Thursday, April 30, 2009

lentils & rice

lentils & rice

With our economy in the crapper, and so many feeling the crunch, some for the first time ever, of course we are all interested in saving some bucks. My own household has zero income (save for the husband's unemployment benefits) currently and so one might think that we're making drastic changes to our lifestyle. Only, well, no, we're not. The changes are small, things you wouldn't notice, and mostly reside in the realm of psychological distress (the insomnia and wrenched guts of wondering how long we can stave off foreclosure, you know, gripping subjects like that). I'm doing less thrift store therapy, our bills are not as cut and dried and tidy anymore, and we have to say No to the children more often. But other things, like what we eat, remain exactly the same (uh, cross fingers, knock on wood, say your prayers, because who knows how long we'll tread water like this??).

According to so many stories I've heard on the radio (before potential pandemic usurped economic downturn, anyhow) eating for less is the new five star restaurant. I heard some silly chef challenge on All Things Considered recently that had famous names (not so famous that I knew who they were, but whatever.) in food attempting to make a tasty meal for a family of four on a budget of ten dollars. And I nearly switched the station because, seriously? This is news?

But then I had to step back and remind myself that not every person responsible for feeding a family has the same good fortune I have to both a) not ever had much money to start with and b) a formative young adult introduction to being healthy and being cheap.

Actually, I'm pretty sure that it was the cheap that beget the healthy, even if, over the years, the subjects morphed into a symbiotic jumble of mindful living. But I might not ever have made it to where I am now had I not read The Tightwad Gazette in the first year of my marriage.

I didn't catch on to Amy Dacyzyn's compendium of frugal living tips in its newsletter days, no, I checked out the books from the library (but years afterward, the three volumes were published together in one fat edition). And I ate them up entirely. It's been a long time since I've read them, I bet the references are dated and maybe a little hokey, but the suggestions, I'm sure, are still sound.

Suddenly I'm doubting the veracity of one of my family's longstanding menu staples, ye olde Lentils and Rice, and whether it's a Tightwad inspired dish or not. It doesn't matter. It's cheap. It's easy. It's delicious. It's good for you. We eat it every week.

We've also been a vegetarian family for over ten years now, so it's not a lightbulb moment at this point to realize that meatless meals cost less. In fact, though I'm really saving this subject for a post all its own, I must briefly mention that if you're eating meat at every meal, you're probably contributing to all manner of societal ills and atrocities because there's no way in heck this planet can support animal consumption at the rate our country has expected it for so long. Okay.

And if you're not a vegetarian (really, I have no problem with omnivores, it's the factory farming and culture of excess and draining resources and animal cruelty, among other things, that irks me) you should still be eating a lot of bean based meals. I'm glad that pinched pocketbooks are finally compelling some people to make this a priority, better now than never I guess. Though I admit that it truly does surprise me that something as simple as Beans (or Lentils) and rice can be regarded as revolutionary.

So this is a favorite meal of mine because, first of all, everybody eats it. It cooks up long and slow so unless I'm running late, I get it going early and dinner happens smoothly, without any of that last minute Witching Hour Hungry Kids rush. So, all that PLUS it's the perfect dish for using up whatever's languishing in the not-so-crisper drawer in your fridge.

Here's the gist (per my transcribed scrawl in the little spiral notebook that's lived in the silverware drawer of every house I've ever lived in as a married lady): in a 9 x 13 casserole, dump together 3/4 C rice, 1/2 C lentils, chopped veggies, 2 1/2 C water or stock. salt/spices/seasonings to taste. Cover. Bake 325 for 90 min.

That's the basic idea, but I usually double it and make the rice to lentil ratio heavier on the lentil side. I use brown basmati and, also, some sort of tomato, canned diced or tomato sauce. The picture above is prior to adding the (self-picked and canned w/ a friend last late summer) tomatoes, but after I grated in a few stringy carrots and chopped up some salad greens that were starting to head south. I had just picked up our first CSA share of the season and needed to out-with-the-old in our refrigerator to make room-for-the-new.

We have eaten this in so many (many many!) configurations, but last week I served it alongside a carmelized leek and rapini frittata. The leeks and rapini were also part of our CSA share from of our favorite local farmers (who also happen to be friends, making the whole 'do you know where your food comes from?' question so much more personal and true). Leftovers are great to throw into a tortilla for a fast lunch. At our house we always say "lentilsnrice" all smashed together in one fast word like that. Lentilsnrice. Not just for tightwads!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

before i met you

This is the time of day when it's harder to finish the things I wanted to finish but easier not to think about it. This is the time of day after the boy has gone to sleep, so the house is quieter (missing his clatter and, also, that somebody-in-the-house-is-sleeping hush that softens our activity just a bit, an invisible sustaining pedal), but still busy. In a few minutes, the husband will read to the girl (because in our house you're never too old for a read aloud; they finished Watership Down -oh! rabbits!- yesterday and will jump into something new/old tonight) and I will have to finish the last chores of the day so that I can sit, later, and watch something (we have Dexter on borrow from the library. I'm not sure about it yet.) without guilt, without *too much* guilt. Which is why I'm here, ostensibly, refreshing my stale ipod so I can push through by listening to something interesting. But I'm not doing that at all. No I'm listening to this song on repeat. Again, again. Thanks to a friend who mailed me a copy, I have it in my itunes now, but a couple of weeks ago, when I first discovered this song, I listened to it over and over again on youtube (and shared it with you on facebook, depending). I'm sure there are more compelling topics for a barely read blog, but my current favorite song seems as fit as anything else. Okay, one more time. And then, I mean it. Dishes. Laundry. Sweep. And see if you don't play it a few times in a row yourself. So sweet and infectious, simple and profound. We all of us, don't we, have these other people, whether romantic involvements or not, maybe past versions of our own selves, or even, dreams and plans and hopes, that we lug around with us, haunting our present.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

the company you keep

My son is playing on the floor with his dump truck, his recycling truck, and a pile of blocks. I walk by and say, just for passing by conversation-sake, "hey, did ever notice that there's an armadillo on your shirt today?"

boy: (looks down, sighs) Yes, I did.

mama: You sound glum about it. Don't you like armadillos?

boy: No. I do not.

mama: Why is that?

boy: They play with bears.

mama: I'm not sure about that. But if it is actually true, why would that be a problem for you?

boy: (sighs, annoyed, that mother of his, always asking dumb questions) They might eat me.

mama: Armadillos don't eat people!

boy: No. Bears. Bears eat people.

mama: But I don't even think bears and armadillos have anything to do with each other anyway.

boy: (getting exasperated) They do! And if bears get really, really hungry, they could eat little boys. So that's why I don't like armadillos. See?!

Sunday, April 19, 2009


It's been quiet here. And by here I don't mean my blog. That's a given. Or my neighborhood. WHAT? SPEAK UP! I can't hear a word you're saying over the incessant whine of a stupid 2 stroke dirt bike motor, that keeps circling my block. I'm pretty sure boys my daughter's age, without helmets, stacked 2 deep, should not be riding a dirt bike around the hood. Oh, wait, dirt bikes aren't even street legal. I'm all for city noise (in fact, I miss the hum of a more populated place, for sure) but keep your stinkin dirt bikes far away from me. Like in a museum of stupid things people invented that kill people and ruin delicate ecosystems.

It's been quiet at old blogger. Seems like so many people are leaving (have left), for greener self hosted pastures or wordpress or some other better platform. I don't know. I guess I'm feeling the urge to move, too.

You know what happens when you move 13 times in 13 years? (keep in mind, I've lived in a few places for several years at a time. . .) You get accustomed to change. You might not like change. You might dread change and transition slowly to change. But you expect it and when it's not happening, you feel jumpy, because, judging from history, it should. And you just want to get it over with already.

I don't know that I could do the one two switcheroo trick with whatever ill-favored Fate seems to have been hanging over me for so long by simply moving blogs instead of abodes, but it's tempting to try it.

On the other hand, I grew up in the desert and I find tumbleweeds blowing by incredibly nostalgic. (No, really. When I was about five I had a tumbleweed "collection". I was partial to the ones taller than myself). What's it to me if everybody else is packing up and heading out? I barely visit this space, so it should not actually matter if it's passe, played out, sub-par.

But, still. Change. I itch.

You know what's funny? We can think we have a good thing going anyway, we can intend to stay the course indefinitely, to plug straight along with no thought of veering, and -wham!- life can up and have a different idea.

So I guess we take what we've got. When we've got it. We hold the things that bring us comfort and gladness and belonging, and when they change, we hold their stories.


Friday, April 03, 2009

who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?

who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?

Last weekend I made chocolate chip cookies: a right gesture of love for the family, considering that I'm fairly much take-em-or-leave-em. Chocolate isn't my thing. I know, I know, I risk betraying some stereotypical code of my gender by daring to admit such deviance. I mean, it's okay, sometimes. I eat it if it's there, if offered. But let's say Life had 2 doors and I had to choose Chocolate Cake or Peach Cobbler, I'd run through the fruit pie portal. No question. Of course, I don't know what I'd find on the other side. Life is a series of choices (and happenstance and, maybe, I waver, a divine sort of Plan) but so often we see the choices in hindsight. But what if they were more obvious? Arches clearly labeled? Pie or Cake? I'd live the pie life.

And I didn't mean to be punny (I groan at wordplay, but maybe, secretly, I kind of love it), just like I didn't mean to eat so many cookies and like I don't mean to grind my teeth every night while I'm sleeping. Regarding the first point, I can't help it and wouldn't if I could because words hang out and do fun things in my head. On the second point, it's easy, another weekend, another batch of cookies, even if it means springing for another bag of choco chips. I tell myself it's not quite pie season yet. (I'm not going through the door, I'm just sticking my head in through the window. what?) But that third item's pure trouble.

I fell asleep listening to the most recent This American Life the other night, I only heard the first intro story. Did you hear it, too? Business sucks for everybody right now but there's a surprising upswing in dentistry. Repair dentistry. Because guess what? Stressed out people break teeth (let's see. . . stress? check! broken teeth? check!) and grind their teeth (check plus!) and apparently there are enough of them walking the line between stressed out enough to have dental problems but not so stressed out to be so broke they can't afford repairs that dentists are seeing increasing numbers.

I have no future toothpaste commercial aspirations, oh no quite the opposite. Let's say I'm totally down with normal wear and tear. What I'm NOT down with is jaw pain and a mouthful of nubbins. But since I won't be contributing to any dental boon, and shoving the bedsheet into my mouth isn't cutting it (cloth in the mouth is right up there with very high buildings on my list of things I don't like to experience) I am going to see if a diy mouth guard will help.

If the habit persists, though, and chewing anything becomes a chore, I won't be eating any sort of cookies at all. Cake would be difficult. But I think I could still manage pie. It's really the cooked fruit I'm after, anyhow, and that should be easy enough to swallow.