Sneaky cat

cat

*pin drop*

It’s been quiet around here. Since editing school began, I’ve had less time and less oomph for blogging. I’m still cooking and writing, as always, but I’ve been saving a lot of my writing for my writer’s critique group and my cooking for meals that I can throw together relatively quickly. It bothers me a bit–this neglect of my little Internet turf here–but I calm myself with the knowing that I’ll be back here in good time.

Last week, during a bus ride to Seattle, I received a notice that a very small story of mine was accepted for publication at Dogzplot, a literary journal. I am a big admirer of Dogzplot and the smart, offbeat writing that I often read there. I hope you check out my piece, “Nightly Habits,” and the other great stories, on Dogzplot’s website.

White Bean Shepherd’s Pie

pie

Yesterday I gave myself a mission. I had a fresh batch of white beans at my disposal, and a whole lot of French lentils, and by the end of the day, I would make a marriage of the two. That was my dinner destiny. At the same time, I was feeling strangely nostalgic for Alanis Morissette, so I turned up the “Jagged Little Pill” cd and went to work, belting out every word of “You Outta Know.”

The result was a vegetarian white bean shepherd’s pie. I felt very clever replacing the mashed potato topping with mashed white beans. The beans easily blended into a creamy, potato-like consistency, and the flavor, although distinctly bean-y, paired well with the savory, smoky taste of the lentil filling. The spinach sprinkled throughout the lentils offered a nice color contrast (and extra nutrition) against the other ingredients, which was needed. I would definitely consider bringing this dish as a hearty vegetarian addition to a Thanksgiving buffet or potluck spread.

So, ready for this shepherd’s pie? If you’re still not sure, just take Alanis’ advice: “Swallow it down (what a jagged little pill)…it feels so good (swimming in your stomach)…”

pie2

Vegetarian White Bean Shepherd’s Pie

Serves 6

Ingredients:

White Bean Layer

dry great northern beans — 2 cups (or 4 cups cooked)

apple cider vinegar — 1/2 tsp

salt — 1/4 tsp

pepper — 1/4 tsp

Lentil Filling

ghee — 1 tbsp (or butter or oil)

french lentils — 1 1/2 cup (or brown)

veggie broth — 3 cups

bay leaf — 1

onion — 1

garlic cloves — 3

thyme — 1 tsp

sage — 1 tsp

smoked paprika — 1 tsp

spinach — 2 cups chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Steps:

1. Soak the beans overnight and cook the next day. Optional: add 1 tbsp of salt to the pot and let the beans soak in the salty water for at least 15 minutes. Drain and run them under the water to wash out excess salt. Store in the fridge until you use them.

2. Turn oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9” x 11” dish.

3. Add the beans to a food processor with the salt, pepper, and apple cider vinegar. Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired.

4. Pour the lentils into a pot, and add the broth and the bay leaf. Turn the heat to medium-high and when the lentils start to boil, lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook 30 minutes or until they are soft but not mushy. You might have to add water so that the lentils don’t dry out. Drain lentils and put them back in the pot. Take the bay leaf out.

5. Chop up the onion and saute with garlic at medium heat. Add thyme, sage, and smoked paprika and saute for a few more minutes. Add the chopped spinach and stir to combine the ingredients until the spinach is slightly wilted.

6. Add the veggies to the lentils and stir to combine. Shake salt and pepper into the pot to your desired taste. I probably added another ¼ tsp salt.

7. Spread the lentil-veggie mix evenly into the greased baking dish. Smear the mashed white beans on the surface until the lentils are totally covered.

8. Bake the dish for 20 minutes or until heated thoroughly. Enjoy!

Lessons from overnight oats

oats

Do you dream of waking up to a breakfast that is healthy, delicious, satiating and already prepared for you?

I used to have this dream too. Then my husband caught on and began serving me breakfast in bed… no, just kidding. I learned how to make overnight oats, and my mornings got a lot simpler. Relaxing. Energizing. By spending just 10 minutes on prep the night before, I can have breakfast ready to go for me the next day without any further work. Yes, you too can experience the time-saving, energy-boosting benefits of overnight oats!

I first came across the concept of overnight oats from the blog Oh She Glows, a wonderful plant-based food blog that I’ve found to be an indispensable resource and inspiration for my own cooking. I started out following her recipe to a T (it’s so yummy!), and eventually, ventured on to making my own creations.

Currently, my morning concoction consists of one smashed banana, 1 tbsp of chia seeds, 1 tbsp of hemp protein powder, 1/4 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup nut milk, 1 tbsp peanut butter, and a generous dash of cinnamon. Occasionally, I’ll blend a date with my milk to add extra sweetener. I add all of these ingredients to a jar, mix, top with a lid, and stick in my fridge overnight. And that’s it! In the morning I pull the jar out of the fridge to allow it to warm up a bit while I prepare a pot of tea.

I think the best thing about overnight oats is that you can customize your jar according to your own tastes, dietary needs, and pantry. I haven’t even mentioned the add-ins of granola, yogurt, seeds, avocado, dried fruit, muesli… the possibilities are really endless. The second best thing? It takes minimal work, and it’s ready for you when you roll out of bed. If you’re lucky, you can even convince your partner/housemate/family to jump on the bandwagon, making evening prep work an overnight oats party.

Here are some overnight oats recipes that I’m eager to try:

Overnight Oats with Chocolate and Coconut from In My Bowl — On the sweet side, but the list of ingredients make me salivate, and the end result looks divine

Overnight Oats with golden macadamia milk and quinoa flakes from Tastyasheck — Macadamia milk?! I can’t wait to make this nut milk

Matcha overnight oats with muddled berries from Nurturing Kitchen — I love the taste and color of matcha, so I have high hopes for this one

Singing out

guitar“I hear it’s music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?”

–Robert Wadsworth Lowry

Some of you know that I sing in the Eugene Peace Choir. I joined in September, and it has quickly become one of my favorite things. Every Monday, for two hours, I feel as I do with a pen and paper in my hand: I’m playing. But this play is not the reckless, mindless type. It is disciplined. It follows rhythm and patterns. It challenges me to listen inwardly, to pay attention to what the other voices in the room are doing. If I haven’t already taken the time in the day to really listen to my breath, then I do so when I sing. I straighten my back, hold my body up with the certain belief that my body is capable and worthy of making music. And on top of it all, I have fun. I delight in the words of the songs, in meeting the right note, in seeing the progress that the group makes together week after week.

Since I began choir, some of my friends have said to me, “I didn’t know you sing!” That’s fair enough. They wouldn’t know because I’ve largely kept this interest to myself. The last time I sang in front of people was in middle school choir. Since then, I’ve been a closeted singer (a shower/car singer). I acted in plays in high school, but never auditioned for the musicals. I watched my musical friends sing in choirs, bands, and living rooms and whisper sang (“swispered”?) beneath their voices. My husband, knowing how much I love to sing, suggested that we sing a song for our wedding day, and just the idea of it made me want to jump into the Hood Canal and float out into oblivion.

So why the fear? I’m still figuring it out, but I suspect it was because singing is a vulnerable act, one that subjects the singer to possible judgement and criticism. Not only did I fear this criticism, but I truly believe that I didn’t feel confident enough in my own singing voice to embrace it and share it regardless of what people might think of it. I wasn’t going to learn how to sing in front of people by thinking something like, “I hope they like what they hear” or even “Who cares what they think!” The key for me was learning how to love my voice–and, ultimately, myself–no matter how it sounded or who was listening. Then I could sing with confidence in front of an audience.

I learned to love my voice by joining a choir. I’ve rediscovered the joy I felt as a teenager singing in choir, but this time I don’t try to shrink myself and melt into the group. No one ever benefits from trying to make themself small, least of all yourself. I’ve grown so much in my confidence that I’m even singing with another member of the choir outside of choir. We’ve been meeting weekly since November, practicing songs that we will eventually perform at various open mics. When performance time comes, I know I will be nervous. I might even think up an excuse not to do it. But I will remember to think about the journey, the courageous steps I’ve taken that have brought me to that place. Don’t shrink, stand tall, love your voice. Sing.

A gust of wintery wind

snowmanI’m so pleased to share that a story of mine has been published by Vector Magazine. Their winter issue came out today, and you can find my piece “Obligatory Day,” here.

The editors at Vector involve their contributors in their editorial process which I found to be so insightful and valuable. I’m grateful to them for giving my quirky little piece of fiction a chance to be seen!

Have yourself a merry bowl of red beans

redbeansEvery Christmas Eve my dad’s side of the family gets together for Wigilia, Christmas Eve Polish vigil dinner. Just to give you a visual, it’s about 40-50 people across several generations. Before the dinner, an elderly family member offers a blessing, and each person receives a thin wafer, “oplatek.” After the blessing, people exchange good wishes with one another and give and receive pieces of each other’s oplatek. Then we feast! The buffet represents various casseroles, salads, fish, and plenty of pierogi and kapusta soup, all homemade. Although the significance of this event is no longer religious for me, I love reconnecting with family members and taking pause to appreciate one another during this time.

Due to logistics, Marcus and I are spending this Christmas Eve in Eugene, just the two of us. But we’re not feeling blue. We’re putting a Southern spin on Wigilia over here by making red beans and rice. It’s not supposed to be a new tradition, but who knows, maybe it’s the beginning of one. Marcus and I have been sharing bowls of red beans ever since we met in New Orleans, and we make it at least a couple times a month. It’s such a comforting, warming meal. Here’s how I like to make it. Marcus says it makes me a “certified Cajun woman,” which means something coming from a Cajun man.

Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
small kidney beans – 2 cups dry (makes 5 cups cooked)
green bell peppers – 2
celery – 2 stalks
yellow onion – 1 large
cajun seasoning –  1 tbsp (Tony’s or Slap Ya Mama or make your own!)
garlic – 2 cloves
bay leaf – 1
oil or ghee – 1 tbsp
veggie broth – 4 cups
tabasco sauce – 1 tsp
salt – ½ tsp

Steps:
1. Soak the beans overnight and cook the next day. Optional: add 1 tbsp of salt to the pot and let the beans soak the salt in for at least 15 minutes. Drain and run under the water to wash out excess salt. Store in the fridge until later.
2. Chop the onions, celery, and the bell peppers. Mince the garlic.
3. Melt oil or ghee in a pot over medium heat until it shimmers, then add the veggies and garlic, turn heat to medium-low and cook for about ten minutes or until onions are translucent.
4. Add the veggie broth, the bay leaf, the beans, and the Cajun seasoning. Cover the pot and bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes.
5. Add tabasco sauce and the salt. Take out bay leaf. With a potato masher, carefully mash the beans so that they get a creamy consistency.
6. Serve over rice and eat!

These beans have a moderate spice level. Keep the tabasco sauce on hand for pouring extra in your bowl.