Shifting Perspective

It’s odd how things you hated as a kid are now absolute treasures.

ImageOne day, when my child starts complaining about taking a nap, I swear I’m going to tell him that one day, he’ll wish he could nap. He’ll roll his eyes at me and I’ll do everything I can to refrain from saying “You’ll understand when you’re older.” (I’ll skip that for spankings, though.)

That shift in perspective goes double for gifts. Remember how as a kid, getting clothes for your birthday or Christmas was the worst? I remember unwrapping a gift under the tree one year and seeing the dreaded white cardboard clothes box peek out from a tear in the wrapping paper. I just knew there would be a sweater inside it. No such luck – it was socks. In that moment, I thought any purchase that was normal during back-to-school shopping should be off-limits under the tree.

Fast forward many years. Every December, my husband asks me what I want for Christmas. This year, I was ready with an answer.

Socks.

In my defense, they weren’t just any socks. Not white cotton multi-packs that I got decades ago, no thank you. I wanted Thorlos, the granddaddy of all socks. Thick, soft, with extra padding right where the laces on your hiking boots are tied extra tight. They’re amazing. And all I wanted was another pair of Thorlos for the weekly hiking we were doing that winter. (We live in the desert, where winter is the time to enjoy the outdoors and summer is when we hibernate.)

My husband came through like a champ. He got me not one but two pairs of Thorlos, one extra-thick for winter and one lighter for summer. (The one exception to hibernation is heading up north. I happily trade 2 hours in the car for summertime hiking and 40 degree temperature drops.) On top of that, he got me a few Mario games, which admittedly I would have loved at any age. But the Thorlos are what I’ve used, while Mario has sat lonely on the shelf.

That never would have happened twenty years ago.

Socks aren’t the only gift I got excited about and later questioned. A few years ago, my mother got me a full luggage set for my birthday. She may have been suggesting it was time to stop borrowing hers every time I traveled, but no matter. I was ridiculously excited, especially since the bags were a bright red for easy visibility on a luggage carousel.

It didn’t hit me until that night that I was happy to receive a practical gift. Once upon a time, the only time a good gift was called practical was if it was a practical joke. Not anymore.

Then there was the Mother’s Day gift of maternity clothes (yay! clothes that fit!) and a supportive belly band (yay! pain relief!). Extra practical, extra dose of reality. With an actual child growing inside me, I was solidly, undeniably, an adult. Also, I got excited to unwrap clothes. Yep, things have changed.

Next week, I turn 30. I don’t know which I’m dreading more: officially being out of my 20s or the hey-thanks-awesome-gift-oh-wait-I-like-that? hangover.

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Southern Experimentation

The produce that ends up in my fridge is always a surprise.

I buy from Bountiful Baskets, a co-op that for around $15 gives you 15-25 pounds of produce a week. (I weighed it.) The produce comes from small farmers, whatever is in season and in abundant supply, and each basket is half veggies, half fruit. Baskets vary week to week, which forces me to experiment with food I probably wouldn’t pick up on my own.

My wonderful step-father has kindly answered many calls asking him to identify produce I’d never seen before. He doesn’t even make fun of me for it.

With my last basket, I got produce I recognized but had never cooked before. I’m referring to collard greens. Since the basket also included sweet potatoes and peaches, I decided to try my hand at a decidedly Southern meal: sauteed collard greens, roasted sweet potatoes, dirty rice, and peach cobbler.

Considering that the last time I had a Southern meal was at a fast-food place that served red beans and rice in disposable cups, my knowledge of the cuisine is a bit lacking. So I didn’t expect much. Happily, it worked out pretty well (mostly).

I started by boiling the collard greens. As they softened, I scooped them out with a slotted spoon, put them in a colander to drain, and saved the water for boiling the rice. I always want to use the leftover water in some other dish but rarely plan well enough to do so. Finally, it happened.

Look at all the nutritious goodness left behind!

 

On to the sweet potatoes. I used a tried-and-true recipe for roasted sweet potatoes. Simple and delicious.

Is it bad that I selected the oddly-shaped potatoes for our meal and saved the regularly-shaped ones to make sweet potato chews for the dog?

Once those were in the oven, I got started on the dirty rice. The rice went into the yellowed water leftover from boiling collard greens and was ready in no time. That’s when things got really messy. I found a recipe on my phone while I was out and about, and let’s just say my memory of what ingredients I had on hand did not match up to the reality of what was in my kitchen. Oops.

This is what I ended up with:

It tasted about as interesting as it looks. Not very.

It’s got tomatoes, salt, pepper, Krazy Salt, onion powder (how did I not have fresh onions?), soy crumbles, and jamaican jerk seasoning. At least it fit the name “dirty rice” even if it didn’t fit a recipe.

Finally, it was time for the greens. I used a basic sauteed collard greens recipe and used a ton of minced garlic. Toss the greens, garlic, salt, and pepper into a wok, stir for a few minutes, and you’re set.

I love bright colors on a plate.

Here’s how the meal turned out.

Real food bloggers know about presentation, garnish, and lighting. I, on the other hand, am proud I put off eating it long enough to snap a photo.

Not a bad meal. The greens were good and garlicky (in my husband’s words, “who knew greens could be so good?”). The potatoes were so simply done that their natural flavor really shone through. And the rice… well, with a little tapatio sauce, it worked out.

Then I went to finish dessert.

I made a variant of this peach cobbler recipe. Boiling the peaches with some water and sugar really helped cook the peaches so they could spend less time in the oven. I left the skins on, which helped the sauce get a beautiful reddish hue.

Not going to lie, I burned my tongue licking the spoon. Worth it.

For the cobbler topping, I skipped the recipe’s crust and instead mixed 1 cup cooked quinoa with sugar and cinnamon to taste. It’s healthier, gluten-free, and adds protein to the meal. Quinoa is amazing.

The final product:

Fruit plus protein… must be healthy, right?

The crust-to-filling ratio is a little off, but it’s good nonetheless.

Overall, I’d say the experiment was a success. Anytime my husband finishes his plate in under 2 minutes, I did well.

Time for another slice of cobbler…

Banana Worms

Potato mashers are perfect for making banana bread. Check out what happens –

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BANANA WORMS!

It’s my favorite part of making banana bread by far. Even better than the eating part – I leave that to my fiance, who loves it. I use this banana bread recipe because it’s really quick and easy. It earns me big points, especially when I swap out a quarter cup of sugar for a quarter cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Alright, I might eat a piece or two if there’s chocolate in it.

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Wrong Side Of The Fence

It had been a long time since I’d jumped a fence.

In high school, we got early release days once a month. My friends and I usually spent the afternoon walking the neighborhood, getting pizza from Nancy’s Pizza in a strip mall near our neighborhood.

We’d walk to a cul-de-sac with homes along the sides and a block wall at the end of it. On the other side of the wall was the back of the strip mall’s grocery store. While it was a place normally reserved for stock boys and delivery trucks, for us it was a shortcut to Nancy’s. Once we got past the fence, we had a short stroll to an opening between buildings and two doors over was a slice of pizza and a soda for just $2.10. Sometimes, the wall had an entrance through it, so we simply had to walk through it. Other times, it was a solid block wall we had to jump. I can’t remember how many times we were surprised by the change in the wall, and I could never figure out why it changed between pedestrian-friendly and solid block so often. Now, I suspect it may have had to do with unwanted teenagers in that cul-de-sac…

I don’t think I’ve hopped any fences since then. So yesterday was a bit of a pickle.

I came home from the office after my fiance, who had dutifully locked the back gate. That’s not normally a problem except this time, my gate key was inside the house – on my desk, right where I’d put it the night before after the neighbor who watched our dog Nala for a few days returned it to me. That would have been fine, except my fiance was asleep on the couch and not answering his phone, so him unlocking the gate wasn’t an option. My options: wait until he woke up, or jump the fence.

Jumping was not as easy as I’d remembered.

This time, instead of having friends willing to give me a boost, I was alone with a 6-foot block wall. Instead of wearing scrappy jeans and an oversized t-shirt, I was wearing one of my favorite dresses for work. And instead of an area devoid of an audience save for my friends, this time I was in plain sight of anyone in my complex returning home from work.

Crap!

I remembered the step ladder I’d seen in our storage unit, so I used that in place of a boost. When I peaked over the wall, Nala gave me a look, her eyes bright with excitement and her head tilted in confusion. She ran to me then back to the gate with a look that plainly said, “Hey Mom, over here! Why are you up there? You should come in through the gate!”

Did I mention, the other side of the fence I had to climb is Nala’s preferred area for doing her business?

I managed to climb over without much incident and without an audience. I managed to maintain a sense of decency even in my dress. I got a few scrapes but didn’t hurt the knee that’s been bothering me and without landing in dog poop. All things considered, it went well.

Jumping fences used to be no big deal, but now it was a last resort that took strategizing to accomplish. I suddenly heard Danny Glover’s character from Die Hard in my head: “I’m too old for this shit!”

At least I didn’t land in dog shit.

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Photo credit: philosophygeek

Character

Home in Phoenix's Willo DistrictLast night, my fiancé and I were driving around downtown Phoenix, late for a friend’s birthday dinner. We missed the restaurant and ended up circling through one of the historic downtown neighborhoods to find it.

I have long been in love with Phoenix’s historic neighborhoods, while my fiancé loves our Scottsdale neighborhood and has been adamant that our first home would be nearby. Recently, I’ve noticed some chinks in the armor, so I thought I’d take the chance last night to show him how gorgeous the downtown homes can be.

We drove slowly down the residential street, me pointing out what homes I thought were beautiful and him (finally) acknowledging that they were pretty cool.

Me: “I love these homes. Look at the front porches!”

Him: “Yeah. And some of them have nice courtyards on the side.”

Me: “Yeah! They all have… character.”

Him: “Yeah.”

(pause while I replayed the previous 15 seconds and clips from HGTV)

Me: “Did I just say a house has character?”

Him: “Yeah. You officially crossed the line into being an adult.”

Me: “Weird.”

Two minutes later we found the swanky wine bar. Ten of us sat around, drank too many sangrias, and played dirty Would You Rather, courtesy of someone’s iPhone. If this is being an adult, I’m ok with it.

 

Photo credit: Brandon Hunt