Thursday, April 28, 2011

Clam Chowders

On Monday or Tuesday, I came across CheeseSlave's post on Manhattan Clam Chowder. Growing up, I had only ever eaten Boston clam chowder, and that pretty much always from a can. Since I had all the ingredients for the Manhattan version, and it was definitely time for more clams (iron!), I gave it a whirl last night.

Things I did differently: no bacon, no stock, thyme instead of oregano, and 1 red potato in place of the 1 1/2 - 2 pounds russet potatoes. (Doesn't that seem like a lot of potatoes?) I used 1 pound of chopped, frozen clams. The end result was simply lovely. A light tomato broth with lots of nice bits to chew. Even though the body is able to absorb heme iron easily, I like the complimentary Vitamin C from the tomatoes just to give my intestines a little extra encouragement. Since it's not a stick-to-the-ribs creamy soup, this chowder is a nice lighter version good for spring. My meal was rounded out with a bit of sourdough rye bread topped with peanut butter and a scoop of sauerkraut. And a glass of white wine.

Sometimes it's very hard being me. For instance, last night I had to eat a nice bowl of strawberries and cream for dessert, so that the last of the berries wouldn't go bad. :) These were spring strawberries, somewhat forced into ripeness, so now I'm really looking forward to summer. Deep red strawberries, ripe peaches and apricots, sweet-tart cherries, cantaloupe. Delicious.

Last night's dinner came after some fabulous exercise over at the park. Rode my bike to and from (2.6 miles), then enjoyed a nice hike/jog on the trail (about 4 miles). Saw one deer, two rabbits, a number of new birds, and tons of insects. Something has changed, so now there are swarms of bugs all over the place, where there were none before. Increases the chances that a bug will decide to fly into my eye or nostril and die there, which is so annoying. However, it's a price that I have to pay for my outdoor adventures.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Don't Make This--Make These Instead!

I found a somewhat disturbing "recipe" on the back of a brand-name cracker box. Don't make this! It has you mix equal amounts of creamy peanut butter and marshmallow creme, spread that on a cracker, then top with a slice of banana and a slice of strawberry. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon. Really, I feel like the cracker people are pushing it.

Get this: "If serving at breakfast, replace marshmallow creme with cream cheese."

Would anyone actually consider making this for breakfast? Spreading sugary artificial goo on a piece of partially-hydrogenated cottonseed oil, starch, and more sugar, then giving it to a loved one? If the answer is "yes", please read the rest of the entries in my blog and then ask the question again.

There are ways that we can turn this frown upside-down. Here are some snack examples I've just come up with off the top of my head. Make these!

1. Spread a real graham cracker with nefuchatel cheese, top with sliced strawberries
2. Spread a real graham cracker with peanut butter, top with sliced banana, and sprinkle with cinnamon
3. Spread a homemade sunflower seed cracker with homemade ricotta cheese, a drizzle of honey, and a few smashed blueberries
4. Slice a carrot in half, spread with peanut butter, and dot with raisins
5. Steam some broccoli. Top with butter.

Okay, the last one is not so much in the "snack" vein, but it sounds delicious to me! In any case, the take-home point is that one can easily prepare snacks out of whole foods and things reasonably close to whole foods. Raw fruits and veggies go with a variety of tasty toppings, and you can experiment to make nutritious alternatives. When you go shopping, always check the labels. If you see the words "high fructose" or "partially hydrogenated" or anything your great-grandmother didn't have access to at the market, put that product back, 'cause it's not food. It might be calories, but it's not food.

How about you? What sort of easy whole-food treats do you enjoy?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Pastoral Living

You know how Marie Antoinette had a little village built so she could go out and play milkmaid? Ever read "Heidi"? For many people who live in highly urban areas, there is a pastoral idea--a great appeal to the thought of getting back to a simpler way of living. The trend of "urban home-steading" is an modern example of this. Some of what I do is definitely driven by the belief that simpler = better.

Of course, some of what I do is entirely driven by curiosity.

Friday afternoon, I was given the afternoon off from work as a sort of Good Friday holiday. I used this time to do two important things:

1) Clean my kitchen sink. (It's now white and gleaming!)
2) Try making cheese. (Do or do not--there is no try.)

The cheese recipe came from here. It's the bare-bones, farmer's cheese, queso fresco-style of curdled milk. Basically all one has to do is heat milk to a simmer, add acid while gently stirring, let it rest and cool, then strain. I carefully followed the instructions to the letter--using 1 quart of milk instead of 1 gallon--and was rewarded with success. The recipe produces a rather bland cheese, but that simplicity means there are plenty of things to do with it. So far I've had it on chili, on salad, and eaten plain with bread & honey. I could certainly see mixing it with honey and fruit and whatever it takes to make an old-style cheese cake, or using it in a homemade vegetable lasagna, or whipping it smooth with herbs for a kind of spread or potato topping. I also saved the whey, which contains some proteins not curdled in this process, and plan to use it in a variety of fashions.

If you want to try making cheese at home, the key word is: clean. Because you're dealing with hot, but not boiling, temperatures, there is the chance of creating a good breeding ground for unwelcome species. As a precaution, I sterilized everything I would be working with (pot, measuring cup, cheesecloth, utensils) by boiling in water for 15 minutes.

What goes famously with cheese? Bread! On Saturday I baked my best loaf of sourdough rye bread yet. (Of course, having baked only one loaf prior, this is not the grandiose accomplishment it might sound like.) Put a cup or so of sourdough starter in a bowl, added enough flour to make a dough (plus a dash of salt and caraway seeds), kneaded for a few minutes, then shaped a loaf and placed it in a greased loaf pan. Since I'm only baking for me, and this was an experiment, I used one of my mini loaf pans, which are about 3 by 6 inches. The dough was left at room temperature for most of the day, then went into the oven to bake. It almost doubled in volume, I think, but I was still left with a very dense bread.

I had to hold myself back to not cut into it fresh from the oven, but still ate a couple of slices warm. Sour, dense, very satisfying. I'll definitely be doing this again, probably next weekend.

Friday, April 22, 2011


More specifically, one organ. You all know what I'm talking about: the liver.

On Wednesday, I ate part of a dead cow for the first time in approximately sixteen years. Did I love it? No, because liver is not typically a beloved part of the cow to eat. However, it is full of iron, Vitamin A, and assorted B vitamins, plus protein, so it can be a very good thing to include in one's diet. In the past I have worried that I would lose the ability to digest flesh products after so many years of excluding them from my diet, but such was not the case. I can report no digestive problems after two consecutive days of eating some liver, so it seems my organs are doing just fine.

For those of you who ask, doesn't the liver play a major role in the body's processing of toxins? And wouldn't that make it unhealthy to eat? The answers are yes and no. The liver processes toxins so they can be eliminated from the body--it doesn't store them. Liver has been consumed by humans for thousands of years, and is often more prized than the muscles for its nutritional capabilities.

Wednesday was basic liver and onions. Just to make my Dad jealous. Liver was soaked in lemon juice for 2 hours, then rinsed well and trimmed. I coated the pieces in a mixture of whole wheat flour, salt, and pepper, then cooked them in melted butter. I think it got a little overcooked, as it browned so fast. Then I smothered the liver in caramelized onions, and ate it with some sauerkraut and sauteed kale.

Last night, since I couldn't face the prospect of cold leftover liver, I chopped it into bits and stirred it into chili. To make the chili, I chopped up an onion, a carrot, and a sweet potato and started cooking them in a bit of coconut oil. In went a can of diced tomatoes and my spices: chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, cinnamon, and cocoa powder (since I was going for a bit of a mole kick). After things had simmered for about 30 minutes, I mixed in some cooked rio zape beans (from Rancho Gordo) and the leftover liver and onions, which I had chopped into small bits. Tasty. Plus, I learned in my nutrition class that consuming heme iron (from animal sources) along with non-heme iron (from vegetable sources) will enhance the absorption of the non-heme iron, especially if there's also some Vitamin C around.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Carb Blahs

Due to various circumstances yesterday, I was not able to consume my usual diet, and instead ended up subsisting largely on refined flour. Bread at breakfast, bread and cheese for snack, rice and curry at lunch, and bread with sandwich toppings for dinner. It did not feel good, compared to days when I get all nutrient-dense whole foods. I had zero energy, was in a mood funk all day, and I know I ate a lot more calories than usual, because it's so easy to eat a lot of bread. I was a slug all evening--reading and dozing in bed--but thankfully turned out the lights early and got lots of sleep.

Today is an intermittent fast day, not for weight loss or to punish myself for yesterday's less than stellar food consumption, but simply because I had it already scheduled. I'm sticking to tea during the day, then going home to cook a nice vegetable-filled dinner before heading off to renaissance dance class this evening.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Farmers' Market Haul

Another Saturday, another successful trip to my local farmers' market. This was a quick trip, mostly because I had done so much stocking up the previous weekend, but also because I was at the start of a busy day.

First big bit of news: I handed over my paperwork to join in on the CSA over at Fifth Crow Farm. For less than $30 a week, I get a nice-sized box of fresh, local produce and a half-dozen eggs. This will be my very first experience in a CSA, and I was slightly hesitant at first, after some of my friends' experiences. What cinched it for me was the reasonable amount of produce being offered in the box--definitely an amount I can eat in a week, considering my love of vegetables and the fact that I cook a lot--and the nice people I've talked to at their market booth. They're really excited about the food they offer, so I want to help them to have a successful farm.

Then I went around the market for some of the usual suspects: greens and nuts. One bunch of collards and two of lacinato kale; then one pound of almonds and two of walnuts. At the almond booth, the lady asked if I wouldn't rather get four pounds for $20 (to save a dollar per pound), and I'm seriously thinking about doing that for next time. Just think--I could make my own almond butter. Here's a link to a recipe by Angela over at "Oh She Glows". I might need to do a bit of math to determine whether it makes $ense to grind up my own almond butter. Way I figure, though, storing the nuts in the freezer means that they'll keep for a long time, and they're definitely a staple in my kitchen, so they'll all get eaten.

Also purchased: limes and dried cherries and . . . liver. From a grass-fed cow.

Time for another n=1 experiment. (Meaning that the experiment is being performed on myself, and I'm the only data point being represented.) In all the years that I was a vegetarian, every time I would complain that my hands were cold, Dad would say that I needed to eat some liver and onions. I mean, it's top on the list of foods recommended to improve your hematocrit. I would know: I've seen that list every time I've tried to donate blood for the past six years. After doing a bit of research, I should have gone for the lamb's liver instead, just because it allegedly has a more mild flavor, so maybe I'll try that next time if this experiment goes well. Needless to say, I will be trying every trick in the book to make the liver as palatable as possible. Plus, it will be smothered, I say, smothered in caramelized onions and possibly a balsamic vinegar reduction as well.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spring Cleaning Urge

I've had the urge recently to do some thorough cleaning at home. Really scrubbing down the sinks, vacuum the floors, maybe even rearrange the furniture. Haven't had a chance to actually do it yet, but perhaps Saturday will give me an hour to devote to the cleaning that ordinarily gets shrugged off.

Today I've had a major feeling that my house is too cluttered. I have too much stuff; it's getting in my way. I want to take a look at those boxes of papers and projects that "I'll get around to" and decide whether I really want to. I mean, it would be tons of fun to do my own bookbinding, but am I actually going to do it? If not, should I really be holding on to all those masses of printed sheets I could just recycle instead of them taking space all over my living room?

I think I need my former roommate to come up and visit me so that she can help hold an intervention, like we've done with each other before. I'll even hold off until Passover week, so we can have a little seder together. :)

Of course, part of my desire to clean up the clutter is so that I'll have more room for working on projects. I haven't done any costuming in a while, and I've got a list of things I want to make. Some are for Pirate Fest, some are for balls, some are for my sweetie. My sewing setup as it is right now is rather cramped. Having a more open, welcoming space would be very conducive to more sewing.

I've also been thinking about spinning wheels. Actually fabulous visions of me sitting down to a spinning wheel in a nice homey room and getting a lot of meditative spinning done. :) First I want a book that explains to me how all the components of the spinning wheel work together, so I understand it better. That way there's a chance I could find an "antique" wheel on craigslist and know whether it could be operational or not. Then I can start in on the bags of fiber I have appropriated through the years.

How about you? Does the spring make you want to clean or start all kinds of new projects?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Simple pumpkin custard

On Saturday I got to enjoy an evening with friends. After a dinner of tasty Burmese food, we retired to our friends' house for socializing and a really fun movie. However, as it was also a birthday party, the house was full of cake, chocolate-chip cookies, and lots of movie-style candy. It was serious temptation. I am able to devour sweets like a starving, rapacious beast.

I came prepared, and while everyone else was indulging in the buffet of sugar, I enjoyed my movie snack of walnuts and raisins. However, a psychological need was still present. I wanted dessert, and I was not going to be satisfied until I obtained it. Fortunately, I knew just what to do.

Pumpkin Custard
1 C pureed pumpkin*
1/4 C honey
3/4 C milk
1 egg
scant 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice mix

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Have four 1-cup glass custard cups handy. (Mine fit nicely into an 8 x 8 square pan, which means I can transport them easily all at once to and from the oven.)

Mix all ingredients until well blended. Divide equally among the four cups. Bake until the edges are firm (middle can be still a little bit liquid), about 25 to 30 minutes. Can be served warm (if you're impatient, like me) or cool.

*Try making your own pumpkin puree the next time sugar pumpkins are available. They're called sugar or pie pumpkins to distinguish them from the large jack-o'-lantern style ones. Cooked pumpkin can be pureed in your blender or food processor and stored as 1-cup servings in plastic bags in the freezer. Any time you want it for cooking, just defrost a bag or two and you're good to go.

This recipe was modified from the pumpkin pie recipe in my old Betty Crocker cookbook. In general, honey can be substituted for sugar in recipes, but you have to account for 1) the more concentrated sweetness in honey and 2) the additional liquid. So 1/3 C brown sugar + 1 T white sugar turned into 1/4 C honey, and I reduced the stated amount of milk.

A cup of pumpkin custard really hit the spot! Of course, now I'm thinking it would go really well with some whipped cream.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dinner like a Pauper

Have you ever heard the expression, "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper"? The way I see it, one doesn't expend many calories by sleeping, so a heavy dinner will be converted to fat rather than expended as energy. On the other hand, your body can only burn so many calories at a time (unless you're exercising or performing strenuous physical labor all day), so any huge meal is going to be stored. Better, I think, to eat moderately and consistently.

Anyway, my boyfriend is occasionally irked by my use of the word "peasant". As in "yummy peasant foods", because he thinks that, perhaps, peasants didn't really have access to what I'm eating. I could say "yummy traditional indigenous people's foods", but that's rather a mouthful.

However, I wonder whether he could really find fault in describing my dinner last night as "peasant food". I had to stay over two hours late at work, dropping me at home at 7:30 and ravenous. No time to plan and cook a complicated meal. Plus, I'm letting my supplies run down ahead of visiting the farmers' market tomorrow morning, so there's not so much food in the house. So I consumed:

goat milk kefir
green beans
homemade sourdough rye bread and butter

Can I get a consensus on whether a European peasant might have had all of these at a meal? :) After dinner, I made myself a little dessert plate with dried fruit, walnuts, and a bit of dark, dark chocolate. Yes, it was food therapy, but I'm not ashamed. I treat myself right!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

No Sugar = No Hunger?

I've noticed something interesting over the past little while. I'm down to eating only three meals a day. Sometimes I'll have a snack in the afternoon, but this is a far cry from the constant eating I did before. Remember just a little while back, when I posted about eating five or six meals a day since my belly would frustrate me with hunger otherwise? That's not happening anymore.

I can easily go from breakfast at 7:30 to lunch at 12:30 without feeling tired or shaky. Monday I was so busy I forgot about an afternoon snack at all, then proceeded to hike 4 miles after work before cooking supper. Yesterday I cooked and ate dinner right after work, went to a 90-minute dance class, then came home and went to bed without doing any late-night snacking. Even though my belly was empty, I just didn't feel any particular need to put food in it.

What's the cause of this physiological change? I attribute it to the lack of refined sugar and minimal refined carbs. I have a sprouted wheat bread at home, I'm baking rye sourdough bread after work, both sweet and white potatoes are in my diet, and I'm not limiting myself as to beans or fruit. Obviously, I'm still getting plenty of carbohydrates--more than 50% of my calories.

However, because all my calories are coming from nutrient-dense foods, I think my body is able to say, "Hey, I'm well-fueled. Got everything I need to get through the day. Oh, and here's plenty of energy for those long hikes you're so fond of. Let's go on another one."

Much to my boyfriend's chagrin (once he finds out), I'm not planning to go back to my former way of eating once Lent is over. Dessert can be just for special occasions, not every time we go out. Honey makes a great sweetener for when I need to bake things, and it's expensive enough that I won't be using it liberally over everything.

This is awesome!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Great-Grandmother's Food

Have you heard recently the statement, "Don't eat anything that your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food"? I agree in principle, but in practice there appears to be some conflict.

There does not appear to be a good consensus on what the Victorians (England, 1850 to 1900) consumed. One source has their daily calories at 2100, another says 4000-5000 for men, and 3000 for women. The latter also states that the typical breakfast for a poor man was, "two chunks of stoneground bread smeared with dripping, accompanied by a large bunch of watercress", whereas another article states that the standard fare for poor people was "bread, butter, potatoes, beer and tea, with some bacon for those earning higher wages." Did they really consume 10 servings of fruit and vegetables a day, especially in the winter months? Wouldn't you think that all that boiling meat and vegetables were subjected to in order to make them "wholesome" would prevent any shadow of a water-soluble vitamin from coming through?

In any case, there are some lessons that can be learned from the cookery of over a century ago. (Shall we say, that of my great-great-grandmother.) Have some brown bread. An egg. Some milk and peas. Watercress and cherries. Mutton, if you like it. Drink a cup of tea. Be too poor to afford sugar.

The Girls' Own Paper from 1880 has a few recipes for "economical and wholesome dishes made without meat." White bean soup, red bean soup, lentil soup, pea soup, Italian macaroni, cauliflower au gratin, and rice and cheese. Check them out!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Awesome Sweet Snack Recipe

Combining a couple of recipes in my brain last night, I came up with the following:

Fruit-Nut Balls

1/2 C walnuts
1/2 C almonds
1/2 C prunes (sliced in half)
1/2 C dates (pits removed and quartered)
2 T cocoa powder
2 T shredded coconut (plus extra for rolling)
1/2 t cinnamon
~1 T coconut oil

1: assemble your ingredients. Make sure they're the best-quality ingredients you can find, such as nuts and fruits purchased at your local farmers' market. :) And in case you were wondering, that's unsweetened coconut. Get your food processor down from the top of the fridge.

2: process the almonds and walnuts until they're a crumbly meal. They don't need to be powder, but there shouldn't be too many large chunks. Remove from the processor into a small bowl.

3: process the dates and prunes until they're finely ground. Since I used very dry dates and prunes, this was more of a fruity crumbly meal than a paste. It'll be okay in the end. Just make sure that you have only fine pieces.

4: add the cinnamon, cocoa, and coconut and pulse a few times. Add the nuts and coconut oil and mix well to blend. With the addition of the oil, the texture becomes more like a crumbly paste. Check to see whether it will hold together in a ball. If so, you're good. If not, add a little more coconut oil until a cohesive texture is reached.

5: form heaping tablespoons into balls, compacting well with your hands. Roll in coconut to coat. The balls can be eaten directly, or stored in an airtight container in the fridge.

I've got some ideas for the next time I give this a try. Chia seeds would be a good add-in. I'm wondering whether I could also grind some cacao nibs with the nuts. At some point, a tablespoon or two of dark rum is going to be added to this. I love the idea of rum balls based on fruits & nuts rather than vanilla wafers and sugar. The possibilities are nigh-endless: apricot for the prunes and macadamia nuts for the almonds. Pecans. Hazelnuts. Entirely almonds. A bit of orange peel in with the fruits. Or some ginger and a touch of molasses. Mold the mixture using dinosaur-shaped cookie cutters instead of simply into spheres. :) Give it a go, and tell me how your experiment comes out!

(And, yes, my brain keeps harkening back to South Park on this, and perhaps someday I'll be able to come up with a better title than "Fruit-Nut Balls".)