Joy in the Journey


Making a Not-To-Do List

Cold Kansas SunsetUsing the advice I gleaned from obviously brilliant bloggers (and a few actual experts), I’ve been slowly but surely compiling my resolutions list. I like to be sure, which requires research, a few steps forward, and then some more research, and then some thought, followed by a little more research.

In the meantime, I thought I’d follow the lead of those equally brilliant editors over at Real Simple (love that magazine!) and make a “not-to-do” list for 2009.

1. I will not put off my blog until the end of the day. I’m a horrible procrastinator who thrives on deadlines. I get to set my own here and that’s bad. Here’s a list of tips from Leo Babuata (of Zen Habits fame) on how to battle procrastination. The Dumb Little Man  site is chock-full of great articles (that you, like me, can no doubt use as procrastination tools). 

2. I will not let my email control me. I love gmail – all my messages in one easy, amazingly searchable place. But at work, I have to delete things and organize things, and my searches take hours. On 43 Folders Merlin Mann offers some great ideas (some of which I’ve already used) on getting your email under control.

3. I will not give in and eat fast food more than ... twice a week ... OK, three times ... in the evening. If you need a reason, check out this list by Kathleen Frederick over at The Junk Drawer. I had my stint in fast food, too, and can attest. Yikes!

The gurus of resolutions said to stick to one or two with three as the absolute maximum, so, I'll let you know how it goes!

A Fresh Look at Resolutions for the New Year

New Year ScrabbleAfter reading that most people fail to keep their New Year’s Resolutions (the statistics report that 55-60 percent of people abandon their resolutions), I was ready to give up, but then I heard an NPR report that brought joy back to my list-making heart.

Turns out you’re 10 times more likely to follow through with a resolution than someone who doesn’t have one. Think about the percentage who are successful. In his NPR interview, John Norcross talks about a study where people with similar goals were compared. Of those with resolutions, 40-46 percent were successful at 6 months. The chance of similar success for those without resolutions was 0-4 percent (not-so-great odds).

If, like me, these numbers have inspired you to think about making some "new deals" for the new year, the top ten New Year’s Resolutions on About.com: Pittsburgh might add fuel to the fire. Then check out this eHow article on wording your resolutions in a way that makes them more likely to stick.

The University of Maryland Medical Center gets a couple more psychiatrists to offer tips on healthy resolutions and preparing for success (Dr. Norcross says believing a change is possible makes success much more likely).

And Gretchen Rubin, in the midst of some very good advice on changing habits, wins me over by quoting Voltaire.

Over at the Nemec household, we had a very ABBA Christmas (my parents saw Mama Mia on Broadway and are in love with the movie – my brother and sister-in-law, not so much). So, here's some music to get resolute to:

(Thanks Lime & Violet.)

I’ll post my list soon; in the meantime, take the next step and get some accountability by sharing your change of habit in a comment.

Image by Sally M, licensed under Creative Commons.

A Step toward Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner

This year, for the first time in recent memory, I have been tasked with bringing something to Thanksgiving dinner. When I announced this in our staff meeting last week, everyone was quite impressed, until I told them I was making the two JELL-O/Cool Whip–related salads that we always have at a Nemec family holiday dinner.

One year we only had one of the two, and my little brother (not so little anymore) just couldn't handle it. So, these two must be there. The names are what we call them, and I'll have to check with Mom to find out from whence they came. (I'm pretty sure I remember the first time we had the apricot one, but the cherry seems to have always been a staple.)

The first we call "Apricot Salad," which is a bit of a misnomer, because it's not very "salad-y." It's made with only 3 ingredients: apricot JELL-O (1 package), apricot nectar (2 cups – I found this in the juice aisle at a local grocery store), and cream cheese (1 brick, 8 oz., softened).

The nectar takes the place of water in the directions on the JELL-O package. First heat one cup of the nectar and then dissolve the JELL-O in it.  Place the softened cream cheese in a medium-sized bowl, and then with a whisk (or an egg beater), slowly add the nectar mixture to the cream cheese. Then add the additional cup of nectar in a similar manner. (If you find it too sweet, you can switch out some of the nectar for water.)

This salad turns out differently depending on how earnestly you wisk/stir the creamcheese into the JELL-O. If you're a bit lackadaisical, you end up with slightly creamy JELL-O with a cottage-cheese-looking topping. If you are more serious about getting the lumps out, the whole thing turns into creamy goodness – though don't go too far, or you'll end up with foam on top. All of these versions taste great, and I'm pretty sure my brother prefers the cottage-cheese-y version.

The second salad (which my brother's been making lately) is the "Pink Fluff." This one is even easier, because you don't have to heat anything up. In this one you have a can of cherry pie filling (my dad's favorite), a can of crushed pineapple (don't get the "in syrup" kind), a can of sweetened condensed milk, and a container of whipped topping. Drain the pineapple juice (into a glass -- yum), then mix it, the cherry pie filling, and the condensed milk together in a rather big bowl. When those three are good and combined, slowly fold in the whipped topping. (This is where you can get in trouble with this one, when "folding" becomes "beating" you end up with a soupy mess.)

Most of my family eats these as "dessert" rather than with the meal, and a little goes a long way. When the pink fluff and turkey sandwiches are gone, it's time to head home.

When I was in college, I had a nightmare that involved my boyfriend taking me home to his family Thanksgiving and his mother asking me to make the gravy as a test... I woke up screaming.

Since then, I've advanced (much more than I let on). I can make many wonderful meals in my wok, I love quinuoa, and I'm learning more every day. I likely won't be involved in the turkey basting process this year (or maybe ever, one of my brothers has a restaurant management degree and is pretty territorial about the bird), but . . . I made the salads.

Jujubes: More than Movie Fare

So, a little over a year ago, we published an article that included some recipes for jujubes (the May/June 2007 Recipe Box, Fill your kitchen with fresh flavors). No, she wasn't talking about these, but jujube fruit. Another reader wrote us and we did a little more research for Mail Call and found out about the lovely jujube tree from China.

Then, not too long ago, an editor from another Ogden publication received some jujube fruit from a reader who grew them. Knowing of our jujube fascination, she brought us over a couple to try. I was really excited, because I had never heard of them before we published that article about them and had no hope of ever seeing one.

Here's an image (with my fingers and my favorite pen for size comparison):

Jujube

Sarah Vaughan, our helpful recipe provider, recommended drying the jujubes on the tree, but these were already picked when we got them. They were the most gorgeous shiny brown, and we crunched into them like they were apples.

They're unique, but I think describable: take an apple and shape it like a plum (with a pit; see below), then remove all tartness. The texture and the outer skin were very apple-like, but the taste was just really light and sweet. I tried drying one of them, but it's way too humid around here for unassisted drying to work (blech), but I kept a pit to take a photo of. 

Jujube pit

My job rocks!

Weekly Wanderings: Springfield, Missouri

/uploadedImages/GRT/blogs/Jenn/adj.jpgA couple of weekends ago, we made the trek to the southern Missouri town of Springfield. We left Topeka at oh-dark-thirty and got to see the sun rise over the misty hills. 

Springfield is yet another college town (I seem strangely drawn to them). There are four colleges in or near Springfield: Missouri State University, Ozarks Technical Community College, Drury University, and Evangel University, totaling nearly 36 thousand students in this metro area that about 385,000 people call home.

Springfield's Web site boasts: "Nearly 50 percent of the U.S. population lives within a 500-mile radius of Springfield, which is Missouri's third-largest city." This statistic seems impossible, you can't reach either of the coasts with a 500-mile drive. But you can reach a startling number of the non-coastal population centers: Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock, Dallas, Omaha, Des Moines, Oklahoma City, Wichita, the list goes on (perhaps this is why Branson is so successful).

Lake TrumanIt was a beautiful time to visit the Ozarks – the trees were still green, and the water levels high. If you're interested in hunting, fishing, or just a gorgeous campsite, check out a few of the "more than 7,500 miles of shoreline along accessible lakes and floatable streams and rivers" near Springfield.

On the way home, though, was where we found our gem, nestled next to one of the gorgeous lakes in the area, Truman Lake, and right off highway 13 between Springfield and Clinton.

I freely admit to a love of tourist-destination-type places, and this one fit the bill, nicely. We stopped at Osceola Cheese Company and tasted cheese. We found them open and hoppin' on a Sunday afternoon.

In the cheese case

I developed an interest in cheesy knowledge while working on the cheese-making article in our November/December issue last year (I wrote a sidebar using what I found out).

Osceola cheese caseOsceola Cheese is the perfect place to go if you're looking to teach your tastebuds the difference between Havarti and Edam. They have many, many types of cheese, from the previously mentioned to chocolate cheese, cheese with chipotle or jalapeño, cherry and blueberry cheese, goat cheese, and tomato and basil cheese. Most kinds have been cubed and placed in tupperware containers along the cheese case. Using the strategically placed toothpicks provided, you can taste before you buy.

We ended up with a cherry white cheddar and a smoked goat-milk Gouda, as well as a few other crunchy tidbits.

You can also get myriad types of mustard, salsa, fruit spreads, and salad dressing, but we were strong and got away without indulging.

The cherry is unique – mild with just a hint of sweetness, and the goat-milk Gouda is incredibly creamy and smooth. I originally promised some to the rest of the GRIT staff, but I find myself hoarding it at home. I suppose that's the true test – am I willing to part with my hard-won spoils?

Weekly Wanderings: Lincoln, Nebraska

/uploadedImages/GRT/blogs/Jenn/capitalpaint.jpgI've decided to institute a weekly feature here at Joy in the Journey. As I've said, I'm a wandering kind of girl, and, at least for the foreseeable future, I will be making an almost weekly trip somewhere. Last weekend it was Lincoln, Nebraska.

I'll admit my bias upfront. I lived in Lincoln for 11 years or so (which ties it for longest in my lifetime to date). I was born there and my mom's family is from there, so I've been making my way up O Street for as long as I can remember.

Lincoln bills itself as a large small-town. Now that I've lived in more "city-like" places – Omaha, Denver and Topeka – I'd have to say that I agree with that assessment. There's something about Lincoln that never quite makes it to "citified." I haven't lived there since 2000, though, and they've experienced some growth since then. Because I have been going there since the '70s, the changes in Lincoln are the most obvious to me. Landmarks that used to mean "We're almost there!" are now swallowed up in residential areas. Looks like ~100,000 new residents have moved in since 1970. The green, tree-lined streets I miss are still plentiful, though, as is a smile on a street corner downtown.

Lincoln has a very interesting dynamic as a town pretty much created by and for government. The little village of Lancaster was renamed Lincoln and accepted as the state capital of Nebraska in 1867, when the city planners laid out future streets in a blissful grid. 

Capitol on the Mall

One of my favorite places to visit is the state capitol, which is the second tallest state capitol (apparently Louisiana trumps us) and the home of Nebraska's unique one-house state legislature. Designed by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, the capitol was constructed between 1922 and 1932 and actually came in a little under budget. It's filled with lovely '20s art deco, surrounded with wonderful verbage (you know, little quips like, "Honor to pioneers who broke the sods that men to come might live.") and topped by a statue called "The Sower." 

Wind SpiritAnother city feature, "The Lincoln Mall" runs from the capitol to the Nebraska Historical Society and boasts many levels of fountains, trees and landmarks, such as Pershing Auditorium and the State Office Building (which I called the SOB when I temped there one summer).

The sculpture "Wind Spirit" is also on the Mall. The plains and the wind are one, and this sculpture does a wonderful job of capturing the "tameless, and swift, and proud."

Of course, Lincoln is also the home of the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, so it has that "college town" feel as well. We residents looked forward to school starting with both excitment and trepidation. As others who've lived near colleges can, I'm sure, attest, there's just nothing like waking up one morning and finding 23,000 extra people have moved in over the weekend.

Of course, then there are those special weekends when it's 78,000 invaders who come to watch the Huskers play at Memorial Stadium, another place I've been going since the '70s (or was it the '80s? Dad?) and where most of my family will be this weekend, eager for a new hope.

Memorial Stadium

 

The One True Potato Salad

Here at the GRIT offices, we have found that Potato Salad is a very individual thing. Everyone has “their way,” and a chorus of “That’s just not potato salad”s has been heard around here. When I’m grilling burgers on a July afternoon, I usually just go pick up some Amish Potato Salad down at the corner big-box. (What makes potato salad Amish, anyway?) However, when it’s mano a mano with the other staffers, I had to go all out.

In preparation for making The One True Potato Salad™, I first called the Potato Salad Oracle (aka my mom) to get the “recipe” for “Potato Salad a la Mom,” which is a combination of Grandma Holm’s version and Grandma Nemec’s version.

Yukon Gold PotatoesI had already hard boiled the eggs and had the potatoes cubed and cooling in the fridge by the time I talked to the PSO, so her advice to use red potatoes was too late. I used the ones that I had, Yukon Golds that you can buy at your local market.

I started with six potatoes and eight hardboiled eggs. Apparently, the reason that I always think that there aren’t enough eggs in potato salad comes from my early years on the farm. We had to buy the potatoes, but we had chickens and the eggs were free. So, my mom’s potato salad always included many eggs. She suggested about a 1 to 1 ratio. And sweet baby gherkins (not relish). The eggs must be sliced in one of those egg slicer things with the wires (I went to the store and got one just for this). The potatoes cubed, and the pickles halved and sliced.

Chopping CompleteI often joke with people about learning some things by “osmosis,” but sometimes that’s the only way you can explain it. I was too busy editing the school paper, playing the French horn, and training for sports teams to learn to cook as a youngster, so I have entered the culinary world relatively recently. But when I picked up a pickle to slice it, I was back in my grandmother’s kitchen, and I could see her hands making the motions. (Either that or she was cutting up potatoes to make fried potatoes, another of our favorites.)

This completes the salad components, and all you need is “dressing.” Take about a cup of Miracle Whip (don’t worry KC, I used the “light” variety, and it still tasted fine), add a few glugs of cider vinegar, 3 spoons of sugar, some salt, pepper (I was light on the pepper because I’m not a pepper fan), and celery salt (because celery seed might get caught under someone’s partial).

Ready the DressingThen you have to make a choice. If you’re feeling like a Holm that day, no mustard; if you’re feeling like a Nemec, add some mustard – enough to make it the right color, it should be a nice light yellow (Mom’s number one reason for using mustard: because it’s prettier). It’s not quite yellow enough in these photos – something about the lighting (these photos were taken with care with my phone under the kitchen lights).

Now you taste it, and add more of whatever’s missing. :) I actually taste it at intervals, to get the Miracle Whip/vinegar ratio right, and then to get the spices “to taste.”

Add the dressing to the rest and “toss.” “This is very important, Jenny, you don’t want to stir it too much. It’s more like tossing it.”

Finished

It’s best if you can let it cool and mingle in the fridge for awhile before you eat it. Then bring the burgers in from the grill, sit back and enjoy.

At this point I should probably own up to this being my version of my mom’s potato salad because it’s missing an ingredient that I’m not fond of. When I was young and very very good, a bowl of potato salad like this was saved back with my name on it before the last ingredient was added. Though it seems that the battle still rages, because my mom closed our potato salad conversation with, “But it won’t taste right without the onion…”







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