Asparagus-ish Soup

Ha! Say that three times fast.

Remember my disastrous start as a person who cooks?

You can read about it here and here and here if you don’t.

Well last Friday, I was working my PT job and another librarian came in with this huge bag in her hand and stuffed it in the teeny mini fridge. It was crazy, watching her do that. She then told me the bag was filled with asparagus from her garden and said it was free for the taking. Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables, hands down. So, upon leaving that day, I yanked the bag from the fridge and pulled out maybe a pound of this giant asparagus this woman grew.

Then I had to figure out what to do with it. Obviously, I asked my mom. She suggested asparagus soup and said she had a good recipe. Unfortunately, she never gave me the recipe. Not a huge deal. I then Googled “asparagus soup crockpot” on Sunday, when I decided to make something. I found tons and tons of recipes and they were all different. One thing I kept seeing over and over is that you should blend your asparagus soup to make it, essentially, cream of asparagus, most claimed for better flavor.

I don’t have anything that can do that, so I shrugged off that concern and closed my computer.

I decided it was just soup and I was going to wing it.

Yes, wing it.

I cleaned the asparagus and cut it up. Into the crock pot. It didn’t look like much.

So I dug into my fridge. I had some cauliflower (another veg I love) on hand that needed to be used up. So I chopped that up and tossed it in with the asparagus. I also found a green pepper that needed to be used. Cut up and toss in. And there was half a zucchini. That went in, too. Then I had two small red potatoes that were getting soft, so I scrubbed them, cut them and tossed them in, too.

Now, it was less “asparagus” soup and more “vegetable” soup, but there was still more asparagus than anything else. Thus: asparagus-ish.

I didn’t have vegetable broth on hand. I had some bouillon and could have made some, but that seemed like too much work. So I used the three cans of chicken broth I had on hand. That didn’t seem like enough liquid, so I added the one can of beef broth I had on hand.

Then I threw in a little kosher salt, some garlic powder, some fresh cracked pepper. I stood over it for a moment and gave it some thought, and decided it needed a little heat, for a boost of flavor. So I added some crushed red pepper. No measuring, for anything, just threw things in the crock pot. I cooked it on low, all day long. Probably 8-9 hours. Then I tasted it. It was okay. Not spectacular. I decided that these wise women of the blogosphere may be right. It needed to be creamy.

Some of the recipes called for the adding of heavy cream, but I didn’t want it to be that heavy….or to add the extra fat. So I let it cool, put it in the fridge overnight and left it. On Monday, I stopped at Target and bought a hand blender. This one here. It was affordable (and I had a $5 gift card) and also came with an extra measuring cup, of which I only have one, so win all around.

I went home last night and warmed up the soup, still in the crock pot. When it was warm, I used my new hand blender to blend the soup. Essentially, I pureed it. I did not add anything to it, just blended it together.

Then I tried it.

It was……AMAZING. One of my favorite things I’ve ever cooked and probably the first thing I’ve cooked on my own, without using any sort of recipe. The texture was perfect, the blending was absolutely the right way to go. Because I added the dark beef broth the color of the soup isn’t as attractive as one would hope, but who cares when it tastes like that. It’s got a little bit of kick to it, and is the perfect amount of salty (no extra needed) and it is just awesome. I ate a huge bowl for dinner last night and contemplated eating a second. I was full, but it was so good. I am very excited to have it again for dinner tonight.

So there you go. I’ve told the tales of my flops in the kitchen, I figured it was about time I shared one of my successes as well. Let me know if you try it!

 

Whole30 Beginning

Just a quick touch base to let you know how it is going. So far….so good.

Early observations:

I’m hungry….all the time. I know this will stabilize and I’ll actually become LESS hungry over time, because my body stops craving the foods that are bad for me, but for now, this kind of sucks. Even though I think I am eating plenty, I am always hungry. Like 5 minutes after I finish a meal, I am hungry.

I’ve had a headache for two days (and since I’m only 3 days in….) but I figure that’s a withdrawal symptom. It happened when I quit caffeine, so I am not at all surprised. This should likewise go away with time.

I have more time on my hands and I don’t really know what to do with it. Yes, this sounds weird, but I tended to be a grazer when I ate. Snacking here and there. Now I am trying to eliminate that and eat fuller meals with fewer snacks in between. Logically, I know I don’t really have that much extra time, but it FEELS that way because of the desire to snack that I am ignoring.

I vastly prefer raw vegetables. I figured I would get very sick of always eating raw veggies, so I experimented Monday with steaming. While the steamed broccoli with lemon juice and garlic was tasty, yes, it wasn’t really for me. Of course, I don’t really like broccoli and don’t know why I bought it. I suppose I thought I could convince myself to like it if I slipped it in with all the other vegetables. So I tried the same steam recipe with green beans, which I do love. And I was pretty “meh” about that as well. I think I just prefer them raw. But that is pretty boring, so I am open to suggestions.

I haven’t slept all that great the first two nights. I’m not certain that is fully related. I slept, sure, but not super deeply. However, this is a big undertaking and I’ve worried over it a lot, so it is possible that it is related to that and not the food itself. We shall see, I suppose.

***

I wrote the above on Day 3, thinking I’d post on day 4 and let people know how it’s going. But now I am at Day 11 and this is what the update would look like.

On Day 6, I got stomach cramps. Massive, terrible, awful, worst cramps of my life. It was terrible. It laid me out for two and a half days. Yes, DAYS. Then, that subsided and the dreams began. Dreams. Weird, vivid, astonishingly real dreams. Like where I was walking in a church basement and there was food, everywhere. I was trying to find someone or something and as I walked the halls, I’d suddenly find myself drinking a glass of watered down lemonade. Not even anything good, but then I’d realize I can’t have it and be crushed that I ruined all my hard work. Or sometimes I find myself eating a donut.

Which is weird, because I am not craving either donuts or powdered lemonade. In fact, I dislike powdered lemonade, but whatever. I think it is the sugar that my brain is trying to sneak into my subconscious. But, when I am awake, I don’t really have cravings. I mean, sure, I’d love some ice cream. LOVE some, but it’s okay that I can’t have it right now.  Understand that it is the right now part. It isn’t like I’ve changed my lifestyle permanently. I am hoping to, yes, but even so, if I want ice cream, I can always have some. But yet, the dreams.

The tiredness has mostly subsided. I sleep well again. And I wake up a lot easier, so that is nice. Now, that doesn’t mean I want to get up when the alarm goes off, but it is noticeably easier to wake up. I also fall asleep faster. MUCH faster and I never had trouble falling asleep before.

The hunger has also completely abated. I feel hungry at meal times, but honestly, not really. I feel more like “it’s time to eat” not really hungry. So I eat and then I’m full. It’s kind of nice. I don’t really crave snacks or anything in between.

Elena mentioned to me, today, that she is underwhelmed by this thing. She expected me to be raving about how fantastic I feel or something. I get that. But isn’t the point. In order to feel that way, I have to get the bad out or else the good can’t get in. It isn’t an overnight process. That’s why this is a 30 day program. It takes weeks for your system to reset from a lifetime of bad habits. I am surprised it is only weeks, actually. I notice little, gradual changes, like those above, but they are just part of the process. By the final week, I fully expect I’ll feel fantastic.

In the meantime, I just keep on keeping on.

19 days to go.

Whole30

About two months ago, I stumbled across this website. It wasn’t anything I’d ever heard of before, but as I read it through, I was intrigued.

Honestly, I don’t pay that much attention to what I eat, I just eat what I enjoy. I’m not super un-healthy, because I happen to like fruits and vegetables, but I’m not particularly smart about what I eat, either.

Moreover. as I thought about it, I realized I really don’t like the way that I FEEL after I eat. Eating should energize you, give you what you need to get through the day. Instead, when I eat, I feel tired, or not satisfied, or a little gross. I’ve dealt with headaches for years, and I have severe acid reflux. While I understand that these things can be triggered by food, I’ve never considered that I could cure it.

As I kept reading about Whole30, the more and more that I learned the more I realized that this was something I wanted to try. For those of you who don’t read links, this is a food detox program that lasts 30 days. It is not a diet, though most people do lose weight while doing it, it is a way to break a lifetime of poor food habits and allow yourself a healthier eating lifestyle. For 30 days, you eat only meats and produce. That’s it.

No dairy, no grains, no legumes, no sugars. Also, it should go without saying, no smoking or drinking during my Whole30 month.  While this doesn’t matter to me, as I gave up caffeine years ago, the program does allow coffee, so long as you drink it black.

Okay, yes, that’s pretty hard. But not impossible. I’m going to miss my milk with dinner. And I love ice cream, and cheese, but while I eat a lot of grains and legumes (beans), I feel quite comfortable going without them.

As this isn’t about weight loss, there is no calorie counting or portion control. As long as you eat only approved foods, you can eat as much or as often as you need to in order to feel full. It is cold turkey, and no cheating. It’s a strict idea, but when I think about it, it is only 30 days. It’s not like I’m committing to eating this way for life. Though it is my hope that I will WANT to keep eating this way after I am finished.

As I said, I have been thinking about this for a long time, and I have decided that September is my month. No birthdays, no special events, still a lot of great summer produce available, I think I can do it. Starting September 1, I will fully embrace Whole30 for the month. I’ve been meal planning and prepping, and I’m hitting the grocery tomorrow.

I’ll probably blog updates over the next month, to keep you posted on how I am doing. I plan on doing the whole month, but at this point, I’m not positive I can make it. There are a lot of side effects and that could be very hard on me. I’m going to do my very best though and see how much healthier I feel by the time October 1 rolls around.

Wish me luck, lend me your support, and we’ll see how it all shakes out in the end.

Super Dad

I need to cook several recipes that call for cooked chicken. I bought the chicken at the grocery (on sale!) and now I just need to cook it. But, really, who has that kind of time? Ok, well, I do, but I prefer to spend what little free time I have doing fun things, like laundry and dishes, rather than cooking chicken. This morning, I was thinking, hmm, bet I can just cook it in the crock pot…

I googled it and, yes, you can cook chicken breasts in the crock pot, but they do dry out, so you can’t over cook them. 6-7 hours on low, and that is it. Fine. I’m going to be at work for 7 hours today, so if it is the very last thing I do before leaving the house, it should be fine. I prepare it, seasoning and a little chicken broth to keep it as moist as possible, and all that chicken in the crock pot. Then I reminded myself to turn it on as I was walking out the door.

The job I have today is a job that I was specially trained for, but this is the first time I had done it. As I was leaving I was doing my mental checklist of things I needed to bring, most importantly, my manual, explaining what I need to do. Lo and behold, really not a surprise, I forgot to turn on the crock pot.

30 minutes later, I remember. Of course, I am well into Anoka County by this point. Damn. What can I do? I can’t just leave it sit out all day in the crock pot, I’ll have to throw away three pounds of chicken. Yeah, it was on sale, but is wasn’t FREE. I mentally debated calling my neighbor, but she’s not even usually home during the day. Suddenly I notice the clock. 10:51 am. My dad leaves work at 10, so he is probably home by now, but maybe, just maybe, I can catch him.

I call.

He, fortunately, stopped by the old house for something and was about 10 minutes from my place. I asked if he had a key to my house on him and he did. Hallelujah! I asked him if he would mind stopping by my house and turning on my crock pot for me. He laughed, I suppose it is a strange request, but he agreed to do it. He said he’d do it and call if there was a problem. About 40 minutes later, he called. We did a little phone tag to connect but I got him on the line. He said he turned it on low, and made sure it was plugged in but there wasn’t a light or anything that came on. I assured him it doesn’t have a light and he just had to turn it on. He said it wasn’t warm, I said it takes a minute or two. He checked it again and said, yes, it was now starting to warm.

I thanked him, because, really, how great is he?

And that was that.

Dad saved my chicken.

AND, the best part is, since he turned it on, it FOR SURE won’t dry out!

Just the latest adventure of Super Dad, saving the world, one chicken dinner at a time.

Vanilla Cows

My whole life, I’ve not been a fan of yogurt. Not even a little. I could eat it, sure, but I hated chunky yogurt. If it had fruit in it, it had to be blended and smooth. Mostly though, I just avoided it. Not really sure why. I like pudding, which is roughly the same texture.

I’m not really a breakfast eater. However, I am now up every single morning and I am trying to eat at least a little more healthy. I’ve found when I do eat something for breakfast, I get hungrier before lunch than I would otherwise, but I also don’t eat as much at lunch. Which is why I started buying bananas or strawberries or grapes. I would take a small serving of fresh fruit with me and eat it at work as my breakfast. It was working just fine.

A few weeks ago, I stopped at Target to pick up some things and I knew I needed a few groceries. I decided to just get them at Target, saving myself the extra trip. After completing my list, I was headed to the checkout, leaving the grocery area, when I saw a refrigerated endcap. It hosted quart size containers of yogurt, and fresh strawberries.

I grabbed a container of strawberries, for sure. Then, without my consent, my hand wandered up to the yogurt and snagged a container. Before I could comprehend, it was in my cart and I was paying for it.

A QUART of yogurt. For someone who does not like yogurt, it seems rather stupid to buy an entire quart. What was I thinking?

Believe it or not, I didn’t think about it too hard. It just, suddenly, sounded good to me.

I got home and stared at that yogurt. Then my mind changed directions. It started thinking about these tiny containers my mom got me for Christmas, in these beautiful rainbow colors. I pulled a couple out and portioned all that yogurt into individual containers. Then I got out the strawberries I bought, cut them up and added them to the yogurt.

For the next 8 days, I now had a strawberry and yogurt breakfast.

Did you notice how I said I added fruit? I HATE fruit yogurt! But, that is probably because it gets all mashed and doesn’t taste fresh? Evidently, cutting up actual fresh fruit and adding it to the yogurt I don’t like doesn’t bother me at all. Those cups were delicious.

As soon as they were gone, I went and bought more yogurt, this time with fresh blackberries.

I am just finishing this round, eating the last of the yogurt, after running out of blackberries. Just eating plain, vanilla yogurt. It’s what I had for breakfast today. And it was delicious. On mornings I don’t have it, I find myself craving it. I’m already planning to stop and buy some more. Maybe raspberries this time? Or blueberries?

Now I’m left wondering if I was wrong my whole life, perhaps I just never had the right kind of yogurt? Or else my tastes have changed drastically and now I am better able to enjoy things I didn’t used to care for?

I think it’s that the vanilla cows just get better with age.

Unintentional Gravy

Last night, I was cooking dinner. It was a brand new recipe, Soy Dijon Pork Loin.

The recipe itself calls for a “pan sauce” to be made with the excess marinade. Now, aside from the fact that I don’t actually know what a pan sauce is, I figured I’d just follow the recipe.

Problem. The pan sauce calls for vegetable broth and I did not have any on hand. Ok, well, now it’s time for my YEARS of cooking experience to kick in.

I try to think what I can substitute. My knowledgeable brain decides that any liquid in the same amount ought to work.

Now, I suppose I should tell you that there was olive oil in the pan from lightly searing the pork, also some crispy particles from the same process. The recipe called for using the still warm pan and melting butter in it. Then adding the marinade and a cup of vegetable broth.

I did all of the above except for the broth. I figured water might work. Except it was only about a 1/4 cup of marinade and I was worried it would get too watery and flavorless. So I did 1/4 cup of water. Then, I thought of other options for more liquid to add. Don’t ask me why, but I was convinced I needed more liquid.

So I added a few tablespoons of sesame oil because I had it on hand.

I suppose it is possible I didn’t really think that one through. My brain was focused on flavor and not so much on…well common sense I suppose.

Adding sesame oil made the entire pan mixture very, um, oily? And then, of course, you will recall that I just finished adding….WATER.

So, now I have a rapidly separating mixture with floating chunks of charred pork and congealed goo (marinade). The whole thing looked like a terrible version of wet dog food gone wrong.

Of course, with my vast knowledge and experience in the culinary process, I was confident I could fix the problem. WHY I was confident, I’ll never know, because, let’s face it, I don’t know jack about making sauces. I don’t even know what I was doing except trying to follow a recipe and failing miserably.

So, I thought and thought and thought and the only solution I could come up with was to bind the gooey mixture to the oily stuff and make it homogeneous. That was the idea, at any rate. Once again, with my vast knowledge I figured it would have to be something powdery, like flour, in order to work.

I’m not real clear on the thought process there, just that my brain thought, POWDERY!, and then my brain deduced that this was the best idea it had ever heard. My brain needs a vacation, I think.

So I look in my cupboard and I spy….corn starch! Again, not super clear on what corn starch actually does, but I seemed to recall that my mom might have used it to thicken something and maybe it might bind the crap on my stove. Never mind that binding was not at all what the recipe said it should be doing but this was pretty jacked up by this point and for reasons I’ll never understand, I was intent on saving it. Saving something I didn’t know why I was making in the first place. Brilliance at it’s best, folks.

All my glorious knowledge determines that corn starch is the missing ingredient. I open the box, and without a second thought, dump some in. Did I measure? No. Did I read instructions? No. Did I give any thought to this at all? No, not really.

Well, clearly my solution was brilliant and the sauce was saved.

Um, no.

The sauce, formerly separated oil and congealed goo, had now become separated oil and CHUNKY congealed goo.

Not good. Actually, quite bad.

I stirred. That didn’t work. I whisked. That didn’t work. The stuff on the pan was a mysterious blend of too many ingredients. It was like a classroom full of students on the first day. Given instruction, they can probably work together, but if you just throw them in the room, there is going to be chaos.

My pan was that chaos.

I stared hard at this mixture. I peered as closely as I dared. I wondered if there was any chance it might turn into something if I kept whisking and cooking? The only thing that actually happened was the color. Adding the corn starch changed the color of the mixture from a dark brown to gravy brown. You know that color, replicated nowhere in nature, it is the color of brown gravy.

GRAVY!

My brain seized on this idea like it was a life raft in a sea of horrible ideas. Suddenly I recalled that corn starch was exactly what my mother used to make gravy. So, I could turn this into gravy.

Maybe.

Perhaps with some help.

I pulled out my trusty friend, Google, and googled (no, I’m not kidding) “make gravy”.

The first link on the list detailed the process. Somehow, inadevertantly, I had mostly started making gravy without realizing it. With regard to the corn starch, I should have blended it with water to form a paste (so sayeth the Gods of Google) before adding it to the goop in the pan. I missed that step, which probably accounted for the chunks. But, the instructions said to keep adding water and whisking vigorously until it reaches the desired consistency.

I added a bunch of water (this slop was a MESS at this point) and began to whisk.

I whisked.

Vigorously.

And suddenly, the slop started to transform. The chunks blended in. The color evened out. The oil combined with the sauce. It was pretty thick, so I added more water and kept whisking.

Every few minutes, I’d stop. It’d start to cook down and thicken. I’d add more water, keep whisking.

Once the pork was fully cooked, I pulled it out of the oven to let it rest.

Bravely, fearlessly, I tasted the mixture for the very first time.

It was….

good. Great, even.

I had made, for the first time in my life, gravy. It wasn’t on purpose and my guess is that I made it way harder than I had to, but I had, for all intents and purposes, created soy Dijon sesame gravy.

Unintentional gravy.

The very best part?

I worked so hard and turned this disaster into a working recipe. I felt like a real chef. Except…I don’t  actually like gravy. I never eat it if I can help it. So there I was, a pan full of hard earned gravy, and I didn’t even want to eat it.

Now that, is a classic example of Livlife. Never give up, even if you don’t want the outcome.

Unintentional gravy.

And I did eat some. It was better than expected.

Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful moms I know, most especially to the wonderful mom I have.

We decided to spend mother’s day at my mom’s house, but I volunteered to cook dinner. I made Honey-Chili Chicken (these were both easy and delicious, the juiciest chicken we’ve ever had–and kid friendly. Arionna loved it) and Chipotle Sweet Potatoes (these were okay…I used too much milk and toned DOWN the peppers and they were still too hot for everyone but Dad and Chad) and Vinaigrette Slaw (this is my favorite budget bytes recipe…except for maybe Burritos Blanco…toss up). The potatoes kind of flopped, but the rest was terrific.

Besides cooking, it was just a day of hanging out. Trivia, cards, and lawn games. Grandma had to leave early, she had a second dinner to attend, and Zack had to go to work, but the rest of us were there all day.

Everyone was outside while I was cooking, until Arionna came inside. She said she didn’t want to play outside anymore. I asked if she wanted to help me and she did. She helped me measure and stir the honey chili sauce, then we had to brush it on  the chicken–which is about the perfect job for a kid, if you can stand the mess.
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She loved doing this. She kept telling everyone, “I did the sauce”. Which is true.

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Grandma and her girl. So cute they are!
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These two are just the best of buddies. They are so cute together, even if she’s obsessed with the McFlurry.

After Grandma and Zack left, and we had all eaten, we decided to head out into the sunshine for a rousing game of croquet. In our family, you are never too young to learn to play games,
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Arionna had her own ball and mallet and Emmy was teaching her how to shoot.
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I love that the mallet is bigger than her!
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Random snapshot
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Lady of the day, observing the game. She was all alone because she was in first place.
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As I watched, she got tired of waiting and decided to rest. Love her, so very much.
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Candid snapshots don’t get much better than that!
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Oh, the cuteness!

Later, we switched to Bocce ball. Arionna couldn’t play because she kept stealing the palina and wrecking the shot. So, I picked her up and put her on my shoulders. She was surprisingly content to just sit up there and chatter at me while I still played the game. (I’m not that good at Bocce, but with an extra 30lbs on my shoulders, and the inability to bend over, I was pretty atrocious. But I hung in there and played anyway).
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Eventually, my shoulders were aching and so I handed her over to her dad.
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(Ssh, don’t tell my sister, but I am giving her that as a bday present!)

Chad lasted less than 5 minutes with her on his shoulders. Wuss.

I was still trying to get a perfect shot of my mom and Arionna:
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I didn’t get any good ones, but this one, the expression on my mom’s face makes me so happy. She’s just so happy!

And, speaking of cuteness:
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He was observing the game, and she just stood next to him, calmly holding his finger. Even he thought it was sweet.

And, because it was so beautiful outside, I said I wanted a group photo. I’m trying to be better about taking more of these.
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That’s pretty good for a self timer where the camera is balanced on the bed of a pickup truck.

And that was my incredibly perfect Sunday with my family…to celebrate mother’s day.

Mom, I hope you loved your day as much as I did.

For those who didn’t see it, this was my tribute to my amazing mom last mother’s day.