breathing deeply

eating lunch at New World Deli

Normally, I begin each semester with new pens; fresh, empty notebook pages; a brand-new nalgene bottle to replace the one I left at the gym/library/auditorium. I have goals: do assigned reading before class! don’t procrastinate! do all the yoga! Inevitably, I end up slipping back into old habits, but at least I give it the old college try.

developing a close relationship with Avalon's new Kitchenaid

This semester was different. On the first day of classes, I moved out of my old apartment and into a co-op because I had started a new phase of my life (if you haven’t caught on, that’s a diplomatic way to say “I’m single now”). Due to several factors, I was already up to my neck in financial issues, relationship issues, and emotional issues; on top of that, I’m enrolled in some of the most difficult, time-intensive classes I’ve ever taken. Did I mention I’m also working at both the writing center and a marketing company? Any of these things, on their own, are problems that I can address and deal with, then move on. But on January 17, staring down months upon months of exhaustion and work, I had already started to raise my white flag. I give up. I throw in the towel. Someone else take the wheel.

hanging out with audre lorde and stovetop espresso

For two weeks, I felt helpless. I dreaded dragging myself to school. I lost and gained weight. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t establish a routine that felt right. I had taken on too much, but there was nothing I could really afford to give up. Here are some things I did at the beginning of the semester: cried in the shower (at least three times), ate half a pan of brownies… in bed, went to my professor’s office hours just to tell him that I’m way too stupid for his class.

And then one day, I decided: I will not feel like this anymore. I will not let this semester ruin this semester. I will survive these months.

building a bed (with much help from a friend)

Every time I felt overwhelmed, I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Every time I had to deal with someone who was taking advantage of me, I took a deep breath and let it out slowly (and probably told them to screw off). Every time I needed a break or a cookie or a hug from someone, I took a deep breath and let it out slowly and then I went and got it.

For the first time in a very long time, I am finally giving myself permission to put myself first.

partying with housemates

I’m giving myself permission to stop going to the gym every single damn day. I’m also giving myself permission to skip the occasional discussion section if I want to exercise muscles that aren’t located in my skull.

predicting my future using college M.A.S.H.

I’m giving myself permission to read, and I’m giving myself permission to not read for an entire week if I have to.

I’m giving myself permission to stop trying to please everyone, all the time.

getting pizza and donuts with friends

I’m giving myself permission to go out for $1 beers at The Local, even if I haven’t finished my physics homework yet.

And lastly, I’m giving myself permission to let the blog go a little bit. I’ll update when I can, but my list of priorities and obligations is long, and The First Kitchen is toward the bottom this semester.

spending quality time in the garden

I guess I’m writing this to explain why I haven’t been around much, but also because I’ve learned something important and I kind of wanted to tell you about it. Ironically, since I stopped worrying as much, my stress levels have gone down, my grades have gone up, and I have become truly, genuinely happy with my life. The pictures in this post are the things I’ve made time to do because I’ve rearranged my priorities. You can’t see it, but the girl behind the camera (cough Instagram) is smiling in every one.

except for this one. you can definitely see the smile in this one.

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Posted in advice, my life, photos | 9 Comments

tofu scramble

I rarely make breakfast, but when I do, I don’t mess around. Making breakfast means leisure. If I have the time to make breakfast, it means that I’m not being assaulted by my responsibilities from all sides 24/7. I break out the French press. I sit down with a plate and a fork and possibly a book. I don’t half-ass breakfast.

But most of the time, I skip the most important meal of the day. Too often, I find myself biking to class with coffee in one hand hoping I don’t have to use the brakes. Sometimes I remember to throw an orange into my backpack. Most times not.

So in my attempts to balance a healthy lifestyle with my overcommitted, stressful, sleep-deprived reality, I’ve been trying out breakfast foods that are high-protein that don’t take forever to make. Eggs are always an option, but a beezy can’t live on eggs alone (thus saith the Lord). My go-to breakfast has become a tofu scramble. If you’re weary about tofu but like eggs, this is a good recipe to try–the tofu takes on the flavor of the spices and vegetables without the skeevy wet texture of scrambled eggs. Also, it’s vegan (cruelty-free!). Tofu scrambles also re-heat a lot better than eggs, so it’s great if you, say, have a physics test this week and can’t afford to cook longer than the 45 seconds it takes to stand next to a microwave.

Tofu Scramble. Serves 2-3.

1 block of tofu (I think 14 oz.?), drained and pressed
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 an onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1/2 a zucchini, chopped
a handful of sliced mushrooms
1-2 c. chopped greens (spinach works great)
Spices: I used 1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. chipotle powder, and 1 tsp. turmeric, as well as salt and pepper. Combine in a small bowl.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute veggies for 3-4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and tofu, crumbling the tofu with your hands. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the spices and greens, then cook for another 3 minutes.

Posted in breakfast, entree, gluten-free, vegan, vegetable, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

local brew fest and black star co-op

I’m just going to start out by saying that this post is about an event that happened a month and a half ago. I’m really busy. My life is twelve kinds of crazy right now. I just moved into a new (really awesome) place, I’m trying to balance school and work, and my life has been consumed by Plan II Physics. I barely have time to sit down anymore… but I do try to sit down at least once a week, and when I do, it’s usually with a beer.

That’s why I was super pumped to get a pass to Austin’s Local Brew Fest at Black Star Co-op. About 15 local breweries (beer, kombucha, and cider) were there, as well as Red Rabbit Bakery, Pure Luck Dairy, and Wheatsville with delicious snackies.

My hands-down favorite beer at the festival was Real Ale’s coffee porter. It’s brewed with coffee from a local roaster, and the coffee flavor is notable but not overbearing. It’s also not too heavy, which is wonderful.

The runner up was Black Star’s Recalcitrant Dockhand, another malty, dark beer. This was the only Black Star beer I tried, but I’m definitely coming back soon. Black Star is both a pub and a brewery, and the atmosphere is super laid-back and relaxing. Their food looks delicious as well.

Of the food offered, Pure Luck chevre was easily the best thing I tasted. That should come as no surprise; I love Pure Luck, and I would gladly eat anything covered in goat cheese.

When I was in New York (recap to come), I noticed that the bars didn’t offer as many local craft brews. I really love that the greater Austin area has a strong craft brew community. Both of the beerfests I’ve been to have been incredibly fun; the brewers are always super friendly and happy to answer questions. I don’t always buy local, but with so many great breweries so close, drinking local is a must for Austinites.

Posted in advice, beverage, photos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

eating plants; falafel recipe

I think a lot about food.

I was raised in a family that also thinks a lot about food. My dad’s side of the family in particular is almost completely foodies and chefs. When we gather for Thanksgiving or Christmas, we crowd around before we eat to take pictures… of the food. And then, of ourselves with the food.

When I began cooking for myself, I started to think about food in different ways. To an extent, I became more interested in the individual ingredients than in a dish itself. I spent more quality time with the bulk bins at Whole Foods. I started biking to the farmer’s market every Saturday morning. And as I learned more and more about my ingredients, I became choosier.

Though the information isn’t always readily available, I like to know where my food came from, what has been done to it/put on it/taken from it, and at the very least, what it is made of. Though not exclusively, meat and meat products are the foods that give me unsatisfactory answers to those questions. While some meat can be ethical and healthy, it’s more expensive and sometimes hard to find.

So I’m not eating meat, at least for the rest of 2012. This wasn’t a difficult decision to make. I’ve never particularly liked meat, and there’s no real reason to eat it besides its taste. I rarely eat it anyway, and I don’t normally post recipes with meat on the blog. Still, as an individual who is concerned about corn and soy subsidies, the environmental devastation wreaked by CAFOs, and the lack of availability of fresh foods, I’m compelled to completely withdraw support for the unethical practices of the meat industry.

Informing my readers about this decision is important to me for several reasons. It’s important to create (preferably civil) dialogue about the state of America’s food industry. I hope to show people that eating meatless, minimally processed meals isn’t boring–it’s actually really delicious and fun. So to start, I’ll share one of my favorite protein-rich vegetarian recipes.

Falafel. Yields 2-3 servings.

2/3 cup dry garbanzo beans/chickpeas
1/3 cup cilantro, packed lightly
1/3 cup parsley, packed lightly
3 garlic cloves
1/4 cup onion, chopped
2 tsp. cumin
1 1/2 tsp. coriander
s&p to taste

Soak chickpeas overnight. Drain, then process all ingredients in a food processor until the mixture is grainy. Roll into balls, place on a baking sheet, and bake in a (pre-heated) 350F oven for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Posted in beans, entree, my life, vegan, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

i’m home

Sorry for checking out for a while, but I needed a break. I’ve spent the past month recovering from an intense semester, which culminated in an impromptu trip to NYC that rocked my world. I’m back now, and though I’m not quite ready to be back on my grind, I’ll be around and cooking more. Updates, new recipes, and an NYC re-cap soon!

*I talked to a couple people at the end of my trip about Austin–one who is visiting Austin now, and one who’s thinking about coming down for SXSW. If you’re either of those people, send me an email–nsanluis@gmail.com*

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happy holidays from my sous chef and me

 

(This picture kills me. Every time I see it I have to stifle giggles. Look at the concentration on his face.)

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spicy roasted sweet potato rounds

So the thing is, I haven’t really been cooking lately. At first, I blamed it on finals. Then, I blamed it on how busy I’ve been. Then, I realized I haven’t been busy. I’ve been doing all the things I can’t do when I have other obligations: reading fiction, writing, taking long walks, watching Trailer Park Boys highbrow documentaries, listening to music. It feels incredible. But I haven’t been cooking.

Usually, I love spending an hour of my day in the kitchen. It’s therapeutic. But lately, I’ve found that when I get hungry, I want to get in and out of the kitchen as quickly as possible. I’m sure everyone goes through these phases, and I’ve already started to miss my wooden spoons and cast-iron skillet. But until then, here’s a very simple dish to throw together. Roasting the sweet potatoes really allows their natural sugars to caramelize, and the cayenne provides a great spiciness to contrast against the sweetness.

Spicy Roasted Sweet Potato Rounds

1 sweet potato, washed and sliced into half-inch rounds
1 tsp. cinnamon
cayenne pepper to taste
kosher salt to taste
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350F. Toss the sweet potato rounds in olive oil (or use cooking spray). Sprinkle the rounds with cinnamon, cayenne, and salt. Roast for 25-30 minutes.

P.S. Happy Holidays! I hope everyone is spending time with friends and family and loved ones. Give everyone big hugs.

P.S.S. If you have a few extra minutes, send a few encouraging words, jokes, and smiles to a sweet girl who deserves it. Emma is a 7-year-old who has survived several brain tumors and still shows off a bright smile. Click the link to send her a message.

Posted in 5 ingredients or less, side dish, snack, vegan, vegetable, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments