Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thursday Night Dinner - Gnocchi with Fresh Greens, Tomatoes, and Walnuts

Recently, I have received some requests to add more food-related posts. Seeing as I eat food multiple times every single day, I doubt that this request will be too difficult to fulfill. And so we have this evening's dinner:

Gnocchi with Fresh Greens, Tomatoes, and Walnuts

I know this isn't a great picture, but I cooked dinner after Pilates class, so it was like 8pm, I was wicked hungry, and I wasn't very patient or willing to try for photography perfection. Anyhow, this recipe came from the book " The Vegetarian 5-Ingrediant Gourmet" by Nava Atlas. I was introduced to this book by my friend Katie B during my June trip to Utah. Katie has been a creative-cooking vegetarian for as long as I've known her (since September 1995) and has been my inspiration to try a number of new dishes.

This is a very simple meal. Basically, you do the following:

1. Cook gnocchi according to instructions on the package.

2. Saute garlic and oil for about 2 minutes.

3. Add greens (I used kale, but you can also use spinach or chard) and cover. Steam for about 1-4 minutes depending on greens used (Kale takes a little longer). Add tomatoes and cook until heated. The recipe didn't call for it, but I also added walnuts to the mix. This was primarily with the intention of including protein to the meal, however, it also added some depth to the flavor as well as a nice nutty crunch.

4. Combine gnocchi with greens mixture. I topped it with shredded parmesean cheese (which you can't see in the photo because I hadn't added it yet).

Of course, the kale and tomatoes came from my CSA and the cheese, oil, garlic and walnuts are organic and from the co-op. Admittedly, the gnocchi is a commercial brand from Trader Joe's. What can I say? I'm not perfect in my organic-ness, people.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Weird Wildflowers Continue to Grow!

How exciting - a second bloom on my weird wildflower plant! Unlike the first flower, this one grew out and then upward in a 90 degree angle. My second plant has a bud that is almost ready to bloom. I'll post a photo when it does!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Perkins Loan - No Longer My Obligation

I finished graduate school in September 2003 with the same thing most MSWs graduate with - a pile of debt. You see, even with a half-tuition "Urban Scholar" scholarship, Boston University's tuition fees were pretty steep. Therefore, I had to apply for loans. One of the loans that I received was a Perkins Loan, which would be forgiven if I worked in social services for 5 years following graduation. Being as I was attending graduate school for Social Work, this requirement didn't seem like it would present much of a problem. So, every year since 2004, I have faithfully submitted all of the paperwork necessary to substantiate my work in social services and have my loan forgiven. Each year, bit by bit, the loan repayment grew smaller.

You can only imagine how excited I was to receive a letter in the mail this afternoon thanking me for "completing my loan obligation"!! (Okay, so it is pending verification from the lender, but whatever. The loan requirements have been satisfied.) I am so excited, I wanted to share my letter with you all:

Okay, now I know you are super psyched, but don't get too out of control!! See, I still have a few thousand dollars left in Stafford loans. My goal is to hunker down and pay off the rest of my school loans by the end of 2009. So, at that point, I'll be 100% debt free and we'll really party then, okay?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Beach and Baking Bonanza

I enjoyed the majority of the weekend on the beach, soaking in the cancer rays. The weather was absolutely perfect and the water temperature was in the low 70's. Sitting on the beach with my book, fresh fruit, and iced decaf coffee - the world sure seems like a perfect place. Well, except for all of the saggy, tattooed bodies. Ah, yes, it only takes an afternoon in Ocean Beach to remind myself why I should never get a tattoo. Tats just don't seem as appealing when they are distortedly displayed on a body that hasn't had a work-out since Jane Fonda's last VHS tape was released. No judgement, people. Just an observation.

Sunday afternoon was spent as so many of my Sunday afternoons are spent - cooking and baking. This time of the year, I always have a ton of tomatos and zucchini from my CSA. Here is what I made this afternoon/evening:

Zucchini Bread (made with whole wheat flour and raw sugar)

Veggie (Zucchini, Corn, Tomatoes) and Black Bean Soup

Eggplant, Heirloom Tomato and Mozzarella Pizza

I also put up some of my produce. I froze raspberries (77 cents a container at Henry's!!) and blanched and froze zucchini. This way, I'll have "fresh" summer veggies this winter!

And this is what my kitchen sink looks like after all this work:

Friday, August 7, 2009

My Work Cell Phone

Yesterday, after nearly two months of employment at my new job, I was finally issued my work cell phone. I was so excited, I practically clapped my hands and jumped up and down! Upon being handed the phone, however, my enthusiasm dwindled. Sadly, my work cell appears to be some sort of an artifact from the late 1990's. Now, to its credit, the phone is indeed a "new" phone. It has never been used before, and my guess is that it has been sitting in its box in the bottom of the IT department's filing cabinet for the past decade.

The thing feels like a brick. It has a collapsible antenna which I am certain I will have to extend to the full four inches if I care to get any reception. Every time I talk on that phone, I am going to look like I just stepped out of Season One of "Friends". I might as well grow my hair out into the "Rachel" and pull on some flared jeans and a baby tee. Seriously.

This evening, I was at Katie and Ryan's and I was trying to figure out how to set the ring tone. Ryan suggested that I "go back in time", since the current Nextel help line probably doesn't offer customer support on my particular model any more. Ryan also suggested that I try throwing the phone against the wall "because I bet it won't break". I reminded Ryan that it was a work phone and I really shouldn't abuse it. This fact seemed to be of little consequence to Ryan, so I quickly put my phone back in my purse before it could become the subject of any durability experiments. (Please note that when I got home this evening, I googled the model of my phone and saw that many reviewers had indeed thrown it against a wall, and it had survived without any problems. In fact, one review called the phone "The Hummer of Cell Phones" because of its indestructibility.)

Anyway, if you see a social worker climbing into her 1999 Corolla with her 1999 cell phone, don't be alarmed, people. You haven't entered into a time warp. It's just me, living my glamorous professional life.

Monday, August 3, 2009

I Love My CSA

Most anyone who knows me has heard about my CSA, Be Wise Ranch - I talk about my organic, locally grown produce as fondly as others talk about their pets or children. Here is why I love my bi-weekly deliveries from my CSA:

1. When I go to pick up my CSA box, I feel like I am about to get a birthday present because the contents of the box are always a mystery. Will I get cherries? eggplant? yellow peppers? I never know what fabulous produce I will find! As adults, we really don't get too many surprises (Well, except for the occasional job lay-off or unintended pregnancy. Surprise! ) Let me tell you, the CSA mystery box really adds some excitement to your life.

2. The produce from the farm lasts way longer than the stuff you buy at the supermarket. The fruits and veggies that I receive in my box are picked the morning of my delivery, so they haven't been sitting around in the bed of a truck and/or in a store for days and days. The majority of my produce lasts for at least 10 days in the fridge. (Obviously, some stuff lasts much longer, like carrots, beets, potatoes, onions, etc.)

3. I am supporting a San Diego farm and, subsequently, the San Diego economy by buying locally. San Diego is my favorite place to be, and I want the community to be healthy and thrive. Screw Watsonville - I'm buying my California produce right here where I live.

4. I pretty much eat all of the fruits and veggies because I think, "Geez, I paid for it. I really should eat it". Some days, the only reason I am eating healthy food is because of my self-inflicted guilt over wasting money.

5. When I receive produce that I have never prepared before (i.e. dandelion greens, fennel, bok choy), I am forced to be creative in my cooking. This keeps me enthusiastic about making meals, and it ensures that I am getting a variety of nutrients in my body.

6. When I go to potlocks and I bring my own dish, I can say, "Oh, this is local and organic." Potlucks are always a good place to gloat about how eco-friendly you are, because potlucks are generally attended by hippies. (Or Mormons. But I bet they would be impressed too.)

7. This week's delivery - $25. heirloom tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, eggplant, spring mix, beets, oranges, peaches, peppers, arugula.
Eating healthy and taking care of my body: Priceless

There are lots more reasons that I love my CSA, but I need to go make dinner. In case you are wondering, tonight's menu is a grilled cheese sandwich - organic cheddar, heirloom tomatoes, and avocado on rosemary herb bread. Delicious.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Weird Wildflowers

I aspire to one day have a home full of lush plants and a yard filled with gardens and shade trees. However, at this point during this 29th year, my studio-living lifestyle only allows for about 15 houseplants. For the most part, the plants are basic potted houseplants - nothing fancy. I purchase the plants from nurseries, receive them as gifts, or I grow them from cuttings off of my other plants. I don't start things from seed.

In April, I received a "Thank You for Volunteering" card from Planned Parenthood which included a packet of wildflower seeds. I decided that perhaps this was a good time to try my hand at growing plants by seed. I read the directions and planted three pots. I was super excited when they started to grow, and made sure to water regularly and rotate the pots so that they received equal sunlight from all sides. As the plants grew bigger, I noticed that they were starting to grow horizontally. I put a "Hope" pebble in one pot to encourage the plant to be healthy and strong. I attempted to attach the stems to drinking straws, but it was a futile attempt. As the summer continued on, I begin to believe that my awkward sideways plants were somehow the result of my poor gardening skills and I was certain that they would never bloom into the wildflowers that they had once been destined to become. Well, much to my surprise, late last week I saw a pink flower bud growing on my plant. I am so incredibly proud of it, that I decided to forgo the shame of growing a non-vertical plant and post photos of my very, very beautiful wildflower.

No flowers yet for this guy (see the straw?) but I am going to give him his own inspirational pebble and we'll see what happens!

Hillcrest Farmer's Market

Katie, Bryan (not to be confused with Katie and Ryan) and I spent this lovely Sunday morning at the Hillcrest Farmer's Market. If you can believe it, it was my inaugural visit. (Considering my interest in local living, I am slightly embarrassed admitting this fact.) As you can imagine, the market was a sensory-stimulating activity with the aromatic scent of basils and Turkish coffee, the taste of heirloom tomatoes and sweet strawberries, and the sights of colorful floral bouquets and piles of fresh produce.

Never before had I tasted plumcots (a hybrid of a plum and apricot), but I was immediately charmed by the mingling of the sweetness of apricot and the tartness of a plum. I bought a small basketful for $4 and enjoyed a few on the beach this afternoon. So, if you are at your local farmer's market this summer and stumble upon plumcots (which are also know by two registered trademarked varieties - "Pluots" and "Apriums"), I would definitely encourage you to try a bite. You won't be disappointed!

Here are photos of Bryan and Katie sampling the locally grown produce. Katie brought home ceviche, freshly made spinach fettuccine, and salad fixings, so you know she's eating well tonight!! Bryan checked out the edible plants and herbs for the patio at his new townhouse, which happens to be walking distance from the market. I held off on buying anything other than the plumcots and Bella Vado Avocado Oil because I have my CSA delivery tomorrow. It was difficult but somehow I managed to demonstrate self-restraint!