Spicy Roasted Vegetables

Veggies before CookingIt’s some sort of cooking crime not to have some sort of roasted vegetable dish in your repertoire. Easy and colorful, this packs a great nutritional punch.

Preheat oven to 450F (use convection if you can). To a large, heavy roasting pan, add

one red pepper, cored and seeded, cut into chunks
one yellow pepper, cored and seeded, cut into chunks
one very large or two small sweet potato(es), cut into small chunks
one large red onion, cut into chunks
one small yellow squash, cut on the bias
one small zucchini, cut on the bias

Drizzle generously with

olive oil.

Sprinkle with

2t kosher salt
1t freshly ground dried chili peppers
1t dried thyme (or 3t fresh)
1t freshly ground pepper
2 dashes liquid smoke.

Toss lightly using tongs or clean fingers. Place in oven and roast. Resist the urge to open the door! After 15 minutes, toss lightly to redistribute (I strongly recommend using tongs for this one). Roast for 10-15 additional minutes, until all vegetables have a golden hue to the edges.

The kosher salt draws moisture from the vegetables, so if you have time before cooking, allow the vegetables to drain on a cooling rack above the roasting pan. Drain and discard the juices. Try other root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, or russets. I like the sweet potatoes better for the balance to the heat. If you’re feeling ambitious, deglaze the roasting pan with white wine, add 1t cornstarch, and thicken off-heat. Pour over vegetables and serve with couscous.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Taste: [rate 4.0]
Ease: [rate 5] (if you make it, the pan sauce reduces the ease to 4 stars)

I Am Not a Vegetarian

Fourteen months ago, I became pregnant. It is a widely known fact that pregnancy wildly affects the senses. I could not stand to be near the rabbit’s litterbox because of the smell (a smell I never could smell before and now cannot smell anymore). I thought root beer tasted like Altoids. And meat tasted…well, tasted OK, but made my stomach turn.

Since then, I’ve read that meats and other easily spoiled foods are one of the biggest triggers of pregnancy sickness. Colloquial stories from message boards support the research. I took meat totally off of the menu and started finding new sources of protein.

Let’s backtrack a little. I was one of the biggest meat eaters I knew. To me, a bologna and cheese sandwich contained bologna and cheese, not bread. I routinely ate entire summer sausages out of hand. I absconded the potato and went for a bigger steak. So this was totally new to me. I was worried that the little person inside me would not have optimal development without animal protein. But I simply could not eat meat.

I was already using FitDay to track my consumption of foods (when I was trying to lose weight before the pregnancy). I tried to balance my diet and ensure I had adequate protein, vitamins, and minerals without meat. I found that I was eating less saturated fat and more healthful vegetables. Almost every day, I obtained 100% RDA of all vitamins from food sources, something I had not done pre-pregnancy and pre-no meat.

A friend of mine had recently become a vegetarian, and she jumped into it completely, even checking for animal-based ingredients in seemingly veg-friendly foods. I respected her decision and admired her all-out commitment but didn’t feel it was right for me. I did know that my food habits were changing. Eating no meat begat better habits in general. For instance, when I was craving food as I did throughout my pregnancy, I was reaching for fruit instead of donuts. I still managed to pack on almost two pounds a week, but at least it wasn’t clogging my arteries!

As my body lifted its meat ban, I had planned to pledge to eat more healthfully, meat or no meat. But the meatless diet was working so well. I was concerned that I might not get enough of the right proteins for the baby unless I ate animal protein. So I incorporated two portions of lean fish per week.

I started to feel really good about my choices. It’s supposedly better for the environment to be a vegetarian due to the lower use of natural resources. I started really watching for local fruits and vegetables and other ways to eat well and help the planet. As an animal lover, I realized that I liked not eating them. Then, when people wondered why a meatatarian like me was piling only veggies on her plate, I carefully told family and friends of my new choice.

“Why would anyone do that?”
“I don’t think that is good for you. You need meat.”
“I hope you come to your senses soon.”
And, my favorite, “that is the stupidest thing I’ve heard.”

I guess I was surprised that everyone cared so much what I ate. My husband is very supportive. I even cook meat for people occasionally, just to make them feel more comfortable. And I continue not to eat much meat. As long as I’m nursing the baby, I will not stop eating animal protein, and I probably won’t stop when she’s finished either. I’m labeled as a “flexitarian” or “pescetarian,” neither of which is exactly great. The terms irritate most true vegetarians and cause only eyerolling among my omnivorous brethren. I’m stuck in a middle that works for me: better for my health, Ainsley’s health, definitely better for the lives of animals I don’t eat(!), and the environment, but still not so strict that a slipup means I will feel like a failure. Unfortunately it’s a middle that not many others appreciate. For some odd reason my dietary blog posts draw more comments- and more ire- than the rest of my posts.

A few thoughts, for the record: I don’t care what you eat. My new diet doesn’t mean I’m silently judging you for having a steak. I haven’t forgotten how enjoyable meat-based foods are; I’m just trying something that I hope will be a permanent, healthful change for me and for my family. I am very supportive of people who can commit to a vegetarian lifestyle, especially in a meat-and-potatoes Midwest.

Any time someone makes a commitment to try to change for the better, isn’t that a good thing?

Happy Advent!

Lovely.As can be imagined, I have been so busy that the holiday decorations simply had not happened yet. The holidays have always been a wonderful time for me but this year just looked bleak. Add to that my stupid new curtains. After three years, I finally ordered custom drapes for the living room. It took four months, but they arrived and the decorators hung them for me. In the photo to the left, you can see that they don’t…meet…in the middle. Groan. How can I decorate a tree in front of a window where I may have to take the drapes down? Grrr. Humbug. So I asked my mom to help me decorate and play with Ainsley while Carlton and my dad went to a ball game.

Mommy, stop taking my picture!(side note, thought train derailed) Ainsley’s hair has been much calmer lately, until she fell asleep right after her shower. Rock-adoo, cockatoo! The look on her face only adds to the overall effect.

Due to the weather, my sister and her family camped at our house. As we played with babies, my brother, out for some sneaky holiday shopping, decided to stop to see us. I decorated the tree listening to carols and chatting with my siblings and mom. It was warm and happy and I enjoyed putting up the tree for once! I usually do it alone (by choice). They weren’t actually helping me, but the chatting made it so enjoyable. The best moment might have been when my brother decided to help by throwing ornaments at the tree and that was where they had to stay. It was hilarious. That poor little reindeer looks like…well, it looks like it hit the tree at high speed. Splat!

I tried to explain to my siblings (one looked at me like I was nuts) that having all the kids there made the house feel alive. It was so great to me. It looked like the floor had spewed a bunch of toys and I didn’t care. I love having family and friends around.

Awww.Sunday was calmer and quieter. I missed all the commotion. Here’s Ainsley in her hand-me-down clothes (Colts games means she wears blue!), sucking her thumb in her sleep. It was so quiet that she was asleep in the foyer.

Thanks to Amy for the meme- I love lazy blogging!

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? It used to always be beautiful coordinated paper and bows. Now I reuse gift bags or don’t wrap at all (greener that way).
2. Real tree or Artificial? I have only had live trees when my parents were cutting the volunteer trees in their yard. My artificial tree is tall and thin, and I spent two solid days stringing thousands of lights on it the first year I bought it, in 1999. I’ve kept the strands on it every year and it makes life a lot easier.
3. When do you put up the tree? I always try for the weekend of the beginning of Advent, but it’s usually behind schedule.
4. When do you take the tree down? Christmas doesn’t end on Christmas day! The celebration after the day is when the true meaning is discussed, not just presents.
5. Do you like eggnog? I adore it. I like the stuff you buy, but even more, the homemade “Crème Noel” that my husband makes. One year, we got high-tech and tried to use my beer chiller to chill it. That custard was not as thick! Food science at work. Anyway, a little nutmeg on top and it’s the best eggnog in the world.
6. Favorite gift received as a child? I honestly don’t know.
7. Do you have a nativity scene? Definitely. I truly believe that this season is to remind us of the whole world preparing for a savior.
8. Hardest person to buy for? My father-in-law.
9. Easiest person to buy for? My brother. He enjoys anything, as long as it’s thoughtful.
10. Mail or email Christmas cards? Neither!
11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? It was a White Elephant gift, but it was a pair of used, rabbit fur earmuffs. Gross.
12. Favorite Christmas Movie? None. I think that I might finally watch A Christmas Story just to stop people from saying “you haven’t seen that yet??”
13. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? Yes, but only if the new recipient would really love the gift.
14. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Egg nog and my mom’s wreath cookies.
15. Clear lights or colored on the tree? Clear. Though I may have one small colored light tree for the kids.
16. Favorite Christmas song? O Holy Night. When sung well, my eyes well with tears at the thought of what it must have been like.
17. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Travel. Ugh. I love the visits, but wish the family were closer.
18. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer? Only if I sing the Rudolph song, and even then I sometimes say “Donner” twice.
19. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? We used to open one gift on Christmas Eve, and it was always our Christmas pajamas. Lately it’s just whatever gift my parents want us to have that night. It’s so fun to sit around and chat after Mass, just being together.
20. Most annoying thing about this time of year? The fact that so much of the real meaning is lost. I went to the mall for the first time in ages and was assaulted by a bunch of junky gifts by retailers. Sad.
21. Favorite ornament theme or color? My parents started me on a tradition of one ornament per year. I now have Carlton’s, too, so we have a special tree for our kid ornaments and Ainsley’s first ornament.
22. When do you start shopping for Christmas? Sort of all year. I am not a big shopper; I’d rather give/receive less and spend more time cooking and being together.
23. What do you want for Christmas this year? Not much, though the length of my Amazon list begs to differ!
24. Angel or star on top of tree? Angel. The one on the big tree at my house is very well-coordinated with the ribbons/ornaments.
25. What do/did you leave for Santa? We left cookies and milk, and often letters. My family and I had a debate about Santa this weekend. I’m more in favor about telling my kid about the wonderful tradition of Santa, but not pretending that he’s real. Obviously, in a family as traditional as mine, that causes raised eyebrows. But that’s OK. I’ve always been the weird one anyway.

Sunny Post-Op Part II

The biopsy from Sunny’s latest surgery revealed that the tumor was cancer.  Stage II cancer, and there are three stages.

The vet thinks that they did get all of the cancerous growth; however, he wants to check her lymph system just to be sure.  She’s scheduled for this procedure on 21 December and we should have results a week or two later.

Her demeanor is so good.  She has no idea what’s up.  I wonder if she feels better now that the tumor is gone, or if it had any effect on her at all.  I’m giving her lots of love and that’s all I can do for now.

Considering my pet’s mortality is difficult.  I struggled with euthanasia for my fish, for crying out loud, so it’s going to be even harder for my dog who has been with me for 11 years.  Right now I’m thinking that if the cancer is in her lymph system too, then chemo is our only option other than allowing it to progress.  Chemotherapy for a dog doesn’t seem like something I want to do.  She will feel miserable and not know why.  I don’t want to extend her life just so I feel better, either.

I will update as we learn more.

22 to Go

I’m feeling pretty good about the weight loss. It’s slowed to a crawl, but a healthy one; about 1 pound per week. It’s distressing to think I still have 22 weeks to go, but I’m satisfied.

In fact, I stuffed myself into some non-maternity pants today. The seams are feeling a bit challenged! But I did it. And I’m focusing on the positive.

It amazes me that, with 22 left to go, I’ve already lost something like 50 pounds from my highest weight (of course, the baby weighed about 8 of that, but you see what I’m saying here). While I stood on the scale, I had Carlton push on my shoulders as hard as he could. Fifty pounds is quite a bit! It’s not suprising that my heart nearly gave out, trying to support all the extra fat as well as the new life.

Last night was rough. Ainsley ate at 5:00PM, 6:30PM, 7:30PM, 8:30PM, 10:00PM, 12:00AM, 4:00AM, and 5:00AM. She ate so much that I had to unfreeze some milk because I was totally out. I feel like the walking dead. She does this occasionally, and it may be an indicator that she’s ready to have other sources of nutrition. We’ll see if this is a trend.

Lucky for me, I had family around to help with some of those later feedings. I’m still exhausted- partially emotionally. It is no fun to listen to my baby cry from hunger. I’m OK with fussy cries, crying herself to sleep, and the occasional whining, but when she’s just begging for food, it is really hard on my psyche.

But she is such a joy. When I walk in the room, she beams a smile and wiggles. My mom said, “she smiles with her whole body.” I’m so lucky to have her in my life. Last night may have been frustrating, but I was never upset with her.

I’m so tired I could throw up.

Life has never been so wonderful.

Sunny Post-Op

Well, my sweet old doggie is minus one potentially cancerous growth and plus one 3-4 inch sutured cut.  She is happy and acting totally normal, despite the funny looking sock around her neck so she can’t scratch it.

The crummy news is that her heart murmur has gone from stage I to stage III.  I learned that dogs with class I heart disease generally have a life expectancy of 2 to 4 years. Dogs with class II to IV heart disease have an average life expectancy of only a few months.

So she’s back to the vet later this month, and she’s on special food to try to help her fluids.  She’s coughing from the fluid in her lungs.  Her demeanor is bright and, well, sunny, so I don’t feel her quality of life is bad.

The good thing is, because of the tumor, we found this heart issue and we may be able to prolong her happy little life.  I truly think she’ll be OK.

Oh, and total cost of the surgery? $400.  There goes my holiday fund!  I would like for pet lovers everywhere to realize the steep cost of bringing one home and giving it the care it needs.  Even if your family can’t afford a $10000 hip replacement or chemo for dogs, at least invest in flea/heartworm meds and such.  Pets are expensive.  And worth every cent.