July 13 – Open house, cooking, and course selection

Today was another super productive day for me – here are a few of the things I got done:

  1. J and I went to an open house in a neighborhood that we don’t know all that well, but that would be more convenient for both of our commutes. The house was amazing – very big for the price, recently remodeled, with lots of light and open space. But unfortunately, the neighborhood isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now.
  2. I made dinner by modifying this recipe for Grilled Sweet Potato Salad. I added chickpeas to make it a little heartier, substituted dried thyme for fresh, and added a little extra feta and vinaigrette to balance out the chickpeas. And since we don’t have a grill, I cubed the sweet potatoes, tossed them with vinaigrette, and roasted them at 400° for about 25 minutes, stirring them halfway through. We haven’t eaten it quite yet, but the couple of sweet potato cubes I sampled were delicious.
  3. I looked through the University of Phoenix’s summer course catalog for teachers. I’m thinking about taking Reading Diagnosis and Remediation, which I think would be really helpful for my efforts to reach some of the struggling readers at my school. We’ll see – I’m still mulling it over, and I may not take anything at all, but I’m reaching the part of my summer where I feel like I should probably be doing more with my time than just sitting on my couch with my computer.

July 7 – Yoga, cleaning, and cooking

I spent most of today being a bum – reading things on the Internet, playing various games on my computer, and avoiding getting dressed. But I did manage to squeeze in a few actual accomplishments, too:

  1. I got up and did yoga again this morning! (I skipped yesterday morning, but I went for a long walk which kind of makes up for it.)
  2. I cleaned the toilet! And I plan to clean the rest of the bathroom in the next day or two – Internet, hold me accountable for this please. If I havent posted that it’s done by Wednesday, give me a hard time about it.
  3. I made a real dinner – Athenian Pasta Primavera. Which was pretty tasty, and relatively easy – definitely something I can add to our summer dinner rotation. I did have to substitute fresh basil for the mint, though, because the guy who mows our lawn mowed down our mint plant. (To be fair, though, I planted it in a patch of our yard that’s mostly weeds, so it probably wasn’t particularly clear that I actually wanted it to be growing there – especially since mint grows like a weed around here. We’ll see if it bounces back or not.)

June 19 – 1: Stuffed peppers with black beans, rice, and corn

I’ve been in a cooking slump lately. I used to cook something from scratch almost every night when I was working in an office job, with J cooking something or us ordering something one or two nights a week. Lately, it’s been the opposite – I’ve been cooking something from scratch one or two nights a week, and most nights we order something or I cook something “easy” – like frozen ravioli with pre-made pesto.

I’m not sure how I used to have the energy to cook so much. I guess my office job was just less draining than my days now. I also think it helped that J was home earlier  in the evening – right now, his commute is almost two hours each way, so he leaves at 6:30 in the morning and gets home at 6:30 at night, and that’s if the trains all run on time and he catches the express train between Baltimore and D.C.

But last night I came home and wanted to make a real dinner, and I also knew we had a bunch of bell peppers left over that needed to be used up (from meals I’d planned to make but then put aside in favor of something that required less effort.) So I did some Internet scouring for options, and came up with a few recipes that looked promising, but we didn’t have exactly the right ingredients for any of them. So I improvised a bit, and this is what I came up with:

Stuffed peppers with black beans, rice, and corn

Ingredients

  • 6-10 colored bell peppers, depending on size (I used 5 medium ones last night, and had about half of the filling left over)
  • 1 c  uncooked brown rice
  • 2-3 T olive oil
  • 4 large cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 10-oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 T brown sugar
  • red pepper flakes
  • cumin
  • chili powder
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1.5 c frozen corn
  • grated cheddar cheese
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. In the meantime, cut the tops off of the peppers, then carefully cut away the membranes inside the peppers and remove any seeds.
  2. Parboil the peppers by placing them in the boiling water for 3 minutes. Remove them (use tongs!) and set them upright in a baking dish. It’s helpful if the baking dish is sized such that the peppers can help hold each other up.
  3. Use the same boiling water to cook the brown rice – just dump it in, let it simmer for 40 minutes or so, then drain it like pasta.
  4. Heat olive oil in a large skillet, then add the garlic and red pepper flakes (I used about 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, but I was kind of winging it with my spices) and cook for 2-3 minutes, until garlic is fragrant and beginning to brown. Add tomato sauce, brown sugar, cumin (maybe 1 T?) and chili powder (2 T?), and stir to combine. Cook 1-2 minutes before adding the black beans and corn, then stir again until all is coated with the sauce. Finally, stir in the rice until sauce is distributed evenly. Remove from heat. (Maybe stir in some grated cheese? I didn’t do this, but will probably try it next time)
  5. Fill peppers with stuffing. At this point, they can be set aside for a while until you’re ready to cook them (possibly even a day or two, if you covered and refrigerated them).
  6. When you’re ready to cook the peppers, heat the oven to 350°. Top peppers with grated cheese, then cook 25-30 minutes, until cheese is thoroughly melted.

They turned out really well, and I can’t wait to eat the leftover beans and rice for lunch today. Enjoy!

June 8 – 2: Avocados

I love avocados. When I studied abroad in Ghana, I used to eat an avocado on crackers for lunch almost every day, sometimes with fresh pineapple or mango as the rest of my meal. I used to think avocados were too expensive to eat regularly here in the U.S., but recently I thought about it a little harder, and realized they don’t cost that much more than nice cheese, or ordering pizza, or fancy bread from the bakery counter – things that I eat pretty regularly. So I’ve started buying more avocados.

Here are a few of my favorite things to do with them:

Eat them on crackers

Just like when I was in Ghana, cutting up an avocado and eating it on crackers makes an excellent lunch. Today, I sprinkled my avocado slices with salt and chipotle powder – which was delicious.

Put them in a salad

I’ve been making dinner salads for J and I lately with the following ingredients:

  • Spinach
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Blue cheese crumbles
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Chopped red bell pepper
  • Sliced avocado
  • Croutons
  • Chopped walnuts

I’ve also been putting together a basic vinaigrette for it – made with roughly 1 part balsamic vinegar to 2 parts olive oil, plus a clove or two of chopped garlic, and salt and pepper. It’s a delicious and easy vegetarian dinner, and great for those summer days when you don’t want to turn on the oven or even the burners on the stove because it’s just too hot.

With eggs

I love fried eggs on toast, and adding avocado to the mix makes it even better. I usually make two pieces of toast, cut up an avocado and gently mash it onto the toast a little bit, then fry two eggs and put them on top, and add salt to taste. Sometimes I add a handful of baby spinach to the mix, and hot sauce or chipotle powder. The runny egg yolks + avocado + toast combo is amazing. If we were a meat-eating household, I’d probably add some bacon, too.

June 3 – 3: Jerk tofu + coconut rice

I used to cook a lot, but I’ve been in kind of a cooking slump lately. I’m hoping to get back to cooking more this summer, when I’ll have more time. But I did just discover a new recipe combo that I made last night, and enjoyed for lunch again today: jerk tofu and coconut rice. One of the great things about this meal is that it’s easy to prep in advance – you can make the jerk sauce and let the tofu marinate earlier in the day, and after the chopping and the first 5 minutes of cooking, the coconut rice takes almost no active management. So it would be a good meal for a dinner party, which is hard to get with vegetarian meals since so many of them involve a lot of sautéing and active cooking immediately before serving them.