Friday, August 26, 2011


Something happened today that really meant a lot to me. Not an event on the level of, say, my sister delivering her babies in a couple of weeks, or next month celebrating the 1-year anniversary of dating my boyfriend, or [crossing fingers] someday getting a fabulous winemaking job. However, this was enough to make me cheer happily inside all day long.

I was able to donate blood. Because my blood was chock full of iron-rich red blood cells.

This hasn't happened in, oh, about seven years. Every time I went in, they'd check my hematocrit and it would be too low. Sometimes just barely too low, sometimes well below the limit. That pesky vegetarian-induced anemia.

Yesterday I received an email about the blood drive happening at work, and signed up for a donation appointment figuring I'd at least get an idea of my hematocrit before they sent me away. Instead I blasted past their donation threshold.

Amazing. Less than six months on a deliberate iron-rich-animal-product-including diet and I've fixed that anemia problem. Just goes to show that liver is more powerful than you could ever imagine. :) And clams.

I particularly feel warm and fuzzy when I donate blood because I'm O+, so a large proportion of the populace can receive from me, and I either lack or have a particular factor in my blood that enables me to donate to babies. Do you have healthy blood? Find your local donation center and give some of it away.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

This week's surprising CSA haul

Wow. Everything I pulled out of this week's CSA box was my favorite.

A basket of padrone peppers
A head of butter lettuce
A bunch of baby leeks
A bunch of carrots
Three kohlrabi, with leaves
Two baskets strawberries
A head of cauliflower (!)
A small bag of sun-dried tomatoes (!!)
Plus, of course, six amazing eggs

As I was carrying this load to the car, I thought about my sister's CSA, and the fact that she bought into half a share for her and her husband. They don't get through all their fruit and veg, and every week give something or another to our parents. It makes me wonder whether my Fifth Crow Farm CSA box was filled with the intention of it feeding two people over a week. If so, that just confirms that I am a vegetable eating machine, as the only things I've ever thrown out are the green tops of carrots, radishes and turnips.

I have so many leaves in my fridge right now. Let's see: beet greens, kohlrabi greens, red cabbage, red butter lettuce, green butter lettuce, mixed salad greens, swiss chard. The beet greens and chard need to be cooked next. I'm thinking of treating the chard more like spinach, and making a curry with lamb. I was all set to look up a recipe in my pan-asian cookbook when I realized that it was a *vegetarian* pan-asian cookbook, and likely not to have a recipe for lamb curry. Of course, all I really have to do is follow the recipe for potato and spinach curry and add the browned lamb to it....

This blog post is brought to you by the surge of energy that enabled me to make pesto out of the basil plant that's been sitting on my kitchen table for, oh, at least two weeks now. 2 C basil leaves, 4 cloves garlic, 1/2 C walnuts, 1/4 C parmesan cheese, and 2 T olive oil all mixed up in the food processor. Scoop into a jar and cover with a layer of olive oil to prevent oxidation. Store in the refrigerator. I haven't decided yet what to use the pesto on, as I don't eat pasta. Beans or potatoes are always options, or I could spread it over a burger.

Currently listening to The Moody Blues "Days of Future Passed". One song left, and then off to bed with me.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Taking a break

I'm still alive, and still hale and hearty. What's awesome is that I'm working at a new job. A job that is engaging, satisfying, and leaves me no time for laziness on the computer during the day. I recently finished a very time-consuming sewing project; and I'm gearing up for the renaissance faire, rehearsals for which started this week. Busy, busy, busy.

So, in the name of my blood pressure, I'm going to take a break from blogging. Y'all come back now, y'hear?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Late and words only

Aargh. I have a photo of this week's CSA box, but I can't find the cable that connects my camera to my computer for downloading images. I'll have to keep looking, because there are a lot of pictures I want to share.

I've been on a little summer vacation this week, which is partly to explain the lack of action here. Spent last weekend up in the Redwoods National Forest with a couple of my college chums. Camping, hiking, chatting, eating food cooked on sticks over the campfire, more chatting--just what one would expect from three outdoorsie ladies.

The forest itself was incredible. Like nothing I had ever seen before. The redwoods were so massive, so gargantuan, so brobdingnagian! I could have (and actually did, come to think of it, on Saturday) spent all day hiking on that soft trail, amidst the ferns and clean air, craning my neck to see the tops of the trees touching the sky. I think my favorite part was imagining a diplodocus walking through the thick ferns and trees.

Anyway, I am hoping to post photos at some later date.

Now for vegetables! My refrigerator, as usual, is bursting. This week I received:
3 golden beets
a bunch of turnips
a bunch of collards
a head of red butter lettuce
a head of red cabbage
2 yellow onions
2 baskets of strawberries
a half-dozen eggs

This time I am definitely eating the turnip greens. As for the turnips themselves, I am going to ferment them, middle-eastern style, with a bit of beet in there to give them a bright pink color. (Hah! I could break tradition and use a golden beet to give them a bright yellow-orange color!)

My fermented vegetable recipes come from Nourishing Traditions, by Fallon and Enig, and are based on lactic acid-producing bacterial fermentation using whey. One obtains the whey and bacteria the old-fashioned way (old-fashioned whey!) by separating yogurt. As it so happens, I have a quart of home-made yogurt in my fridge, and the resulting yogurt cheese is amazing with strawberries (or any kind of fruit, for that matter.) Time for me to go spend a few hours in the kitchen.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

My CSA Farm Loves Me

Who has two thumbs and 15 pints of strawberries? This girl!

Yesterday's gorgeous CSA haul contained things in threes:
3 zucchini
3 beets
3 kohlrabi
3 baskets of strawberries
3 leeks
3 pairs of eggs :)
bag of salad mix
head of broccoli

All this, plus an entire flat (12 pints) of strawberries. Gorgeous, deliciously sweet, organic strawberries--at the amazing rate of $2 per basket. I normally don't snack on the drive home with my haul, but two berries met their end in my belly.

This extra flat of berries is all going in the freezer for winter consumption. Last night 6 pints were cleaned, hulled, and laid out in a single layer on a cookie sheet for overnight freezing. This morning they ended up in 3 quart-sized freezer bags. I will be repeating the procedure this evening.

Speaking of repeat procedures, the first batch of stock is cooling in my fridge. It had simmered in the crock pot for about a day, then strained into a stainless-steel bowl and popped into the fridge. While I ordered plain bones ("gelatinous bones") from my meat dealers, one of the bones contained a considerable amount of meat, and a considerable amount of fat, so this first batch of stock is particularly rich. I know, because I drank a bit of it last night. About a cup of stock + a cup of reconstituted vegetable bouillon = so much goodness I had to save half as leftovers. Silly me, too, for drinking hot soup on a hot July evening, but whenever I make something new I really want to try it right away. It has a pronounced flavor to which I am not accustomed, but I expect it will grow on me, especially if my body responds well to all the alleged nutrition. In any case, I've read that you can get more than one pot of stock out of a set of bones, so they're simmering for another day. My freezer is going to be so full!

Heading out on a weekend camping trip (ladies only!) early tomorrow morning, so I've been thinking about suitable food to take with me. Dense vegetables--carrots, beets, kohlrabi--will come, the latter one to eat raw for lunch and the former two to roast in the fire. I'm also bringing the salad mix, because it's fragile, needs to be eaten soon, and I can just nosh on the leaves straight from the bag. At least one pint of strawberries will also come out with me, to share with the girls.

I'm really excited about the trip. Aside from the fact that I love camping, we're going to be up in the Redwoods, which I've heard is gorgeous. Best of all, I'll get to enjoy the company of an old friend who I haven't see in more than ten years.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Adventures in Shopping

I made a quick shopping expedition to my local Whole Foods Market yesterday after work. Here was my list: milk, tomatoes, dates, coconut, almond butter, cayenne pepper, dried basil. I added a pint of half-and-half, since I've been missing drinking coffee in the mornings. Over the course of the evening, the milk went into a batch of yogurt, while the tomatoes are now cooling their heels in a tasty marinara sauce.

While walking down the canned fish aisle (picked up some tinned sardines and kippered herring), I stopped and perused a snack. Unfortunately, the aisle which contains canned fish also contains most of the fried carbohydrate snacks: potato chips, tortilla chips, cheesy poofs. While they may be all-natural, that doesn't mean they're good for me. A package of Inka Chips made its way into my hand. The ingredient list is brief: plantains, palm olein, and sea salt. Achieves a snack trifecta: crunchy, salty, sweet.

I resisted. I had to. I feel as though I can't let any packaged food into my life right now, so that I can break the cycle of junk food. (Seriously, yesterday there were cookies, pastries, and pretzels all over the break room. I could have just grabbed three or four of the large cookies and eaten them in secret. No one would know, so no one would care. No one, except myself. It's still hard to pass up free carbs.)

These brief moments of struggle enable me to understand how hard it can be for most people to eat only real food. It takes so much time and energy.

Take the marinara sauce, for which I peeled and chopped seven tomatoes, one onion, and three cloves of garlic. Once it started simmering, I could walk away from the stove, but still had to come back periodically in order to stir. Tonight I'm going to pluck all the leaves off my basil plant, wash and chop, then mix them in. Compare this to the ease of buying a jar of sauce. To some people, it just doesn't make sense to cook. For me, it is all worth it. (Though I wish I could have bought the tomatoes at a farmers' market. Must plan ahead next time.)

Of course, now I'm thinking that I should find some plantains, slice them thinly, then roast them in my oven. I can have my chips and eat them, too! As an occasional (very occasional) treat.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Movie Review: Captain America

After missing "Thor" and skipping "Green Lantern", yesterday I finally caught up with my comic superhero movie cravings and saw a matinee of "Captain America: The First Avenger". Quite simply, it was fun. There was one gaping plot hole, which I hope can be explained to me by someone in the know. Chris Evans was looking very fine as the strapping, blond Steve Rogers, providing a goodly dose of eye candy. Hugo Weaving was an excellent choice for the villain: brooding, scowling, grimacing, and generally chewing the scenery in a dastardly, sinister way. There are some excellent quips from minor characters, and of course a cameo by Stan Lee, which lets one know that the moviemakers are not taking themselves too seriously. I left the theater interested in the next Avengers installment, theoretically due next spring, and I'm planning to catch Thor once it comes out on DVD.

I have to say this, however: can I have a superhero movie wherein the main character portrayed is not a white male? While I understand that all of the original comics were written by white men, and "you write what you know", I'm feeling the effects of the Golden Age of American Patriarchy. Or perhaps that was simply the over-the-top propaganda machine omnipresent in Captain America.

My relationship with the classic superheroes is awkward. I prefer them in the modern reincarnations such as "Kingdom Come" and "Red Son"--wherein the heroes are enmeshed in a plot full of depth and character development. I like seeing Superman torn between the desire to always help people and the knowledge that he can't save us from ourselves. I've always been a fan of Batman at his most angst-ridden and brooding. The movie "Iron Man" has been the best of the Marvels for me so far because you see Tony Stark move from the devil-may-care genius playboy to a man who sees his duty to make the world a decent place. I've yet to see any depth to Captain America, but I hope it comes.

My most gleeful moment came before the movie, during the trailer for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes". I have to say, it looks so fabulous ridiculous that I think it's going to be ridiculously fabulous. I had tears in my eyes, I was laughing so hard during the trailer.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Serious CSA Swag

There's a photo that will be inserted later. I am impatient, so I wanted to post about yesterday's afternoon o' food.

First, the Fifth Crow Farm CSA box contained:
A bunch of lovely, stubby carrots
A big ol' bunch of spinach
Two heads of lovely lettuce
Two zucchini
A savoy cabbage
Some spring onions
A bag of dried beans
Two pints of strawberries (of all sizes)
Half a dozen lovely eggs

As usual, having to find space in my fridge for the new goods prompted me to work on consuming some of the previous stock. I cooked half a head of cabbage last night for dinner--a simple saute in coconut oil with some crushed red pepper and tamari sauce for seasoning. Half a broccoli went into this morning's breakfast. (I love vegetables for breakfast.) I currently have six beets, but I'm holding on to those for a dinner party on Sunday.

I'm really excited to make a salad tonight, using the olive oil and apricot lavender balsamic vinegar purchased during last Saturday's trip to the market. Plus it is liver and onions night! Yay liver!

Speaking of liver, I received my first CSA box from Marin Sun Farms:
2 pounds ground goat
3 pounds ground lamb
1 pound lamb stew meat
3 1/2 pound boneless pig leg

I added on to my regular order, and also obtained about 2 pounds of lamb's liver and 2 pounds of assorted cow bones. Liver is an important part of my diet, so I want to be sure of a good supply, and the Holding Ranch booth at the farmers' market only occasionally has liver available. I certainly haven't seen it at Whole Foods. I'm excited about making some batches of bone broth in my crock pot. (You can google it to read up on the purported health benefits.) Plus, this weekend I'm finally going to process up a batch of homemade vegetable bouillon.

So many things are on my to-do list for Saturday, it's almost scary. If I get most of them done, that will be fine by me.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Carrot Raisin Wheatberry Salad

As part of my mother's birthday bash earlier this month, my sister prepared a traditional carrot-raisin salad. Its ingredients are simple: shredded or grated carrots, raisins, and peanuts with a sweetened mayonnaise-based dressing. My new way of eating means that I shy away from industrially-prepared mayo, but I was able to join in on the fun by chomping down on the raw carrots, raisins, and peanuts themselves.

For the potluck at yesterday's Fifth Crow Farm open house, of course I wanted to showcase one of the items grown at the farm. I also wanted to prepare something potluck friendly. My brain was set on carrot-raisin salad, but Fifth Crow currently offers neither carrots nor raisins. Then I rediscovered the bag of wheatberries which was part of my CSA several weeks back. After a little scoping around the interwebs for a mayo-free way of dressing the salad, I put together the following, which was completely eaten up at the potluck.

Carrot-Raisin-Wheatberry Salad
1 C wheatberries, cooked (preferably organic and heritage!)
2 large carrots, grated
1/2 C raisins
1/2 C peanuts
juice of 1 lemon and 1 orange
1-2 T olive oil
1 T sesame seeds, toasted

To cook the wheatberries, cover with lots of water and allow to soak for a day, or at least overnight. Drain and discard the water, and transfer the grain to a medium saucepan. Cover with purified water, bring to a boil, and simmer until the grains are as tender as you like them. Drain well and cool.

In a large bowl (or the large tupperware container you plan to serve the salad from at the potluck), combine the wheatberries, grated carrots, raisins and peanuts. In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, mix together the lemon and orange juices with the olive oil. Pour over the salad. Add the sesame seeds and mix well. It can be prepared in advance and kept in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight before serving.

[Photo used freely from]

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Crock-pot of Doom!

Last night I did something for the first time: made my own barbecue sauce. It was based on the recipe presented over at Mark's Daily Apple.

Naturally, since this is me we're talking about, there were some substitutions. First, since I didn't have any tomato paste, I instead peeled, chopped, and cooked down a couple of small heirloom tomatoes. I didn't have any hot sauce, so I threw in 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes. I sweetened it with 1 T honey and about 1/2 T molasses. And my paprika was smoked.

Sweet Georgia Brown, that's some tasty stuff, at least the taste I took off the spoon last night.

Here's where the crock-pot comes in. This morning before work I browned a 1-lb chuck roast and stuck it in the pot with the bbq sauce, a small red onion, and a cup of soaked Christmas lima beans from Rancho Gordo (plus some water as needed for cooking the beans). Aw, yeah, I get bbq beef and beans for dinner tonight. Along with a heaping mess of sauteed greens and whatever other veggies tickle my fancy. It'll totally be the thing after the 6 mile hike I have planned for after work.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A special CSA post

This week's CSA posting is extra-special. There's a photo!

Just check out the goodness. Radishes, bag of arugula, cabbage, two bunches of broccoli, two baskets of strawberries, three beets, four red onions, 6 eggs. And you see that bundle of leaves at the bottom? That's a basil plant. With its roots in water, I'll get fresh basil for the next two weeks.

Of course, trying to fit this haul into my fridge helped force me to find creative ways to eat some of last week's produce: both rainbow chard and kohlrabi leaves featured prominently in dinner. I've also finally finished the bunch of radishes from two weeks ago. While I've been reading that one can eat turnip and radish greens, I've yet to steel myself for the plunge into doing so. However, I dare say that it'll happen eventually, considering that I'm already eating beet and kohlrabi greens.

With now six beets and a head of cabbage residing in my fridge, plus the onions on the side, all I need is my Mom's special Christmas borscht recipe and I've got a fabulous soup ready for the simmering. Christmas in July!

Some sewing was performed this evening, after total laziness the past two days. I finally (after, seriously, about 10-12 months) hemmed a blue linen shift dress, so it is now finished. I also stitched the major seams in the bodice and lining of my practice Regency dress. Photos to follow.

I can see the moon through the tree branches outside my window. Definitely time to head towards bed. Good night!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Break time!

About an hour ago, I walked from my work desk and down a short passage to what is the closest view of the outdoors. This glass door opens onto the little courtyard of our multi-company complex. There are a few water features, a stretch of grass, a couple of trees, and lots of flowering plants.

I arrived upon the view just in time to see two hummingbirds. One flew up and away, while the other went about her normal hummingbird activities. Sat perched on a the branch of a flowering shrub for 30 seconds, hovered around sucking nectar from the flowers for 25 seconds, and then perched for another 5 seconds, at which point I left the window. I know the durations because I was counting in my head, having given myself 1 minute for this window break.

Though short, it was exceedingly soothing. The sound of water falling, the summer sunlight, the verdant greenery, and an animal engaging in its natural activities. Enough to make me feel part of the world again, for a moment.

Have you taken a break from work today?

Monday, July 11, 2011

My Awesome Sister

My sister (who, by the way, rules) did something really cool this past weekend. She walked a 5K. While being 7 months pregnant with twins. A few great pictures and a general recap are here. Feel inspired?

Anyway, I'd like to take this opportunity to share just how awesomely fabulous my sister is. In so many ways, she's helped make me the woman I am today. (This is an old photo, but there she is, on my left.)

Very early on, when I was old enough to speak, but not yet old enough to be understood, she translated the word "fwiss", which had been befuddling our parents for some time. The result of this adept communication? I scored the swiss cheese I'd been asking for. I also remember right when I was starting school, and I was worried about whether I'd be able to handle it. Sis and I were out in our backyard, playing on the swing set. She asked me spell a few words. Since I managed to do that just fine, she gave me all her sisterly assurance and support that I'd do just fine in school.

Then, of course, we had our teenage years, when we fought like, well, two teenage girls. Now that we're both capable adults, however, she's my best girlfriend. I can go to her for everything from relationship advice to fashion advice to career advice. I can borrow her makeup, or her clothes, or her money. She and I are definitely not alike in so many ways, but when people see the two of us together, they know that we're sisters.

Now, in a couple of months, she's going to make me an aunt, which is really rather cool. But as much as I'll love my little nieces or nephews (or one of each, if it turns out that way), I want to make sure that my sister knows how much I love her for her, now and always.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

This week's CSA

It's Thursday, therefore time for another edition of "what Melissa received in her CSA box". I can't go into too much detail, because the kind folks at Fifth Crow Farm did not send out an email this week telling us exactly what was in the box. Here we go:

Kohlrabi is back! 3 bulbs with leaves
Bag of spinach
A bunch of rainbow chard
A bunch of pink turnips? giant radishes? other edible roots?
A head of butter lettuce (and I just have to say, the silky texture of the leaves as I was moving it into the fridge made me figure out exactly why they call it butter lettuce)
6 assorted summer squash: three zucchini and three ridged squash I don't know the name of
2 baskets of strawberries
1 jar of strawberry jam
half dozen pastured-chicken eggs

With all this fresh produce in my fridge, what did I do for dinner last night? Not eat any of it. Silly. I'm still working my way through last week's vegetables. I was able to demolish one more head of baby lettuce and four radishes. I've been all out of olive oil for the past week at least, so all my salads have been dressed with sesame oil. I'll be buying more of the olive sort this weekend.

It was too hot in the house yesterday, so I enjoyed my dinner outside on my little back deck. (I do mean little--it's only about 4 feet wide.) I set up a stool with a board atop for a table, and sat cross-legged on a couple of rugs. Who needs fancy patio furniture?

Last night I finished the 3rd book in the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder: "On the Banks of Plum Creek". The Ingalls family has moved to Minnesota, where they first live in a dugout house before building a two-story home out of wooden planks, with "boughten" shingles, doors, hinges, and even glass windows. A plague of grasshoppers obliterates their first wheat crop and a winter blizzard nearly swallows up Pa, but the family comes through happily in the end. There is still food mentioned, but not as much as in the first two books, and definitely not as much as in "Farmer Boy". Because they live next to a creek, they eat a lot of fish for meat. Because the wheat harvest didn't come through, and they're rather poor, most of their meals are beans and cornbread, or bread and milk.

Of course, while I read, I am struck by their simple, what we would consider minimalist, life. As a girl of nearly 8 years old, Laura owns a couple of playthings: some paper dolls and a rag doll. She wears one dress every day but Sundays. Ma has a china shepherdess and Pa has a fiddle, and those are all the extraneous decorations mentioned in their house. All of the family possessions fit into a wagon. Could you fit even a third of your belongings in the back of a mini-van? Once again, I think I have way too much stuff.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Awkward Angle

On the one hand, during my stay in Utah, it was very fun to be able to once again prance about outside in cute little sun dresses. On the other hand, I've decided that I need to do more strength training and tone my arms. I've just never been very interested in weightlifting. So I need to figure out other activities, especially real-world motions, that will tax my arm muscles.

Fortunately, there's something vaguely resembling a pull-up bar outside my house. (Actually, it's a piece of pipe that runs between two trees.) So I can do pull-ups and chin-ups. Push-ups are always good, too. I'm also thinking about doing handstands against a wall. All I need now is to find heavy things to lift frequently around the house.

Any advice on strength training exercises or how to maintain a weightlifting program?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Strawberry Banana Ice Cream

While it was hot hot hot in Salt Lake City this past weekend, the heat was mollified by staying indoors, in my parents' air-conditioned house. Returning home to the central peninsula, there was no escape from the >90 degree temperatures in my heat-trapping little cottage with no air circulation. What to do? Well, eventually I will buy a little electrical fan, but yesterday I decided to make ice cream.

Strawberry Banana Ice Cream
1 pint organic strawberries, cleaned and hulled
1 extra-large banana
1 1/2 C cream
1 1/2 C milk
1-2 tablespoons honey
1-2 tablespoons dark rum (optional)

Blend the fruit and milk in a blender until the fruit is neatly pureed. Add all the other ingredients and mix well. Process in an ice cream maker. Makes ~1 quart. Serve and beat the heat. Note: the small amount of honey combined with the fruit produces just a hint of sweetness, which is what I really enjoy these days. If you'd like a more traditionally sweeter ice cream, increase the honey to at least 1/4-1/3 cup. The rum need not be included, but having a little alcohol is handy to prevent the ice cream from freezing rock hard due to the lower sugar content.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Another great CSA box

My 5th CSA shipment so far. I am totally loving how easy this is. It's almost as though the vegetables just magically appear in my refrigerator.

Yesterday the magic was:
2 baskets strawberries
3 heads baby lettuce
1 bag washed arugula
2 things of fennel
3 gorgeous beets w/ greens
3 stalks broccoli
half-dozen eggs

One of the stalks of broccoli is already gone--I steamed it to have as a side for dinner--and some of the arugula was eaten at breakfast this morning. The strawberries are going to come to Salt Lake City with me, so that my family and I can enjoy them while I'm on vacation. Some other veggies will probably have to come with me, too. Whatever will fit neatly in my carry-on. :) The root veg will survive until I get back.

The fennel this week is rather like the kohlrabi a fortnight ago: I've known that it existed as a food, but have never come across it or tried to eat it. I do like the anise/fennel flavor under certain conditions (such as black licorice, which I haven't had in months, since I've gone off sugar). I'm thinking that one bulb will need to be tried raw and the other cooked, since I've seen recipes for both salads and gratins using fennel.

I'm going on vacation for 3 1/2 days, staying at my parents' house. It is going to be an adventure and an undertaking to maintain my current eating habits there. Just because I'm on vacation, I don't want to slip into eating non-nutritious food. My plan is to get there, see how much of the fridge I can take over, and then go shopping for meat and vegetables. I'd really like to cook some fabulous meals for my family while I'm there, too. I think they'll be up for it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

O-zone Thai

After work yesterday, I hopped on the train and headed up to the city to meet my boyfriend J for dinner and a walk. We strolled along the waterfront, there along the Embarcadero, up to the Ferry Building and then back towards the station. It was a typical June evening in San Francisco: damp, chilly, and windy enough that I was very thankful for my wool beret and shawl. Still, a beautiful evening to be strolling around with such pleasant company.

For dinner, we ended up at O-zone Thai Restaurant and Lounge. All the tables were empty when we first arrived, though all the bar stools were occupied with people taking advantage of happy hour. Our table was in the back corner of the restaurant, by the windows, which was nice.

J had us start off with the sweet corn patties (one of his favorites--seems to be at every Asian restaurant here in SF). They were very much like apple fritters, just with corn in place of apples. Not undelicious, but very starch- and oil-heavy. Not worth it, in my book, so I shan't be ordering them again. We split a green papaya salad, my entree was the special spicy clams, and J got the BBQ beef. The papaya salad had a lot of dressing, and all the ingredients were mixed up together. Tasted delicious.

I was given a gigantic plate full of clams, in their shells, with onions and peppers and Thai basil all in a spicy sauce. It was rather messy, scooping the clams out of the shells, but added a nice visceral element to the experience. I was rather worried, however: I've always read that when you cook shellfish, like clams or mussels, you should not serve any that do not open. About half of the clams on my plate were fully open, another quarter were open just a bit, and the final quarter were still well shut. Really, I don't think that last 25% should have been on my plate at all. I didn't eat those, and I was a little hesitant to eat the ones that were open enough to get my fork in. No signs of food poisoning, so it was all right in the end.

Our waitress had to struggle through the language barrier. It took a long time for J to get his drink from the bar, even though the joint was basically empty. The hot tea was a very bland green tea, though the waitress did check the hot water and bring me a refill without me having to ask. She was also correct in informing us that their "medium" spicy was the equivalent of "hot" spicy at other restaurants--medium turned out to be plenty spicy for us.

I won't go out of my way to return, but I wouldn't not go back again. Yes, the service lacked, but overall the food was very tasty and wonderfully spicy.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dear Mom: I am enjoying myself at camp. The food is not good.

I spent the weekend at a 3-day fiber arts workshop down in a boy scout camp in Southern California. There will be a more extensive write-up of the workshop in a later post, but first I wanted to talk about something that bothered me the entire weekend.

You guessed it: the food.

If you talked to attendees, the food this weekend was much better than they'd had at other, comparable retreats, and, in any case, they always eat well at this workshop. Hearing this made me realize just how extremely different my diet is from the Standard American Diet (SAD). Let me illustrate this by recalling the meals offered the first day:

Breakfast--cereal bar, waffles, granola & low-fat vanilla yogurt, scrambled eggs, sausages, fruit (apples, bananas, oranges)
Lunch--sandwich bar with bread, luncheon meats, sliced cheeses, baby carrots, lettuce, leftover fruit from breakfast, chips, store-bought potato salad
Afternoon snack--cookies, chips, crackers
Dinner--taco bar with corn and wheat tortillas, ground beef, chicken, refried beans, rice, shredded cheese, a tiny bowl of iceberg lettuce, one jar of salsa

In essence: a lot of carbohydrates. How very SAD.

Now, were there no vegetables being offered this weekend because it's just too difficult to buy, prep and cook veggies or because they would not be eaten if offered?

I was dying for vegetables. I could only thing longingly of my refrigerator at home, chock full of fresh baby lettuce, kale, radishes, leeks, onions, tomatoes, peas, kohlrabi and my crocks of fermented carrots, beets, cucumbers, and sauerkraut. Once I arrived home yesterday afternoon I enjoyed a snack of prunes and walnuts. For dinner that night, I cooked up some grass-fed beef with onions, with peas and kohlrabi greens on the side. Strawberries and raw milk cheddar for dessert. Bam--there's five servings of fruits and vegetables right there. For breakfast this morning, I had scrambled eggs with sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil. Bright yellow and delicious eggs--so yellow compared to the eggs last weekend that I could almost not believe it. But that's the difference between real food and industrial food.

This issue is not going to hold me back from potentially attending the workshop again next year, I just have to come better prepared in order to feed myself over the weekend.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

CSA Swag!

Another Wednesday, another fabulous bag of goodies from Fifth Crow Farm. When I open the big box, nigh-overflowing with farm-fresh goodness, I sometimes think to myself, "All this for only $25 a week?" Yesterday evening I picked up:

3 heads baby lettuce
1 giant bunch of lacinato (dinosaur!) kale
a bunch of little red radishes
3 yellow onions
2 baskets of strawberries
a bag (maybe a pound?) of wheatberries
4 baby zucchini
a basil plant

The basil came roots and all, which I've set in a jar of water so that it will stay alive for the next week or so and I can have fresh basil every day. Or, since I also get a 1/2 dozen eggs, I'm thinking of an omelette with sun-dried tomatoes, zucchini, and lots of fresh basil. If you've never had eggs from pastured chickens before, seriously--they're amazing. Factory-farmed eggs pale in comparison, literally. I should do some side-by-side photographs to show the difference between a bright yellow pastured egg, bursting with sunny goodness, and a plain factory egg, where the chickens are supplemented with beta carotene to get an artificial yellow color and it's still not enough.

Given that I have dino kale and cattle beans (from last week's CSA box), plus some fabulous goat cheese from Achadinha, it's time to make my favorite recipe for beans and greens. I have so many onions right now that it is a good thing most of my recipes for ordinary home cooking begin with "saute an onion". In order to get the most nutrition out of the wheatberries, I'm planning to sprout them. I've never sprouted a grain before, so it will be an experiment. Yay, experiment!

Jumped right out of bed when the alarm went off (didn't even hit snooze), put on some walking clothes, and headed out on my usual 2-mile route. Everything was lovely this morning--I think the neighborhood dog-walkers are more pleasant in the morning than the evening, at least most of them. Plus, I saw two young deer. They were obviously rather accustomed to humans, because they simply froze and watched me walk by, rather than bounding away at first glance. It's so amazing, being able to walk outside in my neighborhood and see deer. I can't get enough of it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Delicious breakfast!

This morning I created (and devoured!) what turned out to be a fantastic oatmeal parfait. The following ingredients were layered in a coconut oil jar:

1 diced aprium
1/2 serving of cooked oatmeal
spoonful of homemade almond butter
spoonful of chia seeds
the other 1/2 serving of cooked oatmeal
1 diced apricot
about 1/4 to 1/3 C homemade yogurt

The aprium (an apricot-plum cross, like a pluot, but more apricot than plum) and apricot were purchased yesterday after work at the Tuesday afternoon farmers' market. So fresh and sweet and delicious!

Eating across the layers was definitely fun. Like digging for pirate treasure!

Here's hoping that today is the tail end of the heat wave. My little house has no a/c and no air circulating system, so the heat just stays contained. Last night I had to open all the windows I could in order for it to be cool enough to sleep. The sudden and excessive afternoon heat has also limited my ability to go for long, vigorous hikes, though another contributor has been my need to run lots of errands right after work, like a busy little bee.

Fortunately, I was able to enjoy a nice walk yesterday evening with my boyfriend. We were out a little later than I'd intended, and did most of the 2nd mile in the dark. During the 1st mile, coming around a curve, I saw ahead of me a deer on the road. Not only a deer--a 3-point buck with a fantastic set of antlers. This was the first time I'd seen a mature buck in the area, and I thought it was particularly fitting to have seen it on the evening of the summer solstice.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The things you discover

...when you plug your day's food into a calorie counter. I've been using FitDay off and on for the past few years. It was the first online calorie tracker I discovered, so I'm accustomed to the way it works, and it generally functions just fine for me.

Because I was curious, I decided to plug in my meals from yesterday. Wow. Unintentionally low-calorie and low-carb. Intentionally high-nutrient (what one gets from eating all real plant and animal foods). There's a function where you can see a bar graph of your various vitamin and mineral intakes, and I giggle a little inside whenever mine are off the charts. Because of what I ate, my intakes of Vitamins A, B, C, and D were all in the range of 300% of the RDA. A few minerals were in the 50-75% range, but most were well above 100%.

What surprised me about yesterday was how full I was on such little food. Breakfast was around 350 calories, lunch 450, and dinner 500. That's only 1300 calories, and I'm trying to figure out how I managed to get by on so few without feeling hungry at all, maintaining my normal activity at work and at home. I think it was a combination of the higher fat and protein content of my meals--both of which are so satiating--and the heat. It's easier to eat less when it seriously feels too hot to eat. Plus I'm sure my body said "I have all the nutrients I need today, thanks. I'll just burn some of this adipose tissue when your organs need feeding later." :)

Woke up early for a nice dawn walk. I felt that it was a necessary thing today, on the longest day of the year, to celebrate the sun as much as possible. Two miles in the cool morning sun, with all the birds singing their little hearts out. My favorite way to start the day. Happy Summer Solstice, everyone!

Friday, June 17, 2011

This week's CSA haul

Yep, I'm a day late in posting my Fifth Crow Farm booty from Wednesday.

This week, my box contained:
a gorgeous head of red butter (?) lettuce
a bag of mixed baby greens
a bunch of little white turnips
three fabulous purple kohlrabi
two baskets of strawberries
two red onions
and a bag of blue cornmeal

I had feared that this time would come: kohlrabi in my CSA. Though I'd read about it through other food blogs, I'd never actually come across it myself. However, I showed no fear, perhaps because I discovered that kohlrabi was a staple amongst my ancestors in Eastern Europe. :)

After doing a little research into what could be done with kohlrabi, I decided to take the path of least resistance and just straight up eat it. I trimmed the leaves from a bulb, cut it in half, pared away the outside, then sliced it up and ate it raw with dinner. It's very crisp, very fresh, and, to me, is like a cross between broccoli stems and jicama. Like many raw vegetables, nutritionally it's a cell wall holding Vitamin C and small amounts of other vitamins and minerals. Low in calories, and most of those are fiber.

I'm very keen on eating the kohlrabi greens, along with some beet greens I also have in my fridge, and possibly even the turnip greens. I might be accustomed to the taste of greens, or I might be lacking certain taste buds, because they never seem bitter to me. Could be that I just acclimated my palate to sauteed kale back in my 20s and that was that. I'm thinking it would be tasty to do the greens in an asian style: steamed and mixed with sesame oil, sesame seeds, tamari and crushed red pepper.

The red onions, on the other hand, are going to be a problem. While I'm fine with white and yellow, I'm afraid that red onions have never treated me kindly. Possibly it's because they are most often served to me raw, and I just don't appreciate raw onions. However, this may be an excellent opportunity to make a real onion soup, with a mushroom broth base and perhaps a nice sprinkling of gruyere cheese.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

All kinds of sweet things

The first sweet treat I enjoyed today: a text message from a friend informing me that his wife, also my dear friend, had delivered their second son in the wee hours of the morning. I was in the delivery room throughout the labor of their eldest, and it was an amazing, energizing experience. That time labor ended in a caesarian section; this time my friend was able to have a vbac (vaginal birth after caesarian) just like she was hoping for. I'm so glad to hear that everyone involved is healthy and happy--most especially mama and her new baby. I can't wait to hear the story of the birth.

The second sweet treat was at lunch. In addition to the amazing salad--fresh baby lettuce topped with radishes, roasted beet, sauerkraut, home pickles and tuna--I also packed for myself some strawberries and my homemade yogurt cheese. Oh, so good I'm drooling just thinking about it. The creamy cheese was so rich and delicious, the strawberries so sweet and summery. I'm thinking that I could make up a nut crust, put down a layer of cream cheese, top with sliced strawberries and have the most amazing cheesecake a real-foods-eating girl could desire.

With any luck, the sweets won't let up for the rest of the day.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Another Farmers' Market

Due to an all-day recording session in San Francisco on Saturday, I was, yet again, unable to visit my usual Farmers' Market. While I do get a lot of goodies in my Wednesday CSA, there are lots of other veggies I like to have available on a regular basis. So I took the opportunity on Sunday morning to try out the market in Belmont. It's much smaller than the one in San Mateo, and with less advertised "organic" produce, but had everything I needed. I bought beets, carrots, tomatoes (first of the season for me!), walnuts, cherries, apricots, yellow plums, and pluots. Hooray for stone fruit!

I had an excellent and productive day at home yesterday. In the kitchen, I turned the remnants of my last batch of crock pot yogurt into yogurt cheese, saving the whey. I put up a quart of beets to ferment on the counter, following the recipe in Nourishing Traditions. Finally, as a treat, I made up some pudding, using real vanilla bean for flavor. I should say, however, that it is more of a honey vanilla pudding, since the honey I have is so strongly flavored. (Not a bad thing for a honey-lover like me.)

Before dinner I went on a nice 6-mile hike/run in the park. I had one of those moments where, emerging from the shade of the trees into the sun of the meadow, I just had to break into a sprint for the sheer joy of being alive and outside. I saw a doe and her fawn, which made me think of all the pregnant ladies I know, especially the one who is going to go into labor any minute now and soon get to nuzzle her new baby for the first time.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

CSA Haul

Here's what was waiting for me in my CSA box yesterday:

2 baskets strawberries
3 heads baby lettuce
1 bunch radishes (red, long and skinny)
1 bag spinach
1 bunch of giant collard greens
1 bunch of green garlic
a small bag of dried beans (I don't remember the type)

One head of lettuce and a couple of radishes ended up in my lunch box today. Most, if not all, of the spinach is going to be sauteed with garlic tonight, since my boyfriend will be over and that is one of his favorite dishes in all the world, second only perhaps to pumpkin pie. A few of the strawberries will get eaten tonight for dessert.

I think I'm going to cook the collard greens simply: sauteed and steamed in my cast iron pan with some garlic and onion plus crushed red pepper. Maybe with a bit of cardamom and ginger, too, to make them more like Ethiopian Ye'abesha Gomen.

Need to see what should be done with green garlic. I still have lots of kale and leeks left over from last week's CSA box, so all these green things must get eaten!

Did not sleep well last night. I kept dreaming that the auditions were happening for Dickens Christmas Fair and I was totally unprepared. Eventually, when the alarm went off at 6:15, instead of snoozing for an extra 20 minutes, I actually got out of bed, put some clothes on, and went for a dawn walk. It was lovely--the air so fresh, the birds all singing, the cocks crowing. (There is, in fact, one house nearby that keeps chickens, and that cock was really going at it.) I'm hoping to make this a regular occurrence throughout the warm days of summer.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What I love about my new diet

I decided that I just had to throw up another post today, since obviously I'm really excited about this fact.

Several months ago, I started the transition from a strict vegetarian (though not vegan) to an omnivorous diet. Right now I eat more like my European ancestors did: meat, dairy, eggs, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, some grains, honey & spices. Entirely real food, full of all the nutrients a body needs. All my meat (at this point, predominantly cow and lamb) is grass-fed, dairy comes from pastured cows, and eggs from pastured hens. Fruits & veg are as organic as possible. Basically everything I buy comes from my local farms.

What I love about this new way of eating--more protein and no sugar--is that I'm not hungry every few hours. Coming from a previous situation of eating upwards of six small meals a day, carefully distributing my calories, it's really amazing to me to eat just three meals a day and not really care about calories. My weight is stable, and the lowest it has been my adult life. I have a ton of energy. It's the ultimate in fabulous!

Produce Recap & Blueberry Ovencake Recipe

Have I made it through all the produce from last week's CSA box? Nope. As I was rummaging around in the fridge Monday, gathering carrots and celery for stew, I noticed that the entire bunch of baby leeks was still there. Plus a great deal of kale. The last of the arugula and radishes went into today's salad. One egg is left, but that'll get used up quickly. I am looking forward to today's box of goodies. Hopefully there will be some different items in it, though I still want a basket of strawberries each week for as long as the season lasts.

The grain-related items--popcorn and pancake mix--are seeing some consumption. While I don't eat a lot of grains (maybe one serving a day, rarely two), I don't see the need to eliminate them completely from my diet. However, the grains I do consume are 1) whole and 2) typically prepared in a more traditional foodways fashion; that is, soaked or sourdough. Having popcorn is an exception.

The instructions for the Fifth Crow Farm pancake mix are basic: mix with milk, buttermilk, egg, and oil, then cook up. I've instead been using it more like regular flour, mixing it with my sourdough starter, and letting it sit overnight. Here's what I cooked up for breakfast this morning:

Blueberry Ovencake (A Pancake Baked in the Oven)
The night before, mix 1/3 C sourdough starter with 1 C flour (a mixture of whole dark rye and whole wheat pancake mix) and 2/3 C water in a medium non-reactive mixing bowl. Cover and let sit in a warm, or at least room-temperature place overnight. In the morning, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Add to the flour mixture 1 egg, 1 T fat (olive oil, melted butter, coconut oil, etc.), 1 T honey or maple syrup, a dash of salt and about 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. Mix well, then fold in 1 C blueberries. Spread in greased 9" cake pan. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the top is browned and a skewer comes out clean. Makes 4 servings.

I've been experimenting with baking pancake recipes in the oven just so I don't have to stand at the stove for a long time.

Each serving provides 200 calories, 5 g fat, 34.5 g carbohydrates, 8 g fiber, 6.5 g protein, and 10.5% RDA for iron. All that iron and fiber is there thanks to the whole grain flour. However, just because the iron is present doesn't mean that your body can absorb it. The soaking/fermenting step is to help neutralize the phytic acid that likes to bind iron and keep it out of your system. Also, the fact that I ate my cake with a bit of homemade lamb (grass-fed) sausage, which contains some heme iron, means that the non-heme iron from the grains will be better assimilated. At least according to my nutrition textbook.

Currently there is a bag of sugar cookies in my freezer. I baked them on Sunday, and my dear boyfriend forgot to take them away with him. Last night they tempted me--for how bad would it be, really, to have just a couple cookies?--but only for a moment. Yes, I dare say that a cookie or two would not hurt me too much, especially coming after a very healthy dinner, but if I give myself an inch I am worried that I'll take a mile. Better to just ignore them completely and enjoy a lovely cup of herbal tea, and a handful of almonds or a bit of cheese for dessert.

Oh, and I had an awesome hike in the park yesterday: 4 1/4 miles, strenuous uphill sections with a lot of good running on the flat. The lizards were out in force on the path; I'm always afraid that one will take a wrong turn and scurry right under my foot. No deer this time. Very much looking forward to my hike tomorrow, too.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Whatcha got?

I don't know who said it first, but here's how it goes.

"What should we have for dinner?"
"How about a stew?"
"Well, what are you going to put in the stew?"
"Well, whatcha got?"
Thus coining the title of Whatchagot stew. Or, in today's case, Whatchagot salad.

I joined my dear boyfriend for dinner at a German restaurant in SF on Friday. After the framboise lembic (like drinking a jam sandwich!), my favorite dish of the evening was a mixed salad: lettuce topped with potatoes, pickled cabbage, carrots, and beets all in their independent sections. You could eat each vegetable independently or mix and match.

Today's lunch salad (just consumed with a bowl of yogurt and a tasty navel orange) was formed along the same lines. I started by shredding the last of my CSA butter lettuce, giving it a drizzle of sesame oil. Atop that I arranged a sliced white radish, a scoop of sauerkraut, and a bit of ginger carrot. The sour fermented cabbage and carrots melded excellently with the sweet lettuce and the radish. I loved this whatchagot salad all the way to the bottom of the bowl.

Having crocks of fermented veggies in my fridge is an excellent way, I've discovered, to get more variety of vegetables in my day. They have a very addictive flavor. Makes me want to get some beets asap and start some of those pickling, too, for an extra color and flavor option next time.

After a busy week with too many other activities and no formal exercise, my body was totally craving movement! By Friday I was feeling my muscles going completely flaccid, while fat just started splurging in new colonies. Thankfully Saturday evening was full of dance and Sunday afternoon full of hiking. Three evenings this week I must set aside my own activities in order to drive north and meet with some ladies for music rehearsal, but Tuesday and Thursday I'm going to make a point of hitting the trail and hitting it hard. (Though not literally, I hope. I'm still finishing up healing from the last time that happened.) My boyfriend has even been bit by the physical activity bug: he agreed that fresh air and exercise were better than sitting indoors playing video games, for the purpose of improving mood and general disposition.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

First CSA Box

Last night I picked up my first box of goodies from Fifth Crow Farm. In it was: a small bag of popcorn, 1 pound of pancake mix from their home-ground flour, a basket of strawberries, a bunch of baby leeks, a bunch of white radishes, a bag of arugula, a head of butter lettuce, and a bunch of huge kale leaves. Plus 1/2 dozen eggs, an optional extra I decided to include, since their pastured eggs are so fantastic.

The salad I made for lunch has some of the arugula and one of the radishes. I think the kale will be fabulous for making chips in the oven. The pancake mix will require some experimentation: because it already contains baking soda or powder, I'll have to see how that changes the acid-base equilibrium for producing sourdough or soaking overnight in yogurt. I'm trying not to devour all the strawberries before my boyfriend can come over and enjoy them with me. I did eat one last night.

Today the USDA unveiled it's new visual representation for the dietary guidelines: It's triggering memories of my elementary school cafeteria, and a poster of the old 4-square guidelines. Why is nutrition so complicated in this country? In other places they just eat food. In the US, we have to have elaborate systems dictated to us by the government in order to eat "healthy".

It's interesting to see the biases present in the information on the website. There's the usual talk about eating only lean meat and avoiding whole milk and egg yolks because of "bad" cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. They consider butter having no nutrients, and as a "solid fat" it must be avoided, but soybean oil is in there with all the other "vegetable" oils, so it gets cleared through. No mention is made of GMOs. Despite the rampant diabetes in this country, there is no information on the grains page about how constant carbohydrate (especially processed carbohydrates) consumption can lead to diabetes. Of course they say that you should "limit" your intake of sugars, but they don't actually link it to disease.

In case I didn't post this before, here's an article from the journal Nutrition, from 2010, which discusses the scientific limitations of the dietary guidelines. Very interesting reading.

Friday, May 27, 2011

What I love about spinning

One thing I love about spinning is the feeling when the fibers are all neatly lined up and drawing smoothly from your hand and you give the spindle a nice firm twist and it feels as though it could just twirl around forever and the mass of wool is just getting eaten up into thread. Rumpelstiltskin, eat your heart out.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Functional Exercise

So you've got to go grocery shopping. However, you also need to go exercise. Both take time--and you only have so much of that. What to do?

Combine the two!

Yesterday, after work, I hitched my backpack onto my shoulders and headed down the hill to my local grocery store. I only bought a few things--rye flour, pistachios, swiss cheese--so the load was not too heavy on the way back. The walk was over 4 3/4 miles of variable terrain, so my legs got to experience hills, stepping up and down curbs, stopping and starting at traffic corners. In addition, my brain got to experience some new scenery, and trying to remember the residential street map so I could avoid the high-traffic streets. As an interesting bonus to this all, I got to enjoy a little music to see me on the way home: the area high school marching band was giving a little concert outside the grocery store.

The only disadvantage was walking on pavement. I would step off onto dirt whenever I could. My feet are so much more energized walking on actual earth.

Since I didn't own a car until I was in graduate school, for all of college I walked around to whatever shops I needed to visit. Sometimes the load in my backpack was excessive--especially since it was filled with more canned goods than fresh foods. However, even now that I can transport myself quickly and easily in my car, it makes sense sometimes to just walk, or ride my bike. After all, I like to exercise, and I like to be efficient.

Once home, I cooked up and enjoyed a fabulous dinner: pesto mashed potatoes, leeks, peas, asparagus, salmon and a little pinot grigio. Plus a few crispy almonds for dessert.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Strange Thought

I was just over on Facebook, looking at some recently posted photos of people I know. Looking at one woman's picture, I thought to myself, "She's so pretty." This turned into, "She's so much prettier than I am. Geez--I'm so plain. Not just plain--malformed. I wish I was beautiful! Waaahhh!"

It was a surprising progression, to say the least, moving from looking at one particular woman (who was, in the photo, highly made-up, coiffed, and wearing a particularly flattering outfit, in addition to blond not being her natural hair color) to thinking that I had no visual value whatsoever. Where did this come from?

Well, visual modes of expression are the norm for determining a woman's "beauty". Whether it is a photo, a painting, or a sculpture, we've been taught over the years to look at things and identify those as beautiful. However, all of these involve artifice. What with airbrushing rampant on magazine covers and lighting/makeup/post-production in movies, we can't look at any modern visual clues to determine what a person really looks like. I'd be more inclined to trust an ancient Greek marble statue as a true depiction of what a woman looks like, even though the stone is a little too smooth to adequately express cellulite. So why constantly compare oneself with others?

In the short term, I soothed my sad feelings by going onto my own Facebook profile and checking out some pictures of myself in which I had been caught in good lighting by a professional photographer and looked particularly pretty. In the medium term, I've blogged about this event, so feel free to comment. In the long term, I've got a great sense of self-esteem, and I know that good looks aren't necessary to be a good person. I just need to work on not comparing myself to others, and making sure that other women don't fall prey to this downward spiral, either.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Farmer's Market Haul

Another Saturday, another bag stuffed with fresh, fabulous food! First, let's talk fruit. I purchased my first apricots and peaches of the year, along with some more cherries, plus a few navel oranges and kumquats. The apples are almost gone (since their heyday is in the fall, winter, and early spring) but I picked up a couple pounds of seconds for making applesauce. I bought eggs, as usual. Then there were the necessary veggies: leeks, kale, potatoes, asparagus, and peas. Fresh English peas, still in their pods, so sweet and flavorful--just shell, boil briefly to heat through, and melt a pat of butter over the top. Heavenly.

My boyfriend is continuing to make me proud out there at the market, by expanding his tastes to include a lot of new produce. It was so much fun to see the look of amazement that spread over his face when I popped a kumquat in his mouth--he has a new fruit to enjoy! Plus, once summer gets here and the market is overflowing with tomatoes and peppers, I know he's going to become a salsa-making machine.

After the market, we headed over to the park to hit the trail for a nice hike--a good 6 miles all told. No deer sightings, which was not surprising, considering it was the middle of the day. I soaked up a lot of sun, becoming saturated with it in fact, which necessitated the application of a little aloe vera gel later in the afternoon. As we hiked and talked over cooking plans, we discussed additional sorbet possibilities. In addition to the blackberry cabernet sorbet, which was already in the works, we came up with blueberry merlot, blood orange zinfandel, and peaches with brandy. I wonder if I could do something with cherries and kirschwasser?

Have you ever had freshly shelled peas? What's your favorite seasonal item from the farmers' market?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Weighing in the Balance

Quick! Everyone come over to my boyfriends apartment. The bathroom scale is handing out really low numbers!

It's interesting: I first lost a lot of weight (25-30 pounds) back in high school, when I became a vegetarian. Now I've been losing weight since I started eating more traditional, simple foods, eliminating sugar and refined carbohydrates. I haven't seen today's number (141 pounds) since college, when I would eat only undressed salad for dinner and went to the gym at least five days a week.

Here's the results of a great food experiment conducted yesterday:

Blackberry Cabernet Sorbet

Mix 1 package frozen blackberries (about a pint), 1/2 C honey, and 1 1/2 C cabernet (of a decent quality--don't cook with any wine you wouldn't drink!) in a small saucepan. Heat on low for about 45 - 60 minutes, squashing the blackberries against the side of the pan. Cool to room temperature and strain through a sieve, once again crushing the berries as much as you can to extract all the juicy goodness. (I saved the leftover pulp to mix with yogurt.) Chill the strained liquid in the refrigerator, then process in an ice cream maker.

The flavor was really intense. It tasted so good that I almost didn't want to share it with my darling boyfriend, who requested it in the first place, but I saved a cup for myself in my freezer and gave him the rest for his. It does not freeze very solid--there's obviously a lot of alcohol still left in the wine--so perhaps next time I will let it simmer longer. And double the recipe.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Yogurt Success!

You can google it yourself, but some links to various "yogurt in a crockpot" recipes are here, here, and here. Most of them have instructions along the lines of "put milk in crockpot, heat on low for 2 1/2 hours, unplug and cool for 3 hours, add yogurt cultures, wrap the crockpot and let stand for 8 - 12 hours."

The initial heating step is to bring the milk up to 180 F, a sort of follow-up pasteurization step. The cooling period is to bring the milk back down to 110 F, where the bacterial strains of yogurt do their magic. Any hotter and you'll chance killing them, any cooler and they won't be as active so your yogurt probably won't get as cultured.

Since I bend towards science and numbers, I preferred to be a little more precise in finding the right temperatures. Also, since this was the first time I used the crockpot, I thought it would be prudent.

2 hours of heating on low netted me about 160 F; I switched to to high for the next 30 minutes in order to even reach 178 F. I figured that was okay. Good thing I was measuring the cooling process: with the lid off and periodic stirring, my milk cooled to 115 F in under 2 hours. Mixing in 1/3 C of plain yogurt as the culture starter dropped the temperature down to 111 F. That's where I stopped everything, placed a double-thickness hand towel over the lid, and draped a double-thickness fleece blanket over all. When I checked this morning, it was a nice consistency and tasted deeelicious. It's sitting with the lid on in the fridge today, to chill and thicken as far as it likes. Tomorrow I'm going to set up some cloth to make a little yogurt cheese, and get some whey for other purposes.

Milk started heating at 5:20, turned off at about 7:50, added culture around 9:40, checked results a little after 7 this morning. Really easy.

While I was telling my boyfriend about the process of making yogurt, he made a comment along the lines of it being disturbing to have milk hanging out at a high temperature. Isn't that was spoils milk? I find it interesting that we, in our modern lives, are so surrounded by carefully processed, refrigerated, and frozen food that the idea of the natural food preparation and preservation methods are so foreign and strange. In my mind, certainly, eggs and milk have to be refrigerated, otherwise they will explode or strangle you. :) It's been an interesting educational experience to play with food, out at room temperature for days to ferment, and be able to then move it into the fridge to consume over months. I'm certainly not prepared to go without electronically-powered cold storage yet, but I see how it could be an option under certain circumstances.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

One Hundred

According to Blogger, this is my 100th post! Envision, if you will, cannons shooting confetti and streamers. I wish I had something fabulous to say, but I must instead report a failed food experiment. I won't gross you out with the details except for this one: too many anchovies. Enough said.

I have a cunning plan for tonight. The yogurt I like best to buy from Whole Foods comes in nice quart glass jars. It also costs about $6 a quart. They rarely have it, I think because they don't get a large stock in the first place and because other, more frequent, shoppers get in their first and buy it all ahead of me. I love dairy products, especially yogurt, and I want to experiment more in making my own yogurt cheese, fruit-sweetened frozen yogurt, and so forth.

On Monday I had the clever idea: purchase a yogurt maker! Three stores and no yogurt maker later, I had the next clever idea: purchase a yogurt maker online! After reading product reviews, I wondered whether it was really worth it. Then I started thinking about how to hold something (milk) at a moderately hot temperature (110 F). Enter the google search for "make yogurt in a crockpot".

Yep, lots of people have had success making yogurt in a crockpot. I want to be one of them. Plus I can then use the crockpot for many other things, as opposed to a yogurt maker which really has only one. I'm headed out for another shopping expedition after work today. Wish me luck! Of course you'll hear about the results of my experiments.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Farmers' Market Haul

Saturday morning was yet another good day for shopping. I started as usual with Fifth Crow Farm, for pastured eggs and baby lettuces. Then it was down to the citrus pusher (long story) where I picked up navel oranges and a couple of avocados. In the next aisle I bought sauerkraut, a 4-lb bag of raw almonds (for making almond butter! and because it is more economical to buy them in bulk and just store in the freezer), and grass-fed cow and lamb parts. Eventually I finished filling up my bag with potatoes, onions, cilantro, asparagus, cucumbers, dill, cherries, and salmon. A very diverse collection, which required two trips around the entire market to find everything and compare prices.

I was actually very proud of my boyfriend. On his earliest visits to the market he would come home with salsa, pumpkin bread, ravioli, etc. That is, all prepared foods, and basically no vegetables. This time he bought for himself some strawberries, bell pepper, onions, potatoes, and asparagus. To be healthier, he's cooking for himself. Apparently there were a few glitches in the actual cooking plan last night, but yay for him for eating his own, fresh food instead of ordering pizza.

We watched the Emma Thompson/Kate Winslet "Sense and Sensibility" on Saturday night, and now my brain is filled with simple empire-waisted dresses. It's already thinking about which fabrics in my stash would be suitable. Of course, I've got a lot of sewing already on my list before I can branch off into the Regency styles, but I expect they will begin to get worked on later on this summer.

Yesterday was the "Bay to Breakers" race in San Francisco. Normally it registers in my boyfriend's brain as "can't drive north today", but since he has a newcomer, me, to show everything off to, we ended up heading down to the park to witness the race aftermath. Tons of people, in very silly costumes, and sometimes no clothes at all, turn out to see and be seen. Fortunately it was a very pleasant, sunny day, and I can think of no better way to spend a Sunday than strolling through a park. We even saw five bison down in their paddock. All told, it was 2 3/4 hours of strolling, covering 6.7 miles.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Trying not to stick my oar in--A Rant

A group of friends and I are engaging in a typical activity for us: playing pretend. What it is, is an imaginary pilgrimage. We're walking from London to Holywell as on a medieval pilgrimage. There is actual walking involved, everyone keeps a tab on their distance, and we can share stories of what we see along the way, pictures of various churches, warnings of danger to the pilgrims walking behind us, etc. A sort of living history activity, all being coordinated on a Facebook group.

The other reason for it is to give a number of people, mostly ladies, who are generally overweight and not physically fit, a way to make exercise "fun" and to also give them a goal to work towards. 248 miles of walking between May 11th and Dec 31st. Many of the participants have pedometers, so that any walking they do during the day will count towards the total mileage. Since I typically walk at least 12 miles a week just for fun, I'm only counting my actual outdoor exercise walks.

So far two of the ladies have expressed how they want this activity to help them lose weight and gain fitness, and have even gone so far as to post hard, honest facts as to their weight, body fat %, etc. (Incidentally, I'm 5' 7", weighed in at 142.5 lbs last Sunday, don't know my body fat %, but my measurements are about 35 - 28 - 39, and I'm happy with my body. I still wear push-up bras on occasion, though.)

Quite often, when a group of women get together and talk, they mostly want to share things and get support in return, rather than have anyone pipe up and tell them exactly how to solve their problems. This is why I haven't posted anything to the group list along the lines of, "You know, exercise is only a minor, but relevant, contributor to actual weight loss. Diet is much more important, so if you really want to lose weight you're probably going to have to make major changes in your eating habits." I think it would be unwanted interference. But I do want these ladies to succeed in their health goals, and to have access to all the information they might need as to nutrition.

[Warning--rant ahead.]

I just get frustrated at some people's foolishness sometimes. (Not these individuals, but people in general.) The ones who look at me and what I bring for lunch and say something along the lines of, "Oh, I totally need to lose weight; I should eat what you eat" while continuing to eat junk day after day. Or the ones who "go on a diet", lose pounds, go back to their previous eating habits, and gain the weight back. Yes, "diets" fail. However, a diet in the sense of proper and healthy relationship with food, eating normal portions of actual food, and adding to that regular physical activity as our bodies were meant to perform, that works.

The reason that I lost weight in the first place (from my high of around 185-190 lbs as a teenager) and have maintained my healthy weight all these years is because I don't go back to bad habits. Yes, I spend what some people would consider a lot of time exercising and cooking good food in my kitchen. Those are priorities to me, to facilitate continuing good health. It's not really that much time, however. One could sit down and watch an hour-long prime time television special, or one could go for a lovely 3-4 mile walk outside. Or compare a 1/2-hour television show to the time that it takes to prep some veggies and protein and get them cooking in a tasty soup. To keep going with this, I could make a multi-course dinner and dessert for 6 in the time that some people spend on computer games. Because it's my priority.

This pet peeve extends over the range of anyone who is constantly saying, "I should do X." or "I really want to do Y." and then never does it. Whether it is weight loss, or swordfighting classes, or meeting up with me for a coffee. I'm fine if they don't every do it--I just don't want to constantly hear about how they keep meaning to do it. If you really want something, you can make it a priority and you can make it happen. But it requires you.

Celebrity Carbohydrate Smackdown!

(Note: this was yesterday's post, stored in TextEdit all day long until was back in business. I didn't actually end up cooking for my boyfriend last night; he wanted to go out. So we headed down to a local overpriced gastropub and dined on warm asparagus salad, golden beet and baby lettuce salad, and fish and chips with plenty of vinegar. Plus cocktails.)

My boyfriend will be joining me for dinner tonight. I like to at least attempt to take his food preferences into consideration when I'm cooking for him. I wanted to include my fava leaf pesto in tonight's meal. (Did I tell you I made pesto out of the fava leaves? 2 cloves garlic, 1/3 C walnuts, 1/3 C grated parmesan cheese, 2 big handfuls leaves, all whirred around in my food processor with olive oil.) Pesto tends to be companioned with bland carbohydrate-rich foods, like bread, pasta, or potatoes.

Bread is out; I don't have any in the house. I do, however, have both whole wheat penne pasta and small red potatoes. Boyfriend likes both. I prefer potatoes. However, I decided to put them head to head in the nutrition ring, using the nutritional information located at May the best carb win!

In this corner, we have cooked potatoes, flesh and skin. Weighing in at 100 g, with a predicted glycemic load of 10, these pack 93 calories, 0.1 g fat, 21 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, and 3 g protein. The left hook comes in with RDAs of Vitamin C 16%, Iron 6%, and Calcium 1%, plus respectable amounts of Vitamin B6, Potassium, Manganese, and Folate.

And in the other corner we have cooked whole wheat pasta. Weighing in also at 100 g, with a slightly higher predicted glycemic load of 12, this comes a swingin' with 124 calories, 0.5 g fat, 27 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, and 5 g protein. It's got a right jab of RDAs of Iron 6%, Thiamin 7% and Calcium 1%, plus Magnesium, Phosphorus, Manganese, and Selenium.

It's rough; the two are rather evenly matched. However, the potatoes just scored a lucky hit, because their Omega 3:Omega 6 ratio is 0.30 compared to pasta's puny 0.05. My grandmother has a better 3:6 ratio!

The final haymaker comes in, knocking whole wheat pasta to the ground in a scattered penne pile, because the mighty potato is dug out of the earth whereas pasta is an industrial creation.

My sister will agree with me here: Potatoes Win!

In other news, if you check the postings from late March you'll find a recipe for fruit & nut balls--an all-natural treat. Back then I had hopes of modifying things to provide a fantabulous alternative to traditional rum balls, made from such avoidable ingredients as powdered sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla wafer crumbs. That is, refined sugar in a multitude of disturbing forms. I have once again succeeded! Here's the recipe:

Rum Raisin Balls

1 C raisins soaked in 1/4 C rum

1/2 C almond meal

1/2 C flaked unsweetened coconut

2 T cocoa powder

Additional coconut, almond meal, or cocoa powder for rolling

Using your food processor, process the raisins and any leftover soaking liquid into a paste. Add the almond meal, coconut, and cocoa powder and pulse a few times to combine. Roll tablespoon-sized portions into balls between your palms, and coat with whatever you like. (I used coconut.) Place in a single layer on parchment paper and stick in the freezer to firm up before removing to an airtight container. I'm storing them in the fridge, just to keep the rummy goodness from evaporating away. Makes about 12-14 balls, depending on how generous you are with your tablespoonfuls.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nettle soup!

Just finished a delicious lunch of soup and salad, and wanted to report in on my first experience eating nettles. Fabulous! I was worried at first, when I was prepping the nettles, because they smelled so bitter and strange. In soup, however, they toned down to a pleasant earthiness and a fun texture. Here's how the recipe went together last night:

1 onion
2 ribs celery
1 large carrot
1 large clove garlic
1 can diced tomatoes, 15 oz.
bay leaf
large canellini beans, about 2 cups cooked
white wine (red would also work)
crushed red pepper (optional)
6-8 cups nettles (leaves and stems, see prepping note below)
1-2 teaspoons tamari sauce (to taste)

Heat the lipid of your choice (olive oil, butter, etc.) in a large saucepan over medium heat. Chop up the first four ingredients into nicely diced pieces and saute the mirepoix until it is fragrant and starting to become golden. Add enough wine to cover the vegetables and simmer to cook down. Add the can of diced tomatoes and a can full of water. Add the bay leaf and crushed red pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender. Add the cooked beans, the prepped nettles tamari sauce. Add more water, or broth, as desired to reach your favorite level of stew/soupiness. Simmer for an additional 2-3 minutes.

This made four hearty servings. Two are currently in my freezer, so that I have the makings of a quick lunch some work day in the future.

After being forewarned by the lady at the farmers' market regarding the stinging power of nettles, even after they've been picked, I decided to give them a little extra prep work. You could, of course, just wear gloves and skip this step. What I did was place a towel-lined colander in my sink, dump in the nettles from their bag, and then pour boiling water over everything. I let it cool for a bit, then picked up the ends of the towel to wrap around the greenery and wrung it out. Then the nettles went on the cutting board and got chopped up. The stems were relatively tender and edible, but were not the most wonderful textural addition ever. If you feel so inclined, with your gloves on, strip the leaves from the stems while raw and discard the latter. Then you can just add the leaves to the pot.

My lunch today was a fantastic example of the glories of my farmers' market. The onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and nettles for the soup all came fresh from there. My salad consisted of baby greens, grated carrot, sliced radishes, a hardboiled pastured egg, plus olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing, and only the vinegar came from the grocery store. I'm just tickled by all the whole, real foods I am able to eat.

Monday, May 9, 2011

New Leaves!

Had an excellent trip to the farmers' market on Saturday. Not only did I stock up on dried fruit (raisins, apricots, white nectarines, peaches, cherries) and pick up my usual mainstays of potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, salad greens and eggs, I found some new foodstuffs tucked away--actually in bold display--in one of the back corner organic farm booths.

You're familiar with fava beans, but take a gander at fava leaves:

Plus, if you've every been exposed to stinging nettles (as I was as a child), you know how much they hurt! Would you ever want to eat them? What if I told you they were incredibly nutritious:

My plan is to try some of the fava leaves in my latest favoritest beans and greens recipe (involving walnuts, garlic, lemon, and giant beans) and test out the nettles in pesto and in garlic mashed potatoes. I decided that I haven't been eating enough garlic lately, so I bought a fresh head to use liberally.

My wine collection has more than doubled in size. Hurrah! First, my sweet and generous boyfriend gifted me with a bottle on Friday--a red from Greece which is wonderful to drink because it has minimal tannins. Then on Sunday we made a quick stop at the beverage store, where I purchased a lovely riesling and a chenin blanc. These plus the bottles of sauvignon blanc and a French red mean that I can cover just about any wine requirements.

A big box of coconut macaroons has shown up in the break room. As I was in there getting tea out of my lunch bag, I was struck by the fact that I'm going to have to wage an ongoing battle with sugar. It's everywhere, it's accessible, and I am addicted. The battles are not too hard to win, however, especially when the macaroons look as lifeless and dull as these ones. Plus I'm already devising a recipe in my head, for tasty treats made from coconut, almond meal, and raisins.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Raisins and Cinnamon and Peanuts--Oh My!

You should have eaten my breakfast this morning. Or, rather, you should have asked me to double my breakfast and give you half, because if you ate my breakfast then where would I be?

To make a long story even longer, last weekend I forced my boyfriend to clear the old food out of his cupboard. This included a box of irish oatmeal, which was purchased years back under the auspices of: "I should eat healthy. Oatmeal is healthy. Therefore, I should eat oatmeal." So he cooked the oatmeal, ate it, found it boring and undelicious, and left the box to sit in his cupboard for years.

Getting back to my breakfast, my dear boyfriend probably didn't enjoy his oatmeal so much because he cooked it up as just oats and water--not very exciting for the taste buds. My breakfast oats were so tasty! Here was the overall scheme:

1/4 C steel-cut oats soaked overnight in 1/2 C water
Add 1/4 C milk in the morning and cook
Mix in 1/4 C raisins, a liberal shake of cinnamon, and another of chia seeds
Top with two spoonfuls of peanut butter

Now, here's why this breakfast was particularly awesome. Check out this article, free from the journal Pediatrics. High Glycemic Index Foods, Overeating, and Obesity. In brief, twelve obese teenage boys were evaluated on three separate occasions. They were fed a breakfast specially engineered to have either a high, a medium, or a low glycemic index but the same overall caloric content. Their hunger rating and various blood parameters and were measured for the next 5 hours. Then they were fed lunch, the same as their breakfast. For the 5 hours after lunch, they had access to snacks and their food choices were monitored.

It's a very interesting study and not difficult to comprehend, so, really, go give it a read-through. The results were: the boys reported being hungrier during the 5 hours after the high-GI breakfast, and they consumed much more snacks during the 5 hours after the same high-GI meal for lunch. Even though a whole grain (oatmeal) was a major constituent of both the high- and medium-GI meal, the difference between instant and steel-cut oats led to a significant difference in reaction by the body. Having a meal higher in fat and protein and lower in carbohydrates (an omelet) was even better at keeping insulin, hunger, and overall calorie consumption low.

Steel-cut oats have a GI value of 42, rolled oats 50, while instant oats are 66. Raisins are high at 64, but better those than brown or white sugar (both 70) since raisins also contribute fiber and iron, plus other fruity micronutrients. The overall glycemic load of my breakfast was lowered by the addition of milk (glycemic index 27) and peanut butter (40), in a sort of gestalt effect.

So all those times as a child that I enjoyed a nice piece of swiss cheese with my morning porridge at grandmother's house, I was doing something beneficial by getting a little extra protein and fat with my cereal grains.