The Training Walk: First Hurdle

I’d been so good! Overshot my target mileage last week, was on track to do it again this week. Then Tuesday night, the cough started. I still did my walk Wednesday morning. Thursday was way harder. I had some extended errands to run, put in a four-mile (non-consecutive) work out and racked up over 17,000 steps on my pedometer, but it wasn’t easy. I was coughing a lot and hard, but not quite feeling crappy.

That happened on Friday. I barely put in a half mile workout-wise, did errands minimizing the walking and still racked up almost 7400 steps. Saturday, the best I could do was walk from the car to the Urgent Care clinic. Yep. It’s a cold, triggered by my allergies. Got the heavy-duty drugs, but am .2 miles shy of my goal of 9 miles for the week. Nor do I know how this is going to impact my mileage for this coming week. Plus, I have two very driving intense errands to run on Monday, which may possibly also happen on Tuesday. I am worried.

See, the thing is, I come up with these great plans to exercise more, then inevitably something happens. I get a foot injury. I get sick. The weather gets unbearably hot or rainy. I skip days to rest or wait out the weather, then a week goes by and two weeks and I’m back not doing what I want to be doing. I don’t want to do that this time. But I am legitimately sick and I don’t want to stay sick, and doing too much will not help me get well.

My current plan, as drawn up by my coach and friend Sharon McNary (@ironcharo), is to increase my mileage every week by 10 percent, then take an easy week, then three weeks of increases, then an easy week. We’ve got a couple easy weeks ahead to account for Thanksgiving and Christmas. And I’ve been dared to walk the Rose Parade, which is going to be really interesting, since presumably I will be attending Sharon’s party the night before – and it’s a really good party.

The mileage is divided up with one really long walk (about 40 percent of the weekly goal), one rather long walk (25 percent of the weekly goal) and the rest divided up for the other four days and one day off.

I’m torn between just taking an easy week and starting up with the three increasing and one easy after that. Or just shooting for my admittedly rather modest goal of 10 miles for the week, with one-mile walks on the four short days, 2 miles on the rather long day and four miles on the really long day. Just how to spread it out is the question, since I need a short day between longer walks. And I need to get well. Oy.

I can’t let this stupid cold hold me back. Well, I’ll figure it out. Sigh.

The Training Walk: Beginning

There is no Sewing Report this month because I haven’t had any time to sew. Well, there was that one project, but it mostly proved that I still need lots of practice at re-sizing patterns. Feh. And since next month is November, I will be giving over my Tuesday blog posts to The Dark Side of the Fridge, where I will do a month-long tutorial on how to plan and cook Thanksgiving Dinner.

I’m also starting a new section of the blog (as you can see above) called The Training Walk. This is because I am embarking on yet another new project and as my coach suggested, it might be a good idea to journal/blog my experiences. I’m not quite ready to reveal just yet why I’m doing all this training and blogging and what not. One reason is obvious – if I don’t meet my goal it will be pretty embarrassing, and truth be told, that has only been an incentive to give up sooner rather than later. Secondly, I just read somewhere that people who tell everyone what their big plans are seldom follow through. Apparently, telling everyone what you’re going to do is psychologically close enough to actually doing it.

What I will say is that I have a very specific goal in mind and for it to happen, I have to start training now. Well, I started last week. My key goal is consistency – which has never been numbered among my virtues. I have to say, though, having such a visible goal, namely something I’ve been wanting to do since I was in my 20s, is really helping me get off my backside. I think the other thing that’s helping is that we are starting really slowly. So slowly, in fact, that I blew past my mileage goal, if I count all the extra steps I took cleaning the garage and getting to the doctor’s office and running around the L.A. As Subject Archives Bazaar last Saturday. It was an unusually active week for me and if you only count my actual workouts, I only went over my goal by just under a mile.

I do walk an awful lot already since my husband and I don’t own a car (we rent when we need one). I asked my coach if she thought I should count some of the walking I do to get around in with my mileages. She thought that would make more sense – and I did that on Saturday. But I’m thinking I’ll do a little of both. I do need to do several sustained walks, as opposed to walk a little ways here, sit down, then walk there, sit down, like I would getting on a bus or the train. But given my schedule, it would probably help to integrate my workouts with getting from point A to point B at times. I’ve discovered I’m more likely to work out when I can integrate it in with whatever I’m doing on a given day.

There is no doubt, however, that I overdid it last week. Call it two days of cleaning the garage, and I probably could have started counting my workout a lot sooner in my running around on Friday. Still, I was up and walking this morning and I walked every day except Sunday last week. We’ll see what happens.

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

From the Dark Side of the Fridge: Salad Basics II

how to make saladsSome years back, I read a cookbook which started with the author being asked for a recipe for egg salad. My reaction was akin to the author’s: You need a recipe for egg salad? In fact, I find it hard to imagine needing recipes for salads at all. Oh, maybe there’s a specific combination of ingredients for a classic salad, such as a Waldorf (apples, walnuts and celery) or a taco salad (avocado, chips, beans, cheese, spiced meat, tomatoes, black olives and lettuce). But how you combine said specific ingredients has more to do with how you like your Waldorf salad or the odds of that half can of black beans getting pushed to the back of the fridge never to see daylight again, which is why I tend to use the whole can even when there are only two of us eating.

We’re learning how to cook without recipes here because it’s faster and easier to just cook rather than look up what you’re doing every other minute and measure out just so much of this or that. Salads are an easy way to practice throwing stuff together. They are also a very easy way to get dinner on the table with a  minimum of muss or fuss. Depending on your base ingredient, you may not need to cook anything. Or you may just use one pan.

The nice thing about salads, especially those using greens or healthy grains as a base, is that you feel really virtuous serving them. Be careful. If you ladle on the dressing like it’s soup, you’re adding boatloads of calories for no good reason. Most salads, even those serving up to eight people only need a couple tablespoons or so of dressing. And let’s not even talk about chicken or potato salads drenched in mayonnaise. Okay, let’s talk about them because they are really, really tasty, but not so good for the waistline or arteries. And eating healthier is one of the reasons we’re learning how to cook.

I put together this infographic as a basic blueprint for salad making. Even though I list dressing as the last step, as noted in my last post on salads, you make the dressing first, right in the bowl you will mix your salad components in. But before you figure out what dressing to use, it helps to know what kind of salad you’re making.

Step One – Choose the base. Got some leftover chicken? Shred it for chicken salad (which you can serve on a tomato if you can get decent ones this time of year). Cook up some brown rice one night, let it cool, then make a rice salad. Greens as a base do not keep well, so if you’re using lettuce and/or spinach, make sure you only use what you can eat. Actually, salads don’t generally keep well. Nobody waxes enthusiastic over day-old potato salad. But once the lettuce hits the dressing, you’ve only got a matter of hours before it gets all wilted and even slimy. Grain-based salads do better as leftovers, but you still don’t want to go too long before finishing your pasta salad.

Step Two – Add your incidentals. This can be largely a matter of what’s in the fridge, although I recommend using juicier ingredients like tomatoes and cucumber with green salads, since you’re going to eat it right away. Otherwise, the cuke or tomatoes will let go of their juice and make everything really watery.

Step Three – Pick your dressing and mix it in the bowl. Mayonnaise dressings are usually most popular with starchy bases, such as pasta or potatoes, but oil and vinegar work, too. Same with meat-based salads, such as chicken or tuna (which isn’t technically a meat, but close enough). Try adding some pickle relish for flavoring.

You will need to clean your veggies. You can cut lettuce, but do make sure you’ve dried it by wrapping it in a lint-free towel and letting it drain or using a salad spinner. Chop everything into bite-sized bits, toss them together with the dressing and you’re done.

Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts – When It Feels Like the Trolls Are Winning

St.ThereseQuoteThis morning I woke up in a foul mood. Now, this may have something to do with some minor hormonal mess-up that we believe I’m dealing with (as in we don’t even know if that’s the problem). In any case, I spent a good chunk of my morning raging internally at a former partner of mine who done me wrong then tried to blame it on me because she couldn’t get a hold of me.

Let’s not get into the fact that a) she did get a hold of me twice, and b) I am not at all hard to find. The bottom line is that the situation has been dealt with. I came out ahead. I do know better than to let these sorts of things take up real estate in my brain. And, finally, silly me, I keep aspiring to a vocation of love. I may not be able to do much, if anything, to change our world, but I can be as loving and kind as possible.

Except that what I wanted to do was scream at this freaking idiot about what a freaking idiot she is and maybe slap her around a little. Not very loving. I get that. May I point out that this loving thing is mostly aspiration, not actuality yet?

So I’m talking to my girlfriend, who has a real-life troll persecuting her, and we both agreed it’s frustrating as hell. The ding-a-ling in this case is also going around pretending to be a pillar of the community and supporting business even as she’s doing everything she can to malign my friend and her business.

The author of a blog I like to read came out with her latest – and largely legitimate – rant about the generally hell-bound state of the world. Now, it may be my historical bent, but I am of the opinion we’ve been pretty much hell-bound since we crawled out of the soup. But let’s take it as a given that things are looking particularly hell-bound of late.

In all of these three situations, decent people are feeling downright ornery for very good reason, and there isn’t a heck of a lot we can do about it except be the bigger person. Even if I wasn’t trying to be more loving, calling my former partner a freaking idiot isn’t going to change a damn thing. My friend’s troll has been called out as a hypocrite and it went right past her. The blog author conceded that screaming at the idiots of the world doesn’t do anything.

And it’s not surprising, really. If someone calls me a freaking idiot, you can bet my response is not going to be “Oh, you’re right. I will reform my life now.” Nor does calling these idiots out as idiots feel anywhere near as good as you’d think it would. Okay, the well-aimed and witty riposte to someone’s stupidity can be fun. But raging at someone, even when I’m right? Nah. That pretty much sucks.

But I have to admit that being the bigger person, that’s not very satisfying either some days. There may be part of me that is worried that I am going to have to call the lawyer on my former partner at some point, something I don’t want to do, let alone that she might prevail (not likely given that she couldn’t even find some current paperwork). My friend is definitely worried about her business, which faces enough challenges as it is. And the rest of us worry about what might happen if the idiots get elected.

But maybe it’s not about being satisfied. That’s what I like about that quote from St. Theresa of Lisieux above. Here was a woman who was obviously very keyed into God and frequently didn’t feel the love and the kindness and compassion. But she chose to sing as if she did, not to fake it, but to connect herself to the person she wanted to be.

So maybe it’s about going beyond what we wish we felt and keeping up the struggle to reframe our thinking in ways that address the idiocy, but with love and kindness. Maybe my job is to look past my former partner’s stupidity and see the panicked, hurt woman that she is and find some compassion for her. And I probably won’t succeed all the time. But it’s better than giving the troll more brain real estate than she deserves. And ultimately, it’s not about being the bigger person, it’s about becoming a better person.

Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts – Coming Soon


UPDATE – Looks like this past month has been a bad one for blog productivity. Mostly I’ve been focusing on chasing dollars and getting the final edits done on my next novel Bring Into Bondage, the exciting sequel to Fascinating Rhythm. Next month is looking pretty crazy on the commitment front, but, hopefully, I’ll get back on board with the blog schedule. At least, Bring Into Bondage will be ready for beta reading. I’m taking applications now. Either use the contact form at the right or sign up for my monthly missive, The Robin Goodfellow Newsletter for more details. Thanks so much!

It’s one of those things they always say when it comes to marketing your writing – make sure you post about coming projects.

Frankly, I’ve been too busy trying to make enough money to pay for the production of said coming projects to do much about producing them. However, I did put up a couple notices on my Fiction page – you’ll have to scroll down to see them.

One is for the audio book of my novel Fascinating Rhythm. I even have the first Chapter (without music or anything, just me) posted. I also have a quick advertisement for the sequel to Fascinating Rhythm that I put together a couple, three weeks ago for what reason I cannot now remember. The book is Bring Into Bondage, in which Freddie and Kathy hurry out to Kathy’s parents’ farm and try to figure out who’s been vandalizing the place before someone gets killed. I expect to have Bring Into Bondage ready for beta reading by the end of September. Send me a note via the contact form if you’re interested in being a beta reader.

And that’s all I’ve got for today. Thinking about (and cleaning up) my website has pretty much wrung out my brain for the nonce. And I really should be doing final edits. I’ll be back next week with Salad Basics II on the cooking part of the blog.

The Sewing Report: Using the Scraps

sewing3The one downside to sewing, and specifically clothing construction, is that there’s a certain amount of waste that gets generated. After all, there’s only so much you can do with the whole rectangle of fabric and most pattern pieces are not rectangles. So you get little bits and pieces of scrap fabric and finding ways of using the scraps can be tricky. You could throw them out and lots of people do. But we’re pretty committed to avoiding waste around here – you know, that saving the planet thing. And, yes, there’s that cheap side of me thinking, “But I could make….”

So I took a class this past weekend at one of our local fabric and quilting stores, New Moon Textiles, in Pasadena, taught by expert quilter Dorine Nieuwenhuijs, that showed me a really fun way to use even the smaller bits of fabric to create another fabric – and that’s without using more fabric as a base. What she does is take the bits of fabric and sew them together to make all kinds of shapes, or just a new piece of fabric. Dorine even cut up some of the larger bits she’d made and sewed them together at different angles. sewing1

There’s a real trick to the process, and you can read about it in the book 15 Minutes of Play, by Victoria Findlay Wolfe.* And, yes, the class and the book are actually about quilting – which I have yet to try. But here’s the thing – you don’t have to make a quilt with your resulting fabric. You can make a dress or a top or a tablecloth or whatever. Some folks have made vests. I can’t quite imagine a whole closet filled with clothes made this way, so I guess somewhere along the line I am going to have to bite the bullet and learn how to quilt. Because I do have a lot of scraps that I’ve been saving for years and years.

Seriously. Going through the one scrap bag I brought was almost like going down memory lane. I even found a scrap from a blouse I’d made when I was an undergrad in college.

The bottom line is that it is worthwhile to save those bits and pieces of fabric and even if you get bits so small that you can’t even use them to make more fabric, you can save them, then stuff a doggie or kitty bed with them – one of things that Dorine does with the scraps generated from her classes. The trick is finding new and creative ways of using what we used to consider trash. It’s not always easy, but it can be fun. For example, I use the top parts of old jeans and pants to make bags, then cut up the legs to make yarn. I even did that with an old dust ruffle that I couldn’t sew back onto its base. It’s now a very nice seat cover.sewing4

And I have two and a half lovely panels of bits and pieces that I’m either going to expand or just use as the front part of a shirt. Not sure yet, still thinking.

*Please note that I am a Barnes and Noble affiliate – so if you click on the above link and buy something, I will get a small commission at no cost to you. It’s an easy way to help keep the lights on around here and I truly appreciate the support.

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

From the Dark Side of the Fridge: Salad Basics I

It’s summer. It’s hot. Salads are a great way to get dinner on the table without cooking and a minimum of fuss. Plus they’re generally pretty healthy. So let’s get some salad basics going, and yes, we are starting with the dressing first.

“What?” you ask plaintively. “Why not just pour the dressing out of a bottle? And that goes on last, anyway.”

Remember our mantra? Don’t make any more mess than you have to. You make the salad dressing first right in the bowl you’ll eventually mix the salad in. As to why make it, there’s no point in not making your own. Bottled dressing is not cheap and have you ever looked at the ingredients label on one of those? Holy preservatives, Batman! Not to mention tons of sodium, and a lot of bottled dressings these days contain things like dextrose and high fructose corn syrup. You know what those are? Sugar, and sugar is getting to be the new bad guy in the food world, and those hidden sugars in heavily processed foods are probably why. (Which is why I’m a big advocate of reading labels, even on basics like mustard and ketchup).

Making your own dressing means you can control how much goes in your salad – you don’t need nearly as much as you think. A couple tablespoons will dress enough salad for four. Your own dressing just tastes better, too. And it’s a snap to make. Finally, when you’re just learning how to cook without recipes, salad dressings are easy to play around with. If you make a horrible mistake, just rinse out the bowl and try again. You’ve only set dinner back maybe five minutes, at most. And you will make mistakes. They’re no big deal. Just try again.

We have a new mantra to mutter repetitively: You can always add more, you can’t add less. In other words, use less seasoning/oil/whatever than you think you’ll need. You can always add more if it doesn’t taste right, but you can’t take out too much salt very easily. Or cumin or parsley or whatever you used too much of.

The basic salad dressing formula is three parts fat to one part acid, plus flavorings. In other words, for every three teaspoons or tablespoons or quarter cups of fats, you add one teaspoon, tablespoon or quarter cup of acid. Fats are your basic oils (olive, canola, corn) or mayonnaise (Trader Joe’s has a good one without fancy chemicals or sweeteners) or even cream. Acid is the tart or sour element, most commonly a vinegar of some sort, but lemon or lime juice works very well, too, and buttermilk and sour cream also count. A note about vinegars – do not, repeat, do not use white distilled vinegar in anything you’re going to eat or drink. It’s great for cleaning floors or your microwave, but its taste is truly horrible. Cider vinegar is also one of those things to watch out for. Make sure it’s actually made from cider, as opposed to the white stuff with flavorings and color added. Blech!

Flavorings are things like dried herbs, mustard, ketchup, spices. Anything you think will go with the fat and acid you’ve chosen. A word here about dried herbs. If you can get a hold of a pre-blended mix that has only herbs in it and no added salt or other stuff, buy it. Buy it in bulk if you have to. We have herbes de Provence here, and I toss it in tons of stuff. But Italian herbs would be good (not Italian seasoning packets because of the chemicals). Also, it’s easy for me to say things like add your favorite herbs or whatever. But I also know you don’t necessarily have a favorite herb or herb blend. You probably didn’t even know there were such things as herbes de Provence. Here’s how you find out what you, and by extension your family, do and don’t like. You buy some herbs and/or spices and try them individually. You can do this with a basic mayonnaise and lime juice dressing because those ingredients won’t cover up the flavor of whatever you’re experimenting with. Just don’t buy those expensive jars on the spice aisle at your local supermarket unless you have to. Check around. Around here, most supers have a section next to the produce department with small packages of dried herbs and spices for, like, a fifth of what the jars cost. And if you’re not sure you’re going to like something, you don’t want to spend $6 on something that will clutter up your kitchen for years to come.

So here are some basic dressings with a couple variations:

Classic oil and vinegar, the oil just coats the bottom of the bowl.

Classic oil and vinegar, the oil just coats the bottom of the bowl.

The classic oil and vinegar. This is where you want to use the expensive extra virgin olive oil (and you can get some that are still very good and won’t require adding onto the mortgage to buy). I also like red wine vinegar in this application. Add salt and pepper and taste after mixing with a fork or whisk. You can always add more oil.

salad2Add some dried herbs – experiment with marjoram or basil or thyme. Or find some herbes de Provence, my fave.

salad3Add some mustard to the classic which has the added advantage of keeping your oil and vinegar from separating while you wash the lettuce.

salad4French (which is sometimes called Russian) dressing is simply ketchup and mayonnaise.


That little yellow blob is actually pickle relish. Someone accidentally brought the stuff with the mustard in it.

Thousand Island is French dressing with pickle relish added – a basic for a taco salad.

salad6Ranch dressing – puh-leeze. You do not need those little seasoning packets. Salt, pepper, a few dried herbs (oregano, basil, thyme) and mayonnaise. Stir in enough buttermilk bit by bit until it’s as thick or runny as you like.

One final note – learn to taste as you go. It’s no big deal to dip your finger (or if you’re cooking for guests, a spoon) into your dressing or whatever and taste it. It will save a lot of nasty surprises at the dinner table. It’s also how you learn what works and what doesn’t. So taste and enjoy your own salad dressing.

The Sewing Report: Making Bias Tape


Clover Bias Tape Maker

Who’da thunk it would be this fun making bias tape? Please note that I bought the Clover Bias Tape Maker on my own and they don’t even know that I have their product, let alone that I liked it.

I don’t remember if I read about the giz-watchy in Threads Magazine or if I just saw it at one of my favorite fabric stores, but I finally bought the one that makes 1/2-inch bias tape. I was tempted to go nuts and buy all the different sizes, but for once prudence won out, and I bought the one to try first.

Which is kind of interesting, because the purchase coincided with a slight problem I was having that has absolutely nothing to do with bias tape. While playing around, looking for sites that showed how to make clothing from the 1920s, I stumbled onto, and specifically, a page showing instructions from 1924 on how to drape a dress. Now, for those of you who don’t know, most clothes are made from paper patterns that you use to cut out the individual pieces of a dress or pair of pants, then sew together. One of the ways designers use to get that pattern is they drape fabric on a person or dressmaker’s dummy, then cut away what they don’t want. This is called draping. And I’m just crazy enough to want to try it.

Well, I have a perfectly good length of mystery fiber fabric that I’d bought at Michael Levine’s Loft, located spang in the middle of the Los Angeles Garment District. The Loft, itself, is worthy of a whole post on its own, but what they sell there are the end pieces of bolts that the local manufacturers can’t use – and they sell it for $2.50 a pound. So I’d gotten this lovely cotton and something lavender fabric with a nifty design woven in and I thought it would be perfect for my draping experiment, especially since I’d gotten it for dirt cheap.

The instruction call out several yards of ribbon, but I couldn’t find one that worked well with the fabric – and I have several pieces of purple and mauve ribbons to prove it. So I’m trying to figure out what to do and at the same time, was wondering what to use to test out my bias tape maker and bing, bing, bing! I can make bias tape from the fabric I want to drape with. So I did.


Close up of the bias on a piece of fabric

The bias tape maker (giz-watchy) is only part of the process. You have to make the bias strips, first, which is actually pretty easy if you have a pre-made pattern piece – some outfits ask you to make your own bias binding. I have a couple patterns with the piece, but they’re buried somewhere in all my patterns. I found this tutorial from Dread Pirate Roberts (obviously a Princess Bride fan), which made things even easier. What you do is you layout a block on the fabric’s bias. Almost all fabric is woven with the threads crossing each other at 90-degree angles. So the straight grain is parallel to the length-wise threads, crosswise is parallel to the width-wise threads, and bias is the 45-degree angle that bisects those 90-degree intersections. You sew two ends of that bias block together, with the ends staggered, so that you can cut along the long edge of the tube you just made in an ongoing loop that will turn into yards of bias stripping.

Bias2Here’s the fun part. Once you’ve got your stripping made, you get your iron ready, and you poke your strip through the wide end of the bias tape maker, pull the fabric through the giz-watchy, which folds the long edges over, pressing it with the iron as you go. And then you have perfectly folded bias tape to attach to whatever you want. It’s not a lead-pipe cinch – I did have to fiddle with my first couple feet. The trick, I discovered, was keeping the iron as close to the nose of the giz-watchy as possible. The other trick was finding a way to spool my stripping so it didn’t get all tangled, as well as improvising a take-up reel for the finished tape.

So I now have all this tape I can use instead of ribbon on my dress. When I get around to draping it. Eventually. Really.

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

From the Dark Side of the Fridge: Cleaning Up

Cleaning up is easier when you leave everything on a cutting mat or board

Cleaning up is easier when you leave everything on a cutting mat or board

It may seem a little counter-intuitive to start our learning how to cook journey by starting at the end of the process. But let’s be real. Even folks who love to cook (which ain’t me) generally hate cleaning up.

Yet, how you go about getting dinner on the table can make a difference when you have to get it off the table and into the dishwasher. We’ve all heard the old saw, “Clean as you go.” My mom loved that one and I hated it. Until I got my own kitchen and realized she was right. Now, it doesn’t make sense to hold up dinner while you wash the pots and pans right then and there. The food will get cold and that would be icky. But while you’re waiting for the noodles in the skillet casserole to cook through, you can certainly unload the dishwasher and reload it with last night’s dishes. Or make sure the counters and your cutting boards and knives are clean.

It’s especially important to clean your knives as you use them. For one thing, they are your most commonly used tools and you want your knife ready to go when you are. Secondly, letting them sit on the counter while waiting to be cleaned means they’ll bump up against all the other pots and dishes waiting to be cleaned and that can damage that all-important sharp edge. Thirdly, it’s a lot faster, easier and safer to clean a freshly-used blade than one that has something dried on and stuck. A sharp knife is a much safer knife, but it’s also a little scary to scrub hard to get that last bit of dried-on garlic off. Much simpler to run it under some hot water, wipe with a wash cloth and then a towel before the garlic gets dried-on.

As important as clean as you go is, there is one other mantra to mutter repetitively until it’s ingrained: “Don’t make any more mess than you have to.” The bowl or pot that you don’t use is the bowl or pot that doesn’t have to be cleaned. Or in our house, sit around on the counter until one of us (usually my husband) gets tired of all the dirty dishes and finally does something about it.

You know all those cooking shows with each ingredient neatly measured into little bowls? Don’t do that. It just means all those little bowls have to sit around until they get put into the dishwasher, then pulled out of the dishwasher, possibly dried, then put away. Let me demonstrate a better way as I walk you through a variation on the classic French dish ratatouille.

Ratatouille is basically zucchini, eggplant and tomato all chopped up and sauteed with some garlic, onion, herbs and white wine. Oh, and bell pepper. I hate bell pepper. I leave it out. Actually, I also detest zucchini and eggplant, but rather like them in ratatouille because the tomatoes and herbs cover up the icky flavors in the eggplant and zucchini.

In this case, I wanted some meat to go with dinner, but didn’t want to grill or cook something separately. I also had some romano beans (or whatever they call wide, flat green beans in your neck of the woods) that were gearing up for a quick trip to the compost bucket if I didn’t use them. What you can’t see in the photo above is that I had a pound and a half of ground turkey on the stove getting nice and brown while I cut up the onion, zucchini, a Japanese eggplant, and the green beans. And pressed a couple cloves of garlic – all of which I left on the cutting mat.

When the turkey was almost browned, I picked up the mat and slid the onions into the pan with the turkey. I stirred, let them cook for a couple, then did the same with the green beans, and then the zucchini, eggplant, the garlic, and finally, a can of diced tomatoes (no chopping to do and no juicy mess). I added about half a glass of white wine and drank the other half. I often pour the wine straight from the bottle, but that’s not the safest thing to do. You can also use the tomato can to measure your wine, which helps rinse it, as well – about half to a third full. Finally, I picked up some salt out of my salt cellar, sprinkled it over everything, measured about a tablespoon’s worth of Herbes de Provence into my hand, tossed that in, ground some pepper over it all, stirred, then let it simmer about 15 to 20 minutes to get the beans cooked through and all the flavors melding and playing nice with each other. Notice – no measuring cups or spoons to clean. Okay, one wine glass, but that was going to happen anyway. I cleaned up the cutting mat and the knife and put them away. Rinsed the can, put it into recyratatouille2cling.

To serve, I plopped the ratatouille into bowls and put those on the table. Boom. Done. No serving bowls to clean. It’s called plating, and it’s also very helpful if there are folks at your table trying not to eat too much. You’ve got automatic portion control, although that kind of goes by the wayside if someone gets up and fetches more.

So there you have it – a veggie-rich complete meal that’s respectably low in calories, very tasty, took about forty minutes when all was said and done (I’d forgotten to thaw the turkey again), cooked in one pan, with only one dish and a fork per person. And the wine glass. Which took all of five minutes to clean up after, or would have had we actually done so that night.

Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts: Born on July 4

fireworksI’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,

A Yankee Doodle, do or die;

A real live nephew niece of my Uncle Sam,

Born on the Fourth of July.

(George M. Cohan)

Yeah – that’s my theme song, at least this time of year. I actually hesitated to even mention my birthday because, frankly, I’ve already gotten my share of good wishes from the Facebook crowd. But then my mother said I needed to write about it.

Well, it is both a blessing and a curse to have a birthday on a major holiday. It can be kind of cool and distinctive to be born on July 4. I have never worked or gone to school on my birthday. People always grin when they hear what day my birthday is.

But there are also some significant downsides. Like, birthday parties. Ever try to do a princess party in red, white and blue? I did get the Cinderella cake when I turned 6 (or was if 5?), but the majority of the cakes and decorations were fireworks, flags and buntings. Mom said there wasn’t much else available.

Worse yet, while my school mates and friends could have their birthday parties on their actual birthdays, I never got to. Everyone was celebrating with their families. Even now, when most adults have to wait for the weekend to celebrate their birthdays, I seldom get a birthday party. When am I going to have it? Folks still celebrate holidays with their families. And if I do get invited to a party, it’s about the holiday. Which is fine. It just makes the few parties I’ve had that much more special.

I think the jokes are the worst, though. Any idea how many times I’ve been called a firecracker? By my parents? (Thanks for dropping that one this year, Mom.) One wise-ass even suggested my pigtails looked like fuses – so should have blown up on him. And, yes, it is true that I briefly thought the fireworks were for me, but I was four. That’s four years old, barely old enough to understand the concept of a birthday, let alone a whole nation. It’s been a few years. I’ve figured it out.

It could be a lot worse. I have a friend whose birthday is on December 25. Now that one seriously sucks, with all the two-for-one presents, and talk about your birthday getting lost in all the celebrating. She turned 50 before she got her own birthday party. Blech!

So, I’m not complaining. Just pointing out that having a distinctive birthday is not all sunshine and lollipops. Ultimately, being born on July 4 is more fun than not.

In fact, I’ve got a song about my birthday. Cool, huh? This is from the movie they made about composer and songwriter George M. Cohan, Yankee Doodle Dandy, starring James Cagney as Cohan. And I’ll leave you with the YouTube clip from the film: