I Refuse the Winter Blues

Sooooo, it’s November. And that means (1) October, my favorite month, is over, (2) Halloween, my favorite holiday (aside from my birthday) is over, and (3) those of us who live in very silly places such as Louisville, Kentucky, have, through some clumsy arrangement, probably owing to an ill-natured fairy, been subjected to the sadness of Daylight Savings Time, which means now it gets dark at, like, 6pm, and will be dark by about 4:30 by Winter Solstice. BUT! I refuse to submit to being miserable just because it’s going to be dark and cold and rainy and…well…miserable for the next 4-5 months.

So here is my list of things I love about winter, in case I forget the bright side of the dark season:

  1. Appreciating the fact that you have heat, light, and hot food to get you through the winter. It’s nice not to freeze your ass off with nothing but candlelight to read by!
  2. No chiggers, no ticks, no mosquitoes, and barely any spiders. In my line of work, this is especially joyous.
  3. I don’t have to worry about heat exhaustion in the field. Again, as an archaeology tech, this is a big bonus.
  4. Hot chocolate, hot cider, hot chai, hot tea, hot APPLE JACK (heat apple cider, add desired amount of whiskey). AND SEASONAL DARK BEERS ON TAP…someone pass me a bourbon barrel stout, please? Or an Old Rasputin?
  5. All the excuse I need to hunker down and read/write/build up my guitar chops/draw. Why do you think Russian literature and folk art are so amazing?
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    Hand-carved bone picture frame, hand-carved wooden toy set, hand-carved wooden sculpture, hand-painted bracelet, all in the Russian State Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
  6. I can take my chinchilla out to the park in her runabout ball, and she won’t overheat while she’s playing!
  7. Snuggling, space heaters, blankets, wool socks, sweaters, and the opportunity to wear an array of jackets. Plus, nobody gives a damn if your layers match or look good on you by February.
  8. Christmas cookies, pot roasts, and other comfort foods.
  9. Christmas (or whatever winter holiday you & your family and friends celebrate) and New Year’s and camaraderie.
  10. Striking winter landscapes, especially with snow on them.
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  11. Looking forward to spring again and planning your next garden.
  12. Watching the light come back after the solstice.
  13. Learning to appreciate sticky-hot weather you know is gonna come in the summer.
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Operation: Feeding Frenzy

Classes start soon, and with that comes the knowledge that – however much I like to cook and want to eat nutritious and delicious (and cheap) meals during the semester – feeding myself and Zak tends to fall by the wayside once school starts.  So I’ve spent the last week or so arming myself (and my freezer) with ways to make it easy to chow down without resorting to packaged meals and pizza every night of the school year.  Yes, I take eating seriously, and yes, the semester will be conquered by my tactical assault by means of vitamins and essential nutrients.  Here’s the logistics:

1. Breakfast.  The meal I hate the most.  Being not a morning person, it’s like eating breakfast is an admission of failure – once I start eating, I have officially woken up, and now I have to go do stuff and behave like a civil human being around other human beings who would probably also rather be asleep.  And yet, I’m hungry and will feel even worse if I don’t eat something.  Usually this means I put breakfast off until I’m about to run out the door with a stomach full of nothing but coffee.  And I’d like to eat both a granola bar and a tube of yogurt, but I never do (because I’m incredibly lazy in the morning).  So here’s my solution:

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Dried cherries + dried blueberries + vanilla yogurt covered raisins + regular raisins +  sunflower seeds.  Throw into a bag, shake up, then put the mix into the emptied raisin boxes.  One box = breakfast…and it’s got protein, B vitamins & anti-oxidants, plus a sugar boost.

2. Lunch.  Normally this consists of either Wendy’s dollar menu on campus or, if I’m at the lab, an instant macaroni bowl with queso added to it.  Although queso mac and Wendy’s are definitely still options, there’s this…  So about once every two weeks, I end up making a ginormous batch of something – stew, slow cooker pork roast, roast beef, whatever.  And of course the two of us don’t go through all of it before we’re like, “Okay, I’ve had beef stew three days in a row – Enough already!”  So I throw the whole thing in the freezer and forget it exists until I’m trying to fit groceries into the freezer and can’t.  So about 1/2 the freezer is full of plastic containers that are 1/2 full of leftovers in big blocks that don’t thaw for two days.  So I split up the frozen leftovers into sandwich-size ziplocks, froze them flat (so they thaw quickly) and ended up with about a month’s worth of lunches and more room in the freezer.

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Chicken tomatillo soup, Blue cheese Italian chicken & veggies with rice, Chile, Beef Roast Stew, Tomato chipotle soup, and Pork stew – and that’s not even all the stuff I have in the freezer!

3. Smoothies.  I love them so!  When you don’t have time to get fresh fruits and veggies from the grocery, though, you can run out of things to put in your smoothies pretty quickly – or else you don’t use up your produce quick enough and it all goes bad, which is worse.  So I got the idea (from Pinterest) of making “smoothie packs”:  pick your produce combo, throw it in a sandwich bag, and freeze it.  When you want a smoothie, grab a pack from the freezer, empty it into the blender, add some yogurt and applesauce (or whatever liquid) and you’re good to go.  Yay!  I made about 7 different “flavors” using these fruits & veggies:  strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, apricots, cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew, bananas, avocados, spinach, kale, lettuce, broccoli, cucumber, zucchini, and carrots.

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4. Dinner!!!  This calls for serious tactics, since dinner is my favorite meal of the day.  So:

  • 4a. Spent the summer finding recipes that are quick, easy, and don’t use a ton of dishes.  Have become a huge fan of the one-pot wonder meals on Pinterest, where I can literally throw all the ingredients (including the noodles) into a covered pot and have dinner 1/2 and hour later.  There’s chicken Alfredo, pasta primavera, veggie lo mein, creamy Buffalo penne…you name it!  Then there’s savory “cupcake” recipes.  Take almost anything and put it in a muffin tin lined with wonton wrappers and bake it for 20 minutes, and it’s awesome.  Taco cupcakes and shepherd’s pie cupcakes are my personal favorites!
  • 4b. Get a rotisserie chicken.  Pull all the meat off it.  Toss a little chicken broth and/or white wine in with it so it won’t be dry.  Freeze it in small portions.  Now when you want a some chicken on a salad, for a pasta dish, or in a soup, you don’t have to cook the chicken.  Hooray!20140807_155311
  • 4c. Ramen can become a decent meal without taking much longer than it normally takes to make it.  All you have to do is add some good flavoring, crack an egg into the hot broth, and stir.  Normally my “fancy ramen” includes coconut milk, also.  As for the other seasoning I add to fancy ramen, well…I figured I’d just mix up a big batch instead of adding all the ingredients individually. 

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    Contents: Soy sauce, lime juice, chili paste, sesame oil, rice vinegar.

  • 4d. Take a cue from Europe once a week!  A plate of bread, good cheeses, fruit, and some form of sliced sausage (smoked sausage, hard salami, etc.) is a damn good meal, and only requires you to pick the stuff to put on the plate.  And by good cheese, I’m not talking about a few slices each of Swiss and American cheese.  I’m talking about the good shit you get from the deli area of the grocery.  I’m talking about Manchego, aged white cheddar, goat cheese with sundried tomatoes and herbs, etc.  A little sample size of a few is all you need; you don’t have to break the bank with a huge block of $15 cheese!
  • 4e.  When my brain is in school mode, it’s not always easy to think about what’s for dinner.  So I made two lists to put on the fridge:  15 Minute Meals and 30 Minute Meals.  Everything else can wait for the weekend!

Ask Me Anything….

I have plenty of topics I *could* blog about.  I’m trying to expand the scope of things I write about here, and I’m curious as to what those of you who read this blog want more of!  So if there is anything you’d like to know more about (my writing, my recent trip to Russia, archaeology and/or my academic pursuits, my chinchilla, or whatever), ask me a question in the comments section of any of my posts, and I will write a post to answer.

In the meantime, here is a post about how awesome the food is in Russia.

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pork & potatoes stewed with onions, dill, and bell peppers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St. Petersburg has so many good restaurants – and even the pub grub is fantastic – I can’t even scratch the surface of all there is to try.  There are more sushi bars than you can shake a stick at, too – and apparently it’s a big thing to have pizza and sushi in the same meal…which I didn’t try, although it sounds like a great idea to me!

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pelmini – meat dumplings with sour cream

My favorite Russian dishes were probably the pork & potato stew (which was called different names on different menus – if you know the “official” name of this dish, let me know!), pelmini, and beef Stroganoff (which Americans always serve with noodles, but Russians serve with either mashed potatoes or fries).  Speaking of the fries, they MUST be fried in lard or duck fat or something over there, because they’re too good not to be horrendously bad for you.  I could happily die 20 years earlier than my natural lifespan if I could eat fries that good on a daily basis!  Who needs unclogged arteries???!

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beef Stroganoff & the best fries on the planet

On the other hand, I felt like I was eating much healthier while I was abroad, because the meals are more balanced.  You don’t get a whopping huge portion of meat and starch at a Russian restaurant.  You get a pretty reasonable portion for one human to eat, and you get about an equal portion of veggies, soup, or a roll (stuffed with veggies or fruit jam). Since I absolutely love fruit and fruit juices, the fact that there was an incredible selection of fruit juices on every menu and at the grocery didn’t hurt, either…pure strawberry or cherry juice with any given meal is my idea of heaven.  There’s also mors, which is berry juice, and kompot, which is juice with fruit and cucumber slices in the bottom of the glass.  And then there’s kvass, which is a drink made from bread (somehow), and which tastes like bread, tea, and beer had a lovechild together and then took the alcohol out (mostly).  It’s a weird flavor, but oddly crave-able.

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blini stuffed with mushroom cream sauce & chicken, borscht, and a bottle of kvass

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the end of a double chocolate stout and a Delirium Red

And as long as we’ve mentioned alcohol…the first thing most Americans think of when they think of Russia is, of course, vodka.  And yes, the low-end vodka in Russia is about 100 times better than the medium-end vodka in America.  My hostess explained to me that the tradition in Russia is to toast, take a drink, then eat a little something – a bite-size cube of cheese or a fresh strawberry – to make it easier on the stomach.  Even as strong as the vodka was, though, it was pretty damn smooth.  In the past year, I’ve finally acquired a taste for beer, and St. Petersburg restaurants and pubs have some pretty extensive selection of world beers!  Mostly, I’m a stout fan.  I like beer so dark that it develops an event horizon around the glass.  Found some good stouts in Russia, including a double chocolate stout, and THEN discovered Delirium Red, a Belgian cherry beer that’s somewhere around 12 or 13 % alcohol per volume.  Thought I’d died and gone to heaven…

If I even BEGIN to talk about Russian pastries & desserts, that’s going to need a whole post to itself, because it DESERVES its own post.  I’ll save it for later, but I’ll tantalize you with this photo of a single case of cookies in a St. Petersburg bakery:

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bakery…droooooool!

Now hit me up with some questions!  GO!