Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Soup Weather: Black Bean Soup

We thought we were getting close to summer, but we were all wrong. This Memorial Day weekend was cold and rainy. I actually made a big pot of soup over the weekend... for lunch. I can't remember the last time I made an actual lunch that was more than avocado toast, leftovers, or an omelette. It is definitely nice to have some free time now that school has wrapped up.

I was sad about the cold weather, but happy to use up a big container of frozen black beans I had sitting in my freezer to make this delicious Spicy Black Bean Soup. My favorite part about this soup is that it has very few ingredients. It is basically black beans, onion, carrot, garlic, and some spices (plus water and oil).

We made this soup once with dried beans and it turned out great but definitely takes a little long for normal weeknight meals. This time I used my pre-cooked beans and simmered it for 20 minutes or so before blending. Fast (if you use cooked beans), easy, delicious, healthy, vegan... and you can make it even better with tortilla chips. We skipped those this time in the interest of being a little healthier after a few weeks of too many restaurant meals. Finally, the recipe makes a lot so you can have leftovers for a day or two.

This may be the last warm soup I make until fall. If you are craving something warm and cozy during all of the predicted rain this week, make this soup and buy some tortilla chips to dip into it! And while I'm normally not a fan, the sour cream is also an almost essential topping.

Here's to hoping soup weather ends with the month of May.

Monday, May 20, 2013


This was a big weekend for me and my classmates. Our graduation from La Follette was yesterday in the Assembly Chambers of the State Capitol building. The last two weeks have been a little hectic for me because I was a graduation coordinator and had a lot of things to get ready for our ceremony and reception. The weather was beautiful for our class photo and overall everything went well (although those hoods were a little warm!). 

It was wonderful to be surrounded by family and classmates and I think it was a very proud day for everyone. I also received the Director's Award, which was very exciting because it was a surprise. It is easy to forget about your accomplishments when you are surrounded by such smart and driven people, so I was honored and humbled to be singled out.

Walking back to my seat after accepting the Director's Award. 
We had lots of delicious meals (Sardine for brunch AND dinner, El Dorado, Roman Candle) and drank a lot of champagne. It was an awesome weekend with lots of sun and no homework involved!

Brunch at Sardine.
Brunch at Sardine.

Although I still have a group presentation in DC this week, everything for graduate school is basically done. In a few weeks I'll be back to learning something new at a full-time job, which got me thinking about the past few years in Madison.

A little over two years ago we had just moved to Madison and I had just confirmed my attendance in my Master's program. I didn't really know what I was getting myself into... at all. Graduate school at La Follette was way more challenging than I anticipated, but it was also more rewarding and more fun than I expected, too.

My capstone professor and the chosen faculty speaker, Prof. Manion.
I have often thought that I could have benefitted from an MBA or some other type of Master's degree, but I would have missed out on being surrounded by classmates and professors with the same interests and value of public service as me. The focus was always on how we could succeed at designing better policies and analyzing problems to help others. And it was all done through teamwork and helping each other out, instead of competing.

Post ceremony picture with Kelsey. My classic hungry graduation face.

The full-time job I have accepted doesn't require a Master's degree, but I have come to see the value in that past two years beyond what they could do for my career. I'm sure that my degree will help me a lot in the future, but what I appreciate the most has been the chance to learn, struggle, and stretch myself in ways that I didn't know were possible, all the while surrounded by great friends who were in the same boat (we also had a lot of fun, too). I have become a more mature thinker and am much more confident in my abilities to succeed in tough environments, which is invaluable to me no matter what I do with the rest of my life.

Policy Solutions group with our advisor, Prof. Weimer (missing Andrew!)

Of course I didn't do this on my own and want to give a special thank you to my mom and sister, who edited many papers, and to my friends and classmates who spent long hours working with me on stats and econ homework and dedicating themselves to our group projects (you guys know who you are). Plus the certain professors and staff at La Follette who believed in me enough to give me a fellowship and push me to work harder. Also, all of my parents, including my step-mom and in-laws, who pursued higher education and set a great example. And most importantly to Aaron, who picked me up from classes and meetings, cooked and cleaned, sat on the couch quietly while my groups met for hours in our apartment, and generally put up with me. Not to mention spent last summer without me. I'm ready to support you whenever you want to get another degree, Aaron!

Dinner at El Dorado
Can't graduate from UW without taking a picture at the Union.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Lakefront Brewery

On Saturday Aaron and I drove to Milwaukee to go on a tour at Lakefront Brewery. We've heard good things about the tour from our friends and enjoy Lakefront beer, so it was time to check it out.

At $7 each, the tours are extremely affordable considering they include four 6-ounce samples of beer and a pint glass. On top of that you get a coupon for a free Lakefront beer at nearby restaurants and the 6-ounce samples are really more than 6 ounces. Plus the tour lasted almost an hour. It was a good deal, even adding on the gas money to drive there.

We learned a lot about Lakefront and beer from our very entertaining tour guide and furthered Aaron's desire to start brewing our own beer. I'm not too sure, it was pretty stinky in there. My favorite beer by far was the mystery beer, which was (big surprise) an IPA. Aaron traded me for it when I didn't pick it during the tour because he is nice like that.

My only complaint would be if your tour was full (60 people) it is kind-of a lot of people. Luckily ours wasn't and we had a great time! We also saw a wedding reception being set up. Jealous. We will definitely go back to Lakefront if we are in Milwaukee (Saturday was my first time there).

Friday, May 10, 2013

Spring + Allergy Remedy

It is mid-May and we finally have our spring. Although it is raining and in the 50's today, the past few days of warmth and sun mean it is safe to say my favorite half of the year has started (the warmer half!).  I can't wait for summer, although I'm hoping it is not as hot as last summer was here (well, I missed last summer because I was in rainy Mexico City so I will welcome warm weather). We signed up for a CSA box and I can't wait to start getting some vegetables. A full share was recommended for vegetarians, but we went with an every other week box (half share) since we are new to a CSA (ours was cancelled last summer due to the heat) and we like to shop at the Farmer's Market.

Unfortunately all of the flowers and green things seem to be giving me my first ever spring allergies. I was always the one in our family who proudly had no allergies, which I liked to rub in. A lot. But as I got older they started to get me too. First the cat allergy, then the end of summer hay fever, and apparently now whatever happens during spring.

When I came home from Mexico last August I got hit really hard with allergies. I tried taking a Claritin and almost passed out at work from how drowsy and drugged I felt. Not the answer for me. After talking with some friends and doing some research I tried a combination of ground flax seed and local honey every morning (flax meal in my smoothie or granola and honey in my tea). This is actually difficult for me because I prefer unsweetened tea, but I was desperate.

And guess what? It worked. Within two days I felt totally better and continued the flax meal and honey regime throughout fall until I felt it was sufficiently cold and I thought the offending pollen had to be dead. Even though I don't like sweet tea, it was way less painful than taking allergy medicine.

I started again this morning and am hoping it works on spring allergies as well. If allergy medicine makes you feel gross then I suggest you try this combination for a week and see how it goes. (It is important that the honey is local so the bees were pollinating the plants in your area.) Hopefully it lets you enjoy being outside without feeling like a medicated monster.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Diet Variety: Ramps

Sometimes there are seasonal greens and things I want to try, but I hesitate to put them on my grocery list because I'm not sure if the store or Farmer's Market will be carrying them. If I put a recipe on my menu and the main ingredient isn't available, it is often difficult to re-orgranize mid-grocery trip, since all of the meals are blended together on the grocery list. Especially when my mental capacity is taken over by school and graduation, I don't want to add any stress of unknown ingredient availability (this is what has stopped me from making spring rolls... does Whole Foods have rice paper wrappers?).

I wish stores would post on their websites when they are carrying a seasonal ingredient. I know our Co-op puts this info on their Facebook page, but we almost never get the bulk of our groceries there.

Anyway, on to the topic of this post: ramps. I've heard about ramps, but they are one of THOSE seasonal things. I saw a great looking recipe for a ramp pizza on Smitten Kitchen and did not save the recipe, but kept it in my mind when we went grocery shopping. As luck would have it, last week was super busy and I had not yet made a grocery list when we went to the Farmer's Market. While this would be impossible at the grocery store, there are so few things at the Farmer's Market right now that we could grab what we wanted, limited by the amount of cash we had.

Given the scarcity of food beyond cheese, bread, and cookies at the Farmer's Market in April, I was very happy to see that one of my favorite vendors had ramps. I grabbed a bunch and planned to make the pizza (Ramp Pizza from Smitten Kitchen). I have never cooked with ramps before and maybe have never had them (unless it was at a fancy restaurant).

I was excited to make this pizza sans mozzarella. I love pizza with only a little cheese, and the pecorino romano is just enough cheesy-ness to satisfy without being greasy. Plus, fresh mozzarella is expensive and the pre-shredded stuff has cardboard and weird stuff in it to keep it from sticking together (don't buy it! unless you like to eat cardboard). AND less cheese means you can eat more of the pizza because it has a lot less calories.

Couldn't wait to take a bite!
So what was the verdict? This pizza was pretty amazing (ok I added a little too many red pepper flakes but it was a nice sinus clearing experience). We couldn't get enough of it and plan to make it again if we are lucky enough to find ramps at the Farmer's Market this Saturday. The cheese and pre-made dough were pricey, but we have enough left for another batch. Plus, the sauce was amazingly easy and delicious.

If you can't find ramps, try the suggestions for green onions or leeks. I think the combo of sauce/salty cheese/and green veggie would be great even without the ramps.

Another successful week of trying something new! This week we'll be trying to get ramps again and buying some romaine lettuce. I know, romaine lettuce is not exciting, but it is something we rarely purchase or eat and its good for you!

Gotta go, the one leftover slice of pizza is calling my name.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Mangos and Knives

It is mango season and mangos (mangoes?) have been extremely cheap at Whole Foods for the past few weeks (only $1!). I ate tons of mangoes last summer in Mexico, but I still pretend I don't know how to cut them at home so Aaron will do it. Also we recently bought a knife sharpener and I cut my thumb this morning, so I think I should steer clear of the knives for a while. I kept telling Aaron how dangerous dull knives are and then we finally sharpened them and I cut myself, of course.

Luckily some of my favorite blogs noticed the mango sales and posted some great recipes to use them up. Fresh salsa is so delicious, but its one of those things I'm always too lazy to make. The mango salsa recipe available here is awesome and can be used in two great recipes: a salad and tacos. We did both and they were perfect for the warmer weather we've been having.

Aaron took this picture with his new iPhone 5.