penne primavera

After our California dinner at Pasta Q, I went looking for a pasta primavera recipe and found this. (You must browse the Meatless section at Ezra Pound Cake, there are so many recipes that I want to make!)

My plan was to make the roasted vegetables, mix with the sauce, and just serve over pasta, but hubby really liked the recipe's idea of baking it, so we did. It was easy, and satisfying, and made a huge amount: two dinners plus a large container of leftover veggie sauce for the freezer.

I made a few changes from the "original" recipe, which was already an adaptation of Giada's Everyday Italian recipe, namely leaving out the peppers and adding matchstick carrots. I also had the frozen peas thawed, but forgot to add them. But, I really don't like peas much anyway.

Baked Vegetable Penne

2 zucchini, quartered and cubed
2 yellow squash, quartered and cubed
4 oz sliced baby bella mushrooms
1 yellow onion, cut in big slices
2 Tbsp minced garlic
olive oil
salt and pepper
Italian herb mix
1 lb. penne pasta
chunky tomato sauce
2 c. (or so) mozzarella

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Toss veggies on baking sheet with salt, pepper, spices, garlic, and drizzle with olive oil. I divided mine into squash/zucchini/onions and mushroom/carrots, which was good because the mushrooms needed a few minutes less than the squash.

Roast veggies for 20-25 minutes, checking them and mixing once or twice with a spatula.

Meanwhile, cook pasta (according to directions for al dente - in large pot, boiling water, drain, you know this) and, in a medium pot, make chunky tomato sauce. I used a recipe from Sandra Lee, and I this will definitely be my go-to tomato sauce from now on.

Once veggies are cooked, lower oven to 375 degrees, then add them into the pot of tomato sauce and mix together.

At this point, I could have totally stopped and just eaten it with a spoon out of the pot:

But I managed to continue on:

Pour veggie sauce into greased pan and mix in equal part pasta. Top with shredded cheese. Bake for 20 minutes.

Would it have been even better with the extra cheese, Parmesan, and butter called for in the recipe? Maybe, but it so good this way that I wouldn't bother.

And here's the perfect simple chunky sauce recipe:

olive oil
1/2 c. chopped onion
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp. Italian herb mix

Coat pot with olive oil, saute onion and garlic for a few minutes over medium heat.

Add diced tomatoes and Italian herbs.

Lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring often.

new makeup

New makeup for the fall!

A new eyeshadow palette, and blush. I also bought an eyeshadow primer, which works alone too for a really natural look. I'm usually a beige shadow kind of girl, but this looked really pretty when the sales-guy applied it, and easy enough that I'm even able to recreate his look at home.

Here's my old stuff, basically the same idea but lighter and more subtle:

I have a rule about buying makeup (which, oddly enough, was taught to me a while back by my husband): No buying makeup at the drug or grocery store. It actually makes a lot of economic sense, because instead of picking up a cheap eye shadow, or lipstick, for a few bucks every week or so, I buy a more expensive and high quality eye shadow, or lipstick, a few times a year at a store visited specifically to buy makeup, either the beauty counter at a nice department store or Sephora. Not that there aren't some good makeup products at the drugstore, but this rule ensures no impulse buys, and no waste, because I've tried on everything that I buy.

I also tried a new fragrance, wore it for the day and had to go back and buy it:

It wasn't on my fall to-smell list (which I checked off: Chanel No. 19 Poudre, Tom Ford Violet Blonde and Balenciaga L'Essense!), but it was better than any of them. It smells very sexy. Smells similar to a florally Dior Addict, and doesn't give me a headache.

black bean and quinoa stuffed bell peppers

I read somewhere that the average person who cooks dinner often usually only uses about nine different recipes. This seems about right to me for your tried and true go-to meals, then add in the special occasion recipes and the one-offs that you experiment with but wouldn't make again. Anyway, since the vegetarian thing happened, I've been having to rebuild and adapt my collection of basic recipes. One of my favorite comfort food recipes, that I spent quite a while perfecting, was the classic southern stuffed bell peppers. Enter this Quinoa (and black bean) Stuffed Bell Pepper recipe from Good Life Eats.

I had just halved and made my Black Bean Enchilada recipe, so I already had a half can of black beans that had been drained and sauteed with olive oil, onion, garlic, cumin and chili powder. So, I halved this recipe too, and it still made enough for two meals for us since one (half) pepper was so filling.

This was my first time cooking (or eating) quinoa, and it was easy and good! I made a few changes from the linked recipe, including making all of the stuffing mixture in one pot because the directions were a bit vague there, and using cheddar cheese because we had it, and they turned out fantastic.

Quinoa and Black Bean Stuffed Bell Peppers

olive oil
1/2 c. onion, chopped
1/2 c. celery, chopped
15 oz. can diced tomatos, drained, liquid reserved
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, chopped
1/4 c. + 1/8 c. quinoa
3/4 c. carrots, grated
15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper
2 bell peppers, halved
cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat some olive oil in bottom of medium pot over medium heat. Add chopped onion and celery (I throw mine in frozen, because whenever I have leftover onion of celery, I chop them up and put in freezer bags to keep on hand. They defrost very quickly.) and cook for 5 minutes or so.

Add cumin, garlic, mushrooms, about half of the drained diced tomatoes (which I chopped up because I don't like big pieces of tomatoes) and saute for until liquid is evaporated.

Add quinoa, grated carrots and 1 cup of water, cover, bring to boil, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for 15 minutes. I had to keep adding water, and stirring a little bit, to keep it simmering, and worried about this having never cooked quinoa before, but it was fine. (My bag of quinoa also said cooks in 10 minutes, but the recipe said 20, so I went with 15 minutes which was perfect.)

Remove from heat, add black beans (I used half a can, but I'd do a whole can next time), season with salt and pepper (and Cajun spices if, like me, you use them in everything).

Pour liquid from tomatoes in baking dish, add pepper halves (I used red and green and I'm not sure which was better... mmm), fill with quinoa mixture, cover with foil and bake 40 minutes. Uncover, top each pepper with sliced cheddar cheese, and bake 15 more minutes.

Omnivore's Dilemma

I picked up this book to read on the plane ride home, because I like Michael Pollan, and because it's recommended everywhere. It's a bit boring, but so interesting. I'm only done with the first (of four) sections, but, like In Defense of Food, it's already changed the way I think about food. If I hadn't already decided to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, this book would have made me. It's definitely made me want to try to avoid eating processed foods.

About 5 years ago, I had a brief stint as a vegetarian after watching a PETA dvd. It was very effective initially due to the shock value of disturbing images, but a few months later that had worn off and I went right back to eating meat. Even though I know it's the reality, I don't want to carry those images inside of me.

I think books like The Omnivore's Dilemma are more effective for the long run, because instead of just shocking you, they inform you and completely change the way you think. Here are a few other, gentle, resources for people who are considering changing their diet:

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverston

Forks Over Knives (documentary)

Supersize Me (documentary)

Loving Hut

I think it's great that more and more vegan and vegetarian-only restaurants are popping up (there's even one in San Antonio). The problem I have with most of them is that they simply replace all the normal meat protein of a meal with fake meat or texturized soy. That was certainly the case with Loving Hut in Palo Alto.

I had the an avocado BLT with tempeh in the place of bacon. It was ok, but the tempeh was kind of meh and the bread was super hard.

Hubby had the spring rolls and hummus, which you can't really go wrong with, although again, instead of just your normal vegetable spring roll, they stuck in some texturized soy protein.

I hadn't had bubble tea in many, many years, so I tried it again.

Either this stuff was particularly bad, or, I don't what I used to see in it. Yuk.

The Kind Diet update

I've now been a vegetarian for over a month. I love vegetables, I love a huge salad for dinner, a bowl of matchstick carrots and peas for lunch, and I really love a big bowl of beans. So, for me, it was a surprisingly easy transition. Even though we are often traveling, and have many long road trips, there is almost always a vegetarian meal to be found, even at fast food joints. (Although one night, my vegetarian dinner was a large order of onion rings... I'll remember never go to a Dairy Queen again.) McDonalds, Taco Bell, and Subway, are all over, and all have good options for vegetarian fast food, even though there is generally only one thing available (salad minus the chicken breast, bean burritos or potato tacos with rice, and veggie delight sandwich with side of apples, respectively). I've had grilled vegetables in a sushi restaurant (Salmon sashimi, you are the only meat I miss), had two appetizer salads as my entree in a rather fine restaurant, and had double sides of beans and rice in a mexican restaurant. I've stuck to this new, kinder, diet and I'm pretty proud of myself for that.

We're traveling now and if it's easy in Texas, it's absolutely no-brainer to be vegetarian here in Palo Alto, CA. Almost every restaurant has an entire vegetarian entree section. Penne pasta with fresh vegetables in a chunky tomato sauce and portobellas sauteed in balsamic vinegar served over grilled bread .... yes, please! There's even an all-organic, all-vegan cafe down the street, which we hit up for lunch today.

Veganism is my looser goal, and that is a different story. That has been really easy to do at home (except once a week when I cook my husbands' favorite meal of black bean enchiladas covered in sharp cheddar cheese), but much harder to do on the road. I was shocked that even a tofu salad that I ordered at a cafe in San Francisco came with an unlisted half of boiled egg on the plate. Hello... Otherwise, it seems like a lot of places just replace the meat on entrees with cheese to make them vegetarian. I can do without cheese, but will eat it if it's there. I was a huge dairy eater, and started every day with a bowl of yogurt and berries. Now, I actually prefer soymilk to regular milk in my coffe, and just eat the berries with ground flaxseed instead of yogurt. I only ever bought eggs before anyway when I wanted to bake, and I was initially sad about no more baking, something that I love to do. I've since baked a few things - pumpkin bread and chocolate chip cookies - using applesauce instead of eggs, soymilk instead of milk, and vegan margarine instead of butter, and they turned out fine. (Although I did learn not to go crazy by in addition to the above, also switching up sugar, flour, and adding flaxseed and stuff. It just alters to much from the original and becomes not satisfying, especially to your non-veg hubby.) So, my casual plan is that I will eat vegan as much as possible without being a drag to be around, stressing myself out, or not enjoying going out to eat.

Although I initially refused to buy any animal products at the grocery, I gave in and now buy whole milk and cheese for my husband. It's a compromise. He's been really supportive of not eating meat, but after a week of soymilk, he insisted on milk and cheese for himself. We researched the brands and picked the seemingly ethically best milk and cheese available, although I'm not convinced. Also, I am continuing to buy non-vegetarian cat food. I just can't justify potentially hurting an animal that I am directly responsible for and love (my cat), to save the other animals (tuna). I've read different things about vegan or vegetarian diets for cats, and I'm not convinced it's healthy for them.

So, that's the journey. It's only been a month, but I didn't expect it to be so easy (especially if I stay out of sushi restaurants). I haven't lost any weight (but luckily I don't need to), which I think is mostly because before I rarely ate any whole grains or pasta or rice in my diet, and now I eat them much more often. I feel like I'm living more true to myself, which is satisfying. I also think I've been eating a much greater variety of more healthy foods than before going veg, since this diet made me hyper-conscious of getting the required nutrients, which can only be good for my body in the long run.

I did it

I finally finished reading Les Miserables! My goal was to get it done before the end of the year, but the last few hundred pages were so good (except for a chapter or two about the Paris sewer system) that I couldn't put it down. I have a total love/hate relationship with this book. Parts were so boring I could only make myself read a page a day, parts were so good I could read many chapters without even realizing it. The greatest book of the 19th century? Well, I actually think there's two books in one here, a boring, stuffy one and an interesting, exciting one. My question is whether it would be as good if you cut out the 600 or so boring pages? Maybe not. Anyway, it was for sure worth reading, if only for the sense of accomplishment for having finished it. And after hating the characters for a long time (I've been reading this actively since May, the longest I've ever taken to read a book), somehow, by the end, I felt myself loving them.

Now, my reward, I'm going to make my husband take me to see the Broadway musical of it as soon as possible.