Monday, January 16, 2012


It seems that these days I need a list just to function in a nominally productive manner. To be honest, maybe “a list” is an understatement; I need many lists to successfully get through any given day - grocery list, chore list, reading list, to-do list for school, home maintenance list, errand list - and the lists go on . . . Without my lists, something gets forgotten. It’s OK if that overlooked item is something like dusting the door jambs or sweeping the garage; but if it is forgetting the dog food, cat food, or toilet paper at the grocery store life can be pretty miserable on many different levels!

I mentioned my “bucket list” a few posts ago. I have never written this list down. This allows for it to ebb and flow as life goes on. Some of the items that made the list at age 25 have fallen off while others have been added only recently. (Getting stoned has been there a while and will probably remain for the foreseeable future.)

Another list that has become important in my life is the “We List”. A year and a half ago while Weber and I were in Vermont on our honeymoon, we sat down one afternoon and made a list of things that we wanted to do. We arbitrarily began our list by numbering a page from 1 to 50. We managed to get 30 things written down before deciding that the list was long enough. Revisiting this list several times in the last eighteen months, I have realized that our “We List” is not a bucket list; it is not a list of things that we want to do at least once before we die. Rather, it is a list of things that we want to do in an effort to create our life together.

Some of the things on our list include:

  • drink more tea
  • read more
  • keep the house clean
  • go for walks with the dogs
  • write and draw regularly (lesson plans and doodling don’t count)
  • take advantage of local attractions, festivals, concerts, etc.
  • buy and eat locally
  • try at least one new recipe a week

As you can see, most of these items are ongoing; the truth is that they require creating and establishing new habits. Since so much was new in our world when we married, new habits were fairly easy to create because there were not a lot of old ones that needed to be broken. We have been successful in adopting many of the practices on our list. Some we have not yet managed to incorporate into our daily lives and a few seem not so important at this point.

Since for nearly a year we have had neither a complete nor a functional kitchen, the list’s items that centered around food and meals were virtually ignored. Now, though the kitchen is still not complete, it is fully functional with regard to appliances, countertops, and running water. (We still have no usable storage space under the counters.) We can now work on No. 21 on our list, “try at least one new recipe a week.”

Right now, as of January 16, 2012, I am way ahead of the game on this one because a) I have not started school yet and have time to cook and b) I got several cookbooks for Christmas. This is one of them -

- recommended by Offspring No. 1. It is full of yummy, healthy, and relatively easy to prepare recipes. I like it because it uses food combinations that I wouldn’t think of myself.

Last night I made Heidi Swanson’s yogurt biscuits. These are the best biscuits I have ever had. That is saying a lot considering biscuits are a food group in and of themselves here in Texas. Though there are many other awesome recipes in this cookbook, it is worth the cost just for the biscuit recipe!

Tonight we had quinoa patties. I may never eat hash browns again.

If you want to peruse some of Heidi Swanson’s recipes before you buy this cookbook, which I know you will want to do, check out her “recipe journal” at You can start your own list of recipes to try.

Happy cooking and healthy eating to each of you!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cracker Control

As far as I am concerned, crackers are the perfect food. First of all, they are a carbohydrate; that propels them way up there in the direction of perfection. Secondly, they are tasty by themselves and they serve as a luxury vehicle for the delivery of other delicious stuff like peanut butter, cheese, hummus, fruit . . .

The one thing that has kept the crackers in my world from reaching absolute perfection is that I buy them pre-packaged. I hate to buy pre-packaged food because you just don’t know what really comes in those packages. There should be nothing in the ingredient list on a box of crackers, or most any other edible product for that matter, that I can’t attain at my local grocery store or that I can’t pronounce. I am really not a control freak with regard to most things, but I do want ultimate control over what I put in my body. The only way to accomplish this is to make it yourself.

Today I set out to create perfection in my cracker world. Nabisco Wheat Thins are my favorite store-bought cracker. I began a search for a comparable recipe. I did not have to look too far. I found one called Wheat Thins in the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook. Just a few simple ingredients - all easily pronounced kitchen staples.

I must say that I was surprised that the flavor comes from vanilla and paprika. (The newspaper on the counter in the background contains the New York Times crossword puzzle, a necessary kitchen staple for all recipes.)

Here is the complete recipe:

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon paprika

4 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup water

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter. Mix water and vanilla then add to other ingredients. Mix well either by hand or using some electric device such as a mixer or food processor. (I mixed mine with my hands.) Divide the dough into four pieces. Working with one piece at a time and keeping the others covered, roll the dough on a floured board to 1/8 inch thickness or less if you can. Using a pizza cutter, cut into 1 1/2 squares. Place on a “prepared” baking sheet. (I used a cookie sheet with a Silpat liner.) You can sprinkle the tops with additional salt or not. Bake for 5-7 minutes. Keep a good eye on these crackers as they bake because they cook quickly.

Having been successful with the made-from-scratch Wheat Thins, Brooke and I decided to push our luck a little further.

Offspring No. 2 really likes Nut-Thins, another store-bought cracker. Coincidentally, there was an article in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News touting the health benefits of almond flour - high fiber, high protein, high nutrients. Surely if we can make Wheat Thins, we can make Nut-Thins using almond flour.

The first order of business was getting the almond flour. We made it using blanched almonds that we had in the freezer and a food processor. The trick here is that you want almond flour, not almond butter. So, use the pulse setting on the food processor. Pulse the nuts until you have something that resembles flour.

2 cups almond flour

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon salt

You can add the paprika and vanilla if you want to replicate the Wheat Thin flavor. We instead chose to add garlic salt and black pepper to the dough. (cayenne pepper would probably be really good too. Maybe next time . . .) The rolling and cutting process for these is the same as the previous cracker;the big difference is that they cook at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes, or until brown and crispy.

This was a very wet dough. Brooke suspects that this was because the almonds had been in the freezer. She suggested that next time I spread the almond flour on a baking sheet and put it in the oven for a few minutes to draw off some of the added moisture before mixing all of the ingredients. We ended up rolling the dough between two sheets of parchment paper. This worked fine.

Since I have not eaten the Nut-Thins from the store, I don’t know how closely our crackers come to the taste or texture of their store-bought counterparts. Taken as they were, I thought they were good crackers. We did use wheat flour to roll them so our process was not gluten-free. If you are trying to avoid wheat, you could flour your board with rice flour or corn starch.

I am happy to be in absolute cracker control with regard to my Wheat Thins. Next on my list of things to conquer and over which to gain control . . .graham crackers.

Brooke and I did have one unexpected incident during our cracker making extravaganza. At one point the dogs ran to the back door barking hysterically. This was not their “barking to get attention” bark; it was their “there’s something out there and we’re going to protect you” bark. As we looked out the kitchen window, this is what we saw.

Actually s/he was much closer when we first looked but quickly moved further down the fence in the time that it took me to get my camera. I think someone forget to mention to this critter that possums are nocturnal. But hey, I like a non-conformist.

Monday, January 2, 2012


What does one do for entertainment in Texas over the Christmas holidays? According to the media, most people shopped until they dropped. Then they got up and did it again. Sports fans got the best Christmas gift they could imagine when the NBA began its season on Christmas Day. The Dallas Mavericks, however, unwrapped a disappointing opener for their fans. And football games are aplenty. We were neither at the mall or at the arena. We went to the Dallas Arboretum.

Despite being December 29th, it was a beautiful and sunny sixty plus degree day, a perfect opportunity to be outside walking off those holiday cookies and cinnamon rolls. Also, Offspring #1 got a macro lens for Christmas ostensibly to take pictures for her food portfolio but a trip to the Arboretum to photograph plants seemed like a reasonably low stress way to familiarize one’s self with the new lens. Weber and I enjoy taking pictures as well so with our shoulders loaded with camera bags off we went unsure of what we may find to be picture-worthy at the Arboretum at this time of year.

When all was said and done, Brooke had taken over 300 pictures. I asked her to give me her favorite. This is was she sent.

The camellias were one of the few flowering plants.

In the spring and summer when the flower beds are bursting with blooms and all the foliage is thick green and thriving, it is easy to find beauty; it is perhaps even possible to attain beauty overload. The potential for stunning photographs during the peak growing season is almost overwhelming. However, in the midst of winter, when almost nothing is flowering and many plants lay dormant, beauty puts on a different face. It is much more subtle and does truly lie in the eye of the beholder. It is up to each of us to look closely enough to see the beauty in the barren trees or the mulch covered flower beds. It is up to us to see that much beauty exists in the lulls of the life cycle.

I had a somewhat strange feeling when I saw this next image. It reminds me of the pictures of the veteran's cemeteries where all of the markers are uniform and, when photographed, are often adorned with similarly uniform American flags. The irony here is that these are the plants that are the most hardy, the ones that have survived the Texas weather extremes.

I like all of the different colors and textures of the trees in this picture.
I can't remember what this shrub is but the orange leaves seem so full of life. Orange is one of my favorite colors probably because it just exudes energy.
I love this next picture. It may be the one that best exhibits that sense of a different kind of beauty. Here is a leaf that was probably bright green and firmly attached to a tree not too long ago. It is now donning its winter colors as it meanders alone amidst some ornamental grass. It will probably be blown or swept into a compost bin soon. Right now, to me, it is dancing along full of life and with its own personality. Though I know that the two holes in its middle are really signs of decay, they look like eyes. This little leaf standing upright with the sun shining through it is beautiful. I think this my favorite of the pictures that I took.

As many of the trees are shedding their final leaves of 2011 and flowers are dropping their last petals, new life is emerging as the gardeners are beginning the early plantings of 2012.
I am looking forward to visiting the Arboretum in the spring with my camera again in hand.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Best Day

So here it is, New Year’s Day, the beginning of 2012. Funny, but nothing really seems new to me. (Possibly because I haven’t yet written the date on anything and had to change that last digit from “1” to “2” by tracing over it eight or ten times.) Another reason that I don’t have a feeling of newness today is because my life is structured by the academic rather than the calendar year: so my “new year” begins at the end of August not on January 1st. Even our health insurance year runs from September through August so we are not even looking at having to meet new deductibles beginning today.

I have spent some time this afternoon considering what I can do to make this day the beginning of something new. Traditionally people make “new year’s resolutions.” As I pondered this possibility, I learned something about myself. I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions as a positive way to begin another year. You are probably thinking that I have this somewhat bizarre belief because I am weak and know that I can’t keep a resolution more than twenty two hours. Or, that I am so ego-centric that I don’t think I need to make any changes in myself. Neither is the case. Basically, I find new year’s resolutions kind of depressing.

Making an effective resolution requires us to take stock of all the places in our lives that we perceive ourselves to be unhappy, unhealthy, ungrateful, unproductive, etc. We then vow to change. This is not necessarily a bad exercise in and of itself; what seems to me to be negative and thus depressing is that we have to continually return to these less than positive feelings as a means to measure the success or failure of our new year’s resolutions. And let’s face it, the truth is that most people never attain the goals that they set for themselves on January 1. Most often this is because the goals themselves are unrealistic, unattainable, and possibly even unnecessary. Therefore rather than improving our lives, things actually seem worse.

It seems to me that lots of people spend too much time focusing on the past and others worrying about the future. What about today? What about right now? What if I resolve not to wallow in the pains of yesterday or the uncertainty of tomorrow. What if I simply resolve that today I will be the best I can possibly be? That may mean that today I am ten pounds overweight; that I am grouchy; that I have Oreos for breakfast; that I disappoint my husband; that I fail to reach that student in the back corner. Or it may mean that I need to buy my pants a size smaller; that I smiled at everyone I met even if they were less than cheerful with me; that I prepared and ate three healthy meals by anyone’s standard; that all my students were challenged and invigorated by the learning process. Whatever the day brings, if I can honestly say that I was the best person that I could be today then it is a good day. If I have been the best that I can be today then I should have no regrets. And having regrets is what leads to those feelings of unhappiness that burden so many people.

I guess what I have learned through today’s musings about January 1 and new year’s resolutions is that what we really need to do is look at each new day as a beginning and resolve to be the very best we can be on that one day keeping in mind that “best” is not relative. Best simply means that given what we are facing today, we do the best we can with what we have or don't have and, most importantly, at the end of the we have no regrets. If we can crawl in to bed each night and not be cbombarded by a list of “I wish I hads” and “I wish I had nots” racing around in our minds then it was a good day. Tomorrow will most certainly be a different day but if taken for what it is, it too will be the best it can be.

Here are a few thoughts to help make every day the best it can be:


“Thank you.” is so much more than two words.

Time is the best gift you can give to anyone.

Sometimes it is necessary to be late.

Everyone is grouchy and unhappy at one time or another.

How you look is not nearly as important as how you act.

Words are not always necessary.

Sometimes cookies are a meal.

A clean heart feels better than a clean home.

Everyone deserves to have a friend.

You don’t know what anyone else is really thinking or feeling.

Never pass up an opportunity to say “I love you.”

Feel free to add to this list by posting a comment.

As we greet each new day of this new year, let’s each resolve that today I will be the best I can be leaving yesterday behind and not worrying about tomorrow until it becomes today.