Saturday, February 28, 2009

An update on the vegetarian, portable lunch project

I am writing an entire post about sandwiches. This is because a few weeks ago, I was Googling "portable vegetarian lunch" and "vegetarian brown bag lunch" and came up with nothing but stuff that had to be microwaved or heated up in an office toaster oven. No, I want something I can EAT COLD and just carry away with me! So, I am posting this relatively boring blog entry in case there are other people out there, like me, searching for brown bag lunch ideas.

I have discovered something that should have been obvious--tofu sandwiches.
It sounds pretty gross, I know. I basically just wanted non-meat protein on my lunch sandwiches so that I wouldn't have a blood sugar crash later in the day. For some reason, cheese doesn't work; peanut butter does, but I can only eat so much PB&J.
One day, I discovered "savory baked tofu" at Trader Joe's. That seemed perfect for sandwiches, though I'd prefer baked tofu that just didn't have a flavor. I don't care about flavor; I just want protein!
So, I bought some on-sale vegetables from the discount produce section of Morristown Gourmet Farm (I have no idea why it's called that--it's a small grocery store that is more than 50% produce section) and roasted them the oven, plus a clamshell of mixed salad greens. Here are some of the ideas I came up with:
Tofu, salad greens, roasted red pepper, balsamic vinegar
Tofu, salad greens, roasted red pepper, feta
Tofu, salad greens, roasted red pepper, roasted eggplant

So, they're basically things I would normally eat on a sandwich, with tofu on there for protein.

Then, at Wegman's the other night (I have now taken to shopping at 10PM to avoid crowds...potentially weird) I saw they had a whole case of tofu. I wasn't really in the mood to go digging through the case through all the flavors of tofu. Again, I didn't find any plain old baked tofu. That's all I want! Something with no flavor so I can combine it with anything! I found the next best thing--

Smoked tofu.

OK, on its own, it looks kind of weird. I'm sure it doesn't taste like something I'd just eat out of the package. But combined with other things, it's great! I mean, the sandwiches are not just lunch, but actually really, really good. Again, they were basically things I'd eat on sandwiches on their own, with the tofu thrown in for protein, but the smokey flavor really added something. Here's what I came up with:
Avocado, balsamic vinegar, salad greens, smoked tofu (with or without roasted red pepper) (actually the balsamic vinegar was optional, too)
Mushrooms, salad greens, mustard, smoked tofu
various combinations of things from the above list, with or without roasted red pepper and/or mozzarella

This one, however, was the best--Mozzarella, roasted red pepper, Trader Joe's bruschetta spread, salad greens, and smoked tofu.

It's all fairly healthy, too.
Ok, that's it. I promise I'll write something more interesting soon. Like about my trip to Montreal, or about things from jury duty I don't feel shady writing about.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

No more jury duty

It's over! Which means I can blog about my life again.
I was on jury duty for seven weeks. The first working week after the New Year's holiday, I was in the courthouse. So, I've pretty much spent all of 2009 on jury duty. When this trial began, I still had my Christmas tree up. It is almost March.
Now I can write (selectively of course) about the past two months. I'm not going to write about the trial, because I don't think that's very nice. Also, I spent seven weeks as a spectator to other people's lives. I miss my own life.
But I can now say that it was a big case, one that got a lot of publicity. Not being able to talk about it for seven weeks was torture--not necessarily wanting to talk about it, but worrying that OTHER people were going to start talking about what they had read in the paper.
But now things will go back to normal...sort of.
Things that had nothing to do with the actual case, but just the fact of being removed from my routine, made me see a lot of things. So I don't think "normal" will be what it was before. After observing other people's lives for so long, I want to return to my own life as less of an observer, more of a participant, and take more control.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Neverending

I am still on jury duty. It is the end of Week 7. SEVEN!
I have spent all of 2009 here. It's so strange. I will write about it (not really about the case but more about what I've been doing) later. I am so paranoid about "contempt of court" that I am not writing much about my life right now.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Paterson

This weekend I went to Canada. Today, I went to Paterson, NJ. Some of the places I visited there today are places I have been going for years, but I also discovered some new places. It was wonderful. It was like the interesting cultural experience of going to New York City but much less hectic and with much lower prices. We got fabric for a wedding dress for 1/5 of the price of the retail stores. I got a 1/4 lb tub of green peppercorns for $3.50. (I also got some interesting fabric.) It was overwhelming, so many sights and smells, so many colors, hearing so many different languages...
It was interesting to see such ugly buildings, these dilapidated old warehouses, packed from floor to ceiling with beautiful things. Paterson was so vibrant, so alive, that it overwhelmed and obscured all that ugliness. When I go to New York, I notice the ugly buildings. In New Brunswick, I notice that people seem unhappy. I notice how impoverished the place seems. Here, it didn't feel that way. Maybe it was all in my head. I don't know.
In any case, it was a reminder (which I may or may not have needed) that I do not need to leave the country or drive a thousand miles to experience something different from the routine. (Also, I don't need to go back to New Brunswick to stock up on Middle Eastern groceries--now I realize that Paterson is only 30 minutes away.) I am lucky enough to be in an area where urban and rural are only thirty minutes apart. Sometimes, it feels like the whole world is concentrated in New York and New Jersey and like you get some fraction of the experience of traveling around the world just by traveling to certain places in New Jersey (and keeping an open mind.) This is probably where I belong.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A bad dream

I have a lot of half-written blog posts in my head and in my drafts folder. This includes a post about the trip I took this weekend, a general post about tips for road-tripping women (especially road tripping alone), and some thoughts about travel and some Ralph Waldo Emerson I read a long time ago.

Instead, just a few lines, because I feel like I need to get it out. Two days ago, I read an e-mail from a friend which described what had become everyday life (as opposed to a break from the routine) as "a bad dream." Or something like that. This keeps finding its way into my head--this idea of life, for a long stretch of time, being like a bad dream. Not necessarily something hellish, something obviously BAD, but like most nightmares--things are just slightly off and it induces this feeling of extreme discomfort.

(For example, I've been having weird dreams about jury duty, like that I am really late for court, or I go there and no one's there, or I'm wearing something stupid, or somehow break the rules. And it seems REALLY AWFUL like I'm going to go to jail or something.)

Anyway, this bad dream feeling--it's the feeling that things are slightly off. They seem like normal life, they seem routine, but something isn't right. At best, everything seems surreal. At worst, the underlying feeling of "off"-ness grows into an unexplainable terror.

I've revised my opinions on "travel" and my blind agreement with Emerson's writings on travel.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Where am I now?

It is Day 2 of my impromptu solo road trip.
Day 1, I drove from NJ to Williamstown, MA, and stayed with my college roommate Jamie.
Day 2, attempted to drive from Williamstown, MA, to Trois-Rivieres, QC. Was derailed by traffic. Realized that it makes much more sense to--rather than DRIVE TO MONTREAL and worry about overnight parking, get a hotel in AMERICA and drive to Montreal.

The plan is to go to the Jardin Botanique, an art museum, and possibly a big church. I want to try to get some poutine and maybe check out some boutiques.

I might have to stay another night. I'll see if by tomorrow I am road tripped out and just want to go home.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Back on the road

What to do with a surprise five day weekend?
Go on a road trip!
To cold places!
In February!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My field is in the news!

OMG! Plant Systematics in the New York Times!
I will read the article when I get home. Let me know if it's any good :)

Interesting article

About McMansions
I live in a town where formerly historic homes (obviously not historic enough to be preserved) have been renovated and turned into McMansions. I wonder if this study would have similar results in Sparta. I think in my neighborhood, height would definitely be a factor, as the large houses block some people's view of the lake, from houses that aren't lakefronts but once had a nice view of Lake Mohawk. Now they have a view of a giant, ugly house.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Spring

It is February--not nearly Spring. There is still some snow on the ground. However, it's been in the 40's the past few days and already something feels different. It's strange--I had been so content with this winter and convinced myself that I liked winter, but when I stepped outside and breathed that first day's 45-degree air, saw the light through the trees no longer obscured by snow, and heard birds singing, I realized that I love spring.
I know that it's not really the only time for new beginnings. I know this. And I know that in a way, it's sad because it shows how life is moving when I am not.
And yet, today, anything feels possible.

Sometimes when I listen to the radio

Sometimes, when I listen to NPR on the way to work or wherever I am going, I catch the Depressing News Report. Sometimes it's a recent topic--like the wildfires in Australia--and sometimes it's a report about something not particularly new, an ongoing horror like rape in wartorn parts of Africa or schoolgirls in Afghanistan being harassed and assaulted. Today it was the wildfires on the way to court, and then on the way home, it was something about a beheading--I don't really know because I turned off the radio. This morning, I couldn't turn off the wildfire report no matter how upsetting it was; it made me feel guilty to just ignore the story.
Sometimes, when I hear these things, I think What am I doing? I know I can't save the world, nor do I have a responsibility to do so--not more than anyone else--but this is what I think, how I feel, when I listen to the news on the radio.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

So much to say and so little time

After two days of being extremely stressed out and exhausted as a result, today I feel happy and alive and ready to take on the world (or at least my To Do list.)
I am still in the midst of things about which it is illegal or imprudent for me to blog. So, here are some brief, happy thoughts, things I might write about in more detail later.

1. It is snowing. Snow in Sussex County makes me happy. Having a normal winter is making me happy. The snow is light and fluffy, small flakes that melt as soon as they hit the car so that it's not so bad to drive--but it's definitely sticking. According to a part of my brain that had been in disuse for probably ten years, I think this is good sledding snow. (Before this winter is over, if I can find a sled, I just might go sledding down my back hill a few times.) This area looks beautiful--as beautiful as places I saw on my road trip--covered in snow. (I do think that when the snow is mostly melted, with patches of sickly-looking grass showing through and gray grimy road-snow piled up along every possible walkway and street, NJ looks like one of the ugliest places I've ever seen.) The snow sits on tall, imposing conifers, on stretches of farmland, and--my favorite--it covers one side of the trees, which look black in this low light, in the stretches of woodland that can be found on many of the county roads. Right now I'm thinking of a stretch on Newton-Sparta Road. How could I ever be so negative about this area?

2. I learned how to make a fire in the fireplace this weekend.

3. I think I've found my favorite lunch place in Newton. Cheddar Alley on Spring Street. It is known as "the cheese shop" but they now have lunch. I think they have ice cream shop stuff, too. Anyway, I've been there for lunch twice now. Today I had a personal pizza that I am probably going to copy (and modify) throughout the cold season. It was pizza only in the sense that it was on a round, flat bread; had a savory, fruit-based sauce; and cheese. It was winter squash (I forget what kind, butternut, acorn, whatever) with parmesan, sage, and a "fig glaze." I am guessing it was fig-balsamic vinegar. It was awesome. And the atmosphere is great, the staff is friendly. The prices are really, really reasonable. They also have Mighty Leaf tea for only $1.

4. On another food note, my current fixation is portable, vegetarian lunches. I mean, things that can be carried around, eaten cold, and don't contain meat but still manage to be filling. Why? Because I'm trying to cut almost all meat out of my diet--I'll write more about that later. It's cheaper, healthier, more sustainable. This is something that I'm always interested in, but at certain times it becomes more important to me. (The portable lunch thing, not just the meat thing.) It's very hard to find recipes for things like this, vegetarian meals that you can eat without a microwave handy. I mean, peanut butter and jelly get old. Grilled vegetable sandwiches require a lot of advance prep and planning ahead. I make a lot of grain-based salads that include tofu or chickpeas or peanuts (for protein) but then you have to have a container and a fork. So, I'm really pleased right now with the veggie burger recipe from Heidi of 101cookbooks.com. I made the version from her cookbook with chickpeas, and then made something more closely resembling the version on her blog, with black beans instead of lentils. The concept is that instead of putting the burger on a bun and getting something dry and bready, you use the burger AS the bun--cut it in half and fill it with things like avocado, more vegetables, cheese, whatever. It's very filling and satisfying. Once I read her instructions about making them small, shaped more like "hockey pucks," they held their shape nicely. I don't think I'll get tired of them too quickly, because I can add all kinds of things to them as filling or I can add things to the burger "batter" (for lack of a better term). Different spices, different chopped vegetables, tahini or nut butter....This recipe will help me with a lot of my 2009 resolutions/goals--sustainable living, saving money, and continuing to have a healthy diet. (The meat thing is health-related too, but I'll write more about that later.) (Also I'll add a link to the recipe later, but you could just go to 101cookbooks.com and look for the lentil burger.

5. I got a kit from Sublime Stitching last week. I've been meaning to order from them for YEARS. I signed up for their mailing list at the BUST magazine Craftacular! craft fair, got an e-mail about their 20% Hard Times sale, and decided this was a good time to order. I can't wait to start some projects with the kits. Anyway, since I believe in supporting small businesses with good products and customer service, I am going to write about how impressed I am with Sublime Stitching. I ordered the products late on Thursday night--I mean after 10PM. It said allow 3-5 days for shipment. However, they shipped on Friday. I got my package on SATURDAY. And I love it.

OK, that's enough writing for now. I'm going to tackle that to do list now.