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I always buy the giant tub of baby spinach, and always end up throwing away 1/3 of it, but the smaller tub is just not enough!  Bittersweet irony! Finally, one day I noticed that my spinach was looking a bit peaked, and decided to cook something with it, so I wouldn’t end up tossing it.  That was the first time I make creamed spinach, and it changed my life–sounds dramatic, totally true.

Once I untapped my love of quinoa, I decided to marry the two into a beautiful, tastey dinner treat.

The original recipe was Emeril’s, and it took a while to find one online that used fresh spinach instead of frozen.  His also called for nutmeg, shallots, and heavy cream.  I subbed in half and half, and skipped the shallots and nutmeg.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds spinach (not really measured precisely, I used what I had left) washed.
  • generous splash of extra virgin olive oil–Emeril called for 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (the kind in the jar)
  • 1/2 cup half & half

Directions:

Bring pot of salted water to a boil, add spinach and cook until bright green (about two minutes).  Dump into fine mesh strainer and press to release as much water as possible.  Chop finely and set aside.

–Note: I rinsed the spinach in cold water before dumping in the strainer so I could squeeze it out with my hands–hard to get all the water out.

Pour olive oil and garlic into sauce pan, and turn heat to medium. swish around until garlic is distributed, then add spinach.  Stir to coat spinach in olive oil garlic mixture, then slowly pour in half & half.  Keep stirring until all or most of the liquid is absorbed.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Then, dump the creamed spinach into another container–a “holding” container, if you will, and use the same pot to prepare the quinoa.  Fewer large dishes!  What’s better than that?

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup qunioa to 1 cup water (that’s what it says on my package, anyway)
  • 1 cube vegetable bullion (adds salt and flavor to the quinoa, I’m a genius)

Rinse the quinoa thoroughly using french press or other fine sieve, add to saucepan, add water.  Once it’s heated up a bit, add the vegetable bullion cube.  Stir, stir, stir until it’s broken down, then cook until quinoa are uncrunchy.

–Note, I ended up having to add more water than the recipe called for.  That might have something to do with the salt in the bullion (?), either way, be prepared to add more.

Serve delicious spinach on a bed of quinoa, open a beer, and watch LOST season 5.

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I am not a super-healthy person.  Anyone who has seen the collection of boxed pasta and ramen noodles in my cupboard would concur, but I do think about what I eat, and try to do my best.  It was challenging last year with three jobs, full-time school, and the occasional internship, but now I’ve got no excuse for not trying.  Plus, now that I’m taking running more seriously, I’m realizing just how sluggish these “bad for me” convenience foods make me, so I’m pushing those out of my diet in favor of stuff that spoils faster, and makes me faster.

I used to have a really hard time finding food to eat when I was out of the house because of my vegetarianism.  I spent many a night at a restaurant eating just french fries or mozzarella sticks because there was nothing else on the menu that didn’t have meat in it, and because I used to be afraid of vegetables.  I rarely complained, just dealt with the fact that I made the choice to not eat meat, and these are the consequences.  Prior to that, I was a picky eater living in a town with two restaurants–I’m used to limited selection.  Now it seems like there are a lot more options for people like me, but a whole new set of problems.

Jewish Friend always talks about the “clean plate club” of which she is not a member.  Her parents are enthusiastic eaters, and she has always been more dainty.  They would encourage her to join them in the clean plate club, but she had no interest.  “You’re a member of the clean plate club,” she told me recently, “I bet your parents never got on your case about not finishing your food.”

The problem, in my case, is that I was not a member of the clean plate club growing up–there was no such club in my family, we all fed ourselves.  I typically finished my whole can of SpaghettiO’s, or half bag of Lipton Rice and Sauce, but not because someone told me to, just because that was enough to fill me up.  I ate until I was full, then stopped.  It wasn’t until I started earning my own money, and paying for my own food while out at a restaurant that I joined the clean plate club.  I want to get my money’s worth, and though I often do take home leftovers, I also nibble and nibble until there’s not much left.  This was fine when portion sizes were smaller, but now when a typical entree lasts me three days–it’s become a problem and a nuisance.

On my recent trip to the Virgin Islands, I had to be at the airport at 7am.  I really don’t eat breakfast even though I know you’re supposed to, because I’m not hungry in the morning.  I haven’t been moving, therefore, just don’t have an appetite until around 10am.  Since I was traveling and didn’t know for sure when or what my next meal would be, I decided to see what TF Green International Airport had to offer me in the way of a small, light breakfast.

Options include Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, assorted dinner places, and the Wolfgang Puck kiosk.  I love Dunkin Donuts, but had already had two large coffees at home, and the thought of a wake-up wrap or hash browns curdled my stomach, so I decided to see what overpriced horrors Wolfgang had to sell me.  Most of the offerings were lunch/dinner stuff, but there was a cold case of salads and fruits, and a delicious-looking yogurt parfait.

Once I got closer, I realized that this yogurt parfait was in a 16oz cup.  16oz– one full pint, 1/2 a quart–that’s a whole lot of yogurt parfait.  According to MIT, the standard size for a serving of yogurt is one cup,  which is half of this giant yogurt that I was staring at.  The typical single-serving yogurt cup that I bring to work is 1/2 a cup.  Is it because it’s “healthy” that it comes in such a giant size?  Is it just because the real expense is packaging and Wolfgang, and everyone else, wants to make their money back?  Do people really want to eat this much yogurt in one sitting?

I stood there staring at it for far longer than I should have, because I was really in the throes of a quandary.  Not knowing for sure when my next meal might be (accounting for delays, possibly running to meet my connection, refusing to overpay for terrible plane food, etc.) and knowing that as soon as I reached my final destination I would immediately start drinking heavily–I needed to eat something.  I could buy it and throw half of it away (which I hate to do), I could force the whole thing into my stomach and feel sick rattling around on the plane.

I pictured myself choking down a warmish glass of yogurt, and did not feel good about it, so I turned to walk away and noticed a basket of what was sure to be overpriced bananas.  Bananas are filling and come in a reasonable package size, so I chose that instead.

“$1.17.” the clerk told me.  Then she mumbled something as I was fishing around for change.

“I’m sorry?” I said.

“I said why don’t you help yourself to another one, these are pretty small.”

cooking poisonI love squash–love, love, love it.  When I was a kid, my mother tells me, I would eat squash every chance I got until my skin turned orangeish. I also ate pumpkin pie mix straight out of the can when I couldn’t get squash.  Turns out that Gentleman Scholar doesn’t care for squash, but if he told me that before, I didn’t believe him.

“You should cook with different ingredients” he told me.

“I love squash.” I told him.

“You should get some hobbies.” he told me.

“Cooking with squash is my hobby.” I told him.

He was less enthusiastic about this recipe, but I loved it, and I’m excited I used quinoa successfully the first time.  When I’ve had it in the past, I didn’t really care for it  (I didn’t dislike it, but was ambivalent), but it came out really well in this case.

Quinoa Butternut Squash Gratin
1 ½ lb. butternut squash, seeded, peeled, and diced
1 cup organic quinoa
2 cups water
1 tsp. salt
3 eggs, beaten
1 ½ cup Gruyere cheese, shredded– I actually used Jarlsberg because it was on sale.
1 cup Italian Bread Crumbs– I bought a Rosemary and Olive oil loaf and tore it up into chunks rather than buy breadcrumbs.
salt and pepper to taste

  • Preheat oven to 400. Spray a 2-quart baking or gratin dish with nonstick cooking spray.
  • Note: Who the hell has a gratin dish? I used my one casserole dish that I use for everything from baked mac and cheese to Gentleman Scholar’s Apple Crisp.  I don’t know if I could even recognize a gratin dish if I saw one–silly.

  • Peel and cube a whole squash, then put in a ziploc plastic bag and seal. Then pierce a few times with a fork and microwave on high for 3-5 minutes until squash is soft and tender.
  • Note: I just heaped the squash in a bowl and covered with a paper towel.

  • Wash the quinoa in a fine sieve thoroughly (about 5 minutes) until water runs clear. This is very important, as quinoa has a bitter protective coating that can linger even after processing.
  • Note: I used my French Press to accomplish this, and it worked perfectly.  I had been planning to MacGuyver something with paper towels and a colander, but that seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. French Press was exactly what I needed, I didn’t lose a single grain of quinoa (except the stuff that stuck under the filter, which really wasn’t much).

  • Transfer squash and quinoa to a large (2 or 3-quart) pot. Add water and salt to pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and the quinoa blooms into little spirals. Remove from heat and let rest.
  • Mix quinoa and squash mixture, egg cheese, and salt and pepper to taste, then transfer into baking or gratin dish. Sprinkle bread crumbs over gratin. Drizzle 1 Tbsp. of olive oil on top and bake for 35-45 minutes or until top is golden brown.

This was seriously delicious, and hearty without being heavy.  I might add a bit more cheese next time–cheese rules, but otherwise no complaints.  The egg and quinoa made a dense but springy kind of texture, which was delightful.  I did notice that about an hour after eating this, I started to feel really, really full.  Perhaps quinoa continues to expand after eating(?)  Either way, pretty happy with the results.

I pride myself on being an excellent adventurer for a number of reasons:

  1. I am a skilled, light, and efficient packer
  2. I am laid-back, have been called unflappable on more than one occasion, and am willing to try anything once
  3. I can go for long periods of time without or with very little food or drink
  4. When in adventure mode, I don’t require much sleep
  5. I have a lot of stamina
  6. I carry my passport almost everywhere because you never know when the opportunity for adventure might present itself.

On my recent trip to St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, I decided to use part of my 48-hour trip to do a little adventuring and seek out Blackbeard’s Castle.  The resort we were staying at was out by the airport, about 1.5 miles from town.  The options to get there were walk (80+ degrees, humid, my leg is still gimpy), taxi (more money than I really want to spend), hotel shuttle (10-minute wait and only goes into town, will not take people back to the hotel, which seems odd), or the local bus.

In the spirit of adventure, I opted for the local bus.  Plus, I had gotten the low-down on how the bus works the night before.

  1. The bus stop was about three blocks from the hotel, past the stoplight, near the bright yellow gas station.
  2. Approach the bus, which looks a bit like a trolley, and ask the driver, “Are you the dollar bus?”
  3. Do not tell the driver where you want to go because they will tell you it costs more than a dollar, which is not true, but if they say that yes, they are the dollar bus, get in.
  4. When you arrive at your destination, push the button, get off and pay the driver $1.

Simple stuff.

I found the bus stop, with a bus next to it, and a man half in the cab, half out having a conversation with another person in Spanish.

“Are you the dollar bus?” I asked.

He had a mouth full of sandwich and mumbled something I couldn’t understand.  I waited a bit, he swallowed, and said, “Yes, but I’m not working right now.” Then he pointed at his sandwich.

Then we stared at each other for a bit before another bus pulled up and I got on that.  The only problem with taking the bus versus taking a cab or shuttle, is that I wasn’t precisely sure where I wanted to get off.  I figured once I saw my destination, I would just know.  Then after a little while, some other white people got onto the bus, so I figured that I’d just get off where they did.  After sitting on the bus for more than thirty minutes, I was pretty sure that I had missed my stop, but I was also pretty sure that I was seeing a lot more of the island than most people there for only the weekend, so I sat back and enjoyed the sights and hills.

After getting off at the Red Hook stop, where the other white people got off, I realized that they were going to the ferry, and I was not.  There was nothing in Red Hook except the ferry, a very well-promoted ATM, two restaurants, and a lot of sailboats.  So I got back on the dollar bus, and asked one of the locals which stop was the downtown that I wanted, specifically, where was Blackbeard’s castle.

“Oh, you’ll be able to see it.  I’m getting off a little before then, but once you see the water and all the pretty boats, get off and you should see it up the hill.  I’d take a cab though because you have to go through a rough neighborhood, and with the economy down, and you being alone, I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.”

Then she got off the bus and went to church.  Wonderful human being.

Except she didn’t count on how cheap I am and how little I worry about my personal safety.  After wandering the length of the downtown area, and quickly discovering that had I not taken the extended bus ride and actually seen the island, I might have mistaken St. Thomas for nothing but jewelry, cigar, and perfume stores, I tried to find the castle.

I could not see it at all.  Finally, I just started climbing the hill in the hopes that once I got a little higher, it would present itself.

No castle.

I stopped at a hotel conveniently (for me) located halfway up the hill, inconveniently (for them) located in the bad neighborhood my bus friend had mentioned, and asked if I was on the right track.  The nice woman at the desk assured me that I was, and once at the top of the hill, I’d just need to cut over to my right. So I climbed, and climbed the steepest hill in the world and once I reached a crossroad, looked around, and still did not see the castle.  I asked two passersby where it was, and they directed me into the parking lot of a hotel.  Finally, I started  walking along the horizontal road, only to find that it gradually sloped downhill and brought me right back to the place I’d started climbing up.

It was then that I glanced up the hill, and actually saw the castle for the first time.

misc3 098

castle

It was also then, that I decided that I did not want to climb the hill again as I was drenched with sweat, extremely thirsty, and my gimpy leg was killing me.  Damn you, Blackbeard.

I went back to the beach.

JobSearchNewspaper_bannerAs I’ve mentioned often, I’ve had a lot of jobs.  Because I’ve also had a variety of positions, I always note how people react when I tell them what I do.  I have this on my mind after coming off a weekend where I met a lot of people, and they asked what I do, and I asked what they do, but it’s something I’ve always noticed and found interesting.  There is always some variance from person to person based on their own perceptions and experiences, but there is a most common reaction for each job.

  • Barnes & Noble, the most common reaction was, “Fun! Wow, so you read a lot?  That must be a great job.” This is usually followed by a small sigh of envy.  This was when I was in my early twenties, so I wonder if the reaction would be different if I still worked there.  My friend and co-worker, The Ausausin, and I used to loathe this reaction and do everything we could to convince the person otherwise.  By this point, we were both quite bitter with our circumstances and the job’s luster had been worn away by horrible management, ridiculous customer demands, and crazy, stalking, and just creepy customers.
  • Tv station, the most common reaction was a wide-eyed, “Really?  That is so cool.  How did you get that job?”  Then there would be a pause where the person would study my face to see if I looked familiar to which I would reply, “I work in production.”  People were fascinated with that job even though it paid the worst and had the worst hours of any position I’ve ever held.  I did enjoy telling people that I worked there, though, because no one had any idea what the job was.  If I was at Barnes & Noble, people could come in and see me working–no mystique there.  With tv station, no one had any idea, and if I did bring them to work, they’d just see a lot of scary-looking equipment and minor, local celebrities.
  • Stupid pepsi–admittedly, when I tell people about this job, I usually say something along the lines of  “I used to work in a call center selling Pepsi products over the phone.” This prompts people to say, “Who doesn’t know about Pepsi that you would have to sell them on it?” Then I explain the situation and how it actually worked, and watch their eyes glaze over.
  • Librarian–this is one that I’m still exploring, obviously.  I read yesterday in one of my library blogs that a woman told a used-car salesman that she was a librarian, and the man laughed out loud, then mumbled something about a dying profession (clearly, she did not buy a car from him).   Thankfully, I haven’t had that reaction yet, but I have encountered a certain amount of skepticism, in particular, when I was in grad school for library science.  I was in the Virgin Islands over the weekend, and I got to chatting with a couple guys on the local bus.  One lived in Puerto Rico, and the other on some other small island, and were the kind of people who talk about buying boats as investments and how great it is to live on a small island in the Caribbean.  When they asked what I did for a living, and I said librarian, the more chatty one said, “Good for you!”  That, or something like that, is the reaction that I get most often.  It’s kind of like if I said that I feed the homeless, or rescue animals or something.  It’s not quite what I expected, but I don’t mind either.

Because this is something I’m intrigued with, I asked The Ausausin, who is now a nurse, how people react when she tells then her job.  “If I just say that I’m a nurse, then they usually seem to feel sorry for me, ‘just a nurse, huh?’ kind of thing.  If I tell them what kind of nurse I am, or what my work actually involves, then people think it’s pretty impressive.”  When my friend the Lutheran minister meets people in social settings, she almost always has to reassure them that she’s not there to judge their choices, just to hang out.

cooking-poisonThis cooking venture of mine is really starting to take off. A while ago, I mysteriously started getting Shape Magazine in the mail. I’ve given them no money, but it just keeps coming, which is fine with me because free things are awesome. I guess Shape also includes recipes because I found what sounded like a delicious recipe for corn chowder–one of my favorite chowders.

It turned out so well, that Gentleman Scholar looked at me with amazement and said “I hope we can have this again sometime.”

I said, “Of course we can, this is America.”

Since it was in Shape magazine, it may actually be a healthy recipe, but I also added cream cheese, so it may not.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp butter 1 tsp minced garlic–the original recipe called for both onion and celery, but as I hate both those ingredients, I left them out.  Also, I think you could sub in olive oil for butter without ruining anything.  I’ll do that next time.
  • 2 small Russet or 3 medium red potatoes, cubed small–I used Russet
  • 3 cups whole-kernel corn
  • 2 cubes vegetable bullion–since I left out the onions and celery, but this definitely made it more flavorful (I imagine)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup milk–recipe called for whole, I used 1% then added 1 tsp of cream cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Other spices to taste–I used Rosemary, Basil, and Oregano

Melt butter and add garlic, pour in water, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add vegetable bullion and cubed potatoes, and simmer for fifteen minutes, or until potatoes are tender.  Add corn, and milk, bring back to a boil, add cream cheese (if you like), and stir in.  Reduce heat and let sit for five minutes or so.

Serve with crusty Italian or French bread, or oyster crackers and watch LOST while eating.

calf_tear_bannerI used to always be jealous of sports-related injuries.  Since I missed out on the glory of being a high-school athlete, I would watch enviously those who were shambled around the halls on crutches with people constantly running up to them asking for progress reports and making sympathetic clucking sounds.  In all actuality, the main reason I was not a high school athlete (besides lack of ability) was because I would not have cared for moments like this, but I still remain oddly jealous.

After high school, I worked at Barnes & Noble for a general manager who was the most terrible human being I’ve ever met.  For example, when I came back from a semester in England, and reluctantly went to ask for my job back, I was told that she was out on medical leave.  When I asked my boss what for, he replied, “they tried to give her a heart, but her body rejected it.”

She was also of that certain age where she had had polio when younger and had one leg shorter than the other.  She had a big shoe, but still had a very pronounced hobble which made her both creepy and zombielike.  It didn’t seem like anyone as gimpy as she should be able to approach so quickly, but you’d see her from across the store, and then next thing, she’s right there with a syrupy smile that always made me feel like I disappointed her just by showing up to work.

It’s funny, because all of these high school athletes were constantly pestered by questions about their injuries and recovery, but no one would have asked her about her limp–the big shoe said it all.

Since I started running, I’ve had a couple injuries. I got a stress fracture about two months after I started running, probably because I was wearing $5 sneakers from Target designed more for fashion than function.  It turned my foot a disgusting shade of purplish green, and made it swell up like someone had injected me with marshmallow fluff, but healed in a few weeks, and hasn’t really been an issue since.  Then yesterday, I was running along merrily, ignoring this twinge in my left calf that I assumed was a strange kind of shin splint that stretching wasn’t helping.  I was determined to “push past the pain” and “overcome.” I was rounding in on mile one, just starting to accelerate, when I felt a pop in my left calf followed by an insane amount of pain.

After freaking out for a while about whether or not I should go to the doctor, I asked the internet what was wrong with me, and it told me that I had a calf pull or calf tear.  It’s not nearly as bad as it could be, it’s barely swollen, and there’s no bruising, but I now have a pronounced limp, especially if I’ve been sitting for a while.  Add this injury to the plantar fascitis that I’ve got going on with my right foot, and I now shuffle out of bed in the morning like an old man grunting and groaning.

The worst part of it all, is that now when I’m at the library, I feel like my old boss at the bookstore.  I shuffle along with patrons feeling like they’re annoyed with my slowness; I see my destination on the horizon and feel like it takes forever to get there; and I feel like everyone is looking at me wondering why the hell I’m walking so strangely, but they would never dare ask.

HP_bannerI have never been one of those people who is able to complain  and get deals because of it.  Even if I am completely justified in my complaining, I still often get a semi-sincere apology and nothing else.  I guess that one time I found a still-living ladybug in my salad, I got a free salad, but paid for everything else I consumed.  I’ve read dozens of articles on how to get something for nothing, how to sweet-talk your way into deals, the best way to deal with retail staff to maximize your rewards.  Plus, I’ve worked in customer service almost my entire working life and can recollect the types of people who managed to get me to give them “extras.”

I still cannot pull it off.

Case in point, when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out on DVD, I was still living in Fargo.  My brother and I went to the WalMart to pick it up so we could watch it while eating pizza.  We went in, saw that there was a huge display, and grabbed one.  It wasn’t until I got home and opened it that I realized it was the regular version and not the super deluxe 2-disc variety that I had previously bought and wanted.

I was worried that since I had opened it, the store would hassle me, but one thing I’ve learned over the years, is that WalMart will really take back anything–even stuff that’s not from their store.  Plus, I would be content with store credit.  I figured that the way I would play this would be contrite, apologetic, and make the person at the returns counter see how easy it would be to make that particular mistake, especially considering there were no other versions of the DVD anywhere to be seen.

My brother and I walked up to the counter, DVD and receipt in hand, “I’m an idiot,” I started, “When I bought this, I didn’t realize that it was the regular version and not the 2-disc version that I really wanted.” Quick flash of the proper DVD, which we had grabbed before approaching the counter to ease the exchange process. “Would it be possible to just exchange the two?  I realize that this one is more expensive, but obviously, that’s no problem.”

The woman looked at me blankly, and took the improper DVD. “This is open.”

I was a bit taken aback, “Yeah, I didn’t realize until after I’d opened it, that it wasn’t the 2-disc version.”  Then I smiled in a sheepish way.

“You can’t return this if it’s open!” she shrieked at me, “You could have copied this, people copy these and then sell them!  You copied this!”

“Ummm, no, I didn’t.  I don’t even have a DVD burner,” I assured her.

“No, I can’t take this! If it’s open, I can only exchange it for the exact same item.  I don’t know what you did to this!”

Then she practically threw the DVD at me, and my brother and I left in a shell-shocked state.

Things like that are what happen when I try to complain, even if I’m in the right.  Even my brother was amazed at how quickly this woman went from customer service to outrage and suspicion.  “Man,she hated you.  It was like she thought she was busting up an underground DVD piracy ring. Plus, if all you wanted to do was copy it, why would you want another copy?”

Despite my history, I keep trying, hoping that I will get better at this stuff, and that someday, someone, will give me a break.  I finally called Sprint to complain about the crap phone I was sold, the fact that I was tricked into renewing my contract, and my general dissatisfaction with them.  I’ve been a customer for probably six year now, so I figured that they would want to do right by me.  Plus, Jewish Friend’s mother apparently calls Sprint a few times a year, threatens to leave, and then gets all manner of deals.

I called and got an apology.  A very nice girl picked up, went through the whole spiel about helping me, and then when I told her my story and asked what the penalty would be for breaking my contract she just said, “I’m sorry that happened, $150.”

I tried to get a bit more indignant, and press upon her how I had been wronged, and she asked how long I’d been using this phone, “A little over a year.” I told her.  She took the model number, told me I could switch back to my old, decent phone, if I bought a new battery ($50), and told me to have a nice day.

I clearly need someone to fight my battles for me.