On food

I’ve been in a rut when it comes to food and cooking lately, and I’m trying to get myself out of it. Sunday through about Tuesday, when the food and ideas are fresh, go pretty well. After that is downhill, with a lot of random ingredients in the fridge and no real plan.  Working a full-time job and chasing around a toddler means that I don’t have the luxury of spending a lot of time on food.  And I’m not great at planning ahead, so I have given up on being one of those people who has a menu planned for the whole week.  I tried the Fresh 20, and it’s great, but there is no way that works for me, I need more flexibility.

This week I am going to try splitting my shopping up and go twice a week instead of just once. I think. If I can get to the store on a weekday, though, it’s a feat– I leave work at 4:45, pick up J at 5:30, get home, and it’s a race to cook dinner and eat before her bath/bedtime routine starts at 7:15.  That goes FAST, and I’ll either have to go to the store at lunch time or leave work early.

The other challenge is that I’m pescetarian/vegetarian but the other two people in the house are omnivores.  We’re making that work, usually with a store-bought roasted chicken a week. I’ve gotten more comfortable cooking chicken and turkey, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to cook much beef or pork.

This week is going well. Here is how it has gone so far:

Sunday night- Sockeye salmon/asparagus/jasmine rice (I also cooked up extra rice and a big pot of black beans)

Monday lunch- (S) salad with leftover salmon, (J + B) turkey sandwiches

Monday dinner- Fish (mahi) tacos with homemade corn tortillas/broccoli slaw/avocado

Tuesday lunch- (S) black beans and rice, (J + B) turkey sandwiches

Tuesday dinner- asparagus and pea risotto (with roasted chicken for J + B)/green salad

Wednesday lunch- (S) black beans and rice, (B) risotto with chicken, (J) chicken/rice/veggies


Tonight, J helped make the salad by tearing up pieces.  She also helped put red pepper in the salad (and snacked on some!).  It’s easiest for me to cook when she is helping, because it keeps her occupied and it’s more fun!  But she’s only just turned 2 last month, so she loses interest sometimes.  Usually B is home by the time that happens and helps to entertain her.  It’s fun watching her eat, she likes the most amazing things! Last night she kept asking for more hot sauce (Valentina) on her taco, and tonight she was chowing down on feta cheese.  She’s still a bit picky sometimes (last night she ate raw corn tortilla dough but wouldn’t eat a cooked tortilla), but it’s not just white food around here. Though she does love mayonnaise. A lot. She asked for mayo for breakfast yesterday!  Yuck.

Anyway, it’s a learning process. Some of my favorite sources are Dinner a Love Story, Weelicious, and The Kitchn. Actually, I’m about to go try to throw some of these together right now.
Jewel on the wall


I spend a lot of time looking at aerial photography and maps for work, and I love discovering the signatures of certain features.  It’s like a puzzle.  If you’ve flown in an airplane you’ve played the same game, identifying a river and its tributaries, the strange shapes of airport runways, bales of hay dotting a mowed field.  One day I was fantasizing about vacationing in England, specifically in Oxford thanks to an obsession with Inspector Lewis (I really want to stay on a houseboat in Oxford after watching that show!), and I was looking at the aerial photos of the town.  I saw this.
cripley meadow allotments
You probably already know from the title of this post what it is, but it took me a second.  I went into street view, and puzzled it out. It’s a community garden! Cripley Meadow Allotments, to be specific, and that is the River Thames (it’s called the Isis in Oxford) flowing to the south.  Community gardens must be very, very popular in England because there are 36 community gardens (or allotment sites, as they are known there) in Oxford, which has a population of 150,000.  Austin, with a population around a million, has 29 community gardens.   Here is one in Austin, Sunshine Community Gardens, that I drive by every day. It’s a couple of miles from my house and is really lovely. Sometimes we go for walks there and visit the chickens. There are lots of hidden artistic touches in the plots that are fun to find.
sunshine gardens

I decided to do some other random checks on other cities around the world to see if I could find more community gardens.  I looked in Nantes, France, and almost immediately found the Parc Potager de Fournillère. It looks really beautiful surrounded by the red roofs of the town. 

parc potager Fournillere
Recently I took a BuzzFeed quiz (yeah, I know, important stuff) and it told me I was meant to live in Japan.  I have always been curious about Japan.  I flew there in Google Earth to find their community gardens. I found none. I saw some little farms, but they were clearly not the patchwork quilt of a community garden. I was surprised, and I tried to find information on Japanese community gardens.  It turns out that it laws in Japan protecting farmers had the effect of preventing urbanites from having community gardens. There were also issues with land ownership and the length of leases.  There were attempts to change the laws to allow community gardens in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and it seems they have had success in encouraging community gardens in Japan. Here is the PDF article that I found.  I kept looking and found this one in Yokohama.  It’s tiny, but it looks like it is probably a community garden. It may be just one family’s, though.



Then I happened upon this sprawling complex of baseball fields and what looks very much like the Western community gardens.  It is in the Izumi part of Yokohama. I would love to know more about it. There are some mysteries here. Why are there circular areas without gardens? Are they wetlands? Some kind of sports field? I can’t tell.  It’s perfectly circular, and it has some perfectly circular features within it. It looks like a collage on the landscape.


Izumi mystery circle


Gardening by satellite!  Fun for the modern age.

She’s here!

Jaybird got here in February, and needless to say I’m quite busy. She’s wonderful and very time-consuming!


Happy 2012!

We had a fabulous New Year’s Eve. We went to see the American version of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and watched the fireworks on Lady Bird Lake from the theater right after we got out. Perfect timing!
And lest you worry, I finished my one last book and made it to 50 for 2011. Whew! That was the most recreational reading I have done in a long time. But I’m going to try to be realistic about how much reading I’ll get done with a baby due in February.

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge

Sue has read 0 books toward her goal of 20 books.


Here’s to fresh starts!

One more day of 2011!

2011 has had its ups and downs… some family illnesses that were close calls, and our sweet Coaly is sick. But we had a lovely vacation in Chicago and I had my last hurrah in Europe. We are definitely looking forward to 2012 and the new baby who will be joining us! So amazing. But where is my real focus in these last hours of 2011?

2011 Reading Challenge

2011 Reading Challenge

Sue has read 49 books toward her goal of 50 books.


Finishing just ONE. MORE. BOOK. And yes, I have been cramming in some short ones here at the end of the year, but that is fair, right?  The thing that is really irking me is that there is a cookbook in there, I might have to finish two books by tomorrow just to make up for that.  I’m thinking that next year my goal is 10, including cookbooks. Going from one a week to one a month seems about right for my expectations. Or maybe I should just read all 10 in January? Happy new year! May we all reach our goals for 2012.

I only stayed in Rome for 2 nights, and I think I slept for about 24 hours while I was there. I was zonked. My first trimester was not rough by any standard, but I was so tired. Luckily my main goals in Rome were eating and shopping. I quickly discovered that shopping there is too expensive, so I focused on the eating. I had found a budget hotel near the Campo de Fiori, which was great because there is some amazing food there. The Forno on the square is fine, but the best pizza I had was at Forno Roscioli just east of there. YUM.  I ate there twice.

I did not stray too far from the Campo de Fiori– I did walk up to the Pantheon and even across the Tiber, close to the Vatican. But then I took a taxi back and just stayed in the neighborhood. Which is worthwhile, it’s a great neighborhood.
Rome Campo de Fiori vegetable market

This guy was luring in everyone with that cute puppy, but I really wanted the picture of him and his truck. The wide-angle lens paid off!
Rome Campo de Fiori characters
Another Ape.
Rome Ape 50 tiny truck

The evening in the Campo de Fiori.
Rome Campo de Fiori

And the cat sanctuary, which is also close to Campo de Fiori.
Rome cat sanctuary

I was so glad to get home, but I loved my European adventure. It’s probably my last overseas trip for a while, with the little one on the way. I look forward to telling her when she is older that I took her to Paris, Malta, and Rome when she was just the size of a sesame seed.

We took the bus to the ferry to the bus to the taxi to Xlendi Bay on Gozo, the second-largest island of Malta. I have to say that the ferry ride was downright creepy. It was easy to notice a lack of birds on the coastline– there were only about 3 gulls on the whole ferry ride, and no little sandpipers or curlews or terns or cormorants or any of the birds you normally see from ferries. The whole time on Malta, I saw mostly pigeons and house sparrows, and even those were few and far between. It is depressingly denuded of wildlife. Anyway, this was on the eve of the change to a new bus system. The “old” buses were run on a contract where certain drivers had certain routes, and I suppose they own the buses. The buses are almost all orange-yellow, and vary in age, many being pre-1980s by my guess. They are, however, very stylish.

Malta 2011
Malta 2011

Anyway, at this time there was a certain excitement and a little bit of a rebellious attitude from the bus drivers, who were putting on kind of a car show of their old buses and acting like teenagers by honking the horns and just kind of being silly. We stayed on Xlendi Bay and enjoyed seafood and a walk to the salt pans, which were really beautiful.
Malta; Gozo salt pans
Malta, Gozo salt pans
When we woke up the second day, the switch had happened to the NEW bus system, Arriva. We actually took a tourist bus that goes around Gozo to the famous sites. We saw the Azure Window.
Malta, Azure Window in Gozo

And some other spots on Gozo, then enjoyed a beautiful swim in Xlendi Bay. It was nice, but a lot of things were closed and we just wore ourselves out trying to get around. We took the ferry back to Malta, where the new bus system was creating chaos all over the island. The new bus drivers had apparently not learned routes or schedules. Beachgoers who had been waiting at bus stops continued to wait as our full bus drove by. It was crazy. It took 2 hours to get back to Valletta, when it had taken 1 hour to get to the ferry. Our reward, though, was dinner at Legligin wine bar. HOLY COW. So good. And even kind to the vegetarian/pescetarian/non-wine drinking preggo.

We spent the next day relaxing in Valletta, avoiding bus rides. We saw the Caravaggio of St. John the Baptist in St John’s Co-Cathedral, which is just fabulously ornate. The floor is covered in inlaid marble tombs, some of which have skeletons or other interesting pictures. No surface is unadorned here.
Malta, St John's Co-Cathedral

We also visited the Grand Master’s Palace, which was somewhat disappointing but I have to say that the armor display was more interesting than I expected. People used to be tiny!
Malta, Grand Master's Palace

And we visited the Archeology Museum. Oh, and ate at Ambrosia, which was also fabulous. The last day, we went to the walled city of Mdina and watched some festa fireworks in the distance. I will not discuss the bus ride home except to say I somehow managed not to throw up. I really hope the buses have gotten it together since then! Me in Mdina:
Malta 2011

I would probably never have gone to Malta except that my friends were there, and I’m glad I had a chance to go. The Maltese people that we met were really wonderful, I loved talking to them. It is so beautiful there, and the history is amazing. I’m really glad to have gotten to see the islands in depth instead of just one a one-day cruise tour. There are some really great hidden spots that are worth seeking out.