Dear Fellow Fall Festivalers

Dear Fellow Fall Festivalersphoto cred:

Tonight my family and I went to a fall festival at a local family friendly fast food restaurant. We found out about the event as many others likely did, through an email update. We were, in fact, sold as soon as we read the words: “free pony rides.”

The kids’ costumes, the balloon-twisting pirate, the inflatable bounce house. The fried chicken and french fries. The germ infested play place, (amiright?!).

Dear Fellow Fall Festivalers

Half of the time my kids’ faces were wide-eyed and jaw-dropped as they took everything in. The other half of the time, there were silly grins plastered across their faces as they bounced up and down with uncontrollable enthusiasm.

But you know the one thing that would have made the night so much more enjoyable?

If people at the community event acted like a community.

I know I may not get out a lot, but when I do, one of my absolute favorite parts is the friendly interaction my kids and I have with “strangers”. I say “strangers” because we try to make friends wherever we go.

Tonight it seemed like simple eye contact was too much to ask for.

And after apparently standing on the wrong side of the pony line for ten minutes, we were approached by one of the workers who informed us that we should be standing on the other side. Fine, no problem. What was disconcerting was the fact that other parents waiting in line were making a point to state that they were behind so-and-so, but couldn’t just considerately state to us that we were on the wrong side. I don’t care about losing twenty minutes of our night to our misunderstanding. But when we act like we aren’t any older or more mature than those whose hands we are holding waiting in line to ride the pony, that’s a problem.

In all, we probably spent forty-five minutes to an hour waiting in various lines tonight. No friendly chatter and very few smiles. And trust me, I tried. It seemed like everyone was determined to avoid each others’ eyes. I suppose trying to avoid the effort of casually conversing with their neighbors.

It wasn’t an atmosphere fitting a community event. It was every family for itself. Intentionally or unintentionally, the effect was the same.

This is where my plea comes in.

Guys, let’s be a community.

Let’s find each others’ eyes and smile.

Let’s look one another in the eyes when we talk.

Let’s pass the time with small talk instead of staring at our phones.

Let’s say hi, hello, how are you, thank you, have a nice day, and all those other old-fashioned sayings that never go out of date.

Let’s smile at the kids. Acknowledge they’re there and that they are important.

Let’s greet the dogs and pet the friendly ones.

I promise there are no strings attached. If you smile at me, I won’t tell you about my great-aunt Ruth or invite you to dinner. (Actually, I may do the dinner invitation, but not everyone is so over the top).

Worst-case scenario– you lose a few minutes of your time.

Best-case scenario– you lose a few minutes of your time. You interact. You make a friend. You inspire kindness. You brighten a moment.

It’s a low commitment investment with serious potential to garner great return.

Friendliness. Kindness. Courtesy. Community. Pass it on.

30 Minute Fried Rice

Some months are busier than others, and this has been a busy month.  A traveling husband, a busy season on the blog, chores that know no end, and three blessings who always keep me on my toes no matter what the day of the week it is. (What’s this you call a weekend? Time off, what?).

At the beginning of the month, I sat down and planned simple meals that would come together in about thirty minutes or less. My idea of a good meal plan in a busy season is one that is quick, yes, but also delicious and appealing. Otherwise, if I’ve planned meals that I don’t actually feel like eating, we will just end up going for convenience foods that satisfy the craving of the moment. Of course, I also give myself the buffer of stocking the freezer with nitrate-free hot dogs and frozen potstickers from my favorite warehouse store.

30 Minute Fried Rice

This fried rice dish fits that bill.

It’s a recipe that is one which is the result of a lot of trial and error. Over the years, I’ve learned a little about how to make a good fried rice dish. I’ve served up plenty of ho-hum dishes, plenty of overcooked meat, and plenty of vegetables that were either too hard or too mushy. I finally have it down.

The components are cooked individually. This ensures plenty of contact with the hot pan, which is essential when cooking food over higher heat in a short amount of time.

P.S.  This is a 30-minute meal as long as you have cooked the rice ahead of time. You can cook it a day or two in advance, maybe make a double batch and then set aside some for this meal. The rice should be cool, not hot, when you put it in the pan to fry. We prefer brown rice for health and taste, and baking it in the oven is the only way I make it now. The rice consistently turns out perfect and it just requires about 5 minutes of hands-on prep, then an hour to cook in the oven. Easy peasy.

P.P.S. Sesame oil. Perhaps something you don’t have already in your kitchen, but it’s pretty essential to getting the right flavor in a good fried rice or lo mein dish. Splurge (a little) on a bottle and it will last you many nights of healthier-than-take-out Chinese dishes.

P.P.P.S. (Because I can’t stop with the addendums tonight). When I took these pictures, I used venison medallions. I’ve also used flank steak and chicken breasts. The vegetables are also rather interchangeable. Just pick vegetables with a similar hardiness.

30 Minute Fried Rice

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Perfect Baked Brown Rice

Healthy options are great.

…when they taste good.

…and when you know how to make them.

Brown rice can be one of those irritating I-know-I-should-eat-it-but… foods where you’ve tried it but it was either too gummy or too crunchy or took too long or too just not very good.

If you’re in the camp where you’ve written off brown rice as something people more granola than you can happily keep, can I suggest you give it one more try?

It is in fact healthier. Brown rice still has all the good nutrients in tact, whereas white rice has been stripped and often bleached to achieve that white color.

And it can be easy. Really easy.

5 minutes of prep. 1 hour in the oven. And that’s it. Perfect brown rice every time. You can thank me later.

Perfect Baked Brown Rice

This recipe is for a double batch. Because it just makes sense to go ahead and make twice as much to use for another meal later in the week. A quick lunch burrito bowl? A side with grilled salmon? A dish of fried rice?

And, many thanks to Cooks Illustrated for teaching me how easy brown rice can be. Where would I be in the kitchen without Cooks Illustrated?!

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