Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Eat Your Tofu!!!

The Other Half grew up in the Midwest as a self proclaimed "meat and potatoes" kind of guy and was never really adventurous when it came to trying new foods. He very reluctantly tried Thai food, for the longest time was convinced that Chinese food was the bane of his digestive existence, didn't want to touch Brussels sprouts,  believed Country Crock was butter and when I married him was still drinking 2% milk. He now loves Thai food, realized good Chinese food didn't cause digestive distress, figured out that roasted Brussels sprouts are actually quite tasty, understands that Country Crock is not something that I can use in my cooking and had no problem converting to skim milk when I - shortly after getting married - had a moment of realizing the thing they call work-home-life-balance is a scam and had a meltdown of epic proportions.

I didn't spring tofu on him immediately because I know that if it's cooked wrong it can be a miserable experience but that if it's cooked right it can be amazing. It wasn't until after The Oldest was maybe 3 years old and I was trying to get back into shape that I decided the timing was right. To say he was underwhelmed would be the understatement of the decade. He didn't even need to say, because the look on his face said everything I needed to know. THANKFULLY I've got a really good track record with cooking and random culinary creations so I told him he'd only need to try it once and if he didn't like it, I wouldn't make it again. I knew I had to find not just a good recipe, but a GREAT one. And I did.

One of my most favorite cooking blogs is 101 Cookbooks and it was there that I found the recipe for Caramelized Tofu. I looked it over and figured if ever there was going to be a recipe to make him fall in love, or at least in like, with tofu that was it. 

It's become one dish that everyone in my family, even The Munchkin, loves. The Oldest gets excited when I tell her I'm going to make it and is visibly disappointed when I don't. 

If you're looking to change things up, are thinking about easing into more vegetarian meals or have wanted to try making tofu, this is a great one to start with. It's simple, comes together easily on a weeknight and leftovers are just as good the following day. 

A couple of tips:

1. Fresh garlic is almost always better than the stuff you can get in a jar. It's real easy to peel and mince garlic if you know what you're doing. Take a clove or two of garlic, place it on a sturdy cutting board. Make sure you use a knife with a large, wide blade - but place the blade flat against the garlic and then pound down with the palm of your hand or a fist. The garlic peel will crack and you should be able to just remove the peel from around the clove. If you pound against the blade again you'll start to crush the garlic which will then make it much easier to mince. Even I can do this without cutting off a digit and that's saying something because I've managed to slice my finger open on a jackknife, another finger on a tuna fish can, and puncture yet another finger while using a linoleum cutting tool in art class.

2. Press the tofu to remove excess water. I take the block of tofu and place it on folded paper towels (or if I'm feeling environmental I use a clean dish towel) in a shallow dish and then take another dish and place it on top with something like a can of tomatoes or, as I did tonight, a quart of maple syrup, in it as a weight. I don't press it for too long - maybe 10 or 15 minutes. If I get it out of the package when I get home from work and then go get changed, usually by the time I get back to the kitchen it's pretty good to go. 

3. DO NOT over toast the pecans. NOT. NOT. NOT. They'll become bitter and really detract from the dish.

4. To make the dish go a little further as a main dish I serve the Brussels sprouts and tofu over rice.

5. I admit that I cheat. I use shredded Brussels sprouts and frozen rice from Trader Joe's. It cuts down on the time needed to chop up the 'sprouts and cook the rice. If you can't get Brussels sprouts already shaved you can always just split the sprouts, toss with olive oil and sprinkle with some Kosher salt and then roast in the oven until golden brown.

So here it is - Caramelized Tofu from 101 Cookbooks. ENJOY!

Caramelized Tofu Recipe

I used the Wildwood Organics baked savory tofu here, it browned up nicely and held it's shape, and as was mentoned in the comments it is non-GMO. Though any extra-firm tofu will work.
7 - 8 ounces extra-firm tofu cut into thin 1-inch segments (see photo)
a couple pinches of fine-grain sea salt
a couple splashes of olive or peanut oil
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
3 tablespoons fine-grain natural cane sugar or brown sugar
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 lb. brussels sprouts, washed and cut into 1/8-inch wide ribbons
Cook the tofu strips in large hot skillet (or pot) with a bit of salt and a splash of oil. Saute until slightly golden, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and pecans, and cook for another minute. Stir in sugar. Cook for another couple of minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Scrape the tofu out onto a plate and set aside while you cook the brussels sprouts.

In the same pan (no need to wash), add a touch more oil, another pinch of salt, and dial the heat up to medium-high. When the pan is nice and hot stir in the shredded brussels sprouts. Cook for 2 - 3 minutes, stirring a couple times (but not too often) until you get some golden bits, and the rest of the sprouts are bright and delicious.
Serves 2 - 3 as a main, 4 as a side

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Beneath the Surface

When someone asks me about adoption or what it's been like to have been born in South Korea and adopted at 6 months of age most of the time I'll respond by saying that I feel blessed to have had a biological mother who was willing to relinquish me in the hopes that someone else could provide me with a better life. Of course, having been abandoned in a hospital after birth (that in and of itself is unique because many adoptees from the 1970s and earlier have no formal record of their actual birth date) I don't know how much or little of this is true, but it's what I choose to believe. What I do know is that after visiting South Korea on a "Motherland" tour with Holt International -- the organization I was adopted through -- I have an even greater appreciation for the opportunities I've been afforded because I was placed in the United States. Sometimes a well-meaning person will ask me if I've ever wanted to find my "real parents". My real parents make their home in York, Maine and I'd have no problem finding them if I wanted to -- my biological parents, however, 99.9% of the time I have little to no desire to actively seek out my biological parents.

99.9% of the time. It's the 00.1% that I rarely discuss because it is kept under lock and key buried deep down. It has the potential to open me up to a world full of hurt that emotionally I know I am not in a position to handle at this point in time. In that 0.1% is a longing for some kind of a connection - ANY kind of connection; which explains why, in 2000 when I received the news that Holt Korea was unable to locate my foster mother for me to meet during my time there, I dissolved into a heap on the floor of the kitchen. Nobody enjoys rejection - but an active search for a biological connection has the potential to lead to just that but in a way that is so much more personal and deep than anything I can imagine.

Arrival to JFK and becoming a family.
I wrote that in 2009, just about a year after someone I know  sat down with me and reviewed my adoption records. I was mostly curious because a majority of documents within my record are in Korean. She reviewed each page carefully and then summarized, as best she could, what she was reading. Until she came to one page and she fell silent. She flipped back and forth between that and a couple of others and then, looking me directly in the eyes, she told me she thought there was information about my biological roots through my family tree. I was born in Seoul in a hospital so there is a definite record of the date and time of my birth. This document referenced a location that is entirely different.

I've sat with this information over the last four, almost five, years - not entirely sure what to do with it, if to do anything at all. I once said that it's like a stone that sits just below the surface in a shallow pool of waterl. Sometimes the water is as smooth as glass and remains undisturbed. Other times the wind roughs up the surface so it's hard to see what lies below. I can look at it, can reach my fingers down and touch it and move it around, but where I haven't chosen to pick it up, it's remained there. 

The Other Half and I have talked here and there about my making a trip to Korea. My first, and so far only, visit there was with a group of adoptees and our parents as part of a "Motherland" tour offered by the agency I was adopted through. It was an intense two weeks and I will forever be grateful for the experience, especially the opportunity to visit locations that were significant to me and me alone. But now, with The Oldest having just turned 8 and The Munchkin about to turn 3 I want to know more about the place where I came from. - the food, the people, the culture. 

I've wondered if the person who helped me review my records - and has also been my source of all food things Korean when I've needed ingredients to make one of the few Korean dishes I know how to make - would be willing to make that journey with me. I feel tied to her, I'm sure in part because she's helped me navigate something so intensely personal and private. In my heart I knew the answer to my question, but to be polite I asked. She told me that she was so glad that I did - that she's been wanting to speak with me to say that she would be willing to help me in any way that she could but that she also didn't want to impose and trusted I would ask when I was ready. And so begins a new journey for me. I'm still not sure what I'm going to do with the information - mostly I want to learn and to be immersed so I can tell my girls what Korea means to me. I guess if the journey takes me elsewhere with her it will be an added bonus.

So that's what I thought about today as my time on the treadmill added up to a few miles and then later as I made my way into the pool to give my legs a bit of a break and allow myself to be surrounded by the element that always brings me some peace and clarity. I know I don't need to make any decisions today or even tomorrow or next month - building upon what I wrote a few weeks back, maybe this is my true leap of faith.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Quick & Easy (Cheap Too!)

The Oldest asked me what was for dinner. My response? "A Mommy Concoction"

It's when I'm not quite sure what I'm going to make but I look in my fridge, the freezer, the pantry - pick something from here, something from there, throw it all together, stir it up with a little bit of love and hope that what I get is edible. The Other Half would tell you he loves it when I do that - that some of my best meals come out of my not having the slightest clue as to what I'm going to do. 

Tonight wasn't rocket science and it was far from totally homemade but it was made at home, it was quick, it was easy and it was gobbled up with so little left in the skillet that the best thing I could do was to spoon out the good bits, eat them up and then wait for the rest to be scraped into the trash. 

So what was this cooking genius, you ask?

2 Cans of Trader Joe's Minestrone Soup
1 lb lean ground beef (browned)
1/2 package Trader Joe's roasted corn

brown the ground beef in a large skillet, add 2 cans of TJ's minestrone soup and 1/2 package of TJ's roasted corn and cook over medium until heated through. 

Cooking. Genius. Yup.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Finding Faith

Saturday morning's long run of a supposed 70 minutes did not happen when my dinner out with The Other Half on Friday night ended in a double case of food poisoning. I probably would have felt a lot better if my stomach would have just let go of whatever was making it churn but seeing as I can count the number of times I've been pukey sick on one hand I would have had better luck hitting the Powerball than paying homage to the Porcelain Gods. So when Saturday morning rolled around and my alarm clock went off signaling that it was time to hit the trail, I decided to allow my head to hit the pillow again instead.

I was feeling guilty though. I thankfully got a workout in early Thursday morning but Friday it was the furthest thing from my mind as I continued to work through what was easily the second most difficult situation of my professional life. Thankfully it has nothing to do with me personally - not my performance or my abilities and if anything I remain grateful that I am the one who is, at least for the immediate future, the point person as we go about the difficult task of collecting information and examining our processes in the hopes that we can improve. There are times when I know a workout will make me feel better and allow me to leave some of the stress and tension of the day behind me but Thursday, after an almost 14 hour day all I wanted to do was get home, hug my girls and crawl into bed. Friday wasn't much different - my brain was on overload and had long passed the point of critical mass. I desperately wished that I was in a place - both physically and emotionally - to go to the gym but even the thought of swimming was too overwhelming. So as I left work Friday afternoon I promised myself that I'd go on Saturday. That was obviously before my introduction to Food Poisoning 101.

Overcast skies appeared to threaten rain, but with a temperature of 66 degrees there was no way to pass up the opportunity to run miles with The Munchkin. I had some motivational help in the way of the sweet potato fries I had on Friday night and then a beer and a mini peanut butter cup (chocolate shell, peanut butter mousse and whipped cream) this afternoon. I'm good at jokingly justifying almost anything I eat (beer and peanut butter are carbs and protein - and chocolate is just good for the soul overall) but truth be told I know that I like food far too much to NOT exercise. So late this afternoon, with beef stew in the crock-pot all ready to go for dinner, I buzzed home to change in to my running gear, get running shoes on The Munchkin and headed to the trail in the hopes that we could come close to the 70 minute run that was aborted on Saturday.

I made the decision before we left to not bring my iPod with me. I know that The Munchkin has been affected by my returning to work full time (when Friday rolls around she starts saying that she doesn't want to go to daycare and she's said more than once, "I miss you...") so I figured that it'd be good for me to give her uninterrupted, undivided attention. We talked for a little while but it wasn't long before I realized I was doing all the talking and there were no answers coming from the jogger seat below me. I peered through the opening between the canopy and the seat back and could see her, head resting to the side, fast asleep. All of the above was a long way of my getting to this:

Finding my faith. 

I'm at a point in my life where I'm ready to reconnect with my religion and, more directly, my spiritual roots. I believe in a Power greater than me - whether or not that is a power, singular - or powers, plural - is something I have yet to work out. Anyone who is familiar with my story, however, will know that it's important and time for me to make peace with my faith. Over the last two years I've come to realize that it truly is a gift there are only 24 hours in a day and at the end of each, when the clock strikes midnight, a new day begins. I prayed more than I've ever prayed before - sometimes for sanity, sometimes for wisdom, sometimes for strength - but always for the courage to do what was right at that moment in time.

Over the years I've struggled with what "God" means to me and, for a number of deeply personal reasons, on a deeper level what it means to believe and have faith. I've listened to people talk about finding God, finding their religion or being born again and at the heart of my disdain for overly organized religion is also a deep envy at the unwavering faith that so many of them project. I've tried to remain open to hearing their words and messages though, and it's because of this I was able to hear someone share something that I thought a lot about on my run this afternoon while The Munchkin snoozed. They said, "If everyone had a perfect life, nobody would ever have to have faith. We have to be challenged in order to believe in something greater than ourselves." THIS has resonated with me.

I know I didn't find all the answers in my run this afternoon, but I thought a lot about where I've been and where I am and where I'm going. And through it all, I'm pretty sure I've started to make peace with what it means to have faith.

Oh, and The Munchkin? She woke up about a mile short of where we usually stop so she can get out of the jogger and run. She made it almost a full half mile this afternoon - laughing and giggling the entire way. I took a video of her with my phone and couldn't help but wonder if maybe some day some station will show it before she makes her run for the gold in the Olympics. We made it back to the car and no sooner had I gotten her buckled into her car seat than I felt the first splashes of raindrops on my bare shoulders. How about that for timing? Or maybe it was a little bit of faith :)

It's Sunday evening and for the moment, all is right in my world.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

"Odd Coincidence"

At the end of January I returned to work full time to provide coverage for a co-worker who gave birth to her second child (a beautiful baby boy) and was out on maternity. This has not been without challenges the least of which was taking her full-time position and combining it with my part-time position. I can say with absolute certainty, at least in this case 1 + 1.5 ≠ 1. It's actually closer to 2. It's been doing my best to get meals on the table for dinner, adjusting my schedule to ensure that I can remain committed to my overall physical health, fine tuning my prioritization skills, reminding myself that just because I feel like I'm failing at all areas of my work and home life doesn't mean that I really am, and figuring out kiddo care and which parent is going to be where and at what time for what kiddo.

Did I mention that last night The Munchkin ended up at daycare until 6:15 pm because I was at work, The Other Half was at work and both of us thought the other had taken care of getting her? I don't know what's more amazing, that this is the first time in 6 years of having kiddos with this daycare provider that we've gotten our signals so crossed that we've, for lack of a better word, forgotten our child OR that our daycare provider is so wonderful that by 5:50 pm she hadn't even called us to find out where we were (her normal deadline for pick up time is 5:30). 

Through it all though, I'm learning to make adjustments and sometimes on the fly. It was about a month ago when I had the revelation that there's no law that says one must have meals on the table for ones family on weeknights. Tweaking the schedule I now cook Saturday through Wednesday and by the time the end of the week rolls around and I'm fried (for a girl who spent the last 3 years working Tuesday through Thursday it's a rude shock when I get to Wednesday and I've still got 2 more days to go) we can eat out. If I'm really feeling ambitious and have the time we'll eat out on Sunday and I'll do a crazy day of cooking and get most of my meals prepped and in the fridge or frozen for the week. I've reconnected with my Franklin Planner and once again am a list making fool to keep work items prioritized. I've started making mental note of the things that, even if everything else seems to go wrong in my day, that I've done them right. But perhaps most of all - when my schedule allows and the schedule of The Other Half permits I've been going to the gym before dawn breaks. It means rolling my behind out of bed (quite literally), making the groggy journey to the bathroom to put contacts into protesting eyes, hopping and flailing around the walk-in closet like a fish out of water as I try to force my limbs into gym clothes (the mornings I swim it's a tad easier) and then gathering my belongings to head to get my workout in.
This morning was no exception. My alarm clock started chirping at 4:20 am and I rolled out of bed, stumbled to the bathroom and then got dressed. I accidentally woke The Other Half because I forgot to turn off the light before I opened the door but he probably won't even remember it later today. I drove in silence down to the gym and I was on the treadmill by 5:10.

The Munchkin doing only as she can!
While I'm making peace with the treadmill - we're on speaking terms right now - I usually struggle to make it through the first mile and then spend the remainder giving myself a pep talk in the hopes that I can make it to a total of 3. Not this morning. You see, my dad sent me an email the other day with a subject line of "Odd Coincidence". In semi-retirement he's gone back to his roots of insurance risk assessment and though he didn't know it when he got his assignment, it turns out one of his recent site visits happened to be with a person I went to high school with. Occasionally I'll get a networking request - social and business - where I'll look at the name and have no idea who the person is or vaguely remember who they are. You know - when you get the request and you think you know who the person is but you're not sure so you go check out their profile and see if they have any pictures? If you're lucky the photo jogs a memory but sometimes even then you're left scratching your head so maybe you ask your Other Half or friends if they remember someone by that name.  That wasn't the case with this person. As soon as I read his name I immediately knew who it was and on a gray, dreary day it made me smile. My dad said he seemed like a nice guy and I told him that's exactly the way I remember him as. Just a super nice guy. That was two days ago.

Since then I've been doing a lot of thinking about the small signs the universe and cosmos sends me to remember exactly how special life and the connections we form are and that even in my moments of difficulty I have so much to be grateful for. The Oldest is about to turn 8 and is exactly a foot shorter than me (those of you who have met me know this wasn't going to be too hard for her to accomplish but still) and she's smart and sensitive and inquisitive and just all around a super amazing girl. The Munchkin is soon to be 3 and every day as I watch her in awe as she grows and develops into such a spunky, energetic, spirited little person of her own - especially since there was a time in my life when I was too busy being distracted by my demons to be fully present. The Other Half, who has been light years away from being physically able to do what he was capable of doing 2 years ago before his back injury, continues to improve and now can see there has been a positive progression for him. But there are also people in my life who are struggling as they work through the sudden loss of a loved one, a stage IV cancer diagnosis that is terminal, loss of long term employment or employment uncertainty. I think some and pray some - I hope against hope and try to send out as much positive energy as I can into the world in the hopes that maybe some of it will get to them or, if not to them to someone who needs it just as much if not more. Yet, I remain grateful for though it is difficult, it is still such a gift to be trusted enough that I am permitted to be a part of their journey. And then there's the guy from high school - a smile at a time I needed one, a reminder of someone who is just an all around great person, and the opportunity to reconnect with an old after almost 20 years.

So this morning. After warming up I started to run and I zoned out and before I knew it I was to 3 miles and then 4. I glanced at the clock to see if maybe I could squeeze in one more mile before having to hit the showers but no such luck. Cooled down, stretched, showered, and now here I am - typing furiously because I want to make sure I get all of my thoughts out so I don't forget them because I know someday I'll need a reminder that the universe and the cosmos always sends signs, I just need to be open to seeing them. 

Happy Thursday, all. Make it a GREAT one.