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Posts tagged ‘keeping commitments’

Chop, Chop, Chop. . . Does That Count as Cooking?

We all know the old adage, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!”  My question to you is, “When life hands you some luscious tomatoes, what do you do?”  My answer is to add them to a salad; create a terrific bacon, onion, tomato sandwich with a little parmesan cheese on sour dough bread; or create a nice little salsa.  Since I made a commitment in an earlier blog to be more mindful about my diet, about making healthier choices, I have been paying more attention to the foods I eat and even being more mindful of what is in season. Recently, I have gotten my hands on some great tomatoes!

 But the other day, someone assumed that my mindfulness about food meant I was “cooking” more.  I cannot quite say that!  You see, when I think of “cooks” I think of Julia Child or maybe Chef Ramsey—people who understand food and have a relationship with it.  People who can take ingredients and know the artistry of putting the right ones together to create something glorious. People who scald or smother food on purpose, who clarify butter or coddle eggs with confidence, or who think it is not a challenge to braise, flambé or deglaze anything.  I do not do those things!  Mainly, I chop.  I also open cans and boxes and mix things together.  Occasionally I fry up some bacon, even though it is not particularly healthy.  I bake chicken periodically and some casseroles—but those latter items are mainly chopping and mixing things too.

Don’t get me wrong:  Chopping produces some great results! Have a bunch of fruit, chop it up and make fruit salad.  Certainly the fruit alone is worthy.  There is nothing quite like a fresh juicy peach on a hot summer day or a good orange.  The aromas alone are divine. Watermelon stands alone too, except in one great local restaurant that oddly paired it with thinly sliced red onions and some French salad dressing—and it was excellent!  But granny smith apples, pineapple, and some strawberries make a nice fruit salad combination. Chopping and mixing!


I do not usually follow recipes.  For one thing, once I have saved them, like store coupons, they rarely stay in sight to be found when needed.  Then I often do not have in the one or two key ingredients needed to make the recipe work—and I am not going to the store just to buy something I will not use again for months and months.  If the recipe needs more than what I have in already, it rarely gets made.  I have stumbled upon two great coleslaw recipes online that fit the bill—and those recipes I enjoyed first at favorite restaurants:  North Woods Inn Red Cabbage Recipe and Wood Ranch Peanut Coleslaw Recipe.  Of course, I tinker with them a bit, usually adding more garlic than called for and onions and crushed red pepper even if not called for at all. 

There are two dishes I produce, however, with some expert chopping. One is a spicy vegetable soup, and the other is a pretty good salsa.  Both are good in that I usually have the basic ingredients in hand—or buy them in with the recipes in mind.  Both make a big batch and keep well—essential for someone who lives alone and must eat the creation day after day after day.  I could make smaller batches, but then I have half a pepper to use up, etc.  If I am going to chop, I make a full batch.  They might freeze okay, especially the soup, but then I need space in the freezer, containers, and a memory that says, “Hey there is something good hiding in the freezer.” 

Given the size of the batch I make, it is good these recipes are flexible, meaning they can be used in different ways or modified per serving.  The salsa is great with chips, of course, but can be added to salads, burritos, or scrambled eggs or even on top of baked potatoes. I have found that the soup lasts longer if I make it with just vegetables, rather than officially adding chicken or ham or something to the initial preparation. Then with each serving, I toss in something different:  some grated cheddar cheese, cut up chicken or sausage, a little parmesan cheese, or even a scrambled egg. Plus these recipes are both very forgiving—add something new or leave something out, and they hold up just fine.   

Spicy Vegetable Soup

Step one is to find a big pot.  The size of the pot determines the amount of soup you’ll make.  My standard size big pot holds roughly 6-8 cups of chopped vegetables and about 8 cups of liquid.  Basically, the vegetables fill up roughly half the pot and I add liquid to fill it up the rest of the way. As I eat through the finished product, I usually augment with additional broth as needed. 

Step Two is chop, chop, chop.  My typical batch includes the following ingredients:

  • 1 large sweet onion
  • 1 large red pepper—or yellow or orange, such pretty colors!
  • 4 medium jalapenos—I like it hot so I use all the seeds
  • 3 or 4 stalks of celery
  • 2 or 3 gloves of garlic—or lots of garlic powder
  • 1 ½ cups of frozen corn
  • (Any other chopped veggie you might want to add like carrots, squash or beans, even peas but then I would not eat it!) 
  • 1 can (14 ½ oz) diced tomatoes either with garlic or with jalapenos added–or chop up some fresh tomatoes
  • 1 can (14 ½ oz) seasoned black beans
  • (And/Or some rice or noodles if you like)
  • 2 boxes (32 oz) chicken broth (or veggie or beef as preferred)—great in that the boxes are re-sealable, so can be saved in the refrigerator if not all the liquid is needed; you can add water if more liquid is needed

Step 3 is let it do its thing.  Once you have stirred all the ingredients together well, let the pot simmer for at least 45 – 60 minutes on medium heat or lower.  Once fully cooled, store in the refrigerator. 

That’s it!  Easy and good.  The total in terms of amount and calories changes every time, but each time I try to calculate, it ends up about 75-100 calories per cup.  Figuring a meal-sized serving is maybe 2 cups maximum, and then add something (chicken, cheese, slice of toast), it’s a tasty meal for about 300 calories. I heat up each serving in its own bowl in the microwave, typically about 4-5 minutes for hot, hot, hot soup.  Soup is just meant to be served very hot. 

Pretty Good Salsa

Step One is to get some great tomatoes.  I tend to buy the ones sold on the vine.  Romas can be good too, but then you need a few more.  The best is to have a friend share some from her garden.  (Oh, wait, I guess some people grow their own like my aunt used to do—but not me!)

Step Two is chop, chop, chop. My typical batch includes the following ingredients placed in an appropriately sized bowl:

  • 4 good sized tomatoes
  • 1 large sweet onion
  • 4 medium jalapenos (or 2 large)—adjust as needed for your spicy quotient  or substitute with a green pepper
  • 1 large red pepper—or use yellow or orange, or 2 medium in some combination
  • 1 ½ cup frozen corn

Step Three is to prepare a little marinade in its own little bowl by mixing together the following:

  •  ¼ cup or less of olive oil—or some other preferred oil
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 T granulated sugar
  • 1 T garlic powder
  • 1 T crushed red pepper as needed for an extra kick

Step Four is to add the marinade mixture to the well mixed veggies and refrigerate for at least two hours before eating.

That’s it!  Easy and good.  The total in terms of amount and calories changes every time, but each time I try to calculate, it ends up about 7-8 cups of salsa, working out to about 135 calories per cup.  Of course, it is great straight with tortilla chips.  Or you can add it to other items, be creative.  Add maybe half of a sliced and diced avocado to about ½ c of salsa and you have a good topping for a grilled chicken breast.  The salsa keeps well too—just stir it up each time before serving. 

See what I mean about not necessarily being a cook?  But I do chop well.  And being mindful of my eating habits keeps me on track to meeting my goal from an earlier blog (#4 of 7 by 57). I see this entry as one of my promised updates.  In conclusion, I do have a couple questions for my readers: 

  1. Can you share a favorite recipe or two?  I would love the chance to expand my repertoire with recipes that would be saved here on my blog where I can always find them.
  2. When the world gives you great tomatoes, what do you do?

7 by 57

 Maybe it is just me, but it is often easier to keep a personal commitment, once I share it with others.  For example, if I have plans to go for a walk or maybe visit a museum but wake up to a rainy day or just feeling rather blah, if I am heading out on my own, it is pretty easy to postpone the activity.  But if I am meeting a friend for that same activity, I’ll be there!  Even in the rain.

I am writing today’s blog as a way to share some personal commitments with friends (and other readers), figuring this act will help me hold myself more accountable for the results.  Basically, I am cataloging a short-term bucket list. It is not full of the wild and fun things I want to accomplish eventually, like visiting Alaska or staying in a castle in Ireland.  These commitments are shorter in scope and more improvement or task-oriented.

I stole the idea from a fellow blogger, who I am sorry to say I cannot name or appropriately credit.  Basically, she reported on her success at completing 26 things she had planned to do by the time she was 26. She had not quite finished everything by her birthday, but she was close and was still working on the last few items.  I was impressed, when I got over thinking she was just a big show-off completing so much on her to-do list at such a young age. If I mimicked her, how was I supposed to complete 57 things by next year?  There was just not enough time—or maybe it was not enough energy on my part. 

Rather than give up and make no list at all, I decided I would truncate the list and give myself a manageable set of tasks to complete by my next birthday. I know that small steps and little successes over time help keep the momentum going. Besides—as I say whenever I contemplate never eating chocolate again—I am not a quitter!  If I am going to commit to these things, I will get them done.  Hence my list of 7 things to complete by the time I am 57. Starting tomorrow, I have 8 months to get the work done! 

Over the next 8 months, I am going to complete the following:

  1. Advertise My Educational Consulting Service:  My website is ready for serving as an Educational Consultant.  My goal is to get the word out, so I can secure some projects. I realize it is not the best time to be launching such a campaign: state budget woes, finals underway, and summer around the corner when many faculty are gone and spending slows to close-out the fiscal year. But I need to get started.  Make that:  I will get started, so when the time is right, I am a known option who can take on available jobs. 
  2. Sort My Old Photos:  This is a task that has been on my list for years and years.  For the longest time, I immediately turned trip or event photos into albums—and enjoyed the process.  But then other things took over and I still took trip or event photos, but they never made it to albums. Most of the time, copies were at least sent out to friends and family, especially the people pictures, but all the rest are in a closet.  It is one of those open-the-door-slowly-and-hope-things-don’t-fall-out kind of closets. You know, my very own Fibber McGee & Molly Closet. My goal is to methodically sort through all those photos and scan or create albums of the keepers and get rid of the rest. Somewhere in that closet, I am leaning off the side of a cliff as part of a trust exercise and several nephews are getting married.    
  3. Sort My Parent’s Photos:  Last summer my parents moved into an Assisted Living Center. That move meant that all their stuff needed to be saved, stored or given to family members. The old photos—back to their childhood as well as all the years since then—were saved.  Most are in my apartment at this point.  My goal is to figure out what all is there, what can be thrown, and what needs to be saved with sisters or others as part of family history.  The main core of albums and family favorites have been saved, so Mom and Dad can reminisce as they choose.  I am talking about all the other stuff, the second shots, the duplicates, the missed shots—they are all here! Just how many photos of my old dog need to be saved? No matter how terrific he was.
  4. Eat Healthier:  This is an ongoing goal.  I am heavy and need to lose weight, but dieting does not really work for me.  Instead, I need to be more mindful of what I eat and better at making healthy decisions. I have started by reducing the number of trips to fast-food places each week.  My goal includes making certain I have healthy, easy options in the house to turn to.  I have been having some success with this goal, but need to keep it paramount in my priorities. Consistency and moderation are the keys.
  5. Exercise More:  This too is an ongoing goal.  I am active everyday, but since my many surgeries over the last several years, my flexibility and stamina have diminished.  My day-to-day routines are not helping in those specific areas.  I plan to take deliberate action to build those specific skills. Years ago, yoga was a daily routine that served me well, as was meditation, so those activities will be my starting points.
  6. Read. More. Deliberately.  I read quite a bit.  For example, I am exploring liminal spaces by reading such works as Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces and Sue Monk Kidd’s When the Heart Waits. I enjoyed The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo trilogy on the advice of a friend. Such extemporaneous reads will always happen, thank goodness. But there are many, many books stacked about my apartment on my I-will-get-to-reading-this-later list.  It is these books that I need to be more deliberate about:  read something from the list each month, make decisions about what items need not be on the list, or maybe stop adding to that leaning tower of books without taking some off the top. Something.  
  7. Recreate Nature Publications.  Years ago, I used my nature photography to make nature photo cards and self-published booklets that combined my essays with my photos on all things nature-oriented. They were hand-created and sold at craft fairs.  I had fun creating them back then.  I still have the prototypes, but they are not saved on a computer.  I have more nature photos to share and have written more musings about nature that could be included in these booklets. I keep meaning to create them again, this time on the computer. Then I can decide if publishing a book is worth exploring.  One step at a time. At the very least, they could become part of my nature-oriented blog entries.

 Wish me luck! 

Some of these items have been on my to-do list for years—and I just never get to them.  Now that I have gone public, maybe I will be more driven to meet these commitments to myself.  I will report back periodically—but you can ask me about them at any time.  Rather like a friend who would call, wondering, “Where were you?  We were going to meet for lunch!”  Maybe in January, I’ll be ready to make another list:  8 by 58.  If you have any advice on how I can best meet these goals—or want to share your own goals—just leave a comment. I would love to hear from you

             “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”    Oprah

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