raining off and on, which means the store has been PACKED all weekend long. I'm already exhausted, and I have one more day to go. (Wish me luck!)

So, it's no surprise that I decided to stay home last night when Dan met up with some friends at a different outdoor festival to see a band play. I was more than a little maxed out on crowds!

What did I do? I cooked, of course. I made cornbread muffins, the base for some banana-nutmeg ice cream, butterscotch pudding, the curry sauce for one of our meals later this week, the sauce for tonight's pad thai dinner, started pizza crust for later this week, made a batch of almond milk, and layered coffee and water in the Toddy for this week's coffee.

Oh, and of course, I did all of those dishes, too! :)

I'm going to use my minutes this morning to my advangage, too -- I'm going to put the chili in the crock pot, and churn the ice cream. It might seem a little anal-retentive, but it's good to be prepared. I find having at least one small component of a meal ready to go when I get home from work makes for MUCH less stress!

How do you "deal" with meal-planning? What are some of your tricks?

Saturday, August 08, 2009

secret admirer identity discovered!

Upon dumping the contents of the "secret admirer" coffee shipping box into the recycling tonight, I discovered a gift note at the bottom of the box!!! Dan's and my "coffee fairy" is none other than our dear friends, Anna and Langdon.

Thanks, you guys! You're awesome, and I hope we can get to Mad-town soon to visit you!

secret admirer, adventures in budgeting, news

I think Dan and I may have a secret admirer. :)

Why? Because we received 1 1/2 pounds of very delicious looking coffee in the mail yesterday from "Women's Bean Project" in Denver, with absolutely no indication of who may have purchased it for us!

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Whoever you are . . . thank you!

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Now we begin our adventures in budgeting!

First up, I made sandwich bread:
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We haven't cut into these loaves yet (both are wrapped and in the freezer), but I did have a note on the recipe from the last time I made it, stating, "yummy!" Let's hope so! Loads of honey, Earth Balance, whole-wheat bread flour, and walnuts went into these babies . . . how could they not be yummy?

Second, Dan and I did our first round of cash-based, budget-friendly grocery shopping yesterday. We decided to hit the Asian market first, getting what we could that wasn't on a styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic, (their produce is CHEAP, but I just can't manage to be okay with that level of waste,) and came out with the following:
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The above load ran us $29 exactly. Wow! What a steal!
We purchased . . .
oyster mushrooms
green onions
cilantro
firm tofu
basil
limes
nori
brown rice
garlic
red onions
bean sprouts
lemongrass
pad thai noodles
low salt soy sauce
coconut milk
lemon
yellow onion
and a "fun beverage" for each of us as a treat! (Fun beverages not pictured.)

I've made peace with purchasing a lot of non-local, non-organic ingredients by thinking that at least we are supporting a local business!

After the Asian market, we hit the Wedge to fill in the gaps:
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We spent $72, after using our three quarterly member discounts and four "bring-your-own bag" discounts, and came home with . . .
BULK:
local, organic black beans
TVP
CHEESE:
local part-skim mozzarella
PACKAGED GROCERY:
12-pack Seventh Generation TP
2 bottles Seventh Generation dish soap (on sale!)
organic diced tomatoes (on sale!)
organic crushed tomatoes (on sale!)
PRODUCE:
local, organic cucumber
organic bananas
organic avocadoes
organic red grapes
local, organic watermelon
organic plums
local, organic green beans
local, organic cauliflower
organic eggplant
organic spinach
local, organic salad mix
local, organic cremini mushrooms
organic red bell peppers
jalapenos
local, organic roma tomatoes
REFRIGERATED GROCERY:
local, organic bulk eggs
local, organic heavy whipping cream

We came in at $101 spent this week, which is WELL under our rough budget of $125 per week. Holy moly! The thing that surprised me the most was that I was SURE we were going to spend more than planned this week, since we needed so much produce, and also chose to stock up on a few sale items. It's a relief to know one can work the budget and still not feel "deprived." :)

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This week's meal plan:
red curry with tofu and veggies, brown rice
vegetarian sushi, miso soup
pad thai
pizza, salad
chili, cornbread
and banana ice cream for treats!

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AND, last but not least, those of you who've read this whole long post get the best news of all -- I received a teaching job offer yesterday! WAHOOOOOOO! It's been a very long 3 1/2 months of working retail and going on countless interviews. I haven't officially accepted the job yet, (it's always good to think about things for a wee bit,) but I plan on acceping the job Monday morning, to start a week from Monday. Hooray!

Monday, August 03, 2009

my new favorite smoothie

It's like getting to have a milkshake for breakfast:
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Rough recipe: one frozen banana, sliced, two tablespoons of peanut butter, a small spoonful of ground flaxseed, a small spoonful of agave, and enough almond milk to make it a thick but drinkable consistency.

Milkshake texture and flavor or not, this is one nutritional powerhouse -- protein, fiber, calcium, iron, potassium, and omega-3s, to name a few! A happy breakfast, if you ask me.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

bluff country!

We're home from Dan's birthday camping weekend, and we had a great time! Before talking about the actual camping, let's talk about getting ready to go camping -- a lot of work, I must confess, but also, every time we go it gets a little bit easier. We keep all of our camping gear in a couple of tubs in our basement storage locker, so all we really need to do to pack is "grab-n-go," plus pack our clothes and food. I also keep a running list of gear we need saved on the computer, so it only needs to be slightly updated each time.

All of that prep work (including the mini lemon tarts I made for Dan's birthday treat) was wonderfully worth it! We had a great weekend hiking and relaxing at Great River Bluffs State Park, located in southeastern MN along the Mississippi River, in bluff country. What a beautiful park! It seemed as though every time we took a short path off into the woods, we were met with beautiful views! We were practically tripping over "scenic overlooks." We also spent a half-day picnicking and hiking at Beaver Creek Valley state park, and took a beautiful, scenic drive through rural southern Minnesota. We found tons of "wild edibles" on our hikes, including apples, blackberries, raspberries, and plums, but most were still underripe -- we did enjoy a very modest blackberry harvest at one point, but everything else we left on the branch or bush. I also photographed many gorgeous wildflowers, which I'm too tired to take the time to identify tonight, but I'm sure you'll forgive me. :)

I'm going to forego narration, and let the photos speak for themselves:

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