I like to think that I'm the kind of person who knows how to stick to her guns, to take a belief to heart and run with it. When I look in the mirror, I want to see a woman who knows what she believes in, and refuses to let the world compromise her. A lot of the time I feel like I'm somewhere in the neighborhood of that goal, but even at my best, I still struggle with maintaining a balance between indulging my ideals and accepting the facts of life.
My cell phone, for example, eats at me. I use it all the time. It's a tool for my blog and my job, a favorite toy in moments of boredom, and my golden ticket to an endless library of information. Sometimes I even use it to call or text someone. I can't deny how much I adore my phone, and of course, that bothers me. Such an attachment to a material object goes against the spiritual goals I set as a buddhist. It's very existence, as disposable technology, goes against my beliefs as an environmentalist. Knowing what other human beings are put through in order to supply and dispose of my precious phone strikes a chord with my conscience that is hard to ignore.
Yet, I can't put the damned thing down. I justify it with some vague notion that like my computer, the device allows me to act as a force of good in the world. I remind myself to take that deal seriously and put out content that is more thoughtful, more helpful, and more worthwhile. Similar justifications are made for indulging in the occasional bite of meat or cheaply-made dairy purchase. I tell myself that I am exploring different foods, and Scott often reminds me that we can't afford to "damn the man" at every turn, so I pick my battles one by one, and try to do the right thing more often than not.
Every once in a while someone dangles something shiny in front of me and I snatch it up without thinking about the strings attached. Let's say, for example, a television production company approaches me about participating in an online event for their popular reality cooking show. I think about how great the exposure would be for my blog, about how many more readers, subscribers, or followers I might get. I even think about how the experience will puff me up, making me look a little bit famous. It's so sparkly!
But then it actually happens, and I feel a knot in my gut. When I'm given a long list of what not to say, not to wear, not to do, the knot gets tighter. I suddenly realize that I am helping to promote something that I don't even like, a show that portrays food and cooking as something difficult and mysterious, as if it only belonged to these shiny special people on TV. I have a personal rule against burning bridges or backing out of things I've committed to, so I go through with it anyway, even though I'm not allowed to mention my blog or my last name, even though the dish we are cooking isn't vegetarian, even though I feel used and stepped on.
Then it is over, and I just feel angry, with the TV people, of course, but also with myself. I just sold myself out for nothing. At least I can say that I learned my lesson: to thyself be true. No more reality shows for this little vegetarian.
Instead of becoming more phoney, I've decided to start getting real. While I will still be sharing plenty of polished and perfect recipes, I'm also going to begin posting about what I'm eating every day. Unless it is for a recipe post, I don't often cook the same thing twice, so these recipes will be shot from the hip. I hope they will inspire you to get in your kitchen and throw something together too.
Go forth and cook, my friends. It's a good day to be yourself.
If you've ever wondered what I actually eat every day, you should probably be following me on Instagram. As my IG followers are acutely aware, veggie rice and noodle bowls are pretty much a staple part of my diet. I eat them mostly for lunch since the hus-beast has been on an anti-vegetable kick lately. (Ask me later how THAT'S working out. Guh.)
Anyway, I like to get at least two colors of veggies in each bowl I make. Greens are almost always color one. The second color rotates between orange sweet potatoes and carrots or red peppers. Yellow squash and purple peppers are also known to pop in now and then. Sometimes I feel like it needs an egg on top. Sometimes I'm not in the mood. Anyway, this is a pretty typical lunch or dinner for me.
I should warn you that this is a pretty intense veggie bowl. I hope you like greens. If not, you might want to start with something a little lighter, like spinach. Chard can be a little earthy, in the same way that beets can, and it's not everyone's cup of tea. Amaranth actually has a really interesting taste, most of which is covered up in this particular recipe. If you've never had amaranth, you might want to just saute it up with some sesame oil, salt, pepper and garlic instead of roasting it with the chard. In that case, I'd also reduce the amount of sauce you use on the chard. By half or so?
I like this bowl with a few squirts of sriracha and kewpie mayo. I have a serious kewpie habit. What can I say? If that isn't your thing, you could sub a few slices of fresh avocado or a drizzle of plain tahini to give this bowl a creamy touch.
- 1 cup cooked rice (I use brown basmati)
- 1 bunch chard, rinsed well and roughly chopped
- 1 bunch amaranth, rinsed well and roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce (or gluten free tamari)
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon ginger powder
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1 raw carrot, shredded
- 2 eggs, fried
- 1/4 cup Roasted Wild Nori Seaweed Flakes (optional)
- Mayo and Sriracha (optional, to taste)
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Toss the greens in the sesame oil until well coated. Mix the soy sauce, syrup or honey, garlic, ginger, and red pepper in a small bowl, then toss with the greens.
- Spread the greens out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Roast for 5 - 10 minutes, stir, and then roast for another 5 - 10 minutes. For lightly "done" greens, roast for a total of 10 minutes. 20 minutes of roasting will produce well done greens.
- Spoon the rice out between two bowls, then top with a drizzle of kewpie and sriracha. Next, add the greens, followed by the shredded carrot and seaweed, if you are using it.
- I like to top this bowl with an over-easy style fried egg. My husband prefers it sunny-side-up. Someone else might like it scrambled. Do what you feel.
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I like to think of Mary Makes Dinner as a healthy cooking blog. With the exception of an occasional ice cream recipe, hehe, my recipes are mostly veggie-centric, fresh, and unprocessed. I try to focus on meatless recipes, especially now that my everyday diet has shifted so far in that direction. I spent most of mid-2012 on a 90% vegan diet, and felt not only healthier for it, but happier.
So what about 2012? Did I accomplish everything I dreamed of? Did I break barriers, scale walls, rise from ashes and spread my glorious burning wings across a clear blue sky?
Well, duh. Weren't you all here for that?
Actually, I did pretty well this year. This time last year I'd vowed to eat healthier. It all started with the Whole Living detox, which was pretty much a week of vegetables, followed by vegetables with fat, then vegetables with grain. Soon after, I started cooking only vegetarian meals at home, and began replacing meals with green smoothies. At some point, the vegetarian home thing turned into a vegan home thing. A few months back, Scott and I did a juice cleanse, prompting him to join the mostly-vegan bandwagon I was on. It all happened sort of gradually, but with the exception of the holiday-season we've kept up the mostly vegan, everyday juicing pattern pretty well.
Next week we are doing another juice cleanse followed by a liver cleanse. Shit's getting crazy over here, but I'm looking forward to getting my supposedly congested fatty liver reset. I know, I'm speaking hippy-greek. Sorry. The point is that over the past year of healthy eating I have never felt better. Besides that time I drank river water I wasn't sick all year. Of course, I was slammed with a head cold in the last month of December, crushing my chances for reporting a cold-free year. Curse you, cruel fate.
Then, we bought a house, which is pretty cool, but also feels really stupid and frightening sometimes. You know what I mean, right? It's all gravy - totally awesome, but at the same time you can't help but feel like the adult who lives here is going to come home sooner or later and kick you out. Just yesterday I drilled a hole through a cabinet and grimced over having to hide it from the landlord. Hiding it from the hus-beast was way harder.
Then there is Chef Hangout. Though I have to admit, it hasn't become the new career that I hoped it would, it has opened a lot of doors for me, and helped me realize how very much I enjoy teaching. I'll be keeping it up in the coming year, but I'm also going to be making a big effort to find other places to teach as well, both online and locally. If anyone hears about a teaching opportunity, I'd be gratfeul if you kept me in mind.
Scott and I welcomed our latest nephew to the party in 2012. Little Michael is Scott's sister, Karen's third baby, giving us a grand total of six nieces and nephews and three god-children. My sister, Sarah, is making our nine-count an even ten later this year. She's preggo! Sarah's baby will be the first grandkid on my side, so we are all extremely excited. I was tempted to list having a baby in my goals for 2013, but if 2012 has taught me anything, it's that some things don't come according to your schedule. The best things in life arrive whenever they damn-well feel like it.
The Leonard grand-kids, tall and small.
Of course, 2012 had some really, really sad bits too. The last month was particularly difficult. My stomach still drops whenever my mind wanders that direction. Tears still come whenever I'm prompted to talk about any of it. My heart aches, my hands cramp up, and my breath gets trapped in my chest. Nothing can ever make it right, and part of me is really, really scared of what 2013 could bring. Sometimes I feel like the world just keeps getting scarier.
Then I wonder if the world was always so cruel, and it's just me getting older? Either way, part of me was happy to stay home with a cold last night, safe and warm under a blanket. We toasted the new year with kombucha, then went outside to watch my neighborhood explode into an amateur fireworks show. We were in bed soon after, and for some reason or another I didn't wake up for twelve more hours.
So, I missed half of my first day this year. How's that for an omen? Then Gracie got a mud-foot. Luckily, I caught her in the mud-room before she escaped to fling mud all over the house. As I was cleaning her up I snapped my first shot for this year's 365 project, #Underfoot. Once I put some clothes on I'll be heading to the Container Store again to try and finish up my first goal of the year. My pantry ought to be shaking in its boots.
Twice a year I spend at least a few measly hours over-analyzing my life. Being born in July, I have the opportunity to indulge in self-examination every six months or so, which seems to me to be a comfortable minimum. On these ocassions, I think about my ratio of accomplishments to failures, count up my goals-achieved to goals-deferred, and compare where I am now to where I was three hundred sixty five days prior.
It's far from an uncommon practice. I'm sure everyone is doing it, at least a little. The next week will be undoubtedly filled with bloggers repenting for their pasts transgressions, and making oaths to change in the coming year. Gym memberships will be purchased. Trips to the salon will be made. Old socks and underwear will find their way into rubbish bins across the nation. Everyone will be reborn as improved versions of themselves.
Everyone but me. Sorry tradition, but I'm not planning on changing very much at all this year. After evaluating my accomplishments over the past twelve months I've decided that I'm on a pretty good path. I'm progressing at a healthy pace, and I'm moving in the right direction. So, no u-turns for me this year. Instead of resolutions, I'm going to set a small list of goals for 2013.
Scott and I have never really been Christmas people. This is mainly due to the fact that we aren't actually Christians. I'm more or less a Buddhist, and Scott is, well... Scott can tell you what Scott is. Just ask him sometime.
Because of our odd-ball spiritual directions it always seemed illogical to make a big to-do about Christmas. It felt phony, I guess. Our families are all varying degrees of Catholic and Christian so we always participate in the hub-ub, but we never put up a tree or anything on our own. Most years we don't even exchange gifts with eachother. The materialism that Christmas can sometimes embody is the place where my own beliefs tend to conflict with the holiday season, so buying things to show I care feels kind of weird.
Don't get me wrong. I love giving gifts, and naturally, I enjoy getting them. It's not so much the gift-giving that bugs me. It's more how that gift-giving tends to overwhelm everyone, making people crabby, mean, or obsessed. It feels like it's working against the spirit that Christmas ought to be encouraging.
The season, the holiday itself, even the madness that seems to go along with it all is pretty much OK in my book. Underneath all of the nasty commercialism, the snow-covered blanket of stress, and the weird emotional confusion that seems to accompany Christmas, there is a lot of love. The intention is to make eachother happy, and to spend time with the people you love. How could I have a bone to pick with that?
I always assumed that when we moved in to a house things would stay the same. Our participation in Christmas would be understated. But with my parents coming to visit something had changed. They are staying with us this year, and my Mom LOVES Christmas. That is to say it is her favorite holiday ever. She loves Christmas the way that I love my favorite spot by the lake, or the memory of my childhood house. Christmas isn't just a holiday to her. It's more like a home, a place where all of her loved ones live forever in a happy, pine-scented, glitter-covered wonderland.
So we put up a tree. We nailed multi-colored lights to our house. We even inflated her seven foot tall Christmas moose outside. I'm still trying to maintain some level of non-materialism. Instead of buying ornaments, Scott and I folded little paper cranes for the tree. We made some of our gifts by hand, and I'm kept a healthy distance from the holiday decor section at Hobby Lobby. But it's tough. A part of me that I was totally unaware of has opened up, and for some reason she wants to cover everything in glitter and twinkle lights.
I guess I do love Christmas after all, because I love my Mom.
And now she's here, filling my house with the smell of freshly baked cookies. My Mom has an annual tradition of baking scores and scores of cookies this time of year. No matter where I've been, or where she's been, a tin full of cookies always seem to appear on my doorstep in December, reminding me that I'm loved. This year, with the world feeling so very wrong in so many ways, the comfort of a familiar tasting cookie matters more than ever. It's amazing what a little butter, flour, and sugar can do for your soul. Mine is still sore, so I hope she'll just keep on baking.
We'll be having freinds over for a little holiday celebration. Part of me wanted to cancel, feeling guilty for finding happiness when so many people are enduring the pain of loss. But then, I know life has to go on, and succuming to grief won't do me, or anyone else any good. My sisters suggested adding a craft table to the event, so guests could cut snowflakes for Newtown schools. It's not much, but maybe sending these little tokens of love will help ease the pain, just a little.
Sadly, Christmas in my family has a history of loss and grief. Loved ones have passed over the holidays more than any other time of year. This makes every year-end bittersweet. It's a time to let go of hurt, say goodbye to those we've lost, and cherish the people we love, knowing that we can't hold on to them forever. I was a kid the last time we endured a loss during the holidays, so this is the first year that I've felt that pain so directly, and my first opportunity to use old traditions, like cookies and lobster bisque to help trasform hurt into happiness.
In a way, I felt fortunate to be home in Connecticut when everything happened. I was able to see and touch each of the kids I loved, reassuring that they were OK. If it hadn't beeen for Christmas, I would have been so far away. Home in Austin, being with my parents and sisters, hearing their laughter, enjoying their closeness, feels like the only thing that can begin to heal my heart. I think from now on, I'll always be grateful to Christmas for bringing us together when I needed them so badly.
Thank you Christmas.
When I turned sixteen I wound up quitting school and getting my first full-time job. It happened to be at a Subway a few miles from my house. I got the job because several of my drop-out, stoner friends already worked there. Before I was ever employed there, I'd spent plenty of nights eating sandwiches, playing music too loud, and generally misbehaving in the back room. The place was different in the light of day. Squnity-eyed, and up too early, I arrived with an application one morning. After a short interview with the owner, Marty, I was hired. I could never have guessed how much this job would affect the rest of my life. Dropping out of school was huge, but if you knew me at sixteen, you would have agreed that it was inevitable. At the time, working at Subway seemed like an insignificant part of my life story. It's funny how things turn out.
There's no better way to ensure blog silence than declaring your intention to post every day for a whole month. I feel like I started strong. There were a few days there when I posted right in a row, but then...
Then the recipe went bad. Then the camera wouldn't cooperate. Then the mustache orders started piling up, the basset hound confused my bedroom carpet for a toilet bowl, and the cat wouldn't come down from the top of the kitchen cabinets. Somebody said something about Mercury in retrograde, whatever that means, and ever since, a spell of hoodoo-voodoo has haunted the month of November.
Balls to hoodoo-voodoo. Balls, I say.
So there you have it, your every-so-often post on how the world of a food blogger is so far less glamorous than some twisted minds might imagine. In between the carefully photographed dishes there are a lot of truly shitty meals, epic food disasters, and regular old, everyday cluster-f***ery.
I leave you with this parting gift, a smell to haunt your dreams: liquid smoke and basset hound.
Health is kind of a big deal. And after thirty or so years of stupidity I've finally figured out how big. Feeling shitty every day kind of sucks. It can make you grumpy, lethargic, or totally apathetic. So making little changes in your life, like how you eat, or how often you exercise, can make you feel better, which can in turn, make you happier, more successful, and generally nicer to be around.
On top of that, I feel like in today's crap-filled, chemical cluster**** of a world the odds are stacked against you. When you are living in an environment where almost everything around you is toxic, carcinogenic, and hormone disruptive, every little bit of fight counts. I don't know about you, but I ain't goin' down like that. I'm not about to let fat-cat polluters, corporations armed with bio-warfare, orhyper-consumerism take me out if I can help it. I'm going to cook my own food. I'm going to get off my ass and move around. I'm going to maintain a healthy mental outlook, dammit.
I know every thing has its time, and one day it will be my own, but if I have to go down, I'm going down swinging.
I am pretty healthy, and still relatively young, but even at thirty years old I've had to go through a couple of serious scares. Mystery migraines, hormonal roller-coasters, and unpredictable digestive issues have messed with me for my entire life. Earlier this year I had a serious cancer scare, and even after a negative biopsy I'll still probably have to go through a potentially life-changing surgery to reduce my risk. Oh! And it feels like my body is developing new and exciting allergies on a daily basis. That one is REALLY fun.
If it was just me going through this I might throw up my hands, shake my fists at cruel fate, and stamp my feet, but the thing is, it's not just me. Everyone I know has a story like mine. Everyone seems to be at least a little bit sick, at least mildly allergic, almost always tired. That doesn't seem right to me. Not one bit.
So I'm determined to find my way off of the path the sickness, cancer, and lethargy that we all seem to be going down. I'm not super dogmatic, because I really believe that part of staying healthy and happy depends on maintaining a balance between ideals and realistic expectations. For example, I enjoy the feeling of eating a mostly vegan diet, but if someone hands me a chicken wing, I don't sweat it. I just eat the dang thing.
I'm figuring out that learning to be healthy is a lot like learning how to cook. You never really get there, because there is always so much more to learn. Whether you are discovering a new ingredient, or realizing for the first time how your body reacts to something, your understanding is like a pot that can never be filled. As you simmer, the knowledge breaks down and the empty moisture evaporates, creating a stock that gets richer and deeper over the years.
So with all that in mind, I'll break down my health goal in four words: Taking back my body. It's mine, and I want to be the one deciding what goes in it, so I'm going to pay attention. That's all. I'm far from perfect, I still eat candy and junk food now and then. I'm known to chow down on my fair share of shitty food, or skip exercising for a sci-fi marathon, but you know what? It's not about being perfect. It's about being in charge. I'm the leader of a one-woman revolution against myself. Well, myself and about one-million Doritos Locos Tacos.
Being a food blogger by night, and a beauty blogger by day, I wind up reading a whole lot of posts on a whole lot of things every day. My favorite, and most frequently visited blogs straddle both worlds, allowing me to enjoy them both on a professional and personal level. A Beautiful Mess is one of my favorites in the "a little of everything" category. (Other favs include: Angry Chicken, Soule Mama, and Comme un Lait Fraise)
I'll be competing in the Austin Mac n' Cheeze Takedown competition on March 9 in Austin, TX.
Hello. I'm Mary Helen
Comfort food, healthy cooking, and ethnic cuisines are my obsessions. As a cook, writer, and culinary instructor these worlds collide in my kitchen on a daily basis.
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