March 31, 2012

Healthy Eating Contest 2012: Chili So Good, You'll Forget It's Vegetarian

Tonight, we have my vegetarian chili that has been vetted by not one, not two, but a whole HOST of Minnesota men. I like to do this with my vegetarian recipes, it's like the cooking equivalent of stress-testing a database.

And these are men, I might add, who gave me grief when I arrived at the chili cookout with this chili: "Hey, why'd you bring bean soup to our chili lunch? What is this?" An hour later, I had a parade of men coming past my cubicle: "Hey ... so, could you bring that chili in again soon?"

The recipe is here, at All Recipes. Please note that you do NOT need a slow-cooker. I have always made this in a soup pot, and it has always worked wonderfully.

The Best Vegetarian Chili
  • 1 (19 ounce) can black bean soup
  • 1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (16 ounce) can vegetarian baked beans
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can chopped tomatoes in puree
  • 1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  1. Put all ingredients in slow cooker, or large soup pot.
  2. Stir with a large spoon. This is optional. (Seriously.)
  3. Let cook for 2 hours or so over medium-low heat. Stir sometimes. You know, if you want. You're technically supposed to leave it and forget about it, but this is difficult. You see ... the smell permeates the house. It is seriously difficult to ignore!
  4. Nom.
  5. Put the rest into containers for awesome lunches at work.
  6. Profit!
You take all this, chop the vegetables, and put it in a pot. Seriously. Now, go do something else for two hours. ...or, like I do, find excuses to hover near the kitchen and take long breaths of chili-scented air.

For the budget-conscious among you, here is a cost breakdown:
1 green pepper, $0.75
1 onion, $0.75
1 can black beans, $1.25
1 can kidney beans, $1.25
1 can chickpeas, $1.25
2 stalks celery, approx. $0.50
1 can corn, $1.25
1 small can baked beans, $2
1 tablespoon each parsley, basil, oregano, and chili powder: approx. $0.50
TOTAL: $9.50
COST PER MEAL: For me, around $1.70, but then, I eat very small lunches (I sit at my desk all day!). If you only get 3 or 4 meals out of it, this is still clocking in at about between $2 and $3 per meal.

March 30, 2012

Wedding Planning: The Programs

So, we have talked about details. Details that are meaningful (your favorite flower, your grandmother’s earrings) and details that aren’t (“Surely I need some sort of party favor! Right? Something that will make people laugh and remember how awesome and wonderful I am, that they will cherish and put on their bedside table! …right? …you guys?”).

One detail that I remembered last night was the wedding program. I found myself frozen in the act of taking off my workout clothes, standing on one foot, thinking furiously: Do I need a wedding program? Well, obviously. On the other hand, maybe not. But would they cost a lot? Well, they might. What do you put in a wedding program, anyway? What should it look like?

In the absence of any meaningful conclusions drawn from my own knowledge, I decided to go ask Google, because the internet is wonderful and full of creative people.

Wedding programs can be very simple. As you can see from these examples, there’s no need for fancy embellishments or lots of graphics. You can do a color (a very simple substitution) or plain white, and it can look wonderful. What did you have to choose? The color and the font. See, that wasn’t so difficult!

On the other hand, if you wanted to add graphics, you definitely could. You could go for scrollwork, or for some sort of graphic that would be meaningful to you.

If you have the time (DIY/DIT) or money, you can add embellishments. Again, this can be something meaningful to you (note a seaside wedding, and an invitation for the wedding of a grade-school teacher), or something that you just find pretty and that makes you smile, like a ribbon!

If you’ve got simple invitations, it’s easy enough to do something like roll them up – cute, super easy, and not something you MUST pay someone to do (although it’s likely that your wedding party + a bottle of wine is the best way to get this done!).

If you’re in for a bit more time or money, you can do something like make your wedding program into a fan – this would be very useful for August weddings!

And before I let you all go, you should check out the funniest wedding invitation I’ve ever seen. Wondrous.

Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment!

March 27, 2012

Healthy Eating Challenge 2012: Sweet Potato and Chickpea Curry

Over time, the evidence against regular old starchy potatoes has added up: they aren't all that good for you. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are very good for you. This has been a bit of a problem, because I really like potatoes, and really don't care for sweet potatoes. But my philosophy is that the way to start liking something is to cook tasty things with it.

I had picked up a sweet potato during my grocery shopping over the weekend, and to this I added the last of the roma tomatoes, some chickpeas (of course), and onions. A blend of spices and some coconut milk rounded everything out nicely.

For the spices, I blended about a tablespoon of garam masala with a tablespoon of madras curry, some cumin, some turmeric, a few cloves, and some cayenne pepper. My philosophy about spices is that you should keep adding them until it feels right. You can be pretty free with just about everything other than hot spices. I added those to the coconut milk and set it to heat on low. Over time, it went from this ...

... to this. Hot dog (as they say in the biz).

Meanwhile, I chopped up the sweet potatoes and left those to boil, then set the onions to saute. When I took the onions off the heat, I added the chopped tomatoes - that way, they wouldn't over-cook.

When the rice looked to be close(ish) to ready, I dumped the sweet potatoes and the chickpeas into the curry-and-coconut-milk mixture and let that heat.

Right before serving, I added the onions and tomatoes. Voila! Curry and rice! What could be better?

Sweet Potato and Chickpea Curry
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 sweet potato, washed and chopped
  • 1 onion, cut up in wedges (not diced)
  • 1 roma tomato, de-seeded and chopped
  • 1 can coconut milk, shaken vigorously

For spicing:

  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 1/2 tsp curry powder (I used madras)
  • 5 cloves
  • dash turmeric
  • largish dash cumin
  • few dashes of cayenne pepper (to taste)

  1. Set rice to cook, if you want any.
  2. Set sweet potatoes to cook however you like to cook them (some people roast them; I boiled mine).
  3. Set onions to saute on low-to-medium heat, in a bit of olive oil.
  4. In a soup pot or large frypan, mix coconut milk with spices. Heat over low heat, stirring a bit - the stirring and the heat together will mix the spices adequately.
  5. When cooked, set aside the sweet potatoes. Turn the heat off on the onions as soon as they have gotten soft (but not fully clear); add the tomatoes in and stir.
  6. When rice is half done or so, add sweet potatoes and chickpeas. Stir and turn up the heat.
  7. When rice is close to done, add the onions and the tomato. Stir.
  8. When rice is done, put curry over rice and serve!
  9. Next time, adjust to taste.
Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment!

March 26, 2012

Wedding Planning: Geeky Weddings

I admit that I've always envied people who, right from the start, launched into planning a themed wedding. I don't think I've ever been that into a piece of media (except maybe Cyteen, and a Cyteen-themed wedding would be ... er ... horrific). But why shouldn't people do that? Your wedding is supposed to be about you, and the following weddings range from all out theme weddings, to weddings with little meaningful touches.

I want to start with this Hunger Games themed wedding, because it was what inspired me to put Stardust-y touches into the second wedding - and planning that has been a complete joy. So, thank you to these wonderful people.

Here's another take on the Hunger Games wedding, with a bouquet made of arrows - come on, how is that not awesome?

Moving on from Hunger Games, I wanted to share weddings based on a favorite movie, Tangled. (If you haven't seen Tangled, you really should - it's adorable.)

In this one, the bride and groom are avid cosplayers, and the bride even got her father to dress up as the King! (More at the source.)

In this one, a perfect example of "simple touches," the bride used the theme of a flower-filled braid for an amazing hairstyle.

(You should really just google, "tangled themed weddings" - there are tons, they are gorgeous, and the shots of women pretending to hit men with skillets are awesome and, well, sweeter if you know the reference.)

And what would a round up of geek weddings be without Star Wars? This one is full of amazing details and an incredible wedding dress!

Is this a full round up of geeky weddings? Oh, of course not! But if you've been on the fence about whether your wedding can be BOTH geeky and elegant, I hope that these pictures have tipped you towards, "heck yes!" (And if, on your wedding day, you are about to freak out and then see a bouquet of primroses and smile because, hey, Prim - well, all the better!)

Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment!

March 25, 2012

Cooking: Making Ketchup

Yesterday, I tried making ketchup. I think I may even have succeeded.

As is nearly always the case when I cook new things, I started by looking at a whole bunch of recipes online, people's reviews of the recipes, and then searching for recipes that did not involve ingredients I didn't have. Then I set my computer to play music (The Hunger Games Soundtrack, to be precise - and it is amazing!) and wandered away to make something without any specific directions.

I started with some Roma tomatoes, and I took out the seeds, chopped them up, and put them in a soup pot with some coarsely-chopped garlic and diced celery.

Meanwhile, what would any good recipe be without onions? I chopped up a half a white onion and set it to saute in a bit of olive oil.

Eventually, I dumped the onions in with the tomatoes, and set about mashing everything with a spatula. At this point, it looked amazingly uninspiring. Well, no one said stewed tomatoes were pretty.

After I let it cool for a while (never put hot liquids in a blender!), I pureed it. Here's where the doubt set in. Is it bright red? No ... Maybe too many onions?

On the other hand, it tastes delicious, so that's something! It is noticeably less sweet than store-bought ketchup, but the tomatoes really are sweet on their own, so I don't think you really need the sugar. I may try making it with more spices next time, though.

Homemade Ketchup
  • 4 roma tomatoes, de-seeded and diced
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, diced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Dash of vinegar
  1. In a frying pan, set onions to saute in a bit of olive oil.
  2. In a soup pan, set tomatoes to cook with celery, garlic, vinegar, and about a cup of water.
  3. Wait. Clean kitchen. Stir vegetables, add more water to tomatoes as necessary. You want it to get a bit thicker, but have the time to cook with water. This should take about an hour.
  4. Marsh tomatoes with a spatula to pseudo-puree them. Add in onions, keep simmering it all for a bit.
  5. Let cool.
  6. Puree.
  7. Pour into container - I used an old ketchup container for easy identification.
  8. Enjoy on food!
Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment!

March 24, 2012

Wedding Planning: Centerpieces

People reading this blog probably already know I'm not much of a one for spending huge amounts of money on one's wedding. I think it's perfectly do-able to have a very elegant wedding for far under the average cost. And elegant is definitely a priority for me - I don't like things to look sloppy or underdone, which is often a thing I dislike about DIY.

So, for those of you like me, here are some excellent DIY ideas that don't look ... well, like sloppy DIY. The following set of three comes from Martha Stewart's Easy Centerpieces (the woman has excellent taste - you just need to do some legwork to separate the doable from the crazy expensive and difficult).

This is an innovative one: get some mix-and-match votive holders and tiny vases, which are about $0.50 apiece at someplace like Goodwill, and put in greenery, such as ferns or other plant leaves. It will be unusual, it will be elegant, it will be vibrant and green-and-growing!

Places like Dollar Tree have tall votive holders for (wait for it) $1 apiece, and it's easy enough to tie a string or ribbon (twine, if you're going rustic chic) around the outside with a flower. If you're doing this, I would tend to go with one kind of flower in varying shades, or one color of flower in varying types.

A fruit centerpiece! This one has glittery items in it, but you really don't need those - think cornucopia, think abundance, think fall fruits along the table, spilling out of baskets ... Wonderful, yes?

Now, onwards from Martha Stewart!

For those of you who want a color scheme, you can consider spray painting branches and fruits (fake fruits!). It will look classier than you think - stop raising your eyebrows at me like that! I suggest this tutorial on Save-on-Crafts (and, as always, I also suggest looking around for better prices on materials - they may have the cheapest, but they may not!).

Next, and one of my favorites, we have the mix-and-match candleholders idea. You can use vases and votive holders of all types, even throwing things in like mis-matched crystal juice glasses or wine glasses. Until we picked our venue, this was the look I was going for. The following is all mason jars, but it's a good execution of the idea!

A ridiculously easy, relatively cheap way to do a holiday centerpiece is to fill a large vase with Christmas ornaments. This is even more dirt-cheap if you have the time to pick up decorations at the after-Christmas sales. As a side note, one of the best deals I ever found on Christmas ornaments was at Home Depot, so don't just flock to the seasonal stores!

And there it is, dear readers, a round up of easy, elegant, cheap DIY ideas!

Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment!

March 23, 2012

Challenge Update: Recipe for Simple Chickpea Salad

After a few weeks of eating poorly, I had had enough. I emailed my fiance, saying, "Here's my idea. Are you in?" He most enthusiastically was, and I'm here to say that I think that will make things much easier. As I said to a friend, instead of, "I wanted to spend time with you last night, but you spent an hour making ketchup," I have, "Let's talk about our days while you stew tomatoes and I chop garlic." Good times!

So, this morning I got up early, determined to make myself pasta so I didn't have to go to the cafeteria downstairs. While their food is very good for a cafeteria, it is still full of preprepared sauces, mixes, and most of all, SALT. And lord only knows what chemicals.

But just before I put the pasta in, I remembered I had chickpeas; with chickpeas, you can make awesomeness. Also, did you know how GOOD chickpeas are for you? In a cup, there are 15 grams of protein, 12 grams of fiber, 26% of your daily value of iron, and only 4 grams of fat - all in 270 calories. Amazing.

(I forgot to take pictures, so please forgive me.)

Chickpea Salad

1 can chickpeas
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Drain and rinse chickpeas. In a bowl, mix them with the olive oil and lemon juice, then add in salt and pepper to taste. Gobble up with bread (or, my favorite, rice cakes) and leave nothing behind, because YUM.

This recipe was first seen in Orangette; she uses freshly ground Parmesan in hers, which sounds delightful. I rarely have freshly ground Parmesan, but that will probably change when my fiance is back, as he likes it enough that he can eat it plain, by the handful.

March 22, 2012

Healthy Eating Challenge 2012: The Benefits and the Foods

Healthy Eating Challenge 2012: What Is Pre-Prepared?

It helps to know what the benefits are of cutting out pre-prepared foods, and also what sacrifices you might be making.

These are the benefits I see in moving towards eating all from-scratch foods. Do you have additional benefits you’d like me to add? Leave a comment!
  • No Preservatives – I honestly believe that preservatives are something we should cut out of our diets as much as possible. Sometimes, preservatives are real life-savers, literally. But generally, we don’t need them.
  • No artificial colors or sweeteners – research consistently links both of these to higher rates of cancer and health problems. Cut them out!
  • No extra salt or sugar – we need a certain amount of each to keep ourselves in good working order, but chances are that your intake is far above the minimum. If you make things from scratch, you can make sure you get as much salt as you need without exceeding recommended amounts.
  • Wholesomeness – totally a word (even MSWord agrees!); making your food from scratch means it’s less likely that you’ll over-process it, robbing yourself of the nutrients and health benefits of the foods you eat
  • Connection to your food – when you know how your food is grown, cooked, and preserved, your relationship with food and eating changes dramatically; I think it changes dramatically for the good
  • Emotional satisfaction with food – taking time to cook food to your own tastes means that you take ownership of your food. Satisfaction with your food means you will be less likely to snack and take in empty calories as you search for emotional fulfillment around food.
  • Adaptability to health constraints – if you work with your food and cook it from scratch, you know EXACTLY what goes into it. When you come up against a health problem that requires a specific diet, cooking from scratch can help you maintain a range of foods in your while keeping yourself healthy. Want a specific dish or sauce but can't have one of the key ingredients? The internet can help your find a from-scratch recipe with a substitution!

So … what am I going to be giving up?
  • Store-bought jam
  • Nut butters involving anything other than nuts
  • Store-bought ketchup and mayonnaise
  • Store-bought pasta sauces
  • Store-bought pre-made curries and teriyaki sauces
  • Sodas
  • Juices involving added sugar,
  • Store-bought sweets (cakes, pies, cookies)
  • Pre-made pie crusts
  • Canned soup

What am I keeping for now? These can all be replaced with from-scratch items, and while I someday want to replace most of them, I don’t think I’ll ever have a cave for making cheddar cheese …

  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Canned beans (without added salt)
It's going to be tough sometimes, but I don't think it will be once I've started eating such delicious, wonderful things! Stay tuned for tomorrow's post - making ketchup from scratch!

Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment!

Healthy Eating Challenge 2012: Because Resolutions Aren’t Just for New Years’

Goal: other than bread and pasta, eat nothing pre-prepared for one (1) year. Blog as I go. Evaluate health (and finances!) at the end of it all.

How did I get here? Well … Throughout the wedding planning, house-buying, and moving, my friends have maintained that I’m taking on a lot, and I’ve staunchly maintained that if you wait until the timing is convenient and your schedule is clear, you’ll never get anything done.

Well, it’s time to apply that principle to my health. I’ve taken one of the first steps, not insignificant: making time to work out every day. In retrospect, it did not even inconvenience me very much; I eat dinner slightly later, and I have to remember to pack workout clothes each morning. That’s it!

The second step, with which I have been struggling, has been altering the way I eat. I was doing very well from October to December, then the holidays hit. I got back on track, then it was the two-week leave and we were running from thing to thing, having meals out with everyone. Now I’m struggling to re-instate that, and it really is a struggle.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that meals I make are more satisfying to me than meals I eat out, or heat up from little cardboard boxes. When I eat those types of meals, I am not satisfied with what I eat, and I snack. Making my own meals satisfies not just the hunger, but also something emotional that I can’t explain.

So here are my terms, internet:

  • One (1) year

  • No pre-prepared foods except:

  • Breads (which should still be cooked from scratch when possible)

  • Pastas

  • Going out to eat no more than four (4) times per month

  • When I do go out to eat, I will eat foods that are as simply-prepared as possible, such as salads, sandwiches with no preserved meats (ideally veggie sandwiches) or pre-made sauces, or simple soups

  • Getting a coffee drink (mocha, etc.) counts as going out to eat

  • Snack foods (popcorn, chips, etc) are all to be made from scratch

  • Sweets are all to be made from scratch at home (except cake from CafĂ© Latte)

If you come across this and want to participate, I encourage you to do so! Post the graphic and link back. And DON'T wait for New Years – make the change NOW!

March 19, 2012

Planning: The second Wedding

So, recently I told you I am planning a second wedding – we are planning to go with the split wedding approach. I know that some of you might say, “Oh, god, planning a wedding is horrifically stressful, why on earth would you plan TWO?”

Well, strangely, I am finding that this makes everything less stressful for me. I highly encourage fellow introverts to consider it: not only does it make each party smaller, it seems to assign less, “this party is the party to end all other parties” stress to each, and both of those things are awesome.

But you don’t want to hear me babble, you want to see eye candy!

So, in order:

  • Star Decorations

  • “Photobooth”

One of the main decorations will be handmade paper stars of all different types. Especially now that we have pinterest, the web is FULL of tutorials on how to quickly, and easily, make all sorts of decorations. For instance, I found a tutorial on how to cut a symmetrical paper star with one snip, after folding a piece of letter-sized paper, and this is my first shot at it!

Pretty neat, huh? And there are many others I would like to try as well …

My goal is to hang hundreds of these at varying heights from the doorways, arches, window casings, and stairwell, creating a festive (but home-made) feel! I don’t have any pictures of anything similar, so you’ll have to make do with my hand-drawn notes:

Why so many stars? Well, first of all, I love the soft, winter-y look, and paper stars really do work with that. I was very sad (in a #firstworldproblems sort of way) when it turned out we would be doing a fall wedding, and I am all about getting my soft-winter-y-wedding look now! Also, for my fiancĂ© and I, Stardust is kind of “our movie.” So I wanted a vaguely blue-and-white-and-pale-gold look to the decorations.

It should be easy enough to drape tables in blue plastic tablecloths, and I’m planning to make some blue punch (on the other hand, some hot spiced wine would be amazing). I’d also like to have the hot chocolate bar we had planned for our original party, and a Christmas/Holiday cookie buffet.

I would also like to do a “photo booth” – a drape of blue paper (or another tablecloth) with stars and lanterns, where people can take photos for us to keep as memories of the party. Ideally, I would like to have some large picture frames, each with photos of our two weddings. The “photo booth” could also serve as the backdrop for our second wedding. I would like to do some sort of vows ceremony so that our friends can also be included in the wedding itself.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions?

March 18, 2012

The House!

A photo-tour of the new house!

Let's start in the living room. Opposite the fireplace is a line of four south-facing windows, and kitty-corner to those you can see the original piano window. All of the woodwork is in amazing condition!

The dining room is off to one side of the living room, as you can see. A paler color. We want to make a paper lantern chandelier for over the dining room table!

Although this is a fairly boring picture, there is a reason I included it: we'd like to knock out part of this wall and put in a bar/counter/breakfast nook, extending the woodwork across the wall a bit more. this should preserve the integrity of the older look while still opening up the space and allowing people in the kitchen not to be shut off from what's going on in the main rooms!

Next, the kitchen. This isn't a terribly inspiring picture, but the kitchen is really lovely, quite spacious, with good counter space, new appliances, and nice countertops. I'm still looking for something cool to do with the cabinets to tide us over until we can replace them with dark red wooden ones. Apparently, THAT costs a ridiculous amount of money. Thoughts?

Upstairs, we have a series of guest bedrooms. The main one ...

Then the one that will probably get turned into a videogame room ...

There's also a tiny reading room (actually large enough for a twin bed, although it would be a stretch) that leads out onto a finished porch, big enough for a second/third guest bedroom ...

Finally, another study-size room that ...

And then the master bedroom suite!

We plan to do the master suite over in shades of tan and brown that would echo the colors in Japanese homes, the wood and ricepaper screens, and I'm hoping to finish that beam on the ceiling to resemble lacquered wood. Any ideas for the bathroom would be appreciated!

Comments? Questions? Thoughts?