Real. Good. Fud.

and other joys in life

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Holiday Happiness

 I know it’s a week after Christmas, but I have now had a chance to use all of my wonderful gifts!  Some of the things I was most excited about were the cheapest, simplest items.  For example, new kitchen tongs, a silicone brush and a meat thermometer.  And an apron:

          I’m not the most… graceful person; Tyler calls me clumsy.  So when I cook, and especially when I eat I am bound to get some food on my clothing.  So I am very thankful to have an apron! It’s so beautiful; I am even encouraged to be more careful and tidy.

          Now that I got to share some excitement; I am going to share a recipe with you.  Then, I will end on a more serious note.

          I’m no baker.  My baking adventures usually end in failure; which is fine because I don’t enjoy desserts like I do other food (Andy’s frozen custard is plenty to please me).  But, one thing I have mastered is Cranberry-Orange bars.  I can’t remember where I got the recipe, but they are rather simple. 

          I start by making cranberry sauce.  To do this, I just boil some water, orange juice and sugar (about 1 c sugar, ½ cup water and ¼ cup orange juice).  I then add 1-12 ounce package of cranberries and let them cook until they pop, about 15 minutes.  At that point, I turn off the heat, stir in some cinnamon and orange zest and let them set- the sauce will thicken and become jelly-like.  Then on to the crust.  Just mix together a package of yellow cake mix, ¾ cups of butter and 2 eggs.  Stir in 1 cup of rolled oats, ¾ cup brown sugar, cinnamon and ginger.  Now the hard part… spread about ¾ of this mixture onto the bottom of a greased 9×13 pan.  It’s really sticky, and really hard to spread! Just try to cover the bottom best you can.  Spread the cranberry mixture on that.  Top with the remaining cake mixture, pinching off pieces (it won’t completely cover).  Just pop in a 350 degree oven for about 35-40 minutes and allow it to cool for an hour before cutting!  Yum yum! They are slightly sweet, tart and have that warm, seasonal flavor from the cinnamon.  I am attempting to healthify them J  I am slowly cutting out some of the cake mixture and adding more oats.  One day I will be adventurous enough to make the crust from scratch.  Last time, I also replaced about half the butter with some applesauce, which worked great!  And finally, I cut back the sugar some.  Next time I’m going to add some vanilla and top with honey after they are done cooking. 

(credits to Jordan Kent for the lovely picture)

          Alrighty now, I apologize for the long post… but I really wanted to include this final portion!       

          I have an incredible sister, Jayme.  Growing up, we fought a lot and I probably told her that I hated her.  I once even threatened to call child services on her.  I think that’s normal for sisters… But I now appreciate her as a wonderful person.  She is a best friend, and teaches me a lot.  Jayme is a blogger; she got me started.  She began writing about her infertility, which led to international adoption, and now pregnancy (yay!).  All that said, she wrote a post this week that made me think.  You can read it here.  Basically, she first asked what you are thankful for.  Not the obvious things, but everything.  Then, she challenges her readers to do something; get involved to help some people that maybe don’t have those special things- big and small. 

          Tyler got a turkey from his work for Christmas.  I was going to do the honors of cooking it for our family get-together.  My Grandma had some health issues, and our get-together was postponed.  So, I had 14 pounds of poultry and no one to feed.  This week I took it to the food shelter.  Not that this was any big sacrifice; it was free and I had no use for it! But when I went, I saw a lot of homeless people sitting along the curb.  It made me sad. It made me thankful for a lot of things.  The obvious: food and shelter.  But also it made me thankful for a job to provide income for those things.  It made me thankful for an upbringing that encouraged me to go to college and taught me how to be a responsible adult.  It made me thankful for motivation and opportunity to go to school and get an education to have a solid career; one that I will love.  It made me thankful for my car, for the gym I worked out at afterward, the new workout gear I wore.  It made me thankful for all the little pleasures in life; like a cup of hot green tea and dark chocolate on my days off this week.  Because all of my needs are met, I can enjoy things like that.  I could go on and on.  I think most people can sit and feel bad for those people, and think about how blessed we are.  But what good is that?  We have to do something about it.  Between school about 30 hours a week, and work about 35 hours, I don’t have an abundance of time to give.  That’s no excuse.  I’m as guilty as everyone else about getting caught up in my own world and conveniently forgetting about all the needs.  I get caught up in getting out of debt and forget that I have enough money to pay all my bills, buy food, and still buy nice things.  So this year, Tyler and I decided (mostly Tyler… he’s the dreamer) to give a rather large sum of money each month to our church’s outreach program, ImpACT.  I am going to try taking advantage of the church organizing events where we can give some time to help out.  My small group is trying to pick a family or cause each month to give to, last month it was a food basket.  Jayme gave us a gift certificate to Kiva a while ago, which we continually invest for people overseas to borrow to start or run their businesses.

          Now, that ended up being longer than I expected! But please take some of those ideas and find something, anything that you can fit into your life to help someone or something. 

          Time to go tend to my marinara sauce!  I will be updating with a few yummy things I made in my time off this week; tilapia with peppers, mashed potatoes with kale, chicken tacos, and tomato soup.


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A Special Lunch

What a wonderful day.  I am on holiday break, and have had several days off of work as well!  As a grad student, I appreciate this so much more than as an undergrad.  For the last 4 months, if I was not doing homework, I was feeling guilty about not doing homework.  Not today! Today I can relax and do things that have been waiting to be done.  I forgot how great it is to eat lunch at a table, not at a computer desk.

I love soups, salads and sandwiches for lunch.  Yeah, this sounds boring and typical but they are so versatile!  Here’s a summary of my first day of break:

My salad consisted of some baby romaine, sweet red peppers, onions, cucumbers, blueberries, cranberries and soynuts.  And the dressing is leftover from dinner the other night. (*Cranberry and dressing explanation below!) The butternut squash soup is leftover also, and the hummus I made over the weekend.  There are few things better than having already prepared delicious food just waiting to be eaten! Whoever said healthy food couldn’t be convenient did not realize what a little planning can do.  This fresh, healthy and most importantly tasty lunch took me about 3 minutes to prepare!  And for those 3 minutes, I had some expectant bystanders!

They got a little lunch of their own. Yes, Max and Daisy like salad.  Don’t worry, this is not their typical meal.

*Kudos to my sister, Jayme, for the cranberries.  She makes them for Thanksgiving as a treat, and I slightly altered them for a salad topping!  All I do is bring some sugared water to a simmer.  Usually I also add some orange juice and/or zest.  Add the cranberries and remove from heat.  Let them soak in the hot water for a few minutes, then put in the refrigerator to soak for a few hours, or overnight.  Drain the water, and there you are.  So, basically you are just starting cranberry sauce, but stopping before they begin to pop open.  You do not want the berries to burst, or you will get a jelly-like sauce, not individual cranberries.  These are great to add to salads, or just to snack on!  If you want them to be sweeter, you can always sprinkle on a little more sugar.

I am going to post later about salads, but for now I will share this recipe.  It tastes best right after it’s made and is warm, but is still great once chilled.  I typically make a bunch and use it throughout the week.

Heat some olive oil in a small saucepan, add some diced onion and let that cook for a few minutes until the onion begins to caramelize.  Add some garlic, and after a few minutes add some balsamic vinegar.  I just let this simmer gently (make sure it is not bubbling much at all- you don’t want to burn it!) for about 20 minutes, to reduce the vinegar.  This step is what makes this dressing; the vinegar becomes concentrated and sweeter, and mingles with the onion and garlic flavors.  I then add some fruit (I’ve used raspberries, blackberries and blueberries) and let it simmer a little longer.  Once I’m about ready to eat I just add some pepper and maple syrup or molasses.  I blend that all with an immersion blender and then add an equal amount of olive oil.  Yum!  It’s a sweet dressing, nice and thick; very rich!

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Food Waste Friday!

Have you heard of “Food Waste Friday”?  The Frugal Girl blogger began to post every Friday about what food she had to throw out that week.  The thought is that it’s a little embarrassing (especially when you have a ‘frugal’ blog like she) to show the world all of your waste.  Therefore, hopefully you will be encouraged to use up more food to avoid public humiliation.  She encourages other bloggers to do the same, and link the posts to hers.  Today is my first.  So here it goes: my food waste for this week:

Some black beans from quesadillas last week.  The in-laws were visiting last week, and their dog gets beef broth on her food; I had no use for the leftover.  The buttermilk I bought for pancakes last weekend; they were discounted because the expiration date was a couple of days after I bought it.

If you’re a blogger, feel free to jump on the bandwagon!  Just check out  The Frugal Girl‘s blog and we can all cut back on waste together!