Cuban Black Beans & Rice

I’ve been making this recipe for years. I originally got it from an online friend back in the late nineties or early two thousands. It is warming, delicious, makes great leftovers, and stretches your grocery budget beautifully.

Leslie’s Black Beans

1 lb. dried black beans
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic
14.5 oz canned diced tomatoes
4 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 Tbs. olive oil
5 Cups water
Combine and cook for 8-10 hours on low or 4-6 hours on high.
Serve over rice. Salt to taste.

Over the years I’ve learned a few things about this recipe. One is that it’s great even if the cupboard is bare. Even if you just have the beans, onion, garlic, and a few dashes of hot sauce, it’ll be good over rice. Leftovers make good burritos, with or without the rice. And if you want to add even more flavor and nutrition, cook the rice in chicken stock.

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In Defense of Training Wheels

I have a four year old. He’s a pretty average kid, smart but not advanced, which means that this summer we have plunged into the world of biking, swimming, and reading. These are all activities that we enjoy as a family, and they are also solo activities. At four he is big enough and mature enough to learn to do them himself.

We’ve been noticing that Danny’s learning style is an interesting amalgam of Drew’s and mine. From me he gets a slow and steady style that makes him nervous to try new things without a little support. And from Drew he gets a lightning quick intellect that makes him want to conceal any gaps in his knowledge or abilities. It’s a challenging combination for parents who aren’t trained teachers.

That’s where the training wheels come in. Danny’s journey to biking competency has had several steps. We started him on a great tricycle when he was 2 that had a parent handle on the back allowing us to push and steer. The tricycle taught him to pedal and to steer while we kept him from tearing up the neighbors lawns or collapsing in frustration when he ran off the sidewalk for the tenth time that walk (and we still had to get home). It wasn’t long before the handle could come off and he was racing the sidewalks with the big kids. When he was 3 we got him a bike with training wheels. It was a bit tall for him, so we had to wait for him to grow into it, which he finally did this spring, just as he turned 4. Danny was so proud to be riding a big boy bike, but he couldn’t quite get the balancing down. A biking neighbor gave him a balance bike and I put him on that for a couple of months to learn how to balance on a bicycle. One afternoon this summer Danny asked me to take his training wheels off. I did it, and we tried to get him riding, but he couldn’t manage more than 6 feet before he ran off the sidewalk or fell over (or both). It was frustrating for us both, and he wasn’t getting anywhere, so the training wheels back on and put him back on the balance bike for a few more weeks. In the meantime he was also riding a trail-a-bike behind his dad’s bike, learning not to wiggle side to side. When he went back to the training wheels again his balance had improved. We emphasized that he wanted to ride quietly, so that he couldn’t hear the training wheels on the sidewalk. And tonight Drew pointed out that Danny had managed this several times! But rather than remove the training wheels, Drew raised them so that they get used less frequently but are still preventing Danny from falling over. I imagine that Danny will be riding without them by next spring, and certainly by his fifth birthday.

Danny has been swimming more than ever this summer. In Madison we lived near a zero-entry swimming pool (that’s an artificial pool with a beach-like roll in shallow end, equally accessible to small children and those with physical limitations) and a lake. For his first three summers Danny played in shallow water he could walk in, watched over by lifeguards. I enrolled him in swim lessons, but those turned out to be water safety oriented rather than swimming skills lessons. This summer, however, we have access to a private pool with no life guard (like a hotel pool) that is 3.5 feet deep in the middle and 5 feet deep at either end. I wondered how I could manage my two small children in such a pool. I tried putting Becky in my trusty water ring sling, but my little fish did not want to be confined. So after talking to a neighborhood mom who used to be a swim instructor, I got the kids some water wings. It was a revelation. Becky was crazy happy to finally be free of Mummy’s arms. And Danny suddenly had confidence and was able to play with his friend. I’d been trying to teach Danny to kick with no avail, but once he was floating free and trying to keep up with his friends kicking came quite naturally. This fall he will begin independent swimming lessons. After almost two years of preschool Danny finally has the classroom skills that will allow him to benefit from formal lessons.

What’s my point? My kid benefits from a graduated method of learning. If you throw him in the deep end or push too hard, more often than not he’ll freeze up and reject the activity. I understand; I’m the same way. That doesn’t prevent us from learning or from participating in new things, but it is good to know and understand.

As I search for advice in teaching my kids some of the basics of life (and with a 1 year old and a 4 year old, I’ve got a lot of basics to cover) I find a lot of condemnation of training wheels and water wings. A lot of people write that supports such as these breed a reliance on the assistance items that delays learning. They advocate a fast immersion teaching method, proclaiming that it teaches proper techniques quickly without engendering bad habits. Maybe it does for some people. For me and for my son lightweight supports such as training wheels, water wings, quick reference sheets, and the like allow us to get out there and participate while honing our skills. That’s not preventing learning, it’s enabling it.

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Wonderful husband and bikes

I have the best husband. I was sick today. I went to bed feeling like death warmed over, woke up at 4 am and had that awful realization that although I’d be spending a good portion of my day in bed I couldn’t actually sleep.

Drew took the day off work without my really asking, got the kids ready, and took Danny to camp. Later in the day he rode his bike with the trail-a-bike to pick Danny back up. In doing so he tested a bike route to see if it would be comfortable for me with the kids in tow. Here’s the kicker. As the day progressed I felt a little better. When Becky accidentally went to sleep at 5 pm I agreed that Drew should go to his work event from 6-9pm. I figured I could manage Danny’s bedtime. While Drew showered and got ready to go Becky woke up. He turned on a dime and told me that he’d stay until Danny was in bed (Danny’s bedtime is Drew’s job while I nurse Becky). Cleverly, Drew told Danny that we were eating dinner a little late (the kid can’t read a clock) and got him into the bath half an hour early. :)

Speaking of biking, Drew announced that he will be taking Danny to camp tomorrow morning on the trail-a-bike. He says it’s not that far out of his way and they had fun. Hooray! One less car trip. It’s 4.5 miles by car, or 4.8 by bike (plus 4 miles back to the office). So about the same distance, but less gas. I’m very happy.

My Madsen is coming tomorrow! I’m hoping it comes early, but really as long as I get it I’m cool. I hear that it arrives ready to ride, so I am hoping to ride downtown for challah or maybe a test ride to a playground off of the bike path. It’s a beautiful pale yellow bike that can haul more kids than my car. It’s my minivan! I’m really looking forward to getting to know my new bike.

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Coconut Almond Milk

coconutalmondmilkFor the last few months my favorite Farmer’s Market splurge has been a little bottle of coconut almond milk. It’s delicious, nutritious, and makes me smile. There are a few things I don’t love about it. It’s sweetened with agave, I can only get it once a week, and at $8 for 12 ounces I feel slightly ripped off. So I decided to make it at home.

My first attempt at home was not a success. I bought a box of coconut milk beverage and a box of almond milk at Trader Joe’s. I tasted them separately and together, but I didn’t like it. And the list of additives in the coconut milk was insane. I ended up throwing those both into the ice cream machine.

I was browsing blogs and found out that both coconut and almond milks are easy to make at home. You need a blender but not a high powered one. My trusty old Osterizer did the job quite nicely. The only other tool you need is a cloth to strain with. The recipes all say “cheesecloth” but the cheesecloth available in my local grocery store was way too coarse. An old tea towel or sheet worked much better.

The process was easy. The almonds need to soak for a while (mine went a day and a half) so that they can be ground fine without making almond butter or burning out the motor. Other than that, I used the same method for each milk. Combine nuts with water, blend, then strain and squeeze out in a cloth. Hey presto. For the details, here are the recipes I used: almond milk, coconut milk. There are an awful lot of recipes out there that vary by just a little. I don’t think I followed either of these all that closely.

Now we get to the interesting part. After I had made about a quart of each, I combined them in a large bowl. I added a sprinkle of salt, a drizzle of honey, and a splash of vanilla extract. I whisked it well to dissolve the honey. Tasted. It was just right!

I only found two tricky parts, and both of them involved the coconut. First off was that my blender full of boiling  water and coconut tried to kill me. Of course. Next time I’ll do that in two batches. The other challenge is figuring out how to melt the coconut cream that floats to the top of the coconut milk when it is chilled. Coconut oil is solid below 74F, so if you refrigerate this for any length of time at all you are going to get a solid fat cap on the top. I found that a minute in the microwave warmed it just enough; you may prefer to leave it on the counter for a while or warm it on the stove. I didn’t want a hot drink, just to get the fat blended back in.

I’m really happy with how this turned out. I used almonds from the Farmer’s Market (before I moved to California I liked Just Almonds) and organic packaged coconut flakes, so this wasn’t super cheap, but I’m sure it was less than $5/cup!

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Outfit A Day Analysis

During the month of July I took a photograph of my outfit most days. This project was inspired by an article in the Daily Mail. Robin and I decided to do this together, documenting our outfits to see what was working and what wasn’t.

What works in my wardrobe

  • Having a uniform. Boden’s Everyday A-Line skirt paired with Old Navy’s Ruched V-neck Tee is my go-to outfit. A gauze scarf tops this nicely.
  • I look good in a fitted top, despite my lumps and bumps. My basic tees are working pretty well.
  • Lightweight gathered blouses are quite flattering. Somehow the elastic at the bottom and the thin fabric combine to create the illusion of a slimmer body beneath.
  • None of my regular skirts are bad on me. That was a great relief!

What Doesn’t Work

  • Straight, shapeless tops. I thought they skimmed over my body, but it turns out that they do more of a potato sack imitation.
  • The pale yellow tee I wore at the beginning of the month. It has since been donated!

What Else I Learned

  • Wear mascara and lipstick every day. When I was taking a photo each day I soon was able to see what an improvement that small amount of make-up made.
  • I don’t like how I look with my hair pulled back.
  • My wardrobe has already been well edited due to my move. Most of my clothes work fairly well. Any summer clothes that I didn’t wear in July should probably leave.
  • It was long since time to buy new bras.

This was a fun project! It was hard to remember to take my photo every day, and I am looking forward to blogging less frequently. But I’m glad to have done it. Your comments really helped me.

Thanks so much everyone.

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Last Outfits of the Month

It’s the last day of the month and the last of my outfit-a-day project. We all awoke a bit tired and Danny was slightly feverish. As I got dressed I knew I wouldn’t be going anywhere, and I didn’t feel like making an effort.

The white 3/4 sleeve tee and denim skirt were easy. I toyed with socks but they were too warm. After lunch Becky smeared her cookie face all over me. So I changed.
Into my trusty green tee. With my black flip flops this was just right for chasing Becky around the park and taking a walk.
And that’s how I ended July. Analysis should be up tomorrow or Friday.

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The home stretch!

Outfit-a-day was intended to be a one month experiment. Here we are on July 30th, and there’s just one more day to go! I hope I’ve learned something. I think I have. I’ll be doing a summary post later in the week to look back at the month.

In the meantime I am reminded of how bad I am at maintaining a routine without outside interference. In other words, here’s another triple!

July28outfit On Sunday I biked into town to go to the Farmer’s Market and get a pedicure. Once I got home I asked Drew to take my picture for me. I wanted to wear a blue pendant, but it turned out to be too short, so I subbed in my favorite gauze scarf.

July29outfitOn Monday it was laundry day. I had my choice of two tees: this blue sweater or a plain white tee. Unfortunately the plain white tee needs a cami under it and my white cami was in the wash. I could have worn one of my nursing tanks, but I am too fond of the silhouette I get from wearing a bra that actually fits (I think the nursing tanks are about 4 sizes too small). So despite the fact that you all have told me that the blue sweater isn’t the most flattering choice, I put it on.

July30outfitHere we are on Tuesday. I was up way too late last night and didn’t have time to iron this morning. So a knit skirt was definitely the answer. I like the way this skirt pairs with my light blue hoodie (not shown because by noon I no longer needed it), so I grabbed it. A white tee and pink scarf and I was ready to go. Unfortunately Becky smeared blackberries on my white tee at breakfast time. I went to school with my sweater zipped up over the stains and changed into the white tee you see here when I got home.

One more day. I’ll see you tomorrow!


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Saturday night catch up

Wow am I behind. I haven’t posted an outfit since Tuesday, and here it is Saturday night. In my defense, I usually write these posts on my phone, because photo integration is really easy there. But the other day I found myself entirely out of storage. The phone refused to take a picture! So I plugged it into my desktop and promptly deleted my more recent photos from my phone. End result? I needed to post from my kitchen computer, which is great but not convenient. The kids always come running when I’m on this one. Anyway. What did I wear?

Wednesday I wore my brown floral skirt with the brown tee. Brown closed toe shoes. July24outfitThursday was a bit cool. I was tired and just wanted something comfy to wrap myself in. I chose my old sage green knit skirt and an oatmeal long sleeve tee. It’s the kind of outfit that feels like wearing pajamas. To make it a little nicer I added a long pendant that’s on a leather cord. Becky liked that and asked to play with it every time I put her in her car seat. July25outfitOn Friday I went with my old reliable denim skirt and a green tee. I really like the gathered neckline on this. I need to keep an eye out for more tops with a neckline like that. July26outfit

Bonus outfit (but bad photo) from Friday. I took the kids to the pool. Here’s my favorite mama suit. It’s great for zero entry pools and splash parks because I feel well covered. Yesterday I wore it to save myself finding my cover up for walking the two scant blocks back home. July26swim

Today I didn’t get a photo, but I can substitute one from a previous day. :) I wore my black knit skirt and purple tee. I wore my black Dansko sandals in the morning for acupuncture and errands. In the afternoon we went for a family bike ride and I wore my blue Chaco sandals.   20130715-162643.jpg

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Day 23 of Outfit A Day

This morning was a bit brisk, so it called for a cardigan. Luckily I think this cardie goes quite nicely with the blouse and skirt. Becky too was in her uniform of Hanna Andersson play dress with a cardigan. Now if only we could get back on schedule, all would be right with the world!

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Days 21 and 22

It’s on days like today that I am reminded that I really am a uniform loving girl. Two days in a row I wore a denim skirt and an Old Navy v-neck tee.
Yesterday was my favorite turquoise tee that is on its very last legs. I almost didn’t wear it, but I had already color coordinated my family for photographs, and I didn’t have an alternate. I also forgot to take a photo for this project, despite spending part of the morning with a professional photographer. Thankfully Robin turned up an action shot from later in the day.

Today I took the kids to the children’s museum with my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and nephew. Plain tee, novelty skirt, and sandals. That’s me in a nutshell. I even blogged about it last summer.

The only problem with a uniform is that some pieces can get really battered without my ever noticing. When I ironed my turquoise tee yesterday I found an unravelling hem, several small holes, and some glue. And yet all I could see was my favorite tee that I feel fabulous in. So off I went to have it immortalized, holes and all. Hopefully the kids hid most of the imperfections. :)

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