Gracious and Kind

Last week I visited Costco for the first time in over a year. As I pulled in to the packed parking lot late on a Saturday morning I immediately regretted my decision and developed a paralyzing sense of agoraphobia. For those of us that have been holed up online shopping for the past year, this reaction should be expected and the notion of “exposure therapy” came to mind. My mantra today was to be gracious and kind as I maneuvered through the manic highway of Costco shopping carts that simultaneously drive at full speed AND park in both directions of the main aisles. So I parked the end of the lot, masked up, and set out to navigate the sea of tantalizing packaged goods.

After a fruitful hour, I proudly pulled up to the check-out aisles, arriving at the same exact moment another woman with her two young daughters pulled up to the same spot from another direction. I said I was waiting in line to check-out, and she quickly shouted “NO you weren’t I was here FIRST!” and then pushed her cart closer to push mine out of the way. Gracious and kind. Gracious and kind. Deep breath. I asked her to move up then so I could pass to another line on the side. “OOOH” she continued. “Nope. I’m not gonna move for you.” The way she snapped and stared at me with those piercing eyes in her tight pink jogger shorts, white sneakers and white fitted hoodie as her two pretty little girls watched on. The way she held up her pointer finger and punctuated “not gonna move FOR YOU” in this decisive and precise moment of putrid hate. I immediately regretted my mantra. “It’s common courtesy, you know?” I said, raising my voice a little. “You’re blocking the aisle” I pointed to an elderly couple trying to push through to the vitamin aisle from behind her. They were watching me with pleading eyes. It was like Disneyland on Christmas Day but with no joy. “Go around the aisle!” she said to me, pushing her cart to block me even more, but this was said loud enough so the elderly couple behind her sadly pushed their cart backwards for a long way to get and around another aisle before disappearing into the abyss.

I swiftly jumped to an opening in an aisle that suddenly shortened to my left, defiantly keeping my back to her even as I awkwardly held two large storage bins in my left arm held up with my knee while pushing a cart full of groceries with just my right hand. If I’m going to go down, I’m going to do it with a dancer’s ease. But before I knew it I was already putting my items down and swiping my credit card and she hadn’t even moved one inch in her line. “Mommmyyyyyy!” I heard one of her girls whine. “She’s checking out before us!” I could feel the searing heat on my back. I heard this above all the noise of the cashiers beeping and the chip bags rustling and the credit card swiping and the shopping carts rattling and the hundreds of voices in the cafe ordering pizza. I finished checking out in silent victory and I looked back to give her a quick shrug and a smile. Gracious and kind, right?

GREEK BLACK LENTILS

Lentils are an excellent pantry staple because they are quick-cooking and work well in almost any type of cuisine. Beluga lentils, also known as black lentils, have a shiny round black shape that often remind people of caviar but with a delicate earthy flavor and are an excellent source of protein. This dish combines the Mediterranean flavors of a vibrant Greek salad with earthy lentils with and is finished with a sunny and bright lemon and mint dressing. This is a hearty dish for Fall that lasts all week in the fridge.

Salad Ingredients

  • 2 cups beluga cooked lentils
  • 1 (14-oz) can chickpeas, drained
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • ½ seedless cucumber, diced in quarters with skin on
  • ½ pint of cherry tomatoes, diced in half
  • ½ cup chopped parsley 
  • ½ cup pitted kalamata olives, whole
  • ½ cup fresh feta cheese

Mint Lemon Dressing

  • Juice from 2 large lemons
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil (flavored oils make a great addition to this dressing)
  • 3 TB fresh mint, diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste 

Bring a medium pot of water to boil then and add lentils. Turn down to medium heat and cook for 25 – 30 minutes, or until tender. Drain and let cool to room temperature. In a large serving bowl, add salad ingredients to lentils, then pour the dressing over and toss to mix. Let salad rest for 30 minutes before serving to allow the lentils to soak up the flavors. 

Pumpkin Coffee Cake, and Dreams of Fall

coffee cake I had a bee in my bonnet this weekend, as my husband lovingly likes to say. I was seriously in the mood for Fall. I wanted our fireplace lit, with romantic ambient candles on tables while my family gently played crossword puzzles and nibbled on gingerbread cookies, and I lit the kettle for tea. I wanted the smell of pumpkin pie spice to fill my house on this glorious chilly fall weekend, and I wanted an autumn wreath hung on our door with neighbors smiling at us and commenting how lovely the mums looked with the pumpkins on our front door step. None of these things happened.

Reality: a trip to the dollar store to stock on Halloween decorations with my nap-deprived 3-year old who screamed at the top of his lungs for the orange loader trucker he found in the toy aisle, while my husband desperately tried to get through the long check-out line which was 9 people deep because naturally they only have one cashier during their busiest times, paired with my sheer disappointment at the luck luster quality and variety of fall decorations. In truth, their seasonal aisle was more stocked up for Christmas than Halloween. On the up side, yellow cake mix was on sale this week for .99 cents at the grocery store, so for a busy mom who likes to cook but hates to bake, this was a perfectly easy compromise to usher in the change of season and satisfy my dreams of Fall!

PUMPKIN COFFEE CAKE WITH BROWN SUGAR GLAZE
⅓ cups Water
1 can Pureed Pumpkin (15 Oz)
2 whole Eggs
1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
2 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 box Yellow Cake Mix (18 Ounce Box)
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 cup Brown Sugar, Divided
½ cups Flour
4 Tablespoons Butter, Melted
¼ cups Granulated Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
¼ cups Heavy Whipping Cream
1 cup marshmallows (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a large bowl mix together the water, pumpkin, eggs, 1 Tablespoon of vanilla, and pumpkin pie spice until well combined. Add the cake mix and baking soda and mix until just combined. Grease a 9×13 pan with butter and pour batter into pan. In a small bowl mix together 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup flour and melted butter. Use your fingers to sprinkle over the top of the cake. You can also throw some marshmallows on top for an added bonus if you like! Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. For the glaze, combine the other 1/2 cup brown sugar, granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and heavy cream in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir until all sugar is dissolved. When cake is finished baking, poke holes in the top with a toothpick. Pour glaze over the cake, making sure to cover all surfaces. Serve cake warm or at room temperature.

Stuffed Cabbage Casserole

pumpkins Wellllll it’s October, which means Asher starts fighting to put on his jacket. In honor of this fall tradition, this past weekend we took the boys to Goebbert’s Farm and Pumpkin Patch for some corn mazing, camel rides, overpriced kettle corn, and giraffe feeding. The frugal mom that I am, I brought us a picnic instead of paying $15 for microwaved pizza but of course the moment we settled down to eat Asher ran around the picnic area removing all the signage from the tables advertising their hot Halloween deals and featured food items. The senior citizen employee in charge of the lunch area followed him around methodically placing them all back on the table, at one point even reaching under our own table to pick up the sign he had mashed into the ground. Needless to say, soon after the Oreos were done and Asher visited the zebra it was time to go home.

cabbage casserole To unwind after a long day, I opted for a hearty winter casserole dish which is a vegetarian riff on stuffed cabbage. I stole the idea from Kalyn’s Kitchen which features a beef version which I naturally changed to tofu, but I think textured soy protein would be even more flavorful! This entire dish costs around $10 – $15 and serves 8.

STUFFED CABBAGE CASSEROLE

3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 boxes extra firm tofu, or 1 lb textured soy protein
1 large onion, chopped small
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 Tablespoons paprika (the original recipe calls for Hungarian Paprika if you have it)
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste (for seasoning meat mixture and cooked cabbage)
1 heads green cabbage, coarsely chopped
1 15 oz can petite dice tomatoes with juice
1 15 oz can tomato sauce or 1 jar of tomato sauce
2 cups cooked brown rice
2 cups low-fat cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a large glass or crockery casserole dish with non-stick spray. Heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil in frying pan on medium heat and fry diced onions for 5 minutes until onions are transluscent. Add the minced garlic, dried thyme, and paprika and cook about 2 minutes more. Then crumble the firm tofu with your hands and add to the onion mixture. Add the diced tomatoes with juice and tomato sauce. Let mixture simmer until it’s hot and slightly thickened, about 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, cut cabbage in half, cut out the core, and remove any wilted outer leaves, and then chop the cabbage coarsely into pieces. Heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a large frying pan or dutch oven with high sides, add the cabbage and cook over medium-high heat until the cabbage is wilted, turning it over several times so it all cooks. Season cabbage with salt and fresh-ground black pepper. When the tomato sauce mixture has cooked 15 minutes, stir in the 2 cups of cooked brown rice and gently combine. Spray a large glass casserole dish with non-stick spray and the layer half the cabbage, half the meat mixture, other half of cabbage, and other half of meat mixture. Top with cheese and bake in oven for 40 minutes. Turn on the broiler for 5 minutes at the end to crisp the cheese and top layer of the casserole.