Sunday, January 25, 2009

25 Things

I’m exhausted.  Yeah, I know, that statement isn’t exactly the grabber that I should be writing to pull you into this post.  When I first began writing this blog, I promised myself that I would write about beautiful food, sharing food with friends and nourishing loved ones, about life in Seattle and how food has become a large part of how I experience the world.  I promised myself I would inspire others to believe in food and life, never write anything that I wouldn’t enjoy reading myself, and last but not least, never misrepresent my world. 

When you write for others, there is a strong pull to focus on the positive (who wants to read a downer?) and cherry-pick the details of your day.  On the days I’m feeling down, sometimes writing a positive post pulls me right up into feeling full of smiles again.  The words may act as inspiration, as salve, or as a way to make myself laugh when I don’t have my family around to nudge me into guffaws of outrageousness.

So in an effort at full disclosure – I’m tired.  But hey, I’m still cookin’.  Last night I made a killer spicy orange tofu dish that my faithful friend Orli and Mark just loved (I'll post it soon, promise.)  Despite my fatigue, yesterday I read completely through my current issue of Vegetarian Times and earmarked more than a few recipes to try out (all adventurous, of course, as my resolution still stands.) 

I may be a little down, but not out.  This past week of clinicals pushed my mind and body to the limit.  So now I find myself on a Sunday night with many things still left undone.  Over a quick dinner of soba and noodles with peanut sauce (Mark’s favorite, as you know) I was lamenting my To Do List.  “I still have to call my folks, and a few friends, make a lunch for tomorrow, and post a blog!” I whined.  Mark looked at me with playfulness “Well, I’ll do it for you – I can write about Melba Toast”.  Great, that will be just great. 

My Mark. So helpful.

So to save you from profound musings on Melba Toast, I give you 25 things.  I was tagged on Facebook this week to post 25 random things about myself.  With a focus on food, and in an effort at full disclosure, here goes.

25 Things

  1. I like whole wheat pita bread stuffed with ripe honeydew and crunchy salted peanut butter.
  2. My dream vacation is to spend a few months cycling across Europe.  All day, on my road bike cycling for miles, stopping to camp some nights in small villages with good food and cheap wine.
  3. I spent almost a year as a flight attendant before starting grad school, just so I could travel.  It didn’t really work.  I spent most of my time ‘on call’ and grounded.  I was the only flight attendant at the company who didn’t eat McDonald’s and smoke Marlboros for breakfast.
  4. I push myself too hard sometimes.  I’m my worst critic and a perfectionist, but I’m learning to accept myself and my faults, and take comfort in them.
  5. I get frustrated about being 30 and not having a career yet.  I get upset when my life doesn’t look exactly the way I want it to. 
  6. I grew up Catholic, but I would now describe myself as more of a Buddhist. 
  7. The two professions that I would be other than a clinical dietitian?  A doctor or a chef.  A clinical dietitian is a blend of the two, I think.
  8. Otherwise, I’d be a professional food writer. 
  9. I miss my family like crazy every day, and wonder if I’ll ever stop missing them like I still do after 2 years of living in Seattle.
  10. I’m a terrible escapist. I’ll run off into adventure, hide in a book, or dream and dream about traveling.  I’m a Pisces and I think we’re supposed to be good at that.
  11. I eat organic Lundberg rice cakes like they’re crack.  I leave little rice cake crumbs all around the house.
  12. In a former life I was a Spanish Flamenco dancer.  How else can I explain my penchant for Spanish, my ability to dance to anything latin, and my deep guttural voice (not to mention the part of me that is dark and stormy with a touch of melodrama?) 
  13. I don’t like candy.  But I do like dark chocolate and genuine licorice, made with molasses.  Do those count?
  14. I get all choked up at the end of every episode of Grey’s Anatomy.  It’s really just my outlet to cry.  As if I should feel less embarrassed to cry at a TV show than about real life.
  15. I reminisce about living in Chicago way too much.
  16. Self-reinvention is only positive if your new outside still matches your inside.  You can’t change who you are at the core.
  17. I don’t believe death to be a terrible thing.  The way we view death is what is terrible.
  18. That said, I want to live a long life and drink many bottles of good wine with good friends before I kick it.
  19. Every day I remind myself how lucky I am to be living.  My legs pedal the bicycle.  My heart loves.  My hands feel the cold air.
  20. I don’t dance enough.  I feel best when I crank up U2 and twirl around. 
  21. I love coffee with cream and sugar.  I love espresso.  Caffeine makes me crazy, so I have to be careful. 
  22. Being light, feeling lighthearted has never come easily to me.  I was a serious child, and spent most of my life feeling very heavy and serious and worried.  It took a long time to unlearn that. 
  23. This blog is the result of letting go, not being afraid to give everything I’ve got to the world.
  24. I am very thankful for Mark.  He’s my sunshine.
  25. The reason I’m here, why I’ve gone through all I have in this life, is so that I may help others to heal.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pampered Kale

I’ve been so stuck on baking lately. In this foggy, chilly weather the only thing that sounds appealing is snuggling up with cookies and muffins and a good DVD. But I gotta get out of this rut… not that it’s such a terribly bad thing really. But I have baked more cookies and looked up more dessert recipes than this nutritionist would care to admit (David Lebovitz, you know you’ve succeeded when the nutrition girl wants nothing but the variations of your ice cream sandwiches for a week straight). So before my carbohydrate count gets higher than my credit score (which really isn’t saying much anyway). I’ll opt to make an effort toward something a bit more, shall we say, not birthday-treat-like.

I’m still having my fun with vegetables, despite the winter weather. Even cold salads can still be so appealing when paired with a hot stew or toasted sandwich. I was reminded of this last week when I was fortunate enough to take another mini cooking class from one of my favorite Bastyr instructors. We learned three different salads, all cold, that were appealing for any season. The class reminded me yet again that a poor student shouldn’t be afraid of loading up her shopping card with 15 different colorful vegetables to make a single salad. It’s worth it. So thank you, Jennifer, for re-inspiring me in the middle of January.

If you want an energy-boosting addition to your lunch, try this massaged kale salad (yes, us nutritionists pamper our vegetables with spa-like treatments on occasion). Kale is a powerhouse of nutrition – lots of vitamin A, K, tons of fiber, and the texture has such a satisfying chew. You can buy kale as either curly, or the lacinato (a.k.a ‘dinosaur’) variety. Both are great, and both would work well in this salad. If you’re the type who goes to the market and skips the entire leafy green section because you have trouble identifying the collards from the chard – then don’t worry, this salad works well with just about any bunch of winter leafies that you mistakenly buy. Well, except for mustard greens that is (back away… far, far away.)

I’m putting away my measuring cups and wooden spoons for now, so I can begin to focus on more color and creative dressings, stir-frys and food that involves more than my go-to staples and the tried-and-true. Time to open up my thinking and let in unfamiliar ingredients and combinations. This is quite possibly my one and only resolution this year. Crack open that neglected cookbook! Play with stuff you can barely pronounce! Try a recipe that doesn’t sound like something you’d like to make! Savor the unknown!

…just as long as I can do it with my favorite comfort foods on hold in the fridge and a warm blanket waiting for me on the couch.

Behind every adventuresome cook is a good plate of mac ‘n cheese.

Massaged Kale Salad
Makes 6 servings
Original recipe by Jennifer Adler, CN

Jennifer claims this salad just keeps getting better with time – she loves hers best on the 10th day. I doubt mine will stick around the fridge that long. Feel free to experiment with the ingredients, try different crumbly cheeses and nuts according to what you have on hand.

1 bunch kale, de-stemmed, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup olive oil
2-3 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar
¼ cup diced red onion
1/3 cup currants
¾ cup diced apple
1/3 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
1/3 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

Put kale in a large mixing bowl. Add salt, massage salt into kale for 2 minutes. Gently stir in remaining ingredients except for cheese. Taste and adjust for salt and vinegar. When at desired flavor gently stir in cheese.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Out from under the Pots and Pans

Whew. It's been a heck of a month. December now behind me, weeks of moving and packing and unpacking, cookies baked and Christmas dinner made, travels back to Indiana for New Year's celebration... I can scarcely catch my breath. Wait, I'm catching it now, bear with me while I remember my breath as I write these words.

It's been a busy month, filled with new beginnings and some tough emotional stuff. This past month I've learned what love means, and commitment too (well, I knew about it before but now I really get it). Commitment to the one you love in times of haul-the-50lb-desk-into-the-truck-in-blinding-snow stress. Commitment to creativity and beauty when you're so exhausted you can barely stir the cookie batter for the cookies you promised for Christmas. It's tough out there, kids. Change is tough, transition is tough, but real love is tougher.

So I return to you, my friends, after a month of stress and moving and transition into a new life in our house on 35th Avenue. And you know what? I survived the weeks without internet. I survived my own terrible and uncontrollable desire for order amidst chaos (thanks, Mark, for enduring my neurotic perfectionism.) I even survived well enough to make Christmas dinner and two batches of cookies Christmas day, 4 days after moving. Yes, I know I'm a bit masochistic.

But you must be able to imagine how sweet and beautiful it was to make food in a new space, with (most) everything put in its place. I reached for my spices and GASP! they were there, and on their own shelf! Imagine my satisfaction, as this past year I've lived with my little jars of cardamom and cloves, coriander and chipotle in a small cardboard box tucked into the dark maw of our back walk-in closet. I was tired Christmas day, but I cooked. I cooked and baked and Mark chopped and sipped - we both sipped, of course.

For me, it was a mad expression of love and commitment. For food, for happiness, for survival of all the things that really matter to us. Beauty, comfort, creativity and family. Christmas day, though we were both away from our families, baking cookies felt like family to me. I even brought a few of these cookies home to my family in Indiana for a post-Christmas visit... soft ginger cookies. I've been tinkering with this recipe for a few years, but now I think I've found my formula. With or without chocolate chips, they're heavenly. They signify the cool months, and I look forward to them as soon as the leaves drop from the trees.

So starting this year, starting with the knowledge that things will come together (eventually), I will believe. I'll believe that all things resolve, all emotions pass, and all cookies, with some tinkering, will come out just right.

Soft Ginger Chocolate Cookies

Makes 4 – 5 dozen cookies, depending on size

Adapted from a Ginger Snaps recipe from The Joy of Cooking copyright 1997

This recipe can be tweaked for whether you want the cookie a bit drier and cakey (reduce the butter by half) or a bit harder (replace the honey with all sugar) or without the chocolate chips for a purist experience. This recipe is my personal favorite of all the variations I’ve tried.

3 ¾ cups whole wheat pastry flour, spelt flour (or flour of choice)

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup honey

2/3 cup sugar

2 large eggs

½ cup dark molasses

¼ cup finely minced fresh ginger

1 cup dark chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease cookie sheets. Whisk or sift together thoroughly the first seven ingredients. In a separate bowl, beat together the next six ingredients until well-blended. Stir the wet and dry mixtures together until smooth. Add the chocolate chips and stir if using.

Scoop cookie dough into 3 heaping tablespoon size cookies to bake. Bake 10 – 13 minutes, rotating cookie sheets halfway through, until cookie looks uniform and set.