Monday, April 16, 2012

On Finding Fault

Everything was going fine at church yesterday until I switched seats to be nearer a friend. Then we sat down for the sermon, and the most foul stench assaulted my nose.

Surreptitiously, I looked around. No... I knew all these people. None of them could produce that odor. Then I looked around for a baby. After all, I was in the unofficial "baby section," so maybe there was a poopie diaper somewhere. But no. Not a one.

The smell, though -- it seemed so close. Eventually, I had a thought. Could it possibly be me?

Yep, it turned out that it was. A giant doggie-doo was mashed into the bottom of my shoe. Eeeeeeeewwww! Nasty!

Given the grossness and the humiliation of the situation, I didn't want to let this event go to waste. So after some reflection, I've come up with some life lessons:
  1. Prior to church, always take the sidewalk. Never walk across the grass.
  2. Before I decide other people are the problem and start slinging accusations, I should probably take a good look at myself.
Given the subject matter of today's post, I figured that we could probably forego an illustrative photo. However, for your listening pleasure, here is Eric Clapton, career legend, with today's theme song. Only imagine you could be singing this to me, instead of the other way around.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Rice Noodles in Coconut Milk

Thought I'd share a new recipe that I tried out. It sounds like it would be a lot of work, but it really isn't. If you organize the various parts of this recipe, it takes under half an hour to make. Plus, it's sooooo worth the effort.

nom! nom! nom!

  • 8 oz rice vermicelli 
  • 1 16-oz block of firm or extra-firm tofu
  • 1 small onion, finely minced or grated
  • 16 black peppercorns
  • cayenne pepper or red chili peppers (to taste)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup coconut cream or milk (Not the kind you get in the soymilk area. Go to the Asian food aisle in your grocery store and get coconut milk or cream. Make sure it doesn't have added sugar.)
  • 2 tsp palm sugar (if you don't have that, regular white sugar works just fine)
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 4 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 1/2 cups bean sprouts
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced
  • Optional garnish: cilantro or chopped basil

Put the rice vermicelli in a bowl and cover with hot or boiling water. Let soak for 20 minutes.

Drain the tofu and cut it into 8 slices. Pat the slices dry with a clean towel. Cook the tofu using one of the following methods:
  • Lightly spray a baking sheet with oil. Place the slices on the sheet and lightly spray the slices. Broil until golden brown. Flip the slices over and continue broiling until the other side is golden brown.
  • Pan fry them, flipping to make sure both sides are golden brown.
  • Deep fry them. (I have a Southeast Asian friend who does this. This is by far and away the tastiest method of cooking, but I can't help cringing a little when I see the tofu going into a deep fryer.)
After cooking the tofu, let it cool enough to handle. Then cut each slice in half lengthwise, and then cut all the slices into thin, little squares.

In a mortar, combine the onion, peppercorns, cayenne, and salt. Pound it to a paste and set it aside.

Heat a large saute pan. When it's hot, add the coconut cream, water, sugar, chili powder, and soy sauce. let it heat up. Next add the paste from the mortar and stir to blend. Strain the noodles and add them to the sauce. Cook until they are al dente. (You'll see them starting to turn a little translucent.) Add the tofu, beansprouts, and scallion. Stir and let it cook until the beansprouts are crisp but tender.Turn onto a serving dish. Garnish with cilantro or basil if desired.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Black Rice Noodles

Unfortunately, this photo doesn't do justice
to just how lovely they look.
I found these black rice noodles at the Korean store, and I couldn't resist buying them. As the name indicates, they're made from black rice, and they have that same beautiful rich, deep, dark color. They were just begging me to take them home.

I've never made or even eaten black rice noodles before, so I just made up my own recipe. Basically, I just boiled the noodles, drained them, rinsed them with cold water, and set them aside.

Next, I steam-fried various veggies I had on hand in white wine until they were tender-crisp. Then I added a sauce to the veggies. If you have a stir-fry sauce you like, you could use that. Or you can make your own. For the sauce, I mixed:

  • Water (You could substitute broth)
  • Soy sauce
  • Mirin (Rice cooking wine, optional)
  • Minced garlic & ginger
  • Raw evaporated cane juice (Any sweetener you like is fine)
  • Sesame oil (just a teeny-weenie-tiny bit for flavor since I'm trying cook oil-free. However, the Asian side of me is having a hard time giving up sesame oil)
  • Cornstarch (This thickens the sauce)
  • Gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste. I added less than teaspoon -- just for a little zip. You could use a little cayenne or just leave it out entirely)

Once the sauce came to a boil and cleared, I added the noodles and mixed it all together. You could garnish with chopped scallion or basil or cilantro.

As you can see, once the noodles cook up, their color lightens considerably, but they are still rather exotic looking. Unlike the flat Southeast Asian rice noodles that become super soft when heated, these noodles were a bit chewy, which I like. They also have a sort of nutty flavor -- they kind of reminded of me of wild rice, even though that's not really a rice.

Overall, I really liked these noodles. I have a couple bundles left, so noodle soup may be on the menu tonight. Then it will be back to the store for some more!

Have you ever made/eaten black rice noodles? What's your favorite way to cook them?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Stars by Night

Several years ago, I found an amazing site called It's full of "riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world." I'm so pleased that TED now has an iPhone/iPod app and that some of the talks are even available on Netflix!

Today, I watched a TED talk called John Lloyd Inventories the Invisible. John Lloyd is a British comedy writer, TV director and producer. (BTW, he is responsible for producing all four seasons of Blackadder, one of my all-time favorite shows.) I highly recommend checking out his talk; however, here are two quotes that really intrigued me.
"Galaxies? Hundred billion of them estimated in the universe. A hundred billion! How many of them can we see? Five. Five out of the hundred billion we can see with the naked eye. And one of them's quite difficult to see unless you've got very good eyesight."
"The stars by day. I always think that's fascinating. The universe disappears. The more light there is, the less you can see."
I think I was drawn to these words because they express a lot of what I've been feeling the lately.

Two months ago, I would've said that my life was pretty clear. We were following a nice, comfortable routine. I knew what I'd be doing every day of the week. Our schedule was kind of dull, but it was familiar, predictable, manageable. However, in the last few weeks, everything has been turned topsy-turvy. I've gone from seeing clearly to being in the dark.

Last month my husband interviewed for a job in another state. Should he take it, we would have to move. The company has already indicated that an offer is coming, but because they are onboarding close to a hundred people, they're backlogged. As a result, we will probably have to wait a couple more weeks to see what it is.

We don't even know whether we'll take the offer when it finally does come. In the meantime, though, everything has become hazy and uncertain. This lack of clarity has affected everything from the way I approach the house, the children's schooling, the activities I commit to, even (unfortunately) at times my temper toward my husband.

While the uncertainty has a discombobulating effect, I feel it's also given me a glimpse into a bigger universe. Who knows? We may decline the offer in the end, but right now, we're enjoying daydreaming about something new and different. It's kind of exciting to live not in the now, but in the potential. Once we decide one way or another, all that -- the options, the opportunities -- will dim out one by one. But for the moment, here in the dark, there are still choices and possibilities. There are still stars to wish on.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There's Signs

Several years ago, on a sunny April day, I was digging in the flowerbeds, and I unearthed a number of dormant, burrowing-type bees. Honestly, they kind of freaked me out, so I just threw dirt back over them and went inside for a shower and lemonade.

My tree isn't blooming yet this year, 

but here is a photo of it from 
a couple
springs ago. Maybe this guy is
looking for honey?
A few weeks later, our cherry tree burst into flower, and (it seemed to me) the bees sprang out of their winter garden beds on the same day and started buzzing about the tree. I was amazed and impressed at how nature worked it out so that the events would coincide so beautifully. Every year since that, I've looked forward to watching the phenomenon occur on a regular cycle.

Last week, I was delighted to discover that there is actually a branch of science called phenology that looks for just these sorts of phenomena. It comes from the Greek root "phaino," meaning "to show" or "to appear." Literally, it is the study of things that appear, the study of signs. It's focused on recurring plant and animal life stages (like budding, leafing, flowering, fruiting, the emergence of insects, and migration) and the timing of these stages with relationship to weather and climate.

Applied practically, phenology can help you know when to start weeding, planting, pruning, fighting insects, look for migrating birds or fish. One terrific example of a phenological observation/tip comes from Felder Rushing, a former horticulturist from Jackson, Mississippi. He puts it this way: "When fishermen are sitting on the riverbank instead of sitting on their bait buckets, the soil is warm enough to plant."

The table below provides some more advice from the University of Wisconsin Extension:

Do this... When...
Plant peasForsythia blooms
Plant potatoesThe first dandelion blooms
Plant beets, carrots, cole crops, lettuce and spinach Lilac is in first leaf
Plant bean, cucumber, and squash seeds Lilac is in full bloom
Plant tomatoes Lily-of-the-valley plants are in full bloom
Transplant eggplant, melons, and peppers Irises bloom

Additionally, indicator plants like saucer magnolia, lilac, chicory, and Canada thistle can tell gardeners when certain garden pests will be active. Gardeners who know how to read the signs can take steps to protect their plants and fruit.

There is even a national network comprised of various agencies, educational and scientific organizations, as well as backyard observers, dedicated to collecting phenological data.

In the past, I've always just looked at the color-coded charts on the back of seed packages to determine when something should be planted. However, spring seems to have arrived at a different time every year for at least the past 5 or 6 years. The thought of learning to read nature's signs is very appealing to me. I like the idea of becoming more in-tune with my environment; I like the idea of learning to not just look, but to see.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

I'm Ba-a-a-a-a-a-ck!

My husband has been after me for months to write a post, but the truth is that I haven't felt up to it until now.

When I started this blog, I envisioned it as my "happy place" -- no kvetching or whining or dumping on the unsuspecting reader allowed. Most of this winter, though, I've had the yucks -- not to be confused with yuks.

When I wasn't throwing myself the bitterest of self-pity parties, I was too exhausted from staying up all night rocking babies and cleaning up lots of puke, diarrhea, and snot for months on end.

But spring has sprung, and I can't help but feel better. Healthwise, the kids all seem to be turning a corner, too, (knock on wood).

Life is never perfect, of course, but at least my happy place is happy again.

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