EAT: Curried Butternut Squash Risotto

I am going to try to post a recipe or meal ideas on Mondays in honor of Meatless Mondays. It may happen on Tuesdays some weeks…

Curried Butternut Squash Risotto

One of my favorite things to eat is risotto. A few years ago Sean and I lived with my sister, Julie, when her husband was on his first deployment. The best part of living with her was stealing her clothes. The second best part was sharing dinner duties. We both love to cook and we rotated who was making dinner. Julie and I made risotto at least once a week. I only make it once in awhile now, but each time I make it I think about her and all the wonderful dinners we made together.

I don’t like following recipes or measuring ingredients. Risotto works for people who don’t like to follow cooking rules. For this risotto, first peel and dice one butternut squash. Keep the seeds!

Butternut Squash

Then roast the diced squash (splashed with olive oil, salt and pepper) in a 425 degree oven for about 40 minutes. Move the squash around a couple of times so it doesn’t stick to the pan. Roast the seeds at the same time. They only take about 7 minutes to roast – so make sure you take them out pretty fast!

Butternut Squash

While the squash is roasting, you can start the risotto. Saute one diced shallot and two cloves of diced garlic in olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. You could use 1/2 an onion if you don’t have a shallot. After about 3-4 minutes, add two cups of Arborio rice. Saute that around the pan for a few minutes until it is a little toasty.

Now, you start adding the broth one cup at a time. I use 1/2 no-chicken broth and 1/2 water. If you use all no-chicken broth it will be too salty. You could also use vegetable broth. You’ll need ~eight cups of liquid. With risotto just keep adding liquid and stirring it in. You can walk away for a minute or two, but stay pretty close to the pan. Add more liquid when it starts sticking to the pan.

Vegan Risotto

After you’ve added about 4 cups of the liquid, add 1 Tablespoon of curry. Lately, I am liking the hot curry blend from Penzey’s Spices (if you go there, I recommend getting the mulling spices for wine too!). Stir that in, and then continue adding liquid. The risotto is done when it starts to get creamy, and the rice is not hard. Trust me, you’ll be able to tell. Most of the time, it takes about 30 minutes. Mix in the roasted butternut squash and you are done! I added nutritional yeast to it, but it is not necessary – also I served it with the roasted seeds to add a bit of crunch to the dish.

Curried Butternut Squash Risotto

I think half the battle with dinner is figuring out what to make. Here is what we’ll be eating for dinner this week:

  • Vegetable Stir Fry with broccoli, carrots, edamame, brussel sprouts, peanuts and water chestnuts
  • Roasted Butternut Squash Pasta from Oh She Glows with a Kale Salad
  • Quinoa Biryani from Vegan Richa
  • Lasagna with tofu ricotta, field roast sausages, peas and marinara
  • The best frozen veggie burgers (another thing Julie introduced me too!)
  • Some kind of red lentil soup and salad – I’ll make them both up when we get to the end of the week and need to use up what is left in the fridge

Everyday is meatless for Sean and I, not just Mondays. Last weekend we participated in the Farm Sanctuary walk. When we were walking a passerby said “Why don’t you walk for something that actually means something.” We didn’t say anything to him, but I am hoping we made him think about what he was eating. Compassion for all.

Farm Sanctuary

READ: The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

There are an infinite amount of stories to tell that involve World War II because virtually everyone in the world was touched by it. Every country, and every individual, has a different point of view about the conflict. Chris Bohjalian explores the perspective of an Italian family in his new novel “The Light in the Ruins.” Bohjalian is the author of one my favorite Oprah Book Club picks, “Midwives,” and because of that I have read almost all of his work. His books have engaging story-lines, well-written characters, and solid writing.

"The Light in the Ruins"

“The Light in the Ruins” is a revenge novel set in 1955 that involves a merciless killer who targets members of the Rosatis, a prominent Tuscan family. The story moves between the last years of WWII and 1955  and introduces quite a few characters into the story, which means that there is no shortage of suspects for the unknown killer.

The central WWII story focuses on Christina Rosati, who is young, innocent, and in love with a German officer. The interwoven story line centers on Serafina Bettini; a detective trying to figure out who has a vendetta against the Rosati’s, as she comes to grips with her own history that involves them. The different threads of the story come together in an ending that is a bit anti-climatic. This novel is best at demonstrating that nobody comes out of war fully intact, and decisions that are made under horrible conditions can have a lasting impact.

“The Light in the Ruins” is a good read, but I would not add it to the top of my reading list. There are several other books that involve WWII that I’ve read over the last year that are ESSENTIAL reads. If you’ve missed the below books, I recommend grabbing them:

  1. The Invisible Bridge” by Julia Orringer. I love this book! It is a massive, devastating tale about a Hungarian Jewish family during WWII. It takes place in Budapest and Paris, two of the best places I have ever visited, and it shows the unimaginable ruin that these cities endured. The characters are unforgettable, even though, as Orringer writes about the main character, “He was just an animal on Earth, one of billions.”
  2. Burnt Shadows” by Kamila Shamsie. This book begins in Nagasaki when the bomb was dropped and ends with 9/11. It follows the lifetime of a Japanese woman and her multi-cultural, complicated family. Shamsie is an incredible writer who brings all of her characters to life as they face the political situations of their countries.
  3. Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. This is based on the true story of Louis Zamperini, a United States Air Force bomber in WWII. Zamperini crashes into the Pacific Ocean and endures unbelievable events for the next three years. It is hard to read because it is so descriptive, but Hillenbrand’s gift for narrative had me staying up late to read another chapter. She writes, “As he watched this beautiful, still world, Louie played with a thought that had come to him before…such beauty, he thought, was too perfect to have come by chance. That day in the Pacific was, to him, a gift crafted deliberately, compassionately, for him and Phil.”
  4. No One is Here Except All of Us” by Ramona Austebul. Austebul has a very unique voice and her narrative beautifully illustrates the power of stories and how they keep people alive. An isolated Romanian village comes up with a very strange way of hiding from the world, but of course, there was no escaping the horrors of the Holocaust.
  5. Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson. This novel is set in England and has a central character, Ursula, who continues to be reborn and re-do her life during the years leading up to WWII. It is so good! One of her paths involves a Hitler murder story, and others involve the bombings of London in WWII. This books demonstrates all the different paths our lives can take and all the simple, basic decisions that we make can change everything.

All of the books listed above are fantastic, “The Invisible Bridge” is the one that I’d recommend the most. Let me know if you’ve read any of the above and what your thoughts on them are!

Make sure to watch (or Tivo) “Super Soul Sunday” on OWN this weekend – Anne Lamott will be on it! I have watched her speak live twice before and she is always candid, funny, and inspiring. In the previews for the show, Lamott is saying “To be born is a miracle.” I can’t wait to watch the full interview.

WATCH: The Last Goodbye


From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,

Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents̓ strife.

“Romeo and Juliet”, William Shakespeare

My introduction to Shakespeare came at eight or nine years old when I was flipping through TV channels and found the Franco Zeffirelli movie version of “Romeo and Juliet.”  It is a pretty fantastic way to fall in love with the Bard. Over the next few years I read the play in middle school, watched Baz Luhrman’s 1996 version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, and went to see “West Side Story” at the theater. My senior year of college I studied at Oxford for three weeks and was able to  watch Shakespeare plays every night for three weeks. During that time I watched at least two adaptations of “Romeo and Juliet” (and four of “Hamlet”!). I never get tired of new versions of Shakespeare, especially “Romeo and Juliet.” It is an enduring tale of young love, tragedy and innocence lost and it speaks to me in a different way each time that I see it.

Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet
Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet

Yesterday I went with a group of friends to see “The Last Goodbye,” the latest incarnation of “Romeo and Juliet,” at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego. The play is set to the music of Jeff Buckley and involves a combination of verse, song, and guitar riffs. Going to the theater always makes me feel like a full-blown adult – it is probably the cost of the tickets and the fact that the majority of theater audiences are over fifty years old. This version of “Romeo and Juliet” really made me feel old because I found myself shocked at the graphic, oh-la-la, parts of the performance. Especially the marriage consummation scene.

I’ve never been a fan of Romeo because he is humorless, impulsive, childish, and fickle. What did Juliet (who is one of my all-time favorite Shakespeare characters, probably because she gets all the best lines in the play) see in the immature, brooding boy? “The Last Goodbye” changed my mind about him. Romeo just needed to belt out some music, and it didn’t hurt that the actor in this version looked like Ryan Phillipe.

Photo Courtesy of the Old Globe. Jay Armstrong Johnson as Romeo and Talisa Friedman as Juliet in The Last Goodbye, a new musical fusing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with the songs of rock icon Jeff Buckley, Sept. 22 - Nov. 3, 2013 at The Old Globe. The Last Goodbye is conceived and adapted by Michael Kimmel, with music and lyrics by Jeff Buckley, orchestrations, music direction and arrangements by Kris Kukul, choreography by Sonya Tayeh and direction by Alex Timbers. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Photo Courtesy of the Old Globe. Jay Armstrong Johnson as Romeo and Talisa Friedman as Juliet in The Last Goodbye, a new musical fusing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with the songs of rock icon Jeff Buckley, Sept. 22 – Nov. 3, 2013 at The Old Globe. The Last Goodbye is conceived and adapted by Michael Kimmel, with music and lyrics by Jeff Buckley, orchestrations, music direction and arrangements by Kris Kukul, choreography by Sonya Tayeh and direction by Alex Timbers. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

“The Last Goodbye” is not set in a specific time period which highlights the timelessness of the story. The costumes are a mixture of leather jackets, hoodies, and renaissance-inspired dresses. Mercutio, always a scene-stealer in productions of this play, wears a glamorous, over-the-top fur coat (I hope it is a fake) in the party scene and it attracts the attention of the viewer over and over. The scenery is like a medieval castle, and my vertigo kicked in a few times as I watched the actors gracefully maneuver the towers and higher portions of the walls. Many times I thought they would fall off of the stage and it made me nervous. I also worried that someone was going to get hurt in the sword-fighting scenes – they are spectacular and a highlight of the production. The lighting is key in contributing to the mood of the music in the scenes. At certain points it feels like a rock concert, and at other points it feels like you are in a church.

I was waiting for the Buckley classic “Hallelujah,” and it does not disappoint when the song arrives in the final scene. It is a powerful way to end the play, and I noticed quite a few people around me wiping tears. Throughout the play I discovered poetic, soulful songs by Buckley that I had never heard before like “All Flowers in Time” and “The Last Goodbye.” Buckley had a pure voice, and the actors in this production honor his memory and voice beautifully.

Back to the Zeffirelli film….apparently the actors playing Romeo and Juliet dated in real life. Check out this youtube video of them doing an interview. It’s adorable and disturbing at the same time — kind of like “Romeo and Juliet.”

EAT: Veggie Grill

One of the most common questions non-animal eaters get asked is what food they miss the most. (Of course, the other common question is “Where do you get your protein?”). I don’t miss anything…except for turkey skin. Weird and gross.

I am 100% positive that I miss it because my Grandpa Jack used to feed me bits and pieces of the skin as he carved the turkey.  Here he is, with pants that only he could pull off, giving me a nibble when I was less than a year old:

Turkey Skin
Grandpa feeding me turkey skin

Memories of my grandpa are all that I have of him since he left us on Thanksgiving Day over ten years ago, but they are such strong, beautiful memories that he is with me every single day. I won’t ever eat turkey skin again, and I won’t ever see my grandpa again, but thinking about both of them makes me incredibly happy. Turkey skin is the epitome of comfort food for me. I don’t think it will ever be made animal-free, but luckily my other favorite foods can be.

Veggie Grill is a West Coast vegan chain that specializes in comfort food and it finally opened in San Diego a few months ago.   About a week after it opened my co-workers and I went there for lunch. The service was not great (it had just opened and was packed, so we understood), but the food was so, so yummy. I had the crispy chickin’ plate, which is basically veganized KFC. Fried chickin'(they use Gardein), cauli-mashed potatoes, gravy and steamed kale. Of course, I also got a side of the mac and cheese. The food satisfies any cravings you could possibly have for KFC.

I went again the other day and ordered all of this…

Veggie Grill Pudding, Nachos and Wings
Veggie Grill Pudding, Nachos and Wings

I ate almost all of it by myself. The nachos have chili, cheez, salsa, guac, soy cream, and jalapenos on them – all of the essential ingredients. (As a sidenote: I feel like a dork taking pictures of my food at a restaurant, but I always appreciate people’s food pictures.  So I need to get over it.) This is the kind of meal I would never make at home, and I would never eat on a regular basis – I loved every bite of it. Vegan junk food at it’s finest.

Veggie Grill actually has a lot of healthy options. They are famous for the All Hail Kale Salad, however I can’t bring myself to order a kale salad when I go out to eat.  They are inexpensive and easy to make (juice of 1 lemon, 1TB olive oil, 1 clove garlic, 1 tsp Braggs Amino Acid, salt, pepper, 1 head of shredded kale – massage together for 2 minutes – add nutritional yeast – done!) and I eat them ALL the time at home. In fact, the leftover buffalo wings were added to a kale salad for dinner that night. The two downsides to the Veggie Grill location in San Diego: It is in a mall (UTC in La Jolla) and it is not close to my house.  The good news is that is close to work, which means that the next time I am having a stressful day, I’ll be heading over there for some serious comfort food.

READ: Unsaid by Neil Abramson

In this section I will be writing short blurbs about the books I am currently reading. I won’t give out spoilers because I never read the last page of the book first.  If a book is horrible, it won’t be mentioned on the blog. If a book can not be missed, it will be marked as an ESSENTIAL READ. I’ve kept a book journal since 2004 and I’ll also be adding older ESSENTIAL READS to the blog. 

I always hesitate when I pick up a book about animals because I know I will be in tears by the end of it. “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” “Marley and Me,” “The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood” — all of these great books hit me in the gut, but I still loved them. Inevitably, the animals in these stories become characters that I don’t ever forget. When our lab mix, Ruby, stares at birds and watches them in the sky we call her Enzo because of his obsession with the crows in the “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” When we have Ruby at a restaurant (very common in San Diego), we never put her leash around the table because we know she will pull a Marley and drag the restaurant table to wherever she wants to go. And Christopher Hogwood made me want to rescue a pig immediately (I will someday).

In “Unsaid,” the tears start on the first page and do not stop until the final page. My husband picked up the book, read the first few pages, and told me not to read it because it was horribly depressing. The book begins, “Every living thing dies. There is no stopping it.” Abramson continually reinforces the brevity of all life. The book includes many things I feel passionate about: the role of animals in our life, work/life balance, marriage, compassion, and the belief that we can make the world a better place with our actions.  I finished all 353 pages of the book in two sittings.

The narrator of the book is Helena, a young veterinarian who has just died (that sounds like a horrible way to start a book and not like the best kind of a narrator, but it works in this novel). Helena has left behind a workaholic lawyer husband, a grieving partner at her veterinary practice, an ex-colleague nearing the end of a grant that involves chimpanzees, and a slew of animal companions. All of these characters are at a complete loss after her death and are trying to find a way to carry on. Her husband has no idea how to balance his career and take care of their three dogs, six cats, two horses, and pig. Her veterinary practice partner has experienced multiple terrible losses, and may now lose the vet practice. The ex-colleague is trying to rescue a young chimpanzee, who has the communication skills of a four year old human, from animal testing. And her animal companions are adjusting to a new normal; especially, Skippy, the young rescued schipperke with a heart condition who was never supposed to outlive Helena.

All of these lives intersect and come together to form a cohesive story that explores redemption and communication. I am a firm believer that animals and humans can communicate, just not in the “normal” way. I am 100% positive that Ruby understands at least 100 words, and she knows better than most humans when I am happy, sad, scared, flustered, etc. Abramson writes, “There is a difference between unspoken and unsaid…just because chimpanzees can’t speak does not mean they have nothing to say; the ability to vocalize thoughts is not the same as the ability to acquire and use language.” A good story, and a good life, often have an animal in it.  Every single animal has a story.  I look forward to exploring that more on this blog.

Ruby the Ridiculous
Ruby the Ridiculous

FIRST POST: San Diego Central Library

San Diego Central Library
San Diego Central Library

It is so fitting that my first blog post is about a library. I have loved libraries for as long as I can remember. I remember exact details and locations of books in my elementary school library, the book mobile, every public library I have ever visited and all of the university libraries I have spent time in. As a kid, librarians were my heroes.

When I came to San Diego six years ago I was so disappointed in the Central Downtown library. The book selection was fantastic, but it was not a place that anyone would want to spend any more time in than necessary.  It smelled like mildew and always felt dirty. I’d run in, grab my books from the reserve section, and then clean the books with disinfectant wipes when I got home. I lived in the East Village part of downtown San Diego for over three years and a new library was always a rumor, but it never felt like it was going to actually going happen, especially with the recession of 2009. I moved from East Village about two years ago and I’ve tracked the progress of the new library – it has been exciting to watch the San Diego skyline change with the addition of the unique steel dome that can be viewed on the Coronado bridge, flying into Lindbergh Field, and at the end of my street.

San Diego Public Library Lobby
San Diego Public Library Lobby

People, this building was worth the wait. The new library is a museum, school, park, community center, viewing area,  event space, and reading room. It made me so happy. Around every corner and at every level there are new surprises and architectural features. The building is concrete and steel that have been warmed up with innovative design and beautiful light. It is full of sunny nooks to read in, a Seuss-filled children’s section, a teen reading area, an astounding rare books room, a store, a cafe, and spaces for weddings and other events (!!!). My favorite part of the library is the Helen Price Reading Room. It highlights a San Diego bay-view that people would pay millions for. Unfortunately, I only had my iphone and I couldn’t get a shot of the room because there was so much reflection from the ginormous windows. The views from all areas in the library are spectacular and make San Diego, in particular the continually up-and-coming East Village area, shine.

photo 1

Since this is downtown San Diego, it is inevitable that this space will have quite a few homeless people visiting it…unfortunately, I know some people will care a lot about that and refuse to go. I also know that it cost a lot of money (200 million!) and I am fully aware that a large majority of people think that libraries are going the way of the dinosaurs, but libraries are one of our most important resources. The United States public library system is quite extraordinary. It offers free reading, internet access, and education to millions. It is our tax dollars making a positive difference. I would be broke if I didn’t have library access. I take full advantage of free reading and I always have a reserve list that has about twenty books on it. If you are a reader, I recommend that you do the same.

There were three long lines of people waiting to get library cards when I was walking out. I’ve never seen anything like that at a library.  Hopefully people stay excited and keep visiting.  I plan on coming at least once or twice a month.

We read to know we are not alone

This library seemed to take forever to come to fruition, and I feel like this blog has been the same. I have been talking about starting a blog for the last five years. I am not sure what my problem is and why it took me so long. I’m here now, and as this blog gets rolling, I look forward to sharing information on what I am reading and watching and doing and eating. I have a lot of work to do as I figure out how to do everything that I want to on this site. Thanks for hanging around as I begin this long-delayed project.  I hope that, like the new library, this blog will be worth the wait!