Recipe: Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

File Oct 29, 8 32 39 PMIt is autumn, and one of my favorite things about autumn is the change in weather. It begins to get cool and crisp, or if you are farther north it is already cold and nippy. Either way, it is more acceptable to wear flannel. Here in the Seattle, I have been wearing flannel shirts since July. I love flannel. Now that it is cooler, no one can judge me. Anyway, autumn is also the perfect time for soups.

This particular soup recipe brings back all kinds of wonderful memories with my girlfriend and my closest friends. This is not my recipe; this is our recipe. For those of you sharing a crisp autumn day with your loved ones, try this recipe out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup:

Cook Time: 90 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2.5 – 3 lbs Roma tomatoes
  • 1 large onion (white, large chunks)
  • 4 cloves of garlic (large, minced)
  • 2 cups of chicken brothFile Oct 29, 8 31 21 PM
  • 1 can of tomato paste
  • 2 cans (14.5 oz) of Italian diced tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
  • 2 tbsp of butter
  • 1/2 cup of cream (or milk)
  • 1/2 cup of Mozzarella cheese
  • Sprigs of fresh rosemary (2-4 sprigs, based on your own taste, I use more)
  • 1 cup of fresh chopped basil
  • 2 tsp. of Italian seasoning of choice
  • 1/2 tsp. of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Instructions:

  • Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Cut tomatoes in half length wise and lay them on a baking sheet face up. You may need two baking sheets asFile Oct 29, 8 31 45 PM you don’t want to crowd the tomatoes too much.
  • Mix 3 tbsp of EVOO with 2 sprigs worth of rosemary leaves
  • Brush EVOO mixture over tomatoes. Try to not to use all of the mixture.
  • Salt and pepper tomatoes lightly before putting them in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until they are starting to bubble and curl at the edges.File Oct 29, 8 32 07 PM
  • While the tomatoes are roasting, chop onion and garlic. I usually chop the onion into 1/8 chunks (Cut onion in half, then the pieces in half, then those pieces in half). I like big chunks of onion, so this is optional.
  • In a large stock pot, add the rest of the EVOO mixture (or make more, 1 tbsp of EVOO and a few more leaves of rosemary, if you used it all), butter, garlic, and onions. Saute at medium heat for 5 minutes.
  • Stir red pepper flakes and continue to saute for 5 more minutes or until the onions are soft and golden brown.
  • Add chicken stock, tomato paste, Italian diced tomatoes, roasted tomatoes with pan drippings, and Italian seasoning then simmer for 35 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  • Stir in cream, cheese, and fresh basil and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  • Serve hot and enjoy!

Tips & Upgrades:

  • Wait until the tomatoes have been roasting for 25 minutes before you start prepping the onions and garlic. This allows you to prep, and saute the onions and they should be done right as the tomatoes are done roasting.
  • Add chicken stock a little early to heat up. Then add the tomato paste so it mixes easily with the base. Finally, the cans of Italian diced tomatoes. This allows everything to heat up a little before you add the roasted tomatoes and speeds up the cooking.
  • Upgrade: Serve with your favorite Grilled Cheese or sourdough toast.

PS: Everyone have an awesome Halloween. Be safe and don’t get too crazy. If you are looking for a book to enjoy this Halloween, but not sure what to read, check out my review of “Warm Bodies”, it will make your decision easier.

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Book Review: Warm Bodies

Here at the Custom Life, reading is an important part of everyday life. Reading is the lifetime partner of writing. In an effort to read more critically, and share my thoughts on awesome books, I am going to write book reviews of the books I read.

The subject matter of these books will probably vary greatly. The reviews will definitely be based strongly on my opinion, so take these reviews with a grain of salt. They are solely my ideas, thoughts, and views about the stories. In no way are they connected to the views of others, unless I specifically reference someone’s view.

Book:

“Warm Bodies” by Isaac Marion

Personal Attraction:
I originally heard about “Warm Bodies” from the movie released in 2013. A zombie romance. Let me start off with saying that I was skeptical, for about 3 seconds, then my inner Rom-Com lover took over and I thought the concept was brilliant. I did watch the movie first, and enjoyed it thoroughly, then I went about my life, ignorant of the books existence. A year later, I saw the book on my sister’s shelf and knew I had to read it.

Short Summary:
R (and yes, that is his name) is a zombie ‘living’ in an airport in a post-apocalyptic United States. He attempts to live as much as the living dead can. Through music, mementos of humanity, leisurely activities, R makes the best of death. He feeds like any zombie, but he struggles with being the living-dead. R craves the humanity of the living. On a hunting trip to the near city, R finds more than a taste of humanity. He finds a beautiful girl, Julie. Julie goes from prisoner to acquaintance to friend. Their bond somehow changes something inside him, and they become a catalyst of change throughout the world.

Thoughts:
First off, I loved the book. I decided not to write a full summary and thorough review, because I think you should just go read it. The book speaks for itself. “Warm Bodies” was just the right amount of my favorite elements (imagery, metaphors, diction, tone, structure, symbolism) which made for a comfortable, quick read that still provoked introspection.

I find an uncanny similarity between “Warm Bodies” and “Grendel”, by John Gardner. There is something about being inside the head of a ‘monster’ that allows you to appreciate and empathize with their actions. The fact that they do not speak often puts you in their mind even more, and I really enjoyed that. Most of “Warm Bodies” is told through internal dialogue and R’s digestion of the world.

Marion’s voice was the first thing I noticed about his writing. If I could hand out awards, I would give Marion the award for best use of imagery. “Warm Bodies” hits a depth of meaning with ease. It is poetry. There is something deeply insightful in the way he portrays R. It makes sense that R would be so perceptive as a zombie. A zombie does nothing but see and react, or at least that’s the outsiders assumption. Marion brings us inside R’s thoughts and we see a completely different truth: he is masticating everything he sees and nourishing  introspection. R internalizes and breaks down as much as his zombie brain can and it is much more than one would have expected. The internal struggle and growth is both relatable, tragic, and humorous. Especially as R deals with his encounters with Julie. . .

If I had to leave you one small excerpt, one glimpse at Marion’s poetry, one peek at into R’s mind and his struggle, it would be this:

Julie looks at me like she’s waiting for more, and I wonder if I’ve expressed anything at all with my halting, mumbled soliloquy. Are my words ever actually audible, or do they just echo in my head while people stare at me, waiting? I want to change my punctuation. I long for exclamation marks, but I’m drowning in ellipses.

Conclusion:
I’ve already said too much. If you haven’t read the book, go do it. In this case, the cliché is true: the book is much better than the movie.

Big Announcement

Gosh, I feel like a blogger. I’m getting up early (kind of), writing content,  then editing it, and posting that same day. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself with only two posts (if you haven’t read them, you can go check them out here and here). Regardless, I am excited to share some big news with you.

I am participating in National Novel Writing Month for the first time! NaNoWriMO for short, this is a sprint to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Yup, you only get 30 days. If you are a nerd like me, that breaks down to at least 1,666 words per day. Oh boy. . .

To my knowledge, you can write an outline and get as much put together as you care to prepare prior to November 1st. The only exception is you cannot actually write prose for the novel before November 1st. If you are interested in double checking, or just have more questions about NaNoWriMo, the NaNoWriMo FAQ is the place to go.

Why I am putting myself though this trial? Beside the glory of writing a novel in a month, NaNoWriMo is my chance to get back into the habit of focused daily writing. I am not as much worried about word count as I am about making a concentrated daily effort. I am looking for quality and consistency. I want to produce well thought out, compelling prose on a regular basis; hopefully, that becomes a completed story in a month. If I am satisfied with the story, but it ends up only 23,440 words long, then I will still call that a success.

I will try and make some cool chart to show my word-count progress and display it in my Custom Updates. (Not sure what that is? Check out my last post and enjoy. . . or just scroll to the bottom and read the third to last paragraph about Monday Custom Updates.)

Now who wants to join me? Let’s create together! Comment if you are planning on participating, or just want to support me, because that would be great too.

50/50

While speaking with my good friend, Josh Scales, this weekend, he aptly described his situation.

50/50. I can’t really tell the difference between handling it well or pretending I’m ok.

I feel like this describes my situation precisely.

Because here is the reality:

  • As of today, I owe roughly $38,000 in student loans and payments start in three weeks
  • I owe my Dad $1500 for helping me move
  • I have about $600 on credit cards (no accrued interest, I pay off the balance monthly)
  • I have about $1500 of liquid funds to my name as of today
  • I make $11/hour and work less than 40 hours/week (I budget for 35 hours)
  • I live in Seattle where the lowest living wage is $11.19/hour at 40 hours per week

I dare you to do the math and not wince. This is the stark reality I am living. It is bleak. This is an abnormal reality, especially from what I had thought I would be doing 4 months ago.

Story time!

June 15th I arrived in Seattle thinking I had found my golden ticket growing on a green shrub.

Oh yeah, you guessed it: Cannabis.

To clear the water, and just air out my laundry,  here are some facts. I inherited a green thumb from my mother. I love to grow plants. I studied horticulture for that reason. I have smoked or ingested cannabis on a few occasions, in legal settings, in small amounts. Sue me, I have experienced the mind altering affects of THC. It is not that big of a deal  For one, I consider it writer’s research, but I am also curious. I do not, however, consider myself a recreational user. If I did, I am among the lowest rank of recreational users. I would bubble in the ‘0-1 uses per month’ answer on a survey. I haven’t even bought cannabis. It has only been offered to me. I would rather buy a beer. Beer tastes ten times better AND I can enjoy it in public. Anyway, cannabis is a business opportunity in my eyes. I took the lesson from Scarface: do not use what you plan to sell.

*Dismount soapbox*

I have a degree in horticulture with an emphasis in production, which I would consider well received in the budding (just get ready for the endless puns in this post) cannabis industry. I was valued, at least in the eyes of my friend. This friend of mine has been working in the cannabis industry for 7 years (yes, that means he was also doing it back when it was illegal).

To go back to the start, I contacted him in early May searching for connections in the industry. I was looking for connections into the Denver market, but he did not have any there. However, he did say he could get me a job making $50-60k a year in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) because that is where he works. Imagine what this kind of information would do to you, if you were me; put yourself in my shoes as they say.

I was graduating, with nothing but two very expensive pieces of paper. Both of my fields of study rely heavily on prior industry experience or network connections to get an entry-level job. I have zero industry experience in either field, but I did have network connections. But I also wanted to leave Texas. Take away 90% of that network, and that left me with slim pickings and thin connections.

Hence my sudden burst of hope when I was told I could get a job making twice as much as I was thinking I was going to make AND it meant moving back to the PNW. Pumped is an understatement.

The first thing I did was call my friend. I may be rash sometimes, but that does not mean I forgo digging deeper into the situation. He did a great job selling the opportunity:

  • $50-60k salary with bonuses and only room to grow (hehe)
  • A work schedule of three days on and three days off
  • Flexible scheduling during those days with only 4-5 hours of work normally needed per day
  • Stake in the new company
  • Industry experience

The only problem was that every time I talked to him, his answer changed. So when I called, this high paying job that he said he could set me up in, was not actually happening until the next year. However, he could get me a job at a dispensary making decent money in the meantime, and I could help with smaller medicinal cannabis operations making cash on the side. Overall, it would be close to $50k per year. He invited me to visit him in Seattle and check everything out.

I hinted at my skepticism. I was not going to move half way across the country, as well as skip moving to Denver to live with my girlfriend, unless I had a great job opportunity as justification. He said he would get me a meeting with his HR manager so I could talk employment directly to the company. That made me feel better. I hung up and began planning.

This would be the beginning of more changes, bad communication, and decent into darkness.

I poured $350 into a late plane ticket for a two day stint to check out this opportunity in mid-June. Two of my sisters live in Seattle, so I was able to visit, and it meant that moving up there would be easier with a safety net. So I arrived and my friend flaked out on first meeting. He had to stay at work. Work that he decided to schedule even though we had made business plans.On top of that, it turned out he didn’t even make a meeting with HR like he said he would.

Instead of moping, I went into talk with him while he was working. I only had two days. I needed to get as much out of them as I could. I was frustrated to say the least, but I tried to be positive. Shit happens, I understand. At the dispensary he worked at, we talked about the opportunity to work in his small production operation and working at the dispensary, this is when he told me to send my information to him and he would get it to HR. Another change. We also arranged for him to pick me up later that evening so I could see his own operation.

He held to that plan and picked me up as scheduled and I got to see the small, secretive operation he was running out of the garage at his house. It was clean, but also not exactly professional, but I knew it would be experience, and hands-on experience is key to getting into the cannabis industry. So, I did not discredit it. I took it as the first step to success. Overall, I saw potential, and while I had some fears, playing it safe was just going to put me back even more. I assessed the risk and was satisfied.

I flew home a day later and decided that I was going to go for it. It was a chance at a great beginning and it was the best shot I’d found thus far. A month later, I arrived back in Seattle, after a fantastic road trip I might add, with little communication from my friend despite my ample attempts to setup meetings and get confirmation that he was helping with the dispensary job. Shortly after, I had to leave Seattle for a few days to go to my sister’s wedding and when I got back, I received the worst news.

My friend had taken a dive off the deep end and taken my opportunities with him. In a month, his life had gone to shambles. The details are not mine to share, but I can tell you it was not pretty.

So there I was, broke, jobless, and stuck in Seattle. My job-hunting experience is a story for another post. That is a long story on its own and this post is already becoming an allegorical essay. No body likes essays. In short, I found a job and at least I have some funds to work with now.

My point is that I am living the reality that most of us read about and never think will happen. I thought I was going to be valued for my work experience, and I am, but not by the people that count. I am struggling. I am handling it one day and freaking out another. Up and down. Up and down.

It is tough. It sucks, but it is important that we remember the cold truth: Time will never stop for us to catch up. We have to catch up ourselves.

My plan to catch up is three fold:

  1. Budget
  2. Hustle
  3. Write

Budgets bridge the gap between the present and goals. How? Let’s say your goal is to go to Cancun for spring break. It will cost you $2,000. Your income is $2,500 a month and your expenses are out of control; you just float on the tide. You have 5 months to save $2,000 to make the trip happen. What do you do? The easiest way to save that money is to put aside a certain amount of your income every month to go toward that trip. That is a budget, a very simple budget. It is the financial plan that takes you from point A to point B. Month by month, year by year, goal by goal. A budget will keep me on course and put me ahead in the long run.

I have to hustle. I make $11/hour. I won’t survive on that. I have to look for another job, sell possessions I don’t need, work hard at the job I do have, and diversify my skills. I have to find ways to turn the talents I do have into a profit. By doing all of that, I’ll squeeze every penny that I can out of my daily life. Every penny counts toward my budget.

I recently had an interview for a position as a Corporate IT Recruiter. The interview went well, but turned into a peep talk about chasing my passion within twenty minutes. They asked what my passion was and I could not lie. I want to write. I love writing and it is probably my strongest talent (if you find my writing to be terrible, then just take a guess at the strength of the rest of my skills). If you do what you love, you will work harder, produce better work, and really enjoy your life. I believe that. I live for that truth. Thus, writing is an important part of my plan, because I am going to leverage my talent to make extra money, to increase my budget, so I can achieve my goals. And I will enjoy every minute of it.

In light of this plan, for now on Mondays will be The Custom Update. I will post updates about my budgeting process, how my journey is going, and any lessons I think go with the theme of the post.

Right now, I am 50/50, but the tide is changing.

P.S. Special shout-out to Josh Scales, my good friend and fellow writer. You can read about his journey back to writing here.

The Oyster

That old Shakespeare line, ‘the world is my oyster’, comes to mind when I reminisce over my outlook three months ago. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I was a fresh graduate with two degrees in my hand. And yes, I mean degrees, not just majors. I mean two different pieces of paper denoting just how badass I am at being well-rounded and diverse. . . or just foolish and in debt. . . hoping beyond reason that my ‘renaissance man’ complex would get me a job.

But, I digress.

I thought I had it figured out. I knew I was in debt (details to come), but I had my plan to pay it off in 5 years. I also knew, and still know, what I want to do with my life. However, this ideal shiny world of debt freedom all hinged on one small detail. A detail that I obviously had worked hard, and had spent the months prior slaving, to tie down with a firm handshake and some scribbles of ink. That little detail that most college students are thinking about constantly through their senior year, or victory lap in my case. (I feel like something is missing here. . .) That small, insignificant detail that was the elephant in the room that I refused to acknowledge. Because, I definitely had it handled, and I absolutely did not need any guidance from my career center, or the career fairs, or my network connections. No, I was an adult, and I could handled it.

This would be the most childish lie I could tell myself, at least up to this point in my life.

If you have not guessed it, ‘it’ is the job.

My first lesson to you is a simple one; make sure you actually have the job. I learned the hard way what happens when you don’t get it in writing. That is a story for another time though.

Right now, it is important that you understand that I am taking hold of my life. This is my stand:

I am going to make a custom life for myself; a life that I will be proud of, a life that inspires others. I will have a life lived, not lost.

I am going to find that oyster, because, while Shakespeare might have meant that only a few are lucky, I believe we make our own luck.

The search for my oyster begins now.

P.S. I know some of my grammar seems terrible. However, I know the rules. The beauty of that? I can break them.