Muck

I like cute-creative Halloween. Not ghosty-ghouly-gorey Halloween.

Like the year Tween dressed as a skeleton on Hawaiian vacation: skeleton costume plus grass skirt with Mardi Gras beads and puka shells topped with a straw hat. Cute, creative, and made us all laugh.

As I walk the dog through decked out neighborhoods, I continually avert my eyes to the dog, to my own plodding feet, to avoid the grossing-me-out décor. Pumpkins and hay bales, all good. Severed bloody limbs hanging from trees? No way.

I do the same with social media and news reports, which these days seem about the same. But even as I ignore insensitive comments, I can’t help arguing with them in my head. Did they read or hear the same info I did? Then how in the world did we come to such different conclusions?

How in the world, indeed. How in the world…

The other day I heard someone comment that we’ve had a bad week, oh, for about a year now.

Yes. That feels spot on.

As that comment ricocheted around my brain, I recognized that I feel increasingly, steadily, angry. Naturally an optimist, I seem to have lost myself, as I can’t find much about which to be optimistic.

I hate how noisy the world has become, with everyone shouting at one another. Not only disagreeing—never mind agreeing to disagree—but hating on one another.

Here’s what I hate:

I hate that our country’s issues have piled up like bricks in a wall, with friends and family members on either side hurling invective and brandishing pitch forks.

I hate that those with power refuse to even listen to those without power, as if they don’t have a right to an opinion, or their own perspective based on their own experience. Nope, they’re just wrong.

I hate the struggle to defend myself as a woman working in a man’s world. And the apparent inability of men to see that that is my experience. (And if I feel this way, as a white, middle class working woman, I truly cannot even begin to imagine what it’s like to be someone without as much privilege.)

I hate that life can be so hard, that people I love hurt so much for so many reasons and there is little I can do about it.

In so many ways, I feel stuck. Like one of our favorite children’s books, I’m one duck stuck in the muck and I want to cry, “Help, help, who can help?”

But I don’t cry, because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of sounding ridiculously needy. I’m afraid of being that vulnerable. I’m afraid of being accused of losing the faith, of being faithless. I’m afraid I won’t hear the right response, “We can, we can!” I’m afraid we’re all stuck in this muck.

I had a conversation yesterday about the title of my blog, “Miracles in the Mundane,” that there truly are bright, sparkly miracles in everyday life if we open our eyes to see them.

I still believe that. I do.

It’s just harder to find miracles in the muck. So, tired as I feel already, I must keep digging.

Maybe we should all try. Put down our burdens and instead start digging and looking for miracles. Because, honestly, that would be the best help.

Meatless Monday – Spicy Coconut Noodles

Happy Halloween!pumpkins-1642289_960_720

Chili on Halloween has become something of a tradition for our family, mostly because it’s healthy comfort food to warm up your insides on a cool fall evening but also because you can make a BIG pot and share it with friends.

We have enjoyed Halloween parties with friends most of Tween’s school years. This year, however, Halloween is a Monday, a bummer day for a party. And Tween is in middle school, which comes with increased independence in our safe small town, and less need for parental gathering. Not to mention an important school project due tomorrow for Teen and a friend (both were at a smashing party last year–how time changes priorities! And what teacher assigns a big project due the day after Halloween? Seriously!).

So we’ll enjoy chili at home and actually be here to answer the doorbell and pass out candy to cute kiddos in costume. Not a bad option.

If you haven’t tried my veggie chili, please do: easy, quick, oil-and-salt free, healthy and, best of all, Delicious! AND I want to share with you a recipe that has become one of my weeknight go-to quick-fix meals. It’s super-easy and flexible, a good whatever’s-in-the-crisper recipe.

The genesis for this recipe came from Real Simple, an absolute gem of a magazine and a hit-or-miss recipe source, IMHO. If the recipe looks good I’m willing to try and, though the misses occur, the keepers seem always worth keeping.

I wasn’t sure the first time I made Spicy Coconut Noodles. But by the third time–having added my own twists–I knew this would stay in rotation.coconut-noodles

Spicy Coconut Noodles
Serves 4-6

8 oz whole wheat spaghetti (I prefer Trader Joe’s Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti)

Sauce
13.5 oz unsweetened coconut milk (I buy it by the box at Trader Joe’s)
3 Tbsp tomato paste (tomato sauce will do in a pinch)
1 tsp chili powder (or to taste – Guy always wants it hotter but, for the sake of others, sriracha…)
1 Tbsp chili-garlic paste

Add-ins (all optional – go with what you like//what you’ve got, but definitely GO for it!)
1/2 c unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 c unsalted peanuts/cashews (chopped if desired) or sesame seeds
1/2 c edamame
1/2 c peas
1/2 c diced carrot
1/2 c bell pepper, any color, diced (I always have mini red, orange, and yellow bell peppers)
1 package Trader Joe’s vegetarian gyoza, prepared according to directions
3 green onions, diced
other options: basil leaves, mint leaves, sprouts, celery (diced), zucchini…you name it!

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine coconut milk, tomato paste, chili powder, and chili paste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes.

If using (please do!), saute coconut in a dry pan until toasted (take care – it goes slow at first and fast at the end); empty into a bowl and use the same pan to toast nuts/seeds (sassy turn: add a few drops of low-sodium soy sauce to the pan). Set aside for serving.

If using, prepare gyoza according to package directions.

Defrost vegetables (I always have frozen peas/edamame); chop vegetables (carrots/bell peppers). Toss add-ins to sauce as it simmers.

Add (gyoza, if using, and) noodles to sauce. Toss well in pan. Top with toasted coconut, nuts/seeds, and green onions. Serve immediately.

Meatless Monday – Veggie Chili

A dear friend offered to host the annual family-friendly Halloween/Trick-or-Treating party (meaning, as much fun for adults as kids, including Kitchen Dance Party long after we all should have been asleep) .

This Halloween dealt us a new parenting milestone – Teen definitely had his own plans and Tween, willing to attend party and eat food, felt desperate to Trick-or-Treat sans parental types. Let’s just say this was our first Halloween in eleven years that we did not attend an elementary school Costume Parade; we did not follow our Tween down the street; no Trick-or-Treating for us. Sniff, sniff.

Middle School boys, itching for independent Trick-or-Treat

Middle School Boys, itching for independent Trick-or-Treat

Anyway, Friend said she’d make both beef and veggie chilis. Knowing she had more than enough to do, I offered to make the veggie chili. Upon tasting it, another friend – stunned a pot of veggies could taste so scrumptious? – asked what in the world I did. And I can’t believe I haven’t shared Veggie Chili, one of my all-time fav comfort foods.

Thing is, I kinda wing this one. It always has onion, garlic, beans, and tomatoes. It usually has zucchini, bell pepper, and corn. Because I had some, I added mushrooms this time and they were delish, and will be a chili staple in the future. It has had carrots, but they weren’t a fav so don’t go there unless you feel passionately about carrots. I freely change amounts depending on how many I plan to feed: more than just my fam means another can or two of beans; a crowd means adding more fresh chopped veggies, beans, and tomatoes. Upping the quantity necessarily means upping the spices (but I always start conservative and add flavor as I go; you don’t want to get too spicy and fry kids’ mouths – you can always serve sriracha on the side).

So here’s what I did, and you can try your hand at winging a pot o’ veggie goodness.

Next-day leftovers over half of a baked Russet potato

Next-day leftovers over half of a baked Russet potato

Veggie Chili

1 large onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large or 2 medium zucchini, diced
2 baby portobello mushrooms, diced
5-6 cloves garlic, pressed
3 cans diced tomatoes, not drained
2 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can each black and garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 c chili powder
1 Tbsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute (or other no-salt veggie/herb seasoning)
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp each onion and garlic powder
1 c corn (I use frozen, and roasted = awesome if you can find it)

In a large soup pot over high heat, saute onion until browned; if necessary, add a teaspoon of water at a time to avoid sticking. Add bell pepper, zucchini, mushrooms, and garlic, along with a small amount of water (1/4-1/2c, depending on veggie volume). Cover and cook down slightly, stirring every few minutes. Add tomatoes, beans, and seasonings. Chili may look dry but veggies will cook down and release additional liquid. Cover and reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 10 or so minutes; add corn and cook until heated. Adjust seasonings as needed.

Serve with corn chips or corn bread, or over cooked brown rice, french fries, baked potatoes, or spaghetti. This chili is versatile!

And, BTW, did you notice? No oil, no salt? Nothing bad for you in this one!

Meatless Monday

Fall plays hide and seek with the Bay Area. Mostly, Fall hides. Oh, we catch glimpses of her as the mornings flash an early chill, a playful breeze kicks up, and the days gradually shorten. If we’re lucky, we might wake up to damp ground, evidence of a light rain or at least a heavy dew.

But afternoons can be hot and blue as summer. The calendar announces that Halloween is right around the corner, and we chuckle and shake our heads as child-like Fall has already donned her costume: Summer!

Last night while I brushed my teeth, Guy decided it really had to be time by now to switch to our warmer duvet. Too warm, neither of us slept well.

Even while the farmers’ market continues to sell flavor-bursting vine-ripened tomatoes, we residents of this mild-seasoned state begin to long for comfort food – soups and stews and roasts (all veggie in this household, mind you). And so last week, when given the opportunity to bring a meal to friends facing hardship, I made minestrone soup. It’s one of our family favorites, full of veggie goodness. Easy to make and even better as leftovers, it also makes enough to share. Add a simple green salad and crusty bread for dunking and you’ve got a hearty, satisfying meal.

Minestrone Soup

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 zucchini, halved lengthwise and chopped
3 celery ribs, diced
2 carrots, diced
½ large onion, diced
1 c green beans, cut bite-size
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can each kidney and garbanzo beans, drained/rinsed
1 can chopped tomatoes, undrained
6 c veggie broth
Pepper/Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute/basil – to taste
1 c red wine
1 c dried small pasta, cooked separately
3 c spinach

Saute zucchini, celery, carrots, onion, green beans, and garlic in olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes, broth, and seasonings; bring to a boil and reduce heat, simmering for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cook pasta. Add wine, pasta and spinach and remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Notes: If you’re reheating the next day, you might want to add an extra 1-2 cups of veggie broth. My always-on-hand veggie broth staple: Better than Bouillon Vegetable Base. Simply mix 1 tsp with 1 c hot water and you’ve got a cup of broth. Cup for cup, I think it’s both less expensive and way more convenient that storing cans/cartons of veggie broth. Besides soup, I use it in cooking beans, grains, even sauteing veggies sans oil, everywhere you’d use whatever other veggie broth you’re using.

And if you haven’t discovered Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute, you’re missing out. It’s a no-salt veggie/herb seasoning blend. I call it “21 Gun” and use it everywhere, for example, in salad dressings, and it rocks on steamed broccoli with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Finally, don’t skip the red wine in the soup! Use whatever inexpensive but still tasty brand you can find – I’ve used shiraz and merlot/malbec. The wine gives the broth a depth of flavor you won’t get without it. I’ve tried a lot of minestrone recipes, but it’s the wine at the end that really kicks this up a notch.

So here’s the irony: I took a break from writing to walk the dog and, as I stepped outside, it began to rain!