Saturday, December 24, 2022

10 Freezer Staples, and One Thing I Never Freeze

Georgia has been in a state of emergency this weekend with extremely cold weather. In keeping with the freezing weather outside, I thought of writing this freezer-themed post. The list below is long and I certainly don't have all of these items in the freezer at all times. They rotate in and out. But each of these has, at various times, saved us from a mediocre takeout meal, fed last minute guests, or fended off an untimely grocery run. 

Blanket weather

10 Freezer Staples

  1. Fruit
    • Frozen blueberries: I eat some for breakfast every day
    • Other frozen fruit like cherries, peaches, mango which I use for
      • Smoothies
      • Protein shakes
      • Quick compotes for topping pancakes, cheesecake, etc. 
    • Seasonal buys like cranberries- purchased after thanksgiving and used for desserts and date cranberry chutney in winter
  2. Vegetables
    • Boxed spinach for lasagna, saag, casseroles
    • Edamame as a quick side for Asian-inspired meals
    • Okra- okra sambar and okra-potato sabzi
    • California medley- for sipping soup
    • Fire roasted peppers and onions- soups, stews, stir-fries
    • Italian beans/ green beans- sabzi and khichdi
    • Peas- curries, samosa filling, peas pulao
  3. Basic ingredients
    • Ginger garlic paste- I make enough to fill several small jars and pull them into the fridge one at a time
    • Ginger, chopped- mainly used for chai
    • Coconut- chutneys and curries
    • Butter- baking
    • Puff pastry during the holidays
    • Dosa batter
  4. Flours
    • Almond flour for baking
    • Flaxseed meal for adding into oatmeal and baked goods
  5. Plant-based meat substitutes
    • Quorn nuggets- my son takes two in his lunchbox every day
    • Chikn strips- meal starter
    • Crumbles- meal starter
  6. Breads
    • Sliced bread- sandwiches
    • Mini naans- quick pizzas
    • Burger buns, rolls
    • Rotis and parathas
    • Tortillas- wraps and quesadillas
  7. Hash brown patties
    • Aloo tikki chana chaat
    • Hash brown casserole
  8. Frozen meals
    • Store-bought- for those occasional times when we have no lunches on hand and no time to fix anything, it is easier to grab a boxed meal from the freezer than to walk out and find lunch in the cafeteria. We have a few favorites from Trader Joe's that we keep on hand- palak paneer (although that's been out of stock for months), vegan tikka masala, chana masala
    • Homemade- when I have extra curries/dals on hand, I box them in individual servings. A relevant post: On freezing Indian food
  9. Take out fake out stuff
    • Frozen dumplings
    • Vegan orange chicken
    • Veggie burgers and frozen fries
  10. Extra food that can be frozen for later use instead of being wasted
    • Overripe bananas
    • Cheese, shredded
    • Sweets and treats
One thing I never store in the freezer- spices. I find that it completely kills the taste.

On a recent Friday afternoon, the fridge and crisper were quite bare and I needed to put together a quick dinner. The freezer came to the rescue with a box of spinach. I paired it with a block of hi-protein tofu to make this spinach and tofu curry, inspired by Vegan Richa's recipe. It literally takes 20 minutes to put together and was a good reminder of how it helps to keep a well-stocked freezer. 

Every few weeks, I do a freezer eat-down by scanning for items that have been in there for a while and planning to use them up in the next week. 

What do you have in your freezer that you don't see on my list? 

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it! 

Saturday, December 17, 2022

A Bit of Holiday Baking

2022 is rapidly coming to an end but not before we kick off year-end festivities with a few sweets and treats. I haven't done any full-blown holiday baking yet but here are a couple of treats from the last couple of weeks. 

Holiday Lights Cupcakes

My daughter's school hosts an annual holiday market every December. Kids, parents and teachers are all invited to sell their homemade goodies to the school community. It is a whole lot of fun to see budding entrepreneurs selling their wares- jewelry, soaps, bookmarks, sweet treats, origami ornaments, and so much more- with carefully decorated signage and charming salesmanship. 

My daughter sold tubs of sugar scrub that she made with a friend, and some melt bead jewelry and homemade cupcakes. The holiday lights cupcakes looked adorable, were tasty, and they sold out quickly! 

They were easy and fun to make. We used this recipe for two dozen soft cupcakes, and made a half batch of this buttercream frosting. Each cupcake got a flat layer of frosting, and then my daughter drew "strings" with a black writing gel pen (sold in the baking aisle of supermarkets) and added some M&M candies as colorful lights. 

* * *

Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

I've long admired baking projects of shaped sugar cookies with intricate icing but always thought that cut out sugar cookies were too much of a bother with having to chill and roll out dough. My daughter's class was doing a cookie decorating event and a batch of sugar cookies was requested, plus I have a bunch of cute cookie cutters that were handed down by a friend who was downsizing, and they have been sitting around sadly unused. This recipe looked very promising, and the word that jumped out at me was "play-doh". I might be severely lacking in the dough rolling/ roti-making division, but you better believe that I've done my time with many, many tubs of play-doh in these last few years. 

And the recipe really is everything it promises. It resulted in a beautifully soft play-doh like dough, and my daughter enjoyed rolling it out and stamping out cookies, re-rolling the scraps several times to make more batches. It made a LOT of cookies and they were soft and tasty. The trickiest part, I would say, is determining when the cookies are done baking. You want them to just get firm, not brown. 

The cookie decorating event was postponed, and these cookies are safely sitting in the freezer waiting for their turn with icing and sprinkles.

* * *

This week I'm...

  • Watching Season 3 of Derry Girls
  • Reading Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation by Linda Villarosa- a brilliant book
  • Listening to That's Where I Am by Maggie Rogers and Block Rockin' Beats by The Chemical Brothers
  • Doing Fitness Blender's five day workout challenge for busy people
  • Making gift bags (for odd-shaped gifts) out of wrapping paper using this video tutorial

Enjoy the last two weeks of 2022!

Monday, December 05, 2022

Duncan Turns 10, and What I'm Reading

This weekend we celebrated the 10th birthday of our sweet big dog, Duncan. It was a special milestone because he has been grappling with medical issues for the last few months. We're grateful that our boy has made it to this birthday.

Big boy with a little birthday hat

Duncan started to have severe skin and digestive issues in the middle of this year. It was a suspected allergy, either to something in his food or something in the environment. The vet treated it with diet changes (expensive hydrolyzed food which he was NOT a fan of), topical applications, and injections of a neutralizing antibody, among other things. The problem was somewhat within control but then, we noticed a lime-sized lump under his "armpit". A needle biopsy showed mast cells, immune cells responsible for immediate allergic reactions. This is a form of skin cancer in dogs. 

Long walks in the fresh air

Duncan had surgery in late October to remove the tumor. The good news is that he recovered quickly from the surgery and his allergy symptoms have disappeared for now. His skin and digestion is back to normal for now, and he is feeling energetic and happy. 

The bad news is histopathology on the tumor showed that is a grade II tumor with actively dividing cells, so there is a chance the cancer has already spread and could recur. We weighed the pros and cons and decided not to treat him with chemotherapy for now. We are letting him live his life and enjoy each day with all the things he loves the most- treats, love and hugs, long walks and trips to the dog park.

Soaking in the sunshine

Sitting pretty

 * * *

Book report-- 

First up, books that are written for children or about children, but make for meaningful and satisfying (and quick) reading for adults--

Carrie's War by Nina Bawden, first published in 1973, tells the story of a brother and sister who were evacuated from London during WWII and sent to live with strangers in a mining town in the Welsh countryside. It is a wonderful coming of age tale and a wartime classic.

Another book set in wartime- White Bird by R. J. Palacio (published in 2019) is a beautiful graphic novel that tells the story of a young Jewish girl hiding in France in WWII. This is a very sad and very good story of how ordinary humans are extraordinarily kind and brave. 

Room to Dream by Kelly Yang (published in 2021) is the third installment of the Front Desk series. This was a fun and uplifting read. The plot line of a tween writing a newspaper column seemed unrealistic but I was surprised to learn that in fact this is exactly how the author embarked on her writing career at a very early age! Amazing!

On to fiction for adults--

This year I've been enjoying books by Elizabeth Strout. I love her perceptive writing about about inner lives and the human condition. The most recent one I read is Oh William!, published in 2021.

I always enjoy a juicy mystery for mindless reading. One I picked up at a used book sale was a good read- The Murder Room (Adam Dalgliesh #12) by P.D. James, published in 2003.

I have been reading many good non-fiction books--

A Taste for Poison: Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them by Neil Bradbury, published in 2022, was an easy and informative read, with case studies on some of the world's best known poisons. The author covers case studies with some (not in-depth) coverage of the molecular modes of action of these poisons. The most fascinating chapter for me by far was the one on Polonium-210. 

Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks by Patrick Radden Keefe, published in 2022, was another crime-related read. This is a collection of Keefe's long form articles from the New Yorker magazine- several articles were fascinating, giving glimpses into the worlds of death penalty attorneys, wine forgeries and money laundering in Swiss banks, among other things.

Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham, published in 2019, is a gripping and well-researched book. We have all heard about this nuclear accident that is basically a synonym for nuclear accidents, but I felt like I finally learned more about what really happened, why it happened and how it was handled. Right after I read this book, my husband and I watched the HBO mini-series Chernobyl- also fascinating and worth watching. I'm still thinking about this book and series.

A book that I picked up partly because it sounded interesting, and partly because it is relevant to my work, is Making Numbers Count: The Art and Science of Communicating Numbers by Chip Heath and Karla Starr, published in 2022.  This is an engaging read, especially for anyone whose work involves science communication. Humans are bad at truly understanding anything bigger than very small numbers, so we should think of alternative ways to communicate numbers by translating them. Some examples from this book- Try focusing on "1" instead of a larger number. Instead of saying there are 400 million civilian owned firearms in the US, say there's one for every man, woman and child, with 70 million left over. Recast in different dimensions. A million seconds is 12 days. A billion seconds is 32 years. Or saying that 1% is a penny out of a dollar. Convert to familiar objects. Instead of measuring the recommended serving size of a food in ounces, say that it is a size of a deck of cards.

I'll end with the most unusual, delightful and really quite terrific book I read this year- A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders, published in 2021. After class 10, pretty early in my academic life, I was directed to the science steam of education and have not taken any humanities classes at a higher level. This book is essentially a graduate level literature course in book form, a novel (no pun intended) experience for me. Saunders teachers a university class on the Russian short story. In this book he features 6 short stories (in their entirety) by Chekhov, Tolstoy and others, and methodically dissects them to give (a) insights into the art and craft of short stories and how fiction works in technical terms, and (b) even more profound insights into how the short story, and fiction in general, is a reflection of human values and how it fosters connection. Reading this book makes me wonder if I have gained anything at all from all the fiction I've read in my life, and makes me want to think about books more deeply. 

What have you been reading these days?