Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fluffy Buckwheat Pancakes

Oh buckwheat, how I adore thee… let me count the ways.

1 Buckwheat crepes (also called gallettes) with spinach, mushroom and cheese
2 Toasted and cooked whole with caramelized onions and potatoes
3 Mixed with garbanzo flour and quinoa flour in baked goods – buckwheat is gluten-free too!
4 Raw buckwheat soaked and sprouted, then dehydrated into the cutely named ‘buckwheaties’

What, only 4 ways? Well now there’s 5. Buckwheat pancakes I love best. I love them not just because they are so sweet and toasty and fabulous, but because they were the first thing that Mark asked me to make this past Sunday morning. Actually, I think they were the first words he spoke at all to me. Eyes open. Yawn. A kiss. “Will you make buckwheat pancakes?” I smiled, because unimaginably, this was the exact thought that ran through my mind right before he asked that question. We do that a lot.

I’m used to making pancakes. I’m the pancake improv queen. I can scat and doowop those cakes with the best of ‘em. I never use a recipe. I see what I’ve got and throw it in the bowl. Sometimes it works out… and well… sometimes it doesn’t. After Mark and I moved in together, I started making pancakes right and left. I now had someone to cook for (a.k.a a victim ripe for my experimentation.) He’s been through dense vegan whole wheat cakes, fluffy white and wheat cakes, pancakes with blueberries not-quite-cooked-through, buckwheat cakes flatter than, um, a pancake. Needless to say he’s been through many pancakes, but you won’t hear any complaints from him. Good or bad, they’ve all been covered in real maple syrup and slathered in butter, which perfects any imperfection.

A few weeks ago I decided to become a bit more systematic in my experimentation. In other words, I needed to find what was working and write it down. Over time I sensed that the lightest and most blissful pancakes came when I used yogurt and baking soda. It’s no wonder as the yogurt’s protein gives the cake structure, and it’s acidity activates the baking soda so effectively to give a good rise. I remember my mother using yogurt in her pancake batter when I was growing up. It must be key.

With forced fastidiousness, I plopped down a pencil and paper next to my morning batter-making and came up with this. After all the batches of pancakes Mark has ‘endured’ he’s always said “yum” or “good job” or “you’re the best, Pancake Girl” but this time, he had no words. He only gave a guttural “Ughhhhaaaaaahhhhh” and followed it with an “MMmmmmm.” I’ve never seen him in more pleasure over a pancake (and he’s a french toast guy.) It’s the ultimate. We both agreed. You’ll never want for another pancake recipe again. Heck, you may never make another pancake again that’s not buckwheat.

So this is number 5, but I think you’ll agree it’s number 1.

Fluffy Buckwheat Pancakes

The first time I made these I used nonfat yogurt and came out with a dry product. Don't use it! Stick with a lowfat yogurt, a brand I like is Nancy's Organic. You could substitute the white spelt flour with a white wheat flour and you'd probably be safe. Try topping them with berries, bananas or even some maple sweetened yogurt for a power breakfast.

1 cup lowfat yogurt
1 tablespoon evaporated cane juice or sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons water
1 cup soy milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup white spelt flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons butter

Mix together the first 8 ingredients in a medium bowl. Combine well and then add the flours and baking soda. Beat well to smooth the lumps. Heat a cast iron skillet to medium heat and add the butter to the pan. Pour batter out 1/4 cup at a time for medium-sized cakes. Top with real maple syrup and moan. I know, they're obscene, aren't they?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ginger Chocolate Almond Granola

Fall has been good to us lately. I seem to remember much more rain this time last year. There were more dark and cloudy days. On my morning runs along the bike trail, I’d see so many sodden red and yellow leaves stuck like papier mache to black pavement. This morning the leaves were wet, but only because of the dew of the cold October mornings we’ve had. Little rain, more blue skies to act as the backdrop to those technicolor leaves.

There was quite a bit of blue today, and the sun, in it’s low angle, peeked out from behind a few fluffy clouds to illuminate the yellows and oranges. It’s funny how each season has its colors. Spring is rose and yellow-lime green from new buds, with hints of violet purple from the crocuses. Winter is deep pine green, if you live in the Northwest, with lots of grey from clouds and foggy mornings. Winter is also white, as some mornings you may look out the window and find that a cloak has been pulled over your front yard. Our whiteouts come not from snow, but from a marine fog that will never let you forget where you are. If you don’t touch the waters of the Sound that day, the Sound may reach out and touch you.

Fall has many colors to give, but the ones that pop up everywhere are school bus yellow, orange and brick red. Fall also gives us smells. Today while jogging along the trail, admiring the confetti of leaves and low sunlight, I smelled cloves. Sometimes there is a mild cinnamon in the air too along with the chill. No wonder this time of year we turn to spices with hearty, deeply-colored foods to make our meals - orange pumpkins, profoundly green kale, and orange-red foraged mushrooms like chanterelles and the lobster variety I saw at the market. We incorporate the smells… spicy pumpkin pie with cloves and cardamom, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg too. The spices have also found their way into my kale and root veggies. Their piquancy wakes up your tongue, warms your mouth with a low, slow heat. A penetrating, sustained heat that is surprisingly subtle, despite is power.

The most attractive of all the warming spices is surely ginger. It’s my absolute favorite of all the spices that we associate with fall and winter cooking. It’s actually a rhizome, not a seed as most spices are. We can use it dried and ground, or peeled fresh and grated so the powerfully hot juice runs out with the pulp. China grows more of this rhizome than any other place in the world, but we import lots of it from Jamaica too. Yes,
unfortunately it’s not a local food. It’s one of those exotic ingredients that we’ve come to see as quite normal here in the US. Like chocolate and coffee, we don’t really produce much, if any, but we enjoy it in abundance.

So on this cold, dewy October morning with Mark still asleep in bed, I decided to make a batch of something spicy and warm. I love granola. I love ginger. Why not combine the two? This recipe is so simple. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t make their own granola on a weekly basis. The fresh stuff is so great, and you avoid having to buy the stuff from the boxes or bulk bins that use extra oils and way way too much sugar. It takes 30 minutes, from start to finish. I added almonds, honey and maple syrup, and then some chopped chocolate. Divine.

My feet are freezing against the cold kitchen floor, and the windows are fogged from the cold outside – but the heat of the oven will fix that. The oats and almonds are toasting and the smell of ginger is wafting into every room. I have nowhere to be but right here, stretching my neck toward the windowpane to watch the sun peek out.

This to me is Fall - hearty and warming food, the oven on early to heat the house. We’ll let the rain come eventually and the greyer skies too, but for now I'm having my Fall.

Ginger Chocolate Almond Granola

This is almost too decadent for breakfast! I enjoy using a candied ginger from Trader Joe's that is uncrystallized, so it isn't gritty and too sweet like crystallized ginger can be. Green & Black's chocolate is fantastic if you can get it, in this recipe I used the
72% baking bar. If you can't find this particular brand, try to get chocolate that's organic and fair trade. This granola would make a great dessert served with some honey-sweetened yogurt and black cherries.

5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup raw almonds
2 tablespoons unhulled or hulled sesame seeds
1 - 2 tablespoons whole flax seeds
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup grade B maple syrup
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon dried ground ginger
1 - 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 cup uncrystallized candied ginger, chopped finely and
loosely packed
1/5 cup dark chocolate, chopped, 70% or higher

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, stir together first four ingredients. sprinkle in the vanilla in drops while stirring. Then add the honey and maple syrup, and stir to coat all the dry ingredients well. You may have to really work this for a bit to get all the clumps out - but if you like clumps, just add more honey and don't stir as much. Once all the dry ingredients are coated, put in the dried and fresh ginger, cinnamon and salt. Stir well. Place mixture on a large baking sheet with raised sides, so your granola doesn't slide off and make a mess. Bake for about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. The granola should be brown and golden all the way through (stirring once or twice during baking will allow even toasting.) Cool the granola completely - and I mean totally, otherwise the chocolate will melt all over the place... but hmmm, maybe that's a good thing... so go ahead and add the candied ginger and chocolate. Serve it up with vanilla soymilk. Yum.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Thyme Roasted Orange Fries

Tossed in olive oil and thyme

I have a secret. I love French fries. I don’t think I’ve ever said that before, and wow, that felt good. I love French Fries!! I’ve always loved them, in secret, like I love chocolate cake. But somewhere along the way, I’ve ordered chocolate cake in a restaurant when a dessert was to be split, or made one at home with whole wheat pastry flour and tofu icing, just to make myself feel a bit better. But I’ve never ordered fries in a restaurant in recent or not-so-recent memory. They are just one of those off-limits foods for me. You know, those foods that you can’t imagine ordering to finish all by yourself because it’s just so… so… junkfoodlike. All I can see is a big pile of guilt-inducing greasy calories. Sigh, yes, Dotty the Dietitian has just dropped her apples and has tackled me again. Every time I dine out with Mark or a friend, I order a veggie hummus sandwich and then say with a radiant smile “Side salad, please, with dressing on the side.” And when the plate across from me arrives, piled high with those fragrant naughty fries, I reach over and say “Mmmm, do you mind?” Maybe the allure is in the taboo. A hot potatoey fry dipped in too-sweet ketchup. It’s just so good. I think they taste better taken from my partner’s sandwich platter anyhow.

A bouquet of thyme and rosemary is more fragrant than flowers

Two years ago, on a wild and wooly trip to San Francisco, my friend Eric (also classifiable as wild and wooly) insisted that we take a motorbike trip into the heart of the city to visit his absolutely favorite Belgian restaurant serving his absolutely favorite thing… French fries. As you may know, the Belgians take no prisoners when it comes to the art of frying the tuber. A Belgian fry is double-fried, once to crisp and cook the fry, a second time to recrisp the outside and add an additional layer of browned flavor. If I had gone to this place by myself, I inevitably would have ordered something a little more… boring. But Eric brings out the sense of adventure in me, so we ordered those fries and rolled our eyes at the potatoey creamy decadence of it all.

But still, I haven’t yet made peace with the French fry.

But do you know what I love, what I will always be happy to make when root veggies come in season? Orange fries. They’re so sweet, and dare I say, more enjoyable even than the traditional russet potato ones. These fries are so colorful and buttery, doused in olive oil and roasted with thyme until their browned sweetness makes them stick to your back teeth. These fries are long thin strips of organic yam and sweet carrot. Even the most diehard French fry fan will take a shine to these. They are fries for sure… but sweeter, and not deep fried, and use a healthier fat too. I think they are a bit more interesting as a contrast to your black bean burger or chicken sandwich, wouldn’t you say? But mind you, I do not mean these to be a substitute, they make no apologies for who they are.

And neither should I. I love French fries. And no, I still won’t keep my hands off your plate.

Browned and sweet

Thyme Roasted Orange Fries

serves 4

These fries work well with any herbs you have on hand. I like to use Nash's carrots from here in Washington state. They are the sweetest I've had. Look around at your farmer's market and sample around for your favorite orange veggies.

4-5 large sweet carrots

2 medium-sized oblong yams

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 bunch fresh thyme

1 tablespoon coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Slice each carrot and yam into long strips, about 1/4 - 1/2" thick. Not too skinny, or they will roast too quickly and burn at the tips. Place the pieces on two large baking sheets and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil for each batch. Pull the leaves off of each thyme branch, and not worry if some of the tough branches get mixed in... they'll come out later on the pan. Leave some branches whole if you like, just leave enough small leaves to help coat the fries. Put 1/2 tablespoon of coarse salt on each tray and toss well. Spread the fries out as far apart as you can, so they roast faster and crisp well. Bake until brown and crispy. If they aren't brown enough, they won't taste as sweet.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What’s for Dinner?

So it’s approaching 5:30pm and I’m home from work. Mark is home. We’ve both just stumbled warily through the door, given smiles and little kisses and small exclamations of how we’ve missed each other during the day. We chuck off our shoes and our jackets and stumble as fast as humanly possible into our comfy plaid pajama pants. I plop on the couch and Mark opens the fridge for his favorite beer. Ah, finally home.

Now, what’s for dinner?

In our house, I rule the kitchen. Now mind you, Mark makes a mean bowl of pasta with red sauce from our favorite organic brand from a jar. He also does steamed broccoli with toasted almonds and olive oil like a champ. He’s also been known to jump (okay, sometimes maybe begrudgingly roll) out of bed on a Saturday morning and with a bounce in his step go to the kitchen and exclaim “French Toast and Bugs Bunny!!” With two eggs, vanilla soymilk, oat sunflower bread and real maple syrup, he whips up half a loaf of the stuff with Bugs antagonizing Yosemite Sam as inspiration.

But when it comes to dinner, ahem, I take on the responsibility for fulfilling at least one third of his daily protein, calorie, and phytonutrient needs. I’m a nutritionist, what can I say? I quietly try to figure out how to balance out what he’s probably already eaten that day, which goes something like this: cereal, power bar, turkey sandwich, power bar, five stalks of broccoli (yes, this is my crowning achievement), power bar. We’re gonna need some major plant foods here, folks. We’re gonna need a protein source, and if at all possible let’s try and eat some grain other than wheat (don’t even get me started on the over-wheating of America!) And dinner needs to be yummy, and creative, and something that I will have fun playing with, and different than the last five dinners we’ve had (which would all be various forms of pizza if Mark were Kitchen Sorcerer). After all my mental nutrition calculations and creative machinations I seem to forget to ask the vital and obvious question, what do we feel like having for dinner?

Many nights I could just eat a salad with a bunch of leftovers thrown in and call it good. But Mark doesn’t like salads (yes, I’ve still got a ways to go on that one) so something hot and vegetable-y it will be.

How about some tofu? And stir fried veggies… and then some quinoa… but I feel like something soupy with savory salty broth. I didn’t want to make soup, but I think we can compromise somehow. The little concoction I came up with was so colorful, but warm and hearty too, but also light, I suppose. Maybe you just have to taste it to see what I mean.

Now a word on quinoa. Have you not yet tried this exotic little pearl of perfect nutrition? Run thee to a corner natural foods market and grab yourself a bag. It’s now a staple in my kitchen. You can use it just about anywhere you’d use rice, but quinoa is higher in protein and fiber. It originally comes from the Andean countries of South America where many native cultures have subsisted on it, particularly in Peru. In the past I have struggled to describe it’s aroma and flavor. Then a few years ago when I was teaching a kid’s cooking class we made up a pot of quinoa. I let the 7 and 8 year old kids put their nose near to smell, and a precocious little girl turned to me and said “corn!” And wouldn’t you know she’s right. The aroma smells like fresh sweet corn, and the flavor is also reminiscent, but mildly so.

I admit, on some tired days dinner may seem like a chore, but most evenings I remind myself that dinner is a ritual. It is a way we care for our bodies, our minds, and our lovers. Dinner is an opportunity to feel the vegetables snap on the chopping block, smell the garlic turning brown in the pan, give a whisper of thanks that I have such beautiful food, and the ability to taste it, touch it, and give it to others. It is a meditation, a creation that is all your own. If you have to spend 20 minutes, why not make them count? Those minutes are gifts, opportunities to slow down and care for our bodies. Even if it's pasta and jarred sauce, it is your contribution. It is a way to show love.

Dinner is what you make it.

Tofu with Herbed Vegetables and Quinoa

This dish is just a gussied-up version of the staples that we have for dinner many nights, tofu or beans, any vegetables leftover in the fridge, and some of that magical quinoa. So simple, play around with it and make it pretty, or stir it all together, add more broth and create soup!

1 pound extra firm tofu, sliced into strips or squares
1/2 cup shoyu or tamari
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup quinoa
3-4 cups water, flavorful stock and/or a dry white wine
2 large sprigs rosemary
1 bunch sage
1 bunch thyme

3 tablespoons miso
3 tablespoons olive oil

4-5 cups of any vegetables you have around (red cabbage, hearty greens, tomatoes, carrots, etc.)
5 large cloves garlic
3 tablespoons vegan worcestshire sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil

fresh cracked pepper and sea salt to taste

Marinate the tofu for about an hour in the shoyu. In a large cast iron skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil until a drop of water crackles and sizzles in the pan. Add the tofu and sear until dark brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. While the tofu is frying, in a medium saucepan bring the vegetable stock and/or wine to a boil. Add the quinoa, rosemary, sage, and thyme and cook until quinoa is tender - there should be a nice amount of broth leftover. Turn off the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Add the miso and olive oil and stir well. If you love garlic, add some extra cloves into the cooking quinoa. While the quinoa is cooking, saute the vegetables. In your cast iron skillet, add the 3 tablespoons olive oil and bring to temperature. Add the garlic and saute until very lightly brown. Add the harder vegetables, such as carrots or potatoes first. Cook for a few minutes, then add the softer vegetables. Once all vegetables are tender, add the worcestshire sauce and cook a minute more. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve in deep plates, layering the quinoa, then the tofu and topping with the vegetables. Garnish with fresh herbs.

Monday, October 6, 2008

More Family Stuff… and More Chocolate

In a past life I was a flight attendant, a server at four different brand-new Chicago establishments (most of which no longer exist), a manager of a shoe boutique, a fashion event coordinator, a raw food enthusiast, and a nanny to a tow-headed-firecracker of a baby named Mia. In a past life I did just about anything I could do to make my rent and still allow myself a modicum of personal freedom (well, maybe this isn’t so past.) And the majority of my past ‘careers’ before I found my stride in the nutrition world were fairly forgettable… or maybe I just wish I could forget them… well, except for that little firecracker named Mia. Some jobs were better than others, and that was a job that I was honored to have. Mia, at the time, was the six-month old baby of my good friends Thomas and Gina who lived a few blocks from me in our Chicago neighborhood. A couple of times per week I would arrive walking at their house at 8 am, already sweating from the muggy, hot summer morning, ascend the front steps to their big brick house where I’d be met by a swoosh of cold air-conditioned air and by Thomas’s ‘buenos dias’ as he scrambled to get to work.

Thomas was my first boss at my first job out of college. He was the first person I met in the city who inspired that insecure and unsure girl to do better, to be better. Our friendship lasted beyond that first job, and we later worked together for Coprodeli, a nonprofit helping the poor of Peru. Years later, after he and Gina had Mia, I was overjoyed to be asked to have a small part in her childhood.

So when Mark and I traveled to Chicago, all I could think about was how wonderful it would be to see my Chicago family again.

Blue Line El train, Damen stop. In that familiar heat, suitcases in hand we took that familiar walk, past the park where I’d stroll with Mia, past the cafĂ© where I’d sit outside with a beer on a sunny day… oh, the bittersweet memories came flooding back. I was home, but not home. I ached to continue walking down Damen, all the way to my old flat where I found myself, finally, living alone for the first time. I ached for home.

“Papi! Papi! they’re here they’re here!” I see a little girl sitting on the front stoop, blond as a little Marilyn Monroe, turning to run into the house to get her Papi because we’re finally here. Mark turns to me and smiles. I’m smiling and can’t stop. “Abre la puerta, por favor, Mia, abre la puerta!” I hear Thomas’s voice from inside the house. Mia comes down the porch steps and opens the gate. She’s a little girl now, no longer a crawling baby. My heart swells and feels like it just may pop. Thomas comes out with Mia’s new little sister Lourdes and I don’t know who to hug or kiss first. This is always how it should feel to come home.

We sit around the kitchen chatting and catching up. Thomas goes to the cellar and pulls out a bottle of Spanish Tempranillo. Something to go with the pizza he’s put into the oven. Now, when it comes to wine, Thomas doesn’t play around. I know that any casual bottle he pulls out of that cellar is going to be fantastic. He reveals a bottle of Pesquera. I’ve always wanted to try this wine! But as usual, I drink on a beer budget these days. The Pesquera was heavenly. Oh, you must get a bottle of this. It’s worth a few extra dollars, maybe dollars you would have spent on something silly anyway, right? I mean, what if you get hit by a bus tomorrow and you die without experiencing a sip of this stuff? Tragedy, People. Tragedy.

For dessert, Mia and her Papi put on a perfect performance in preparing and serving the special treat. Mia, almost four, put a white napkin over her arm and approached Mark asking, what would you like for dessert, sir? After informing us that the dessert that evening would be the ‘especialidad de la casa’ (house special consisting of toddler chocolate cookies, strawberries and whipped cream arranged in grand style on a dinner plate) it was served with gusto by our hostess, Mia.

As we nibbled our fancy-pants dessert served by our fancy-pants hostess, said hostess informed us that she wanted to go to Seattle. I inquired, “Hm, Mark, do you think she’d fit in my suitcase?” Mark replies, “Oh yes, I do think she’d fit.” Mia’s eyes grow large, and a mischevious smile comes across her face. You can tell she’s contemplating the possibility.

Mark and Mia

The next day we tour the city by car, admiring the polished skyscrapers, the avenues walled in by buildings, the parks, the bigness of it all. I had almost forgotten how big this city is, after three years being gone.

That Sunday evening, I was excited to take Chocoholic Mark to my old place of employment, Hot Chocolate restaurant (an early foreshadowing, I suspect, of the amount of chocolate I would encounter in my life with this guy.) I expected to walk in the door and not recognize a soul save the chef-owner, Mindy.

Nope, not a chance. The old crew was still there, to my astonishment. Chocolate must breed loyalty.

Mark ordered the mac ‘n cheese and a little Scottish Ale with a disturbing name - Skullsplitter. I ordered the grilled octopus with cannellini beans and tomatoes and a glass of Gruner Veltliner... and then crossed my fingers. Finding perfect octopus is as easy as, well, catching one with your bare hands. I haven’t had perfect octopus since the first time I had it in Spain so many years ago. Over the years I continue to order it, hoping each time that it would come out as tender and juicy and flavorful as that first bite in that little joint in Lorca, Spain in 1995. It never does. I don’t know why I keep on betting my dinner in order to get that remote payout of a mouthful of octopus bliss. Isn’t the definition of madness continuing to do the same thing over and over again and each time expecting a different result?

This time, the octopus was perfect. Here’s to madness. We also have a new favorite beer. Skullsplitter Ale from Orkny Brewery, violently delicious, if you may. And combining that bitter and sweet ale with the rich salty cheese souped over those macaroni elbows? Hea-ven. Like I said, some jobs were better than others.

The dessert, however, was the real show - with complex combinations, deconstructions, miniature towers, sauces poured with a flourish and ice cream flavors that only Willy Wonka would appreciate. We ordered two desserts but were served five. Surely my old friends were just concerned that our blood sugars were getting dangerously low. A chocolate cake, deconstructed, the chocolate tart with meringue and salted caramel ice cream served with a homemade pretzel, doughnuts with hot fudge sauce and caramel corn, a berry tart with sweet corn ice cream, and lastly, something that isn’t on their menu anymore, a ‘flight’ of hot chocolates with cookies and homemade marshmallows… just for old time's sake, of course.

Hot Chocolate Flight with sweet treats

Mark was in heaven. I was concerned that I wouldn’t sleep for a week, buzzed on sweets. It was obscene. We ate what we could, but barely made a dent. We walked back to the house late through the warm summer evening air, bags of leftover treats in hand.

That night as I lay in bed, images of all my years in that city ran like a projection reel in my mind. This place feels like home, but so does Indiana. Seattle feels like home too, just without the patina of many years of hardship and love. Where is my home? I still ask myself, as I feel sometimes like I should choose. I roll onto my side, and Mark is there beside me falling into sleep. I put my head on his chest and feel it rise and fall. I’m calmed by the warmth, he breathes and his hand strokes my head. Hmm, home, I think. This is home.