Monday, September 23, 2013

Honolulu Skillet Beans

This is a recipe that I haven't made for a long time. I thought of it again when I read Shaheen's post (Allotment 2 Kitchen) recipe for  black beans and pineapple stew.  She wasn't thrilled with the result of her dish and it reminded me just enough of this one to make me want to try it again.  Tonight was a night where I had nothing planned for dinner and not much to work with - the perfect night to bring this dish out.

The original recipe comes from The Moosewood Collective's Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home.

When I read the recipe over I felt that it wasn't particularly blog-worthy. This is not fancy food! It is what I would call a "garbage meal" which is my affectionate term for recipes that are great at using up loose ends in your fridge and pantry to prevent waste.  It is a great vegan option for a fast weekday meal that can be thrown together with only pantry items or embellished with some veg if you are so inclined.

I will post the unadulterated original recipe ingredients first and follow with my suggestions and the liberties I take. The procedure is the same. The ingredients will seem odd but they work.

Honolulu Skillet Beans
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tsp cooking oil
4 Cups cooked beans such as Roman or small pink, red, or white beans (2 16oz cans)
2 Tbsp hoisin sauce*
2 tsp prepared yellow mustard
2 Tbsp catsup or tomato paste
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp dark sesame oil
1 tsp ground cumin
grated peel of 1 orange
3/4 Cup fresh or canned crushed pineapple
*In place of hoisin, you can substitute 1 Tb molasses or brown sugar, 1 Tb white vinegar, and 1 tsp of chili oil or hot pepper sauce.

My modifications:
Beans - I use cans of mixed beans, mostly labeled "bean medley" in these parts.
Hoisin - when I fist made this as a starving student years ago, I didn't have hoisin (odd since I lived in China town...) so I used the substitute version. I remembered today that I actually preferred that version. Today I decided to do both and it worked well. I just can't resist an opportunity to put molasses in things.
Sauce - I recommend doubling the sauce. That is a lot of beans and even more than doubling the sauce results in barely coated beans. I don't measure unless I'm baking, so I take many liberties in mixing this up. It's forgiving. I also add a good dose of pineapple juice. Why waste it?

Forgive the bad photos. I was hungry and just don't have the lighting to set up good food pictures. Meh, that's real life.

In a skillet, saute the onions in the oil until soft and begining to brown (if using mushrooms, I add them at the start too).

In a small bowl, stir together all sauce ingredients including cumin. 

A collection of condiments you can mash together for this sauce. 

Add beans, pineapple and sauce to the pan. Bring to a simmer and heat, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes or so.

Serve. I usually just have it straight up since it's a simple, fast meal, I usually don't have patience for more. I think it would go best with a naan-like bread or maybe brown rice.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Serious Quest for Balance. It's a Journey, Alright.

This is a long one but I hope you read and comment anyway. It took a lot to write.

The quest for balance is a familiar one for pretty much every equestrian I've ever known, to greater or lesser degrees. Certainly for us amateurs who do not make a living in the horse industry, this is an issue. It is so much a part of living life with horses, in fact, that I wouldn't even blog about it unless it reached epic proportions. What I've been struggling with is balance on a broader scale.

Have you ever failed to realize how much you were depleting certain aspects of your life until you were so deprived you felt utterly drained? I know, pump the brakes on the drama, right?  But seriously, that's how I felt for most of August, only it took me some time to realize exactly what my problem was. I'm going to try to write about this without getting overly personal but hopefully personal enough that something will come of it, at least for me. Psychologists failed to prove the theory of catharsis long ago but I stubbornly maintain there is something to it.

I don't really know what form this will take and I'm rather inclined to just let it out and see, rather than structure it. We'll see how it goes..

Fact: Alex is really not a social guy. He's friendly and funny and would do just about anything to help someone he cares about. Ok, so his jokes are sometimes just a little too smart and it can be hard to get them right away sometimes (or maybe that's just me), still, he is wickedly witty. People like to have him around and generally when he's around other people he has a good time. It's not that he doesn' like the people we would socialize with. Yet when I want to go out with friends or have people over, I think it's fair to say he isn't particularly interested and often completely disinterested.

Fact: I love hanging out and interacting with other people. I do not have the highest social needs either, although I definitely need it much more than he does.  If I'm around people long enough, I will crave some alone time...just not weeks of alone time.

Alex and I are truly best friends, so it's easy to get caught up in having our social needs come down to each other.

And mostly that's ok. It's also somewhat unavoidable because between work, barn time, Alex's activities etc., there just isn't a lot of time. I have good relationships at work now, though that wasn't the case until fairly recently (my old unit was anything but social) and I usually get to socialize with barn friends, so it's enough to keep me going. Unfortunately, I haven't been great about seeing my other friends much and that is, in part, what started to weigh on me.

Why didn't I just start reaching out to my friends? Well, partly it's a self feeding cycle of "nothing comes of nothing" whereby if you don't make an effort, neither will they. The friends I'm thinking of have a sort of organic way of getting together that doesn't always require planning whereas I need to plan things to make it happen. It helps that many of them live within walking distance of each other. When I did find myself with free time, I was reluctant to contact them because I didn't want to seem like I was inviting myself along, or else that I considered them an afterthought. Neither of these are true, as I discovered when I finally laid it all out.

Putting these thoughts within the context of this summer and it starts to make some sense why I was feeling restless.

Now, let me go back a little. Remember when I first started with Willie and he had upward fixation of the patella (locking stifles) and Dr. B said to exercise him 6 days a week?  I spent months doing just that. I had a single-minded determination to help him. I was driven and focused on that one thing (well, there was work and stuff too but not with that heat-seeking missile type focus. Ever.). I knew it was hard on my marriage and I barely had a social life other than barn people.  I thought it would be worth it because his stifles would get better and that would be the end of it and life could return to "normal."  It did get better and I went to 4-5 days a week for a few months. Then he started head-shaking and I spent months trying to diagnose and fix the problem.  Somehow, I still had the drive. We'd come that far, after all.

That period of time drained me. I cried all the time because a) I felt guilty. I was pretty sure it wasn't my fault but couldn't shake the thought that maybe it was. And even if it wasn't, surely everyone else thought it was; and, b) I knew if I didn't find a way to fix him, no one else would.

The life of a horse on your shoulders feels every bit as heavy as its 1200lbs.

I was reaching the end of my determination and feeling at a complete loss. I was having a hard time accepting that I couldn't change Willie's problems but was on the verge of acceptace, when I received a very important email. In it there was an honest understanding for what I was going through, beyond the specific issue itself. They didn't judge or even offer advice but did give me perspective. It helped alleviate my guilt because there were other people out there in the world (who know me to a degree but really don't know me, and certainly had no vested interest) saying that sometimes effort and love and giving all we have is not enough to help another creature. And that sometimes there just isn't an answer to a problem - we want a firm diagnosis but that doesn't always happen.

They didn't say when the right time to stop was, knowing I had to learn this for myself. I was at that point anyway though, so it was perfectly timed. The exchange made me feel not quite so alone and gave me confidence in the decision I already knew was before me. As I write this out, I realize just how much that meant to me. I hope I expressed my gratitude appropriately but I expect I was too wrapped up in things to really pause and see the big picture. It's actually taken me this long. So thank you. Thank you so much for reaching out to me, it meant more than I can ever say.

note: I haven't revealed who sent that email because I am not sure they would want me to. You know, all the hoards of my followers asking for advice and all (actually, there are many more people that read than comment, believe it or not). But they know who they are and if you are comfortable saying so, please feel free to comment.

Whew! So I had a little Willie healing moment there.

All that to say, the whole ordeal made me fully realize this tendancy I have to be super determined sometimes. I'm not sure I can control it and I do neglect other things in the process, but it's there. I am also generally pretty hard on myself in terms of expectations. Which means no matter what I do, whether I focus on my goal or try to keep up with other obligations, I am always falling short somewhere.

I realized years ago that positive reinforcement doesn't really do that much for me but I feel criticism or negativity quite keenly (which is not to say I can't handle it, I can). For me, a compliment is translated as barely being adequate. It's hard to explain but I feel like it's just status quo when someone tells me I did something well. Or I think "phew, I didn't screw that up" and then I move on without recognizing the praise. No, not without recognizing (that would be rude), but without truly feeling the pleasure of being recognized for a job well-done. I don't take it to heart. Sometimes, I think people who say positive things about my work (in any realm) might be lying. Or they are just so clueless about the work I do (because that isn't their expertise) that it looks overly impressive to them when in reality it's about the simplest thing I've ever been educated to do. Like a Mathematician who is new to riding and witnesses a leg-yeild for the first time.

Now, finally, to the context of this summer. Being my first summer with Armani and having Alex home, I realized it was a good summer to show him well. As in, not just a few throughout the season, but to do around 6-8 shows and really give him a good start in that world. Granted, I'm only doing the bronze circuit since it's the only one to have a 2'3" division (silver/trillium starts at 2'6") and I didn't think my 4 year old should show higher than 2'3" this year. Still, showing is showing and if you're going to do it, do it well.

Turns out I had a ton of energy when it came to planning, learning, organizing etc. for shows. Looking back, I don't even know what happened to the time. I do know I was enjoying myself and pretty jazzed about what we were accomplishing.

In hindsight, I recognize the same ├╝ber-determination to reach a goal that makes the weeks and months tick past somewhat blindly.

I don't know what the breaking point was, exactly.  It initially presented as an unsettled feeling with respect to my marriage. There are actual issues going on there, as there are likely to be from time to time when you've spent 14 years together. I just couldn't shake the discontent and it was disproportional to any of the real marriage growth/change issues. Anyway, it took me awhile to realize it wasn't really about the relationship in and of itself much at all.

I was disatisfied with the relationship primarily because it had to be everything for me. And I had to be everything social for my husband as well. A slight exaggeration, perhaps, but neither of us had any significant social contribution from other people for months, aside from work and fleeting moments at the barn for me and the climbing gym or swimming for Alex.

My restlessness and discontent was largely a desire to just go out and HAVE STUPID FUN!  I am really very responsible and do have a lot of pressure and responsibilities, I think I just reached a point where I needed to just act my age (which is an awkward age, in a way) and remember I can let loose sometimes too.

I did just that last Saturday and feel loads better. Well, I sustained a few mild injuries, but aside from that it was a much-needed night out. More importantly, I told my friends where my head was at so I feel like now I've turned the tables in terms of managing this balance. Finding the time is, as always, going to be a huge challenge.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Gettin' to be that time of year.

When life gives you peppers, roast 'em!

This picture is actually from last year 
but Hazel looks so pathetic I had to share.

We make lots of salsa and sauces and pepperonata. We STILL end up with a massive quantity of peppers, even though we eat a bunch on salads pretty much daily. First world problem, to be sure. When I have that kind of "problem" there is only one thing to do.

This is also an old pic (lazy blogging!) but I don't think I've ever posted it.
I have a much nicer grill now ;-)

I roast them until they have a good well rounded char on them. Pro tip: when making roasted peppers, it is much easier to peel them after they cool, better still if they have been cooled and refridgerated for awhile. Skin comes away much easier.

Remove the skin. The back of a knife can help.

That's lot of roasted pepper!

What is it all for, you might ask? I vacuum seal pouches of these roasted peppers and freeze for use throughout the year (that's kale in behind).

The peppers are a medium hot variety (Crimson Red) and work well in so many dishes. I will use them in pasta sauce (tomato or alfredo), chili, dishes featuring the peppers as centre stage, pasta salad, pizza...the sky is the limit. A great way to add the taste of summer to the February blahs.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Not sure what to say, really.

Since that crazy clinic crash, we have been fine. A little stiff, to be sure, but really and truly fine. My main concern has been a bit of mud fever, not the aftermath of the accident.

Armani and I have had 2 more successful shows. That seems like a lot in just the four weeks since but he gave me no reason not to enter and the next one was on the same grounds so I thought it would be good for both of us psychologically. I only did the green hunter division in the first show after, which at this point is only a hair more than a typical lesson - he's well fit for it.

Here we are showing off being Hack Division Champions
 and Green Hunter Division Champions.

I have to say I've been very proud of myself for perservering despite what happened. That sounds like I'm over-stating things but I know many of you guys know what it's like. I just refuse to let the fear take hold but make no mistake I recognize it hovering at the edges.

Work has also kept me extremely busy, every day has been full-tilt with a high amount of workload and most of it highly cognitively taxing. Not to mention that I am helping out with night chores at the barn more than normal. I usually only do Friday nights but it's been hard to find people and there are other changes happening so I've been stepping in to help. It's too much, though. I'm sure there aren't many people who have the kind of career I do who also work part-time at night, lol. It's not a hard job and doesn't take that long but it gets me home way too late, especially since I live 30 minutes from the barn. Fingers crossed we find someone soon.

I'm still cooking some good food! I even take pictures of it with the intention of blogging...
Then a bunch of time goes by and I look at the photo and think "that looks good, too bad I don't remember exactly what it was!"  I think these were fish cakes. Or lentil patties. Pretty sure that's a lime-garlic aoli with a drizzle of basil dressing. Positive those are pea shoots on top. Recipe blogging fail, yes?

Hopefully I can get back into the rhythm of it soon. (How many times have I said that now?)