Sunday, January 03, 2021

Welcoming 2021 with lasagna and jigsaw puzzles

2021 has arrived quietly after a year that felt about a decade long. Our little family celebrated New Year's Eve quietly at home with a candle-light dinner. The kids made some decorations with construction paper, and declared themselves in charge of appetizers- they put out a tray of crackers with peanut butter and jam, and some apple slices. I made a big pan of vegetable lasagna.

A friend had made and shared some delicious lasagna over Thanksgiving that we enjoyed, and sent me the recipe- vegetable lasagna, from Cook's Illustrated. With a filling of mixed fresh vegetables, and no-cook red and white sauces, it is a little different from my go-to recipe, the spinach lasagna from Cook's Country, which uses boxed frozen spinach and a red sauce, and some ricotta and eggs as part of the filling. 

I was happy to try this new recipe but of course, I altered it to suit what I had in the fridge (using up some jarred pasta sauce and ricotta) and my personal tastes (cutting down drastically on the cheese). The other thing about Cook's Illustrated recipes is that they can be head-scratchingly complicated at times, and I chose to make the vegetable filling in a simpler way. 

So here's my shorthand version of the vegetable lasagna recipe-

1. No-cook red sauce: I used a bottle of store-bought pasta sauce. 

2. No-cook white sauce: I used ricotta because I had it on hand, some half-and-half instead of cream, 3/4 cup parmesan, 1 tsp. cornstarch, and some minced garlic.

3. Veggie filling: (my easy way) On a sheet pan, toss together 1 diced Italian eggplant and 2 diced zucchini with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in oven- I use a 400C convection setting for 12 minutes. While veggies are roasting, heat a little olive oil in a large pan and saute a bag of baby spinach with garlic. Mix the roasted eggplant/zucchini and the cooked spinach- this is the veggie filling. 

4. Chopped kalamata olives: about 1/2 cup (we probably used a little more)

5. Chopped/shredded mozzarella cheese: about 1 and 1/2 cups

6. No-boil lasagna noodles- 12 of them


Assemble in a greased 9x13 tray in this order (fractions are portions of the ingredient):

Layer 1-

  • 1/3 red sauce
  • Shingle 4 noodles
  • 1/2 white sauce
  • 1/2 veggies
  • 1/2 olives
  • 1/3 mozzarella
Layer 2-
  • Shingle 4 noodles
  • 1/3 red sauce
  • 1/2 white sauce
  • 1/2 veggies
  • 1/2 olives
  • 1/3 mozzarella
Layer 3-
  • Shingle 4 noodles
  • 1/3 red sauce
  • 1/3 mozzarella
Cover with foil. Bake at 375F for 35 minutes. (Mixture should be bubbling). Rest for 25 minutes before cutting and serving.

On new years' day, in keeping with local traditions of eating lucky foods, we ate black eyed peas amti and collard greens wadi for dinner. 

* * *

In 2020, my daughter and I became jigsaw puzzle enthusiasts and assembled puzzle after puzzle. Little bro also caught the bug- "I'll find edge pieces for you, Mama". Over the holiday break, we had plenty of time to fill (I had two full weeks off from week- can't remember the last time that happened!)- and took on a variety of puzzles. Puzzling can be a wee bit addictive. 

Pokemon collage-style 1000 piece puzzle

Deer puzzle- tough because of the shaped border
and irregular pieces!

Gingerbread houses puzzle- came with different sized pieces
so kids and adults can both enjoy it

Landscape puzzle- 1000 piece

I was never a "candle person" but have discovered this month that a sweet-smelling candle can be a comforting presence in the evenings. Now the kids remind me to light a candle after dinner and it is our cue to wind down for the night with puzzles, books or games. It is a nice addition to our cozy evenings, and we'll especially cling to these simple pleasures over this winter.

Vintage wool shop puzzle- 300 piece

Happy New Year, and may 2021 bring a measure of safety, health, peace and stability to our hurting world. How was the holiday season for you? 

22 comments:

  1. Happy New Year to you and your family, Nupur! What a comforting holiday. We have also bee doing puzzles. Suprisingly, my husband who I thought will not be interested in them is addicted to it and is also really good at it. I lost interest after one and they have kept going on. We also stayed in these holidays, baked a lot of cookies and mini breads and have been playing board games the kids got for Christmas. I have taken up knitting as a new hobby. And ofcourse our new puppy keeps us on our toes as well. All in well a good holiday.

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    1. My husband joined our puzzling one evening and mentioned, "yes, this is addictive" :D I have been bitten by the puzzling bug- we keep running out of puzzles and now will have to start borrowing from neighbors.

      Congrats on the new puppy- very exciting! Knitting is a wonderful hobby, therapeutic and meditative. Enjoy the new year and new hobbies!

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  2. Happy new year dear Nupur!
    2020 went by in the blink of the eye, TBH. Work pressure, online classes, plus the changes induced with the pandemic in picture.. I am glad we made it in one piece on this side. Husband and I took off the last week of december to just sit at home and relax. Lazy days, lot of reading, sleeping, Netflixing, cooking cozy dinners is what our holiday looked like. We enjoyed it and agreed that it was a nice change to have spent the holidays in a quieter manner at home by ourselves.

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    1. Happy New Year, Neha! I too am relieved to have made it through 2020, but many of the stresses of 2020 have certainly carried over into 2021- like online schooling which my kid does not like at all.

      Your last week of the year sounds just about perfect!

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  3. Whoa so many puzzles !!!! How many months or weeks did it take for you to finish your 1000 piece puzzle and just about all these puzzles? We have started puzzling recently just started two weeks ago inspired by my sis who lives in Pune . Ours is a planets Solar system 1000 piece puzzle and since it is our first one we find it challenging yet addictive. My older one accompanies is time to time but mostly it is me and my husband and we just love it!!! Your puzzles are now motivating me even more😊

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    1. The 1000 piece pokemon puzzle I assembled with my sister (she bought it because our kids are huge pokemon fans but we ended up making the puzzle while the kids played video games!) in 3 days. Being a collage size puzzle with borders helped! The landscape puzzle likewise I made with my sister in 3 days- these were done during lazy holidays where we worked on the puzzle off and on all day(s) long. These were our first "big" puzzles and it was really gratifying that we were able to do them so quickly.

      The gingerbread houses, wool shop and deer puzzle were made by my daughter and myself, each in 3 evenings. (3 seems to be a theme in our puzzling life.) Now we are working on a 1000 piece puzzle (the most pieces she has ever worked on) and it is a challenging scene of a horse farm- this one is going to take us a LOT longer than 3 evenings!! Let's see if she is patient enough.

      Your solar system one sounds really fun and challenging! It honestly does not matter how long it takes; as long as we are having fun and enjoying the process.

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    2. Oh wow Nupur that is really impressive!!! My husband and I are spending few min each day but hardly find the pieces, may be a few I can say. The ones which my sister did by herself had a design in the back of each piece which helped her with sorting and organizing the pieces overall ,but the ones which Iam doing does not have that feature but anyways we are very determined and motivated to finish ours😀

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    3. Ours did not have a design at the back or anything. We start by turning all pieces right side up, and sorting edge pieces from the rest (this only works for puzzles with clear edges of course). We assemble the edge first and then work our way inside.

      Puzzles with distinct areas of design are easier. Some are fiendishly difficult!

      It doesn't matter if it takes months, it is fun and you do get a great feeling as you pop that last piece in :)

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  4. oh wow. The deer puzzle and landscape puzzle look like pieces of art. How long did they take from start to finish? I switched jobs almost end of year; so last few months have been busy. I took off last week of 2020 and we all stayed home and spent quiet time together; each doing our own thing and coming together to make some simple meals everyday.
    I have had this desire to read the original Sanskrit Valmiki Ramayan of 7 volumes with Sanskrit versus and Kannada translation. I started a week before holidays; in my second volume now and loving it so far :) Had studied Sanskrit in my high school, so it's been slow reading but thoroughly enjoying it.

    Wishing you and your family a safe and healthy New Year. Praying life gets back to normal soon...

    Meena.

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    1. Hi Meena- happy new year to you and yours! How nice that you got a week off from the usual grind.

      Each of these puzzles took 3 days to assemble with various number of hours devoted to it (holidays gave us more lazy hours for puzzling). But honestly it is not uncommon for 1000 piece puzzles to take much longer depending on how tricky the puzzle is. The deer puzzle is gorgeous and I found it new in the thrift store for a dollar :D The landscape one is from Target.

      I'm so amazed by your Sanskrit reading. You're exercising your brain and mind!! My mother too has recently started learning Sanskrit in a pretty serious way and finds it very interesting.

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  5. Happy New Year to you and your family, dear Nupur! It has been such a joy reading your blog for all these years, and watching you and your family blossom so beautifully. May all of you remain blessed and happy through 2021 and beyond!! How is dear Duncan doing?

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    1. Dear Kamini, your good wishes mean so much to me!! Thank you. I too send my heartfelt wishes to you and your family for a 2021 that is stable, with good health and good cheer for all.

      Thanks for asking about Duncan- he is doing well. He had two TTA surgeries (one knee in Oct 2019 and the other in April 2020) and he is recovering well from those. He enjoys his daily walks, and the one upside from all of this WFH stuff is that he has company at home 24/7.

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  6. Happy new year! I've read so many of your posts, but writing here for the first time. Love the lasagna! We had a quiet NYE, like so many around the world this year. Some schnitzels, roast veg, etc. I used to like puzzles ..but then never know what best to do with the finished ones. Do you scramble the pieces back to redo later? Or stick it on a mat to hang? Is there any better option? Would love if you can share.

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    1. Your NYE sounds lovely! Great question about what to do with finished puzzles. I personally scramble up the puzzle and put it back in the box. We have built up a small collection. After some months/years, it is like doing a new puzzle again. Also, puzzles can be swapped, shared and donated so others get to do the puzzle. I always look for jigsaw puzzles in yard sales and thrift stores!

      There are permanent ways to display finished puzzles, typically involving gluing the pieces together (brushing a glue all over the surface), mounting and framing.

      My sister wanted to display the finished Pokemon puzzle in her son's room but wanted to option of pulling the pieces apart and being apart to redo the puzzle at a later time. Basically she wanted a temporary display, and the way she did it is- She flipped the finished puzzle over (this has to be done carefully and you will find that better quality puzzle interlock well and can be flipped as a sheet), and pasted contact paper (shelf liner was what she had on hand) all over the back. This held the pieces together so she could mount it on a poster board and hang it up.

      Hope this helps!!

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    2. Wow, the temporary display idea sounds great! Fits in perfectly with decor for growing kids spaces...or grown-ups who want a change. Thanks for sharing. I love this bit of technological progress...we might live a 20hr plane ride away, and yet when you write, I find it and love it, I can express my thoughts and queries, you reply so well..with solutions. To connect on any level as humans, no matter the distance, no matter the fact that we don't know each other, no matter who we are, in times when travel risks are at the highest...for that connect I'm happy! Stay safe and healthy...looking forward to more reading here.

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    3. What a sweet note- thank you! I too marvel at how blogging made it possible for just about anyone to have a voice and reach like-minded (or contrary!) folks across the globe. And truly, texts and video chats are keeping people connected in isolation. It is why I keep this blogging going even when other things in life threaten to take over my time. Sending best wishes a 20h plane ride away :)

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  7. Nupur, Im so glad Georgia and Georgians voted the way they did! I know this is completely random, but you are the only person I "know" who lives in Georgia (I live in Philly) so had to shout out:)

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    1. Hey I am one of the Georgians who voted in the way you liked :) You are welcome ;) All kidding aside, I am super grateful for the way things turned out and feel optimistic for this gem of a state that deserves all the good things.

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  8. Happy new year nupur! I love how the kids took part in organising your NYE dinner and I think the lasagna sounds deliciou. Your evenings with candles and puzzles and books sounds so lovely - I can only aspire to this sort of thing right now. We started a large puzzle a year or two ago but it never took off - I still would like to finish it if I even get organised. And good luck with 2021 - I hope the politics calm down and politicians actually start doing the work they are voted in to do - I hope you and your family stay safe and peaceful.

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    1. Johanna- Happy new year! We have started and abandoned a 1000 piece puzzle a couple times before this. This time We're really into it for some reason. Well, I think I know the reason, which is lack of many other pressing things to do, it being winter and pandemic and all.

      Thanks for your good wishes for 2021- here in the US we are desperately in need of things changing for the better. (The COVID-19 situation in my little town is worse today than it ever was.) Meanwhile I hope you all stay safe and continue to keep COVID-19 at bay.

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  9. Happy new year to you and your family, Nupur! We had a relaxing holiday break with lots of hikes, long neighborhood walks, bunch of movies (Soul is great!), holiday cookie baking and yes, lots of puzzles too :) Our heater broke down through the holidays, which made us spend many days warming by the fireplace and candle-lit dinners, they were amazingly comforting!

    I have also been reading "A Promised Land" by Barack Obama and enjoying it a lot.

    Lasagna looks super yummy!

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    1. Happy new year to you all, PJ! Your break sounds fantastic. I want to watch Soul- thanks for suggesting it, it may be a good one for this Friday night. Heater breaking in winter is awful but it seems like you made the best of a bad situation!

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