Monday, February 24, 2014

Fab Food

Today I want to share some really fabulous, easy food I've thrown together recently based upon my home-delivered organics, other plant foods and whatever I happened to be craving. These were quick, so no recipes -- I'll just try to explain what you see. Here, I sauteed organic sliced tomatoes and giant spring onions which almost looked like baby leeks in olive oil, then added chunks of organic straightneck squash and kale, and stirred in a can of chick peas and cooked brown and wild rice and quinoa. I seasoned all with a splash of tamari, a few shakes of turmeric and a tiny pinch of sea salt.

This dish sounds like more trouble than it actually was. In an effort to teach my adult child in college that late night fast food needn't be a gas station burrito, I have found some great healthier convenience foods in the freezer section for him. One of these is cooked rice and grain blends -- 4 minutes in the microwave. I know the microwave is not as healthy as steaming in a pan, but a microwave is what he will choose to use, so I pragmatically choose my battles. I bought some easy frozen cooked grains for myself too. I'm happy to do it the longer/more macrobiotically sound way, but I didn't this time.

Not being a big fan of sweets, I wasn't thrilled when organic sweet potatoes made up the lionshare of my organic boxful each time. I thought I had opted out of this selection, but it turns out there are so many different breeds of sweet potato that don't even sound sweet, so I got some help tweaking my list to my liking. Now that I'll be weeding out the sweets from my crisper, I think I could eat one of these every day. I topped this baked tuber with a lazy version of my creamed kale -- this time I didn't bother with the miso. I just mushed up the beans a little bit, added some water and lots of nutritional yeast. The sweet in this potato was almost eclipsed by the flavorful, savory greens and beans, and served only to round out the flavors. This is now my favorite way to eat a sweet potato!

Finally, you have absolutely seen this sandwich before, but here it is again in all its glory -- the kale sandwich, this time with a nice handful of organic alfalfa sprouts. Toasted Eziekiel bread a generous spread of hummus on each side, and you can see the rest. What could be more simple? What could be more delicious? I have since opted out of the organic sprouts for future deliveries as well, since I do grow my own sprouts!!

There -- for all those who say it's too expensive/difficult to eat healthfully: nonsense! Lighten up and dig in!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Cozy and Green + A Winter Wonderland

We have been shut-ins for a few days now. It is currently a "State of Emergency" in our area since an inch or two of snow and ice fell recently and road treatment programs here in the deep South are limited. I understand there are folks who have suffered with our recent storm -- I know of one house under a downed tree and people have lost power, but the declaration of a "State of Emergency" is mostly about diverting funds.

I enjoy being inside looking at the winter wonderland. Our normally perfectly camouflaged wildlife don't seem to notice that we can easily see them against the contrasting white. Yesterday morning 5 whitetail deer took their time sauntering down the middle of our street, completely unconcerned for their own safety. While I was on the phone with a friend yesterday, through the back window I witnessed a lone coyote meandering across the back edge of our yard and slipping under the fence of the adjacent property on his way to the retention pond where he likely finds his dinner on an ordinary evening. These last few nights there have indeed been more horribly bone-chilling coyote pack killings as their similarly unconcerned prey are spotlighted against the snowy expanse under the light of a full moon. It's an eerie sound. So, with the equilibrium of the circle-of-life temporarily tweaked, I'm happy to be cozily indoors, and also glad to have my own pups out of the spooky fray just beyond our walls. Here's something warm and delicious that I came up with during my shut-in days:

Kale Bisque
2 medium yellow onions roughly chopped-- I used Vidalia
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 bunch of kale, without stems, torn into large pieces
1 cup cooked rice or grain of your choice
2 Tbsp. shoyu
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
purified water as needed
salt and pepper to taste
nutmeg to taste

In a tall stockpot, saute the onions and garlic over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once the onions and garlic become fragrant, lower heat to low and cook slowly until translucent and slightly caramelized. It's important to take your time with this part of the preparation, since you want a soft, unburned consistency. 

Add the kale and wilt, turning heat up to medium and stirring frequently until the volume of greens has visibly decreased. Add more oil if needed to avoid burning. Stir in the rice and only enough water to just cover the ingredients. I have ruined this soup by adding too much water at this stage, so it's important that the volume of the greens is lower before determining how much water is required. The shoyu, salt, pepper and nutmeg can be added as the pot simmers a few minutes more, softening the kale and grains further. While the kale is soft, but still bright in color, add the almond milk and blend the soup. 

I use an immersion blender in the tall pot since I am not crazy about pouring scalding hot liquids back and forth, but you could also use a standard blender. A Vitamix would yield a smoother result than what my immersion blender produced here, but I liked the immersion blender's results just fine. More water can be added, sparingly, if needed during blending.

Warm the bisque through and adjust seasonings to your liking. A little cooking sherry might be a nice accompaniment, traditional in other bisque recipes as it is, but I opted for a drizzle of high-quality virgin olive oil for my cozy bowlful.

Serves 4

I normally err on the side of under-seasoning, since too much salt ruins most flavors for me, but if you do find you've added too much salt, adding a little more rice and water will fix it.

We did venture out yesterday morning in the jeep, and were even able to help a nice family who were stuck in a ditch. My husband was happy to utilize the winch to pull the car out of the mire. It worked like a charm! Here are a few shots of our adventure:

  I had to laugh at myself as I was viewing my photos later -- as I snapped away, I hadn't even noticed the rear-view mirror!

It's hard to understand what you are seeing here, but I really liked the way this photo came out. The camera was on auto-focus as we were moving on down the road, and it obviously focused on the water droplets upon the plastic jeep window instead of the subject matter beyond. I think it's a serendipitously cool effect!

I hope you enjoy the bisque, and your own cozy, wintry adventures!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Another Great Salad

Are you like me? do you go through "seasons" of cravings? For the longest time, salads simply did not appeal to me. I probably had eaten a few too many lackluster restaurant salads which look fabulous on the menu, but by the time the bacon, egg, chicken and cheese are stripped away, are naught but an iceberg blend with mealy, hothouse, out-of-season tomatoes and a few strips of oxidized carrot. No thank you, I'd rather go home and saute some collards. I've made so many delicious variations of my sauteed greens lately, living as a virtual shut-in with uncharacteristically icy roads here in Georgia.

Nesting and hibernating with the family leads to craving comfort foods too, so with all hands on deck for days at a time, I've made many pasta and bread dishes. Feeling sluggish and a little fluffy from lack of yoga and our recent carb-loading, the salad craving season is now back in full swing! We don't make boring, wimpy salads around here though. My recent forays into salad-building cleanse and refresh, but pack a protein punch too. This one is "Farmer's Salad" from Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Kitchen. It was outrageously delicious. It's basically the best potato salad you could ever imagine eating. It calls for fresh arugula, which I thought I had purchased with a coupon at Kroger after carefully checking the "best by" date of 2/21/14, but it turns out Kroger's arugula is sad and stinky. It seems to be going bad early. I put the leaves I thought I could work with in a bath of cold water and took the time to pick through them. I was left with only a small handful I deemed acceptable. Luckily, since I pick up pretty, fresh bouquets of kale wherever I see them, even if I am already well-stocked ["Hello, I am Cheryl, I am a Kale Hoarder"] I was all set with plan B. I supplemented the sad little arugula leaves with a couple of big handfuls of fresh, happy raw kale. This salad was amazing and even better the next day. The kale held up better overnight than the arugula, so I will use only arugula next time.

From time to time, as a frequent veggie buyer, I've returned produce which looked good on the outside but turned out not to be. In this case, since we are in a State of Emergency with little ice pellets still bouncing off my tin roof, I'll just stay off the streets and be grateful for my sad little arugula's role in my fabulous salad, and I probably won't buy it there anymore. I don't think arugula is Kroger's forte -- in hindsight, I don't remember ever getting an impressive batch there. I continue to enjoy their kale, though.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

More Organics

My next box of local, organic veggies arrived yesterday. It feels like Christmas on delivery day. I have set the frequency at biweekly and have changed to the "tiny" box size for fear of wasting the gorgeous goodies. The "tiny" size is actually in the same box, with presumably fewer items inside. It's still a lot. After two giant beets (which I ate all by myself) and two big green bell peppers (still in the crisper two weeks later) I marked those off the list of future deliveries, and now I wish I'd marked off the sweet potatoes too. There is still a large bowl of smashed sweet potatoes in the fridge from the last shipment, and nobody is really going for them, least of all me. I'm not a huge fan of sweets. The mashed sweet potatoes are alright -- no added sugar, just "butter" salt and pepper, and a little unsweetened almond milk -- I'm just not craving them the way I do those Mediterranean beans. Here in the new shipment there are three more, albeit of two different varieties. I will need to more closely edit that list. The only other disappointment is a package of organic sprouts, since I grow my own in a hemp bag thus:

What I'd really like more of in these shipments is kale and other greens, and citrus. Last shipment's grapefruits and oranges were resplendent. They were the best I've ever tasted! You may be wondering about citrus fruit and tomatoes being organic and local. Being in Georgia, parts of Florida and South Carolina are considered "local" to us. I think the radius is 350 miles or so. I've no complaints about the quality of this produce. But I do have my favorites.

Here's a salad that was a vehicle for the last orange from the former shipment:

Atop organic lettuces, I placed chunks and juice of the orange, along with some delicious citrus-marinated mixed olives from a beautiful crock I received from my friend, Joan, for Christmas. Besides the citrus-oil and the juice from the orange, I only seasoned the salad with a tiny pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. This was a luscious, satisfying lunch.

Now -- off to make another batch of those amazing Mediterranean beans -- this time with organic limas instead of speckled. I probably need to use those green bell peppers too. Maybe stuffed? I'll keep you posted.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Benefits of "Leaning Into" Vegan

Just a quick one today, vegans. Last week I was thumbing through a People magazine and noticed that Christie Brinkley is now 60 years old! Yes, that Christie -- the one in the poster in all the boys' dorm rooms back in my day. I bet the boys didn't know she was already 30 years old then. Christie at 60 looks pretty much like Christie at 30, and she credits managing stress and following a healthful, "mostly vegan" diet for her longevity.

People follow a vegan diet for so many reasons, but the numerous benefits are measurable physically, emotionally and karmically. For those not ready to go whole hog (so to speak) the value of at least "leaning into" a more plant-based diet should not be underestimated.

Personally, though the stabilization of chronic illness is my main motivator, some days are more creative and energetic than others. On the days my motivation wanes, vanity steps in and I'm inspired anew. No other way of life affords the chance to eat as much delicious food, as often as one wants, with no detrimental effect to health or dress size. In the grand scheme of things, 60 isn't very far off. Miss Brinkley and other beautiful vegans and "almost vegans" stand as inspiration for what's to come.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

What I Eat on "Steak Night"

Longtime readers already know that our household is an eclectic bunch when it comes to dietary preference. Long story short, while hoping my loved ones would benefit from my midlife shift, I decided I was going ahead with the diet change for myself, despite the choices of others. Since they were mostly grown when I went vegan they have each adapted parts of my food into what they want to eat in varying degrees. My daughter, Wynne, only 12 years old when I went vegan four years ago, has been the most open to it and eats more veggies and fewer critters than the rest of them.

My husband is an excellent grill chef. In the summer months he normally prepares a grill pan full of veggies for all of us alongside whatever else he is cooking, but in the winter I find myself craving soups, sautees and stews, so I do the veggies indoors while he braves the elements for his meat. Last night my baked potato was an apt vehicle for big chunks of mushroom, sauteed in Earth Balance and topped with decadent truffle oil. I also put a little of the oil on some tender lettuce leaves, along with a squeeze of lemon. The salad doesn't appear in the photo. Alongside the potato is the ubiquitous collard sautee -- this time with an onion, a tomato and a can of cannelini beans. I sprinkled a scant amount of turmeric and salt, then deglazed the whole thing quickly with half a glass of white wine. I had already finished the first half and had decided it was not my favorite for sipping. It was great in the sautee though. After taking the collards out of the pan, I brightened them with a squeeze of lemon.

I get a lot of questions about how our different diets work for us. In a nutshell, we just prepare a few more dishes, and each of us picks and chooses from what's available. The inevitable leftovers are a bonus. I eat them as they are the next day, since I never tire of a good flavor. The meat-eaters normally require a reinvention, which is easy enough.

Today, Superbowl Sunday, the reinvention for the steak is in the form of crock pot chili. I soaked a pound of black eyed peas overnight since we've not had them for a month now (New Years' good luck peas). The chili is beginning to bubble, but for me and any other veggie eaters I'm brewing up a different pot:

I'm simmering the peas in broth, onion, celery, carrot, leek, bay leaves and kombu. Did you know you should never add salt to beans or peas during the cooking process? It'll keep them from softening fully. Since I want my good luck peas to melt in my mouth, I'll wait 'til the end to season them. I will likely utilize the flavors of thyme and cooking sherry since I'm feeling kind of a French vibe this overcast day.

By the time the teams take the field, this house should be smelling delicious!