Archive for August, 2008

For Once, Not About Food

August 31, 2008

I have kept a journal since I was eight years old. My first one was technically a diary and it had Hello Kitty on it complete with lock and tiny key. My first few entries were all about a family trip we took to Atlanta and Florida to see relatives (whom we no longer talk to) and my incredible excitement about getting not only Mork rainbow suspenders, but also a Mork t-shirt that said, “Shazbot!” on it. A shopper even then.

Early into my fourth grade year, I finished that diary and started another and when I filled the last page of that one, I started another. Somewhere along the way, they became journals and I have always been faithful about keeping them. To be honest, they are mostly about the boys and men I have fallen in and out love with (yes, even in third grade) except for an unfortunate period where I was obsessed with football and wrote about Seahawk and Husky games endlessly. Did I really think I would care about those games this many years later?

My senior year in high school, I took a wonderful elective English class called American Women in Literature. It was taught by a tiny yet grand woman named Meta O’Crotty who, when she wasn’t teaching, could always be found outside on the deck of the old house which housed the upper school, smoking and reading. She chose Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits as one of our books to read for that trimester – a book that remains on my top five list of favorites. In it, a woman keeps a journal for her future daughter and one of our assignments was to do the same. By this time, I had been keeping a journal for nine years, so that part came naturally. But thinking of a future daughter reading it changed how I wrote. I didn’t leave anything out or censor what I wrote – I just gained a new consciousness of who a reader might be someday.

And then, many years later, I had two boys. When I found out my second was a boy, I felt a certain sadness and disbelief. It wasn’t so much that I wanted a girl, I just always thought I would have one – I am a girl, why wouldn’t I have a girl? And who will I leave my wedding ring to? And who will read my journals?

Oh those journals. There were years that I wrote a lot and years that I wrote a little. I had certain times of year that I would always write – my birthday, that moment in October when I get my first Thanksgiving food magazine (which signals the start of the holidays for me), New Year’s Eve, and the summer solstice. There is one journal that I periodically think of burning – the one that chronicalled my split from my first husband. It is so painful – and embarrassing – to read that I think I should get rid of it. But it is an important part of my past and so I hang on to it.

Since I had my two boys, and in particular since I had the second one, I have been very bad about journalling. I get so far behind and so much happens that I can’t even fathom sitting down with a pen (a pen!) and writing (writing!) in my little book. My hand cramps just at the thought of it. I have not told my journal that my baby is finally – at 18 months – walking. Or that my older boy has adorable ways of saying some things like “popeyes” for french fries or “big poop” for Winnie the Pooh, or how he is so friendly that he will just go up hug random strangers, especially if they are female and pretty.

Blogging has allowed me to feel like I am still up on my journal – even though I am mostly writing about food – and maybe it will force me back to that most personal space. But for now, as I sit here filled with nostalgia after our trip to Sun Valley, I will write – or type – about it on my blog. At least it goes somewhere where I can read it again someday.

So this. When I was in the hospital after having my second son, sometime in the middle of the night, a nurse brought him down to me from the nursery. She said he was cold and needed me to hold him skin-to-skin to get his temperature up. I was totally groggy – drugged from my c-section – but was immediately alarmed that something might be wrong. I sat up (with assistance) and took that tiny bundle, naked except for the miniscule newborn diaper that he was swimming in, from the nurse and held him against my chest. He slept, I barely breathed while I tried to will warmth into him. An hour later she came and checked and he was fine.

Yesterday this same little bundle woke up from his nap crying. This is unusual for him – he usually wakes up cheerful and full of comments in his own little language peppered with lots of “mommy”. I went up to get him and he kept crying and laying his head on my shoulder, even after I picked him up. My baby is a busy boy, not one to snuggle, so I was surprised that after a moment he didn’t pick up his head and look at me with his beautiful tear-stained face. I sat down with him in his rocking chair and he kept whimpering so I started singing to him. He quieted and sat there with me, head still on my shoulder for another ten minutes or so. I was flooded with the memory of him being a tiny bundle, laying with me skin-on-skin, almost 19 months ago. Then his little curled up body barely covered my half of my upper body. Now he is a huge lump of love – over 30 pounds and tall – and he sprawled out all over my chest, stomach, and halfway down my legs. He felt so heavy to hold – even sitting – but I would have rocked until the end of time, if he had let me.

Goodbye for a Week

August 23, 2008

My little family and I are heading to Sun Valley tomorrow to stay with my parents at their time share condo. Although there is a kitchen there, I don’t think I will be cooking anything of note besides cheese quesadillas for my boys. If something earth-shattering (food-wise) happens, I’ll be sure to post, but otherwise, I’ll see you in September.

By the way, I am doing my darndest to figure out how to get an email feed available for those of you who would like to subscribe. Navigating the help sites is a bit like reading Greek for me, so please be patient and it will appear soon.

(Th)Sufferin’ (Th)Succotash

August 21, 2008

I’m sorry – how did it get to the end of August? I had all these recipes that I was thinking were really “summer” recipes, so I was going to wait for “summer” and now it’s almost over. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not officially over until somewhere around September 21st, and the month of September really is lovely in Seattle. Still, if you ever went to school, you know that summer is, for all intents and purposes, over after Labor Day.

So, I’d better get to it with these recipes. I need to feature lots of peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and corn until the farmers start bringing in the mushrooms and squashes. This Succotash recipe is perfect if you shop at the Farmer’s Markets or if you get a CSA box because almost everything you need will be easily found with the possible exception of the celery.

A word about the cookbook this came from. It’s called The Voluptuous Vegan and it probably, more than any other book, changed the way I cook. A vegan is someone who not only doesn’t eat meat, but doesn’t eat anything that comes from an animal – eggs, dairy, even honey. It can seem a little restrictive, but take a look at the pages of this book and you will see a whole new world open up. I am not a vegan but this is one of my favorite cookbooks and one of the first few I turn to when I want to make something special.

I got this cookbook before Randy and I got married, at a time when I was teaching yoga. I taught about 12 classes a week which, in addition to my own practice, was a lot of yoga. However, it left me a fair amount of free time and I used that time to cook. Up until that point in my life, I was a good and adventurous cook – I had made us some wonderful meals. But I was fascinated by the dishes I read about and, lucky for me, had the time to really experiment and try some of the more time consuming ones. The sheer bounty of the food made me re-think dinner. Why not make all the components incredible, not just the main course?

In The Voluptuous Vegan, rather than chapters focusing on ingredients or courses, the author (Myra Kornfeld) has compiled a series of menus with some lovely little notes about each one including the order you can make things in and how it looks best served. Usually I don’t like menu cookbooks – I don’t want someone telling me what to serve with what – I like to have that creative license. But the choices she has made along with the flavor pairings, and the simply startlingly delicious, incredibly full-flavored, beautiful-to-look-at meals made me trust everything she said.

The first think I ever made from it was a Paella for a dinner party. There were so many steps, so many different components – steaming tempeh, then roasting it with cauliflower and chickpeas, making a tomato sauce to go into the rice, and then another sauce to be served with it. Roasting cherry tomatoes as a garnish, and using silken tofu to make a roasted garlic aoli. It couldn’t be worth all that work, right? Was it ever. Every other vegetarian paella I had had up until that point tasted like rice with vegetables and saffron with the exception of those I had in Spain on our honeymoon. Here was a dish that really stood on it’s own and has impressed every single one of my meat-eating friends I have served it to.

If you make the whole menu, yes, this is a time-consuming (but not complicated) recipe. With the Succotash, you can make polenta squares topped with a homemade chile paste to spice them up. You can make (the best in my opinion) guacamole to dollop on top of the dish. Or you can just do your own thing and serve the Succotash with cornbread, grits, or even rice. It’s fresh, light, and totally seasonal.

By the way, Randy didn’t even notice the beet greens.

Adapted from
The Voluptuous Vegan
Serves 4

Kornfeld suggests you use dried lima beans here and give instructions for cooking them. Everytime I have made it, I have used frozen which saves you a lot in the overall cooking time. Don’t be daunted by the long list of ingredients – it’s just a lot of chopping. Here is the time to practice your knife skills!

1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, sliced into
1/3 inch rounds
2 celery stalks, sliced
1/3 inch
1 each red and yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1 inch chunks

Olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1 cup frozen lima beans

2 cups water

1 each medium zucchini and yellow squash, sliced into
1/3 inch rounds
2 ears of corn, kernels cut off the cob


Juice of one lemon

Pinch of cayenne pepper

In a large pot or saucepan, heat just enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Add the onion, celery, carrot, bell peppers, and a good pinch of salt. Saute over medium-high heat until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for another 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook an additional 5 minutes. Add the lima beans and another pinch of salt.

Pour in the water and bring to a boil. Add the zucchini, squash, and corn. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Squeeze the lemon over the stew and sprinkle with cayenne. Adjust salt to taste.

Beet (Shhh!) Greens

August 20, 2008

Each and every one of us has a list of foods that we love, a list of those we don’t like but will eat if we have to, and a list of those that we won’t eat. My “won’t eat” list is pretty simple, any kind of animal and okra. And actually, if it is deeply hidden in a veggie gumbo or something like that, I might even try a bite of okra. My husband Randy’s list is pretty simple too, although the confounding thing is that it doesn’t mirror mine. His “won’t eat” used to include lentils and peas along with beets. I have since taught him that peas doesn’t have to mean canned mushy peas (although I have to admit that I LOVE those too) and now he happily eats fresh peas in things like risotto and Indian dishes. He has even eaten them all by themselves as a side dish with a little butter and dill and said he really liked them. Lentils he will tolerate, especially if they are the Le Puy kind which keep their texture more than the plain brown kind. Here is the lentil conundrum…he loves red lentil dal which, texture-wise, is not much different than split peas, or mushy peas. But there is no figuring him out.

But beets. Oh beets. I so love beets and they are so in season right now and he so hates them. I must say, he is a good sport about periodically trying them but I don’t think he can be converted. I will say the last bite of yellow beet he tried he hated less than the traditional red ones – note to self. So what is a beet lover to do? Try and trick him! I have heard so many times that the greens that come attached to the beet are one of the most delicious of the greens family (think chard, kale, etc). So, when I bought all the beets for the Market Fresh Dinner, I kept the greens and am going to saute them tonight. They will go around or on top of a large crouton which will be topped with a copious amount of sauteed mushrooms (a Randy favorite), and a poached egg or two. I’m hoping the softness of the greens along with the juice of the mushrooms and the yolk of the egg will make the crouton go just the right amount of mushy and the flavors will meld so much that he says, “What is that delicious green taste?”

I’ll let you know.

The Protein Question

August 19, 2008

I recently joined Facebook. Just as I was late to enter the world of blogging, I was late to enter the world of online social networking. And what a trip it is! Nearly everyday, I get an invite from a “friend” and some long lost (to me) person is back in my life – however superficially. One of the best was reconnecting with Victoria, my college roommate. In an email exchange, she mentioned to me that our mutual friend Meg was going to be in town from Connecticut and, thanks to Vic, I was able to meet up with her.

The boys and I picked her up on Sunday and we made a mad dash to the West Seattle Farmer’s Market. I have to say, of all the markets here in town (and sometimes we go to four a week), West Seattle is my favorite. It is small, all food, not too crowded, and seems to have the best farmers. I wanted to show her the bounty on offer here in this part of the country – and I needed some things for dinner.

Meg mentioned to me, as so many people have, that she is eating way less meat these days and is really interested in eating vegetarian a few times a week. The thing that she finds most difficult, she said, is making sure she gets enough protein. This is perhaps, oh – maybe the 1000th – time I have heard this dilemma from wanna-be semi-vegetarians. And people, I am here to tell you, you don’t have to work that hard. I have been a vegetarian for 22 years now, through two pregnancies and nursing two babies, and I have never had an issue with protein or lack thereof.

When you eat meat, the protein becomes the focus of the meal. Watching shows like “Top Chef”, I am always amazed by how the dish a cook is making shapes up based on what the protein is – they even call it “protein” not meat. We vegetarians don’t look at our plate the same way. I’ve mentioned this before here, but our eating lives don’t revolve around the protein, starch, vegetable trio. Sometimes dinner is a one dish wonder with the protein, starch, and vegetable all living together in perfect harmony. Sometimes, there is no protein, or not an obvious one. Pasta has protein but no one would ever mistake it for steak.

This is a big shift in thinking. If you have cooked (or eaten) one way your whole life (and had it drilled into you that you need protein), it may seem scary to be able to eat a lovely summer stew filled with seasonal organic vegetables and whole grains…with no trace of “protein” in sight. I am not, nor have I ever claimed to be, a nutritionist. I can just tell you what I know from personal experience – you will be just fine if you don’t worry about it too much. Sometimes I will realize that several days have gone by and I’ve eaten a lot of vegetables and a lot of starch but not much protein, so I will make something Asian and add a lot of tofu. Or I will make a bean dish. Or I will throw a bunch of chickpeas into the salad for the night.

Now, I’ve never tried to run a marathon and I’ve never wanted to become a power lifter, but I did teach intense Ashtanga Yoga for two years with a vigorous practice of my own, and never needed to eat any differently than I do now. I say none of this to judge what anyone else is eating – hell, my own husband eats meat. I just put it out there for those of you who have asked me, those who are interested in going veg a few times a week, how I get my protein. And the answer is, it all works out in the end. And truthfully, if you are eating meat or chicken or fish a few times a week, then you really don’t need to worry about it.

This is a recipe for a Black Bean Salad that I created today to serve with Cold Avocado Soup (photo above) and Rice with Leeks and Poblano Chiles. It isn’t lovely, but it is really tasty. Beans are a great way to keep protein in you diet – they are cheap, easy to use, and nutritious.

Black Bean Salad with Corn and Cotija Cheese
Serves 4

If you are unable to find Cotija cheese, you can substitute Queso Fresco, or even Feta Cheese. You want all your vegetables and cheese about the same size as the black beans.

2 cans black beans, drained
1 red bell pepper, diced

1 small or
1/2 large red onion, diced
1 small can mild green chiles, drained

1 ear yellow or white corn, husked and corn cut from the cob

1 small avocado, diced

1-2 limes

-1 tsp. ground cumin

cup cotija cheese, cut into small dice
cup chopped cilantro

In a large bowl, combine the beans, bell pepper, chiles, corn, and avocado, stirring gently. Add the juice of one lime and 1/2 tsp. of salt and cumin. Stir again gently and taste adding more lime juice, salt, and cumin as needed. Keep in mind that the cotija is salty. Add the cotija and cilantro and stir again. (Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.)

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