The Love Month

A little belated, as February draws to a close, I choose to think of it in a rosy light. Valentine’s Day is often characterized as a cheesy, uncomfortable for all singles, card company created, downright problematic holiday. And I suppose it could be like that, if you let it. But you can also think of it as a celebration of love, love for your partner, love for your friends, love for your mother, love for your co-workers, love for humankind. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve all got someone to love. And especially in gloomy February, I think some love-sharing is a much needed tonic for the winter blues. At work, we filled our window storefront with giant stuffed hanging felt hearts (my co-worker also appreciates the love month) because we love our customers! And our job! Really. I really love most of my customers.

Anyway, for this Valentine’s Day, G and I organized a valentine making party at our house. We visited craft and dollar stores, stocked up on construction paper, glitter pens, glitter, tissue paper covered with hearts, googly eyes, glue sticks, scissors, sequins, you know, all the fixin’s for some great valentine crafting. Then we made some chili and red velvet cupcakes, and sat down around our dining table with our good friends to make some beautiful and inventive valentines for one another.

These are just a few of the ones I made, but it was a wonderful time together, and everyone’s creations were lovely. You can’t go wrong with glitter, glue, hearts, and lovely friends. Winter can get long and the dark and cold can get trying, but surrounding yourself with friends, fun activities, and lots of love (in tangible paper heart form) certainly helps the soul.

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The Healing Garden

It’s very snowy in Ann Arbor, Michigan right now. Very beautiful, heavy wet snow that sticks to all the trees and is perfect for snowballs. And while the snow definitely makes for a winter wonderland, the likes of which remind me of my childhood in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, around this time of year, I always start to feel like things might be cold and covered in snow forever. February is a loooong short month, in other words. And I love winter, and brisk cold sunny days, but I also love warmth and growing things.

So Tuesday was my day off, and in pursuit of warmth and growing things, G and I headed to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. The Gardens have a large conservatory, filled with tropical and desert plants. Coincidentally, the conservatory was in the process of setting up a healing garden exhibit,  focused on the healing properties of plants -information about how house plants can clean our air and remove impurities, ideas about how the bright colors of plants can improve and change our moods, and how nature can guide and influence meditation.

Healing Garden

It was great to be in space that smelled so warm and fresh, to be surrounded by brilliant greens and bright flowers. We took our time walking through the paths, reading the signs, watching little kids on a “fairy scavenger hunt” for little fairies hidden among the plants.

We found these beautiful leaves that make me want to find some upholstery, or maybe carpet, that echoes the bold print and bright greens (nature is the best designer).

And G loved the bonsai trees.

Overall, the healing garden was indeed quite healing. Being surrounded by plants definitely settled my heart, made me take my time enjoying everything my senses have to offer, and also helped me remember that green will come again.

Green beans and beer

One year, quite a few years ago now, for my birthday my coworkers gave me a gift basket filled with green beans and beer, in front of a store full of customers, all singing ‘Happy Birthday.’ By turns mortifying and wonderful. My oh-so-thoughtful co-workers got me such a fabulous gift because of my oft-repeated dinner plans of going home to crack a cool one and steam some green beans -my default plan in the era of minimal cooking. Since then, I’ve found anew a great deal of joy in preparing (and consuming) thoughtfully made, high quality fresh ingredients for the enjoyment of myself and my loved ones. But tonight! It was a green bean dinner night! A throwback to my days of dirtying only one pan! (Not really -this recipe required 2-3). But I did have a beer after dinner -my favorite, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale.

Anyway, here’s the recipe:

Green beans -maybe 3/4 lbs.?

Water

Salt (salt is my father’s 2nd favorite food, preceded only by butter)

Chopped almonds -maybe 1 cup? or slightly less? (I threw some away because I burned them, so wound up with less than intended amount -worked out just fine)

1 shallot (red onion could also be used, I just wanted to show G what a shallot was)

Olive oil

< 1 Tbs white wine vinegar

s & p to taste

Did I number the steps in the last recipe? Don’t recall…

Anyway, first clean and snap the ends off of the green beans.

Cover greenies with water in a pot, add some salt, cover, and set to boil

Chop up shallot, lady

Heat <1 Tbs olive oil in a pan, then add shallot pieces, cook until translucent

In a different pan (told you it was more than one -I’m getting complicated), lightly brown chopped almond pieces until fragrant (here’s where you need to pay attention)

At some point, drain your green beans and add the shallot and olive oil mixture. Add more olive oil if necessary, also add white wine vinegar and toasted almonds. And s & p, depending on your sodium intake and flavor cravings

Toss

Eat hot or cold and lukewarm

Drink your beer of choice. Green beans and beer go really well together. This dish also tastes good with grated or crumbled cheese (of choice -cheddar, feta, whateva). Or with other nuts -keep your options open.

That’s something I’ve learned in my time at the store, with my funny and thoughtful co-workers -my priorities have changed a lot in the 6 years I’ve worked there -from learning to cook, to refusing to cook, to learning to love to cook (to name only a few). But some things remain fun, delicious, staple parts of diet and life -green beans and beer, a good sense of humor, and the willingness to adapt to your own set of shifting interests, talents, and pursuits.

Superhero snack

Really!

Quinoa is a great grain, and a new favorite at our house. Inspired by a cold dish G recently got at the Glass House Cafe on U of M’s campus, I’ve been making this delicious salad involving quinoa, tomatoes, green onions, lemon juice and olive oil.

Glass House Cafe is a great option for people on U of M’s campus, providing tasty and fresh dishes that use locally grown and produced food as much as possible. I never get to eat there, as I’m no longer often on campus, so we decided to recreate this salad at home.

Quinoa is super easy to cook, and I’ve been loving stocking up in the bulk aisle at the grocery store lately -really makes me feel like I’m set in, stocked up, and ready for whatever winter nights throw at me (food-wise). Also been getting lots of lentils -nothing beats a gigantic pot of lentil stew, or last week’s attempt at daal. I have to use all that turmeric G’s mother gave us at some point! But back to quinoa -it has tons of protein, and you don’t have to soak it overnight or anything (unlike the chickpeas also obtained from the bulk aisle that are waiting to become chhole). And, because this quinoa dish is cold, it’s really easy to take to work, have as a snack before the gym, etc.

So here’s the recipe:

2 cups quinoa

4 cups water

2 roma tomatoes

half bunch of green onions

2 lemons

olive oil

s and p to taste.

Cook quinoa in water, bringing to boil then reducing to simmer for about 15 minutes (so fast!)

Cool to room temperature.

Add lemon juice -squeeze over strainer to catch seeds -and olive oil (probably about 3 Tbs. but you can use your judgment -I’ve found measuring to be too much bother in cases like this. It’s good to develop olive oil intuition).

Stir.

Add chopped tomatoes and chopped green onions (kitchen shears work well for the green onion and you can sing in your head: Kiiiiiiiiittttttcheeeeeeen Sheeeeeeeeears to the tune of Billy Shears and then finish the rest of the song in your head (or aloud): “What would you do if I sang out of tune…”)

Add salt and pepper.

Stir once more.

Now you have a delicious snack to power you through hours of shoe selling, textbook finding, YMCA going, karate-chopping fun. Truly a snack for a modern day superhero.

Inspired

Hello! I’ve been recently inspired, by other blogs, friends, people in my community, my grandmother, to take some time to reflect on the beauty of the small and simple things around me that enrich my life and make it beautiful. A recent graduate of the University of Michigan, with a Master’s degree in Library and Information Services, I’ve been thinking more (as I job search/evaluate) about what I care about, what makes me happy, and what I want to do and see in the world. And lately, what I’ve been thinking about are the small things in life that excite me and make me happy -a sense of community, good food, good recipes, local business and institutions and people, simple pretty things for my house and my person, community events, new people, old people, books, feeling like I belong.

This list of small happy things is in no way comprehensive, but does reflect where I’m going to put more of my energy, and hopefully this blog will give me a place to reflect on and share these beautiful little happy things, events, moments, finds with you!