On Not Wanting Children

I make it no secret that I have no desire to have any children.  Most people are appalled by this, and most people try to convince me otherwise.

Generally I’ll smile and nod, but frankly, I get really annoyed when I hear the following questions or comments:

Does Sam want children?
100% yes.  Our pre-nup says that our marriage is only supposed to last for 8 months, then we’ll divorce and he’ll find a partner who wants to have kids, and I’ll go along my merry way.
Do you honestly think that we would’ve even gotten married if he was pro-kids and I was against?

Don’t your parents want grandchildren?
I’m sure they do.

You’ll change your mind in a few years.
Actually, I don’t think I will.  If anything, I’ve gotten progressively more child-free in the past few years, because I’ve recognized the value of free time, vacation money, and A FULL NIGHT’S REST.
Also, please, by all means, if we’re predicting futures here, I want to know what the weather will be in 3 months, because I want to plan my outfit for that day.

You don’t want to experience the miracle of birth?
No.  Honestly I think pregnancy is really creepy; I can never understand why other people want to touch pregnant women’s stomachs – that would absolutely terrify me (both in the sense of being touched, and touching a distended belly).  Also, it also freaks me out when pregnant women rest their hands on top of their stomach, like it’s an arm rest.  No idea why, it just does.

It’s so different with your own kids.
I have no doubt it is, because I cannot just walk away from my own child when it is screaming at the restaurant.  But the vomiting, spitting up, crying, keeping a constant eye on a toddler experiences are ones I do not care to have, ever.  I don’t even want a PUPPY; why would I want a CHILD?  Puppies can be potty-trained and obedience-trained within a month, and even that seems like too much work for me.  Also, the creepiest thing is when moms say that their kids’ vomit/poop doesn’t smell.  UHHHHHHHH…

But you and Sam would have such cute kids.
You’re probably right – mixed babies are the cutest.  We don’t think the world can handle any more cuteness, so we just won’t have kids.

Playing in the Dirt

I’ve never considered myself to have a green thumb.  Gardening never interested me, mostly because in my mind, it involved dirty fingers (yes I understand you can wear gloves), worms, and big straw hats.

Many people point out that since I’ve successfully kept my dog alive for the past 4 1/2 years, I should be able to keep a plant alive.  I disagree; unlike Dog, a plant will not tell me when it needs food or water.  In fact, at my last job, one of my tasks was to water the plants, and I’m pretty certain that one of them was overwatered (obviously I was trying to overcompensate for forgetting to water them on a regular basis).

But then one of the plants, which had apparently never flowered in the years my boss had it, suddenly blossomed one day, so I began thinking that maybe the other plant just died because it was old.  That happens, right?

I’ve noticed that in the past few years, my love for clothes-and-shoe-shopping has diminished quickly, only to be replaced by a love for household-goods-shopping.  As I walked home a few weeks ago, I just had to stop by Sur La Table and poke my head around the store.  By the way, it’s probably my favorite place ever, so I can never just walk past and window shop.

It was a week before Easter, and they already had some Easter stuff on sale, and one of the items was a children’s gardening kit.  It was 6 different types of seeds, some soil pellets, and an egg carton.  Oh, and a “growth chart” printed in Comic Sans.  Totally meant for kids.  But it was $6 and I bought it.

Since I’ve never actually gardened before, I read the directions several times before putting the soil pellets in water, soaking them until they magically became soil (I have seriously never seen this before), carefully dividing them amongst the carton’s wells, putting the seeds in, and covering them all with the remaining soil.  I set the carton next to a windowsill and stared at it.

Of course I knew the seeds weren’t going to magically grow right away, but still.  I wanted my baby cucumber, squash, watermelon, radishes, green beans, and carrots to succeed, so I was willing them to grow.

After a few days, a few seedlings actually started popping up.  The green beans and radishes were the first to sprout, followed by the squash and cucumber.  I had doubts about the watermelon and carrots, especially as I transplanted them to my newly-delivered Amazon-ordered planter boxes.  But after a few days and a dose of Miracle-Grow plant food, they’re still chugging along.

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Day 5 – success!

The growth of the seedlings, which I likened to the absence of failure, sparked some kind of odd fascination with gardening that has since become borderline obsessive.  I spent hours scouring Amazon (and other gardening sites) for the best planters for small spaces, the best soil, how far apart I should plant seedlings, and the easiest vegetables to grow.  Box after box started arriving filled with gardening supplies and vegetable seeds.  I saved egg cartons so I could start more seedlings.

It eventually got to the point where I ran out of room on my window ledge to plant stuff (I even had to give away some of my watermelon and cantaloupe seedlings because I didn’t have enough planters, so I had to buy some bigger pots to put on my rooftop.  When I became paranoid about birds eating the tomato plants, I moved them closer to the back staircase so I could keep an eye on them.

Today, I’m about a month into my gardening phase, and though nothing has borne fruit (or vegetables) yet, the plants are actually still alive and looking pretty good.  My new favorite places to shop are Sloat Garden Center and Home Depot, and I spend every morning gleefully looking at my plant babies.  This morning, as I potted four of my watermelon seedlings, Dog came over and watched.  I think it’s the first time he’s realized that I’ve been tending to something other than him.

Oh, and I’ll have salad in a few more weeks.  But the best part of this gardening experience by far, is that I don’t mind a bit of soil under my neatly manicured nails; in fact, I think it’s sort of fun to play in the dirt.

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A ledge full of plant babies!

The Thing With Buttermilk…

I almost never, ever have buttermilk lying around.  When I need it for baking, I do the cheat thing (milk + a tablespoon or two of white vinegar, and let it sit for 10 minutes before using).

Then I decided it was time to (wo)man up and buy some real buttermilk so I could make some legit oven-fried chicken (I promise the recipe is coming soon).  Yeah, ‘MURICA!  (Sorry, “real buttermilk” sounded very all-American-apple-pie to me)

But now I have half a quart left of buttermilk sitting in my fridge.  I don’t like pancakes, and I don’t want to make any more oven-fried chicken, so I thumbed through some cookbooks and decided to whip up some cupcakes.

While the cupcakes were baking, I realized I didn’t have any butter or cream cheese to make any sort of frosting.  Awesome.  We all know that cupcakes without frosting is just really sad, plain muffins.  I surveyed my refrigerator and saw half a pint of whipped cream.  So… that’ll have to do.  And, from experience, when working with whipping cream (I prefer a hand mixer to a stand mixer), cover your bowl with a cloth on one end, so it doesn’t look like someone sprayed white paint everywhere.

The great thing about this combination, which really was just a way for me to use up some perishable ingredients in my refrigerator, is that the flavors are very mild and not very sweet.  So basically I can eat this for breakfast.. right?

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Buttermilk Cupcakes & Whipped Cream Frosting
Makes 1 dozen cupcakes

Ingredients for the cupcakes:

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 large egg
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup (8 tbsp.) butter, softened to room temperature*
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup white sugar

Ingredients for the frosting:

1 cup whipping cream, straight from the refrigerator
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Line a cupcake tin, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in the egg and vanilla extract.  Alternate mixing in the dry ingredients with the buttermilk (I like to pour 1/3 in at a time) on low speed.

Use an ice cream scoop to fill the cupcake tin 2/3 of the way full.  Once it’s in the oven, turn down the heat to 325 degrees, and bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a few crumbs attached.

After 10 minutes of resting in the cupcake tin, place each cupcake on a wire rack.  Let cool completely before frosting (unless your ultimate goal is for your cupcakes to look like a runny mess).

To make the frosting, combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and beat, slowly increasing the speed to high.  Beat for 5 minutes or until soft peaks form.  I dolloped mine straight onto the cupcake and used the back of the spoon to spread it around – I love the homemade-look for cupcakes; I think they taste better, but that could just be purely psychological.

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* If you are super short on time or you decided to bake on a whim, and didn’t have any time to let the butter soften to room temperature, nuke it at the lowest power for 2 minutes.

One-Pan Lunch

People often ask what it’s like to be funemployed (by choice).  Do I like it?  Do I get bored?

Are you kidding me?  I freaking love it!  It’s the only time I’ve ever had to really focus on myself, without any distractions (work, school, etc.).  As a result, I’ve been working out more (today an old German lady had a cat t-shirt that said “Hot flashes cause global warming” – I am not even joking), cooking healthier, and soaking up the surprisingly warm San Francisco sun.

I’ve tried to make some of the stuff I bookmarked, such as slow-cooker pulled pork, pork tenderloin, and oven-fried chicken (recipe to come in a later post).  But then sometimes I run out of stuff to make because I’m still retaining some of my bachelorette spirit.  Like the time I only had beer and ketchup in my fridge.  Those were dark times, but those were also incredibly fun times.

After a round of Zumba (if there is any proof that there is a God, this would be it – this higher being determined that I am not to be a dancer in this life) and spin, I decided a juice wasn’t enough to tide me over until an early dinner.  Steaming a head of cauliflower to turn into a mash seemed like too much work, and my pot of water wasn’t boiling quickly enough.

So I stared into my fridge.  I never have enough to make a complete meal, because if I have pasta, I have no sauce.  There’s cheese, but no bread.  There’s broth, but no meat or other veggies to put in.

I was able to round up a handful of cherry tomatoes, a bag of baby kale and spinach, some leftover pearl couscous, and, after rummaging through the depths of my cabinet, a small can of chunk light tuna, all of which I threw into a pan with some olive oil and salt.  Seriously.  If there’s something I would love to specialize in, it’s one-pan meals.  Not as glamorous, but less cleanup means a big win for me (or, let’s get real, for Sam).

And this was delicious.

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Super Quick Easy Healthy Lunch

Ingredients:

Half a cup of cherry or grape tomatoes
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Small can of chunk light tuna (or any other cooked protein)
Handful of baby spinach or kale
Cooked couscous, quinoa, or rice (really any cooked grain/pasta will work)

Swirl a pan with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat, and toss in the tomatoes, sprinkling them with a bit of salt.  Let cook for 2-3 minutes until the tomatoes burst easily when pricked with a fork.  Add the can of tuna (do not drain), and cook for another minute. Finally, throw in the spinach (don’t worry, it will wilt quickly) and the couscous and put a lid on the pan.  Let steam for 30 seconds, or until the greens have wilted down a bit.  Stir to mix everything evenly.  Enjoy!

 

 

Butternut Squash Soup

It all started when I was probably 4 years old.  I distinctly remember demanding (because what 4-year-old “asks nicely”?) that everyone call me by the name of Zucchini.  Not because I particularly liked eating it, but because I thought the word sounded really cool.

After the realization dawned on my young brain that I was asking to be called a squash, I nixed the idea and decided to hate all squash.  This includes pumpkin (this is also why I do not like pumpkin pie), kabocha squash curry from Thai restaurants, and of course, zucchini.

Unfortunately, wedding planning came around, and the dreaded countdown timer app on my phone told me I had 87 days to go until “THE BIG DAY.”  And if I wanted a fighting chance to not look like an albino whale beaching itself, I needed to start eating healthier and working out.

With the warm spring weather, the working out part came first.   I used to run all the time, but the first two runs (both around 1 mile) were the worst, not to mention completely demoralizing because it made me think back to the time a 7-mile run at a sub-9 minute/mile pace was a fairly regular ordeal for me.  Still, I stuck with it, running almost daily.  My favorite is running along the beach, on the sand, with Dog sprinting alongside barking at me to stop so I could play with him.

The harder part was going to be eating healthy.  Before I became funemployed (by choice), I was working in a small town in the Peninsula, where there was a severe lack of healthy and inexpensive food options for lunch.  Since my office didn’t have a microwave either, there was no way I could have brought food to heat up for lunch the next day.  I tried to eat as healthy as I could, but nothing compared to the healthy-everything-organic mindset of San Francisco.

On my first day not working, I racked my brain for simple, healthy recipes I could whip up.  My first inspiration came from Evolution Fresh, a juice shop/restaurant up the street.  One of my favorite healthy meals is a bowl of different veggies and grains simmered in vegetable broth and spiced up with some harissa paste.  The last time I was there, I decided to suck it up and order butternut squash as one of the items, just to mix it up. I was surprised to find that I actually sort of liked it (maybe like is a stretch – it’s more like I didn’t mind it as much as I thought I would), so I tried making my own bowl.

It’s pretty embarrassing when you go to the grocery store and not have any idea which squash is which kind, because it’s never been something you’ve purchased before.  I didn’t know what butternut squash even looked like, and when I finally found one and brought it home, I had no idea how to cut it open (don’t ask me why I didn’t bother looking it up first).  Thankfully, a bit of common sense, a sharp knife, and a grapefruit spoon helped me slice it apart, scoop out the pulp, and dice everything.

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I used about half for my veggie bowl (which ended up lasting 4 meals), but I had no idea what to do with the other half.  Can I make ice cream from this?  What about zucchini/squash bread?

Deciding those options were too complicated, not to mention I didn’t have any eggs, I threw the remaining chunks into the microwave, nuked until they were fork-tender, and stuffed them into the Vitamix along with some unsweetened coconut milk.  The results have seriously changed my mind about squash; I thought it was okay before, but I absolutely fell in love with this pureed soup.

By the way, the Vitamix is the single best thing that’s ever happened to me in the kitchen.  Mine was a birthday gift from my dad almost two years ago; he asked what I wanted, I told him nothing, but he insisted on getting me something small.  Since my $25 one from Target was on its last few spins, I told him I wanted a new blender.  He ended up seeing the Vitamix at Costco, fell in love, and bought a bunch for the family, including me.  At first I was hesitant to accept such an expensive present, but I’ve used mine almost every single day for the past year and a half, making everything from juice to smoothies to ice cream.

Long story short, I managed to overcome my hatred of squash with this awesome recipe.

Vegan chilled butternut squash soup

Ingredients (makes 1 serving if you really love soup/leftovers):

1 butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1-inch chunks with the pulp removed)
3 cups unsweetened coconut milk (you can probably use unsweetened almond milk as well)
Cinnamon to taste
Honey to taste

Place squash pieces in a microwaveable container and cook until fork-tender, about 5-6 minutes.  Let it cool for a few minutes, then place in a blender, along with the coconut milk, a few shakes of cinnamon and a tablespoon or two of honey (depending on how sweet you like it).  Blend until smooth, then press through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours.  Enjoy!

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A Slice of Humble Pie

I recently left my job to study for graduate school exams and refocus my mind for my upcoming wedding.  This also left me with ample time to exercise, which is something I really wanted to do, but never could find much time while working since my office was quite a commute.

So we joined the local YMCA.  Compared to many of the other SPX/spin/yoga studios, it’s really a steal; we used to pay $180/person for a spin/SPX-only studio, but now it’s $140 for both of us to work out and take unlimited classes and have access to tennis courts, a pool, and regular gym equipment.  In addition, the Y is nicely maintained and just a 20-minute stroll away (or a 5-minute drive if I’m feeling extra lazy, hah).

I took my first class Sunday morning.  It was a spin class, and it was probably the worst exercise class ever.  Not challenging at all, terrible music, and an instructor with zero personality.  This kind of set the bar for me; maybe, I mused, the spin studio was worth $180/month..

Monday morning rolls around.  I checked the class schedule and saw a class called Bodyworks at 11:40 AM.  Okay, let’s try that.  I walked over to the gym, figuring I could probably take the class, hop on the elliptical for half an hour, and walk home for lunch.  I arrived ten minutes early and found myself surrounded by a few women who were probably in their 70s.

Oh, this is probably going to be an easy class, I thought.

I should’ve picked up the clues that this was not going to be as easy as I imagined.  The women were all chatting about their love for Breaking Bad.  Kind of badass, to be honest.  But I didn’t think much of it.

Second clue was that they were picking up 5-pound weights.  I didn’t think much of that either, as 5 pounds seems pretty light, right?

Third clue was that the instructor was probably 100% muscle.  Incredibly fit and toned.

So the class started.  It was lunge after squat after lunge after squat.  Then came the weights, and even 5 pounds felt too heavy for me.  Let’s not even get started on how I was pretty sure the resistance bands were going to spring me forward into a crumpled heap.  Oh, and in between all these sets of lunges and squats and weights, there were step-ups and jumping jacks.

I was sweating bullets 10 minutes into class.  Halfway through, my legs started shaking during a squat.  No, I cannot go one inch lower.  By the end of class, I felt like a limp jelly noodle.  And all of those 70-something women were peppy as ever, probably excited to go home and Netflix it up.

I couldn’t muster up the energy to go on the elliptical, so I trudged home and took Dog for a walk.  It took all of my remaining strength to not lie down on the grass in the park.

Because we all know not to do that – that’s where the dogs pee.