Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Getting Ready for the Holidays and Mexican Flavored Mushroom Barley Soup

Monday’s are never my favorite but this one was uneventful since Dan worked the weekend it could just as easily have been Wednesday this morning. Poor Dan worked until after 10pm last night. He came home we chatted for about an hour and then it was time to turn in. I swear that is no way to live (I am talking about him not me) but I appreciate that he works so hard to take care of us. However I also think there has to be a better way. *rolls eyes*

Getting Dan Ready to Leave:

This morning I was back to making fresh veggie and fruit juice to put in Dan’s lunch. The fresh juice uses up quite a bit of produce which is one reason our refrigerators are frequently packed. A little space is starting to appear in my two refrigerators now. I can actually see a bit of the back wall in the main refrigerator. ;-)

Breakfast this morning for Dan was oatmeal (3/4 cup dry) with 1 cup mixed frozen berries (blackberries, raspberries and Marion berries), ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon powdered ginger, 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds, a pinch of stevia, and 2 tablespoon sliced almonds. He washed that down with 2 cups of fresh juice that didn’t fit in the 1 liter bottle I pack in his lunch.

While he was eating breakfast I packed his lunch and dinner (it is going to be another late night at work for him). He got a quart of the soup I made Sunday, 2 cups of brown rice to add to the soup for calories, dehydrated leeks to top the soup, 1 liter of fresh veggie and fruit juice, marinated kale salad from yesterday and trail mix (now with 2 brazil nuts for selenium) to have with his juice. I wanted to outline what I pack for him since people are curious how I get enough calories into my husband since my food is so healthy and therefore low in calories. If he is hungry when he gets home there may be dessert too.

My Morning:

Once Dan left for work I made myself a big mug of hot water with lemon slices to sip while I decided what to do next. Hot water with lemon or just hot water by itself is something that I have done on and off for 30 years. When it is cool or cold outside iced beverages have no appeal and sometimes I don’t want green tea first thing in the morning.

I have read that hot water with lemon helps the liver detoxify and that hot water by itself stimulates the lymphatic system. However I have seen no scientific proof that either of these ideas is true. Additionally I am skeptical by nature so I can’t say I believe either of these claims. I drink the hot water with or without lemon because I enjoy it as odd as that sounds. If you haven’t tried it you should give it a try, it is oddly satisfying.

After I exercised I got myself a fairly big bowl of Sunday’s soup with about ½ cup of brown rice in the bottom of the bowl. Once the soup was hot I topped it with a few sliced almonds and dehydrated leeks for crunch. When it is cool outside a hot bowl of soup makes a good though unorthodox breakfast.

For an afternoon snack I had frozen grapes and Brazil nuts. This was followed up by green tea with lemon and ascorbate C powder.

For my next snack I had falafel (from the freezer) and salsa. That tasted so good to me I had the same thing later for dinner.

How do you become a good cook?:

This is a question I very often. I don’t think there is much of a secret to this one. Cooking is like any other skill you need to practice to become good at it. You need to master basic cooking techniques: sautéing, roasting, braising, grilling, poaching and steaming. Then you need to know how make basic sauces (like white, tomato and “cheeze”). You need to know how to balance the flavor of a dish with herbs, spices, and acid. Also it is important to only cook with good quality ingredients. For example if a dish tells you to use wine but you use one you wouldn’t drink by the glass you are probably going to ruin the dish. When you cook with wine you concentrate the flavor and therefore magnify the faults of the wine. Bad wine means bad food. The other important quality is to seasoning adequately. Most new cooks are timid with seasonings and no one enjoys bland food.

One of the things that helped me is that I have had the privilege of enjoying serious fabulous food at places like the MiniBar at the Café Atlántico. We were omni most of our lives so my experience with food is both more deep and broad than most vegans. Since I have always loved food and cooking I pay attention to the details when we go out and have make notes for years. A smart phone is very handy for this. I have said for years that being able to enjoy Ian’s food often has also made me a much a better cook. He and I always talk about food whenever we see each other so that also helped make me a better cook.

Additionally I read cookbooks like novels which also helped me to understand flavors that work together. I don’t limit myself to vegan cookbooks because they are not typically very inventive. In general I tend to learn more reading omni cookbooks. My cookbook collection is beyond ridiculous in terms of volume. I exceeded 1,000 cookbooks long ago and now that they are spread all over my house I have no idea how many I own. The odd thing is that I rarely use them. I find that I read them once, cover to cover, and then they go on the shelf. There are very few that I find interesting or unusual enough that I want to use.

I hope that gives you some insight into what it takes to be a good cook. It just comes down to practice, and mastering the basics. If you are uncomfortable in the kitchen you should start with reliable recipes from others and as your confidence builds change ingredients or proportions to make them your own. It really is no more complicated than those few ideas.

My little organizing project:

Paperwork is something that seems to pile up around here and not in the most organized fashion. You would think all those years I spent running an accounting department (which required me to be very organized) my paperwork would be very organized but somehow that didn’t translate into my home life. When I read articles on line I frequently end up printing them and putting them in binders. I am big on highlighting and making notes in the margins. I also save little health or nutrition articles that I find interesting from magazines and the Wall Street Journal. I decided it was time to get all that stuff sorted in a way that I can find it easily when I need to refer to it. This is a much bigger job than I anticipated and may take me a month or more to finish.

Dan ended up coming home earlier than I expected and I didn’t want to spend time online while he was home since he has been spending most of his time at work recently. We spent some time talking and catching up and then turned in a little early since we both need to get more sleep.


It was crazy warm this morning when we got up. The weather is completely unpredictable during the fall and spring in this area. This morning it was in the mid 60’s before the sun came up.

Dan had he favorite oatmeal with mixed frozen berries, cinnamon, powdered ginger, ground flaxseeds, and sliced almonds. He washed that down with the fresh veggie and fruit juice that didn’t fit in the 1 liter bottle I try to send in his lunch every day.

Much to my surprised Dan asked for marinated kale salad in his lunch today. I was very surprised that he enjoyed it that much but I was happy that he did.

Once Dan was off to work I decided to see if a little yoga would clear my mind and it seemed to help. I also did cardio and then had my breakfast. I had a bowl of the Indian spiced veggie and red lentil soup. This time I topped it with plain dehydrated leeks, sliced almonds and fresh cilantro. It was the perfect breakfast.

Next I decided to go for a walk through the neighborhood. Our neighborhood is hilly which means a walk is a good way to burn a few calories particularly if you intentionally head for the hilly roads which is what I do.

When I left the house I knew I was going to end up at the grocery store so I took my wallet and reusable grocery bags when I left. We were out of organic carrots again for juice, bananas, and were getting low on kale. It never ceases to amaze me how much produce we consume in a week. *shakes head*

This is one of my local grocery stores, I know it doesn’t look like one but it is. Forty years ago a developer turned this 100 year old insurance building into an enclosed mall called “The Rotunda”. I tend to stick to the grocery and drug stores but there is also a cinema, book store, clothing store, optician, hair place, unusual home décor store, and local fast food. It is very nice to have a few grocery stores within walking distance from our house. It came in very handy last winter when we had the blizzards every few weeks.

When I got home from the store I went back to organizing and started making my Christmas binder. This will include sections for: decorating ideas, possible presents, and recipes. I tend to get a little carried away at Christmas so it is handy to have a binder dedicated to the holiday to hold all my ideas and projects in process. I do the same thing for Thanksgiving but that one is mostly recipes. I copy the recipes I want to use and put them in a binder to refer to when I am cooking. It makes it easier to make the grocery list, task list and keeps my cookbooks clean since I tend to be a mess in the kitchen. ;-)

Food today at my house has been very much like my usual day. For lunch I had thick cucumber slices with the garbanzo cheeze and topped with salsa. This was so good I had the same thing about an hour later when I realized I was still hungry.

Then I had a banana (that is cinnamon on top) with two Brazil nuts for the selenium.

Dinner was two bowls of mushroom barley soup. I made a big pot of soup today since we had finished the Indian spiced red lentil and veggie. This mushroom barley I decided to flavor with Mexican seasonings and it turned out really good. Here is what I used: 2 cups dried mushrooms, 8 cups water, 2 cups diced tomatoes, 1 red onion, 10 cloves garlic, 1 chipotle in adobo, ½ cup hulled barley, 15 ounce can white hominy, ½ tablespoon chili powder, ½ tablespoon cumin, ½ tablespoon oregano, ½ tablespoon paprika, 2 tablespoons no salt seasoning, 1 dash liquid smoke, 2 poblanos and a dash of sherry vinegar at the end. The flavor of this worked really well. It was not your grandmother’s mushroom barley soup but I really liked it.

Dan is actually heading home a little early again tonight. I rushed to get this posted before he walked in the door. Hopefully there aren’t so many typos that you can’t figure out what I was trying to communicate. ;-)

Tomorrow we have a few appointments. I expect to have time to check in later in the day. I hope you are having a good week.


  1. I love that you have a Christmas binder ;-)

  2. Heather,

    I stared doing that a few years ago to keep track of recipe ideas and it worked so well I expanded it. I should have guessed that would be right up your alley. ;-)


  3. I think it is so funny when people say I am a "good cook/baker" and that they "can't cook". I always tell them that if they can read, they can cook! It isn't that hard to follow a recipe, and then once you have made a few successful dishes you will start to branch off with your own ideas etc.

    I hope your appts go well today and that you had a nice evening last night :-)


  4. I have been eating brazil nuts for years, I had read somewhere years ago how good they are for you. Will you take pictures of the inside of the supermarket? It is very interesting to me that it is in such a large building! I have a notebook for Christmas too, while it is not full of decorating idea's, it is full of Christmas dinner planning, presents, wrapping paper idea's (I change it every year with a theme, I know, I know) and of course the family and friend lists for presents and then the mailing list for cards, I buy a year ahead and address them so I can just send a little message and sign them. I am such a goof

  5. What a nice looking store! You're lucky to be able to walk...I get so tired of driving everywhere.

    I've been meaning to ask, do you defrost the berries and add them to the cooked oatmeal? Or put everything in a bowl and microwave it all together?

    The barley soup sounds good, I think I'll make something like that tomorrow. I've learned so many new ingredient combinations by reading your blog. Using dried mushrooms has been particularly effective, as is trying different grains, spices and beans. I'm still working on getting more whole soy into our diet...maybe I'll put some soybeans into tomorrow's concoction!

  6. Courtney,

    I agree completely. I taught myself to cook using "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and "The New York Times Cookbook". Since my mother always hated cooking I wasn't going to learn from her. Also I think you learn as much from the bombs as you do the wins. The alternative is you end up like my mother 81 and still unable to cook well. *shakes head*

    Today's appt has resulted in another appt. I really need an appt break. *sigh*

    talk to you later,

  7. That's very interesting - but not really surprising - to hear that you have a large cookbook collection. I mainly use vegan cookbooks, but I like other sources of non-vegan information on food. I really like The Splendid Table and I also have How to Eat Supper.

    Do you find that your barley soup works well for your intentional leftovers? I made some recently and it was good the first night, but the leftover barley soaked up all the liquid and it turned to mush and jelly.

  8. Brandi,

    It looks like a grocery store inside, but I will take pics of the inside of the lobby area which is interesting.

    I change my Christmas notebook every year too it isn't just you. Clearly we both need help, LOL. Birds of a feather and all that. ;-)


  9. Laura,

    I actually have three grocery stores that I can walk to but this one is my favorite. Being able to walk to so many places is one of my favorite things about where we live. If it weren't for Wegman's and Costco I would drive very little. I dislike driving and avoid it whenever possible.

    I parcook the oatmeal, then I stir in the spices and frozen berries and give it a stir and finish cooking. When it is finished I add the ground flaxseeds. It takes under 5 minutes start to finish. You know I like those fast breakfast things since I am so busy making fresh juice. ;-)

    The Mexican flavored mushroom barley was a big hit it is already gone. I thought I made enough for at least 2 days but apparently not.

    Glad I could help with spice combinations. I like the idea of the using soybeans in there. The black soybeans would be particularly nice since they would mimic black turtle beans.


  10. Jessica,

    You actually named two books that I don't have, they must be vegan. My omni books far outweigh my vegan books. Thanks for the suggestion though I will check to see if my library has them. I really like "The Professional Chef" which is the textbook for the CIA. That one could keep me busy for years. I haven't found it too difficult to make vegan versions from most omni dishes so far.

    The barley soup worked fine as a leftover but I intentionally went light on the barley. It sounds like yours was thicker than mine when it went into the frig. It also helps to just cook the barley until it is tender (about 45 minutes max). If you cook it a long time that could also have been a reason for the mush factor. I hope that makes sense.


  11. Oh, I will try to go lighter on the barley next time. I like the broth and mushrooms best anyway.

    The Splendid Table is a show on NPR about cooking and food, and the host is really knowledgeable and I enjoy what she has to say as well as her interviews each week. How to Eat Supper is her cooking book (more than just recipes). My comment was pretty unclear; I was in a hurry to post and eat my own supper.

  12. Jessica,

    Thanks so much for the clarification. I will see if I can catch Splendid Table on NPR and will look for the book. :-)


  13. Good morning! I just finished my yummy bowl of oatmeal. I cooked the oats for 2 minutes, then stirred in frozen blueberries, cinnamon and walnuts and cooked for another minute, then stirred in a tiny squirt of honey and a little almond milk. I was going to save half of it for tomorrow, but somehow it disappeared on me! Last week I tried two versions of savory oatmeal...it was okay, but not something I'd want very often. My version with spring onions is definitely not a keeper, at least for breakfast!

    I've been meaning to thank you for inspiring me to get out my old juicer. I've been making fresh juice 4-5 times a week and my husband and I really enjoy it. I don't make nearly the volume that you do, so it only takes a few minutes plus cleanup.

    I'm glad Jessica reminded me of the Splendid Table, a show I don't catch very often on NPR. I just went to the website and found their archives. NPR has so much great listening material on the web. If you like jazz, Marian McPartland's show is fabulous.

    Have a great day. I'm loving this warm weather, even if it's rainy.

  14. Laura,

    It sounds like you have a sweet tooth like Dan. He loves sweet oatmeal with nuts which was what he had this morning again.

    Yay for making fresh juice most days that is wonderful. I believe it is a great way to get additional vitamins, minerals and calories.

    Thanks for letting me know you can acess the archives of the show on NPR. I never listen to the radio so I hadn't heard of it. I guess that is what happens when you do you best not to drive. At home I use Pandora to play music on the TV. I love jazz thanks for pointing me to the NPR program.

    It is crazy warm here too. This morning it was upper 60's when we got up and is supposed to go into the upper 70's today. Hard to believe it is the end of Oct. Our rain stopped I hope yours ends soon too.



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