Sunday Salon/Currently … First Weekend of Fall

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Currently …
Just finished watching the Eagles vs. Steelers and we’re quite happy in this house tonight, thanks to our hometown team’s win. It’s not easy being a Philly fan in these parts (especially when it comes to hockey) and I tend to root for the Steelers … when they’re not playing or in direct competition with my Eagles, that is.

Reading
No books finished last week, but I’m hoping to finish one tonight. I have deadlines this week for three freelance reviews.

Listening
this-old-man

My audiobook this week has been This Old Man by Roger Angell, who just turned 96 and is still writing great pieces for The New Yorker like the one he published this week (“My Eighteenth Presidential Election and the Most Important“). His essay “This Old Man” is one I’ve read at least twice, which is what made me interested in this collection of New Yorker pieces and other writings of Angell’s.

Running
Finished Week 2 of Couch to 5K this morning!  I thought I’d change things up a little by trying a different park and it was a challenge — definitely more hills than I expected. (I know, I know … this is Pittsburgh. Hills are everywhere.) Total distance was 1.95 miles, with .71 of those running. People tell me my pace is good (12:31 per mile) so I’ll take it.  I’ve been reading a lot of running blogs since this a whole new world for me.

Blogging
Maybe I needed some sort of mental break after 99 Days of Summer Blogging because my productivity here has nearly screeched to a big halt. I think it has more to do with being a very busy couple of weeks at work; after spending my days immersed in words, I’ve found myself needing a breather. I feel my mojo coming back, which is good.

Related to blogging, I was certain my life was complete without yet another social media whirligig, but apparently Litsy became available as an Android app this week and all the cool kids seem to be playing.  So, I’ve caved and now I’m MelissaF in case you want to follow whatever I’ll be doing over there.

Have a great week!

Weekend Cooking: Slow-Cooker Vegetable Broth

vegetable-broth-crockpot-2

Autumn arrived this week, welcoming in another season of delicious soup. Starting on Labor Day weekend and continuing into the fall, winter, and early spring, I usually make a pot of soup every Sunday.  To me, nothing says fall like having football on TV (which we do, all day on Sundays from 9 a.m. until the end of the night game) with soup simmering in the kitchen — preferably in my Crock-Pot.

Soups can be hit-or-miss with the kids (The Girl is definitely not a fan), but served with some kind of sandwich/burger and perhaps a salad, it’s an easy meal with something everyone in this family likes.

(If not, they can make a bowl of cereal.)

I decided to kick off this year’s soup season by making slow-cooked vegetable broth, which I tried for the first time last winter. (Like most of us, I kept telling myself I really needed to do this.).  I keep a gallon-sized bag of vegetable scraps in the freezer. Whenever I’m chopping vegetables, I place the bag in the sink next to me and toss in the tops of bell peppers, slivers of onion, tips of garlic cloves, stems of mushrooms, stalks of broccoli, even gnawed cobs from summer corn. Same with wilted vegetables or ones nearing (or just past) their prime.  It all goes right into the bag and makes for easier clean up.

When the bag gets full, I simply dump everything into the Crock-Pot, cover with water, season with salt, pepper, a bay leaf or two, and some basil, oregano, parsley, etc.  (This is a good way to use up a bit of dried herbs lingering in the jar.)

It usually looks something like this (there’s more spinach than usual since I happened to have a decent amount in the fridge that we hadn’t used during the week):

vegetable-broth-crockpot

In addition to the spinach, this contained zucchini, yellow squash, red bell peppers, onions, sweet potatoes, green beans, riced cauliflower, a broccoli stalk, onions, garlic and corn on the cob.

I set the Crock-Pot on low for about 9 hours and left it alone.  Then, I lined a colander with paper towels, set it over a medium-sized bowl, and strained the broth into the bowl, discarding the vegetables. (I suppose those of you who garden could use the vegetable scraps for compost.)

The result? About 6 cups of broth, more than you get in the ready-to-use boxes found in the grocery store. Although they’re not that expensive, making your own is a simple way to save a few dollars and with less sodium, etc.

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I kept several cups in the fridge for a minestrone that I made the next day and the rest was frozen in ice cube trays. I’ll use a cube or two in place of oil when sauteeing vegetables or in recipes that require a small amount of broth.

Do you make — or have you tried making — your own vegetable broth?  (Also, if you’re curious about the difference between broth and stock, as I was when titling this post, the latter is usually made with bones. I guess it’s possible, then, to have vegetable stock but not vegetarian stock.) 

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

 

sunday salon/currently… 9/18/2016

Sunday Salon bannerHaving a lazy Sunday today.  I had all good intentions of going the park for a walk/run this morning before the humidity became too oppressive but I woke up feeling blah. Nothing major, just a slight headache and minor stomach woes. It the sort of day where the weather can’t make up its mind: in the course of my writing this paragraph, it has been cloudy, then raining, and now it is brilliant sunshine.  (And 20 miles away at the Steelers game, it was a monsoon.)

Reading/Listening … 
My commute has been rather maddening recently, thanks to a ridiculous amount of construction going on in this town and the hell that is the (now indefinite) closure of the Liberty Bridge. Being that this is the City of Bridges with more than 400 of ’em, you would think one being shut down wouldn’t be a big deal, right? Not quite. This is a major bridge, traveled by 55,000 people each day. I’m not one of them, but if you need to go anywhere in the vicinity of the Liberty Bridge, you’re feeling the pain of some miserable drives. Such times are when and podcasts and audiobooks become your best friend.

being-mortal

This week I started and finished listening to Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. I thought this was an excellent narrative about the many ways our society approaches the end of life. As a physician, Gawande knows firsthand how medicine offers unprecedented possibilities for extending one’s life, no matter what the cost. But that cost can be physically, mentally, and financially significant, and our society still doesn’t have a strong enough support system and options that allow people to age in place.  As a result, the burden on people is tremendous. Gawande illustrates this by sharing the experiences of his patients and family members, and the result is a thoughtful reflection of how we treat the sick and the dying.

Cooking
The Girl and I were out all day yesterday, so I made Salsa Chicken (from Make It Fast, Cook it Slow by Stephanie O’Dea) in the crockpot for dinner. (Because nobody in this house can eat the same thing, The Husband had leftover burritos and rice, and I had a quinoa bowl with tomatoes, corn, black beans and feta.)

While that was cooking, I had a second crockpot going. I keep a bag in the freezer of vegetable odds and ends — tops of bell peppers and onions, gnawed corn cobs, broccoli stalks, ends of string beans, and veggies nearing the end of their prime. When the bag gets full, I dump everything into the crockpot, cover with water, toss in some garlic and spices (basil, oregano, salt, pepper) and simmer for the entire day.  It makes a vegetable broth with much less sodium than commercial brands. I typically freeze this into ice cubes and use the broth for sauteing. Tonight I made minestrone soup and was glad I had the required four cups of broth ready to go.

Writing
I applied for a writing fellowship this week. Might be a bit of a long shot, but one never knows. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Running
On Thursday I started Week 2 of Couch to 5K. So far, so good!  I keep promising a longer post about this, I know. Maybe later this week.

In Memoriam: Dabney Montgomery (1923-2016), Tuskegee Airman and bodyguard to Martin Luther King Jr.

meeting-dabney-montgomery-2

Dabney Montgomery’s name is probably unknown to most Americans. His life, one spent on the front lines of history serving as a bodyguard to Martin Luther King Jr. during the historic Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, is one that deserves to be remembered and honored.

Six years ago, my girl and I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Mr. Montgomery, a Tuskegee Airman who died on Saturday at age 93. He spoke at our church and I blogged about it afterwards because his words made such an impression on me. It was exactly what I needed to hear on that particular day when I went to church for the first time in months, shaken to the core by the news of the murder of a woman with disabilities and in need of some semblance of solace and comfort.

Dabney Montgomery’s words and his commitment to justice resonated and stayed with me. Since meeting him in 2010.  I’ve thought about him on quite a few occasions since, especially during recent racial incidents in this country, and I’ll continue to think about him while being so glad our paths crossed.

With much gratitude for his life, I extend my condolences to Dabney Montgomery’s family, friends and loved ones.

Here’s a portion of my post from February 16, 2010:


“And I stood in the corner and thought, how can I change this situation peacefully? And that thought stayed in the back of my mind for many a month and year.”

~ Dabney Montgomery, Tuskegee Airman and bodyguard of Martin Luther King Jr., 2/14/2010

Walking into church on Sunday morning, Valentine’s Day, was like taking a walk back in time.

A walk alongside Martin Luther King Jr., en route from Selma to Montgomery.

A walk along the tarmac with the Tuskegee Airmen.

And so it was that I found myself in the presence of greatness.

Dabney Montgomery, a Tuskegee Airman and former bodyguard of Martin Luther King Jr.’s, was the guest speaker on Sunday at our Unitarian Universalist congregation.

We listened, a rapt audience of nearly 200, as Dabney Montgomery told us about a time where people believed African Americans were incapable of flying a plane, that because the arteries in their brains were shorter than others, they could not be taught such skills.

We walked with him down the tarmac, as he recalled Mrs. Roosevelt (“you remember Mrs. Roosevelt, don’t you?”) demanding to be flown by an African American pilot.

He received an honorable discharge from the Army in 1945, and upon returning home to his hometown of Selma, Alabama, he only had one thing on his mind.

Registering to vote.

We walked with Dabney Montgomery as he went to register to vote, and was told to go around back and enter through the back entrance, as he was handed three separate applications to vote. The applications needed to be filled out by three separate white men who could vouch for his character.

Not only was I black, Mr. Montgomery said by way of explanation, but I “didn’t have enough money in the bank [to vote], didn’t have a house.”

“And I stood in the corner and thought, ‘how I can change this situation peacefully?’ And that thought stayed in the back of my mind for many a month and a year,” he said.

Dabney Montgomery volunteered to be one of Martin Luther King’s bodyguards on the historic Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. We felt the spit from onlookers as the marchers walked by.

meeting-dabney-montgomery“After the march, I took the soles off the shoes I wore,” Dabney Montgomery explained. “You can see them for yourself in the back, there.”

Several months after that march, The Voter Rights Act of 1965 was signed.

We walked back into the room with Dabney Montgomery as he registered to vote.

“And this time, there was a black woman behind the desk,” he laughed.

And then he turned serious again.

Whatever the situation is, “it can be changed through nonviolence, but you must stand and never give in. Don’t compromise. [We need] nonviolence not only in the schools, but in the home,” he said, referencing recent bullying attacks and the shooting by a professor in Alabama.

“Nonviolence is a must if we are to survive,” Dabney Montgomery concluded.

We’ll walk hand in hand someday …” we sang, as the closing hymn, and as we joined hands and I reached for the African-American man’s hand next to me, I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. (I hate crying in public, but in this case, I wasn’t alone.)

Afterward, I was chatting with people I hadn’t seen in months as my girl rushed through the door.

“Look, Mommy, they have cake!” she exclaimed, pointing to the refreshments.

“We can have cake,” I said, “But first, there’s somebody who I want you to meet.”

I told my girl that I wanted her to shake this man’s hand and thank him for his service to our country. That she would understand why when she was older.

We approached the throng of people surrounding Dabney Montgomery, taking photos with him as if he was a movie star. He welcomed all of this, even basked in the attention.

What does one say to such a hero? I thought.

“Your words were so inspiring,” I said. “Thank you for your service to our country. It is a real pleasure and honor to meet you.”

“Thank you,” Mr. Montgomery replied. A former ballet student, he bent down and shook my girl’s outstretched hand. And then, we all ate cake.

I went to church on Sunday seeking a spiritual boost.

But what I got was so much more.

“Hey, so many things I never thought I’d see
Happening right in front of me
I had a friend in school
Running back on a football team
They burned a cross in his front yard
For asking out the home coming queen
I thought about him today
And everybody who’s seen what he’s seen
From a woman on a bus
To a man with a dream
Hey, wake up Martin Luther
Welcome to the future
Hey, glory, glory, hallelujah
Welcome to the future …”
“Welcome to the Future” ~ Brad Paisley

 

What I Learned From Blogging Every Day for 99 Days (99/99)

99 Days of Summer Blogging FINISHED

Now that I’ve actually finished 99 Days of Summer Blogging, let me tell you a secret.

I didn’t really believe I would finish this.

And here we are, 99 posts (and 99 days) later.

I hesitate saying this project was hard because, really, when compared to other truly hard and difficult things that this life presents, writing a blog post for 99 days doesn’t even come close. NOT. EVEN.

Was it challenging?  Yes.  Frustrating?  Sometimes.

But hard?

What was hard was overcoming the self-doubt that plagues all of us.

This blog post is ridiculous, half-baked, nonsensical crap. 

Nobody’s going to care what I have to say about this. 

Is anyone even reading this? Is this thing even on?  Hello?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller? 

What blogging for 99 consecutive days taught me — and which I didn’t realize until very recently — was that it was training ground for other things I don’t think I can do.

Of course, like most bloggers, I was curious and interested in the numbers. Even though we often say we don’t care about the number of views our posts get, I’m betting more than a few of us really do.

Those of us who have been blogging for any length of time know that consistency is key. And in that respect, I think 99 Days helped increase my monthly readership. In January, there were 1,784 visits. By April, that had dropped to 1,380. The summer months saw a significant rebound:  June had 1,809 visits, July had 1,864, and there were 1,829 in August.  Average views per day stayed consistent with 60 views in both June and July and 59 in August.

I was curious to see which posts were the most popular. As it turns out, the posts that got the most views are also the ones I’m most proud of.

Below are all of my 99 Days of Summer Blogging posts, with the Top 10 most popular posts in larger type.

My inspiration for this project came from my friend and fellow Pittsburgh blogger Emily Levenson, who embarked on her own 100 Days of Blogging project earlier this year. I decided it would be fun to do the same. I jumped in with very little thought and even less preparation and I’m really glad I stuck with this until the end. And I’m especially glad that you did, too. Thank you, as always, for reading and commenting.  And don’t worry … I’m not going anywhere.

Besides, tomorrow’s post is already queued up, ready to go.

 

sunday salon/currently …one more day (98/99)

Sunday Salon banner

I confess: I’m ready for this summer to end.  I mean, I would be happy to keep this weather; cool mornings, sunny and warm (but not too warm) low-humidity days and evenings with a slight chill are as perfect as it gets in Pittsburgh. All that can stay. But this has been a long summer in a challenging year with a lot of Really Hard Stuff.  I’m trying to focus on the good things about this summer, instead of the disappointments and the struggles and the hard stuff.

The Boy’s four-week camp program went well and he’s mentioned wanting to return next year. The Girl got a partial-scholarship for a week-long teen writing camp and also had the chance to do a painting camp, also for a week. She met one of her best friends, who lives out of state, for breakfast.  The Girl went to a sleepover (in a tent outdoors — a first for her) and she was invited to spend a day at the pool with that same friend.

The Girl and I met Judy Blume and we enjoyed a young adult author event with local writers Jonathan Auxier, Nick Courage and Siobhan Vivian. Our family spent a couple days back in Philadelphia (where I also attended the Mid-Atlantic MRKH Conference) and we enjoyed a fun get-together with the Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh casts from 2015 and 2016.

So, yeah. Some good things among the really, really hard.

Blogging
In addition to one more day of summer, there’s also one day remaining of my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project!  As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I’m glad I did this (and I’m astounded that I stuck this out for the entire 99 days) but I am equally glad the end is here. I’m have some thoughts on this whole endeavor tomorrow or later this week.

Reading (Summer Reading Wrap-Up) …
Our library’s Summer Reading Program ended August 31 and my official tally was 21 books — which sounds impressive, but magazines also count. If one tallies only books, I’ve read eight. There’s a very good chance that I’ll hit nine by the end of tomorrow (because my personal Summer Reading Program goes from Memorial Day through Labor Day) and maybe I can find a short book to make it an even number. Here’s what I have so far, with one day to go:

LaRose, by Louise Erdrich
Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue, edited by Amy Ferris
Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub (published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 7/16/2016)
Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life, by Joan Chittister
Tales of An Accidental Genius, Stories by Simon Van Booy
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
Reliance, Illinois, by Mary Volmer
Bright, Precious Days, by Jay McInerney

 

Reading (Currently) …
Leave MeAround lunchtime on Saturday I started Leave Me by Gayle Forman and by dinnertime I’d finished more than 150 pages. (I had a few hours to read while The Girl was at a library program.)  It’s a fast read. I’m loving the Pittsburgh setting — and Forman clearly knows this town extremely well, right down to the location of specific stores and the names of local holiday craft fairs.  This one is a review book, and several others will be following it. (Another reason I’m glad 99 Days of Summer Blogging is finished … more time for reading, which I’ve missed.)

Hope you’re having a good weekend!

 

 

Weekend Cooking: Home Cooking (97/99)

Weekend Cooking - New

A few weeks ago, our Weekend Cooking host extraordinaire Beth Fish Reads posted about food items that we make at home versus those bought in the store.  I’m on a two-fold quest to pare down our grocery bill as much as possible while trying to eat (and serve the family) less processed foods.

As I write this, I have a vegetarian taco meat mixture in the crockpot (lentils and quinoa) that I’m hoping will be an occasional replacement for Beyond Meat, which our family loves but (like most meat substitutes) is pricey. The recipe also called for taco seasoning, something I don’t typically use, but this recipe seemed like one that might benefit from it. Fortunately, the cookbook I’m using had one with all the spices I had on hand.

When thinking about what I currently make from scratch, I realized the list isn’t very extensive:

Guacamole – Mine isn’t real guac (like Beth Fish’s recipe) but instead just smashed avocado and tomato sprinkled with a pinch of kosher salt. Since I’m the only person in the house who eats it, this works fine.

Vegetable Broth/Stock – I started doing this last winter, saving up scraps of vegetables and freezing them in a big bag. It’s especially easy in the crockpot — just dump in your bag of frozen veggies, add enough water to cover them, toss in a bay leaf or two and maybe some parsley, and cook it on low for the whole day. I think I let mine simmer for at least eight hours. Making broth is on my agenda this weekend so I can get a head start on all the soups awaiting us this fall.  (I tend to make a big pot on Sundays in autumn. One of my favorite things about this season is football on TV and a crockpot simmering away in the kitchen.)

Chicken Tenders – For the same price (or less) than a box of chicken tenders, you can make your own. They’re also much less processed. I coat mine with egg and breadcrumbs (with some parmesan cheese sprinkled in) and try to make enough to have leftovers during the week. That never happens because the kids always devour them.

Marinara Sauce – I haven’t made marinara sauce for awhile, but I need to do so more often. This recipe for making marinara sauce in the crockpot was one that we really liked.

Muffins – I’m not much of a baker, but I do like homemade muffins. More importantly, the kids do, too. Banana Chocolate Chip seem to be popular and there was a pumpkin muffin several years ago that was well-received. Our oven hasn’t been preheating properly and I’ve been putting off getting it looked at, especially since we don’t use it much during the summer months.  I’ve seen some recipes where you can bake quick breads and such in the crockpot using a small loaf pan, but that makes me nervous.  If you’ve tried that with good results, let me know.

Other items I’d like to start making include hummus, pancakes and egg muffins. There are probably many others but those are all I can think of right now. What about you?  What do you make from scratch versus buying at the store?

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #97 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.