Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fall Cooking: Collards & Butternut Squash

They looked so orange-y and fall-ish, so I bought a 2-lb container of diced butternut squash.  Disregard the fact that I wasn't sure what it tasted like or how to cook it.

I also bought a big bag of cut collard greens because I forgot that I already had a bag at home and I decided I had a taste for greens.  So I found myself with butternut squash and collards and no plans for either.  I don’t like to let food go to waste, so I figured I could somehow cook them together in one pot.  It felt like my own, personal episode of Chopped!

I checked my pantry and found a bag of lentils and figured, since there were no definite plans for that either, I’d throw that in the mix, too.  And let me tell you – it all came together deliciously. It took about an hour and a half, but only about 20 minutes of active, standing at the stove time. The rest of the time you can wash dishes, fold clothes, or go catch up on The Voice.  And since it’s all pre-cut, there’s very little prep. (You can of course, use a whole squash or cut your collards, if you’d like.)

Here you go.  I wish I was better at coming up with names for stuff, but I’m not, so it's just...

Collards & Butternut Squash

½ onion, diced
½ bag lentils
1 lb diced butternut squash
1 lb chopped collard greens
Vegetable bouillon cube
Seasoning: black pepper, salt, red pepper flakes, coriander
Note: Add seasonings through-out to taste.  Feel free to leave out the red pepper if you don’t like pepper-y food.

In a large stock pot, melt a tablespoon of butter.
Add lentils. Stir and keep an eye on it, for about 5 minutes, until they get an almost nutty scent.
Add chopped onions, mix together, then continue to cook while onions soften.
Add the squash and seasoning, mix together and let cook a few minutes.
Add greens, mix into other ingredients.
Add bouillon cube and mix in with ingredients until dissolved.  Add seasoning.
Pour in 6 cups of water and stir all together.
Let cook on medium flame for about an hour or until squash is soft.

Serve as a side-dish or as a standalone meal, over rice or with naan or other flatbread. 


Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Enjoy the City In a Few Hours

Work trips, professional conferences, and organization events may take you to a city away from home. It’s easy to take the cab from the airport straight to the hotel, eat in the hotel restaurant, and follow the busy agenda that brought you there, never to emerge onto the city streets until time to get back in the cab for the return trip to the airport. Resist.
Take comfy walking shoes & be ready to explore!
Over the past few months, I’ve had a few agenda-driven trips, for a quick weekend or a few days, but only a few hours to experience the city.  But I can't stay inside and never wonder around the city. Let me share some excuses to get out of the hotel.

Explore the city.  Especially, if it’s a new-to-you city. In Milwaukee, I arrived hours before my meetings were supposed to start, on a beautiful, sunny day.  There was just enough time for the fifteen-minute walk to the RiverWalk (who knew there was a river?) to get lunch. Along the way, when the sidewalk ran out and we were looking at a drop into the river, we learned that the streets that bridge the Milwaukee River are a series of drawbridges – that rise straight up, not angled, to let the boats pass.

In Austin, I went boot shopping at night and in between the conference ending and my return to the airport for my late flight home, I walked over to the state Capital building for my own self-guided tour.  In San Francisco, I combined sightseeing with my workout and ran over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Eat outside of the hotel.  I like to try the local restaurants, rather than a chain. I live in the DC area, I could eat at almost any chain restaurant I want to at home.  In Austin, of course, I ate at places featuring, what else - Mexican and Southwest.  I tried Adolfo’s, an Italian place in Springfield, MA and had this delicious pasta with seafood and basil and a French martini.  It’s a small restaurant, lit primarily by candles. I had a perfect seat by the bar, next to the window – I could people watch inside and out and was close to the bartender.  In Milwaukee, I ate - where else - on the Riverwalk!  I had a delicious veggie burger and drinks at WaterBuffalo.


Do something a little different.  For a recent trip, I planned to get a cab for the short ride from the airport to the hotel. Then it hit me – for the $100 round-trip cab fare, I could rent a car for the two days I’d be in town. So from the car rental lot, I picked out a car I’ve never driven before – a red VW Bug! It was fun departure driving this little car that would fit in the back seat of the huge truck I drive at home.  Continuing in the “new car” theme - in Charlotte, I had a great time at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
VW Bug - My little teeny ride for a weekend!

Expand your hobby. I crochet and am starting to knit. In addition to regular trips to my local yarn shop, yarn is my travel souvenir. In fact, when other people travel, I ask them to bring me back yarn.  But isn’t all yarn the same, my husband always asks. (Or used to, he doesn’t even bother anymore.)  Well, you just never know ‘til you check, do you?  I have shawls and scarves and sweaters made from yarn purchased in Atlanta, San Francisco, and Madrid.  If you have a particular hobby, does the supplies or the hobby itself work as a travel souvenir? And if you don’t have a hobby, make one up perfect for traveling like collecting spoons or coffee cups, visiting state capitals, eating at hometown ice cream shops or drinking local beers.
Yarn shopping in Mystic, CT & Berlin, MD

Take a break from the group. This is a tip for the introverts out there. Sometimes traveling and hanging with the group is exhausting, right? All those people, all that chatter, all the group decision making.  When you’ve had enough, bow out. Make an excuse or tell the truth, whatever you think will get you out with the least questions.  Go outside for a walk or get a drink at the bar down the street.  It may seem awkward for the moment, but at least you’ll be refreshed when you return.

How do you squeeze in fun during a business trip?

Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances

Monday, October 27, 2014

What I Want to be When I Grow Up

On Christmas, I received a huge chalkboard and a box of chalk.  It was perfect – exactly what I needed. With this in the front of the living room, my classroom was complete.  I handed out math worksheets – additions and subtraction problems I wrote on the backs of used office paper my father would bring home for me - and rewrote the problems on my new chalkboard.

“Two plus two?”

Who looked like they knew the answer - the little boy seated in the middle of the front row, the teddy bear to his left or the Baby Alive to the right?  I wouldn’t really know until I collected the work and graded it.  The papers would have to wait, however, it was time to make lunch.

In the kitchen, I put two round slices of bologna on a hot skillet. With my brother (that same little boy in my math class) at my elbow, we watched for the bologna to magically puff up, rounding into a small hill in the pan.  When the edges were just perfectly browned, I flipped the slices out onto slices of white bread.  This cooking thing was so easy.

We ate our fried bologna sandwiches in the blanket fort built in the hedges, then climbed the tree for a handful of pecans.  We rode our bikes up and down the streets and to the end of the thin creek that ran through the neighborhood.  In the small pool of water there, we lifted rocks to watch the crayfish scurry away to the next rock.  We caught a few and placed them in an old paper cup, probably left behind by another bunch of kids for the very same purpose.  Satisfied that we still had our crayfish catching skills, we set them all free again and resumed our bike ride.

Back at the house, I grabbed a book off my dresser and ran back to the swing set.  I only had a few books in the house. My father must have picked them up from a school or library book sale, as they were the kind of literature textbooks in which the teacher would assign one of the stories and the questions at the end for homework.  Paul Bunyan, John Henry, and a bunch of animals who were friends. I had read all of the stories many times over and already knew all the answers, so sitting on the swing, I only read the stories, I didn’t bother with the questions, anymore.  As my mother called me in to get ready for dinner, I folded down the corner of a page so that I would remember to read that story to the little boy and the teddy bears for class tomorrow.

Share in the comments - What was your childhood dream job? What do you do now?

Follow on Twitter: JustPiddlinblog
Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances

Friday, October 24, 2014

Found Time - Days & Hours #Productive

My calendar is absolutely blank for the next three days. Nothing scribbled in pencil, nothing typed in. Three blank squares.  I think I've figured out how to clear out days of nothingness, time to catch up on all the stuff you still have to catch up on.  How to find that extra day we all need.  Cancel all your plans!

We planned to go away and then had to cancel that trip.  So while we were planning on not being here, I didn't put anything on my calendar.  Ta-da!  It's like a snow day, but without all the slush and cold.  The possibilities are endless!

I could clean my house. When you get busy, it seems like the house suffers.  All the shoes pile up, everyone running in and out, changing for the next activity. And laundry, sheesh!  And, yes, embarrassed to admit there might be a cobweb or two I could knock down.

I could bake some cookies. That's always a good idea.

I could write. I'm in the process of writing book number 2 and finding time each day is crucial to staying on schedule.  I could catch up on a few hours.

I could catch up on Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder.  Note - Do NOT tell me anything that has happened, I don't even want to know which white coat Olivia Pope is wearing.  As previously noted, such spoilers could get a friend de-friended.

I could go out to eat, grab lunch all by myself somewhere with nice table cloths.  I know some people don't like to eat out by themselves, but I do. A book, a drink, a good meal.  And movies, too - I love have the popcorn ally o myself.

I could work-out.  You know when your kinda fit a bit big jeans start to feel snug? You can deny a lot of weight-related signs, but the jean fit is a clear indicator.

I could wander around the neighborhood and walk the dog.

Hmmm... the possibilities.

But since I don't actually want to cancel too many vacations, perhaps, I will use the concept of blocking off days to do nothing. Here's a couple other ways I've found useful in finding a few extra hours.

Use waiting time.  Almost every weekday, I'm picking up/dropping off my kids to some practice or activity. I used to sit and watch them do whatever, waiting until they were done. Sometimes, I still do when I really don't have anything else to do - I can read or crochet, enjoy a quiet, non-moving few minutes. But when I do have stuff to do, I try to squeeze it in then. Someone asked me the other day if I'd have some time to meet with them. Sure, for this hour and half within a 15-minute radius from this practice location - I'm there.  It's also a good time for grocery shopping and other short errands.

Schedule outings, meetings on the same day. If I had several meetings that would take me out of my house, I used to schedule them on different days, thinking that would minimize the hours/day that I've got to be out. But what I found is that it makes my time at home less productive because I'm getting ready for and driving to those events each day. Now, I try to schedule outings as much on the same day as possible. Recently, I had some meetings at our school central office; instead of going over three days in a row, I scheduled them all on the same day. Started in the morning, went down the hall, grabbed lunch, had another - and I was done for the week.

Schedule email and online time. I read this tip in a post about getting to a zero-email inbox (only 600 more to go) - have a set time and time limit when you are going to check your email. Read it, act upon it, then move on with your life. Good point. I do check my email when I'm bored. Or trying to procrastinate. And it probably is a big time waster, so I'm working on that.

There's three quick tips. Share any others you have in the comments.  I'm off to go enjoy my found hours!

Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Throw The Kids to the Wolves - Independence & Parenting

This is what comes through my ears when other parents go on about the wide latitude they allow their children and the relatively narrow one that I give mine. Sleepovers? Riding public transportation? Staying out until late late past midnight? Going to parties where no-one’s sure the host’s parents are home?  Might as well just set them free in the wild lands and roaming plains with the coyotes and rattlesnakes.

As parents, we all have our limits of what we think is age appropriate for our children and what we want them to experience and be exposed to. That’s one of the fundamental rights of being a parent – you get to make choices for another person. For eighteen years, you are the legislative, judicial, and executive decision maker.

But, I guess it’s human nature to try to change other people’s mind to the way you’re thinking. I mean, there’s how many college majors and professions based primarily on the ability to do this successfully?

If you want your kid to spend the night at other people’s houses from the time they can find their way to the bathroom, go right on ahead.  Your choice. It’s just not mine.  They need to what – learn how to sleep somewhere else? Brush their teeth without being told? Be independent? What other reasons are stuffed into sleeping bags each weekend? In the grand scheme of life, I figure they’ll get this when it’s time. For now, they sleep in the bed in this house. For variety, they can even camp out in their sibling’s room if they want.

Since my oldest entered high school, folks have been trying to get me to put her on the public bus. Admittedly, this would be more convenient for me, as I make my daily trek to get her from sports practice. But, for right now, its not so bad and its part of my duty as a parent – make sure my kid gets home safely.  We’ve talked about figuring out the bus route for that day when I just can’t make it and we’ve run out of plan B and C, so I’m not against the bus thing. It just hasn’t become a necessity, yet.

But again – the parental reasons why – she needs to be street-smart, she need to be independent, she needs to know the bus system.  Isn’t that a parent’s choice of what they want for their kid?  As a teen-ager, I learned to catch the bus because that’s how I got to and from my job, when my parents weren’t home. And my kids have ridden the Metro, subways, buses, trains, cabs, and ferries in a bunch of different cities. I get it, I’m not anti-public transportation.  I just don’t think this means I need to throw my 9-year old on the Metro and say “find your way home” to get her ready for the world, even if there are kids younger doing the same in cities all across the country.  I do draw the line at putting my kid in a cab by herself, though. Nope, not gonna happen. You can give me a list of reasons why, stats about safe driving, etc. etc. Nope.

And parties without parents in the house? Whatever.

All this chit-chat about all the freedoms kids should enjoy? It’s like letting a little rabbit free to roam across the plains. I can see the wolf hiding behind the cactus.

Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances

Monday, October 20, 2014

#Organized Calendar To-Do System

Ah- the  ever-present, never-ending to-do list.  Whether scribbled on designed, organizing sheets or typed into a smartphone app – but do we ever ever check everything off?  And then there’s the pile of papers to go along with it. If you’re a parent, this may be dominated by permission forms, tests, progress reports and volunteer forms to sign and return, presumably before the deadline. Then there's the sale you missed, the coupon that expired.  Every now and then, I wonder if there’s a better way to go about this necessity of life, other than the scribbled long lists on my calendar pages or the clipped stack of index cards, I’ve been employing.  But I like that system, so I’m not trying to abandon it, just improve upon it.

There’s a lot of options and how-to’s out there, but none of them are really effective  unless it’s do-able for you – your personality, your lifestyle. This do-able part is important because any organization system has to be one that you can keep up with and manage, regardless of what the experts say.

Recently, I came across this idea of “43 folders.” Although new to me, this tickler system seems to have been around for a while.  With the 43 folders plan, you have- yeah, you guessed it – 43 manila folders, each labeled 1-31, for the days of the month, and for each month.  All the stuff that you have – primarily all those papers that you have to do something with – you stick in the folders for the day (of the current month) or the month that you need to do it. Each day, you pick up your folder and do whatever’s in it.  At the beginning of each month, you move all the stuff from the folder and distribute them to the appropriate day folder.

I like this idea, and I like folders, but 43 folders sitting on my desk seems like a whole lot of folders. Plus, I generally plan out my to do list and meal plan along with my schedule.  Doesn’t make sense to make a long to-do list on the day I have to be running around to meetings or with the kids, that’s just a set-up for disappointment of not checking anything off. So I’ve modified this idea and am trying out a new plan.

How-To: Calendar To-Do
  1. I printed my weekly calendar from Google Calendar.  Yes, I still have the paper date book, but also keep an electronic version so my family can input and access our schedule, too. And I do like the reminder feature – a text or email to remind you of where you’re supposed to be.
  2. All those papers that have some kind of due date - permission slips, bills, library books due slip, invitations – I sorted by week.  I could also add coupons, restaurant discounts, sales ads, and other random things that have an expiration date.
  3. Clip the sorted papers behind the calendar page when they should be done.
  4. Each week, I have that packet of papers that are due, my calendar, and I can jot additional reminders on the calendar page.
I’m in week 2 of this new system. We’ll see how it goes.

Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances