This painting was one of the first antique pieces I bought after purchasing my first home. I found it in an antique store in Manhattan Beach, CA when I still lived there. I fell in love with it immediately. It’s a painting of El Greco, after a self-portrait of his. On the back is marked “Musee de Seville”. I suspect it was done by an art student, in part because when you look at it a certain way, it’s obvious there is at least one other painting lurking under El Greco’s surface (if you look closely, you can see the faint outline here of what looks like an upside down figure, so the canvas was probably turned), and art students are well-known for reusing their canvases.
As I’ve gotten older and come to see more of my possessions as just “stuff”, El Greco remains one of the very few things that I treasure. Something about the darkness of it, the fact that you can’t see his clothes but only his brooding face and those pale, elegant hands, speaks to me. I continue to be intrigued by what’s under the surface. It hangs in my kitchen, and I never stop feeling a little rush of pure appreciation when I look at it.
And art is so easy to come by. It’s everywhere you look; in nature, in books and magazines, in antique stores and thrift shops. Our home is filled with artwork we’ve picked up for less than $30 at local auctions and estate sales, and every single piece brings me enjoyment every single day (although admittedly, none so much as my beloved El Greco). Each one comes with a story of how we acquired it and each one moves me in a different way. I like to think we’ve given them a good home. In return, they’ve brought me hours upon hours of enjoyment.
What about you? What are the little things in your home – collected or bought – that bring you simple enjoyment? Share here or using the #littlethings on Twitter!
Last week I gave you guys a list of pantry staples for vegetarians. Of course, after I posted it I thought of a million little things that I like to have in the pantry, but I forced myself not to edit the post because the idea of a “staple” is that it’s something you really must have, not an “extra.”
In that blog post, I promised you a list of quick, easy meals you can make with said staples, as well as the recipe for my own quick vegetable soup. But after writing down some of my favorite throw-together meals, I decided to hold off on the soup recipe. I’ll give it to you next week instead because there’s already a lot to work with here.
Here I go! Vegetarian meals you can make with pantry staples;
Saute veggies with olive oil and garlic, toss with pasta, and throw in some Parmesan (or not)
Toss pasta with canned or fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil
Think outside the traditionally-Italian pasta dish by mixing up the ingredients and spices, i.e. toss penne with corn, black beans and tomatoes and toss with olive oil, chili powder, and cumin for a Mexican-based dish. Toss linguini with peanut butter and a little chili oil or red pepper flakes for an Asian or Thai flavor (you can also use a little sesame or peanut oil).
Brown rice is overlooked as a base for meals, but it can be used much the same as pasta. In the colder months, you can saute it in olive oil or butter and then add stuff to it in the water for a kind of homemade Rice-a-Roni/healthier risotto. This works great with a little vegetable based Better Than Bouillon added to the water and some spices (use something that works with your ingredients, as with the pasta above) or even something like coconut milk, which will give it a more exotic flavor (I toss rice or quinoa cooked with coconut milk with pineapple and cilantro and it’s amazing).
In the hot summer months, cold rice can be tossed with virtually anything. Add flavor with rice vinegars, fruit-based vinegars, flavored olive oils, and spices or fresh herbs. In vegetarian cooking, especially, herbs and spices are king. A rice-based dish with curry powder will taste completely different than one with oregano or one with chili powder. Vary other ingredients accordingly.
Quinoa is a miracle ingredient for vegetarians. Packed with fiber and high in protein, you can use it almost interchangeably with rice. Use the above ideas with quinoa to mix up the texture and vitamin/mineral content of your meals or just to boost your intake of protein.
Eggs are another overlooked ingredient. You can make a quick easy frittata with the vegetables you have in your refrigerator. Just saute them a bit and pour beaten egg over the mixture in the pan. Use a rubber spatula to separate the egg from the edge of the pan every couple of minutes until the eggs mixture is almost set in the center. Sprinkle with cheese (any kind will do, goat cheese is a favorite in our house) and put under the broiler for a few minutes and voila! Perfect with a salad and it takes about 20 minutes to make. You can also add chunks of wheat bread to the veggie saute to boost the fiber content (this is a good way to use up the ends of a loaf of bread). As with the other dishes, vary ingredients and herbs and spices to mix up the flavor. A Mexican-based frittata is great with some warmed tortillas and a nice salad. Frittatas are a great way to use up odds and ends at the end of the week (or beginning of a new one). Almost anything works!
And speaking of tortillas, they come in handy! You can use the big ones as wrap holders by spreading them with hummus and layering anything and everything inside. Use goat cheese or feta with lettuce, olives, tomato, and pepperoncini for a Greek vibe. Mozzarella, basil, and roasted red peppers drizzled with a little olive oil are great if you want an Italian sandwich fix. And of course, they can still be used for burritos and tacos. I love the burritos from Chipotle Grill, but making them at home is so quick and easy, especially with leftover brown rice and canned black beans (I saute mine with minced onions). Slice up some avocado and/or make guacamole, add salsa, and you’re good to go. Small tortillas can be used for vegetarian tacos. It’s a little known secret that virtually anything seasoned with chili powder and cumin and placed in a taco shell will send “taco” messages to the brain. For example, a mixture of sauteed chopped zucchini, corn, and black beans with said seasonings are DELICIOUS as a taco. Even my teens don’t miss the meat AT ALL.
And as with frittatas, wraps are a good way to use leftovers. One night’s leftover rice dish can seem entirely different wrapped in a tortilla with hummus, salad dressing, salsa, etc.
Bread can be used to make panini or cold sandwiches. I make a great vegan sub with avocado, shredded lettuce, red onion, tomato, olives, pepperoncini, oil and vinegar and salt and pepper. We started out making them with cheese to replace meat, but honestly, I don’t miss the cheese with the avocado in there. Think outside the box with grilled sandwiches. Grilled cheese can be modified to include any kind of cheese and fruit like pears and apples, etc. Use mozzarella and layer with roasted red pepper and basil for an Italian panini or spread sun-dried tomato paste (not in staples but readily available) on bread and layer with thinly sliced veggies for a cold sandwich.
Soups are my go-to meal in the winter. I make at least one giant pot of soup every week and sometimes two or three. It makes for a comforting snack and is a cheap, nutritious between-meal boost for my busy, active teenagers. And you can make anything with vegetable based Better Than Bouillon. Saute veggies for vegetable soup. Throw in some leftover rice, corn, black beans, and tomatoes with chili peppers (or Rotel) and add some lime, chili powder, and cumin for a Mexican soup. Saute potatoes with leek and puree with beans to make my famous Potato Leek soup. Add elbow macaroni, two kinds of bean, canned tomatoes, and chopped fresh parsley for a vegetarian pasta fagioli.Serve with bread and/or a salad for a meal and store the rest in the refrigerator for snacks.
In the summer, salads take over for soup. We throw everything in them and vary the kind of vinegar for different flavors.You can make salads without lettuce, using rice or quinoa ad/or canned beans as the basis for a hot-weather salad that’s super nutritious AND tasty. No need to be fancy! Just throw in some other ingredients and toss with olive oil and/or flavored or rice vinegar.
There are tons of ways to mix up basic vegetarian staples for easy meals. Most of the meals above can be made in thirty minute or less. The soups, which take more like 45 minutes, allow for some simmer time, so you can do other things while its cooking. And one of the unexpected bonuses of vegetarian meals is that I don’t feel like I have to make side dishes. In the past, I’d have to add a grain and vegetable to meat to feel like my family was getting a well-rounded meal. But with vegetarian dishes, the meal itself is generally packed with nutrition, rendering side dishes almost obsolete. Nutrition-packed vegetarian dishes are also surprisingly filling. Because your body is getting what it needs in terms of vitamins and minerals – and because vegetarian meals are often packed with fiber – everyone needs a lot less food to feel satisfied. It’s an amazing phenomena!
The biggest thing it to have staples in your pantry and get cooking. It’s not hard once you’ve logged some time in the kitchen. Make it a goal to make one or two new recipes a week (Pinterest and Epicurious are my favorite sources for new recipes), and before you know it, you’ll find that being in the kitchen is second-nature. Then you’ll begin to get your own ideas, i.e. “You know what would probably be good? THIS with THAT!” Enlist the help of your spouse and kids, too. It is good for kids to learn to prepare healthful meals fro themselves, and time spent in the kitchen totally counts as quality time. At a loss for what to make at the last minute? Ask THEM to look in the pantry and refrigerator and see what they can come up with.
You might be surprised – in a GOOD way.
Plus, you can use the money save not eating out to do something fun!
This week’s Little Thing has been one of my favorites for years. Just the thing to give you that last little push into dreamland (after the Bedtime Tea lotion, of course!), this pillow mist from Bath and Body Works uses aromatherapy to deliver a light but heady dose of eucalyptus and spearmint straight to your sheets.
B&BW makes pillow mist in several scents, including Lavender Vanilla, but this is by far my favorite. Clean and calming, it’s just the thing to tell your brain, “Nighty-night, Brain…” without being overwhelming.
Because then it would be, “Night, night, Brain!!!”
And know one has time for that at midnight. Am I right?
Best of all, this bottle is only $10 and lasts 6-12 months, even the way I use it, which is, well… liberally. Every night when I sink into my pillow, I feel like, “Ahhhhhh….”
And I call that a very good investment.
What about you? What are your favorite bedtime little things?
So in lieu of a recipe this week, I thought I’d give you some vegetarian pantry staples. Odds are, if you have most of these things in your pantry or refrigerator, you can make something healthy and vegetarian with a moment’s notice.
Bonus; it’s MUCH cheaper to eat vegetarian, even allowing for organic produce and other more expensive type items, which you don’t HAVE to buy.
This may seem like a lot, but once you’re stocked, you just have to replace an item here and there as you use it. Every week I might have to replace 3 to 5 non-perishables (tamari, vinegar, olive oil, etc.). Most of our grocery cart is fruit, veggies, and the rare dairy product or almond milk. Our family of five (Rebekah is away at college but I still supplement her dorm food a bit) spends $150-$200/week on groceries, and that includes paper products and almost entirely organic produce (and even organic rice, canned tomatoes, etc.). If you’d like to start making changes but want to avoid a big, giant stock up, just add a couple of these items to your regular list each week.
Here’s what I recommend;
Vinegars (I keep balsamic, red wine, apple cider, white wine, and raspberry)
Canned chickpeas (I also keep black beans, pintos, kidneys, and white beans as well as dried beans, although they take longer to cook)
Peanut butter and/or tahini
Jarred tomato sauce
Canned diced or whole tomatoes
Better Than Bouillon vegetable broth paste (in soup/broth section of store or natural foods section for organic)
Pasta and/or rice noodles
Goat cheese and/or feta cheese
Nuts and/or seeds (the ones we use most are sunflower and pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and peanuts)
Tamari (natural soy sauce – don’t buy so called soy sauce. It’s just corn syrup) and Sriracha sauce
Tortillas (corn or flour)
Herbs and spices (my go-tos are cayenne, red pepper flakes, paprika, oregano, basil, tarragon, thyme, chili powder, and cumin)
Staple fruits and veggies (ours are apples, bananas, oranges, tomatoes, mixed greens, avocado, eggplant, zucchini, carrots, celery, leeks, onion, garlic)
With these things you can make multiple (and amazing!) vegetarian soups, pastas, rice and quinoa-based dishes, wraps/burritos/tacos, main course salads, etc. Next week I’ll post some of my favorite quick vegetarian dinners, including a recipe for my much-loved, super fast and easy vegetable soup.
You guys… I’m clinging to my Sunday Experiment by a thread.
After working so hard last week (SO HARD) to meet a deadline, I told myself I’d take the whole weekend off. Problem was, I was running on 2 hours sleep from Thursday night and it totally jacked me up. I was in this weird manic, exhausted state where the words of the project I’d finished kept roiling around my head, even when I tried to sleep.
And it lasted all. weekend. long.
Then on Sunday I had another project I had to finish, plus I had to go to town to run an errand (something I normally would have done in advance to protect my Sunday off, but didn’t get to do because of the deadline).
So basically, I had this weird, exhausted, frustrating, sort-of day off that I didn’t fully enjoy.
Part of the problem, I think, is that I was struggling with mindfulness (my focus for February). I couldn’t seem to compartmentalize the things I’d finished and the things I needed to do from the time I needed to relax.
The other part is that I abandoned a lot of the things I’d been prioritizing to take care of myself. I should know by now that the 30 minutes I gain is totally offset by the diminished productivity I feel when I’m not taking care of me.
But I’m NOT giving up. I still have a lot of balls in the air, but I’m really going to work on getting back on track this week, starting with taking care of myself with yoga and meditation, both of which went out the window during last week’s crunch.
And I WILL get my Sunday off this weekend!
How are you guys doing? Is anyone still with me in trying to take one full day a week away from work and social media?
Before we became vegetarian, Beef Stroganoff was one of my very favorite dishes. Sure, I knew it was loaded with fat and calories, but there was just something about it’s creamy goodness… every now and then, it was worth the splurge.
For a long time, I didn’t even think about trying to recreate it, probably because anything that leads with the word “beef” can seem like a no-brainer for vegetarians.But I have to say, I really regret not trying to modify this sooner. It’s AH-Mazing!
And super easy!
Okay, still not great in terms of fat (although I’m going to try subbing Greek yogurt for the sour cream next time), but no meat and so delicious, none of us missed the beef. I made it for the kids for Valentine’s Day last week, served it with green beans sauteed in butter, garlic, and lemon, and topped it all off with my famous No Red Velvet Cake.
Best. Valentine’s. Dinner. Ever.
After mentioning it on Facebook, a bunch of you clamored for the recipe, so here tis! Hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
I’d say this serves 6-8 people. All measurement accomodate a standard size bag of egg noddles (12 oz).
4 tbsp. butter
1 medium-large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
32 oz. mushrooms (I used Baby Bella but you can use whatever you want), quartered (halved if they’re small)
16 oz, sour cream
4 tbsp flour
2 cups water
4 tsp. Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Paste
12 oz cooked egg noodles
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Saute onion, mushrooms, and garlic until onion is translucent.
In the meantime, combine sour cream, flour, water, and vegetable paste in a medium bowl.
Once onions are translucent and mushrooms are cooked but still firm, add flour mixture to pan. Stir until combined.
Let simmer until sauce begins thickens.
Stir in parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve over egg noodles and bon appetit!
After doing the math on a project due this week and realizing there was no way I could finish it if I didn’t work on Sunday, I had to accept the fact that there was no way I was going to get my day off.
I thought about taking it anyway and just dealing with the consequences, but since said consequences might be a project well past its due date, my conscience wouldn’t let me go that route.
At the same time, I didn’t want to blow it off completely. Since taking one day off a week, I can feel myself getting edgy and stressed as I approach the six day mark. I NEED that time, not only to recharge but also to work my best the rest of the week.
So I decided to compromise. I set my normal Sunday Experiment Away Message on email and didn’t check it (except for one email I owed someone) or Facebook/Twitter all day. Then I tried to focus on February’s goal of mindfulness/compartmentalization by really enjoying my morning coffee and the work breaks I took to have lunch with Rebekah, run to the store, and watch a movie with ice cream later that night. In between, I really focused on work.
And while I missed the total break (and I can already tell I’m going to feel it later in the week), I got some work done and the respite from email and social networking was nice. It also reminded me how much more efficiently I work without the distraction of the internet.
Hello, Mac Freedom!
I guess there are times in life when you really CAN’T take the break you need. But working it in most of the time IS a buffer against those times you can’t, and it’s still possible to compromise – even if it’s with yourself. I’m hoping to finish this project by Thursday and may just reward myself by taking a long weekend (gasp!) before starting my next big one.
What about you? Anybody still doing the Sunday Experiment with me? How’s it going?
Those of you who follow me online have probably figured out that I love to cook. What you probably don’t know is that this was not a forgone conclusion. My mom was a single mother and often worked two jobs to support me. She didn’t have the time or the inclination to cook regularly, so it wasn’t something I learned at her knee.
My grandmother, however, loved to bake. Famous for her boysenberry pie, homemade candy (divinity to die for!), and endless jars of jam, it seemed she was always cooking up something.
When I first got my own place I called her all the time for cooking and baking tips and advice. She spent hours with me on the phone talking me through things and even sent me her recipes, copied in her own hand. Now that she has passed on I treasure them even more.
Maybe it was the feeling of comfort and home and security I felt while in my grandmother’s house — smelling pie crust browning, sugar dissolving on the stove, fruit turning into jam — that turned me into someone who loves to cook. Maybe it’s in the genes (Rebekah loves it, too). Whatever the reason, I love cooking great meals for people I love.
But as much as I enjoy cooking an awesome meal, there’s something singularly soothing about baking. I don’t know if it’s the warmth of the kitchen as the oven heats up or the smell of all that sugary goodness or the almost subconscious concentration required to measure and spoon, but baking is like therapy for me.
In our house, we make everything from scratch. This way I know what’s going into the finished product and we can spend time together while we bake. And let’s be honest, homemade just tastes BETTER. The best part is, anyone can do it anytime. As long as you have pantry staples (mine are flour, sugar, cocoa, chocolate chips, vegetable oil, butter, eggs, and vanilla), you can make almost anything. Craving ooey-gooey brownies? Warm-from-the-oven cookies? A gorgeous, old-fashioned layer cake?
You can probably make them right now!
All reasons why homemade treats are this week’s Little Thing. Like this AH-mazing Red Velvet Cake (minus the red, since we don’t do dye) with cream cheese frosting and toasted walnuts that I made today for my four favorite Valentines. I whipped it up in no time flat while drinking coffee and catching up on email this morning.
Hope you have a week full of wonderful Little Things! And feel free to share your favorites here or on Twitter using #littlethings.
This week’s vegetarian recipe is my very own. I had another Potato Leek Soup recipe that I used before we stopped eating meat, and while that one didn’t have meat, it did have a lot of cream and butter and absolutely no high-quality protein.
This one has very little animal product (only a little Greek yogurt, which you cam omit to make the recipe vegan) and the addition of white beans gives it some much needed protein and fiber. Because everything is blended together, you won’t even know the beans are there (and trust me, neither will your kids – mine didn’t until I told them) and they add nice flavor while also thickening the soup.
I make a giant pot of homemade soup every Monday in the winter and we munch on it all week. This is a staple. Cheap, easy, and nutritious, it’s a great way to add a little warmth to a winter night. I serve it with an apple salad – my kids favorite – and we’re good to go.
This recipe make a ginormous pot of soup. I’d say it probably serves 10-12. You can halve it if you’re not hardcore like us and you just can’t handle all that soup.
You will need;
2 tablespoons olive or grape seed oil (or you can use canola)
3-4 leeks, sliced
2-4 garlic cloves (depending on how much you like garlic), minced
2-3 good size potatoes (white, russet, eastern – doesn’t matter!), chopped
10 cups of water
8 teaspoons of veggie broth paste (you can substitute 10 cups of ready-made vegetable broth if you want, but the pa
ste is amazing and much cheaper in the long run, plus there’s less waste/packaging)
2 small or one large can white beans (any kind is fine, although I usually use Great Northern)
1 cup Greek yogurt (omit to make vegan)
2 tablespoons tarragon, salt & pepper to taste
Halve and slice white and light green part of leeks. Saute with olive oil and a couple tablespoons of water until leeks are translucent.
Add garlic and cook for one more minute. Then add potatoes.
Cook for a couple of minutes and then add all the water and the broth paste. Bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are soft (this shouldn’t take more than10-15 minutes since the potatoes are cut somewhat small).
Add beans and yogurt (if using).
Remove from heat.
Using an immersion blender or food processor, blend until mostly smooth. You can also use a potato masher and do it by hand, although the soup won’t be as smooth (it’ll still taste good, though!).
Turn heat on simmer and add tarragon and salt and pepper to taste.
I serve with a simple apple salad – greens with chopped apples and walnuts, dressed with equal parts olive oil and raspberry vinegar, a sprinkle of salt, and little ground pepper.